Archive for the ‘Reviews/Recommendations’ Category

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Review: Dashiell Hammett’s Return of the Thin Man in the Washington Post

November 19, 2012

I’ve long been a big fan of Dashiell Hammett‘s stories and novels (my favorite is his first book, Red Harvest), and like most folks, I also greatly admire the films adapted from his work: from tight adaptations like John Huston’s version of The Malteste Falcon to looser ones, including the Coen Brothers’ Miller’s Crossing. And then there’s that delightful series of Thin Man films that rose from Hammett’s final and most successful novel.

Fellow fans of those films will appreciate Return of the Thin Man, a new collection of screen stories Hammett wrote after the first Thin Man achieved such overwhelming success. But in some cases, those same fans might find themselves wanting to just turn back to the films themselves—necessarily so in some cases, as in Another Thin Man, when Hammett has Nick Charles explain “the electric-cord-gun-paper-water trick as it was used by the murderer” but doesn’t actually explain it himself! (Cue the DVD to see how it works….)

The central problem then, with these stories, is that they’re not finished products in their own right but just steps along the way to the final creation of the films themselves. But there’s still much to admire here, too. For a rundown of strengths and weaknesses of the new collection, check out my review in the Washington Post here. And for some additional perspectives, here’s NPR’s coverage of the new collection as well, including an interview with one of the book’s co-editors and a noted Hammett biographer, Richard Layman. — Art Taylor

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Review: B.A. Shapiro’s The Art Forger in The Washington Post

October 22, 2012

Having worked for many years at an art museum myself, I was very excited about the opportunity to review B.A. Shapiro’s The Art Forger, which takes readers into both the art world and the art forgery world through a tale inspired by the famous Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum robbery. There’s much to admire here, including both the main character, aspiring artist Claire Roth, who makes a Faustian bargain for a shot at fame, and — not unrelated — the novel’s overriding sense of moral consequence. But a central artistic decision kept nagging at me throughout the book, related to both the pleasures and the challenges of building a work of fiction on top of an actual event. Here’s my attempt at a catchy opening for the review:

In March 1990, two men disguised as police officers stole 13 works of art from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum — works collectively valued as high as $500 million, the largest art heist in history. More than two decades later, authorities have still failed to produce any solid leads in the case, but pop culture has had fun locating the loot in a number of unlikely places. In May, Stephen Colbert confessed that he’d stolen Vermeer’s The Concert, the most valuable of the missing paintings. And two years ago on “The Simpsons,” Springfield police came across the same painting in the basement of Mr. Burns’s mansion. “Is it a crime to want nice things?” Burns asked.

Now another of the stolen masterworks seems to have turned up in B.A. Shapiro’s first novel, The Art Forger — but that word “seems” functions on a number of levels here.

Check out the full review here in The Washington Post. — Art Taylor

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Review: Ariel S. Winter’s The Twenty-Year Death in the Washington Post

August 13, 2012

Today, the Washington Post published my review of Ariel S. Winter’s three-novel debut, the all-in-one-volume trilogy The Twenty-Year Death, which models each of its books, in succession, on the works of one of three true legends of mystery and suspense writing. Here’s the opening paragraph of the review:

If imitation is truly the sincerest form of flattery, then crime fiction maestros Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson are feeling the love these days. Baltimore writer Ariel S. Winter has summoned up the stylistic spirits of each legendary novelist for his own debut, a massive and marvelous trilogy called The Twenty-Year Death.

My impressions of the novel(s) weren’t exclusively positive (as you’ll see), but really, with a book this bold — and such fun to read — it’s tough to find too much fault. Check out the full review here. — Art Taylor

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Review: Roberto Ampuero’s The Neruda Case in the Washington Post

July 23, 2012

The Neruda Case is the first of Roberto Ampuero’s novels to be published in English — but hopefully not the last in a series that has already captured great international attention. In this book, detective Cayetano Brule remembers his first case and distinguished first client, Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda. Here’s a quick excerpt from my review of the book in the Washington Post:

In the course of his investigation, Cayetano talks with journalists, poets, schoolteachers, government officials and even a literary scholar; battles bureaucracy and political suspicions; is shadowed by Chilean spies and interrogated by East German Stasi; and finds himself inquiring into his client’s character and motivations. In the process, Cayetano travels to Mexico, Cuba, East Germany and Bolivia and becomes increasingly embroiled in Chile’s own political turmoil: economic collapse, food shortages, labor strikes and bursts of violence, all part of the final days of Salvador Allende’s presidency and the brutal beginnings of Augusto Pinochet’s long dictatorship.

But while Cayetano’s quest provides the novel’s narrative thrust, the book ultimately seems more a meditation on Neruda and Chile and even detective fiction itself….

For more, check out the full review here. — Art Taylor

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Short Fiction Recommendations

May 25, 2012

A couple of short stories online caught my attention recently, and then a full anthology crossed my desk — each worth recommending (though admittedly with a little bias on the anthology, as you’ll find out).

First up is Scott Garson’s “About Me and My Cousin” in Matchbook — not a new story, since it was published in 2009, but new to me. Not only do I admire the movement of the story — literally a movement, since it progresses episode by episode via a series of links — but Garson’s comments on the story are mighty persuasive argument about the possibilities the Internet offers to short stories beyond just “a cheaper alternative to print.”

Next on my list is another story from SmokeLong Quarterly: “The New Doctor” by Abe Gaustad (and featuring some mighty fine artwork by the five-year-old son of a friend of mine).

Finally, the anthology: Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Presents Flush Fiction: 88 Stories You Can Read in a Single Sitting. And the bias? “The Hamster,” a story by wife, Tara Laskowski, is featured in the collection. While it’s a great story (see for yourself in its original publication here), the others I’ve sampled from the anthology are equally interesting. Eric Cline’s “What’s the Difference Between Optometrists and Ophthalmologists?” was the first I read, not just because it’s the first in the book but also because I’d enjoyed his story “Two Dwarves and Eight Chained Ourang-Outangs” from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine last year. Jason Schossler’s “For Wile E. Coyote, Apetitius giganticus” — about (yes) that Wile E. Coyote — was not just clever but also remarkably touching. And Corey Mesler’s “Aftermath” proved how much story you can fit in a very little space (just nine lines). Still browsing through this one, but already worth recommending. — Art Taylor

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