Sunday, December 26, 2010

CAME A HOT FRIDAY - Ronald Hugh Morrieson

Published in 1964 this is the tale of two con men Wes Pennington and Cyril Kidman, who arrive in a small North island town to rip off a local bookmaker. We have sex, arson and murder as well

Along the way several locals get entwined in this plan.

The story is a great expose of the underbelly of many small towns especially in the 60's where there was nothing to do except gamble and drink.

Morriesin, who died in 1972, from what I have read, was not popular because of this exposing of the New Zealand way of life which went on in every town but was not spoken about i.e the drinking, the domestic violence. And it appears he has not gained in popularity either, which is a shame because he is a very good writer.

I also presume that he is not trendy enough to be picked up and taught at university because of his subject matter.

This story apart from its title bears no relation to the truly atrocious film made in the 1980's. The film set out to be some sort of madcap comedy, whereas this novel is disturbing and sad . A good novel, not just a good New Zealand novel

MOONLIGHT MILE - Dennis Lehane

This is the follow up to Prayers for Rain and has been written ten years after this was published.

In the intervening time, Kenzie and Gennaro have married and started a family.

The plot concerns a teenager who has gone missing,again, this is the same female who went missing in Gone,Baby,Gone as a child. Our investigators deal with many loathsome individuals but without the violence that was evident in the previous story.

This was written as the recession was really starting to bite in the US and the writing reflects this. It is very dark without the humour of previous installments of this series and this is not quite as good as Prayers..., but it is still very good and miles above most which is published as crime thrillers.

The big mistake I have made is not reading this series in order, I have yet to read, Gone Baby, Gone, which is a bugger because this is the ultimate plot spoiler here as it directly relates to Gone..

Worth the time but read this series in order and you won't be disappointed.

HELL - Jeffrey Archer

In 2001 author and deputy chairman of the British Conservative Party (Lord) Jeffrey Archer was sentenced to four years imprisonment for perjury. Guess what? he was innocent as well!!.

During his time in prison he wrote three diaries, one each for the different prisons he served his time in.

The edition I have has all three volumes incorporated and I have read the first volume "Hell". This concerns his first three weeks of incarceration at the maximum security prison Bellmarsh.

It is a quirk of the British justice system that you initially get sent to a maximum security prison to get classified before being sent to a prison that suits your crime and history etc. Personally this seems a bit harsh even for the likes of Archer, as a drunk driver is locked up with career criminals who are doing years in maximum.

As I said above, Archer thinks he was innocent and constantly writes about it, but reading this diary if Jeffrey Archer told me the sky was blue, I would go outside and check.

What I really have a problem with is that even though Archer was a celebrity prisoner I cannot see multiple murderers opening up to a short term prisoner in the way he says they do.

I will persevere and read the other two volumes as the first was only over a three week period and he managed to write 267 pages on that. The following two diaries may give a bit more about the system rather than poor old innocent Jeff.

PRAYERS FOR RAIN - Dennis Lehane

The initial part of this thriller is genuinely disturbing. A complete stranger accesses the personal information of his victims and then systematically destroys their lives until they take theirs. And whats really unsettling is to gather all this information is not that difficult.

This is the situation facing Patrick Kenzie and his investigative partner Angela Gennaro who must locate the manipulator before he destroys their lives as well.

This is a great thriller and Lehane is up with the very best writers in this genre ever. The plot is sophisticated and he has excellent characterisation.

You are kept guessing until the last page. Lots of humour, very black humour, but it all fits in well with the story. An excellent read.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

MR PARADISE - Elmore Leonard

I like consistency in my life, and with anything written by Mr. Leonard you know at the very least you are going to get great, sometimes brilliant.

This crime thriller is great and is set in his town of Detroit. We have one hooker and her model girlfriend going out for the evening to entertain a 80 year old retired lawyer. The entertaining comprises of dancing topless in cheerleader outfits.

Unfortunately, shortly after arriving we have two corpses, two upset hitmen, a change of identity and a safe deposit box everyone wants.

Then after this scenario is set, recently widowed police detective Frank Desla arrives on the scene and begins to unravel the confusion.

As always the story has Leonard's dark, dark humour throughout along with a great story. The perfect summer read.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


I have just gone through a short martial period with my reading and it was purely unintentional. I just kept coming across good books set during wars.

This latest is no exception. It is the Vietnam War diary of Captain John Bullen, who was the officer in charge of the Australian Topographical Section stationed at Nui Dat with the Australian Task Force. He was stationed there for a period of 13 months and kept a daily diary.

Bullen was a career soldier ,a Captain on his posting and was made up to Major by the end of his tour. As he was a career soldier we don't get any overt criticism of his superiors or the fact that Australian was even in the war but we get little asides at pedantic behaviour by several of his senior officers.

He was not a combat soldier but was called upon several times while duty officer to deal with attacks on the task forces perimeter which was constantly probed by NVA and Viet Cong forces.

We get a good daily report of how Australian troops fought and (mis)behaved when not fighting. Bullen was a teetotaller so he is to my way of thinking a bit over critical of drunken behaviour by troops who had been out getting shot at and then getting hugely on the grog.

There is also a very good account of how the mail strikes and such back in Australia organised by communist unions affected the morale of the troops. The author had a leading hand in the "Punch a Postie" campaign and he should have got a medal for this alone.

A very good diary and well worth the effort if you can find it. The book was only published in 2009 and the copy I have is a review one I found second hand in Wellington, so there might be a few about.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

MATTERHORN - Karl Marlantes

This novel has nothing to do with Switzerland, rather it is set in Vietnam during the war. The Matterhorn is a code name for a small hill where several hundred men end up dieing because one officer needs to make an impression so he can keep on getting promoted.

It follows the trials of a Marine platoon over a period of approximately 3 months as they fight in an area just south of the DMZ.

The author was a Marine 2nd Lieutenant in an area just like this during the war and I believe the majority of the novel is totally auto-biographical. One review I read, whose author had done some research found that Marlantes citation for his Navy Cross reads very similarly to an incident in his novel.

In the book there are several threads, particularly 'race' issues between the black Marines and white officers and NCO's, the boredom, the terror and then of course the waste that is always evident in war novels.

The writing is very very good and the cover blurbs compare it to Sasson's writing of the 1st World War and the Naked and the Dead by Mailer, (this author certainly saw a lot more combat than Mailer did ).Its great reading and recommended.

Even though it is set in Vietnam, it has only been published in 2010, so its on all the book shelves now