Monday, May 31, 2010

Thrift store score!

I know I'm supposed to be reducing my inventory of books, but I went along just for fun to our local thrift store with my wife yesterday. Lo and behold, what did I find there but a nice little collection of Desmond Bagleys! Not the rarest of finds, but definitely getting harder and harder to spot these days. I was quite happy to see The Tightrope Men, the Spoilers and Night of Error, but what really got me super psyched was this early Fontana paperback edition of his first novel The Golden Keel with a great illustrated cover!

Major score and a cover I'd never seen before.

My wife also made a major score, looking through the hardbacked section, she found this beautiful 1961 first edition of Appointment in Samarra by Harcourt, Brace and Company. $3.00 and in near-perfect condition. One of my all-time favourite non-genre novels so I am very happy to add such a lovely version to my library.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

32. Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child

I was on vacation last week, visiting my sister's family who just had a new kid. I took the bus down and the train back and thought I would have plenty of time for reading, so ambitiously took 4 books from my on-deck shelf, all paperbacks that looked enjoyable but not worth hanging onto after having been read. My idea was to leave them where I finished them. I did get two books read, but my plans my overall goal of reducing the books on my on-deck shelf was waylaid by my generous friends and family who gave me a total of 3 books. So I left with an optimistic -4 reduction of books on my on-deck shelf, ended up reading 2 of them and gaining 3 new books, so the end result was a +1 to my on-deck shelf. One of the books I got, Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child, I almost read in its entirety on the train and just finished last night. So that puts me back at zero.

My friend Alex had expressly bought the book for me as we share an appreciation in high level ass-kicking and general badassedness. He deemed Lee Child's popular (I discovered) character Reacher to be worthy of our consumption. After having finished Gone Tomorrow, I have to agree. Reacher is the ultimate survivalist, except for his environment, at least in this novel, is not the jungle or the mountains or the arctic, rather it's the modern world. He seems to just go from place to place with a toothbrush, toothpaste, a passport and a bankcard in his jeans pockets. He knows how to bribe his way to cheap rooms in hotels. He can find a terrorist hideout in midtown Manhattan simply by a process of logical elimination. He has all kinds of combat skills. Gone Tomorrow is like the 15th in the series and I appreciate that the author doesn't spend too much time recounting all Reacher's past battles as sometimes happens in these kinds of books. Save that effort for loving explanations of the Spas-12 (my favourite automatic shotgun, which was a good sign when it showed up in the book, but unfortunately never got used) or the 13 signs that indicate someone is a suicide bomber.

And that's how the book starts out, with Reacher on the NYC subway heading somewhere after being at a jazz club and noticing the woman opposite him displaying all 13 signs. It's a great hook and leads off into a pretty engaging mystery. At times, the investigation and exposition got a bit flabby near the middle, but when the action did come it was quite excellent. And actually, the story itself was pretty well plotted and revealed itself in richer and richer layers, making a fairly plausible and interesting scenario for why both an up-and-coming politician and a terrorist group would want a single image eliminated.

This is manly, modern stuff, thick and embossed, walking an interesting political line. It's basically pro-military but just critical enough of blundering and fascistic federal agencies to appeal to us liberal-type dudes. For my taste, I'd prefer to see these kinds of books a lot thinner, maybe cutting out 100 pages of the hero going back and forth between DC and New York would have made for a tighter, faster book like its counterparts from the 70s, but considering that it is a best-seller in America today, it's pretty high quality. I'll be keeping an eye out for the others in the series.

Monday, May 24, 2010

31. Pity Him Afterwards by Donald Westlake

Pity Him Afterwards is an early and strong Westlake that has been sitting on my on-deck shelf for quite some time. The action starts through the eyes of a madman, on the run from an asylum. His perspective provides a certain amount of sympathy as we see his fear and anxiety, but his brutal actions counteract it. He kills an old couple and then a driver who picks him up, after having spent several hours listening to this loquacious actor. He decides to impersonate the actor and continue on to the summer theatre where he was engaged in a wealthy vacation community in New England.

And once again, I find myself in classic Westlake territory. At first, I was under the impression it was going to be all from the perspective of the madman, but then we get to hear the story of another actor, the local part-time police captain and several other less central characters. This rich ensemble comes together at the summer theatre in a book that is half classic whodunnit and half crime thriller. The mystery part comes because of a fun gimmick where the reader is not told which of the actual actors the madman is impersonating. Whenever the action is from the madman's perspective, his name is never used and no detail is revealed (except subtle clues).

The first three-quarters are rich and engaging. The ending is a bit stock and abrupt, with a hurried romance that I didn't care about much, but still definitely worth a read. If you are a true Westlake geek, you will want to read this just for a great climactic moment that resembles very closely the climax in The Stepfather, a great 80s thriller of which Westlake wrote the screenplay. Good stuff. I am happy.

Special cover bonus: The Sun King over at Existential Ennui blog has posted his beautiful original copy of Pity Him Afterwards, with a sweet picture of a young, bearded Donald Westlake on the back. Check it out.

Monday, May 17, 2010

30. The Queen of the Sword: the Second Book of Corum by Michael Moorcock

The second book now finds the balance of power ever so slightly shifted in Law's favour. However, Corum's blow against the Knight of the Swords has alerted the chaos gods above him and they are accelerating their attempts to dominate the planes. The story continues in a similar vein, except with a slightly wider scope as Corum gains a more-permanent seeming sidekick, a dude with colourful clothes and a flying cat who hints that he and Corum have partnered together on many adventures in different times and dimensions throughout all of eternity, it's just that they don't always know it or remember.

Good stuff as per the first with a pretty cool psychedelic climax (though just a hint of the deus ex machina for the victory this time). I look forward to the battle against the Kind of the Swords.

(I keep having this juvenile reflex of telling one of my friends that "your favorite fantasy author is Michale More-Cock.")

Monday, May 03, 2010

29: The Knight of Swords: The First Book of Corum by Michael Moorcock

Ah back to some classic 70s sword & sorcery. I found this entire trilogy at our local thrift store and snatched it up based on the covers alone. What I particularly appreciate is the thinness of these volumes. Most of these kind of fantastic epics are super-thick by definition, thus the term "fat fantasy", I guess the geeks want to be absorbed into their world and never leave. I'm happy to say that, at least in the first volume, Moorcock delivers all the fantasy world, epic quests, short-lived adventuring companions, powerful relics and mad gods in 143 efficient pages.

The story is about Corum, the last of his ancient race, who due to their own complacency, but also the machinations of the gods got wiped out by the barbaric Mabden (humans). He discovers this reality in a quest to find another of his race's castle with whom he and his family had long lost touch and in doing so gets caught up in a quest of vengeance and god-driven world changing. Moorcock's cosmology concerns the balance between the gods of chaos and gods of order and in the Books of Corum, chaos, in the form of the Sword Gods, has upset the balance of power.

Corum's quest in this book is to find the heart of the Knight of Swords, which is hidden in his castle far to the north. There is much coincidence and strange encounters leading him there. There is a fantastic scene when he first discovers the god, in the form of a corpulent naked giant, his fetid body swarming with humans chewing at his scab, picking food out of his hair. It's the kind of image you read these books for and Moorcock delivers.

I only every now and then dip into fantasy, but this one has worked out quite well so far. I shall continue with the other two in the series and report back here.