Sunday, July 10, 2016

Taxi Driver

Back Door to L.A. Back Door to L.A. by Jack Clark
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free advanced copy of this from the author. I also broke one of my own reviewing rules in doing so because if you’ve ever sent me a message or a friend request asking me to read your self-published book then you probably can’t actually see this right now on Goodreads because I’ve already blocked you. (Hey, I warned you. Try reading someone’s profile before you spam them next time.) However, I really liked Jack Clark’s Nobody's Angel so this wasn’t uncharted waters, and it turned out to be one of those times where I don’t regret making an exception.

Eddie Miles is a Chicago cab driver with an 18 year old daughter, Laura, he hasn’t seen in years after he gave up custody rightsduring the divorce with her mother, and they moved to California. When Laura shows up unexpectedly Eddie is so delighted  that he brushes off hints that she might be in some kind of trouble. Suddenly Laura vanishes in a very troubling way, and Eddie fears that her step-father, a shady ex-cop from LA, might have been involved. When the Chicago police don’t think there’s enough evidence to warrant an investigation Eddie starts hunting for Laura which means talking to his ex-wife and dealing with their unresolved issues.

This is technically a sequel to Nobody’s Angel although you don’t need to have read it to enjoy this one, and like that one it’s kind of hard to pin down the appeal of the books. This has elements of a mystery crime thriller with a missing daughter, but Eddie Miles doesn’t have the very particular set of skills of someone like Liam Neeson in Taken so this isn’t a revenge driven action novel. Eddie’s also not a good detective because he has to hire a private investigator to find information and give him advice so this isn’t really a traditional mystery either.

To be frank, Eddie is a loser. He’s a guy who lost his wife and kid to self-pity and booze, and then he was content to spend almost every waking moment behind the wheel of a cab. He lives in a dump even though he’s made a small fortune by working constantly, and he has no other interests or hobbies and seems to spend most of his time brooding about how the steady decline of the working class has transformed Chicago into a city of only the rich and desperately poor. Eddie is also so willfully oblivious to modern technology that he doesn’t have a computer and tries to do things like rent a car or book a flight over the phone rather than on-line.

But losers make for great noir characters, and that’s what Eddie is. He’s a guy built for earlier times when he could have gone to work with a lunch pail and thermos, and while he’s not stupid, just kind of simple and blunt, he’s cursed with enough self-awareness to realize that he’s bumping his head against his own limitations. That’s what makes him quietly tragic, and it makes the story of him trying to save the one thing in his life he created pretty compelling.

Clark, a cab driver himself, also fills both books about the job, and the interactions with passengers provide the opportunity to develop Eddie’s world view which, of course, is seen through a windshield. One minor thing had me scratching my head because although the book is filled with details about being a cab driver in Chicago there is never once a mention of how Uber or other ride-sharing services which seems odd considering how much of Eddie’s thoughts are about comparing the way things used to be against the world today.*

* Update - I heard from the author about this point, and he explained that he'd actually written this book a few years back before Uber became a thing which explains why it's never addressed.

This is a solid shot of noir told in a tight 250 pages that I liked so much that I’ve got an urge to track down more of Jack Clark’s work as well as re-read Nobody’s Angel.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

You Better Run

Run Run by Douglas E. Winter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the book so nice I bought it twice.

Well, actually it’s a pretty violent and dark story so it’s not all that nice. And the reason I ended up with two copies is that I’d bought it when it first came out in those bygone days before the world moved on when I’d browse the tables and shelves of the nearest Border’s and might just take home something with a snazzy cover that looked fun. Years later after I had moved a couple of times and sold or donated a lot of my old books another copy caught my eye in a used book store which gave me an urge to reread it. Thinking that I had gotten rid of the first one I bought it. Later I found my first copy packed away so I now had two, and yet still didn’t manage to read it again as more time passed. Dan coming to town gave me an opportunity to unload the extra one and finally check it out again with a buddy read as motivation.

Burdon Lane is gun dealer who usually doesn’t leave the house without at least a couple of pistols on him. Officially his business is legal, but unofficially he does all kinds of off-the-books and under-the-table sales on behalf of the arms broker he works for. The boss sends him along on a large deal to a street gang, and Burdon reluctantly goes even though the whole thing seems fishy. Things go sideways in a spectacle of violence and murder that leaves Burdon on the run with a gangbanger he just met.

This is a pretty well written thriller with a decent pace and a lot of action, but it’s far from flawless. It was published in 2000, and it really has that post-Pulp Fiction late-‘90s crime fiction style of trying to make the criminals cool even if they’re doing and saying things that make that genuinely awful people. At the start of the book Burdon is a thug, a killer, and a guy who will unironically bitch about how much the guvment is infringing on the gun rights of Americans even as he’s selling assault weapons to anyone who can pull a trigger. He’s also the kind of person who is comfortable using casual racist slurs. Fortunately, there’s an arc to the character that has him coming to some self-awareness and realizations at the end so this isn’t a case of just having an unlikable anti-hero throughout the book.

I think it might have been more interesting if the plot had actually been more centered around the gun dealing rather than dropping Burdon in the middle of a fairly standard conspiracy thriller. It takes a bit too long to really get going for a book of this type, but the pace is pretty decent once things start happening. It also drew the ending out for far too long while having a contradictory tone in which violence isn’t the answer at one moment, but in the next minute Burdon is being a cool bad-ass who is shooting up countless bad guys.

Overall, it’s a pretty good action thriller, but it wasn’t worth buying two copies.

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