Monday, October 17, 2011

PIKE: Outstanding noir novel

by Benjamin Whitmer
ISBN: 978-1-60486-089-4 2010
2010 Trade Paper release
from PM Press.

This crime-ridden novel will not be to everyone’s taste. It is gritty, dirty, foul-mouthed and foul-intentioned on the part of the principal characters. It is a wonderfully written novel. If your tastes in crime fiction run to the dark side; if you yearn to explore the minds and the actions of those who inhabit the dangerous underside of urban life, you should read this novel.

Douglas Pike, rising out of a criminous youthful raging life has become an oddity. He’s reigned in some of his worst impulses and tries to live out his days scraping things together with a young friend who has aspirations to be a professional boxer. Pike has done many things in his life, including functioning as an adept private investigator. Now with nothing momentous on his horizon, he sifts through life. And into that life falls his granddaughter, Wendy. Wendy is the result of a twelve-years-ago liaison between Pike’s estranged daughter, Sarah, and some guy. Wendy has intelligence to spare, loads of attitude, and a vocabulary guaranteed to cause multiple double-takes.

Because Pike suddenly feels unfamiliar familial vibrations, however faint, he sets out to find out about his family and in the process create a welcoming environment for his grand-daughter. His odyssey takes him deep into the grimy streets, bordellos, crack-houses and assorted environs of the worst that Cincinnati has to offer.

This is one powerful, novel of soaring descriptive language, poetical vibrant driving action; a novel to shudder at, to wince over and to remember, long after its surprising and satisfying conclusion. It is well-plotted, finely paced and filled with descriptions of wonderful and awful things.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


The Man From The Sea
by Michael Innes
ISBN: 0-06-080591-9
Publisher: Harper & Row
Copyright: 1982

This paperback is out of print, as is the original hardcover which was published by Dodd, Meade, an outstanding publisher lost in the mists of corporate amalgamations. The novel was originally copyrighted in 1955, which is instructive. Readers will need to recall the world of that time, in order to put this book in proper context.

The Man from the Sea recalls a time when the world was locked in what we called the cold war, a titanic struggle between something called the Soviet Union and the United States of America, the two great superpowers of the world. This thriller contains all the high adventure of a Dirk Pitt and the tension of a Tom Clancy, but without the complex technical equipment of either. Richard Cranston is a young lad intimately involved with the wife of a local Scottish peer.

During a late-night liaison on the beach, Cranston is astounded to see a man appear from the sea, a man who obviously has just left a freighter off the Scottish coast. The man tells Cranston an incredible story of espionage, treason and looming death. In the process he captures Cranston's interest and enlists his aid in making his way to London.

Innes' style is somewhat unusual and mannerly for our time, for all his literary polish, but astute readers will quickly find themselves enthralled with the brisk pace, urgency and excitement which pervades the pages of this novel. Ultimately, of course, there is resolution, but what a conclusion, as the story turns back on itself in a masterful tale, well-told by a fine writer.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Shenanigans in the world of FINANCE

A Shark Out of Water
Author: Emma Lathen
Publisher: HarperCollins
ISBN: 0-06-104460-1
pub. date: November, 1998
paperback, 328 pages

This one is doubtlessly hard to find, but considering the economic fix of the twenty-first century here, it's worth searching resellers.

Since her first in 1961, Emma Lathen, a pair of excellent writers, has written a number of novels that deal with the financial workings of Wall Street. The principal character in over 20 books is widower John Putnam Thatcher, now CEO of the Sloan Guarantee Trust, a staid, conservative commercial bank in New York. It may sound like a chancy idea, to base a series on the world of high finance without throwing in lots of sex and bizarre goings on. It is testament to the genius and the rectitude of the author that such easy solutions are nowhere present. Lathen has always made this sometimes arcane world mesmerizing and understandable.

All is consistent in this latest entry in the series. The characters are strong, fascinating, unusual, and the plot of this novel, is never out of sight. Set in the murky, shifting world of small emerging European nations after the fall of the Soviet Empire, we follow Thatcher into an interesting opportunity for investment by the Sloan in the seedy, dark, port of Gdansk, Poland. Pressure is building to enlarge an important German canal that connects the Baltic to the North Sea.

But all is not as it seems and Thatcher must weave his way through murder, political and commercial chicanery, and the evil that big business sometimes generates. Readers will be drawn inexorably into the sometimes dour, sometimes opulent machinations of the principal players. The story begins in deadly fog with a visceral, irresistible rush, and it doesn’t let go until the very end. A fine, fine novel.