These are reviews originally posted to Amazon as customer reviews. They're intended for entertainment and informational purposes only. (Apologies for any typos, bad grammar, or offensive language.) This isn't sponsored by Amazon or represent them in any way, although they do have a very nice site and I recommend checking it out for your next book purchase. Feel free to comment on the books if you've read them or tell me how much my reviews suck or whatever.
That is all.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Losing Graceland

Losing Graceland
by Micah Nathan
(3/5 stars)

The high concept pitch for this book would be:  "Blues Brothers" meets "Bubba Ho-Tep."  A decrepit old man who at least thinks he's Elvis Presley goes on a mission from God in order to rescue his illegitimate granddaughter Nadine, who's a stripper in Memphis.

Like both of those movies I mentioned, there needs to be a second banana.  This is Ben Fish, who recently graduated from college with a useless anthropology degree.  Ben sees an ad in the paper promising a lot of money for driving the old man from suburban Buffalo to Memphis.  It seems easy enough but of course it isn't.

Along the way, Ben and the old man run into numerous characters, like bikers, a half-Asian prostitute, and some girls in a bar.  They also fight a crooked construction company, confront a pimp, and enter an Elvis impersonator contest.  These incidents and characters sound more interesting than they really are.

I found the book entertaining enough and breezed through it in a few hours, but that's also the problem.  It's too short.  I think Nathan's strategic blunder was setting Ben and the old man in Buffalo.  That makes the journey far too short.  If they had been starting in Los Angeles that would have made for a much longer trip.  What would happen with the old man in Vegas?  Now that would have been interesting.  But maybe the author is far more familiar with the Buffalo area and didn't feel confident enough writing about anywhere else.

The other bugaboo is that Nathan frequently "head hops" or switches from one character's perspective to another.  This is the kind of thing that if I showed it to a critique group they'd scream bloody murder.  In this case I would have preferred to keep the focus on Ben and his growth as the road trip goes on.  Not that he grows an awful lot.  I won't give away just how much or how little.

Anyway, if you're a fan of Elvis this is a fun little read.  It won't really challenge you and you can finish it in a couple of hours and move on to something more substantial.

I hope this review satisfies your Suspicious Minds...(I got a million of those!)

That is all.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Raymond Chandler: Complete Short Stories

Raymond Chandler:  Complete Short Stories
by Raymond Chandler
(5/5 stars)

It’s always problematic in reviewing a book of short stories because it would take a long time to describe each story.  That’s especially true of this book, which collects all of Raymond Chandler’s short stories and comes out to a whopping 1,300 pages.  So I’m just going to deal with general issues and some highlights.

From the bibliography most of these stories were published between 1933 and 1939, when Chandler began turning these short stories into novels.  The last three or so were published near or after his death in 1959.

As you’d expect, most of these are detective stories.  They feature a variety of lead characters, who are generally all the same.  There’s the familiar Philip Marlowe from Chandler’s novels, but also Nick Carmady, John Dalmas, John Evans, and others.  By and large they are all private investigators, a bit world-weary and cynical, a bit down on their luck, but who maintain their own moral code.  They want to finish the jobs they start and do it right, though they have no compunction about hiding evidence from the law if they feel it necessary.  There are a couple of notable exceptions to this:  “Pearls Are a Nuisance” features a learned playboy as the investigator and “The Bronze Door” features an old henpecked British man.  The latter is actually more of a supernatural horror story than a detective story, one that could have made for a good “Twilight Zone” episode years later.

Generally, like Chandler’s novels, the stories feature the private investigator getting wrapped up into a case combining some (or all) of four crimes:  missing persons, murder, blackmail, and theft—the thefts usually involving jewels.  There’s usually a girl involved.  Sometimes she’s bad, sometimes she’s good, or sometimes she’s good and turns out to be bad.

As with most short story collections I’ve read (including my own!) there can at times be some drag involved from too many stories that seem the same.  None of the stories are really bad, but at times they feel a little too similar to each other.  If you’ve read Chandler’s novels then some of these might seem really familiar because he apparently used these stories as fodder for his novels.

My favorite of the collection is “Red Wind.”  This is a Marlowe story taking place on a hot night.  It involves murder, blackmail, and a jewelry heist.  The introduction talks about how in later novels Chandler began winding down Marlowe’s career (and his own) by having Marlowe get softer with the dames, going so far as to hook him up with one.  You can see the seeds for this planted in “Red Wind,” where Marlowe definitely has a crush on the girl involved, though things don’t work out.

Anyway, I think if you really like Chandler’s novels and want to see a bit of how they came about, then read this.  But at 1,300 pages I don’t think it’s for the casual reader.  A casual reader should try the novels first.  Might as well since they’re much the same, right?  So I’d recommend this for only the real Chandler enthusiasts.

That is all.