Friday, March 29, 2019

Grind Joint by Dana King

Dana King’s first novel in his Penns River crime series, Worst Enemies, was one of the best books I read last year (reviewed here).

It would be hard to top a start like that, but King does it with his second book in the series, Grind Joint.

Detective Benjamin “Doc” Dougherty and the cops of the Penns River Police Department are back, along with a visitor from another state – and another crime series by Dana King – private investigator Nick Forte.

Forte, who is Doc’s cousin, comes to Penns River to visit his mother and gets involved in Doc’s latest case.

A new casino is about to open in an abandoned shopping mall in the seen-better-days fictional city of Penns River. Doc knows it will be a grind joint, but the powers that be welcome it as a source of income and jobs.

Before the grand opening of the gambling joint, a body is dumped at the front door. The murdered man was a known drug dealer and former associate of local mob boss, Michael “Mike the Hook” Mannarino. Suspicion falls on Mannarino who lives quietly in Penns River while committing crimes in other towns.

The casino is not an innocent victim. A sleazy real estate developer is backing it along with a silent partner, a wealthy Russian gangster. The Russian’s violent and loony son, Yuri, also has an interest in the casino and in expanding his own drug business in the region.

All these major-league criminals are more than the small municipal police force can handle. Doc recruits his visiting cousin, Nick Forte, to assist in his investigations. Soon, both of them are targets of the out of control Yuri and his mob.

Grind Joint moves at a pulse-pounding pace with Doc and Nick in serious danger all the way.

Not only is King’s plot involving, but I also enjoy his writing style. He has a way of making a reader worry and laugh at the same time. He also has a subtle way of describing characters and their actions.

When Doc is joshing with an old timer, he writes, “West did a thing with his lips and eyes that passed for laughter.” That could be interpreted in many ways by many readers. But a recollection of someone I knew who did something like that flashed across my mind and the book’s character became a real person.

There are now four novels in the Penns River series: Worst Enemies, Grind Joint, Resurrection Mall, and Ten-Seven.

(And while you are in the book-buying mood, please also check out my crime novel, Lyme Depot. Thanks.)

(For more posts on books, head over to Todd Mason’s blog.)

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Invitation to Violence by Lionel White

The 1958 heist novel, Invitation to Violence, is different from other Lionel White crime stories I’ve read.

Usually a caper is carefully planned by one man who, step by step, figures out how to pull it off, then recruits a crew, and assigns them each a task. But bad luck and the personalities of the team cause the whole thing to go wrong. This is what happens in White's famous story, Clean Break. That book was later reissued as The Killing and made into a movie by Stanley Kubrick.

In Invitation to Violence, White places the heist at the beginning of the book. Three men execute a carefully devised plan. They drive to an upscale suburban Long Island neighborhood and break into a jewelry store. Before they can get away, two police cars roll up and a gun battle ensues. Two of the cops and two of the crooks get killed, but the third thief gets away. 

While the thieves are working, Gerald Hanna, an ordinary guy with an ordinary job is playing poker. A usually cautious guy, Hanna takes a big chance and winds up winning a sizable pot.

Driving home to Long Island, he is thinking about his luck and the buzz he got out of taking that chance on his final hand. His car door is suddenly yanked open and the third thief jumps in with a satchel full of jewels and a gun.

From this early point in the story, Gerald Hanna’s life gets turned upside down. After winning at poker and believing luck is still with him, he decides to take a series of chances that put the local police and the boss behind the heist on his trail. But this nine-to-five office worker has no experience dealing with detectives or gangsters.

Invitation to Violence is another smart, suspenseful crime story from one of my favorite writers.

Lionel White (1905-1985) was newspaper reporter who started writing crime novels in the early 1950s, sometimes writing three or four in one year. He published about 35 books.

To read a review of White’s The Killing, click here, and to read a review of his book, The Snatchers, click here.

(And, if you enjoy crime novels with lots of action, please check out my book, Lyme Depot. Thanks.)

(For more posts on books, head over to Todd Mason’s blog.)

Friday, March 8, 2019

Last Year’s Man by Paul D. Brazill

Picking up a novel by Paul D. Brazill, a reader can expect fast paced action, humorous observations, funny dialogue, and a seedy, noir quality. His book, Last Year’s Man, delivers all that and something else: a touch of melancholy, a bit of sadness.

Tommy Bennett, an aging gun for hire, reluctantly comes to the conclusion that he is too old for his chosen profession. That profession is killing people and doing it efficiently with no trace of his involvement.

The story opens with Tommy on a job. A moment’s negligence on his part screws up a nice clean hit. It leaves him wondering if it is time to get out of the business. His next job goes wrong, too, but in a much bigger way, and Tommy is no longer wondering. He has to quit and run.

With little money and no passport, there are few places Tommy can go. He chooses to return to his hometown, a small city by the sea that has seen better days. Brazill highlights the city’s decay as Tommy takes in the town for the first time in many years. He gets off the train and notes the shops that are gone and the once proud statute in of “an old civic dignitary,” with a road cone on its head, and “the remnants of a Chinese take-away in its outstretched hand.”

He isn’t in town five minutes when he stumbles into a killing in a crummy bar. Soon, he is back in the company of violent crooks and con men he knew in his youth. But Tommy has to make a living and the local criminals remember him as a guy who can make things happen.

The slangy speech of Brazill’s characters not only gave me a laugh, but also provided an instant picture of the speaker. In a few words, Brazill describes characters. Of an underworld dame, Tommy says, “Bev smiled but there was the familiar razor-sharp look in her eyes.” Placing razor and eyes in the same sentence made me cringe and I knew just what Bev looked like. Later, Tommy calls a local heavy, “an ex-copper who was so bent you could use him to unblock your toilet.”

Last Year’s Man is a raw story seen through the eyes of Tommy Bennett, and is another fine job from Paul D. Brazill. I rarely say this about a book, but I wish this one was longer so I could spend more time with Tommy.

(And, if you enjoy crime novels with lots of action, please check out Lyme Depot. Thanks.)

(For more posts on books, head over to Todd Mason’s blog.)