Tuesday, August 18, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Losers Live Longer by Russell Atwood

When it comes to crime fiction I gravitate towards the classics - Chandler, Hammett, Black Mask reprints and the like. Oh, I pick up contemporary stuff here and there, but it's that early wave of hard-boiled fiction that truly wets my whistle. A great provider of vintage crime fiction re-prints is Hard Case Crime. I've delved into their contemporary crime fiction from time to time as well. And it turns out, they're not too shabby at releasing inventive and fun modern crime fiction. Case in point is the soon-to-be released (in September 2009) Losers Live Longer by Russell Atwood, an advance copy of which I was lucky enough to get my mitts on.

There's great energy to Losers Live Longer. Like many great detective stories, it begins with a phone call. Atwood creates an amazing pace in the first chapter. Our detective, Payton Sherwood, scraping by, lets the machine take the call, listens to the message before picking up and then, slowly over these opening pages, Atwood unfurls some amazing observations and excellent turns of phrases. This opening chapter sets up the story, not as an introduction but as a catalyst. Sherwood lurches forward trying to keep up as the story grows more complex and maze-like.

Though the story is complex - running the gamut from white collar criminals on the run to Russian runaways and a few washed-up drug-addled celebrities to boot - it's never convoluted. As Sherwood begins to figure things out, as he travels about downtown Manhattan (more on that later), as the bigger picture narrows to a thin straight line, his thoughts focus and his determination to not only stay alive, but see this case through to its end becomes our coda too. As events began, I wasn't sure what to make of Sherwood. Sure, I love a wise-ass detective as much as anyone, but I didn't think much of this Payton Sherwood guy. Kind of superficial personality. Too loose, maybe. Then as the plot tightens up, so does Sherwood. We see what he's made of. We feel his mettle and understand his code. More importantly, we see how his self-deprecation ("no way it could be a client" he states early on when his buzzer rings) provides the armor for the guy who spends a day and change tirelessly hopping around the East Village labyrinth that he finds himself in.

The East Village setting is a bonus for me as a current resident (hell, one death in the book happens around the corner from me) and native New Yorker. He succinctly paints a clear history of recent changes in the neighborhood, evoking the East village of another era (sometimes with a bit too much nostalgia for the gritty crime-ridden past), but mostly with a passion for people, the smells, the sounds, the buildings, that create the foundation for any great locale. This doesn't diminish the story for non-New Yorkers. In fact, it should enhance it - whereas some books just happens to take place here or there, other books, when torn at their spine, bleed their geography. Losers Live Longer bleeds New York. As with the classics, the sense of place is as important a character as the people who inhabit it, and Atwood makes the East Village come alive.

One last note - Losers Live Longer also has a tremendous final line. One of those lines that makes me smile and shake my head it's so darn good. Don't sneak a peek at it. Get there when you get there. It'll be worth it.

Friday, August 14, 2009

COMIC BOOK REVIEW: Wednesday Comics 1-6

I'm not a regular comics reader anymore. Haven't been for years. I sort of, kind of follow what's going on, and when something really interests me, I usually just wait for a trade rather than get involved in a monthly series. But along comes DC's Wednesday Comics and here I am up to my ears in a weekly comic. But the idea was just too good to pass on - 15 single page stories once a week in large newsprint style. So far it's rewarding my weekly trip to the comic shop. Here's my quick take on each:

Intriguing but plodding a bit. With issue 6, things start coming together. Looking forward to where this is going

Dave Gibbon's is writing and Ryan Sook is drawing this and it's been a blast. Crisp and straightforward, the action just hasn't stopped. Gibbon's is using the single page format to churn out a great tale thus far and Sook is really taking advantage of the large format (as are most of the artists, I should add). In my top 3 right now and makes the weekly purchase worth it.

First issue opens with Superman fighting an alien. 6th issue closes with an alien attack on Superman. In between, Superman laments being an alien on Earth. Lame. More aliens, less moping. C'mon Superman. Act like a superman for crying out loud.

Pretty good so far. Up and downs over the 6 issues but mostly positives. Boston Brand is always a quality narrator and he's not lagging in this story.

Green Lantern
Wonderful artwork. Flashbacks taking the bulk of the six pages so far but a nice pace and what looks like a great set-up for action in the present. Solid.

Neil Gaiman seems to be having a lot of fun with this and, to a point, the fun is infectious. However, it also seems a bit frivolous too. Great use of the single large page by Mike Allred, but the story seems to be getting restricted by the format rather than freed by it. But Metamorpho has always been a favorite of mine as has Gaiman. I have faith.

Teen Titans
I have no idea what's going on in this story. That was OK for the first 4 issues. I just rolled with punches and enjoyed the ride. Well, that ride no has a flat tire. My interest is gone. Perhaps if I paid attention to all the various "crisis" things in the DC Universe I would care about why blue Beetle wears armor and is a Teen Titan.

Strange Adventures
Adam Strange has always been a favorite of mine, so I was reluctant to get into this, what with the primitive Allana rather than the space-suit wearing Allana. But issue 5 & 6 sealed the deal. This is a keeper. Interesting take on the Zeta-beam and on Ranagar.

Wow, talk abut frivolous! Supergirl chases down her super dog and cat from causing mischief. It's been a fun ride and Aquaman has a funny cameo in issue 6. Not bad.

Metal Men
Ah, the Metal Men. I picked up their Showcase collection recently and I love it. So far, this story has the same whimsy and humor found in those Silver Age classics. The Metal Men story was a major factor in my picking up Wednesday Comics. I haven't been disappointed. Top 3.

Wonder Woman
Cluttered art. Too wordy. Too tedious for me to even make it out of issue 1. I keep trying to read it. I mean, it's one lousy page. But not happening yet.

Sgt. Rock
Rock is captured by the Nazi's and tortured. Great set-up. Now we're in issue 6 and Rock is captured by the Nazi's and tortured. This story has been spinning its wheels. Fortunately, something is brewing at the end of 6. And Joe Kubert's artwork is stunning as usual. A treat just to see his Easy Company again.

Barry Allen. Iris West. Gorilla Grodd. Time travel. Multiple Flashes. Simply mind-blowing so far and the best of the bunch. Nice clean art, great plotting for the single page and great POV use for Flash, Iris, and Grodd. Perfect after 6.

The Demon and Catwoman
Well, really The Demon as Catwoman was captured by a witch back in issue 2. But another winner. Etrigan never disappoints.

Great start to this one as Hawkman breaks up an alien invasion masked as an airline hijacking. But it's been stuck in a single action sequence for a few pages and has halted a bit. Kyle Baker's Hawkman is a thrill to look at though.