52 Book Pick up: April update!

I don’t think I’m going to finish another book before the end of the month, so here’s my April update.

18. The Rat On Fire by George V. Higgins

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Higgins has probably always been best known for The Friends of Eddie Coyle, although he also wrote Cogan’s Trade, on which last year’s Killing Them Softly was based.  Higgins’ stories are told mostly through different exchanges; meetings between the main characters, who discuss what has happened and what it means.  There are long passages of dialogue.

Although I am familiar with his work, this is the first proper book of his that I have read.  I found it to be a good, entertaining read, if not exactly action-packed.

19. Seduction Of The Innocent by Max Allan Collins

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I did’t realise until I began reading that this is the third part in a trilogy of books from this prolific crime writer.  This book, like the earlier two, focusses on Jack and Maggie Starr, an unlikely pair of detective-cum-comic book publishers.  Collins has dabbled with comics in his other work (most notably Road to Perdition and Dick Tracy), so the mix of comic book history and murder mystery in Seduction of the Innocent is not so unusual as it might seem at first.

Each book in the short series revolves a dramatised version of a real life event in comic book history.  The focus in this one is the backclash against the comic book industry in the wake of publications by  Dr Fredric Wertham durig the 1940s.  Under pressure, the industry began regulating itself and the Comic Code was born.

To me at least the history is fascinating, so I enjoyed Collins’ alternate version of events set against a whodunnit.  How could I not enjoy this?  It’s a well-written amalgam of things I love.  My only major criticism is that, fascinating as the history was, the whodunnit was clunky and the outcome far too predictable.  Still, this was definitely good enough that I want to read the earlier parts of the trilogy now.

20. Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets by David Simon

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I only managed a measly four books this month and Homicide is the reason why.  This tome took a little over two weeks for me to read, leaving me with half a month to read anything else.  Still, it was totally worth it and this is book of the month for me.

Although it was written in the late 1980s, the book only really became popular in the last decade.  The author, David Simon, is creator of the phenomenal hit TV show The Wire.  As you can see from the cover above, Homicide has more recently been promoted as a sort of addendum to The Wire.  Consequently, it’s been rediscovered by readers and critics alike, who have come to it with a new kind of appreciation.

However, Homicide is a journalistic work, written when Simon was working for the Baltimore Sun.  He spent a year with the Baltimore’s Homicide Unit and then catalogued the investigations which he witnessed first hand.  Although the events described are all real, the book reads like fiction.  Even writing this short review I have to keep stopping myself from saying it was “based on” or “inspired by” true life, because Homicide is not a novel.

It is, however, a spellbinding snapshot of the stranger-than-fiction process of murder investigation.  Simon’s writing is thoughtful and it’s his reflections on the bigger picture which allow you to see the germ of the ideas which were later explored in The Wire.  This one definitely deserves its critical acclaim.

21. The Blackbird by Richard Stark

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The third of the four Grofield novels by Richard Stark (Donald Westlake).  I thought the second was a little off piste when I read it in a couple of months back, but this one was way off.

I always loved the Grofield character in the Parker novels, but in The Blackbird he’s shoehorned into a James Bond-style role that just doesn’t quite work.  Better than readable, but this one simply missed the mark for me.

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