Litchfield reviews ‘Let Us Now Speak of Extinction’ for the Colorado Review

Let Us Now Speak of Extinction by Michael C. Keith

“Let Us Now Speak of Extinction marks an unexpected but welcome departure for Keith from his usual compendiums of supernatural fiction. Absurd, provocative, philosophical, and idiosyncratic, these markedly varied, darkly amusing pieces of condensed prose are as engrossing and satisfying as they are surprising and thought-provoking.”

American media historian, author, and professor emeritus at Boston College, Michael C. Keith strikes a humorous note as he dwells on death and the human condition in this comical, quasi-philosophical collection of microfiction. Keith, the author of nearly two dozen books on electronic media, including The Radio Station (a widely used textbook) and Waves of Rancor (featured on President Clinton’s 1999 holiday reading list), has also written a notable memoir that was praised by Larry King and Augusten Burroughs. Over the past decade, he has primarily focused on speculative fiction, frequently contributing to the Lowestoft Chronicle and other literary magazines. He has also authored a young adult novel and fourteen story collections. His latest, Let Us Now Speak of Extinction, is an epic assortment of diverse and weighty topics that have been whittled down to brilliant, bite-sized narratives.

Containing over two hundred and thirty exceedingly short works of fiction, with very few exceeding a page in length and most no longer than a paragraph, Keith consistently manages to make each story distinctive and fully formed. He also delights in poking fun at death and human suffering, injecting his pieces with a virulent strain of dark humor.

Published today in the Colorado Review is my review of Michael C. Keith’s collection Let Us Now Speak of Extinction.

Read the full, in-depth book review here

Litchfield reviews ‘Mademoiselle Bambù’ for the Colorado Review

Mademoiselle Bambù by Pierre Mac Orlan

Mademoiselle Bambù is an unexpected pleasure. Rich with dark humor, fertile imagination, and eloquent, intelligent reflection, it offers an admirably unique, disorienting, hallucinatory approach to storytelling.”

Merging crime, espionage, and absurdist fiction, French author Pierre Mac Orlan (born Pierre Dumarchey in 1882)—a prolific writer of adventure novels, erotica, songs, essays, and memoirs—constructs a compelling novel of intrigue set in the murky shadows of Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. Written in stages over the course of decades, Mademoiselle Bambù comprises several pieces of writing, revised and consolidated into a single volume and reprinted in English with exquisite, original, sketch-like illustrations by Orlan’s friend, Gus Bofa, an artist who is best remembered for his book illustrations of French literary classics and his collaborations with Orlan.

Aaron Peck, in his afterword to the book, emphasizes the importance of Bofa’s contributions to Mademoiselle Bambù in serving to complement Orlan’s moody work and underline the obscure and shadowy characters who populate the story. “His drawings suggest the existential darkness that overtook a Europe defaced by war and modernization,” remarks Peck, noting that “his style is dark, almost resembling the aesthetics of film noir, though at times it is also goofy or playful.”

This handsome edition also features an enlightening introduction by Chris Clarke, responsible for translating the text into English, who describes the author’s particular take on the spy novel as a “poignant example of Mac Orlan’s blending of the social fantastic with the adventure novel and a dark and latent surrealism.” Opting to confine the main narrator’s role to “the odd polite interjection and occasional comments,” Mademoiselle Bambù—which examines the life of Signorina Bambù, a double agent in the service of France, and the diabolical career of sinister spy Père Barbançon—is told through wistful confessions by Captain Hartmann, an adventurer and accidental spy, and through the “observations and fabrications” of Paul Uhle, the odious proprietor of a boarding house in Brittany where Barbançon spends his final days. Philosophical, darkly humorous, and highly original, much of the book’s pleasure is derived from Orlan’s astute, comic observations and his colorful, if sometimes derisive, depictions of the larger-than-life main characters.

Published today in the Colorado Review is my review of Pierre Mac Orlan’s admirably unique, disorienting, and hallucinatory spy novel Mademoiselle Bambù.

Read the full, in-depth book review here

Litchfield Reviews Solemn Graves by James R. Benn

LEP.CO.UK - Solemn Graves by James R. Benn

Solemn Graves is another must-read entry in the outstanding Billy Boyle Second World War mysteries, offering fascinating details about the unique, thousand-man military unit known as the Ghost Army whose courageous acts of tactical deception are estimated to have saved tens of thousands of soldier’s lives.”

Set in the summer of 1944, this is the thirteenth adventure for Boyle, the Boston detective turned U.S. Army investigator assigned sensitive WWII military investigations by his ‘uncle’ General Eisenhower.

Here, he travels to a farmhouse near the town of Trévières in Normandy to investigate the murder of Major David Jerome, commanding officer of the Signals Company, Second Armored Division, who has been found with his throat cut in a chateau.

Unfortunately, the crime scene offers up few clues and few witnesses, except for the ‘haunted, fragile, ethereal beauty’ Yvonne Virot, who discovered the dead body. Yvonne, whose dress is stained with Jerome’s blood, is a houseguest of wealthy widow Madame Regine Janvier, owner of the property and a former French Resistance agent.

The trauma Yvonne has suffered at the hands of the Germans has resulted in her becoming mute, and so she can offer little to help Boyle’s investigation.

Other figures in the small community are suspiciously tight-lipped and equally unhelpful, and by far the most dubious character of all is Claude Legrand, a liaison with the Resistance who is actively involved in killing and torturing suspected German collaborators.

Feeling like he’s getting nowhere with his investigation, Boyle and his regular buddies, Staff Sergeant ‘Big Mike’ Miecznikowski and Lieutenant Piotr ‘Kaz’ Kazimierz, head out in search of the Second Armored Division and come across the uniquely gifted Ghost Army.

As usual, Benn crafts a highly entertaining murder mystery, as well as eloquently reflecting on the horrors of war and bringing to light less discussed wartime incidents, such as the brutal punishment inflicted on women during the épuration légale (wild purge).

My review of Solemn Graves is featured today in the Lancashire Post and syndicated to 20 newspapers in the UK. The full review can be found at the web link below and elsewhere.

Read more at: https://www.lep.co.uk/lifestyle/books/poughkeepsie-shuffle-by-dietrich-kalteis-book-review-1-9342204

Litchfield Reviews Poughkeepsie Shuffle by Dietrich Kalteis

LEP.CO.UK - Poughkeepsie Shuffle by Dietrich Kalteis

“Full of jaw-smacking fistfights, rip-roaring car chases, and gun-blazing gang battles, Poughkeepsie Shuffle delivers a mighty thump of thrills and spills, and carloads of mean-tempered sons of bitches.”

Dietrich Kalteis, the author of the notable books Triggerfish and Zero Avenue, is fast becoming one of Canada’s top crime writers. Prior to writing novels, he was a short story writer, contributing fifty or so tales to literary magazines. You can find a couple of good ones in the archives of the Lowestoft Chronicle.

Dietrich’s debut novel, Ride the Lightning, won a bronze medal at the 2015 Independent Publisher Book Awards for best regional fiction, and since then he’s gone on to publish five books with the big Canadian publisher ECW Press.
His books have garnered a number of fine reviews from publications like Kirkus Reviews, The Globe and Mail, and Publishers Weekly.

I was lucky enough to review his previous novel, Zero Avenue, for the Lancashire Post. You can read that review here.

His latest work, another standalone novel, is a crime caper set in Toronto in the mid-1980s. It features a pack of fierce lowlifes all shooting for the high life and is centered on a somewhat likable fifty-year-old ex-con named Jeff Nichols.

Soon after Jeff is release from Don Jail, having served an 18-month stretch for stealing cars, he is persuaded by a former prison inmate to work for Ted Bracey, the no-good owner of a used car lot in Toronto. What Jeff doesn’t tell his long-time girlfriend, Ann – who has stayed with him while he served his prison sentence in the hope that they will one day have kids and own a home – is that the company is a front for a criminal operation covertly transporting automatic weapons over the Canadian border.

Ignoring Ann’s pleas for him to get a regular job and adjust to suburban life, Jeff buys into Ted’s promise of easy money and rapid promotion and convinces himself that his ‘days of bum deals and scratching a living’ are over. His high-risk job offers no salary except a twenty-five percent commission on sales, the threat of getting shot or dismembered, and the excellent potential for a return to prison.

Ted’s operation involves buying cars at auctions in upstate New York and employing a crew in Poughkeepsie to hide pistols in sealed bags in the gas tanks, and weld cells under the chassis of the cars, packing them with Uzis. They then put the cars on a trailer and ship them north.

Given a $2500 cash gift, his own office, an automatic pistol, tailored suits, and allowed to steer the boss’s 36-footer yacht, for Jeff there is no turning back. Flush with cash and on the rise, he becomes firmly rooted in Ted’s organization and powerless to escape an inevitable decline into violence, bloodshed, savagery, and a perpetual life of crime.

My review of Poughkeepsie Shuffle is featured today in the Lancashire Post and syndicated to 20 newspapers in the UK. The full review can be found at the web link below and elsewhere.

Read more at: https://www.lep.co.uk/lifestyle/books/poughkeepsie-shuffle-by-dietrich-kalteis-book-review-1-9342204

Paperback Warrior Reviews James O. Causey’s The Baby Doll Murders / Killer Take All! / Frenzy

The Baby Doll Murders / Killer Take All! / Frenzy by James O. Causey

“James O. Causey got his start in the 1940s writing short stories for “Weird Tales” and “Detective Story Magazine.” As the pulps died off, he became a highly-regarded, if not well-known, author of short, hardboiled crime novels. Stark House has compiled three of Causey’s classics into one volume for 21st Century audiences. The new trade paperback includes “The Baby Doll Murders,” “Killer Take All,” and “Frenzy” as well as an introduction by Nicholas Litchfield.

Despite problems of plot and pacing, Causey’s hardboiled, first-person prose is among the best. For example, His descriptions of acts of violence are vivid while also being matter-of-fact. Taking a professional beating in the groin, ribs, and kidneys is just an occupational hazard in this world, and those scenes were vivid as hell.”

Paperback Warrior is a review and discussion blog that takes a humorous look at the Men’s Action-Adventure book genre. From barrel chests to bullet belts Paperback Warrior doesn’t pull any punches. You can read their review of this new reprint of James O. Causey’s trio of novels on their website.

Read the full book review here.

Litchfield Reviews French Exit by Patrick deWitt

LEP.CO.UK - French Exit by Patrick deWitt

Gentler and more tender than a Patrick deWitt reader might anticipate, French Exit is a skilfully told tale that is brimming with humour and pathos, insightful conversations, and featuring eccentric people that intrigue and entertain.

It begins at a party on the Upper East Side with the strikingly attractive, revered, upper-cruster Frances Price indulging in ‘a night of implied insults and needling insinuations.’ Cold, snobbish and mean-spirited toward the host, a woman of high social standing, Frances leaves the party, gives a passing beggar twenty dollars, rebukes a policeman, and commends her socially awkward adult son, Malcolm, on having stolen a jade-framed photograph from the host’s bedroom.

The abnormal mother and son relationship is at the core of the novel, with both dysfunctional characters distracted by ‘personal unhappiness.’ Frances, despite her popularity, is largely friendless and was neglected as a child by her unaffectionate ‘demon’ mother. Similarly, Malcolm’s insensitive father, a famous litigator whose death is clouded by controversy, snubbed his son.

Now 32, Malcolm still lives with his mother and is unwilling to cut the apron strings and move out of their grand, multi-level apartment which resembles a museum. He strives to learn more about his parents and their rocky relationship and recently he is in a particularly melancholic mood following the recent breakdown of his engagement to Susan.

Frances, ‘meddlesome’ and ‘difficult,’ has always disapproved of Malcolm’s choice of fiancée and has been antagonistic toward the girl, ‘actively trying to dismantle their relationship.’ It’s Malcolm’s unhealthily close relationship with his mother that has caused the rift between them.

But revelations of Frances’ dire financial situation force a necessary change to their living situation.

My review of French Exit is featured today in the Lancashire Post and syndicated to 20 newspapers in the UK. The full review can be found at the web link below and elsewhere.

Read more at: https://www.lep.co.uk/lifestyle/books/french-exit-by-patrick-dewitt-book-review-1-9323645

Litchfield Reviews You’ll Get Yours by William Ard

LEP.CO.UK - Youll Get Yours by William Ard

Mysteriously lured by thieves into taking part in a ransom delivery, an honest Manhattan private-eye becomes involved in a perilous blackmail plot and the prime suspect in the murder of a stripper.

First published in 1952 by paperback publisher Lion Books under the pseudonym Thomas Wills, You’ll Get Yours is a hardboiled Fifties tale of theft, blackmail, murder and frame-up by the popular but long-forgotten novelist William Ard.

Before becoming a prolific writer of more than thirty novels, Ard worked briefly for a local detective agency, as a copywriter for an advertising agency, and as a publicity writer for Warner Brothers Pictures.

He penned his first novel in 1951 and went on to create several distinctive series detectives published under four pseudonyms as well as his real name.

Considered one of the best writers of private-eye detective fiction during his lifetime, he frequently received glowing reviews from the New York Times book critic Anthony Boucher who praised him for his technical skill, complexity of plot and counterplot, vigour and originality, and for the warmth and tenderness of his hardboiled detectives.

This new reprint of Ard’s second novel marks a welcome return to print for the first-rate writer of crime, mystery and Westerns who died aged 37 from cancer while at the height of his career.

Swift and dramatic, You’ll Get Yours is a worthy, quick read that is helped by a lean plot, terse writing, and a likeable, upright, hardboiled protagonist.

My review of You’ll Get Yours is featured today in the Lancashire Post and syndicated to 20 newspapers in the UK. The full review can be found at the web link below and elsewhere.

Read more at: https://www.lep.co.uk/lifestyle/books/you-ll-get-yours-by-william-ard-book-review-1-9313825

Book review: ‘Sleeping Dragons’ for the Colorado Review

“At times, the open-ended nature of Baudoin’s stories has the effect of making a narrative seem unfinished and crying out for resolution. Argentine-born writer, translator, and editor Alberto Manguel addresses this issue in his introduction, writing: “We come to the last page of a Baudoin story and we ask ourselves, what exactly just happened?” Time and again throughout the collection, you find there is always more to the story than Baudoin is willing to reveal, and by the end, we are left with an unclear take on things, a feeling that, as Manguel notes, something essential seems to have escaped us.

That said, what makes Baudoin’s atypical writing so distinctive and so critically appealing is her eloquence and subtlety, and her willingness to leave things unsaid and allow readers to interpret a story for themselves. Largely ominous and somber in tone, the concise, intelligent fiction contained in Sleeping Dragons will move, intrigue, and not fade quickly from memory..”

Published today in the Colorado Review is my review of Magela Baudoin’s slim but impactful story collection Sleeping Dragons.

Read the full, in-depth book review here

Litchfield Reviews Hostage for a Hood and The Merriweather File for the Lancashire Post

LEP.CO.UK - Hostage for a Hood and The Merriweather File by Lionel White

“Influential American crime writer Lionel White is often described as the master of the big caper. His 1955 novel Clean Break was adapted by Stanley Kubrick as the basis for the film noir classic The Killing and a number of White’s other 35 novels have been made into films.

His twelfth novel, Hostage for a Hood, originally published by Gold Medal Books in 1957, is a high-suspense, heist-gone-wrong tale that is finally back in print in this newly released double-novel from Stark House Press.”

The second novel, The Merriweather File, is a startling tale of bloodshed, murder and violence that was first published by Dutton in 1959 and filmed as an episode of the TV series Thriller two years later. It is narrated by New York City attorney-at-law Howard Means Yates, a neighbour and friend of Charles Merriweather and his wife Ann who unwittingly becomes ‘a major actor’ in a complicated murder investigation.”

My review of Hostage for a Hood and The Merriweather File , is featured today in the Lancashire Post and syndicated to 20 newspapers in the UK. The full review can be found at the web link below and elsewhere.

Read more at: https://www.lep.co.uk/lifestyle/books/hostage-for-a-hood-and-the-merriweather-file-by-lionel-white-book-review-1-9267611

Litchfield Reviews Fugitive from the Grave for the Lancashire Post

LEP.CO.UK - Fugitive from the Grave by Edward Marston

“Identical-twin detectives Peter and Paul Skillen are called on to investigate the strange fate of a missing beggar, a band of shadowy highwaymen, body snatchers, a stalker and a wily thief in the fourth thrilling tale in the Bow Street Rivals mystery series.

Set in London in 1817, with the city ‘awash with beggars,’ and numerous reported incidences of plundered graves and highway robberies, Fugitive from the Grave is the latest novel from Edward Marston, the pseudonym of prolific British author Keith Miles.

Best known for his popular Railway Detective series, set in 1850s England, Marston is also responsible for well over one hundred novels, including numerous critically acclaimed Elizabethan and medieval mysteries and a series set in the Great War.

As with previous books in the series, Fugitive from the Grave is a rollicking adventure that expertly stitches together multiple intriguing storylines, carefully draws its core mystery to the surface, and delivers some dramatic, satisfying surprises along the way.”

My review of Fugitive from the Grave, the newest in the Bow Street Rivals mystery series, is featured today in the Lancashire Post and syndicated to 20 newspapers in the UK. The full review can be found at the web link below and elsewhere.

https://www.lep.co.uk/lifestyle/books/book-review-fugitive-from-the-grave-by-edward-marston-1-9222968