Sunday, March 15, 2015

Masters Voices

At any given period in our history there is generally a small handful of writers who bring a level of skill at stringing together words in such a unique and entertaining fashion that they deliver stories the stand out from the rest and earn them the appellation, master. It is the ability to capture a setting, develop characters and deliver a voice that captures the readers imagination.

Three such writers are out with new entries and all have delivered yet another masterful installment to their shelf full of great reads; all of which are set in a similar time frame in and around World War II.

World Gone By – Dennis Lehane – (William Morrow)

It is 1943; the world is at war and on the home front in the U.S. the mob is expanding its business interests beyond the traditional northern strongholds into hot spots like Tampa and pre-revolution Cuba. Crime family consigliere Joe Couglin makes it look easy, managing his far flung interests and expanding business empire; but all is not what it appears and there is trouble in paradise. Word is out that someone wants Joe dead.

The final book of a trilogy that began with The Given Day (2008), followed by Live By Night (2012) World Gone By is chock full of the colorful characters readers have come to expect from Dennis Lehane. A grifter and ruthless lady killer has sent word from behind bars that Coughlin has had a target hung on him and he’s taking the news seriously.

Lehane delivers from beginning to end; capturing the setting of a bygone era, the patios of the hoodlums and ratchets up the intensity of the violence with such great detail that it practically jumps of the page. This a fitting close to a wonderfully entertaining series.

Leaving Berlin: A Novel – Joseph Kanon (Atria Books)

Joseph Kanon takes us back to post-war Berlin a place he first visited with the classic The Good German. Kanon once again serves up the sights, sounds and even the smells of Berlin as it digs out, rebuilds and divides it allegiances.

Kanon delivers an unexpected plot hook — his main character Alex Meier, a German-Jewish writer who fled the Nazis, finds himself in the cross hairs of the U.S. government and in 1949 at the height the Berlin Airlift, he returns to live in his home city. If he can deliver useful information to American spymasters he will be allowed to return to Los Angeles and his young son. It quickly becomes apparent as he’s out of his depth and in over his head.

Kanon has mastered the ability to transport the reader back in time and capture the detailed setting of the era and infuse it with just the right amount of desperation, despair and deception. The story accelerates to full velocity and the reader must grip tight and hang on for the twists and turns to come.

Mike Hammer: Kill Me, Darling – Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (Titan Books)

Mickey Spillane is the creator of not only legendary tough guy private investigator Mike Hammer but really continued the wave of hardboiled genre that spawned so many great characters. Max Allan Collins, a master in his own right, was befriended by Spillane and entrusted to carry on his legacy and breathe life into a pile of manuscripts that the old master had developed and collected, but never completed.

Collins describes what Spillane dubbed a “treasure hunt” that took place upon Mickey’s passing; with Collins, Spillane’s wife Jane and others searching through a number of locations to gather unfinished manuscripts, bits and pieces of outlines, plots and story starters that Collins has undertaken the task of completing or developing into full fledged collaborations.

Originally intended as a follow up to Spillane’s classic Kiss Me, Deadly, the latest installment of these collaborations, Kill Me, Darling finds Hammer in the throes of a full blown bender, after his true love and partner Velda Sterling walked out on him without explanation.

With the death of Detective Wade “Big Man” Manley, Hammer paddles hard to get back to the surface of reality and learns that Velda has also resurfaced on the arm of a Miami gangster, Nolly Quinn. Looking for a reason for Velda’s departure, a connection to Manley’s murder and seeking revenge, Hammer sets his sights on points south.

Collins does a tremendous job of not only completing the unfinished story, but capturing Spillane’s unique tone and the tenor of the era and setting. In other words the men are men and the women are dames and the sparks fly hard and fast right from the start. If you’re new to Spillane, Collins does a tremendous job of baiting the hook and opening the door to a new generation of fans.

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