Recent Reads

I’ve decided it might be a good idea to let you fine folks in on what I’m reading at any given point and whether I think it’s worth a recommendation. Sure, you might say that’s because I need blog material.  And sure, you’d be right.  Still….

YELLOW MEDICINE by Anthony Neil Smith

This one’s a few years old, and I just got around to it last month.  An entertaining addition to the “shit goes nuts” style of crime thriller, where things just get worse with each twist and turn and there’s little room to breathe, Yellow Medicine is full of cracking prose, frozen atmosphere, and some wonderfully ruthless villains.  A deputy is asked for help by a local girl he’s been crushing on.  Her boyfriend appears to have run into some trouble with some shady characters, and she wants the deputy’s help.  What follows is a roller coaster of meth dealers, severed heads, shootings, frame jobs, and terrorists, and every page of it is exciting. 

While I enjoyed the hell out of the book, I’m a little disappointed in the main character.  The book’s “hero,” Deputy Billy Lafitte is so crooked Vic Mackie would probably shake his head in disappointment.  He’s so thoroughly rotten that I can’t root for him at all.  Wanting the hero to fail isn’t a good sign, no matter how thrilling a book is.

THE BALLAD OF BALLARD AND SANDRINE by Peter Straub

Ballard and Sandrine are lovers and the stars of this gripping novella.  Their story takes place over the course of twenty-five years and largely on a mysterious yacht that’s motoring its way down the Amazon.  They never see the ship’s crew, and they can’t identify the wonderful food they’re fed.  Slowly, they explore more of the ship and learn some of its secrets, and what they find is truly horrific.  I’d tell you more, but peeling back the layers of this particular story is most of the fun.

Peter Straub remains an amazing writer because of his ability to let a story unfold in a way that’s both natural and ominous.  The more we learn about both the yacht and our protagonists, the deeper the horror takes root.  By the end of this all-too-short novella, I was afraid to turn the page.  I can’t recommend this one highly enough.

PEOPLE LIVE STILL IN CASHTOWN CORNERS by Tony Burgess

Depending on your point of view, this one is either a short novel or a long novella.  Either way, it’s a wonderful peek into the mind of a deranged narrator.  Using sparse language, Cashtown Corners tells the story of Bob Clark, owner of a gas station and a man losing his grip on reality.  When he murders a woman for what appears to be no reason, he sends his life hurtling down a new path, and he drags the reader along for every macabre step.

Burgess, who previously wrote Pontypool Changes Everything, tells this story with a voice that’s so measured and almost clinical that at times it feels like a true crime book.  It makes some of the book’s later developments, one of which is delivered by a chapter that consists of a single line, that much more shocking.  Grab this one as soon as you can.