Bryan Catches Up

Hey Crimespree readers!  It is your loyal fanboy/reviewer, Bryan VanMeter returning to the Crimespree Crew once again.  For the last two and a half years, I have been attending the University of New Orleans while working on a Masters’ degree in Literature.  While that exposed me to a myriad of amazing authors, styles, and works I had not encountered before, it did not leave me a lot of time for reading contemporary novels that you may be interested in reading.  Instead, they have been slowly amassing in TBR pile, which had come to resemble the Tower of Babylon.

Now, I am back in Milwaukee, have a great job with an amazing school as an English teacher, and have a bit of time to catch up on all the books I have kept waiting.  So, for the next few weeks and months, I will be writing about the books I am catching up on.  You may have read them, as some have been out for a while.  However, this may be your chance to find some amazing books that you also missed out on in the last few years.  Therefore, in no particular order, here are some of the books I have finally been able to read.

No Sunscreen for the Dead by Tim Dorsey
Released January 2019

There are few authors I enjoy reading as much as Tim Dorsey.  Serge and Coleman, a serial killer who spouts Florida trivia at every turn and a stoner who could have outdone Keith Richards on his best day, make a comedic duo like no other.  In their latest outing, they have found their way into a retirement community filled with Serge’s most revered product, living history.  However, as he talks with the residents, he discovers scams and ill deeds targeting the elders he falls in love with almost immediately. Violence, Rube Goldberg-style death traps, and, of course, illicit drug use ensues, packed with Dorsey’s trademark humor and fast paced plotting that would leave a 1970 Ford Falcon little more than a dot in the rear view mirror.  Though this is the 22nd book in featuring Dorsey’s dynamic duo, feel free to pick it up on its own.  While characters pop in and out of the series, each book is a perfect standalone in its own right.

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
Released 2007

Alright, so this isn’t a book that I simply missed out on because I was in school.  The fact is, despite numerous people recommending Joe Hill to me, he kept staying on the bottom of my TBR pile.  Ten pages into this novel, I knew I was wrong to let him escape my attention for so long.  While it is advertised as a “ghost story,” this book is so much more than that.  Don’t get me wrong, it features ghosts and is so scary you’ll leave your nightlight on for a week after reading it.  However, Hill’s masterful writing presents brilliantly complicated characters and explores the themes of personal history, asserting that the past is never really dead and gone.  

I went into this novel completely blind, not knowing what I would find, and therefore, I don’t want to give too much away here.  Essentially, an aging rocker by the name of Judas Coyne who has a fascination with the macabre buys a suit that is supposedly haunted by its previous owner.  When it arrives, he doesn’t think much of it.  He simply stashes it away with the other trinkets he has collected over the decades.  However, when he sees a spirit glaring at him and wearing the same suit a few days later, he begins to believe that there is more to this particular item than the others he has accumulated.  The novel quickly escalates into one of the most chilling and intensely thrilling books I have ever had the pleasure to read.

I know I am not introducing Joe Hill to most of the Crimespree readership.  However, if you have left him on the TBR pile as foolishly as I have done for so long, I implore you to pick him up right away.  You’ll be glad you did, even though your TBR will expand as mine did as you’ll be possessed to buy all his other books immediately.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Released 2015

So much has been said about this book that I feel I have little to add.  It was a phenomenon and practically an overnight sensation.  The film made everyone aware of it and novels for the next year were compared to it.  Frankly, because of the hype, it wasn’t even on my TBR pile.  I didn’t think it would be my sort of thing.  However, I found myself without a book one afternoon and there was a copy sitting in the employee break room.  So, I decided to see what they fuss was about, bracing myself for another mediocre novel that somehow entranced the world.

Boy was I wrong.

Hawkins crafts a novel in three primary voices, telling the same story from different perspectives and different times with unequalled skill and such brilliantly framed suspense that I found myself entranced by the book almost immediately.  Rather than giving the reader a path to the truth, Hawkins gives us three heavily unreliable narrators that force the reader to hunt for the truth between each line and in the silent spaces that the book creates.  I usually hate using the term “beach read,” as it has become short hand for entertaining books that don’t have much to say.  This book is certainly entertaining, but it has a lot to say about modern life, relationships between men and women, and the processing of grief and depression.  So rather than calling it a beach read, let me just say that no matter where you pick up this book, from the beach, to the commuter train, to the office break room, you will be engrossed by this book from the very start.

The Void Protocol by F. Paul Wilson
Released 2018

As those of you who read my Crimespree reviews regularly know, I am a huge fanboy of F. Paul Wilson’s.  To this day, his books are the only ones to have given me legitimate nightmares, specifically Nightworld and Midnight Mass.  Over his extensive and storied career, he has written in a myriad of genres from high science fiction, to medical thrillers, to horror.  Most people who know of him immediately connect him with his anti-hero, Repairman Jack, who has been featured in more than twenty of Mr. Wilson’s novels.

When he announced that he was done with Jack, many of us were devastated.  I love his other books, but I have been a Jack fanatic since I first read Conspiracies in 2001.  Where would I go to get my Jack fix?

Then, Panacea hit the shelves and I realized my fears were unfounded.  Not that they feature Jack, but rather, that Wilson crafted a novel of such enthralling brilliance and skill that I forgot all about Jack.  Panacea began the ICE trilogy, which included The God Gene, and now culminates in The Void Protocol.

The books center on the investigation of things that in some way don’t belong in the world as we understand it, a cure-all for every disease and condition that man can possess, a gene in a group of primates that is the source of creativity and intelligence in a species, and finally, in this book, super-powered children.  All of these come from ICE, Intrusive Cosmic Entities, that are trying to disrupt the world.

The Void Protocol centers on a vast conspiracy of government experimentation, recovered German technology from WWII, and children who can do impressive superhuman things.  In story that spans over five decades, Wilson leads us through a labyrinth of plot twists and action that keeps you on the edge of your seat until after the final page has been turned.  It is rare that an author can land three such books with such perfection.  Usually, there is a weak link, or an ending that feels like a letdown in some way.  However, in the ICE trilogy, F. Paul Wilson creates a masterclass of character, suspense, science, and the supernatural the likes of which I have never encountered before.  Again, I am sad to bid adieu to yet another of Wilson’s characters that I have loved so much.  But I am positive that whatever comes after will be equally spectacular to what he has created before.

Past Tense by Lee Child
Released in 2018

Is there anyone in the mystery community that isn’t aware of Lee Child and his ass-kicking nomadic hero, Jack Reacher?  Twenty-four novels, two movies, an upcoming series on Amazon, and a legion of devoted fanboys and fangirls of all ages makes me feel like it is an impossibility.  So, rather than belaboring the point, I will get straight to the meat of the thing.

In his 24th novel, Jack Reacher stumbles across the town which his father was raised in until he left for the Marines when he was seventeen.  He decides to stop in and see the house his father grew up in and maybe see if there were any stories about his family.  However, when he begins asking around, no one has ever heard the name “Reacher” before.  Unable to resist a mystery, the former MP begins digging and discovers an unsolved murder from half a century ago.

Meanwhile, a couple’s car breaks down in front of a remote motel.  They decide to stay the night and hopefully get their car fixed in the morning.  However, when one of them wakes up at 3 AM and tries to open the door to get some fresh air, she finds that it won’t budge.  As they begin to ask questions, they begin to wonder if something more sinister is happening as they become trapped and at the mercy of the motel owner.

Any of you who have read a Reacher novel before gets the basic idea of what is to come.  Jack will unravel the mystery, kick some well-deserved ass, and disappear back down the road on the final pages.  However, as always, this knowledge makes his books no less fun to read.  Child crafts an enthralling mystery for Reacher to solve and through the couple in the motel cranks the tension higher with each turn of the page.  It’s a crazy world right now.  It is nice to escape in to one where Reacher will set everything right and the bad guys get what’s coming to them.  So, if you haven’t read it yet, grab Past Tense and walk with Reacher into his latest adventure.

Other books I have read – Quick notes

So these are books that aren’t really of the genre, necessarily, but that I have really loved.

  • All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai.  In this book, the world we are supposed to live in is the world envisioned by the 1950’s.  You know, flying cars, moving sidewalks, amazing buildings all that stuff.  However, an accident caused by a time traveler gives us the world we are actually living in and erases the quasi-utopic world he was in.  A brilliant exploration of what can be, what should be, and what is, I loved every moment of this totally unique sci-fi tale.
  • Black Leopard Red Wolf by Marlon James.  Wow, where to begin…?  You have probably heard of or seen this book, as many people are talking about it.  It is one of the most complex and deep novels I have encountered in the past decade.  The first book of a proposed trilogy, this book is steeped in witches, spirits, demons, trackers, shapeshifters, and wonderful characters all rendered through a variety of African mythologies.  It is a long book.  It will take you a long time to read, as James prose forces you to linger over his myriad of voices and storytelling styles.  However, no longer how long it takes you to read, you will find yourself wishing for more.
  • Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott.  Many of you probably know Alcott from her beloved novel, Little Women.  However, before she wrote that book, she served for a brief time as a Civil War nurse.  Hospital Sketches was a collection of her reminiscences of her service.  I am including this because it is one of the best books I have every read that few people know about.  Alcott’s humor is witty, smart, and engrossing, while at the same time she shares the actual horrors she had witnessed on her short time in the convalescent ward. It’s short, only about 100 pages.  However, Alcott says more in those 100 than most say in 1000.
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  Okay, I didn’t just read this for the first time.  However, it had been a while since I read it, and since I was teaching it over the summer, it was the perfect time to revisit Bradbury’s masterpiece.  You already know this book, I am sure.  I am just here to tell you that in the age of “fake news,” over-saturation of media, war, and the internet, it may be more relevant than ever.  It is a good chance to revisit Guy Montag, Mildred, Clarisse, and Capt. Beatty and realize that Bradbury’s warnings weren’t just for people in the 1950’s, but quite possibly for us as well.
  • Ring for Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse.  Undisputedly a master of the comedic novel, whenever I want a release I turn to Wodehouse.  With his over-the-top schemes, ridiculous characters, loves lost and won, and the ever-attentive Jeeves, what’s not to love.  This book is no exception, featuring a horse gambling ring, a wealthy young widow, fake mustaches, and the confusion of fake identities run amok.  It is a brilliant book packed with laughter perfect for a nice summer day.

I have so many more on my TBR pile, so be sure to stay tuned to see more of what is ahead.  Just between you and me, I have never read a book by Alafair Burke.  A SIN! I can hear you cry.  I agree, and one I plan to rectify by reading The Ex soon.  However, if you have any books you think I should pick up that I might have missed in the last couple of years, please, please, PLEASE list them in the comments so that I read them.  There is no better book than one that comes highly recommended by people in the know!

Current TBR pile: