James Kestrel's Five Decembers

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Every now and then a book comes along that you have to tell people about. It grabs you, holds on to you and the only way to release the energy is to share it with others. Five Decembers by James Kestrel is that kind of book. It's the best book I've read this year. 

The book starts as you might expect in a noir crime novel. But that's not giving Kestrel full credit. He's a student of the genre and, like his main character Honolulu Police Detective Joe McGrady, he knows what he's doing. Kestrel is laying the scene in the first couple of chapters as McGrady investigates a murder. But really, he's setting McGrady up for a fall.

It's November 1941 and the book is imbued with the atmosphere of pre-war Hawaii. There's a tension in the air and Kestrel paints an apt picture of Chinatown, the seedy harbor brothels and the sweat and smoke of the police station right down to the captain's 15c benzedrine inhaler. Given the navy build-up you might think you know where things are going, but like McGrady, you haven't a clue. I'll I can say is he lands in Hong Kong December 7, 1941. And from there, it becomes a very different story. Yes it's a noir crime story, but it's much more than that. It's an epic story of love and war and faith and betrayal. 

Although this is the first book under this name, this isn't Kestrel's first rodeo. He studied at the world-renowned Interlochen Arts Academy writing program under Jack Driscoll. He's written six other well-received novels. As historic noir fiction, Five Decembers was a departure and two-dozen publishers turned it down before Charles Ardai at Hard Case Crime took it. Although the path could have been easier for Kestrel, I'm glad it landed with Hard Case Crime. Ardai is also a student of the genre and he likely understood and appreciated the significance of the book more than others. 

Five decembers TC 1I've read a lot of Hard Case Crime over the years, starting with their first book in 2004 by Lawrence Block. They've published some great authors including Stephen King, Max Allen Collins, Michael Crichton, Donald Westlake, Ariel S. Winter, Scott Von Doviak and others. Kestrel is right up there. In fact, I'd say Five Decembers is the best book Hard Case Crime has ever published. No surprise, he's got great reviews in the New York Times, Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly and elsewhere. This book would make one helluva movie. 

With this book, James Kestrel earns his spot as one of the "Three K's of Historic Fiction" alongside Philipp Kerr (Berlin Noir) and Joseph Kanon (The Good German).

Bottom line, this is an absolute page turner. Buy it now and put it at the top of your reading list.


The Reincarnationist Papers

Reincarnationist papers

Tech executive D. Eric Maikranz hit the jackpot with his novel The Reincarnationist Papers which was made into the film Infinite starring Mark Wahlberg. Maikranz self-published the novel back in 2009 with an innovative crowd-sourced reward to anyone who helped him land a film deal. By chance a copy of the book was discovered in a hostel in Nepal by Rafi Crohn, who worked at a Hollywood production company. After many twists and turns over ten years, it was turned into an explosive over-the-top sci-fi adventure. I first heard about Maikranz' publishing journey on the Bestseller Experiment podcast hosted by authors Mark Stay and Mark Desvaux

Maikranz's novel asks the question: "What if... you could live forever?" I mean, what could be more captivating than that?

The Reincarnationist Papers is a stunning and original first novel that exposes you to a fantastical world of people who live forever via reincarnation. You can't help but wonder how you would cope with the situations the narrator faces, whether it's his troubled life before he understands his reincarnations or the temptations of hedonism, lust and greed. If you liked Ken Grimwood's Replay, you will find this equally intriguing. It's a breezy summertime read, perfect for airport travel or hanging out at a beach.

Maikranz is working on a sequel, which will be a welcome follow-up to the slightly enigmatic ending. 

The book is published by Blackstone and is also available on Audible.


Solstice Run - June 20

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Some friends of mine from MySQL days have organized a world-wide distributed virtual running event. It's open to every runner, any distance, anywhere in the world. The run will take place on the summer Solstice, June 20.

If you're a runner, or would like to try it out, please register. (It's free!) I'd like to see if we can get people from more than 40 countries signed up.


Len Deighton's Game, Set, Match

Berlin game

Of all the writers I've enjoyed, there's one that resonates with me more than all others: Len Deighton. Although Le CarrĂ©, Chandler, MacDonald and Kerr are all still widely read, Deighton seems to have fallen by the wayside in the last twenty years. He still writes non-fiction, but his last novel was published in 1996. There's only been one adaptation since then, the wonderful 2017 BBC mini-series SS-GB. I'm hoping this will be the launching point for more adaptations and more interest in Deighton. 

For fans of espionage, noir or anything in between, I strongly recommend giving Deighton a read. His first novel, The IPCRESS File predated Le Carré's The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and was made into a successful film with Michael Caine. Deighton published fifteen more books over twenty years, mostly set in the cold war. You really can't go wrong with any of Deighton's early books. Funeral in Berlin, An Expensive Place to Die, Spy Story, SS-GB and XPD are especially good. (Four of these early books are packaged as the Spy Quartet.)

But Deighton topped all of this with the publication of Berlin Game in 1982, the first of three books in the Game, Set, Match trilogy. This is Deighton's masterpiece, a complex story of subterfuge, class and betrayal. The story is told from the viewpoint of Bernard Samson, a working class brit raised in Berlin who works for MI5. He's a former field agent, hitting middle age, battling his desk-bound bureaucratic superiors, his in-laws and his past. It's a complex story of the penetration of MI5 by the KGB made deeply personal. Deighton followed this up with a WWII prequel called Winter, which is a wonderful standalone book. 

What's amazing is Deighton then went on to write a second trilogy (Hook, Line, Sinker) covering the same story but from a different view point, filling in some missing elements. And then after three fairly forgettable novels in the early 1990's, he wrote a final trilogy (Faith, Hope, Charity) in the same series.

I don't know if Deighton got fed up with espionage or publishing but that was the end of his career in fiction. I'm grateful that Deighton wrote so many wonderful novels. He's still alive and kicking at 90, so I'm secretly hoping maybe there will be one more Bernie Sampson story he wants to tell. You never know.

I've read many of Deighton's novels two or three times. His books are a master class in storytelling with complex characters, sparkling dialog and brilliant subtext. I'm re-reading this series now, looking for ways to improve my own writing.

For those seeking more information, I recommend The Deighton Dossier which covers all of Deighton's work, both fiction and non-fiction, his writing process, interviews and more.


The Whisperer in Darkness Podcast

Whisperer

The BBC has followed up their brilliant adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's Case of Charles Dexter Ward with a new podcast The Whisperer in Darkness. They've combined a somewhat obscure novella, brought it to modern day and mashed it up with a 1980 UFO sighting in rural England. The story works very well, though I don't think it quite reaches the same heights as their first podcast, leaving quite a few unanswered questions.

The story brings forward the two main characters Kennedy Fisher and Matthew Heawood, investigators from a fictional true crime podcast called Mystery Machine, as well as a couple of threads from the first series. There's a good chemistry between the lead characters and that makes for a marked improvement over the typical Lovecraft loner.  There's also a few well executed surprises that will have you jumping out of your ear-buds. That said, I didn't understand the purpose of bonus episode 9 at all.  (Spoiler alert: it's a noise loop with a disguised message.) All of that is explained in bonus episode 10.

Nonetheless, the podcast is well worth listening to and I hope they will continue with a third series that brings the story to Innsmouth and ties everything together.  This is great show for anyone interested in paranormal investigation. Kudos to the production team and writers for bringing Lovecraft forward in a compelling modern tale.