Friday Fiction Feature

FictionReboot2Hello out there and welcome back to the Friday Fiction Feature. Tabatha is back, and ready to take you on a tour through one of my favorite genres: noir. By now you should know that we at the FFF think half the fun is in mucking around with the genres & themes we highlight, and accordingly this week’s noir selections all feature the generic PI’s, dangerous cities, and dark underbellies as the structure for stories about magic, kangaroos with automatic weapons, and ballroom dancing. Hopefully you all find these novels as intriguing as I do, and will join me on our jaunt through the worlds of crime, danger, and chevaux fatales. 

L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy

L.A. Confidential (L.A. Quartet, #3)We’ll begin with a true-to-type noir with L.A. ConfidentialThis book, third in the LA Quartet series, has also inspired one of my favorite movies. The book shows the seedy underside of Hollywood as it explores the city’s crime, its dirty cops, and the would-be-starlets whose dreams did not quite pan out. This modern look back at noir stays true to  the genre, delving deeper into the mystery without the classic noir’s limitations.

Christmas 1951, Los Angeles: a city where the police are as corrupt as the criminals. Six prisoners are beaten senseless in their cells by cops crazed on alcohol. For the three LAPD detectives involved, it will expose the guilty secrets on which they have built their corrupt and violent careers. The novel takes these cops on a sprawling epic of brutal violence and the murderous seedy side of Hollywood. One of the best (and longest) crime novels ever written, it is the heart of Ellroy’s four-novel masterpiece, the LA Quartet, and an example of crime writing at its most powerful.

Gun, with Occasional Music by Johnathan Lethem

Gun, With Occasional MusicOur next entry has just made it onto my must-read list out of sheer curiosity. While maintaining the dark, brooding, crime-riddled noir sense, Gun, with Occasional Music plunges into Science Fiction and drug fantasy along the way to noir without pausing to look around. Lethem has integrated sentient animals as citizens in his city, apparently establishing their person-hood by showing the alacrity which which they have adopted violence and weapons into their new civilization. If only to see how an angry kangaroo is able to wield a gun (I should think it’s legs were weapon enough), I encourage you to join me in this unusual vision of the future. (Also I hear there’s a mystery involved).

Gumshoe Conrad Metcalf has problems-there’s a rabbit in his waiting room and a trigger-happy kangaroo on his tail. Near-future Oakland is a brave new world where evolved animals are members of society, the police monitor citizens by their karma levels, and mind-numbing drugs such as Forgettol and Acceptol are all the rage.
Metcalf has been shadowing Celeste, the wife of an affluent doctor. Perhaps he’s falling a little in love with her at the same time. When the doctor turns up dead, our amiable investigator finds himself caught in a crossfire between the boys from the Inquisitor’s Office and gangsters who operate out of the back room of a bar called the Fickle Muse.
Mixing elements of sci-fi, noir, and mystery, this clever first novel from the author of Motherless Brooklyn is a wry, funny, and satiric look at all that the future may hold.

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Storm Front (The Dresden Files #1)In another stunning example of noir’s versatility (who says it has to be just 1940’s private eye’s?) Storm Front is indeed the tale of a private investigator trying to unravel a complicated mystery in a dark city (but that’s mostly because the investigator keeps sleeping all afternoon and only gets to work at night). But Harry Dresden is more than the average investigator, he is (with a nod to Pat Novak) a wizard for hire. Shockingly this is not a very popular job, and Dresden works on the most confusing (and physics-defying) mysteries the big city has to offer, going up against powerful mythic beings (who can get a bit cranky after a few millenia locked in a lead box), other wizards, and (worst of all) the normal people who don’t believe him and keep poking their noses (and vital bits) into dangerous magic. With witty lines and excellent writing Butcher’s series takes the noir into a new realm (literally) and shows us a world where magic is not exactly going to save the day, and that there are much worse things for a brooding private-eye to face down than a gun.

Lost items found. Paranormal Investigations.
Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates.
No Love Potions, Endless Purses, or
Other Entertainment.
Harry Dresden is the best at what he does. Well, technically, he’s the only at what he does. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal creativity or capability, they come to him for answers. For the “everyday” world is actually full of strange and magical things — and most of them don’t play well with humans. That’s where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a — well, whatever.
There’s just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks. So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry’s seeing dollar signs. But where there’s black magic, there’s a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry’s name. And that’s when things start to get… interesting.
Magic. It can get a guy killed.

Queenpin by Megan Abbott

QueenpinOur fourth selection continues the trend of groundbreaking changes. So far we have seen noir altered by talking animals and magic, but now Queenpin gives the genre something even stranger: women. In charge. More than the femmes fatales or victims, Megan Abbott’s novel shows us women who can take charge and outdo any boring old Kingpin. Let’s see what kind of money and mayhem you get when the ladies take over the criminal empire. (And don’t anyone dare say it’ll be a “fashionable” empire. I can hear you thinking it.)

A young woman hired to keep the books at a down-at-the-heels nightclub is taken under the wing of the infamous Gloria Denton, a mob luminary who reigned during the Golden Era of Bugsy Siegel and Lucky Luciano. Notoriously cunning and ruthless, Gloria shows her eager young protege the ropes, ushering her into a glittering demimonde of late-night casinos, racetracks, betting parlors, inside heists, and big, big money. Suddenly, the world is at her feet;as long as she doesn’t take any chances, like falling for the wrong guy. As the roulette wheel turns, both mentor and protege scramble to stay one step ahead of their bosses and each other.

They Shoot Horses Don’t They? by Horace McCoy

They Shoot Horses, Don't They?Our final selection for the day is a true mystery. I present to you an enigma wrapped in a “What the heck?!” I say this for the very simple reason that while I am very intrigued by They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? I also have no idea what to make of it. The title alone would grant it inclusion here (our more regular readers know a title that makes me laugh often merits inclusion as the final entry) but it is the description of dancing with a dark underside (apparently somehow linked with equestrian violence) that  launches this noir into the realm of the truly mysterious. I do hope you enjoy this last entry (and tell me what it’s all about!).

The marathon dance craze flourished during the 1930s, but the underside was a competition and violence unknown to most ballrooms–a dark side that Horace McCoy’s classic American novel powerfully captures. “Were it not in its physical details so carefully documented, it would be lurid beyond itself.”–Nation

Friday Fiction Feature

FictionReboot2Welcome back to the Fiction Reboot and this week’s edition of the Friday Fiction Feature!

To commemorate the jumbled chaos of getting back into the semester, Tabatha has decided to do away with the themes for today and give you a nice mishmash of book suggestions from sources long since forgotten. Enjoy!

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First is a book with an unusual narrator; The Prince of Lies (as he likes to be known- I, Lucifer: Finally, the Other Side of the Storypersonally I don’t believe a word he says).

Glen Duncan gives us a very new perspective in I, Lucifer: Finally, the Other Side of the Story. The Prince of Darkness has been given one last shot at redemption, provided he can live out a reasonably blameless life on earth. Highly sceptical, naturally, the Old Dealmaker negotiates a trial period – a summer holiday in a human body, with all the delights of the flesh.

The body, however, turns out to be that of Declan Gunn, a depressed writer living in Clerkenwell, interrupted in his bath mid-suicide. Ever the opportunist, and with his main scheme bubbling in the background, Luce takes the chance to tap out a few thoughts – to straighten the biblical record, to celebrate his favourite achievements, to let us know just what it’s like being him.

Neither living nor explaining turns out to be as easy as it looks. Beset by distractions, miscalculations and all the natural shocks that flesh is heir to, the Father of Lies slowly begins to learn what it’s like being us.

Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos, #1)Our next selection for today includes a quick genre hop over to Science Fiction with Hyperion(Hyperion Cantos #1) by Dan Simmons. On the world called Hyperion, beyond the law of the Hegemony of Man, there waits the creature called the Shrike. There are those who worship it. There are those who fear it. And there are those who have vowed to destroy it. In the Valley of the Time Tombs, where huge, brooding structures move backward through time, the Shrike waits for them all. On the eve of Armageddon, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set forth on a final voyage to Hyperion seeking the answers to the unsolved riddles of their lives. Each carries a desperate hope—and a terrible secret. And one may hold the fate of humanity in his hands. (Maybe our last protagonist could have cleared up some of those burning questions for him…oh well).

Staying (more or less) in the world of fantasy, next up is The Dresden Files, a series that managed to squirm its way onto my suggestion list twice (that must mean it’s good right?) and one that I just started and am excited to continue…just as soon as I can get my hands on a copy of #2.

Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1)Beginning with Storm Front, Jim Butcher’s novels of the Dresden Files have become synonymous with action-packed urban fantasy and non-stop fun. Storm Front is Jim Butcher’s first novel and introduces his most famous and popular character-Harry Dresden, wizard for hire.

For his first case, Harry is called in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with the blackest of magic. At first, the less-than-solvent Harry’s eyes light up with dollar signs. But where there’s black magic, there’s a black mage. Now, that black mage knows Harry’s name. And things are about to get very…interesting.

ChildhoodsEnd(1stEd).jpgIn Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End the story follows the peaceful alien invasion of Earth by the mysterious Overlords, whose arrival ends all war, helps form a world government, and turns the planet into a near-utopia. Many questions are asked about the origins and mission of the aliens, but they avoid answering, preferring to remain in their spacecraft, governing through indirect rule. Decades later, the Overlords show themselves, and their impact on human culture leads to a Golden Age. However, the last generation of children on Earth begins to display powerful psychic abilities, heralding their evolution into a group mind, a transcendent form of life.

An intriguing premise, but any Twilight Zone fan can tell you to never trust the “benevolent” alien visitors…

David Eddings’ Pawn of Prophecy (The Belgariad #1) presents a much more straightforward antagonist. Selected as a 2003 Popular Paperback for Young Adults by the Young Adult Library Services Association Pawn of Prophecy tells that Long ago, so the storyteller claimed, the evil God Torak sought dominion over all and drove the world to war. Now the one talisman keeping this sinister force from seizing power has been disturbed–and no one will be safe. . . .
Pawn of Prophecy (The Belgariad, #1)Raised on a quiet farm by his Aunt Pol, Garion spends his days lounging in his aunt’s warm kitchen and playing in the surrounding fields with his friends. He has never believed in magic, despite the presence of a cloaked, shadowless stranger who has haunted him from a distance for years. But one afternoon, the wise storyteller Wolf appears and urges Garion and his aunt to leave the farm that very night. Without understanding why, Garion is whisked away from the only home he has ever known–and thrown into dark and unfamiliar lands.
Thus begins an extraordinary quest to stop a reawakened evil from devouring all that is good. It is a journey that will lead Garion to discover his heritage and his future. For the magic that once seemed impossible to Garion is now his destiny.

Last but not least, we return to Terry Pratchett, previously mentioned as half the brain behind (the personal favorite) Good Omens. Technically my suggestion list says “everything by Terry Pratchett” but since I have neither the space nor inclination to be that thorough, I think I’ll stick to The Color of Magic, and you can do your own investigating from there.

The Color of Magic (Discworld, #1)Terry Pratchett’s profoundly irreverent, bestselling novels have garnered him a revered position in the halls of parody next to the likes of Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Adams, and Carl Hiaasen.
The Color of Magic is Terry Pratchett’s maiden voyage through the now-legendary land of Discworld. This is where it all begins — with the tourist Twoflower and his wizard guide, Rincewind.

As a recent reader, I eagerly encourage fans of Good Omens to see where the funny bits came from, and read about a universe whose creators had more imagination than practicality (and are a little embarrassed about that).