Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"The Ash Angels" by Ian Rogers

The Ash Angels
by Ian Rogers
Burning Effigy Press (Sept 2010)
40 pages
ISBN 9781926611099

I blogged a month or two ago about the first novella in Ian Roger's gritty urban fantasy, the Felix Renn series. I quite like the hard-boiled blending with dark fantasy and a dash of the Great White North for flavor. Well, I got around to reading the second installment, The Ash Angels, and while the book could work as a stand-alone I thought it a good follow-up to the impressive debut.

It's Christmas time, and while Felix and his ex-wife are civil to each other these days, he'd rather be alone--and drunk. He needs something festive for a chaser while home alone, so he heads out to find some eggnog and wides up with a mystery involving piles of ash shaped like angels. It's a case that leads him from a funeral home and ultimately to a familiar location from his recent past, all the while trying to keep from winding up like the ashen corpses he finds.

The Ash Angels has the same hard-boiled approach to urban fantasy that I've come to enjoy from several authors, and Ian has a great character with Felix Renn to explore this world he's created. That said. this second installment didn't come off quite as strong as the debut effort. The curse of the sophomore book in a series, I suppose. It's not bad, quite the contrary actually, but with such a powderkeg as Temporary Monsters, I had my hopes set really high on this one. Still a satisfying read, and I'm eager to read the third installment, Black-Eyed Kids, in the near future, which Ian intimated is his strongest work of the three. Good to know.

If you're not on board the Felix Renn bandwagon, and you're a fan of gritty urban fantasy, I suggest you remedy that.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

"Four Live Rounds" by Blake Crouch

Four Live Rounds
by Blake Crouch
self-published by Blake Crouch (2010)

Merry Christmas to me, because quite a few authors I had on my watch list offered free e-books on the Kindle Store this past Christmas. Blake Crouch was chief among them, I dare say, as he had several listed as freebies for a week or two. I think I downloaded them all, including this collection of four short stories. Four Live Rounds was my first time reading Blake's work that was not a collaboration with another author, so I was very interested to see how good he did on his own compared to the thrillrides he writers with J.A. Konrath and others.

"*69" starts with an interesting concept: what if someone's cell phone inadvertently called you while that person was committing a murder? Pretty creepy, especially if you've ever gotten one of those odd calls where there's no one on the other line, but you can hear something like breathing or some kind of commotion. In Blake's story, after the initial phone call, there's a quaintness to the married couple pondering who might have called and whether they actually overheard someone's murder. But the story quickly ramps up as their suspicions escalate and their actions to learn the truth cross a couple of lines. A really strong opener for this collection.

"Remaking" is a tragic bit of work strikes a nerve considering the number of times you hear about a child abduction on the six-o-clock news. If I had to pick a runt from this litter of stories, "Remaking" would be it, but it's still one that kept me hooked until the end because the man's torment and how it threatened the safety of the child was chilling.

"On the Good, Red Road" is a western that acts as a prelude of sorts to a novel of Blake's called Abandon. A man tries to make his way to a mining town, but winds up in the couple of a trio of outlaws. Things are tense enough as the guy tries to gauge how best to get away from the villains, but when a sudden blizzard leaves them stranded and starving in the middle of nowhere, that's when it really turns into a nail-biter.

"Shining Rock" struck me as a story with a really strong start and finish, but there was a piece in the middle that strained my credulity. A married couple are on a romantic excursion in the bucolic fields of a park called Shining Rock, and are approached by a lone man from a neighboring campsite who at first seems off-putting with his large knife, but ultimately charms them with smalltalk and pricey booze. But there's something about the lone man and his brief tale of tragedy during drunken chatter that sets the husband on edge and has him wanting to flee the park as soon as possible. I really liked the story overall, but there was one aspect of the wife's reaction to her husband's revelation that didn't feel believable to me. Aside from that, it was probably my favorite story of the four.

It's a nice, quick hodgepodge for anyone who'd care to check out Blake's work for the first time. A little bit of everything, from western to psychological thriller, to horror. There's a larger collection on the Kindle Store called Fully Loaded, which includes these four stories and a bunch more (his collaboration with J.A. Konrath, Serial, among them), so I'll have to check that out sometime, too.