Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Review: Mike Monson

Hello everyone! Things are finally back to normal here at Craig's Book-ends. There have been a lot of great books pass my way since the last post so be prepared to hear about some great things. Speaking of great things...

Mike Monson is editor of, what you'll recall, is one of my favorite magazines -- All Due Respect. However, he is also a heck of a storyteller in his own right. Recently I had the opportunity to read two books from him -- WHAT HAPPENS IN RENO and THE SCENT OF NEW DEATH. Since we are here talking about them, you can probably tell roughly what my opinion is, but I think these are some books worth talking about. Therefore, let's see how they hold up on the shelf.

First up, Mike Monson's debut novella -- What Happens In Reno. I'm going to be straightforward from the beginning and say that if you like your crime fiction dirty, violent, and fast -- this is the book for you. In fact, both of these books are for you. Probably everything Monson will ever do will be for you. What Happens In Reno is a fast-paced gutpunch of a book that does not shy away from the gory details like many others.

The novella follows the exploits of Matt Hodges who is a loser alcoholic. In other words, you know his story is going to be a noir because he could never hope for anything better. He is a man with more money than he can handle giving into all the vices he can think up. Things are already south when his wife hooks up with a really bad guy and then things get nastier and bleaker.

Monson writes his stories black as night but he always manages to add in a touch of humor (still black) here and there. Reno is in many ways what you always hoped you'd get out of your noir novels with the lurid covers, except Monson amps it up to 10. The book is short, does not overstay its welcome, and packs a mean punch. So often crime novels are promised to push boundaries or be no-holds-barred but the writers do not have what it takes. There is no fear of that with Monson. He shows you the dark, nasty side of the human condition and shines a light on it for the duration.

My verdict on What Happens In Reno: worth every penny, worth more than that. If you like your noir bleak and mean, get thee to Amazon and pick this one up immediately.

THE SCENT OF NEW DEATH is the newest offering from Mike Monson, having dropped in April. In many ways, if you enjoyed Reno then you can rest assured that there is plenty to like here. Monson does not hold back and continues to offer another strong shot of noir.

In The Scent of New Death, Phil Gaines is a Zen practitioner who gets by robbing banks. This is working out reasonably well for Gaines until he meets a girl. That girl, Paige, ends up being his new wife and also ends up unraveling the carefully controlled life that Gaines had going on. When she leaves with Phil's business partner and all of his money, Phil sets out for revenge and leaves a bloody trail in his wake.

Of the two, I might give Reno the slight edge over Scent. However, this is comparing two really great things. I actually read this one first and was raving about it so I went straight to Reno and, to my surprise, liked it even more -- so don't let my preference of one over the other deter you. Plainly put, if you love one you will love both of these novels. I prefer the protagonist of Scent. Gaines, with the Zen twist, is a very interesting character and probably the only person in the book who appears to have some kind of moral compass.

As before, Monson does not shy away from the darker side of life and Paige is a truly despicable character. In fact, you will likely find yourself rooting in Phil Gaines' corner simply because those he opposes seem to have no redeeming qualities.

Scent is another book which does not outstay its welcome. It is a brisk, fast, mean read and it wraps up in a way that you won't forget. Many writers have trouble knowing how or when to end their stories but Monson is not one of them. Initially, I considered these books to be too short but I realized that it is just because I want more. These books are not for everyone -- they're dark, mean, nasty, and filled with sex and violence -- but if you like noir or the stuff you've read in All Due Respect, this and everything from Monson in the future should be a blind purchase.

Final Verdict: They hold up very well indeed.

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