--RAKE by Scott PHILLIPS (Counterpoint Press) a novel (2013)

This is a novel about an American actor trying to create his next project while in Paris. Back in the US, he used to be the main character (Dr. Crandall Taylor) of a soap opera that “ran five days a week at eleven in the morning, watched only by the loneliest and horniest of housewives and the laziest of college students”. But, in Europe, “they had the bright idea of running us in the evening, right at the start of prime time, and to everyone’s surprise we turned into a massive hit”.  Wanting to profit (or rake-off) from his present fame, ‘Crandall’decides to create his own film: he has an idea but he needs funding; when he finds it, he needs a script…and someone to write it; when he solves that problem…well, I won’t tell you what happens next. Let’s just say that things get out of hand a little bit: then blood is spilled but maybe not as much as semen because ‘Crandall’s’ fame has its perks, especially when it comes to women. A lot of women.
Scott Phillips is definitely one of the good hardboiled writers out there. He adroitly mixes the smoky, sensual and timeless Paris nightlife of small music clubs with the shady, superficial and contemporary world of movie producing. You don't get a story like that without sex (beaucoup), death (un peu), and a colourful cast of characters that spice up the pages with great dialogue. Those who've read (or met ) Scott Phillips know his particular sense of humour, and they'll recognize its multi-levels here from comic tongue-in-cheek to laugh-out-loud hilarious; it comes also with a sharp irony that cuts into parody.

An entertaining read, to say the least.

3 1/2 thumbprints.

--DRIVING ALONE by Kevin Lynn HELMICK (Blank Slate Press) a novella (2012)
"The unknown was approaching and looming in his mind with a restless impending doom".

I’ve wanted to tell you about this story for a long time. It is a little gem; at only 90 or so pages, it falls into the novella category but it is so rich with deep emotions that it feels like a complete novel. You definitely get your money's worth.

Billy Keyhoe wants to leave his violent past behind so he decides to drive, in his father's '66 Cadillac, on "The rural route southwest and out of town" a road that "is a long and lonely two lane that stretches across the lower belly of the Deep South", where he hopes to find salvation and, hopefully, at the end of it, a new start to his life of too much wrongs. 

When Billy stops, in the middle of nowhere, for a hitchhiker --a beautiful woman with the enigmatic name of Feather Dane--fate seems willing to help change Billy's luck for the better. Instead, as they engage in conversation, Feather seems to know things about Billy; she slowly wipes away the dust from his dark past, revealing some of his hidden memories. On that deserted road, the drive then becomes a journey towards Billy's recognition of his sins, not unsimilar to Dante's walk with Virgil, his guide through hell. Helmick's first sentence is "And then there was heat". While Dante walked with Virgil through the darkness of the underworld, Billy drives under the scorching light of the sun, all the way into the night. But his true journey, with Feather as his guide, is through the darkest parts of his mind. To underline this, they even hear Johnny Cash on the car radio singing "I fell into a ring of fire, I went down, down, down and the flames went higher...".

I'm eagerly looking forward to reading a longer work from Helmick. Then again, anything else he'll write I'll want to read. As Hemingway once said “...it is the journey that matters, in the end” and Driving Alone is the perfect example; almost halfway into the story, even though I knew where it was headed, the characters, their dialogue, and the writing in general entranced me until the logical and predictable --but not disappointing-- end. Helmick has written a very fulfilling story in every aspect. It's a poetic noir ride on the highway towards self-discovery and possible redemption. One deception? You know it already, I would have continued on that road for a few more miles.
Instead, I did the next best thing; I went back to the begining and enjoyed it a second time.

4 thumbprints.



THE MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE and Other Tales by Edgar Allan POE (Papercutz) vol. 10 in the series Classics Illustrated Deluxe
Adaptation of three Edgar Allan Poe's short stories: The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Gold Bug, and The Mystery of Marie Roget. All three are good text adaptations, respecting closely Poe's writing and his plotlines, while being especially successful in the visual department. These stories are rich in details and remind me of some of the best EC Comics of the '50s and '60s; but where the latter prefered to focus on the gory and the scary, the former are showing much more subtlety.
3 1/2 thumbprints


These are intended for kids aged 7 to 10, and they are derived from the immensely popular series of illustrated novels starring Geronimo and Thea Stilton; here, the Thea Sisters, a group of friends (all girls) want to become journalists, just like Thea Stilton.

In The Secret of Whale Island, while they are trying to save the whales from a lone orca, the Thea Sisters will make a surprising discovery about Vivica De Vissen, a very rich woman who's been funding the marine biology lab of Whale island. In Revenge of the Lizard Club, the 'sisters' will be needed to find out what is polluting the beaches of the island.

If your kids have enjoyed Dora the Explorer and --especially-- Go Diego Go, the logical next step is the Geronimo Stilton and Thea Stilton series of short, illustrated novels. They’re full of adventure, intrigue, fun characters and, surprisingly, they are a good way of subtly teaching kids about social issues like the preservation of endangered species, protection of the environment, but also about history in general. Even more so now with the series of historical graphic novels about Christopher Columbus, Gutenberg, the Samurais, the Olympics, Mozart, the Ice Age, Ancient Egypt, etc. The Geronimo series has spawned the The Thea Stilton series, intended more for girls and, logically, Thea now also has her own graphic novels. These small hardcover books, 50 pages or so, sell for the price of a mass market paperback book ($9.99 in the US, $10.99 in Canada).  It’s also a great tool for kids who are learning English as a second language –as mine are doing.

3 thumbprints
UPDATE: Congratulations to our winner, Sara Williams, of Dallas (Texas). Sara, your book is on its way. Thank you to everyone who participated, and thanks for visiting the House.

I have an advance reader's copy of the new Preston & Child novel "WHITE FIRE". Whether you're huge fans or still haven't enjoyed one of the Pendergast stories, this one will amaze you. It is about "a lost Sherlock Holmes manuscript, murder and cannibalism in an exclusive Colorado ski resort" and where "past and present collide". Great blurbs from Anne Rice: "Through myriad shocks, surprises, twists and turns, the suspense never lets up", by Peter Straub: "...as incandescent as its title, a beautifully organized, tautly paced book...", by Clive Cussler: "...a terrific mix of mystery and the unexpected...", and by Diana Gabaldon: "A mile-a-minute thriller with a deeply entertaining plot and marvelous characters, in a setting that will chill your blood...".
So who wants it? Just send me your name and full address before next Saturday, October 26th at noon (Montréal Time) to be entered in the draw. You need to be 18 or older. Bonne chance! (Open to residents of Canada, the US, UK, and Europe).

October 20th, 2013
Next reviews: A Taste for Malice by Michael J. Malone; Sparkle by Rudy Yuly; All the Wild Children by Josh Stallings; and maybe a couple more.

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