The Goldfish Bowl, by Laurence Gough***

thegoldfishbowlIt’s seldom that I find myself so ambivalent about a galley; I read this free thanks to Net Galley and Endeavor Press in exchange for an honest review.  The writing skill is probably closer to a five; the respect level for women, people of color, and anyone that isn’t oriented straight as a bullet’s path is closer to a one. So those that are constantly inveighing about how tired they are of trying to be PC, here. This is for you. For those of us that have moved along, I am not so sure. This book was released digitally in January, 2016 and is now for sale.

I spent a good portion of this book confused, because it is billed as a new release, yet it really reads like a novel from the 1980s might.  A little digging revealed that it was initially published in 1988, and this explains a good deal. Mainstream attitudes have come a long way since then, and so some re-released novels stand the test of time, whereas others should perhaps be consigned, as Trotsky put it, to “the dustbin of history”.

The story is set in Vancouver, British Columbia, and this is part of what made me want to read this mystery. I don’t see a lot of fiction set there, and I know the area, so I thought this would be fun. And setting is done well.

Then we have our sniper:

“The sniper sat in the orange plastic chair, hunched over a Lyman ‘All American’ turret press. His hands were large and strong. The thick blunt fingers, nails carefully painted with a glossy red polish, moved with precision and grace as he assembled the shiny brass cartridges, primers, powder and fat 500-grain copper-jacketed slugs.”

Our sniper, who must surely be a baddy if twisted enough to put on women’s clothing and makeup, is referred to as clown-faced and is always designated as “he”. In the 1980s that boat would float with most of book-buying North America. Now, not so much.

There is one victim after another, and the beginning is paced at breakneck speed, relaxing readers only to suddenly shock us repeatedly, so there’s a sort of emotional whiplash. There are two detectives in charge of the sniper shootings, and one is a woman. That’s unusual in the department, where women are routinely referred to in demeaning ways and where hard core porn kept in a file cabinet is just a thing the boys in blue do. None of this appears to be there to make a point about what women put up with, however; it seems to be injected for realism and urban grit. And though none of the cops is particularly brilliant, Parker, the female cop, is particularly incompetent, emptying an entire gun at close range without hitting the target even once.

Okay.

Bright spots come with particular scenes. The climax is brilliant, and I love the detail of the guard horse in front of the evidence room. The author is clearly talented, but every time I found myself engaging with the text and not thinking about anything that had offended me, something else would come to the forefront, popping up like a turd in the punch bowl. Those that visit psychiatrists are all ‘fruitcakes’, and at one point, “a huge black” stands in the doorway. At this point my temper flared and I tapped into my tablet, “Huge Black WHAT, motherfucker?”

Yes, I know. Amazon won’t print that quote. It’s worth editing to have it in my blog, because that’s exactly how I feel about it.

There are good moments with figurative language, but then once in awhile a glaring fact that nobody checked pops up. Do people in Vancouver genuinely believe that the West Coast goes from British Columbia, to Washington, to California? Didn’t think so. Someone needs to apologize to Oregon, which is larger than some European nations.  The denouement, social justice issues aside, was a mighty long reach.

If you are already a tried and true fan of Laurence Gough—and he is an established writer with over a dozen published novels—then you will probably enjoy this one too.

As for me, I’ll pass.

 

Hail Storme, by W.L. Ripley**-***

HailStormeIn 2015, I reviewed Storme Front, the second of four books in the Wyatt Storme series. I loved it and rated it 5 stars. Given the opportunity to read and review this first in the series, thanks to Brash Books Priority Reviewers Circle, I didn’t have to think twice. Thank you to Brash for the DRC, which I read free in exchange for this review.

In this first installment, Storme, a retired football hero and Vietnam veteran, goes bow hunting for deer in Missouri and runs into trouble. Tracking deer, he literally walks into a field of marijuana; before he can decide what if anything to do about it, a snarling Doberman charges him, and he has to kill it. From there, the action unspools, taking him into town and leading the reader to a series of conversations and confrontations Storme has with the local law, the local goons, and of course, women.

The local law can’t quite decide what to make of him:
“’You a wiseass, Storme?’ McKinley asked.
“I shrugged. ‘It’s a gift.’”

Of particular interest is Willie Boy Roberts, a local businessman that has full time body guards, here in this tiny town. So right away, we know there’s trouble a-brewing that extends far beyond a simple field o’ weed.

Storme also meets Chick Easton, who will become his wisecracking, crime-fighting partner continuing on into the series. Easton has been a green beret, has killed people for the CIA, and is also a Vietnam vet. He has considerable regret about the life he has led, but he’s a great guy to have in your corner. He also provides the perfect counterpart for all of the genuinely funny snappy patter in the book.

I also genuinely appreciated, as I did with the second Storme book, having a protagonist that drinks coffee rather than whiskey or beer, but doesn’t constantly agonize over his alcoholism. It seems like two out of three works of fiction these days feature alcoholic protagonists or important secondary characters, and I have had my fill. Just pour the coffee and shut up already! A welcome change.

This first novel started out a little bit uneven, but hit its stride well before the halfway mark. I really thought it would be a four star read till I got to the last ten percent. There, it gets ugly. There’s a steady stream of anti-gay venom. Easton discusses a suspect with Storme, and he deliberately lisps—gee, I’m not laughing—and does the whole limp-wristed thing when he speaks of the character’s possible motivation. I won’t say more here lest I spoil a (small) part of the whole who-dunnit, but there is so much ugliness toward gay men, not just the offensive jokes, but some plot moves that left me feeling as if I’d eaten spoiled food, packed into this last portion of the book that it’s impossible to disregard it and move on.

I checked the copyright date, longing for something that would permit me to give this otherwise really good story the four stars it deserved up to then. It was originally published in the 90’s. No, no, no. Not okay.

Because of this factor, I rate this novel 2.5 stars and round it up with a fair amount of ambivalence.

The writer makes a point, subtle yet distinct, that Storme is a Christian. Fine with me. But if the anti-gay aspect of this novel is tied to dearly held principles Ripley possesses, I can’t become a constant reader. If it was simply a failure of the writer to update his work to reflect a more widely held social view—and here I am thinking of the occasional novel that gets written, sits on someone’s desk for several years, and then sees publication much later—then he and Brash might want to have a conversation about editing. Don’t get me wrong; I support the First Amendment right to express one’s ideas freely. But when those ideas brim over into hate speech and homophobia, I also can’t give a positive review, or consider myself a potential customer of the work presented me.

If you are homophobic and love mysteries, this one is your book, and it’s available for purchase now. Otherwise, consider moving on to Storme Front. You don’t have to have read the first in the series to enjoy the second.

Am I game to read #3 and #4, knowing that #2 is free of these challenging issues? If I can get the DRC’s for them, I’ll dive right in. Everyone is entitled to make a mistake early in their career. But right now, I wouldn’t lay my money down