Book Review

Thrillers #1 (Hilton, Keene, Hillerman, Friedman)

still in a genre rut i can't escape

Written early July

Stuck within genres.

I’m not creating, I’m not producing. I’m not on top of my endeavours and I’m tired and I’m bored and it’s Summer and things are reopening but the Canadian federal visa people are still going covid slow which means I don’t think I can leave the country rn and I don’t want to waste a week’s holiday on domestic travel if there’s the possibility of international travel later in the year but at the same time I don’t want to procrastinate about taking annual leave and end up not going anywhere at all y’know? (maybe I’ll go to Thunder Bay for a couple of nights; maybe Quebec City; maybe back to the Rockies, maybe further north who knows who knows who knows (i know there are many domestic options))

I spent the day today reading the entirety of a sexed up thriller, stood nude (please note I’m still in a COVID-era body, so this was thrilling for no one (my body is repulsive lol haha)) in the waters off the Toronto Islands, quite probably this city’s best park.

It’s nice to be in the water, wandering in the shallows up to my navel, but it’s not a sea, it’s not an ocean, the water is close to static.

And now I need to get a ferry back to the city.

Maestra by L. S. Hilton (2016)

Very of its time, Maestra is a prurient murder-thriller set in the international contemporary art market and elite swingers scenes. It’s about a driven, ambitious, intelligent and very very attractive, young Scouse woman who uncovers an art fraud being perpetrated by her senior manager at Christie’s (it never names which of the big two auction houses she works for, but there is sufficient geographic specificity for a current (or former) Londoner with a passing knowledge of the West End to recognise), so they fire her and then she goes and leans on one of her clients in her moonlighting job as a high class escort who takes her to the French Riviera to clear her head but he dies of a heart attack when she drugged him so she could go out partying with the young jet set and then she runs off to Italy and runs into one of the handsome hedge funders she’d partied with earlier and she travels with him and then runs into the partner-in-fraud of her former boss who she murders, steals the fake-ish painting from, sells it, and then goes to Geneva and seduces a Swiss banker who gets her a Panamanian bank account for all this money but then it turns out the guy she sold the fake-ish painting to is a money launderer for the mafia and then a vengeful Italian detective tries to use her as a contact to find the money launderer so he can kill him as revenge for his involvement in a cop killing campaign from twenty years ago and she helps him do this but then kills the detective and chops his body into tiny pieces, changes her name and becomes a major international art dealer. Along the way she buys a lot of fancy clothes and has a LOT of sex. She also murders her best friend with no clear motive.

A lot happens and – except for the many sex scenes – the action, the thrills, are pretty relentless, if occasionally under-foreshadowed and pushing credibility.

There’s also a bit of casual racism and a lot of fat-shaming, which to be honest is refreshing in a contemporary text, tho doesn’t seem to feel like a “sign the character is evil”. She isn’t evil: she’s amoral, which is always preferable in a thriller.

It’s a less funny but less brutal American Psycho, it’s a more brutal but less beautiful than The Talented Mr Ripley, and in particular the Ripley sequels where he’s an art dealer/counterfeiter. It’s fun, twisty and turny and a perfect beach read, which is why I took it to read on the pretend beach of the Toronto Islands. I’m typing this in one of the bars on the island and the table next to me has a man with a clear New Jersey accent on the verge of tears talking to a woman about people he hasn’t beaten up. Fun. July 5th 

Home Is The Sailor by Day Keene (1952)

I read another book before this, between these two, but I can’t remember what it was-

The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman (1970)

wait i remembered it

This one was pretty forgettable tbh, about a white academic interested in north american indigenous lives who gets involved in stopping a mafia-run radar station spying on US Army flight tests. It’s contrived and very cultural appropriation-y. Also not very thrilling

Home Is The Sailor by Day Keene (1952)

This one was quite thrilling, tbh, very 1950s, very “hard boiled”, lots and lots of alcohol, quite a bit of shagging (accompanied by lots of casual sexism), as well as multiple murders, hidden identities and twists and turns that (mostly) can be seen a mile away. It’s about a sailor on shore leave who thinks his dreams have come true when he meets a very sexy woman with lots of money, but she turns out to be a murdering ex-stripper on the run from the FBI. It does exactly what it sets out to do, and even though it’s unambitious and uncomplicated, it’s definitely a successful example of its type.

A Case of Lone Star by Kinky Friedman (1987)

I think the author’s name is a pseudonym, but I can’t imagine it’s for anyone interesting or otherwise famous. I think this book is meant to be funny, though I didn’t laugh once reading this – and I am someone who loves to laugh. I adore it. Big fan of laughter. One of my favourite sensations. Highly recommend it. This book didn’t make me laugh.

It’s about a country singer turned detective who investigates a string of murders of country singers staged with references to songs by Hank Williams (a performer I’ve never knowingly listened to). It’s silly, the prose is stilted, intentionally as an attempt to pretend the tone of hard boiled fiction (like Dashiell Hammet, the Philip Marlowe guy, even like Day Keene), but it doesn’t come off: the 1980s New York City country music scene just isn’t a particularly engaging place.

I’m not going to recommend it, but unless you, reader – like me – regularly read books selected without motive from “Free Little Libraries”, you’re unlikely to ever see a copy. Meh. 

That’s enough thrillers.

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