A pair of blogueros and one of the blogueras made excellent reading suggestions this week beginning with Daniel Olivas' list of seven diverse books, continuing with Michael Sedano's review of Arturo Pérez-Reverte's latest Captain Alatriste swashbuckling saga, and moving on to Lisa Alvarado's spotlight on the poetry of Johanny Vázquez Paz. I want to add to your TBR pile with a brief survey of a few Big Apple crime fiction writers. Choice summertime or anytime reading.
Steven Torres is the author of five crime novels and several short stories. He was born and raised in the Bronx, although he spent some of his youth in Puerto Rico and attended high school in Manhattan. His Precinct Puerto Rico series, featuring Sheriff Luis Gonzalo of Angustias, P.R., is consistently praised by critics and readers. The four books in this series are: Precinct Puerto Rico (2002), Death in Precinct Puerto Rico (2003), Burning Precinct Puerto Rico (2004), and Missing In Precinct Puerto Rico (2006), all originally published in hardback by St. Martin's Minotaur. The first book in the series, Precinct Puerto Rico, is now available in paperback from Leisure Books. Steven's short story Early Fall is in the just-released Bronx Noir anthology (Akashic).
Here's Torres' website blurb for his first book, to give you an idea of what this author is all about:"In his years as sheriff of Angustias, a small town nestled in Puerto Rico’s mountainous heart, Luis Gonzalo has seen his share of violence. People kill for love and money in Angustias just as they do anywhere else. But it is only during a visit to family in the seaside town of Rincón that he encounters his greatest challenge.
"It begins with a midnight call that brings Gonzalo to a beach where bodies are washing ashore, victims of a shipwreck, victims of the illegal traffic of humans from the Dominican Republic. When he discovers evidence that the shipwreck was no accident, that the ship’s captain was murdered, he is warned off the investigation. A young photographer brings him proof that Puerto Rican police were involved in the deaths of the undocumented immigrants, and when Gonzalo follows this lead, all hell breaks loose. It will take a shootout in Angustias, an attack on his family, and the murder of one of his deputies to get to the bottom of this mystery – a mystery no one else in Puerto Rican law enforcement dares to help him solve."Several months ago I was lucky enough to get my hands on a preview copy of Torres' latest, a stand-alone noir tragedy, and the book blew me away. Here is what I wrote when I had finished:
The Concrete Maze is a tough, brutal and disturbing story about lost innocence, a desperate search to avenge a young victim, and the reluctant “hero’s” inevitable acceptance of the notion that sometimes justice has to be imposed – with force. Steven Torres gives his readers a black and white, finely drawn picture of a heinous crime and the emotional aftershocks suffered by the victim’s family. The predators who prowl the Bronx streets in Torres’s book are straight from a dark and terrible nightmare; the victims are young, rebellious thrill-seekers; and the would-be rescuers are everyday people thrust into inhuman chaos. The human toll -- the damage -- is on the page where there is no place or time for soft-peddling. Most of us do not want the world to be this way but we know that Torres got it right. His characters have the kind of texture that connects readers to them at basic levels -- pain, anger, frustration. We share their need to act, to strike, because there is no other way of dealing with the terror. These people have only themselves and there cannot be a happy ending in this story but there will be a bloody, violent and scarred resolution. This is fiction that hurts.
The Concrete Maze is now available from Dorchester/Leisure. In addition to his website, StevenTorres manages two blogs where he posts about anything that he wants including the strange world of publishing and writing. Go here for the Crime Time Cafe.
Michele Martinez writes about Melanie Vargas, described as a "betrayed wife and dedicated mother" who also happens to be an ambitious New York City prosecutor. Martinez was an Assistant United States Attorney in the Eastern District of New York for eight years, so you gotta think she knows what she's writing about. Her books so far are Most Wanted (2005), The Finishing School (2006) and Cover-Up (2007), all from William Morrow. There also are paperback and audio editions.
Here are the kinds of reviews this writer gets:
"Martinez enthralls with her first-rate first novel, which has sizzling romance and gripping suspense. . . [Most Wanted] excels with its gritty realism, exploring everything from New York's drug wars to the dark side of its most esteemed law firms." --Romantic Times Magazine (Top Pick)
Library Journal's review of The Finishing School was starred and concluded that "the romance is hot and the suspense high in this absorbing, fast-paced thriller. Highly recommended.”
Publishers Weekly gave the latest in the series, Cover-Up, another starred review and gushed:
"The brutal rape and murder of Suzanne Shepard, a scandal-mongering New York City TV journalist, provides a welcome high-profile case for Melanie Vargas in Martinez's stellar third thriller to feature the sharp and sexy federal prosecutor . . . . Martinez, herself a former federal prosecutor, supplies plenty of insider savvy as she juggles the large cast with élan."
JERRY A. RODRIGUEZ
Jerry A. Rodriguez is a writer and director whose plays have been staged Off-Broadway; a music video writer and director; and a short film writer and director. His bio says that he "serves as the Assistant Director of Housing at CitiWide Harm Reduction in The Bronx, one of the most innovative social service agencies in New York City, which offers a wide variety of outreach, services and care to homeless and low-income drug users living with and at risk for HIV/AIDS." This year he published The Devil's Mambo (Kensington), and it looks as though this is the first in a projected series centering on Nicholas Esperanza, ex-NYPD, current salsa club owner, and winner of $30 million from the NY lottery. Hey, why not?
The Devil's Mambo is about as edgy and gritty as it gets. The basic plot has some resemblance to Torres' Concrete Maze but this is a very different animal. Esperanza is tough, macho, and good-looking. His girlfriend is tough, sexy, and good-looking. He not only knows how to throw a right hook, he can sing on the stage with Eddie Palmieri and enjoy an expensive gourmet meal at one of the City's finest restaurants. This guy has it going, that's for sure. Here's what Rodriguez says about his protagonist (from an interview included in the book): "I'd read so many mystery novels in which the private investigator is struggling with being an alcoholic, is a loner and doesn't have any kind of personal life. I decided that Esperanza should be happy, successful and in a loving relationship." And just in case you had any doubts, here's why Rodriguez thinks his book is different from other mysteries and thrillers: "I think the fact that Esperanza is Latino and there haven't been many lead Latino characters in crime fiction gives the novel a distinct style and flavor. As much as crime writers deal with violence, they tend to stay away from sex and eroticism. I wanted to explore both sides of sex -- when it's tender and loving and when it's dark and twisted. And it's not just sex for sex's sake; it's a major theme of the novel." Yeah, there's a lot of exploration in this novel. And plenty of plot twists and surprises in addition to a vivid glimpse of street life, glitzy and seamy.
As Mario Acevedo says in a blurb for the book: "Double-barreled, twelve-gauge pulp. You'll love it!"
COMING IN 2008
Next year A.E. Roman publishes the first in a proposed series of private eye books from St. Martin's Minotaur. The protagonist is NYC detective Chico Santana and the first book is entitled Chinatown Angel. That's all I know about this author and his books except that his website is called What's Up Essay? (scribblings of A.E. Roman). I like that.
EL LABORATORIO - TIM HERNANDEZ READS FROM SKIN TAX ON AUGUST 4
In case you can't read the graphic: Tim Hernandez reads from his 2006 American Book Award Winning Collection, Skin Tax on August 4 at The Laboratory of Art and Ideas at Belmar, 404 S. Upham St., Lakewood, CO. Reception 6:00 PM, main event 6:30 - 8:00 PM.
CHICANO MUSIC FESTIVAL
And if you can't read that graphic, it's all about the Chicano Music Festival at El Centro Su Teatro August 3-5. Check out the website for details.
This is the party of the summer and you all are invited.
LITERARY MAG LOOKING FOR CONTRIBUTORS
Here's an announcement that just got shoved under my door:
"Wolverine Farm Publishing (Fort Collins, CO) is seeking submissions for their flagship publication, Matter. Now in it's fifth year, Matter has been hailed by Utne Magazine as full of epiphanies both big and small, and continues to test the boundaries of what a literary/art magazine can do in the world.
"The 11th issue is themed THE WOODS. We are actively seeking fiction, poetry, non-fiction, interviews with authors/activists, hand drawn illustrations, photography, maps, lists, and other ephemera.
"Please send in your creative work by 30 September 2007.
"For more information please visit www.wolverinefarmpublishing.org."