I recently finished an ARC of THE CONCRETE MAZE, by author Steven Torres. This book marks his first effort at book-length noir/hardboiled fiction (he's written a series of police procedurals set in Puerto Rico that I need to check out). Anyway, it's a doozy. Fans of the genre will find all the classic elements at play here - urban setting, drugs, prostitution and plenty of desperation and impending doom. What's different is the strong sense of familial loyalty and love at the heart of the story.

In short, THE CONCRETE MAZE follows Luis Ramos's search for his 13 y.o. daughter, Jasmine. When Jasmine goes missing from the local skating rink, Luis presses his nephew Marc into service to help find her. Told from Marc's POV, the search is stymied by an apathetic response from local police, reluctant friends, and some seriously nasty bad guys. Luis Ramos is an unlikely, but formidable hero determined to get his daughter back. He gets his daughter back, but she is literally in pieces. The search shifts to finding his daughter's killer, and Luis is no less dogged in his pursuit. The conclusion left this reader torn between grief and disbelief, tempered by the sense of justice served.

My only quibble is that I tend to need sensory detail to ground myself in a fictional world - I could have used a little more of that in this book. I'm not familiar with NYC and I had some trouble getting settled into the "reality" of THE CONCRETE MAZE. On the other hand, this added to the extended dance remix nightmare feeling of days on end of a search that is marked by anxiety, lack of sleep, and plenty of violence. So while I would have liked a little more sensory detail, the book worked well overall and I suspect fans of the genre will be thrilled with THE CONCRETE MAZE. You can pick it up at the end of July, early August. Or you can be smart and pre-order from Amazon, B&N, or your local indie.

In the midst of the craziness of mid-June, I was able to squeeze in a quick trip to The Poisoned Pen bookstore to see Megan Abbott, Sara Gran, and Vicki Hendricks show some film noir clips and talk about noir and their books. I picked up a copy of QUEENPIN while I was there. I loved this book. Loved, loved, loved it. My only problem is that I'm now compelled to track down and shell out the cash for the other two books that Abbott has penned. My book budget is groaning, but it's gotta happen and sooner rather than later.

QUEENPIN is...well, I'm not even going to talk about the story line. Okay, let's just say it's about the protoge of a high-class tough lady who is in tight with the mob sharks of early 1960's Las Vegas. What's really great about this book is the voice and the writing. Yes, yes, the action is intense, the pace fast, the distinctly noirish story arc inevitable, but the voice is crystal clear and the writing as sharp and delicate as a butterfly with razor blade wings. I could feel the fabrics of the dresses, smell the rust and decay of the garbage dump, all while my ears rang with the thunder of horse hooves at the track mixed with the crowd noise of the casinos. Like the protag, I found myself wanting more at the story's end. If you like period noir, you'll love this book. Seriously. Don't put it off, 'cause you'll be sorry if ya do.

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