Michael Burke: Swan Dive

July 29, 2010 by  
Filed under Fiction, WritersCast

978-1929355501 – Pleasure Boat Studio/Caravel Books – paperback – $15.00 (also available as an e-book at $9.99)

This is Michael Burke’s first novel, and it’s a good one.  He is probably much better known as a sculptor and graphic artist; he is clearly an accomplished writer as well, and as with his art, there is a great deal of thought behind the manifestation he has chosen for this story.  Michael Burke is also the son of renowned philosopher and poet Kenneth Burke, which may help explain some of his accomplishments.

While I was preparing to interview Michael about his very well written and entertaining novel, I read a fascinating profile of him and his work as an artist in the Harvard Alumni Magazine, an article that in itself is well worth reading.

This is an intellectual novel, but it is never heavy handed.  The dialogue is smooth, funny, and vibrant.  The story pays homage to Leda and the Swan but that motif never gets in the way of the story, and it’s not even necessary to know any Greek mythology to enjoy the book, which unfolds naturally.  Of course we know there is a denouement coming, it’s a murder mystery after all, but there is plenty of complexity to keep us interested and engaged.

Swan Dive‘s main character, Johnny “Blue” Heron, is a modernized Dash Hammett sort of hero, smart, mouthy and alot more in need of help than he realizes.  The book has many interesting and engaging characters, an unpredictable narrative, some sex, and an overall verve and political awareness that makes clear the author is socially engaged and has something important to say about the world we live in.  You can read this book purely for fun, or as a neo-noir genre revival novel, but there’s alot more going on here for anyone who wants to delve into its many layers.

Swan Dive is a book I will recommend to mystery lovers who want a book with depth, a fast paced narrative and interesting characters.  In my discussion with author Michael Burke, we had a lively discussion about this book and how he came to write it, his background as an artist, and where he is headed as a writer (there’s another Blue Heron novel in the works).  I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of his writing.

Kelli Stanley: City of Dragons

February 21, 2010 by  
Filed under Fiction


978-0312603601 – Hardcover – Thomas Dunne/Minotaur Books – $24.99

Reading Kelli Stanley’s City of Dragons was a pleasure from beginning to end.  I liked her incredible attention to details in the San Francisco of the 1940s setting.  I really liked her main character, the wounded private eye, Miranda Corbie.  Kelli’s love of noir fiction, and love for a great story really show.  Good fiction should be able to take you into another place and time coupling the author’s skills with your own imagination.  This book certainly succeeds in grabbing you early, and keeping your attention.  Anyone who has read and loved the great classic detective novels will feel at home with Kelli Stanley’s writing.  And she has that political edge that so many writers of the 30s and 40s brought to their work.

There’s a lot going on here.  You can feel San Francisco in the dark of pre-World War II, taste the cigarettes and booze, and feel the very real danger her characters experience, the otherness of Chinatown, and the deaths and broken lives that dot this sometimes harsh and painful cityscape.  And you can feel throughout how much heart and soul the author has put into this book.  It’s a pleasure to read, and has a story that won’t let go.  Lots of fun overall, and City of Dragons works on many levels, so it will satisfy readers looking for entertainment or something with a bit more depth as well.

Kelli loves her work and loves to talk about it too, so we had a great conversation.  This is a writer with a great future and I am very much looking forward to her next book.  I’m also hoping to get her to contribute a reading from this novel to Writerscast in the near future.  Kelli’s own website is worth a visit as well.  City of Dragons is available as an e-book in various formats, and in digital audio as well.