Thursday, March 5, 2020

Hard Case: "A Bloody Business" by Dylan Struzan

Hard Case: A Bloody Business by Dylan Struzan, 2019, 9781785657702.

A new novel from Hard Case Crime.  A retelling of the spread of organized crime in the first half of the Century. A few months ago I read the introductions by Tommy Sobeck, Jr. and the Struzan and got hooked on the concept. Sobeck was pals with former mobster Jimmy Alo from 1970s until Alo's death in 2001. Alo was a friend and partner of Meyer Lansky and introduced Lansky to Sobeck. Sobeck became good pals with Alo and Sobeck even lived with Alo for 1.5 years while Alo's house was under construction.

Alo and Lansky came up together through the street gang years, Prohibition, and all the gambling, prostitution, hijacking, smuggling, extortion and other rackets that spread from New York City. The worked with or competed against mobsters and killers who are still famous today.  Lucky Luciano, Al Capone, Dutch Schultz, Bugsy Siegel, Mad Dog Coll, Legs Diamond, and many others. After years of stories by Alo and Alo's mobster pals Alo allowed Sobeck to record their conversations for a book. Sobeck brought Struzan into the project in 1995 and she interviewed Alo until Alo's death 6 years later.

Anyhoo. The novel is pretty neat but a bit long. I say the novel is long but Sturzan likely had to cut out a ton of stories. I've read a decent amount about the gangster wave of the '20s and '30s and enjoyed Struzan's telling. I ended up seeing the mobsters much more as people rather than bad guys. They were certainly plenty of murderers but guys like Lansky and Alo were looking to make money. Violence hurt business.

I finished reading this back in January and don't recall many details or stories. I did learn how tightly connected so many mobsters were. Those relationships have been shown in TV and movies but I thought a lot of that was dramatic license. The friendships and business relationships stayed tight through a lot of activity and turmoil.

I do wish the story had gone further and covered Bugsy Siegel's murder. Oh well.

EDIT: I was often confused when reading this because there are so many recognizable names. A character would appear and I could not recall if the character was already introduced or if I recognized the guy from other books.
EDIT 2: Kinda neat when Valachi shows up and knowing what happens later on. I don't think the famous Coney Island Defenstration of Kid Twist is covered but I sure wanted it to be.

Dr Who: "Earthshock" by Ian Marter

Dr Who: Earthshock by Ian Marter, 1983, Wisconsin Digital Library.

Another audio, but a narrated novelization and not one of the shows with horrible, horrible audio quality and a voiceover. I was thinking this was an original novel but it might be a novelization of a Dr. Who story arc. Look it up yourself.

That's about all I have to say. I'm 7-10 books behind on note taking and writte-ups. I was looking up plot summaries online and am not certain if I am mixing two different audiobooks together.

I do recall this being decent but not great.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Pink Comic: "Bad Weekend" by Ed Brubaker

Pink Comic: Bad Weekend: a Criminal novella by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, 2019, 9781534314405.

A few weeks ago I drove my wife to work since she hates driving at night and driving in snow. I hung out for four hours and got some reading done. I don't think I fell asleep.  While I was there I checked out the shelves, grabbed this graphic novel, and read it while I sat around all night.

Hal Crane is a famous comic artist and jerk. Crane's professional life has been a series of blow-ups and bad behaviors. One of his former art assistants, Jacob, has been asked/hired to squire Crane around a comics convention in 1997 and Jacob narrates the tale.

Hal Crane is getting a lifetime achievement award at the convention. Crane smokes a lot, pulls a gun on a art dealer, propositions convention women he assumes are prostitutes, helps create fraudulent original artwork for sale, skips out on the panels he is paid to appear on, and otherwise acts poorly. For years Crane's artwork has been widely loved and people tolerate his behavior because of this. Plus, as one characters says, " That's how he kept getting all those inking gigs... getting his editors laid."

Crane spends a decent amount of time trying to find a piece of artwork he lost or sold or something (we don't find out until the final panels). We learn about Crane's professional and personal mistakes and guilt. How his mentor died in a car wreck as Crane rode along. Crane's long estranged adult daughter who wants nothing to do with Crane.

I enjoyed the artwork. Pink is the predominant color - I'm sure there is a reason for that but I don't know what that reason it.

Heard: "Dooku" by Cavan Scott

Heard: Dooku by Cavan Scott, 2019, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

If you don't dig Star Wars stuff just skip the whole damn novel. Otherwise here are my comments.
I figured to try out another Star Wars novel. I greatly enjoyed Kenobi by John Jackson Miller when I listened to that almost seven years ago. Unfortunately no other books have been as good.

This is done as a radio drama, not a narrated book. There are multiple actors, sound effects, music.

Dooku is about Count Dooku of course from his time as a Youngling up until he quits the Jedi and takes on a apprentice. The story is told by his assistant/apprentice Asajj Ventress and Dooku's written and "holo" journals that Asajj is reading. I know nothing about Asajj but she seems to be a regular character on one of the Star Wars cartoons.

Asajj has been told to find Dooku's missing sister. To accomplish the task she has to learn more about the sister and, therefore, Dooku himself. Since Dooku and Asajj are on the Dark Side Asajj is kinda sneaky and reads things she should not have access to.

Things move along as Dooku relays his life as a Youngling at the Jedi Temple. A visit to his homeworld that he left as an infant. Discovering his blood family. Becoming a padawan  So on. So forth.

The novel has the usual Star Wars elements of the Force and the Darkside. There is political intrigue within the Republic and on different planets. For me the main theme is family and the different ways family alliances are built and fractured. Jedi are taken in as infants and allowed no contact with relatives. As a teenager Dooku has a chance meeting with his sister, learns his family rules the planet, that his father hates him, and keeps a secret correspondence with his sister.

Essentially all the Younglings live in a trade school orphanage. They have no outside schooling or friends. As Padawans they will meet and make friends outside the Jedi Order but are still under the strict guidance of a Jedi. Once they do become a Padawan that Jedi is a surrogate parent during their teen and early adult years. All of the Jedi are alone with a lifetime of "sad devotion to that ancient religion".

I suppose Jedi build a family through their beliefs and morals. Within that group they build relationships as friends, comrades, and adherents. But, the infant Younglings start life as infants severed from any loving - or abusive - relatives. How do they children grow up? Who comforts them? Reads to them? Gets after them to brush their teeth and go to bed?

Plenty of families fracture on their own. Jedi relations do that as well when Jedi differ on what actions to take. Defend a planet or stay out of the mess? Act as diplomats or the Lone Ranger? Jedi are turned by the dark side of the Force but also fall victim to somewhat mundane problems of live: gambling debts, romantic attractions, secret side investigations.

Anyhoo. The book is worth your time if you enjoy Star Wars stuff. There is Yoda and Qui-Gon Jinn content as well.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Another Strike: "Career of Evil" by Robert Galbraith

Another Strike: Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling), 2015, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Well, that could have been much shorter. But, when your name is J.K. Rowling I suppose not many editors are going to tell you to cut things down a bit. I don't know if the Cormoran Strike novels are getting longer and longer but it sure feels like it.

Recap: Rowling wrote a thriller under the name Robert Galbraith. The book had some sharp reviews and a minor print run. Then some attorney working for Rowling's attorneys spilled the beans. Rowling, as I recall, got super pissed off about the leak but it also made the book sell like gangbusters. This is the third book in the series.

Cormoran Strike and his sole employee Robin Ellacott have been doing OK since the big press exposure earned after the cases in the first two novels. Rowling still insists on adding a unexplored sexual and romantic angle between the lead characters. I continue to insist that this subplot is stupid because Strike probably smells of nicotine, sweat, and fast food grease.

I do appreciate that the lost-a-leg-in-an-Afghanistan-IED Strike is not the anguished PTSD veteran. Instead, he is a naturally grouchy SOB whose stump hurts from too much standing and walking. Meanwhile, Robin is an unsatisfied person whose personal issues are mainly due to the fella she has been dating for the past 10 years plus her rape from about 8 years ago.

Things start off with Robin arriving for work and signing for a package addressed for her. She gets inside the office and discovers the package is a severed woman's leg. An included note includes lyrics from a Blue Oyster Cult (BOC) tune. So begins a hunt for the bad guy and a many quotes of BOC lyrics.

Strike immediately thinks of 3-4 men who could have done the deed. One suspect is immediately excluded. Another suspect is Strike's former stepfather who was acquitted in the murder of Strike's mother. The last two men are pedophiles and wife beaters Strike dealt with as a military cop with the British Army.

Meanwhile, Robin doesn't much want to get married. Her husband wants her to quit her job, a job that Robin has never admitted to anyone is her dream job as an investigator. Strike and Robin have two paying clients that require long hours of surveillance. The bad guy is shadowing Robin with the intention to kill her as revenge against Strike. More people are attacked. Amputations become a key part of the mystery. So on. So forth.

Both Strike and Robin have flaws and those flaws cause conflict. Strike is a grouch and will not tell people what he is thinking or doing. Robin is resentful to her fiancee and her immediate family. Strike and Robin enjoy each other's company but are workmates, already have romantic relationships, and don't consciously admit any attraction to one another.

Rowling gives us some interesting enough leads, plot, and suspects. All this is swell but the book is too damn long.

Comments:
1. Rowling has written before against transsexual issues. Part of the plot involves people who have a fetish for amputation. The fetish is either a sexual attraction to amputees or people who want to have a limb amputated. Rowling uses much of the same disdainful language used against Trans people with these amputation characters. It's kinda weird and I don't agree with her position on Trans people.
2. The romance and sexual tension storyline is so damn annoying. Ugh. Strike just sounds. Smelling of cigarettes and his hairy body shedding like a dog.
3. Speaking of which: much dog love.
4. Robin's constant feeling of inadequacy.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Old Horror: "Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley

Audio: Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley, 2008 for the audiobook, downloaded off Wisconsin Digital Library.

An old novel with good legs. The language has not been dated although the language and dialogue are a bit stilted at time.

As I was listening along I got to thinking about how much the film versions created their own stories about Frankenstein and the monster. I also got to thinking about Dave Zelsterman's novel Monster which is told from the monster's point of view and argues that Frankenstein is a dirty liar and dirtbag.

Anyhoo. I think the story stands up and most everything in the story is new to me because they have not been covered in most of the film versions I have seen.

That's all. Give the novel a try if you've not done so. The plot drags a bit compared to modern novels but the story is still a decent time.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Dreary: "Knuckledragger" by Rusty Barnes

Dreary: Knuckledragger by Rusty Barnes, 2017, 9781946502070.

Sheesh, that was a bit dark.

Short version: Small time goon for a Boston crook falls into big trouble with his boss.

Long version: Jason "Candy" Stahl likes eating candy, lifting weights, and works as a collector and people pounder for his loanshark boss, Otis. Otis has a diversified portfolio of crime operations and Candy is on the lower half of the staff rankings. Candy is a big dude and was hired by Otis after Otis beat up a few guys as a bar bouncer.

Candy's sorta girlfriend is a curvy Puerto Rican (Dominican?), Rosario, who is more into Candy than Candy is into her.  One day Candy is hanging out at a public park used by the gang as a meeting place. Candy has made some big collections and is there to pass off money. While waiting he says hello to a comely woman and her young son, Candy then meets with the boss guy who introduces the woman as his wife, Nina.

Turns out Otis the Boss is a very jealous man. Turns out the Wife likes to cause trouble and sleep around. A day later while, Candy is on a short vacation funded by a cash gift form Otis, Otis and a couple goons show up in Candy's hotel room and beat Candy bloody. Otis thinks Candy was making eyes at Nina.

Wellll.... I'm thinking Candy needs to change jobs. Rosario is thinking Candy should change jobs. Candy is thinking he just wants to heal up and maybe get even. Then a couple goons from Boston start following and threatening Candy for Candy's work with Otis that involved pounding on another crook. Things are looking dicey. Candy and Rosario's trip to New Hampshire (Vermont?) is getting spoiled. Rosario is making girlfriends sounds.

Things happen. Things devolve. Candy and Co. go on the run. Murders happen. Fear is deep.

A decent novel. I enjoyed it. Violent and scary but with a happiness from Candy and Rosario's relationship. A relationship that grows against Candy's initial wishes.

A low-end-gangster-on-the-run-with-his-girl story. Candy is not a guy who plans ahead very well. He at least had some cash and guns secreted away and he is not stupid. Candy ends up in a crap situation with no way out.