Monday, November 17, 2014

Short: "Fatale" by Jean-Patrick Manchette

Short: Fatale by Jean-Patrick manchette, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith, 1977 French, 2011 translation for 9781590173817.

A week ago at WLA someone asked if I was still doing video book talks and posting them online. I've slacked off for several reasons but I will occasionally read something and think how it would be a great piece to read aloud. Fatale is only 91 pages long and the first chapter, at two pages, would be ideal to read aloud for a video.

I ordered this for work after a blurb by Unshelved. Aimee is a French woman, in her thirties, thin and fit, who travels the country finding work as a killer. She'll move to a town, insinuate herself into the lives of the local upper class and pay attention. After a time she'll have identified the schisms, the jealousies, the money troubles, the infidelities and make an offer to make a killing.

Aimee hates "the real assholes" in life and seems to enjoy killing them. She killed her abusive husband and got away with claiming he stabbed himself by accident. Now she travels to Bleville on the West coast and meets the local bigwigs. She plays bridge. She goes to parties. She watches the married couples. She sees who fights. Who plays politics. She identifies a man who others would pay to kill. Many people take up her offer, not knowing the others are paying her for the same thing.

The killing does not go well. Aimee loses her interest but succeeds as the victim bleeds out. She tries to turn herself in and make sure the moneyed people get busted. But, the cop is a stooge for the rich and Aimee is taken to a remote meeting. Bad idea because Aimee makes things very bloody.

Quick and dark. Manchette translated American crime novels and those included work by Westlake. This has stark Stark feel with Aimee a matter-of-fact killer.

Finished: "Supreme Justice" by Max Allan Collins

Finished: Supreme Justice by Max Allan Collins, 2014, 9781612185309.

This is not Nate Heller solving the JFK murder. I kept thinking thatwais the book I took home. Nope. Not this one. The covers are not similar so I'm not sure how I got them screwed up.

I did tear through this book though. I was at work and would plan for getting home so I could grab the book and read.

Former Secret Service Agent Joseph Reeder became famous by jumping in front of an assassin's gunfire to save a President. Reeder's injury led him to a desk job and then a disability retirement. While retiring the left-wing Reeder mentioned how he hated the right-wing President he saved. Reeder became a pariah among his former colleagues and other federal law enforcement types.

Set in about 2025 (You can figure it out from Reeder's age and reference to his birth date but I do not recall the exact year) and the country has taken a hard, legal turn to the right. The 4th Adendment has been gutted and abortion is outlawed. There is a strong conservative block on the Supreme Court and those Justices want to change laws.

Reeder starts a successful security business after his retirement. A Supreme Court Justice is murdered in a D.C. restaurant where Reeder's company installed and services security cameras. A FBI pal of Reeder's asks him to look at the security tape of the killing because Reeder is also an "kinesics" expert; he is a body language and facial expressions expert and can see things other people miss.  Reeder sees that what appeared as a robbery was an assassination of the Justice

Reeder is asked to join the new task force to find the Justice's killers. Reeder joins. Then a second Justice is murdered. Both Justices are on the far right wing of the Court. Uh-oh.  Trouble is brewing. Reeder is partnered with an FBI Agent and they look for the street level crooks who seem responsible for the first murder.

Things happen. Reeder's daughter is dating a doofus.  Reeder and FBI pal have long history and FBI pal lost his daughter to a botched, illegal abortion. Reeder may be overreacting after years away from field work and is antsy-pantsy from being shot. There seems to be way too much knowledge by the killers about police investigations. The killings are way too complex and well planned to be one person. There is a conspiracy in place to change the make-up of the Court.

1. A fast moving and quick read
2. I thought Collins co-write this with his frequent Iowa collaborator, Matthew Clemens. Guess not. Collins's acknowledgments thank Clemens for all research.3. Politics. Collins mentioned on his blog how Amazon reviewers would take a political side and crap on the novel. Lefties would complain that is is a Righty novel. Righties would complain the opposite. Well, Reeder is a leftie but the novel sits in the middle. Either side may align with the view they want. Or, they can complain.
4. My complaint is that the climax was a little of a let down. I enjoy conspiracy novels but have come to expect shadowy people in high places who then - usually - get their come-uppance. The conspiracy here is personal. There is not big money push or political maneuvering by government weasels like in other conspiracy novels.
5. No matter, the book is well worth your time.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Done: "Black Hills" by Dan Simmons

Done: Black Hills by Dan Simmons, 2010, 9780316006989.

Not sure where this came from but according to the front cover it cost $1.00. A fairly decent book but not as great as Drood and The Terror, Darwin's Blade kinda sucked. But, for Drood and Terror I listened to the John Lee narrated versions.  John Lee is a narration god.

Simmons uses plenty of Lakota/Sioux words. I won't try to find the correct words or spelling in my comments.

Paha Sapa is ten years old at the Battle of Little Big Horn/Battle of the Greasy Grass.  Paha Sapa is not warrior in training. His Lakota grandfather, Limps-a-lot, is a "medicine man". But that is a weak description for someone who carries tribal history and myth, knows sacred ceremonies, provides counsel, occasionally has visions, etc. Paha Sapa himself has already had visions. He knows to be careful about touching people because their memories and futures can jump into Paha Sapa with skin-to-skin contact.

 Paha Sapa goes to the battlefield because he does not want to be left behind by the other boys. Galloping into the action he decides to count coup by touching an enemy. Paha Sapa touches Custer. Custer's spirit inhabits Paha Sapas head. Custer won't shut up but Paha Sapa doesn't speak English anyway.

We follow Paha through his life. The destruction of his lodge of families. Capture by the 7th Cavalry. Life on his own. Taken in by a tent housed Catholic School. Work as a cowboy - he's not good at it. Work as Indian with Buffalo Bill Cody's traveling show. Meeting his half-Lakota wife. Caring for his son after wife's death in childbirth.

The meat of the story is what will Paha Sapa do to protect the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota? He has been working for sculptor Gutzon Borglum's Mt. Rushmore project for several years as a demolition man, cutting into the granite of a sacred mountain to build Mt. Rushmore. Paha Sapa has always been a thinker. He's a brave man but not a warrior. His vision during his isolated manhood ceremony as a ten-year-old showed the white people's destruction of the Black Hills. He wonders how he can stop an unstoppable force.

Lots of things happen. Simmons gives a tour of 1880s Indian life and the wars across Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska and the rest. A visit to the Chicago Exposition of 1893. Mining and blasting the granite cliffs of Rushmore. Paha's sadness at his failures in life.  Paha's sadness at his wife's death. Paha's sadness at his beloved son's death. Paha spending a good portion of life alone.

1. Simmons gives both sides of the Indian Wars by using Custer's monologues inside Paha's head and Custer and Paha's discussion over time (after Paha learns English). Custer can see through Paha's eyes but will spend years in silence after arguments with Paha.
2. Competing tribes competing by killing each other.
3. I had to look up the song Garry Owen after a few references. You'll recognize the tune if not the name.

Heard: "Watchman" by Ian Rankin

Heard: Watchman by Ian Rankin, 1988 (2007 audio). Overdrive download.

Narrated by the great John Lee. I've not read or heard many Rankin novels. I likely chose this one after searching for Lee narrations.

Miles Flint is a low level spy for Britain's domestic spy agency, MI5. Miles is a "watchman", a surveillance specialist. He enjoys his job and considers himself an expert. He has no interest in moving to another department or taking promotion.

Miles is married with a college student son.  His job requires secrecy and his specialty prizes invisibility. He's taken those behaviors into his personal life and his quiet behavior has been driving his wife away. Miles has started to avoid going home at night. "I have paperwork to do. I should assist this surveillance team. I need to spend time on this report." Miles loves beetles. Miles wonders what kind of beetle each colleagues and friend would be.

One night Miles helps out a team tracking a suspected Arab assassin. Miles takes the point and follows the Arab into a hotel bar. Miles sits near the Arab as the Arab and another man discuss business issues. Miles is very relaxed, the neighboring conversation sounds innocent, this operation is a bust. A prostitute then sits at Miles's table and chats him up.  Miles banters with her. The Arab goes to the toilet. A second man leaves the toilet wearing the Arab's clothes. Shit.  A couple hours later an Israeli arms dealer is murdered.

Shit hits the fan for Miles and MI5. The men in the surveillance unit are under scrutiny and staked out in the sun by their commander. But, Miles recalls the Arab looking back at Miles as the Arab left for the toilet. Miles recalls a sly smile as the prostitute spoke to Miles. Someone tipped off the assassin.

Meanwhile, Miles wife has been having a (so far) chaste affair with Miles's long-term colleague, I-Forget-His-Name.  Miles finds out. Miles moves out. Miles is not an investigator. Miles starts wondering if a mole in MI5 tipped the Arab. Why were some people on his team kept and others canned? What's going on? Miles thinks of beetles. Miles approaches the home of a suspected Provisional IRA unit and is caught as a suspected prowler.

Miles is sent to Northern Ireland with a "Take this job or you're cashiered after your two fuck-ups." Miles joins some secret Army or RUC killers. Miles and killers raid a Provisional-owned business. Killers are there to kill Irish. Killers are also there to kill Miles. Miles escapes with a IRA man. Miles and IRA Man make fragile truce. IRA Man connected to the English mess. Miles starts putting things together with the help of IRA Man and interrogation of I-Forget-His-Name.

1. Spy novel. I liked it. Hard to not like anything narrated by John Lee.
2. Brief introduction by Rankin on this reprint. This was his second novel and he thought he really jumped around and went back and forth with different scenes.
3. Boredom of surveillance. Miles makes a drastic change from passive watcher to active vengeance.
4. Miles finds out he is not as good a surveillance man as he thought.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Done: "Eight Black Horses" by Ed McBain

Done: Eight Black Horses by Ed McBain, 1985, 0877956812.

An 87th Precinct novel. This one has the Deaf Man.  Another copy from the stuff I own.

Just today I checked out a copy of this book to a lady who asks me for recommendations for her husband.  Her husband reads A LOT but I have never met the guy.  She comes in and gets all the books and I've recommended several authors.

What a great first chapter.  Carella and Brown are in a Isola CIty park where a naked dead woman was left. They are waiting for the medical examiner as the homicide dolts - er, Homicide Detectives - make wise cracks about the corpse's ass. McBain has the sparse sentences on the men and uprigth observations about the weather and sky.

Anyway. The city park across the street from the 87th Precinct. The Deaf Man starts sending Carella letters with photocopied images on white paper. The letters start in October and you soon figure out that each letter - police uniform hats, black horses, handcuffs, etc. - are intended as a 12 Days of Christmas.  The Deaf Man has something big planned and once again he is taunting the Detectives with vague clues. This time the Deaf Man is after money and revenge. Money from a cash robbery at a major department store and revenge against the detectives who have foiled and shot him in previous novels.

Carella is the primary Detective and he and the others are left scratching their heads. DO they try and play along with the Deaf Man's game of vague clues? Is doing so worth the effort and time? Carella catches a break when the Deaf Man impersonates Carella, beds a bar hopper, and leaves the woman.  The woman tracks down the real Carella demanding more sex and abuse. (The Deaf Man is very controlling.)  Bar Hopper is the only one who has seen the Deaf Man enough to describe him and help the 87th to find him. But, she is also enamored with the Deaf Man, lets him inside her apartment, says she already spoke to the real Carella, and is killed for her foolishness.

The Deaf Man is incredibly ruthless and kills without regrets.  Don't read the book if you are a horse lover. The Deaf Man's cash robbery goes awry and one of the dopey Detectives discovers the Deaf Man's time bomb set within the precinct house. Deaf Man walks away and the Detectives breathe sigh of relief.

1. No Fat Ollie Weeks. What is Weeks's first 87th appearance? I suppose I could look that up.
2. Are they any 87th Precinct novels longer than 250 pages? McBain is so concise he only needs about 200 pages anyway.
3. Fat Ollie Weeks's "novel" only ran about 30 pages or so, didn't it?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Found: "Rogue Officer" by Garry Douglas Kilworth

Found: Rogue Officer by Garry Douglas Kilworth, 2007, 9780727865359.

I've cut back on borrowing from the library so I can read through some of the books I own. Most of my owned items are either fairly old - from college days - or withdrawn books bought from library sales. Rogue Officer is a withdrawn book. I'm not sure when I weeded this from the library's collection but must have done so within the past three years or so.

Kilworth's Fancy Jack Crossman series is one of those English series that enjoy intermittent U.S. publication.  Kilworth has done eight novels in the series but only three or four seem to have U.S. publication.  These are Richard Sharpe type novels, military adventures following a commando-type character through different battles and wars.  Most Sharpe novels focused on the Napoleonic wars, Crossman focuses on Crimea and India.

Rogue Officer picks up about halfway through the Sepoy Mutiny (or Indian Rebellion depending on your historical viewpoint) of 1857. An explanation in case you've forgotten the story: the British East India Company ruled India and ran their own army. The Company did not treat the Indians well and never saw the signs of brewing rebellion. One point of contention was that the Company wanted the Indian soldiers to serve overseas. The rumor that new rifle cartridges were coated in either pig or cow fat (Muslim and Hindu worries) was the last straw. (The cartridges were wrapped paper with powder and ball inside, the ends had to be bitten off to pour the contents down the muzzle. Both Hindus and Muslims were revolted at the need to put the fat in their mouths.) The rebels were vicious and murdered their British officers, wives, and children. The British counter-attack was equally vicious with military aged men shot down and some rebels tied to cannon muzzles and shot away.

Crossman serves in the British Army, the Irish Connaught Rangers, but has been detached to a military intelligence officer since the Crimean War.  Crossman has been challenged to a duel by a particularly nasty and fearless cavalry officer, Deighnton. Crossman's pistol shot misses and the Deighnton's pistol misfires so the duel is declared over. Deighnton is not pleased. Crossman does not understand the man's animosity but cannot turn down a duel, even though most everyone realizes how stupid duels are, or he will be an outcast.

The novel goes from there with Crossman and his three man unit traveling rural India as spies.  Joining different marches to track down rebel armies.  Crossman getting captured by runaway rebels.  Deighnton plotting against Crossman by accusing Crossman of desertion during Crossman's captivity.  Crossman's sometimes peculiar men. The culture clash between Indian and British, British class clashes, shifting Indian loyalties, horse lovers versus "it's just thing to ride".

1. I read Winter Soldiers back in 2007. The novels are done as linked stories. Kind of like a personal campaign history with a overarching plot thread from beginning to end. This one has Crossman taking various assignments with Deighnton and Deighnton's influence coming and going to influence the story.
2. A good book. At times Crossman thinks back to previous events that, I presume, were in other novels. But, you don't need to know those other things to enjoy the story.
3. The latest Crossman novel is Kiwi Wars with a 2008 pub date in the States.  The library bought it in 2009 and it has only circ'ed three times and the last checkout was January, 2010. I should probably weed it, shelving space is tight in Fiction.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Done: "Big Black Maria" by Johnny Shaw

Done: Big Black Maria by Johnny Shaw, 2012, 9781612184395.

Possible taglines:
The Three Stooges Go Mining.
Three idiots, two burros, and one really angry woman.
Desert living: a guide to failure.
1,000 Ways to Screw Up in the West.
Three Important Reasons to Stay in School
"Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, Son."

This is quite good. Good enough to suffer under my subconscious desire for the book to continue, which means I would not read the book. Why read the novel when it'll end?

Ricky lives in the desert of Southern California and drives elderly men and women to Mexico to fill drug prescriptions. Ricky's 1977 school is bus is almost dead Ricky is just getting by.  Ricky's trailer park neighbor is Harry "Shitburger" Schmittberger. Harry is a drunk on medical leave from his corrections officer job at the nearby state prison. Harry is short, fat, and ugly. Harry also has body order, pukes on himself and has bad manners. Frank is an elderly Indian who travels on Ricky's bus, has two perpetually stoned, marijuana growing grandsons and a daughter with a bizarrely vicious temper.

One night Harry hears a drunken rant about gold in the Chocolate Mountains.  Harry pays Ricky $20 to use Ricky's computer and do some research. Ricky is headed South avoids a road obstacle and crashes his bus. The crash kills a few passengers and leaves muscular Ricky with a withered left arms.  Cancer stricken Frank is banged up in the wreck and visits Ricky in the hospital, they get friendly. Frank talks about his grandfather who worked a gold mine in the Chocolate Mountains. The mine manager went loopy and killed all his employees but the grandfather. The grandfather killed the mine manager and buried him in the manager's home. Harry hears and gets gold fever.

Things happen. The three men click and become fast friends.  Ricky is guilt stricken and boozing. Frank is having cancer treatment. Harry has Frank break Harry's leg so Harry can stay out of work.  Harry talks the other two into hunting for gold. The mine manager's town is now on the lake bed of a reservoir. The trio get a boat and Ricky dives down. The recovered maps and notes show where the lost mine is. The lost mine is in a military gunnery range. Meanwhile, Frank's perpetually angry daughter goes looking for Frank and brings her stoner sons along.

More things happen. People die suddenly. The reader has many laughs.  The characters can be maudlin and depressed at times. Twists are twisty. Turns are sharp. You'll enjoy the book.