Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Heard: "Little Elvises" by Timothy Hallinen

Heard: Little Elvises by Timothy Hallinen, 2013, download. Narrated by Peter Berkrot.

Junior Bender, volume 2. Since Junior is a burglar and crime solver I keep thinking his name is Bernie. This makes perfect sense because Hallinen writes Lawrence Block Type novels that are Lawrence Block quality. By Lawrence Block Style I mean: humor, some grit, witty banter and love talk, oddball bad guys that are still scary, and good doses of realism sprinkled throughout.

This time Junior has been called in to the local cop shop under suspicion of burglary. A nasty burglary that involved a death. The Detective on the case gives Junior the option to skate on the frame-up if Junior will help the Detective's aging uncle, a retired record producer. What can Junior do? Of course, this doesn't stop him from negotiating payment and terms.

Aging Uncle is suspect in the death of a journalist. Aging Uncle has an alibi but is hiding the alibi. Aging Uncle made his fortune by selecting Elvis lookalikes from Philadelphia. Giving them suits and songs, then selling singles. Junior's computer savvy daughter even wrote a report on the topic.

Junior meets the journalist's widow and falls in lust. Junior has his crook friends help him out. Junior is tabbed by Scary Old Gangster to do some work. You don't say "No" to Scary Old Gangster. Junior pines for his wife. Junior misses his daughter. Junior enjoys his shiftless and dangerous life; he has fun as a crook. Anyhoo.

Things happen. We follow Junior around as he narrates his investigation, his concern for his teenage daughter, jealousy over Ex-Wife's new boyfriend, threats from a nutbag hitman, side plot on a missing woman, etc.

This is the kind of novel where I start reading (listening) and get sucked right into the story. Hallinen tells a great story with a vivid setting and characters. The characters act believably and the dialogue is very fun.

Done: "The Fever" by Megan Abbott

Done: The Fever by Megan Abbott, 2014, 9780316231053

The usual high quality work of Abbott, Jr. I was a year behind on reading this one.

Abbott moves even further away from straight crime and noir novels by focusing more on the psychological. Abbott uses teenage girls again, but this one spreads out compared to Dare Me. Abbott tells the tale by 1st personing three family members: Deenie is the teen protagonist. Eli her older teen brother. Tom her father and high school teacher. The crime at the center of the story is caused by a romantic jealousy driven frantic by teen drama and emotion. It's the crime's strange psychological byproduct that Abbott zeroes in on.

Deenie is a high school sophomore in Dryden. (New York state, maybe? Oh, it doesn't matter.) She is is part of a tight group of four girls and feels her best friend Gabby is slipping away from her. Gabbie is spending more time with Skye and Deenie has been hanging out with Lise. Things start out with teen worries and concerns. Worry over vaccination pain, love interests, reputation, status, family concerns, mysteries of why people behave badly.

Deenie is in class one morning when Lise has a "fit". A thrashing,shaking fit that throws her from her chair and onto the floor. He classmates are concerned enough to make sure they record everything on their cell phones. Deenie is freaked out and worried. Lise goes to the hospital, is released home, has another fit and whacks her head on a table, goes back in the hospital. Then another  girl has a fit. Then Gabbie has a fit. What is to blame? "I'll bet it's that vaccine. You're poisoning our children!!"

Meanwhile, Eli is a hockey playing fool. He spends as much time as possible on the ice and his good looks draw women like flies. Eli has been a slut the past year or two but is getting weary of the behavior. Tom is a careless father and a serial dater after his wife suddenly left after a surprise miscarriage that may have been part of her surprise affair with a married man.

Things start to happen as Abbott bounces us back forth among those three. Deenie is worried for her friends. Worried that she is to blame for the unknown disease. Worried that someone will find out about how she had sex for the first time.

Teen girls are acting weird and anxious. Teen girls are falling sick. Parents are getting paranoid and angry. Parents are blaming anyone they can. Public health starts asking questions. Police start asking questions and searching the school grounds.

Everything ties up nicely in the end with a reasonable and realistic solution, same as Dare Me. Deenie is too distracted by the mess around her to suspect what really happened/.

1. Abbott and Bill Crider are real good at setting things up so everything makes sense in the end.  
2. Abbott got interest in the breakout of "Teen Girl Sickness!" in Maine. Massachusetts? New Hampshire? One of those states anyway. Abbott writes us a close-in account but does not write from the perspective of someone who gets sick. Deenie's homelife is not perfect but she has the self-confidence and stability to not sicken herself from the commotion, worry and anxiety.
3. Yes, "personing" is a word. So is "screwyouitsmywordsothere".

Friday, October 2, 2015

Done: "Black Rock" by John McFetridge.

Done: Black Rock by John McFetridge, 2014, 9781550229752.

A little time capsule from 1970 Montreal. I took a while to warm up to this one and ended up liking it quite a bit.

Constable Eddie Dougherty is about 25-years-old and English in predominately French Quebec. Montreal is enduring a cascade of dynamite bombs set off by the FLQ and who-knows-who-else. The government says, "Foreign interests are to blame." The cops say, "Look in the backyard for the bombers." Constable Dougherty - Dog-Eh-Dee to the French speakers - spends many days chasing bomb calls, searching for bombs and guarding bombing scenes.

But, Dougherty also gets detailed to pick up a drunk Detective. The Detective is in an English bar in Eddie's old neighborhood, The Point. Detective Carpentier is surrounded by angry locals who want Carpentier to be out looking for a missing local girl rather than drinking in the bar. Eddie gets Carpentier out and learns several girls have gone missing and the cops are looking for a guy named Bill who may be killing the young women. Eddie was on the scene for one of those dead victims. Eddie also knows the missing Point girl.  Two days later her body is found.

Carpentier calls Eddie to help identify the corpse. Eddie recognizes a unique similarity between the two bodies and tells Carpentier. Eddie escorts Carpentier to notify the family. Most City of Montreal detectives are assigned to the anti-terror squad and the murder squad has no manpower. Eddie starts helping Carpentier. He puts in his spare time talking to locals and looking for a white Lincoln seen nearby. Eddie tries to get an informant by schmoozing with former Point neighbor and buying dope from him. Mid-20s Eddie does some drinking, meets some women, listens to older cops.

The case unfolds over several months as the bombings ratchet up in frequency and size. Eddie is only involved in the murder case because no one else is around to do the job. As Eddie works his job McFetridge gives a great picture of 1970 Montreal. The counter culture has turned revolutionary. Teenagers want to party. Young men have shaggy hair and desire revolution. Cops are not trusted. The government doesn't seem to care about the bombs until rich people are targeted. Political and economic trouble means union strikes and Parliamentary posturing. Quebecois want independence. Federals want to make Quebec happy.

Dougherty spends more time on the case and meets a grad student in anthropology who researches killers. Dougherty digs her and they spend time but nothing sticks. Dougherty is angry with the killer. He wants resolution and justice. They catch the guy but the victory is hollow and lacks the finale and decisive ending Doughtery wants for the case.

1. I like reading about Montreal. The city has a neat history and after my short trip there in 1999 I've always wanted to return. The English-French divide is in the novel with separated neighborhoods and language issues. Dougherty's mother is French and straddles both sides.
2. Several police departments across several suburbs on Montreal Island. This was before the police and city services were merged across the area.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Zip: "Hyenas" by Joe R. Lansdale

Zip: Hyenas by Joe R. Lansdale, 2011, 9781596063563.

A Hap and Leonard novella with a very short Hap short story in the back. The usual Hap and Leonard story, i.e. well worth your time.

Hap is called out to a bar fight where Leonard beat three guys up for calling him a fag and n*gger. Leonard's defense is that the other guys started the fight. Leonard cracks wise. A witness backs that story so Leonard is in the clear. The witness is one of the three beaten up dudes. Hap cracks wise. Witness wants to hire Leonard and Hap. Leonard and Hap crack wise.

Witness needs some rough guys to get his younger brother out of trouble. Witness was at the bar trying to hire the other two beat-ups. Leonard cracks wise.Witness's brother has been hanging out with tough customers that Witness suspects of being bank robbers. Hap cracks wise. He thinks the bank robbers are trying to get Younger Brother to be their new crook. Hap and Leonard crack wise.

Hap and Leonard believe Witness and look into things with Marvin's help. They find out the bank robbers probably killed their last driver. They find out the tough guys are bad dudes. Hap and Leonard visit the bad dudes and Hap clobbers the leader. Hap and Leonard take Younger Brother back to Hap's to give him a firm talking. Hap and Leonard crack wise.

Hap and Leonard talk but Witness and Brett are kidnapped and Hap and Leonard are told to butt out during the upcoming bank robbery or Witness and Brett are killed. Hap gets maudlin. Leonard gets pragmatic. Hap and Leonard do not take directions well. Hap kills a couple bank robbers. Leonard and Hap rescue Witness and Brett. Hap and Leonard crack wise.

Everyone lives happily ever after. Hap and Leonard crack wise.

Finished: "Slocum's Snake Oil" by Jake Logan

Finished: Slocum's Snake Oil by Jake Logan (who really knows?), 2010,

Used paperback I picked up somewhere.

Slocum is in Eastern North Dakota and hard up for cash. When a drunken local starts blathering about a big money shipment Slocum decides to rob the stage. The robbery was a set-up by the Federal Marshall and Slocum is pursued across the prairie. Slocum heads straight into a buffalo herd, starts a stampede, survives the running cows and emerges from the dust to find a medicine wagon. The medicine show peddler helps Slocum out and Slocum agrees to help the "Doctor" out for a few days.

Slocum and the Doctor land in a town stricken with typhus (it might not have been typhus, I don't have the book handy). Slocum meets a woman delivering her dying husband to the town doctor. Widow left her son at the farm. Slocum rescues the boy from marauding bandits taking advantage of the deadly typhus outbreak. Slocum and widow have sex. "Doctor" leaves town

Slocum finds out the peddler's elixer actually works. Wow! Slocum travels after "Doctor" to save Woman's son and the town. Slocum still pursued by Federal Marshall. Chases ensue. Gunfights ensue. Sex ensues. "Doctor" says, "Really? It worked?" "Doctor" and Slocum travel to find Indian Medicine Man who shared the elixir recipe. Mean Indians Ensue. Slocum hunts for ingredients. More sex. More violence. Slocum brews the elixir himself and saves the town.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Done: "Tequila Sunset" by Sam Hawken

Done: Tequila Sunset by Sam Hawken, 2012, 9781846688546.

This started off too slow for me but I kept reading I ended up really enjoying the novel.

Flip Morales just did four years in a Texas prison and is back home in El Paso. Flip is an okay guy but took a rap for something he was only partially involved in (I cannot recall what). Part of prison survival required joining the Aztecas for protection. Part of joining required knifing another prisoner. Flip didn't kill the other man but from then on was regarded as a sold Azteca and under the wing of the gang's ultimate leader.

El Paso Police Detective Christina works a gang unit. El Paso is low crime and most cops seem focused on Honeland Security issues. Christina and her partner do not have many bad guys to chase but they do have a local Azteca gang leader, Jose, that they are after. 

Meanwhile, Mexican police officer Matias works in Ciudad Juarez. Ciudad Juarez would be a dreamworld for Alex and his Droogs. Matias doesn't work murders, Matias works mass murders. Matias works beheadings. Matias works torture cases with victims burned in bonfires. Matias's interrogations are preceded by his interviewees enduring beatings by Matias's colleagues. Matias is working a Los Aztecas cases related to the ongoing drug wars.

All three sides mix together as Flip is pulled into the gang by local leader Jose. Flip wants nothing to do with crime and decides to inform on the gang the same way he did when he was in prison.  Christina and Matias meet after Christina and her partner are joined with a Federal task force. The American task force is going to bust the Americans for exporting guns and importing drugs as the Mexican Police bust the Mexicans for exporting drugs and importing guns.

Many things happen. Matias is a dedicated and honest cop - he and his colleagues are not the badge carrying Mexican crooks of cinema with sweaty faces and mustached lips. Matias works long hours and he and his wife survive an assassination attempt.  Matias greatly misses his wife after she flees Ciudad Juarez to stay with her sister in Monterrey.

Flip meets a girl and falls in love. He wants to keep his new job at a food warehouse and stay out of trouble but Jose wants him to work. Jose is pressuring Flip's straight arrow boss, also the new boyfriend of Flip's mother, to allow drug carrying produce trucks to unload dope at the warehouse.

Christina gets home tired and worn out and relieves her son's sitter. Her autistic son, Freddie, is a worry. Freddie has trouble in school, requires a strict schedule, and when at home he just wants to play Minecraft all night. Christina is single and her life is either work or caring for Freddie. When Los Aztecas start targeting cops she gets anxious.

There is not a lot of street crime here. No inside look at gang life. No chases. Only a couple shoot-outs. No tough talk and posturing. People care for each other and work to get ahead. The gang pursues violence but members think of themselves as family. The gang hosts large barbecues and neighborhood parties.

Read: "Texas Vigilante" by Bill Crider

Read: Texas Vigilante by Bill Crider 1999, 9781941298268 (the 2014 Brash Books reprint).

Another better-than-most novel from Crider. I found a copy of the original publishing at Watertown PL. I took a picture of the cover but now cannot find the shot on my phone.

Ellie is running the ranch she inherited at the end of Outrage at Blanco. Outrage's story doesn't matter here, you learn about Ellie's background and the background of her ranch manager and his family. That the Manager's wife, Sue, turned her psychopath brother into the police. Well the psychopathic brother, Angel, just escaped prison and killed a few people in the process. Now, Angel and some fellow convicts are traveling to Blanco so Angel can pursue revenge on his family.

Ellie and Co. are warned of Angel's escape and prepare for him coming. Sue is scared. Angel shows and shoots his brother-in-law, batters his sister, and kidnaps his niece. Ellie and Sue take off after Angel to rescue the girl.

Everything happens pretty quick. There is only eight hours or so from kidnapping to climax but Crider gives us Angel, his creepy convict pal, Ellie, Sue, the girl, the cowardly Blanco Sheriff, and the Ranger coming after Angel.

 There are horse chases. Scary parts. Abandoned churches. Threats of violence and rape on a girl. Shoot-outs. Thunderstorms. Roaring rivers. Several surprises. Ellie wins out in the end.

1. Crider has humanity wins out. Violence is necessary because awful people have to be stopped. Ellie and the rest don't want this trouble and Ellie is one of the few people willing to go after the killers.
2.  Another one of those Crider books that flows right along. His books seems are deceptively simple because they flow so smooth.
3. Yes, I am a suck up.