Thursday, May 23, 2019

Lansdale Again: "Honky Tonk Samurai" by Joe R. Lansdale

Lansdale Returns: Honky Tonk Samurai by Joe R. Lansdale, 2016, downloaded off Wisconsin Digital Library. Narrated by Christopher Ryan Grant who did a swell job.

Hap and Leonard are still working for Marvin's P.I. firm. They are sitting in a car watching a guy's house when Leonard goes across the street to beat up a guy kicking a dog. Hap follows along. The police show up. Marvin is with the cops and announces, "I'm the new Police Chief."  Hap and Leonard are somewhat surprised by the Police Chief news. Hap and Leonard are not surprised when the Police Chief also gives the Dog Beater a couple punches.

Hap and Leonard are equally surprised when later that night Marvin announces he will sell them the P.I. firm dirt cheap. Hap and Leonard are not too keen since they know bupkis about business. But, Hap's longtime girlfriend says, "I'll buy it."

After Brett and Co. do a little office remodeling Brett and Hap are in the second floor offices when a foul-mouthed old lady shows up, shows them video of the Dog Beater Beat-Down and asks for a discount on investigative services or she will send the tape to the press and get Marvin fired.

Foul mouthed old lady is a former floozy and ticks Brett off something fierce. But, Brett agrees to have the Bonehead Twins look for the woman's missing granddaughter. Floozy Granny's granddaughter has not been heard of in five years. Shortly after college the granddaughter had a couple jobs and then worked for a car sales place. Granddaughter then stole $50,000 from Floozy Granny and disappeared.

Things happen and Hap and Leonard immediately stir things up. Leonard stirs things up on purpose because he can be a combative prick. They discover the used car place is a front for prostitution and blackmail. The discover the car sales place's manager is a transgender woman who works for the Dixie Mafia. They find out that messing with the delaership is messing with

Lansdale always writes a good crime story but his language and characters are the draw. I've read all - or most - the other Hap and Leonard books and a reader can start at any point in the series. Lansdale gives you a full story and characters each time.

This novel includes Jim Bob Luke who is one of my favorite characters. I should rewatch Cold in July that features Don Johnson as Jim Bob. The book also has Cason Statler from Leather Maidens. I read Leaiher way back in 2009 but only sorta recognized him here. I did not recognize Cason's psychopath Army buddy from Leather who also reappears in here.

Usually the Hap and Leonard novels will take a sudden turn. Honky starts out with a missing person hunt and turns into a assassin hunt. You'll kinda get two novellas dovetailed together.

Hap Leonard continue to age. If this is really set in 2016 they would be about  60 years old each. That's a couple 60 year guys after 40 years of manual labor, martial arts, and various fist fights, IN real life they would be creaking and groaning. In literary life Leonard is still a hardass. He is also having a difficult personal time as his on-and-off boyfriend keeps having religious issues since his church says he is going to hell for being gay.

Oh, I forgot about Hap finding out he has a 20-year-old daughter from a woman he dated for all of a month.

1. Gratuitous Bill Crider references.
2. Gratuitous Kasey Lansdale references.
3. Alternate title: Return of the Bonehead Twins
4. Alternate title: Hap and Leonard Stumble Around Some More
5. Alternate title: Leonard and Hap Argue Over Nonsense
6. Alternate title: Hap and Leonard and Jim Bob Luke Ride Again
7. Alternate title: Vanilla Ride Rides Again

Thursday, May 9, 2019

NonFic War Book: "We Few: U.S. Special Forces in Vietnam" by Nick Brokhausen

NonFic War Book: We Few: U.S. Special Forces in Vietnam by Nick Brokhausen, 2018, 9781612005805.

The Studies and Observation Group (SOG) was a super-duper secret commando unit in Vietnam. The unit was given an innocuous name and classified secret until 1996 or so. In 1997 I bought a copy of John L. Plaster's book SOG: the secret wars of America's commandos in Vietnam for the library I worked for. I read Plaster's book in 1997 and will now occasionally see references to SOG. Well, I read a reference a month or two ago, then searched the catalog, then requested this book.

Brokhausen was a Special Forces guy on his way back to Vietnam. He'd already done one or two tours and arrived in Vietnam with no assignment. He and a couple guys were to be waiting around for a place to go when he was recruited - bamboozled - into volunteering for SOG.

SOG was a volunteer unit because the work was incredibly dangerous. They were often sent into Cambodia, Laos, the DMZ, and even North Vietnam. This meant they were out of reach of the usual help from U.S. infantry and artillery. 

Brokhausen worked with a team of about 10 guys who carried about four times the ammunition of a regular infantry unit. Most SOG patrols were actively hunted by dedicated units of the NVA from the time the SOG teams were inserted by helicopter. Very, very rarely did one of these reconnaissance not get in a gun fight. Some teams just disappeared.

Brokhausen lived and succeeded in all this slaughter and terror. But, most of the stories - each chapter a different story - are about life at the base camps. Brokhausen mentions several times how a three day mission is 72 hours of high terror and little sleep. Gallons of booze, hot showers, and bordello trips are enthusiastically consumed when not training, patrolling, or planning patrols.

If you want stories of fightin' and killin' there are a couple in here. The rest are tales of hijinks and shenanigans. Brokhausen and friends playing pranks and screwing each other over. Getting to know their Montagnard partners. Complaining about their officers and senior noncoms. Much bitching and hatred about the Military Police. Griping about rear echelon "twinkies" in starched camouflage. Trying to avoid the crazy guys in their units.

Brokhausen frequently mentions the insanity. Usually when I read things like "We're all crazy" I kinda roll my eyes and think, "OK, ooh la la, you drank until 3AM and tipped over the outhouse."  But, Brokhausen would often consider murder as an acceptable method for conflict resolution on base. Now, to be fair, Brokhausen is not clear on these thoughts. I cannot say for sure if he was dead serious or joshing around. But, he thought about it often and they all acted in ways that were definitely not in in line with civilized life.  Brokhausen and friends's survival in the field was based upon immediate violence and killing. That kind of solution became a natural response.

Back at camp he and other SOG guys would used their suppressed .22s to shoot out the tires of MP jeeps, they regularly stole all manner of vehicles (one guy took a helicopter), dump CS gas grenades in the base tavern, have multiple bar fights, etc. 

Within all this are some very dedicated soldiers. They all dread going out on missions and are terrified of certain sectors that crawl with NVA troops. The SOG guys go out anyway. And the Montagnards are equally - or more - brave and dedicated.

Many of the stories are written as fond reminiscing of horseplay and friends and long drunks. A couple non-combat stories stuck out to me and they were the last two in the book. One was when a group of the SOG guys are driving in a jeep convoy early one morning back to their base. A U.S. Army truck comes driving along the jeeps and shoots them up with rifles and 40mm grenades. No SOG guys are shot and the grenades do not explode, but the impact of one grenade breaks some ribs and an elbow.

The drunken SOG guys are infuriated. The don't survive jungle trips to die at the hands of "junkies" who are targeting the SOG guys because they are white. The storm over to where the truck went and beat and threaten the local unit's guards and commanders. The SOG guys are close to killing people - in addition to one truck passenger killed when SOG shot back - until the SOG commander cools them down and the Army sweeps the issue under the rug.

The second story was a continuation of the previous one. Brokhausen and friends were on a huge drunk because they were expecting to go out on a horrible assignment. Brokhausen recently played a prank that greatly pissed off his commander. As punishment he was expecting his team to go into one of the super dangerous areas. The broken ribs and elbow of his two American teammates meant his squad was stood down and put on R&R. After a couple nights in Saigon Brokhausen took a solo trip to Vung Tau on the coast. He hangs out on the beach. He takes lots of showers. He makes friends with two pilots and two Australian women.  One of the woman is gorgeous and Brokhausen is enamored with her. I'm reading along thinking, "Does he end up marrying this woman or something?" when Brokhausen writes how he and the two pilots are 100 yards from a massive terrorist bomb.

Brokhausen and the pilots run over to give aid. Brokhausen assists one person, then finds a woman's leg, then assists one of the Australians who is missing a foot, and finds the corpse of the second, pretty Australian. Brokhausen is exhausted. He's been through so much terror and when he arrived at Vung Tau he was actually able to relax. He was making new friends who aren't killers. He could sleep in comfort. The Australian were a step back into normal civilian life. And then the war comes rushing back in with bodies parts, pools of blood, and the corpse of someone he liked.

1. Plaster - listed above - used to live in Northern Wisconsin. Maybe he still does.
2. Plaster was interviewed for Wisconsin Vietnam War Stories back in 20110. 

Old One: "Killing Time" by Donald E. Westlake

Old One: Killing Time by Donald E. Westlake, 1961, L.O.C. no. 61-6245.

The inside pages list only one other novel by Westlake, The Mercenaries. That was reprinted by Hard Case Crime in 2009 as The Cutie. According to my notes I read Cutie in 2010. I don't remember the novel and my notes are typically sparse.

Killing Time is set in a small to medium sized city in New York called Winston. Tim Smith is the local private eye and has long lasting and established working relationships with all the Winston bigwigs. All those bigwigs are also crooks. Graft is endemic and Tim is fine with that. He makes a nice living, has friends, and cruises right along through life in his home town.

Everything is swell for Tim until one morning at 1:30AM when a hitman from NYC comes into a diner and tries to kill Tim. Tim is somewhat surprised by this turn of events. The next day a representative of Citizens for Clean Government gives Tim a call. The CCG rep wants to hire Tim to help clean out corruption in Winston. Tim says: no. Tim says hell no! Tim says: sure they're all corrupt but everything runs smooth and great with little crime and nice schools and everyone's happy. (Tim is a bit of a louse himself.)

Well, the local bigwigs are worried about the CCG. The CCG has already taken down municipal crooks in a couple other towns and Winston cannot stand an honest audit. Tim is on his way to City Hall when someone within an upper story of City Hall takes a few shots at Time. Tim is concerned. Tim is angry. Tim knows only seven men knew he was walking over to the Hall so he now has a firm list of suspects.

Things move along with the usual Westlake greatness. Tim's sorta-but-not-really-girlfriend expresses terror at his plight. Tim has to figure out who is trying to kill him while the local Police Chief tries to sweep everything under the rug. The violence accelerates and creates a schism among the bigwigs. A third failed attempt on Tim leaves a local grocer dead. That grocer's large extended family is out for blood.

This Westlake novel has the sparse writing of his other books. The plot moves along. Tim is not a crook but fine with taking their money and working for crooks. Tim sacrifices others to get his way. Life is brutal and short in the second half of the book.

1. More .32 caliber handguns. Every damn book Westlake wrote must have a .32 in it.
2. I want to spell grocer as grocier.
3. I found this 1961 printing in the library's mystery section. It is in decent condition - well enough to circ - and has only circ'ed 12 times since the online records were created in 1995. The back of the book is stamped GIFT BOOK and dated July 19, 1985.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Read the E-Book: "Night of the Soul Stealer" by Joseph Delaney

Read the E-Book: Night of the Soul Stealer by Joseph Delaney, 2006, ebook from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Since I already had the ebook checked out by mistake I loaded it onto my phone. My plan was to read it during the Scout Backpack Camporee. Well, I only did a little reading in my sleeping bag Friday night. Then, on that Saturday, the weather was cold and windy, snow started, and one 5th grader was progressively unhappy and homesick. A couple more 5th graders have a tendency to misbehave.

After a sometimes difficult morning and a forecast of more snow we decided to leave the Camporee that afternoon. I and the other adult leader then spent two hours helping a dude get his Hyundai Sonata out of the mud. That was interesting. I am very glad I wore my insulated rubber boots all weekend because it was cold and the dude's car was stuck next to marsh.

Anyhoo. The Spook is going to his winter home in Anglezark. This move is a little confusing to me because the Spook's winter home is actually colder, windier, and snowier than their regular home in Chipenden. But, the Spook serves the entire County and, apparently, does all his winter time spooking in this remote corner of the County.

So, Tom and Alice and the Spook pack up and head out. The Spook still doesn't like Alice and thinks she will end up turning back the black magic she was raised under. Spook plans to dump her off at a farm nearby to the winter home. The farm family owes the Spook a bunch of dough and will take Alice in.

Before all this happens Tom meets a mysterious dude who dresses in the hooded cloak of a Spook and carries a Spook Style Staff. Mysterious Dude leaves a letter for Spook and the letter pisses off the Spook.

When Alice is dumped at the farmhouse we find out Mysterious Dude is the family's son and Spook's former apprentice who was canned by the Spook. Mysterious Dude (named Morgan but I will call him Mysterious Dude) has been studying black-ish magic, dead people, and ghosts to be a Mage.

Spook and Tom get Spook's remot stone home set within a ravine on a moor. Spook goes down to the deep basement/dungeon to show Tom the witches he has bound there. Spook then goes into a cell and comes out with a super good looking older woman. The woman is Meg. Meg used to be Spook's girly-smoochy-smoochy friend. Meg is also a Lamia witch and has been drugged by Spook for several years to forget her past and her fondness for human blood. Meg's sister, Maria, is bound in the basement and turned to a feral Lamia.

Things happen. There is a stone throwing boggart that has killed a farm worker by crushing his head with a boulder. Mysterious Dude is messing with Tom. When Tom's father dies Tom goes home for a week and comes back to Mysterious Dide messing with the ghost of Tom's father and forcing Tom to do Mysterious Dude's bidding to steal a book from Spook. Meg misses her meds and remembers her past life and imprisons the Spook.

As I have said before: I enjoy the series. Delaney writes these as YA stories and they move along with a 13-year-old Tom dealing with danger and trouble and loyalty and truth and family and all the other problems you want a character to deal with.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Yet Another Audio: "Doors Open" by Ian Rankin\

Yet Another Audio: Doors Open by Ian Rankin, 2008, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Meh. The story was okay but I don't much care for Amateurs Plan A Heist novels. A Westlake style comedy would be more interesting.

Set in Edinburgh which, according to Rankin and his characters, is a small town without much excitement. At least when compared to Glasgow. [Edinurgh has 500,00 people so it seems pretty damn big to me.] Edinburgh is okay for rich guy Mike Mackenzie though.

Mackenzie hit it big when he and a college pal sold off their software company for a truckload of cash. Since then his college pal moved to Australia and goes surfing, nightclubbing, and hanging out with hot bikini women. Mackenzie has a penthouse apartment and goes to art shows.

Whether Mackenzie knows it or not he is bored and unsatisfied. He is pining for an art gallery manager and doesn't do much else except hang out with a couple other art fan dudes. One of those dudes, Gissing, is an art professor and he complains about all the art work stored away in private and museum collections that is never viewed or shared with the public. What a shame. Well, I guess there is nothing to be done about it...

But, wait! "Maybe," says Gissing "we can liberate those art works!" Mackenzie and his other pal, Allan, laugh it off and then take Gissing up on the offer. Of course things go wrong. Gissing's plan is to hire a art student to produce exacting copies of the stolen works. They will then rob the National gallery. After the heist the copies will be swapped for the real paintings and left behind. The art will be "recovered" and Gissing and the rest can keep the real works.

The heist will happen during the annual Doors Open weekend when various private locations - like the National Gallery's art warehouse - are open for tours. Why not break into the warehouse during the tours when alarms and defenses are down?

Things go wrong after Mackenzie's chance encounter with old high school class mate and gangster Chib. Mackenzie figures they need help from someone with experience. He recruits violent Chib to assist. Chib is a crook, he won't "help" anyone. Especially since he owns over a 100k Euros to some Norwegian Hell's Angels.

Further complications include a very nervous Allan. The art student's greedy girlfriend. A scary Danish debt collector hounding Chib. A Scottish cop out investigating Chib who figures out the connection between the robbery and Chib. Gissing goes missing. Chib wants more. So on. So forth.

The story just never grabbed me. According to my internet box there is a film version that showed in UK TV.

YA Audio: "Attack of the Fiend" by Joseph Delaney

YA Audio: Attack of the Fiend by Joseph Delaney, 2007, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

#4 in the series. #3 is not available in audio off the digital library. The absence of that book really chaps my ass. I reserved the eBook version for some damn reason, I'd rather read the print but just finished the eBook a couple days ago.

Thomas, The Spook, and Alice are living at the Spook's home. Thomas and Alice are sent back to Thomas's family farm to bring back the locked trunks Thomas's mother left him. Apparently Tom's mother took off back to Greece in book #3 and left the trunks for him. Thomas's father died in the last novel and his will left the trunks and the room in the farmhouse where the trunks reside. The room is some sorta of special.

Alice and Thomas spend the 1.5-2 days travel to get to the farm that is now owned by his brother, Jack. Tom and Co. find the livestock missing, the barn burned down, the house ransacked, blood on the floor, Jack and family missing, and all the trunks gone. They find out witches raided the farm and took Jack's family to Pendle along with the trunks.

Pendle is a well known witch area. Alice - former witch-in-training - goes to Pendle to snoop and look for Jack and family. Thomas hurries back to the Spook. The Spook was just visited by a Pendle priest - and former apprentice - who told the Spook that the Pendle witch clans have grown stronger and are taking over the area.

Spook and Jack travel to the area. Stay with the Priest. Travel to local magistrate for assistance.  Things happen. The witches are quite strong and a Evil Mutant Dwarf Thing and other witches use mirrors (and mirrored surface to spy on people). Jack and Co. have to get inside a castle the withces now control. There are underground passages, a water monster, feral Lamia witches, a boss witch who controls the magistrate, a murdered priest, so on, so forth.

These are fun stories and move quick. The novels have been getting progressively more violent. Jack and the Spook have been working against more and more violent witches, boggarts, and other magical beings. There is more blood, more dangerous situations, and more cruelty.

Here are some more witchy details:
- Beware women and girls who wear pointy shoes. They are probably witches.
- Witches can persuade people or bind people to them with spells of glamour, fascination and dread.
- There is a cannon in this one. Soldiers are called to use the cannon to breach the castle.
- Witches cannot cross moving water. The Pendle clan have installed wooden damns to lower across a current and let them cross using the stream bed.
- A witch clan is a group of witches. A coven is 13 witches drawn together to cast spells.
- Bladed weapons can kill witches.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Audio of Disasters: "Directorate S" by Steve Coll

Audio of Disasters: Directorate S: The CIA and America's wars in Pakistan and Afghanistan by Steve Coll, 2018, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library

Coll wrote a previous book about AfPak issues from Soviet invasion through to about 2000 and the Taliban. This book covers the area from then to the start of Trump's term. From the title I was thinking this would be tales of special operator's tactically tactilizing, hiking mountains, and shooting AQ leaders. Nope. This is all politics except for some info about a particularly tough battle during the Afghan surge of troops.

This is a long book and took a while to finish. Maybe that sometimes tedious slog about diplomatic discussions, political confusion, and piles of bodies is fitting for a war that is almost old enough to vote.

Coll's initial focus is on Pakistan and how their involvement with their neighbors has colored so much of the successes and failures of the U.S. and various allies in Afghanistan. The discussion travels to the changing goals of U.S. policy, Afghan politics, Karzai's extreme paranoia, and whether we should fight the Taliban or just AQ.

So much hinged, and still does, on the dispute between Pakistan and Indian. Pakistan and India HATE each other. Don't forget they've been fighting over Kashmir since the 1947 split. Pakistan is especially grouchy after losing the 1973 war and watching as India's economy goes high and higher. While India's economy and international influence have grown Pakistan has been static or shown weak growth.

The Taliban have been a way for Pakistan to control the region and check India's power. Making friends with and supporting the Taliban has helped Pakistan. They keep India from moving into Afghanistan and have used the many, many aligned militant groups in rural Pakistan as surrogates to attack India. The most recent notable event being the Mumbai terror attacks.

As Coll writes the history it becomes a listing of all the happenings since 2000 in Afghanistan. So much of it is a list of things gone wrong and things that could have been. 18 years of "If only. If only. If  only."
If only: we sent more troops to invade.
If only: we sent more construction money.
If only: we'd recognized Pakistan's lasting alliance with the Taliban.
If only: we'd not been distracted by Iraq.
If only: U.S. troops left their bases to know the people.
If only: we'd not killed so many civilians.

As Coll wrote about the first eight years of the war my head had the refrain of "Fucking Iraq. Fucking Rumsfeld. Fucking Bush."

The initial invasion of Afghanistan did have some sound ideas behind it. A smaller invasion force that teamed with the  Northern Alliance made sense after the experiences of British and Russian invasions. The Pentagon and White House wanted to avoid being the invading and occupying power. Fair enough. But, the goal then shifted from killing Al Qaeda to killing Taliban. Again, that makes sense because the Taliban were the happy hosts of AQ and the Taliban were certainly horrible and murderous. But, as the war progressed - and quickly - the U.S. still never had enough people in place to stop all the fleeing Taliban and AQ heading to Pakistan.

By 2009 we'd sunk tons of cash and swimming pools of blood and still had trouble.   The military is going hard to kill the Taliban and AQ but it is not working. So, let's go harder. Why not double down on death? The beatings will continue until morale improves. First there is the domestic political and financing fight over how many troops to send over and then Petraeus and McChrystal start an anti insurgent campaign. But we're still an occupying force. There are : dead civilians, night raids, allied convoys that hit a civilian but have standing orders to just keep trucking. Afghan are not happy.

The surge's troops work to push back Taliban territory and secure cities. By this point we are 3/4 through the book and the first time Coll details combat operations. Coll uses diary entries and personal correspondence to cover the attacks of allied forces in the Green Zone Sangin province.

Things are still not resolved. Afghan are murdering Allied soldiers. The U.S. commissions study after study.  There are still unclear goals on what to do with the Taliban? Kill'em? further define co editions for a win? Make a deal?

Afghan president Karzai is in a shitty job. The guy cannot make anyone happy AND he seems to have mental health issues.  Endemic corruption and crooked family members don't help either.

Most US troops are finally pulled, we continue to push Pakistan for action,  spend money on Afghanistan and Pakistan, and a week ago (April, 2019) three soldiers were killed by an IED.