Monday, October 20, 2014

Heard: "Way of a Wanton" by Richard S. Prather

Heard: Way of a Wanton by Richard S. Prather, 1952, download production by Books In Motion in 2012.

I read a Hard Case Crime reprint of Prather's The Peddler. I was reluctant to try a Scott novel because I already knew there are a ton of them and I hate to jump into the middle of the series. The cover artwork stinks, too.

Fifth novel in the series. Hollywood, CA based P.I. Scott is invited one evening to a small party by Scott's movie industry pal. The small party is for the cast and crew of a low budget jungle flick.  There are big busted babes, a producer or two, a muscled-up lead actor, and Shell.  This is supposed to be a pool party so one busty and fun-filled gal strips her top off and jumps into the pool. Busty-babe bursts the bawdy boozed up bash by bemoaning the body on the pool's bottom.

Shell dives in to investigate, he is an investigator after all.  Shell finds a strangled woman weighed down in the water.  Shell wants to call the cops. The rest if the party goers say no way. Shell even slugs the muscle-up actor who tries to stop Shell.  The cops arrive. Shell takes an actress back to his place. Shell gets the actress on his bed when the phone rings. The guy on the line is the film's main backer and offers Shell big bucks to come talk about the murder and take on the case. Shell takes the man's offer, accepts payment as a percentage of the film's earnings, and starts snooping.

The murdered woman worked for the film studio. The main backer wants to make sure he does not lose his money. The producer cannot go over budget or he loses money to the main backer.  Right off the bat someone follows Shell, shoots at him, and then tries to kill him by dropping a spot light on Shell at the movie studio.

Shell talks to a roommate of the dead woman. The woman is mugged in her home and Shell is shot at when he goes to rescue her.  Shell has sex with the roommate. Shell goes to a location shoot. Shell has sex with another actress by a nearby lake. Shell is shot at as he swims in the nude. Shell escapes and streaks onto the set while escaping.

Shell figures things out and rescues an actress.

1. Not hard-boiled. Not angsty.  Shell loves to look at the ladies and drink plenty of booze. There is some slapstick action along with the sex and violence.
2. I wonder what the history is of these kinds of man novels. I think Max Allan Collins wrote a book on the topic, or maybe that was pulp magazines.  I presume the modern, post-war version started with Mike Hammer and then took a spy-guy turn with James Bond.
3. Thrilling Detective has a brief write-up on the Shell Scott series. I'll read it later.
4.  I suppose this style of novel hit a peak with Coyote Connection (1981). Everything before and after that masterpiece must be a complete let-down.
5. One of things I enjoyed is the characters describing and denigrating Hollywood and the Hollywood script mill.  Writers are a cheap commodity and everyone takes a shot at the screenplay until it's a pile of mush.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Listened: "Gallows View" by Peter Robinson

Listened: Gallows View by Peter Robinson, 1987, download.

The selection of audiobook titles has shrunk now that I am using my computer-box-telephone to listen to audiobooks. I was hoping to download some Dr. Who selections but those do not come in the required MP3 format. Damn.  Since the previous Inspector Banks novel was okay I tried this one, the first in the series.

Banks has recently moved to Yorkshire. He had some big cases working in London and encountered quite a few violent people.  He is trying to stop smoking and is learning about his new peers, including one who applied for Banks's current position.

A window peeper is prowling past nightfall to peek on panty wearing people.  A couple teenaged boys are burgling the homes of elderly woman.  Detective Inspector Banks is involved in both these fairly tame cases when a WW1 vintage woman is found dead in her cottage. The woman seems to have whacked her head on a counter corner. The cottage was tossed as if a burglar searched the home.  Banks thinks she was killed. An accident from a slight push? Intentional murder? Banks needs to found out.

Banks's superior calls psychologist Jenny Fuller to help the peeper investigation. Fuller will hear the evidence and give deduce the perpetrator's personality and future behavior.  Banks is attracted to Fuller. Fuller is attracted to Banks. Banks is married with two kids. Fuller is single.

We follow the characters - good guys and bad guys -as the scheme, rationalize, and plan ahead. There is a rape scene from the rapists POV that was unpleasant to hear. A teen high on speed invades a home and takes a hostage.  A single dad is shtuping the married neighbor. The man's teen son is a burglar. Banks's wife joins a photography club and the club members are under suspicion as possible peepers.

1. Plenty of internal thoughts by different characters. You get to know several of them very well. Banks, somehow, seems more of a mystery to me. I'm not sure why but the crooks personalities seem clearer and their actions more understandable.  Probably just me.
2. Firmly set in the 1980s. 
2.a. Characters do not like Margaret Thatcher and comment on unemployment and Thatcher's false compassion. 
2.b. Computers are a bit mysterious and require extra training to operate. They are seen as the future but are mostly unknown.
3. Different narrator than the second book in the series. This narrator is rougher and made Banks gruffer and tougher.  Scuffer.  Muffer.  Fluffer.  Buffer.  Duffer. Alliteration gone wild.
4. One of the newly promoted Inspectors takes pride in being able to wear plainclothes.  He also takes pride in a newly mustache.
5.  That weird English use the word "partner" to describe a romantic relationship. When I hear "partner" I think "business partner" or "cop partner".
6. Descriptive sex.
7.  Comment on British dental care. One character compares them to American teeth.
8. Tourists getting mugged.
9. Dated views on feminism. Dated views by feminist characters.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Finally Done: "Dead Letters" by Tom Piccirilli

Finally Done: Dead Letters by Tom Piccirilli, 2006, 9780553384079.

I write "finally done" because I bought this book several months ago.  The mystery bookstore in Madison was bought and moved location across the street from Trader Joe's. While my wife was in the Trader Joe's I walked two bored children over to check the bookstore out. Since I work in a freaking library I do not like to buy books. But, the store was brand new and I wanted to support it. Luckily, I found something worth buying.

Piccirilli has the market cornered on Really Angry Men Riven With Guilt.  Correction: Really Angry Men Riven With Guilt and Living on Long Island.  Piccirilli also creates really despicable villains.

Five years ago Whitt's 5-year-old daughter was the first victim of a serial killer nicknamed Killjoy. Whitt's wife went insane with grief and Whitt quit his advertising job to focus on physical training and hunting for Killjoy.  Whitt has had an unhappy but workable relationship with the local police detective assigned the case. Things get worse for Whitt when Killjoy stops killing children and starts kidnapping. Killjoy takes the children from abusive homes and "gifts" them to the still grieving parents of Killjoy's murder victims.

Whitt was the first parent to receive a child from Killjoy. Whitt immediately called the police and is not sure if he should have kept the girl instead. Some parents of Killjoy's murder victims have disappeared, presumably fleeing with kidnapped children left by Killjoy.

Whitt's guilt and anger have left him pretty screwed up. Whitt's wife lives in a mental hospital, his father-in-law financially supports Whitt's hunt, Whitt has maintained only one pre-Killjoy relationship. Whitt's rage manifests in extreme teeth grinding. He pops fillings loose. He chomps on his steering wheel and cracks more teeth. He lays on the lawn while spying on a family and gnashes grass and dirt.

Part of Whitt's rage is that for years Killjoy has been sending bizarre and insanely rambling letters to Whitt. Taken by themselves the letters are a silly read of made up philosophers and writers acting bizarrely. But, those bizarre letters are a taunt to Whitt from a man - a woman? - who fancies that he and Whitt are much alike and friends.

Anyway. Whitt goes to a house run by a cult.  The cult is responsible for several murders and Killjoy puts Whitt on their scent. Killjoy's knowledge about the cult shows he surveilled them for a long time and Whitt hopes that by investigating them he will find Killjoy.

Things happen. Whitt grinds teeth. Whitt hallucinates conversations with a mini-Whitt living in his daughter's doll house. Whitt dreams of killing Killjoy. Whitt trains with his .32 pistol.  Whitt interviews cult members. Whitt is suspected by the police of being Killjoy and now has a new Federal agent on his back. There is a showdown and Killjoy escapes. Whitt finally figures things out.

1. Piccirilli also has the market cornered on Author Diagnosed With Brain Cancer Given 2% Chance of Survival and Recovers Anyway.
2. Seriously. The man was diagnosed with brain cancer and given a 2% chance of survival. Piccirilli has been cancer free for two years and still undergoes monthly chemotherapy treatment but the man is working and doing well.
3. No muscle cars in this one. Whitt would derive no joy from a car anyway. Whitt's only joy is from revenge fantasies.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Quit: "Cornbread Mafia" by james Higdon, III

Quit: Cornbread Mafia: a homegrown syndicate's code of silence and the biggest marijuana bust in American history by James Higdon, III, 2012, audio download from

I rarely listen or read true crime. I was trying to find audio titles playable on my phone, got sick of looking on my slow phone, and checked this one out.

From the late 1960s until the late 1980s Kentucky became a center for marijuana cultivation and wholesaling.  Higdon relates how a massive multi-state bust in the late '80s netted about 40 (or so) growers and dealers that all originated from the same Kentucky county.

Higdon starts off relating how the lawless attitude to drugs originated from Catholic settlers circa 1800 who ran distilleries. The moonshine business continued through until Prohibition then had a huge hike in employment when prices were high and the Depression put families out of work.  Industrial hemp was grown during WWI and WWII and when soldiers returned from Vietnam smoking marijuana the local farmers used their agriculture skills to grow the dope.  Growing marijuana was a misdemeanor until the early '80s and growers who were caught would post bail in cash and drive off in their new Corvettes.

I quit listening because Higdon seemed to be relating every little story he ever heard. I don't much care about all the roughnecks and crooks in the area who died before the marijuana farming hit big.  Higdorn spoke to a lot of the people involved - crooks and police - and went through court and legal records.  That is great and all but I was overloaded.  This audio clocks at 14'9" and that is too much for me.

1.  The most interesting sections of the book were hearing how the business was run. Getting seeds from around the world. Finding out what varieties would grow in Kentucky. Developing hybrids and cross-breeding. Processing the buds after harvest and shipping them out.  Marketing Kentucky grown products when consumers would turn up their noses at 'hillbilly weed".  Starting farming operations in Belize and smuggling the harvest into the U.S. All those normal business endeavors that are difficult enough in a legitimate business must have been even harder when hidden from the law.  I suppose they did not have to worry so much about bookkeeping when not paying taxes.
2. I should read Gang Leader For A Day by Venkatesh. He hung out with a Chicago street gang for his sociology research and covered the business side of things.
3. In Kansas you can be busted twice over for growing and selling marijuana. If you do not have a tax stamp the state will prosecute for tax fraud. I remember how Gary Howland said people would show up in Topeka and buy tax stamps for that reason. Weird stuff.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Done: "Never Fuck Up" by Jens Lapidus

Done: Never Fuck Up by Jens Lapidus, 2013 (US edition), 9780307377494.

What a bad idea for a title. I imagine the author sitting talking with his agent, "I refuse to alter my title. I don't care that people will not buy or stock a title with an expletive." Too bad because this book is as good as the first in the trilogy, Easy Money. Written with short, choppy writing with Swedish slang and lingo. A good twist on the setting, Lapidus's characters even refer to some other Swedish crime fiction as unrealistic and rosy.

Three main characters and they are all fucked up. Mahmud just did a six month stretch for drug dealing. Niklas has returned after years of warring in Iraq and Afghanistan as a contractor. Thomas is a street cop with a violent streak and corrupt tendencies (just a little here and there, he says). They all mix together in a criminal underworld run by Yugoslavs and a cop world run by internal politics and the reactions to bad press.  The three unknowingly circle around one another in a Stockholm that is not and clean and neat as the Swedes and the rest of the world believe.

Lapidus's Stockholm is segregated. The Svens are the everyday, traditional Swedes, the squares. The blattes are the dark skinned immigrants living in the projects, selling the drugs, and hitting a Swedish glass ceiling in the civilian world. The uber-wealthy pull the strings, fuck the prostitutes, snort the drugs, and move the money around. The Yugos run the underworld and don't give a damn about you; you either earn the Yugos money and do as you're told or you will pay in blood.

Mahmud was in prison for dealing steroids.  He's an oversized gym rat who pops pills and slurps protein shakes.  He owes a few thousand Kronor to another gang for the steroids he was busted with. His humiliation and mental torture - threatened with death while a pistol is put in his mouth - left him very shaken. He takes a job offer from the Yugos to find a fellow blatte who took money from the Yugos.

Niklas was already screwed up after growing up as his mother was frequently beaten by her boyfriend.  Niklas would be sent to a dank apartment building basement when the alcoholic boyfriend wanted sex. After a few years of contractor combat he is double-up on PTSD. He fancies himself as an avenger for women, a military commando for good. He does knife katas for hours, goes on runs and exercises, and starts stalking abusive husbands.

Thomas is a very cynical street cop. He despises desk cops and the street filth he works with. He does some small corruption that is never identified but gives him the cash to work on restoring his 1950s Cadillac.  He's withdrawn from his wife and unable to have sex. He can masturbate to online porn but cannot relate to his wife. Thomas and his partner take a call on a dead body and find a murdered man with no teeth, fingerprint skin cut off, and a beaten until unrecognizable. Thomas notices intravenous injection marks. The autopsy does not list those marks. Thomas wonders, "What the hell?"

Things happen. Mahmud works his way into the Yugo organization but is a nobody to them. Mahmud has big pride and chaffs. Thomas wants to know what happened with the autopsy and when a senior cop appears and blocks his questioning he keeps looking. Niklas visits a domestic violence shelter and steals a list of women's names. He sets up cameras to watch the houses and plot to kill the men. Niklas meets Mahmud after beating up the abusive boyfriend of Mahmud's sister. They are all in the same building on New Year's when Niklas and Mahmud are raiding a Yugo sponsored prostitute party for the uber-rich and Thomas is sneaking in to search the rich home owner's financial binders.

1. All three guys suffer under some sort of PTSD or trauma. 
2. All three guys think they are something other than what they are. They see themselves as good guys even though their actions show the opposite. They see themselves as victims of others rather than victims of their own bad decisions.
3.  Only one or two bad guys get their comeuppance. The ones at the top always get away. Lapidus is a criminal attorney in Stockholm and I presume he has learned how all the front companies, and cut-outs keep the owners and managers out of the clink.
4. A couple recurring characters from the first novel. The Yugo head, Radovan, meets with Thomas and appears at a party Mahmud attends. The Argentinian from Easy Money is still out for revenge on the Yugos and pays Mahmud to raid the New Year's prostitute party.
5. I bought the film adaptation of Easy Money, Easy Money: life deluxe, for work but have not watched it.
EDIT: 6. How could I forget the right-wing police conspiracy to murder Prime Minister Olof Palme? Thomas's derailed investigation into the man's death is linked to Palme's murder. The dead man was a primary witness who connected the suspected shooter to a possible murder weapon (that weapon was still missing). Thomas finds a connection between a right-wing group of police officers who were virulently anti-communist.  Thomas is threatened, and beaten, to warn him off his private investigation. Thomas is kinda like James Ellroys's Bud White, Thomas is better at thumping than thinking.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Heard: "A Dedicated Man" by Peter Robinson

Heard: A Dedicated Man by Peter Robinson, 1988, download.

When I got sick of screwing with my half-working iPod I downloaded the Overdrive application to my phone.  The application works fine but the titles transferred to the iPods iTunes never expire.  The titles on the phone app do expire. Oh, well.

I selected this title for a few reasons. 1) I've heard of the series but never read one. 2) Not all the audiobook titles on Overdrive are compatible with the app.  What the hell? This one is is compatible and I got sick of looking and was tired of screwing around getting the app to work.

DCI Alan Banks has moved from London to Yorkshire.  This is the second novel in the Banks series and Banks is still adjusting to life in Yorkshire, but he likes it there. Banks is called away from a weekend morning at home to a murder scene in a field.  A dead man with a bashed in head was partially concealed under a stone wall. Banks finds out the man is a former academic, Steadman. Steadman was murdered elsewhere, dumped in the field, and his car left nearby.

Steadman had inherited a lot of money and retired to do his own historical research. Steadman's wife has an alibi and plenty of tears. Steadman's friends say he was a great guy. Steadman's former colleagues said no one hated him. Banks can find no witnesses to the body drop.  This is no traveling serial killer event. Steadman does the only thing he can do, he asks lots of questions.

Banks can find nothing in the present that points to a motive or suspect so Banks focuses on the past. The Steadman's used to vacation in the town several years ago before retiring there.  Steadman made pals with a couple teens back then and they still live in town.  Banks looks for infidelity. Banks looks for jealousy. Banks gets stonewalled. 

Robinson gives us the dialogue to many interrogations and interviews. There is a lot of back-and-forth between Banks and his interview subjects. Even Steadman's pals will hide things from Banks. Banks gets frustrated, "This is a murder investigation. He was your friend!"

Meanwhile, precocious teen girl Sally thinks she may know something. Sally is sixteen years old and makes out with her boyfriend. Sally argues with her parents. Sally has aspirations of acting and the Big City. Sally wants to solve the case.

Things happen. Slowly.  Banks has to pester, push and prod. Banks has to sift through small town rumors and prejudice. Banks is still an outsider and sticks out like a sore thumb.  A sore thumb covered in neon orange paint. And a flashing light. With a dragon attached. The dragon is playing a tuba. A dragon sized tuba. (Okay, I exaggerated a lot.  A whole lot. I got carried away. Like in a river. A big flowing river. After thunderstorms. The thunderstorms of a 200-year-flood. A flood crossing the plains with a 10 foot depth and no hills to shelter on. Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job.)

1. Sally is murdered.  She was a well drawn character.  Sally was looking to leave the small town and be a star. She was pretty and had talent. Sally had a brief crush on Banks until she found out he left London and then she looked down on him.  She thought he left a place of excitement for village life and turned down heroism opportunities.
2. Lots of beer.
3. 1988 with no cell phones or forensics focus.

DNF: "Darth Plagueis" by James Luceno

DNF: Darth Plagueis by James Luceno, 2012, download.

The damn audio jack on my iPod is all screwed up.  I can only get audio form one side of the headphones. I should look it a solution but have not done so.  I don't want to take the thing apart.

Darth Plagueis kills his master and heads back to his homeworld where he is a banker.  Darth Plagueis is starting plans to mine a element that blocks the Force. Or something. I do not recall, I quite listening a week of two ago.  Plagueis has also spent years researching mitochlorians.