Thursday, December 5, 2019

Popular: "The Chain" by Adrian McKinty

More Sounds: The Chain by Adrian McKinty, 2019,

Don Winslow was praising McKinty to high heaven for the past few months. Winslow  enjoyed McKinty's work enough that he championed this last novel and McKinty scored a decent publishing deal that led to the bestseller list.  This was pretty a decent novel but almost nothing can match the kind of blurbs that McKinty received.

Rachel is divorced, has a 15-year-old daughter named Kylie, and has been cancer free for one year. She is on her way to a follow up oncologist appointment when a woman calls to say Kylie has been kidnapped. After that call Rachel receives another call by a computer disguised voice representing the Chain. Rachel has to pay $25k and kidnap another child for Kylie to go free. If Rachel does not pay or kidnap another child then Kylie will be murdered.

The Chain requires the kidnap victims's families to have no association with police, reporters, or politicians. Everything is kept silent because the parents are forced into a violent crime and are under threat and the coercive force of The Chain. They can be recalled at any time to follow, investigate, or even murder people that The Chain wants information on.

The whole operation depends on The Chain as being practically omnipotent: we know who you are, what you do, who you talk to, where you go. Your entire family can be killed whenever we want.

Anyhoo. Rachel cannot tell her chatty ex-husband what is occurring, so on her own she starts scrambling to raise money and search social media for likely victims. Her former brother-in-law (and unemployed junkie Veteran) helps later on.

McKinty lays it thick on the idea that a parent will do anything for a child. And it is all believable. The Chain gives a timeline, clear threats, and people willing to carry out the threats. Of course everything turns out well in the end but you never know who may get killed off along the way.

1. Bitcoin love.
2. Many Gun Guy gripes on accuracy.
3. Old Volvo love.
4. Skip the novel if you cannot read about children being attacked, threatened, abused, etc. Those parts made me very uncomfortable. McKinty raised some surefire anger at the way the kids were treated and how the bad guy masterminds were sociopathic shits.

Crime Sounds: "Charcoal Joe" by Walter Mosely

Crime Sounds: Charcoal Joe by Walter Mosley, 2016, Wisconsin Digital Library download.

I keep putting James Ellroy's name in for Mosley. Mainly because I was simultaneously reading Ellroy's memoir and also because Mosley and Ellroy tread a lot of the same ground. Both writers mine 1950s and 60s Los Angeles and work with characters who are both noble and pragmatic. The characters know that crooks and big business run most of the world. Truth, justice, and honor are often a sham. But, Mosley's characters have the extra trouble of white people forcing black people under society's thumb.  Ellroy and Mosley do such a great job of character POV.

If you're unfamiliar with the series: Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins grew up in a rough part of Houston, served in the Army during WW2, and has lived in Los Angeles since the war. He's worked various jobs at aircraft factories. as a school custodian, and a landlord but the stories revolve around his job as an unlicensed PI who can work in the black neighborhoods that white people cannot.

I've been reading and listening to the Easy Rawlins series out of order. In fact it has been five years since I read any of the novels. Charcoal Joe is set in 1968 and Easy's older adopted son is now married and moved away. His teenage, adopted daughter Feather is in a private high school and Easy is ready to propose to his girlfriend. Things go bad of course. Easy's girlfriend decides to take up with an ex-boyfriend and Easy is gutted.

Mouse then shows up asking if Easy can take a PI job. I've always counted Mouse as one of the scariest characters in fiction but he does not show up much in this book. Mouse is an intermediary for a black gangster that he has has never heard of, which seems a bit far fetched knowing Easy's many past cases and contacts. But, Los Angeles is a big city.

Anyhoo. Big-time gangster Charcoal Joe wants Easy to help out a 22-year-old PhD who was arrested for murder. Things happen and easy has to track down the correct people, face off against killers, tamp down his anger, conquer his fears, so on, so forth.

I've not much to say. Easy is an interesting character as he navigates several worlds of black/white, rich/poor, and his love and family lives are always challenging him. There is sex, violence, and Easy almost gets even against the bad guys and brings some sort of justice against the people or parts of society hat almost always get away scott free.

1. .25 caliber love.
2. All men's suits are described by cut and color.
3. I want to stick an extra "e" in Mosley.
4. Mouse is one of Easy's few lifelong companions and Mouse is a psychopath. Easy has been alone since 8 years old. All his relationships have been made - there is no family. Hell, Mouse murdered his own father.

Hardcover: "Bull Mountain" by Brian Panowich

Hardcover: Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich, 2015, 9780425282281.

Rural crime novel set in modern Georgia. I enjoyed the book but I thought it went a little off the rails at the end.

The dust cover lists this as Panowich's first novel. There are some blink-and-miss'em characters that just don't add much to the story but are there just the same. I wonder if this is one of those first novels that started out bloated so the author had to cut the story back and kept some of his favorite characters somewhere in the story. Or, I don't know what I'm talking about.

Anyhoo. Clayton Burroughs married young and did not follow the family crime business. One day his wife mentioned how the long-lasting and crooked County Sheriff was retiring. "Maybe you should run for the office."  "Yeah," thinks Clayton, "Fuck it. Why not?" and Clayton wins election. Clayton gets elected because everyone rightly fears his family's last name. But Clayton, unlike Nixon, really is not a crook.

Clayton's family has been making and running moonshine, marijuana, and meth for a century or so. But, with Clayton turning into a decent Sheriff who follows in the law there has been a bit of a territorial truce between him and his family. Bull Mountain is a massive tract of land now ruled by Clayton's older brother, Halford. That brotherly relationship has never been strong, Halford is ten years older, and Clayton was disowned by the family when joining the police. Halford controls the mountain and Clayton patrols the valley and towns.

The peaceful balance has lasted for several years. Their father died under questionable circumstances, likely killed by Halford, and the middle brother was just killed in a raid by the Feds. Clayton has let the Mountain run itself and the Feds periodically come in trying to clean the mountain up. The Feds always fail and go home and harbor deep suspicions about Clayton's integrity and familial loyalty.

In rolls an ATF agent (or is he DEA?) with a deal for Clayton. ATF Guy says, "I've got a deal. I'm looking to bust some Florida bikers who traffic with your bro. You get your bro to roll on these biker trash and he'll get a free ride. Your brother can retire in peace with no one trying to swindle or murder him."

Clayton usually stays out of the Fed V. Halford disputes but the ATF Guy gives a unique pitch and seems sincere. Clayton has not spoken to his brother in years and his appearance and the middle brother's funeral is very uncomfortable. The brotherly discussion is not brotherly and events start rolling along.

Spoilers ahead.
So, I think the book was pretty decent. But, like mentioned above it feels like an abbreviatd family crime epic.
  • There are longish flashbacks to Clayton's murderous father, grandfather, and Halford's viciousness and ruthlessness. (When Clayton is about 10-years-old halford brings Clayton along as Halford goes to murder a moonshiner working without the family's permission and does so by burning the man to death.) 
  • Those extra characters have lifelong ties to Clayton but flit in and out. 
  • ATF Guy turns out to be the offspring of a young prostitute who was deformed after beaten and cut by the dad in the early '70s.
 Give it a shot if you enjoy rural crime stuff, which I do. Hell, the novel won or was nominated for several fancy awards.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Spook: "The Wrath of the Bloodeye" by Joseph Delaney

Spook: Wrath of the Bloodeye by Joseph Delaney, 2008, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

I continue to enjoy these narrations.

Another Spook novel featuring apprentice Tom Ward. Ward is apprenticed to his county's Spook who catches and traps witches, boggarts, and other things on the side of the Dark. Tom is 14 and lives with the Spook. Alice, born into a witch family, also lives with The Spook but the Spook is very suspicious of Alice. The Spook thinks Alice has spent too much time with witches and Dark magic and may be doomed to serve The Dark.

These Spook novels keep getting longer and the plots more complex. Violence is increasing as the danger to Tom increases. There are more decisions by the Spook about dealing with Alice and threats by the Spook to send her away or bind her in a pit. Ward and Alice do not a lovey-dovey relationship though Spook obviously sees that happening - or worries for it.

The Spook also continues to show his age little by little and he cannot as quickly recover from physical challenges. He also cannot provide the fight training that Thomas needs - especially since Thomas is marked a threat by the recently introduced The Fiend. So, Thomas is sent North for a six-month apprenticeship with grouchy drunk Bill Arkwright.

Arkwright lives by the coast and knows all about water witches and dealing with them. Arkwright's home is a old mill that is falling apart. His ghost mother and father live there since there suicide and accidental deaths years ago. Arkwright is an angry man and an angrier drunk. He doesn't want Thomas there and takes him on because of a debt to Spook.

Things happen as Thomas is on his own and struggling to deal with a drunken bully. There is action and witches and deadly threats. Delaney continues to tell a good story and I like the characters. More and conflict get introduced with deadly threats, worries over Alice, and Thomas growing into a teenager.

1. SPOILER. Alice is announced as The Fiend's human daughter. This was no surprise.
2. The Dark is not like The Dark Side of The Force. There is not a all encompassing presence that forces people. It's not quite like the Dark in Susan Cooper's series.
3. Susan Cooper is still alive at 84. I think she was married to a famous actor. Let me check... yeah, she was married to Hume Cronyn from 1996-2003. Jessica Tandy died in 1994 so I guess a two year break is socially acceptable before remarriage.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Heard: "Dead I May Well Be" by Adrian McKinty

Heard: Dead I May Well Be by Adrian McKinty, 2003, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

This past summer Don Winslow went on a long term Twitter fan boy rave for McKinty. I've enjoyed the McKinty novels but the latest and greatest novel, The Chain, was out and I took this one. This is an earlier novel and not as strong as his other work.

A crime novel to a prison novel to a revenge novel. Michael Forsythe had to leave Northern Ireland after getting kicked off the dole. He moved to New York to get a job with a distant relative. He's had a few jobs but now works as muscle for an America-Irish mobster nicknamed Darkey. Michael is 20-years-old, banging the boss's much younger girlfriend, not enjoying his work that much, an autodidact, and has a dishonorable British Army discharge because who the hell expects a mouthy 16-year-old to get along in the damn Army?

It's 1992 and Michael lives in a mob provided shithole apartment in Harlem. Michael is a friendly fella and gets along with most people. When a fellow strong-armer gets beat into the hospital another Irishman (actually from Ireland) crook gets the small crew together pledging revenge on the guy who did the beating. Michael and Co. bust into his apartment and give him a Northern Ireland (or IRA) six pack.: a bullet each to the ankles, knees and elbows.

Michael did some small time crime and IRA hanging-around before he joined the Army, but he is sickened by his participation in the shooting. But, Darkey is very very pleased that the young guys took the initiative to defend turf and reputation. Things go on and after honset-to-God shoot out Michael is praised again by Darkey. Michael is wary about Darkey, especially since Michael is porking Darkey's girlfriend Bridget. But everything seems okey-dokey and Michael and three others are sent on a job to Mexico.

The novel then takes a sharp turn into prison drama, Until this point the novel had been a standard "immigrant in the urban jungle". NYC crime rates in 1992 are through the roof. Michael hangs out with his Serbian building superintendent. Michael wants to make more money. Michael collects extortion and gambling payments. Michael does plenty of drinking with Irish crooks and meets women in bars. When four of the men are arrested for drug smuggling they have no trial and are stuck in dank Mexican Prison. Under horrible conditions a couple men die and Michael and a pal make a daring escape.

Only Michael survives the escape and somehow survives a hurricane and days and says of stumbling through a jungle in Southern Mexico. He pledges revenge on Darkey and Darkey's lieutenants and makes his way back to NYC after a lot of travel and an amputated foot.

Screw it. I'm not going to give any more plot rundown. The story is enjoyable but the split in the story from NYC to Mexico to NYC revenge be-bopped around too much. McKinty also has longer passages with Michael considering life, the universe, and the meaning of it all. I did not care for that stuff so much. But, with an audio book you can kinda zone out on the boring stuff.

I'd rate this novel as decent but recommend reading McKinty's later work like the Sean Duffy series which is much better.

1. I am fairly certain I've read or heard 2-3 of the Duffy novels but only see one in my notes.
2. this novel had me thinking of Cycle of Violence and Of Wee Sweetie Mice and Men by Colin Bateman. Irish crime novels with lots of humor. I read one or two more Bateman novels then could not find ones. I just checked and he published regularly for about 15 years. According to my magic internet box Bateman may have started TV or movie scripting and has not had a novel since 2014.

Hardcover: "The Dry" by Jane Harper

Hardcover: The Dry by Jane Harper, 2016, 9781250105608.

I read a blurb on this from someone and tried the book out. This is well, well above average. Some excellent writing, pacing, and characters. The sense of place was not as strong as I was hoping for - rural farm town in Australia - but still quite enjoyable. Besides, no matter what Harper may have written about the land I will also think of the two lane blacktop and wheat fields of Mad Max.

Aaron Falk is a federal cop living in Melbourne who investigates financial crimes. He is about 36 years old and has not been back to his hometown in 20 years. We find out why Falk and his single dad left town before Falk graduated high school and, I must see, Harper does an excellent job telling the story. Harper did not tease things out too long for a Big Shocker Reveal! at the end. We already know a girl was killed and Falk fled forever. Harper as much focus on the contemporary crime and Falk's assistance with a sub rosa investigation.

Anyhoo. Here are more details. Falk's best pal from high school has been murdered in his farmhouse along with his wife and ten-year-old son. The family's infant daughter was spared. The dead man's father calls Falk up and demands Falk show to the funeral with a threat of "I know he lied for you."

Falk drives the several hours to town. The dead man's parents want Falk to look into things. After all Falk was on TV for taking down that investment crook, right? Falk makes friends with the local cop (one of only two) and helps ask around, snoops the crime scene, so on, so forth.

The police procedural plot moves alongside Falk's memories of former neighbors, the same neighbors who accused him of murdering a friend who was found drowned in a river with her pockets filled with rocks. Falk and his father left town in disgrace.

Falk has a few mixed feelings about most townspeople but does sport a boner for a hot chick and former pal. After his unpleasant hometown experience and his father's death Falk has crated no lasting romances or close friendships over the past 15 years. He does well at work but his last long-term girlfriend left him when he seemed like an empty suit. Falk sure doesn't want to stick around - he was hoping to leave immediately after the funeral. But, the dead mate's mother was often a surrogate mom to motherless Falk. A hug from her is a reminder of everything lacking for 30+ years. He wants to say yes to her and he wants to avoid the trouble the dead mate's dad threatens.

Give it a try. Really good stuff.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Crime Audio: "The Force" by Don Winslow

Crime Audio: The Force by Don Winslow, 2017, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

You've read it before: Noble cop goes crooked and tries to redeems himself. But, Winslow writes very well and spins a great tale.

Denny Malone is from a Irish cop family on Staten Island. His firefighter brother was killed on 9/11.  Since that death and some work related issues Denny had been devoted to work. He is separated from his Staten Island wife and rarely sees his two children who live with the wife. Denny now hates Long Island and spends all his time working in Manhattan and boinking his new live-in girlfriend. He is addicted to the excitement of Manhattan and busting crooks and being on a task force that admits 0.001% of NYPD cops. 

The task for is The Force or Da Force. They are known across the city and the island. That fame transcends daily life of cops and robbers. Da Force makes the papers and the TV news. Da Force gets into any restaurant and is comped free drinks. Da Force has juice and power.

Denny is a famous cop on a famous task force and Denny has been on the take for years. He works for and with organized crime, street gangs, carries bribes from defense attorneys to prosecutors, bribes to city politicians, and more. One night Denny gets grabbed by the Feds after a payoff the Feds start squeezing and squeezing. Denny is facing prison but refuses to talk about fellow cops.

Hell, Denny has worked with informants for 20 years, "I can turn this my way. Those stupid Feds don't know shit about real police work. I'll never turn snitch." Denny is wrong of course. Denny gets panic attacks. Denny says he will never snitch on fellow Officers but is slowly crunched by the feds and circumstance.

Throughout it all Winslow does not try and give a full bottom to top view of the various power structures in New York City. We get a sample of corruption's reach as Denny interacts with other corrupt - and rapist and murderous - Officers, on-the-take TV reverends, mobsters, so on, so forth. Denny knows who is on the take but the strict power hierarchy means he can only exert control on those below him. He cannot make demands or threats on those above, those people have too much power and can toss him to the wolves.

The whole corrupt set-up is depressing to read about. A crime victim is rolling the dice calling 911. If the perpetrator is connected the victim may be told to skip it or shut up. Or, if a fairly honest cop takes the case another cop may lose the evidence or pay off the prosecutor or judge. Sure things are periodically cleaned up but it all surges back. The structure is built to protect itself. The crooks at the top only let other crooks advance - you cannot promote a do-gooder who will investigate your rackets. Cops can either share the money or shut up. The PD is built on trust and loyalty and everyone learns that informing on another cop - even one who also works as a hired killer or gun runner - is forbidden and means ostracization from all your friends and most of your family.

Anyhoo. Denny is a very angry man. Angry about his dead firefighter brother. Angry at a drug kingpin who had an entire family murdered. Angry at people who do not realize the wave of violence he and other cops push back against. 

Denny is not a hero. He lies all the time. He murdered heroin dealers and kept 50kg of heroin to sell later. He accepts the gun running cop's plan to sell arms to fuel a upcoming gang war. Denny is 60% cop and 40% mobster. And the cops are mobsters, they are just a different type than the goombas.

The story moves on and Winslow arcs the tale to a conventional finish. Very entertaining. Winslow is always excellent at incorporating current events and issues into his fiction.