Thursday, April 28, 2016

Heard: "The Cold, Cold Ground" by Adrian McKinty

Heard: The Cold, Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty, 2012, download.

Good narration with many accents to cover from Irish, Irish tinged with South African, English, Hoity-Toity English, and Scottish.

Another novel with fiction as truth. Fiction as a method to expose truth. Set only 35 years ago with so many of the people of the time still alive. McKinty bases the novel off the Troubles from Spring to Fall 1981. The real history is so compelling to me that truth behind the novel is more interesting than the plot and tale. Not that the plot and tale are not well done and compelling.

Detective Inspector Sean Duffy is a Catholic working for the mostly Protestant RUC. Newly based in the small town of Carrickfergus. Carrickfergus is a smaller city, 28,000 people in the whole government district in 1981, and far enough from Belfast to not really be a suburb. Carrickfergus is also safer: not so many murders, arson, bombings, drugs, knee cappings, beatings, etc.

Duffy gets a call about a body in an abandoned car. Duffy starts working the case and trying to identify the man. The man's hand was chopped off and left in the car with the rest of the body. Then, another dead man turns up, also missing a hand. The first man is autopsied and a note is found in his rectum. "That's odd," thinks Duffy.

Things happen as the killer communicates his hatred of homosexuals to the police. Gay sex is still illegal in Ireland and both the Catholic and Protestant sides have people in favor of bashing. Duffy thinks a serial killer may be working. A traditional serial killer makes no sense in Northern Ireland. Any would be serial killer just has to join one of the many paramilitaries and he'll get his fill of kill.

Duffy works the case which then dovetails into a mysterious woman's suicide. The first dead man is high up in the IRA. Very high up. Dead Guy headed the nutting squad which investigated informers and then tortured and killed the most suspicious people.

Anywho. We get our fill of deadly dudes on both sides of the political line. You wonder how people survive the small scale war.

McKinty uses his characters to cover several issues over the previous ten years to the story. The history is fascinating.  So much collusion among groups and police. Each revolutionary group is also a crime organization. Informants working for the paramilitiaties and the police. Informants acting as agents of the police and Home Office. Informants allowed to skate under police protection.I ended up reading several new and old news articles on people and events.

Spoilers Await.
McKinty renames the IRA's nutting squad the FRU - Force Research Unit. The FRU was actually a spy group by the Brits. There is an interesting history. McKinty has his main bad guy be a stand-in for the real life British Agent, Stakeknife. Stakeknife was run and paid by the Brits while running the IRA's real-life nutting squad dedicated to finding informers and traitors.

The real life Stakeknife, Freddie Scappaticci, was revealed in 2003 and in October, 2015 had authorities investigating his actions. Scappaticci was undoubtedly involved in multiple murders of IRA members. How many of those IRA were actually guilty of informing. How many did sociopath Scappaticci kill to hide himself. Were the British Army and government involved in picking out who would die? How many of their real informants were killed to save their 'golden egg'?

A few months ago I read an article in The New Yorker about the murder of Jean McConville.
McConville was a widowed mother of nine children. Her children witnessed her abduction from their home and saw the people involved. McConville was murdered by the IRA with little police investigation.  Her now grown son would occasionally catch a taxi driven by one of the men who took his mother. As related in the article:

One of the men who had abducted Jean now drove a black taxi up and down the Falls Road. Occasionally, Michael hailed a cab and climbed inside only to discover this man behind the wheel. Michael never said anything—he couldn’t. He rode in silence, then handed the man his fare.

There is nothing he can say. Nothing he can do. The son has no recourse in the law. They can still have the son killed any time. Especially since Gerry Adams was supposed to be the IRA military commander at the time. In 2005 Sin Fein claimed the killing was justified as a wartime execution of a spy.

Don't let sway you to the British side of things. I was also just reading about an Army squad that worked in plain clothes and whose former members admit they were a hit squad with shoot on sight targets. It's no secret the British coordinated with Orange paramilitaries as well.

1. This was a well done novel. Plenty of tension. A main character dedicated to his work who makes mistakes.
2. Anachronism. Glocks were not around in 1981. When did faxing become a standard of communication? I don't know.
3. Carrickfergus is only a few miles across the water from Scotland. According to McKinty you can see Scotland across the water. I believe McKinty but the images on Google Maps street view are not sharp enough to make out Scotland.

Large Print: "West Texas" Al Sarrantonio

Large Print: West Texas AL Sarrantonio, 1990, 9781410402677

A few weeks ago someone on Friday Forgotten Books recommended a Sarrantonion Western. The recommended title was not in the library catalog so I grabbed this one.

Short: Serial killer roams West Texas as Buffalo Soldier cavalry fight racism and Mescalero Apaches.

Long: Thomas Mullin is a former slave and Union Army infantryman. Mullin stayed in the Army, joined the Calvary, foughht in the Indian Wars and was promoted to Lieutenant. Serving out of Fort Davis in the mountains of West Texas Mullin ends up with a dickhead for a Captain. The Captain gets Mullin cashieredout of the Army. The novel picks up with Mullin a newly minted civilian and now in need by the Captain.

At the same time we're introduced to a nut bag killer who is roaming the hills and fighting the Sun. Yeah. The Sun. Serial Killer ends up killing a Senator's son and after the son has gone missing the Senator puts pressure on the Army. The Army puts pressure on the Captain, a would-be General Custer, long hair and all. The Captain is mostly incompetent and gets the best man for the job: Mullin.

Things happen. Fort Davis is a backwater. The Apaches were defeated a few years ago and nothing happens there. The white officers are bums. Most of those bums are racist to the all black enlisted soldiers. Mullin sets out before the Senator's newly hired Pinkertons arrive to save the day.

Serial Killer is a nut. He kills men and women and buries the remains. Mullins is a recent convert to the Sherlock Holmes method and discovers the burials are laid out in large circle. Mullins's want to be protege heads out with the drunken and cruel Pinkertons. Meanwhile, the Mescalero Apaches have come back to West Texas for some revenge.

Adventure. Excitement. Surprisingly sparse horse talk. No women. No romance. Mullins saves the day.

1. I have a hell of a time remembering how to spell Lieutenant.
2. Cavalry and calvary also trip me up.
3. If you're like me you'll want to stop reading and check Google Maps for the locations used by Sarrant

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Heard: "Why Is This Night Different Than All Others?" by Lemony Snicket.

Heard: Why Is This Night Different Than All Others? by Lemony Snicket, 2015, Overdrive download.

Snicket's final report on his time in Stain'd-by-the-Sea. You are better off reading the first novels; the story will make more sense when read in order.

Lemony is told to go to sleep early by his chaperon S. Theodora Markson. Lemony knows something is afoot, he fakes slumber, and when Markson slips out he follows. It's late at night and the usually empty streets of Stain'd-by-the-Sea are even emptier. Lemony follows Markson into the local department store where Markson steals an outfit. The onto the train station where the train to The City is waiting to depart.

This night is the planned transfer of both the local librarian, Dashiell Qwerty, and Lemony's would be girly-friend, Ellington Feint. Qwerty has been set-up to take the fall for arson and murder (well, maybe not murder, I do not recall exactly). Feint is up for something-else-I-don't-recall from all her time doing the bidding of notorious villain Hangfire. Lemony tries to talk his way onto the train and fails.

Lemony gets Frick and Frack (cannot recall those cahracter names either) to taxi him to a spot where he can jump abosrd the moving train and into Moxie Mallahan's compartment. Things start happening.

Qwerty is murdered. Lemony is deeply saddened and angered at the murder of a librarian. Especially since a great librarian as Qwerty.  Lemony starts to investigate and some mysteries that carried over from previous novels are resolved.

There is much sadness from the death, from another killing, from finding out people are not who they seem. Teenage Lemony continues to discover that adults behave wrongly and cannot always be trusted.

1. Semi-colon!
2. Deep library and librarian love by Snicket.
3. More 13-year-old-kids-on-their-own fantasy. Old enough to see adult freedom and be adventurous. Young enough to not worry about employment, bills, housing.
4. Lemony is still the hard-boiled private eye working by his own ethics and morality. Lemony does his duty even though it will forever split him from Ellington, or keep him from rescuing his sister from prison.
5. Snicket does not skip over the evil and bad parts of life. He doesn't dwell on them either. People are killed but Snicket won't detail blood and gore either.
6. More children's and YA literature references. Snicket and Co. have brief discussion on plot and character of some novels. I sometimes figure out the titles.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Listened: "Paradise Sky" by Joe R. Lansdale

Listened: Paradise Sky by Joe R., Lansdale, 2015, download.

Lansdale gives a fictional go at Nat Love, Shootist. Nat Love narrates this as true tales of his upbringing and Western adventures. It's another opportunity for interesting characters, great storytelling, and highlighting how black people and most women were sometimes lucky to survive every day. I've forgotten character names and do not have a print copy for reference.

Born a slave in Tennessee. Nat is about 20 years old and walking into town down a mid-block alley when he turns his head. Right in his face is a white woman's butt as she bends over doing laundry. Next is the woman's husband, Dickhead. Dickhead's eyes bulge out at the possibility of a black man looking at his wife. Nat has seen enough violence to know he needs to run. He grabs a horse and heads home. Nat's father gives him some cash and an old gun and tells him to go West and keep going.

Well, things don't work out. Nat ends up circling back home and finds his father dead. He heads West again but is caught trying to take a horse. The rancher who catches Nat, That One Dude, talks to Nat. That One Dude brings him inside the house. That One Dude decides to hire Nat. That One Dude was once a preacher, fought in the Civil War, returned to Tennessee and is now Mr. Modern when it comes to race and religion.

Nat stays with That One Dude for four years and That One Dude teaches Nat everything about horses, horse riding, and shooting. Nat is still wanted for horse theft and 'rape' and he leaves when he is recognized by a ranch visitor.

Adventures ensue. Nat meets a fellow former slave named Cullin and they both join the Calvary. Both are the sole survivors of an Indian attack. Rather than return to their post in West Texas the two figure everyone will declare them dead and they ride North. Nat and Cullin land in Deadwood, SD. Nat gets crappy jobs, meets a beautiful woman, befriends Wild Bill Hickcock.

All this time Nat has been pursued by Dickhead. Dickhead lets no grudge go unpunished and is renowned for being a sneaky, murdering sonofabitch. Dickhead pursued Nat into TX. Heavily scarred after an Indian attack Dickhead lands in Deadwood and discovers Nat. Dickhead kidnaps and gang rapes Nat's fiancee and Nat rides out after the bad dudes.

There are plenty of adventures and plenty of fights and plenty of similes. This is a Lansdale book so nothing is out of bounds. The characters have Lansdale-ish philosphizing about religion, love, family, violence, life, and bodily functions.

Mostly Heard: "Fellowship of the Ring" by JRR Tolkien

Mostly Heard: The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien, a audio CD edition my wife checked out.

We took this with us on our drive to Kansas and back over spring break. I write mostly heard because because I took a couple naps when my wife drove.

Not much to say about this novel that you do not already know. The story does drag at times. There's long passages that reminded me of the Bible's never ending lineage of begat and beget. The movies sure had more drama and swords.

The ring riders are not as scary as the oversized men in the film versions.

Reprint I read: "Two For the Money" by Max Allan Collins

Reprint I read: Two For the Money by Max Allan Collins, 2004, 9780857683185.
One of the four Hard Case Crime novels I picked up a month or two ago. I bought this one in the Milwaukee airport waiting for my wife's parents to arrive. I always try and arrive early at the Milwaukee airport so I have time to check out the large used bookstore, get a coffee, look at the mini-museum, maybe get a milkshake (the milkshake place there is expensive).

This is a Hard Case Crime reprint twofer of Bait Money and Blood Money. Collins's web page lists both books as 1981. But he pubbed these in the early '70s when he was around 20-years-old. Worldcat lists original copyright as 1973. You'll have to ask him about the weird dates and editions.

Bait Money was Collins's first published novel and a dead ripoff of Richard Stark/Westlake's Parker novels.  As Little Steven says, "you're only as good as who you steal from." To be clear, Collins freely cops to admiring and copying Westlake and he picked a fantastic series to emulate.  Collins did a pretty fine job for being only 20-years-old-or-whatever-he-was. He takes some of the Parker basics  - character with one name, working outside the mob, big and tough, no nonsense, single, crime procedural, etc. - and writes his own novel.

Anywho. We are introduced to Nolan at the end of his month long recuperation from a gunshot. Nolan has spent the past 16 years avoiding any work around Chicago. Nolan is on the outs with the Chicago mafia/mob/outfit after killing the brother of Charlie, a made mobster. Nolan figures things have quieted down enough to return to Rockford, IL and scope out a robbery. A local goon spots Nolan and shoots him.

After his recovery Nolan is stuck with $100 of emergency money and decides it is time to clear up this long running mess. He contacts a pal in the Quad Cities who is still involved with the Chicago outfit and Nolan proposes a truce with Charlie. Nolan and Charlie meet, Charlie says, "Sure, you pay me $100,000 and we'll call it square." Nolan is naturally suspicious but agrees to the deal. Nolan hears from his crime broker that a bank job is available. The other robbers are amateurs and hot heads but Nolan needs notes. One of those amateurs is Jon, the crime broker's nephew.

The story moves along with Nolan organizing the robbery. Having sex. Guessing how Charlie will betray him. Getting to know Jon. The amateur hot head worrying about his slatternly girlfriend. Comic book loving Jon modeling his robber-self after Nolan.

Things go bad but Nolan works it out. Just like Parker.

Blood Money has Nolan working for the Chicago outfit doing the kind of management work he did before he went on the run. The mob says Nolan can step back into night club management after a trial period at a resort in central Illinois.  Nolan gets a call from Jon that crime broker has been murdered and his safe cleaned out. Nolan's nest egg was in that safe. Charlie was supposed to be killed by the mob but he is still alive. Charlie robbed the safe and is out for revenge on Nolan. Nolan heads out to investigate and gets a Chicago gunman following him around. Nolan drives around IL and IA finding Charlie. 

I finished reading this a while ago so don't ask for plot details. Tough talk ensues. Pragmatism ensues. Emotion is set aside. Back stabbing is pondered. Death is deadly. Was there a kidnapping? Oh, yeah, there was a kidnapping. Charlie is killed and Nolan lives for the sequels.

1. The bank robbery in book one is set in a fictional Muscatine.
2. The afterword is a very interesting read. Collins's fore and afterwords always have really neat commentary and history. I'll have to re-read this one when I get home tonight. If I remember correctly this one covers how and why Collins use all three names for author heading.
3. I can never remember how many Ls are in his name.
4. This novel - like several other Collins novels - suffers only by not being a Quarry novel. That's because I love the Quarry novels so much.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A Book I Heard: "The Secret Speech" by Tom Rob Smith

A Book I Heard: The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith, 2009, Overdrive download.

I enjoyed this but it did, at times, stretch credulity.  I did not know that Krushchev's denunciation of Stalin was initially a secret.

This follows a couple years after Smith's novel Child 44.  Leo Demidov is running a homicide bureau in Moscow. He lives with his wife and the two children whose parents Leo is responsible for killing when Leo was part of the secret police. The homicide bureau is doing ok but Leo's eldest adopted daughter despises Leo. Zoya was old enough to remember when Leo and other black coated policeman arrived to take her parents away.

Leo gets called to a couple death scenes. Both of the deceased used to work in state security. They were killed by a former convict, Anisya, that Leo put in prison. Anisya is the only woman to advance in the ranks of the all male prison gangs and now uses her gang to kill those torturers and kills responsible for so much death and destruction. Anisya is especially gunning for revenge against Leo.

It's difficult to root for Leo in catching Anisya. In most novels she would be the hero fighting against the oppressive Soviets responsible for torture, summary executions, and the gulags. Here Anisya kidnaps Zoya to force Leo to help Anisya. Leo is told to rescue Anisya's husband from a gulag. The husband was a priest convicted for sedition and - surprisingly - is still alive. Ruthless Anisya means business.

We have an adventure in Siberia as Leo fakes his way to the camp and rescues the husband. SPOILER ALERT. Leo rescues the husband and returns him to Moscow. Heartless Anisya kills her husband because her old life is long over. Zoya has fallen for a teen gang member and she goes with Anisya from the city.

The Secret Speech of the title is Krushchev's denunciation of the excesses of Stalin. The speech gets the USSR in a bit of an uproar. The Soviet state is admitting it's political crimes and cruelties. Hearing the speech sends Leo's temporary prison camp into a riot. State security officers - like Leo - fear individual and governmental retribution. Some in the government are pushing for a crack down to retain control.

More things happen as Leo goes to Hungary during the uprising to try and rescue Zoya. With plenty of danger, guilt, and family turmoil, and political scheming.

1.  Anisya is an emotionless manipulator out to kill any one in her way. But, still, she's kinda heroic. She goes to prison for trying to run a church and save religious icons. She was pregnant and her son is taken away and dies in an orphanage. She is raped and abused in prison. She fights her way to the top, escapes prison and fights against rotten Ruskies.