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.

Comments:
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.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Heard: "A Dedicated Man" by Peter Robinson

Heard: A Dedicated Man by Peter Robinson, 1988, Overdrive.com 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.)

Comments:
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, Overdrive.com 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.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Heard: "World's Greatest Sleuth!" by Steve Hockensmith.

Heard: World's Greatest Sleuth! by Steve Hockensmith, 2011, Overdrive.com download.

Another excellent audio title with a great story by Hockensmith and narration by William Dufris.

Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer are working a sheep ranch in 1893 when they get a letter from Big Red's publisher telling them to come to the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The letter includes a travel voucher and off they go.

The Exposition is hosting a World's Greatest Sleuth competition made up of famous detectives of the dime novels and magazines. (In these Holmes on the Range novels most of the famed detectives, like Sherlock Holmes, are real people.) Other detectives include a handsome NYC dude, a Hercule Poirot type, and a Sherlock look-a-like. Most important to the fluttering hearts and flustered tongues of the Amlingmeyer brothers is Diana Crowe (not Corvus).  Turns out Diana is the god-daughter of Colonel Crowe who still dislikes Big and Old after they helped wreck a train in On the Wrong Track.

The Amlingmeyers are slowly moving up in the world.  Big Red has been published and now, with the contest, Old Red has a chance at publicity that will get him a professional "detectin'" job.  Things happen.  Old Red is taciturn. Big Red is talkative.  Stuck up sticky beaks are starch shirted stooges. Diana is lovely.  Murder is deadly. The White City is a sight to behold.  Big Red and Old Red get in a hole (figuratively) and have to climb their way out. Old Red's skills are doubted, criticized, and put to the test.  Bad guys are caught.

Comments:
1. One of my favorite series. I checked Hockensmith's web page to see if any more books were planned. Hockensmith's comment from July, 2014 says, The boys will definitely be back one day! And "one day" is finally starting to look like it's coming closer. If all goes according to plan, I might have something to announce by the end of the year....
2.  When I worked at the U of I Main Stacks I ran across a set of folios on the White City that was full of sketches and designs.  I would see many, many neat items working there.
3. Yes, the main stacks did have a "vault". It was a caged off area in the stacks for items that were prone to theft.  Sex books like topics on auto-fellatio (marked missing) and sex manuals were there.  Other items like illustrated histories of military uniforms were also shelved there.
4. The main stacks were expanded after I graduated with an off-site storage location. I don't know if the items stored in The Vault of Sex and Theft were moved.

Finished: "The Revenant" by Michael Punke

Finished: The Revenant by Michael Punke, 2002, 9780786710270.

A local guy said this was the best book he ever read. He described the plot as "bear attack" but that is misleading.  I thought it would be a "man against wilderness" story.  Well, it is a man against the wilderness but that is misleading as well. More of a man against bear, against, wilderness, against Indians, after revenge. A good but not great story but still an interesting tale.

Set in the U.S. frontier of 1823 in present day MO, NE, CO, OK, TX, WY.  Period detail and a look at the interaction among the different traders and Indian tribes of the areas.  How commerce expanded and grew west.

Hugh Glass is an adventurer.  He's joined an expedition by the Rocky Mountain Fur Company to head west from St. Louis and trap beaver in the Rockies. His expedition of about 30 men runs into trouble right away with several Indian battles. The group fairs poorly in those battles and works their way up the Missouri River on foot, evading Indians, and hunting their food. Glass is attacked and mauled by a grizzly while scouting ahead. The deep claw cuts and a bite leave Glass near death.  A couple expedition members are left to care for Glass until he dies. But, Glass won't die, he keeps hanging on.  The rest of the expedition has left and is traveling at a rate of 30 miles a day through extremely hostile territory.  The men tasked to stay with Glass are antsy pantsy and one the two is a murderous sociopath.  When a mounted group of Indian warriors comes near the camp the two men take Glass's rifle, knife and scant gear and leave him for dead.  Glass is angry.  Glass crawls away from the campsite.

Glass crawls his way along the river drinking the water and eating plants and trapping small animals.  Glass slowly recovers and reaches a Frenchman's trading post.  Glass continues on after the two men who left him for dead.

More things happen and Punke fills in Glass's fascinating history and travels. Ship captain in the Atlantic, captured and pressed ganged by pirates, surviving an attack on the pirate's Galveston Bay island, walking across TX, captured by Indians and almost killed but adopted into the tribe, meeting white men traders and going to St. Louis.

Meanwhile, the expedition travels down the Missouri and finds few beavers to trap.  No beavers means no money.  Their horses are stolen by the Indians.  Their leader suffers depression and bad fortune. Men desert the expedition. 

Glass survives a few fights, more injuries and bad weather.

Comments:
1. A good story.  I had not read anything like this in quite a while. The last frontier book I recall reading was some Louis L'Amour novel almost 20 years ago.
2. The section about Glass capture by pirates was interesting. He was caught by Lafitte and almost all the passengers murdered except those, like Glass, who could show they had sailing skills.
3. I checked to see if Punke has any more novels. Nope.  He has a couple NF titles.  He's a trade rep. at the WTO in Geneva, Switzerland so maybe his spare time is scant.
4. Punke has a bib. in the back on the resources he used.  He based the novel off real people and events.
5. When I lived in Marysville, KS I was fascinated when I found out how widely the Indian Wars ranged around the immediate area.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Listened: "Crashed" by Timothy Hallinan

Listened: Crashed by Timothy Hallinan, 2012, Overdrive.com download.

Short: Career burglar extorted to help out porn production.

Long: Gentleman criminal Junior Bender is hired to burgle a big, fancy house and take a big, expensive painting.  He nabs the painting, barely escapes the vicious guard dogs, and is nabbed by a cop.  Cop takes him to Local Crook.  Crook says, "We got you on video stealing from Deadly Crime Lord's house. We'll get him the video if you don't do something for us." Junior says, "I like living.  Okay."

Junior helped out a couple crook friends in his past and earned a reputation as a problem solver.  Not a knee breaker problem solver, a let-me-think-about-this problem solver.  Woman Crime Lord Trey wants someone to keep her porn production on track.  Trey has hired a Massively Famous Child Actress who has become a Massively Famous Former Child Actress Turned Drug Fiend to perform in a trilogy of porn films.  Trey has spent a lot of money on sets, scripts, costumes, and crew. Recent sabotage has tried to wreck the production.  Junior is hired to shepherd Massively Famous Former Child Actress Turned Drug Fiend and keep things running.

Massively Famous Former Child Actress Turned Drug Fiend is a mix of Lindsey Lohan the Olsen Twins and Every Other Failed Teeny Bopper Actress on Dope.  Junior never watches TV and has no idea who the Massively Famous Former Child Actress Turned Drug Fiend is but her innate kindness and beauty get him on her side.

Other things happen.  Someone tries to get Massively Famous Former Child Actress Turned Drug Fiend to overdose.  Junior asks a pal to watch Massively Famous Former Child Actress Turned Drug Fiend's place at night and the pal is murdered. Junior is being followed. Junior's ex-wife is threatening to try and severe Junior's custody  with their daughter. So on. So forth.

A fun story and fairly light read (listen).  Junior is a kind guy - although a dirty thief - working hard to do the right thing while his life gets legitimate death threats.  I'll check out the other books in the series.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Done: "The Martian" by Andy Weir

Done: The Martian by Andy Weir, 2014,will find ISBN later.

Very good.  Astronaut is stranded on Mars.

The third Mars mission gets to the planet, lands and the astronauts start their studies and experiments.  After only 10 days (or so) NASA sees a massive dust storm with high winds coming across Mars.  Mars dust storms are hundreds of kilometers wide. The canvas roofed living and working shelter - the HUB - is rated for high winds but the spaceship - the one-use ascender that delivers astronauts up to the orbiting spaceship that returns the astronauts to Earth - is fragile and cannot handle the winds.  NASA says, "Head to orbit!"  Astronauts say, "Dang, we took months to get here and now we have to leave. Okay, those are the breaks, lets get on our spacesuits and walk over to the spaceship."

On the walk over the high winds are throwing dust, pebbles and - uh-oh - pieces of antennae.  One of those pieces pierces Astronaut Mark Watney's suit and sends him tumbling along.  The impact damages his suit and his monitors checking heartbeat, blood pressure, air supply go dead.  Astronaut Watney is hidden by the swirling dust clouds.  Other astronauts cannot find him.  The ascender's spacesuit monitoring equipment says Astronaut Watney is dead.  The ascender is about to be blown over by the dust winds and would then be destroyed stranding everyone.  Remaining Astronauts take off (literally and figuratively).

Astronaut Watney comes to with his faceplate in the sand.  The antennae pierced his suit and stabbed him, but the material was twisted and his coagulated blood sealed the leak.  Astronaut yanks out the antennae from his suit, patches the hole with emergency sealant, walks back to the HUB. "Nuts," says Astronaut Watney "I missed the trip back.  I'm fucked. The crew is gone, the ship is gone, and the radios are broken."
The next 300 pages are fast and compelling.  Astronaut Watney is stuck on Mars but still alive and knows a fourth Mars mission is due to arrive in a couple years. How can I survive? Do I have enough food? Can I grow food?  Astronaut Watney solves all the problems Weir throws at him: no growing soil, no fertilizer, not enough water, breaking parts, finding communication, making and remaking and remaking plans.  Meanwhile, back on Earth, NASA sees Astronaut Watney is still alive and also starts making and remaking and remaking plans to rescue him.

The great strength of the novel is that Weir takes a neat idea and explains the scientific and Mars conditions so well. How the spacecraft work, how the life support works, how to make Martian soil arable.  He gives Astronaut Watney a sense of humor and irrepressible spirit. 

Comments:
1. I recommended the novel to my 11.5 year old who likes science topics but he went "humph" or "erm" or whatever that sound is that he makes when he does not want to answer.  I bet if I start reading it aloud he'll take it.  I can try reading it aloud to the 8.5 year old but will have to substitute the curse words and not let him read it himself so I can explain some of the adult concepts.