Friday, August 22, 2014

Fast: "The Ballad of Mila" by Matteo Strukul

Fast: The Ballad of Mila by Matteo Strrukul, 2014, 9781909223738.  English edition translated by Marco Piva-Dittrich and Allan Guthrie.  Does Guthrie know Italian or did he work on stuff like colloquialisms?

Strukul wrote that he really likes fast, pulp-style stories and this one moves quick with a straightforward revenge story.  Set in Northern Italy.  Mila was raised by her policeman father until she was 14 (or so).  Mila and her father were in a restaurant when mobsters murdered her father, kidnapped Mila, and then gang raped Mila.  Mila was then raised by her grandparents.  Mila's grandfather trained her hard physically with martial arts and endurance training plus time at shooting ranges.

Chinese mobsters have started to move in and take over different parts of the illegal economy.  They are clashing with the Italian mob.  Mila inserts herself after an Italian guy hired by the Chinese murders a couple Italian mob accountants.  Mila kung-fus the killer.  Mila takes two million Euros in cash.  Mila is followed by a Chinese mobster overseeing the killings.  Mila kills two Chinese killers who come to kill her and she captures the third.

Mila uses the money and kidnapped Chinese mobster to force partnership with the local Italian mob.  The same mob that murdered her father and raped her.  Mila plans to kill the Italians and take the Chinese down on the way.  There is plenty o violence, plenty of scheming.  Not so many twists and turns - this is pretty straightforward and fast moving and things go quite well for Mila.  She is able to talk, punch, stab, or shoot her way out of problems.

Fun stuff.  At the end Mila applied to join a private society of bounty hunters and killers who fight organized crime in Europe and is off to join them for the sequel.

Comments:
1. Foreword by Victor Gischler.  I did read that.
2.  Long interview at the end with Strukul and some other guy about books and writing.  I read a few pages of that and bailed.  I did quickly skim the rest of the interview which says Strukul is doing a trilogy.  Actually, the trilogy is probably done since the original Italian of this novel published in 2011.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Quick-ish: "Stopping for Strangers" by Daniel Griffin

Quick-ish: Stopping For Strangers by Daniel Griffin, 2011, 9781550653205.

Canadian Computer Guy writes short stories.  Canadian Computer Guy gets short stories published in compilation.  Canadian Computer Guy emails library customers saying, "I wrote a book.  Please take a look."  Wisconsin Library Director says, "Sure, Canadian Computer Guy is a decent dude."  Wisconsin Library Director takes two years and four months to get around to reading it.

Ten literary short stories.  142 pages.  I should read more literary short stories because I enjoyed these.  I also liked that book by Levine.  These stories focus on family relations.  Often between siblings (or maybe those stuck in my head longer).  The characters are usually skirting financial ruin. People who don't know what they want.  People who think of themselves but cannot see their selfishness.

I liked all of these.  Some produced some real unease and dread.  Griffin is covering topics and situations that struck a nerve with me.  The Leap and Florida are two sibling stories that stuck out.

The Leap is told after and before.  After has the sister narrating how she drives her wheelchair bound brother out to play pool every week.  Sister is trying to give Brother something to do to keep him off the sauce.  He is demanding and rude.  He tells the before where he and pal go to a winter party.  Brother is attracted to another man at the party but no one knows Brother is queer.  Brother has a girl hitting heavy on him but he has eyes for dude.  Brother is former gymnast and tries to show off on a slippery porch railing.  He falls and breaks his back.

Florida has a dickhead brother taking his sister's truck to a service station.  He goes inside, asks for cigarettes from the girl working there and says, "Take it off Sister's pay, gotta go, see ya' later" and skips out the door.  As Brother is pulling out he hits a kid's bike as the kid is going past.  Brother says, "What are doing?! Here, I'll give you a ride."  Brother chats with the kid and spins bullshit tale of living high in Florida and he is only in Ontario (maybe it was another Province) for his mother's funeral.

Comments:
1.  After reading stories by Griffin, Craig Davidson, and Joel Hynes I really don't want to visit Canada.
2.  Except Quebec.  I still want to go back to Montreal.
3. Sweet!  I just checked Craig Davidson's web page and he has a new novel out, Cataract City. I'm buying that sucker.
4.  I still have not watched that film version of Davidson's Rust and Bone.  I did buy a copy for the library.
5. I don't see anything new by Griffin.

Heard: Fighting the Flying Circus" by Eddie Rickebacker

Heard: Fighting the Flying Circus by Eddie Rickenbacker, 1919 (2012 audio), Overdrive.com download.

Written by Rickenbacker right after the war.  Rickenbacker was the leading US ace of WWI and a celebrity at home.  I'm not sure how old I was when I received a copy of [title I cannot recall]  I read through that quite a bit and still recall several of the stories.   I was looking for the title of the previous book and ran across this.  We used to have this game, I'm not sure I ever played that with my brother or not.  Well, I suppose if the game was printed in 1980 I must have been about 10 or so when we got it.  I imagine the book was about the same time.

My fondness of [title I cannot recall] encouraged me to try this one out.  It was interesting but ran on too long for me.  Rickenbacker seemed to cover just about every one of his air battles and near battles and the battles of other pilots in his unit.  The recording ran 10'36".  Here are some notes I too while listening.

1. Much of his unit's time seems like amateur hour. They were still enthralled with the enthusiastic start of the war.  Their time at the front lasted less than a year.2.  The pilots saw combat as full of honor and proper manners. Some kept with this throughout their fighting.  The stories of a pilot flying over an enemy's airfield and dropping, literally, the gauntlet.  Well, maybe not literally literally, after all, a glove would be a poor gauntlet.  But the pilots were aggressive and wanting to down the enemy
3.  Rickenbacker wrote how awful combat was and the constant stress. Death was faced from mechanical failure, weather, and getting lost.  That danger is true but at a couple points he was comparing trench warfare versus air combat. Rickenbacker was arguing that dry barracks at the airfield and YMCA entertainment did not make much of a difference in comparison to the infantry at the front lines. Baloney. At one point they go to the front lines to recover a downed German plane and witness artillery attacks and convoying through the mud.
4.  Machine guns would often jam. I wonder how they cleared the stoppages. At one point both of Rickenbacker's guns jammed and he had to clear them while letting the plane coast along. Another pilot was so frustrated at his jammed guns during an attack on a balloon that he threw the hammer-like device used to clear jams down at the balloon's ground crew.
5.  Observation balloons were widely used by both sides.  I was surprised about how difficult it could be to shoot down the balloons.  Morning attacks would leave dew on the balloon fabric and the incendiary rounds were going so fast anyway that they might not ignite the gas. Downing a balloon counts the same as a plane towards a pilot's victory totals.
6.  Americans flew leftover planes for the first few months. Tactics and skills were developed during the previous years but were not so complicated the American pilots did not quickly learn.
7.  Pilots would fly several times a day. Flights were limited to about two hours max because of fuel limits. Pilots would to turn off their engines for stealth and whenever landing.  Damaged planes escaping the enemy would try to glide back to their own lines or friendly airfields.
8.  No radios. Lead pilots would dip the plane's nose and wag the wings to instruct a flight.
9.  AA fire was called Archie and was mostly ineffective. Pilots would fly through and do acrobatics to mock the AA gunners.  The most effective use of AA was by the Germans who used aerial bursts as a way to communicate with their own pilots.  The artillery bursts would ordered and at certain altitudes to notify defending German aircraft of Allied aircraft in the area.
10.  There was a lot of feinting and ambushing. 
11.  The wing fabric on the Nieuport's flown by U.S. pilots were prone to tear when diving too fast.  A pilot would be the heat of attack and pursuit and lose the fabric on top of his wing.
12. A couple days ago I read a review of a recent Rickenbacker biography.  Enduring Courage.   Low and behold that sucker is on display in the World War One book display here at work.  I liked seeing the photos of the people and planes Rickenbacker wrote about.  One photo is of a Nieuport wing with missing fabric.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Heard: "When Did You See Her Last?" by Lemony Snicket

Heard: When Did You See Her Last? by Lemony Snicket, 2013, Overdrive download.

Second in the mystery series of 13-year-old Lemony assigned to an incompetent mentor and working in Stain'd-by-the-Sea.  Their last case was wrapped up and they are now hired to find a missing teen girl.  The girl is Miss Cleo Knight.  Everyone refers to her as Miss Knight.  The Knights own Ink Inc. The town is plastered with missing posters but Miss Knight's parents are pumped to the gills with laudanum thanks to their personal apothecary and oblivious to everything.

Apothecary?  Yes.  Snicket still loves using a wide vocabulary and enjoys having characters discuss the definition and usage of odd or archaic words.

Anyway.  Snicket sees the trouble: evil-acting apothecary, inconsistencies in theory that Miss Knight joined the circus, Miss Knight's abandoned automobile.  S. Theodora Markson, Snicket's mentor, continues to be an idiot and will take any excuse to close to a case, even if the explanation is bunkum.

Snicket digs around and we are reintroduced to a few of the town's residents.  The Librarian.  The hotel owner.  The plucky girl journalist.  The equally plucky boy taxi drivers. The bickering married couple who are the town's police force.  The cop couple's rotten kid.  The mysterious, alluring, and untrustworthy Ellington Feint.  Snicket discovers that evil mastermind Hangfire is behind things.  Snicket discovers other deceits.  Snicket rescues Miss Knight with the assistance of a few others.

Comments:
1. Snicket wants to be back in the City and working with his sister.  They have been secretly communicating with one another and she is working on something of importance to them both.
2.  Filled with literary references but Snicket never gives titles or author names.  Some of the books I can figure out, like Pippy Lockstocking, but others I have no clue.
3.  Non sequiters by the dozens.
4.  Discussion on sneaked versus snuck.
5.  One thing I'd not thought about with traditional hard boiled novels is that the hardcase PIs are very involved emotionally but do their best to hide it.  For me the smart comebacks and tough guy exterior stick out more than the regret and sorrow.  I see this more with Snicket's worry over his sister, his promises to Ellington Feint, disgust with the poor police work and incomptence by his mentor.
 6.  Third recent book that refers to laudanum.  Moonstone and Hop Alley were previous.
7. Hangfire.  I think of the Stones song and delayed ignition of ammunition.  I miss any puns or references inherent in most of the characters and place names because I get the audio version. I'm not sure what Snicket is going for with this name.  If anything.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Read: "The Twenty-Year Death" by Ariel S. Winter

Read: The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel S. Winter, 2012, 9780857689184.

I remember Charles Ardai talking this up before it came out but it took me a while to get to.  Three short novels written as one long novel and set, respectively, in 1931, 1941, and 1951.  Winter copied the style of Georges Simenon for '31, Raymond Chandler for '41, and Jim Thompson for '51. 

I enjoyed all three of the parts.  I have never read a Simenon novel but after this I really should grab one because I liked the story quite a bit.  It had that laid-back feel of Burnt Offering or Louis Penney.  The emphasis is on the investigator and the way he sees things and operates.  Working silently and thinking things out.  Not a collaborative person. 

Anyway.  '31 has a rural French town with a neighboring prison.  A prisoner is discovered dead in the gutter during a rainstorm but the prison's Deputy Warden says no way, we counted him as present.  Things happen.  The dead man has a daughter living in town.  The daughter is married to an older man, an American writer of some renown.  The writer is blustery and has a drinking problem.  He left his first wife for his current teen wife and when Dead Man's Daughter goes missing Writer goes apoplectic.

'41 has a Hollywood P.I. hired to follow a paranoid French actress.  French actress is the Daughter from the '31 story.  She is convinced someone is stalking her.  Writer is a drunk, working as a script writer, and openly screwing Daughter's co-star.  PI ends up following people and, in good PI fashion, sticks his nose where it is not needed and where his employer tells him to butt out.  (Sticks nose in?  Butt out?  Should I use those two together? Do I care?)  PI finds mutilated body of the co-star Writer was porking.  PI discovers there have been similarly mutilated actresses and Hollywood lizards. PI sees link among local gambling goon, Writer, and studio head.  PI figures it out, covers it up, and sends Daughter to a private clinic to treat her rapidly worsening mental illness.

'51 has Writer in Maryland.  Writer is there for the reading of his ex-wife's will.  Writer is really hoping for some dough because he is an arrears for Daughter's mental hospital fees and owes big on gambling debts. Well, his wife gives him nothing.  Writer has no dough and his call-girl girlfriend is letting him live off the dime of the mobster she is fucking at a local hotel.  Writer gets drunk, like usual, and goes to visit his son.  The son did inherit the ex-wife's fortune and hates his father.  Writer was as awful a father as he could be without killing anyone.  Writer and son argue, Writer shoves son, son falls, son hits head, son dies.  Writer tells Call Girl.  Call Girl takes writer back to house and they put dead son in bed and burn the place.

Writer is in line for son's estate.  Writer is sick to stomach with guilt.  Writer gets drunk.  Call Girl is suspect in son's death since she was once suspected of murdering a husband in Cleveland using the same cover-up.  Writer start panicking.  Writer resolves to kill Call Girl and put the blame on Mobster.  The idea would have worked but Writer is spotted by gambler's bodyguard and goes on the run.  Gambler is in Iowa when killers find him.  Winter ends Writer's story as Writer tries to kill himself driving head-on into the killers.

Comments:
1. Longer at 605 pages.
2.  I enjoyed the Thompson tale the least. But, after writing the precis I'm betting that one was the hardest to plot.  Or not.

Done: "Pacific Time on Target" by Christopher S. Donner

Done: Pacific Time on Target: memoirs of a Marine artillery officer, 1943-1945 by Christopher S. Donner, edited by Jack H. McCall, Jr., 2012, 9781606351208.

Written by Donner in 1946. Written for himself and family.  As the Introduction says, the account can be terse.The editor heard about the document when researching a Marine unit both Donner and McCall's father served in.  McCall heard about Donner's work from unit veterans and hunted the memoir down.  At the time of the Foreword Donner was retired in FL.

Donner was born in 1912, went through university, and was married and expecting when he joined up after Pearl Harbor.  He took Officer Training with the Marine Corps and joined a Coastal Artillery unit.  Donner and his guns were shipped to the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific but they did not have much gunnery action while there.  They did get bombed and shelled a lot.

Donner was assigned to the 11th Marines as an artillery observer and spent time in the front lines and back at the guns.  He visited beautiful Okinawa and it's quaint rainfalls of metal matched with a fragrant bouquet of corpse.  The memoir is like most combat memoirs: full of terror, death and sadness interspersed with brief leave and booze.

There were friendly fire incidents all the time. Artillery would fall short onto the U.S. lines.  Nervous troops would shoot and throw grenades at night.  You'll read hero stories of a fighting position surrounded by dead enemy.  Donner saw one fighting position surrounded by dead friendlies.  AA fire aimed at Japanese planes would burst and hit people on the ground. One of those AA bursts ended with one decapitation and three wounded.  Aircraft would strafe and bomb friendly soldiers that were far behind their own lines.  Ships that would be attacked by friendly forces.

Artillery is so incredibly dangerous and mistakes kill people. It can kill by the dozens.  Fire missions would often have to be authorized by hirer-ups.  I presume so that the commanders could double-check their own maps and avoid friendly fire and civilians.  During fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan I would read complaints that artillery and airstrikes were refused because of fear of civilian casualties. Same thing in World War Two.  Hey, do you really want unlimited warfare?  You want people shooting anything they see and bombing and shelling whatever is there?  If so, then you can go over and help bury the dead kids or treat the 10-year-old whose leg you just blew off.

Setting and aiming artillery seems much more complicated than I would guess.  Divining the charge, the gun angles and elevations.  Time on target is where several different gun positions coordinate the firing so that all shells land at the same time.  Rather than bang, wait, wait, bang, bang, bang, wait wait wait, bang.  If all the shells arrive at once none of the enemy have a chance to jump into shelter.  To get that effect guns would have to fired at different times.  I still do not understand how they coordinated that.

Donner did not lose all his humanity.  After the war he wondered how much he and other Marines deadened themselves and gave little regard to the enemy's worth as humans.  But, Donner witnessed a couple things that greatly shook him: the shooting of a Okinawan woman and her child, finding a teen Okinawan girl was raped and murdered.

Done: "Graveyard of Memories" by Barry Eisler

Done: Graveyard of Memories by Bary Eisler, 2013,

Eisler takes us back to 1974 Tokyo with John Rain's beginnings as an assassin.  I prefer Eisler's earlier Rain novels that he sets in the modern day but this was good.  We learn more about Rain, how he got started started as a hired killer and how his paranoia and preparation began.  A neat tour of 1974 Tokyo and Japanese politics.

Rain is 20-years-old and working as a CIA bagman in Tokyo.  Rain joined the U.S. Army after lying about his age, served in Vietnam, returned to the U.S., never fit in at the States and went to Japan.  Rain served in the Studies and Observation Group (SOG) in Vietnam.  SOG was a super secret commando group that served in Laos and Cambodia [I read a book by a former soldier in the unit, John Plasterer.  Came out in '98 or so, it was good.] and met a few CIA employees.  One of those CIA contacts got him a job as a bag man delivering weekly cash payments from a local CIA agent to a go-fer of the ruling Japanese political party.

Rain is an impetuous person with a temper.  That temper gets him in a street fight with three young Japanese men.  Rain's combat and Judo training lead to the death of one assailant when Rain flips the guy, smashing his head into the ground.  Rain is later attacked at his Judo school by a guy in league with one of the guys Rain fought with.

More trouble happens.  Rain really disliked his condescending CIA handler.  Rain is on the run because he killed the nephew of a ruling Yakuza boss.  Rain deserts his dingy apartment and stays in love hotels.  Rain meets and pines for a girl working the desk at a love hotel.

Rain starts learning paranoia.  Rain figures the way out of his Yakuza death warrant is to kill the Yakuza boss.  Why not?  Rain is already a hard-ass killer from his time in the infantry.  IN exchange for intelligence on the Yakuza boss his CIA handler requires Rain to kill a political hack for the Japanese party.  At the same time - what a coincidence! - Rain gets a feeler offer from the other bagman/go-fer to find an assassin for a different guy. 

Rain takes the love hotel girl out on a date.  Love Hotel Girl is in a wheelchair.  Rain and Love Hotel Girl do the Dirty Deed.  Rain does Different Dirty Deeds to three Yakuza, and the two kill-for-pay guys.  Rain has more Dirty Deed with Love Hotel Girl.  Rain kills more people.  Basically, Rain kills his way out of trouble and fakes his own death.  Rain has to skip town leaving Love Hotel Girl behind, even though Rain is lovey-dovey for Love Hotel Girl. 

Everyone lives happily ever after.  (Everyone except for every characters but Love Hotel Girl and Rain's cop friend, WhatsHisName, from the later novels.)  Rain goes onto a lifetime of mercenary jobs and assassination kills.

Comments:
1.  Eisler does some fine work.
2.  No name dropping in this one.  No Wilson Combat, Benchmade, etc.  Eisler did spend his usual obsessing on locations though and has a bib. listing sources for the 1974 locations where he sets the novel.
3.  Why does blogger spellcheck highlight Eisler in one spot but not another?
4.  Eisler puts sex in his sex scenes.  He does not fade out.