Monday, August 31, 2015

Heard: "Big Fifty" by Johnny D. Boggs

Heard: Big Fifty by Johnny D. Boggs, 2003, downloaded the Blackstone audio version from Overdrive. Read by Lloyd James.

It is very unfortunate that Overdrive only has one Johnny D. Boggs audiobook available. I listened to another Boggs novel, West Texas Kill, when using a trial version from another vendor. Maybe it was OneClick Digital from Recorded Books.

Coady McIlrain lives outside Dodge City, KS in 1872. His family came from the South to farm and and have been working the land a couple years. Coady is 12-years-old, loves dime novel stories about Buffalo Bill, and dreams of being a buffalo hunter on the plains. Coady yearns for a Sharps rifle in .50 caliber and uses an old tobacco stick as a stand-in.

One afternoon Coady's father invites him along for a trip to Dodge. The run into an ambush by a raiding party of Comanche. Coady's father is arrowed and tells Coady to run. Coady runs, looks over his shoulder, sees his father being scalped. Coady runs back and whacks the attacking Comanche
in the face with the tobacco stick. Coady is captured. Coady is transported south to Texas. Coady is staying with Quanah Parker's group.

Coady is starved a little. Coady has made a lifelong enemy by whacking the Comanche and busting his nose. Coady is beaten by the old woman who enslaves him. Coady feels lovey-dovey to another captive, a girl his age named CannotRecall. CannotRecall helps Coady escape. COady loses his horse and continues across the Texas Staked Plains on foot.

Meanwhile, former U.S. Army sharpshooter and itinerant typesetter Dylan Griffith chanes on work as a buffalo hunter. Griffith heads south with his new partner and learns to say he is a buff' runner. HE shoots about 30 cows a day. The skinners will curse his name if he shoots more than they can process in a day. Coady hears a noise at night and pulls his Colt on a sneaky person. Coady has been rescued.

Dylan takes a liking to Coady. Most of the hunting group take a liking to Coady. Dylan misses his own dead son - you learn more back story later on - and rationalizes keeping Coady around a little longer rather than send him back to KS.

Dylan and Coady and the other runners and skinners travel the plains. They find sluaghtered buffalo and slaughtered buffalo runners. Coady spent a half-year with the Comanche and points out how the arrows and ambush tactics are not true Comanche style and method. Dylan and Coady head to Adobe Walls along with some other buffalo hunters, including Bat Masterson.

Dylan and Coady survive the gunfight and witness the famous mile long shot. Dylan learsn someone if looking for Coady. He wonders if it is a bounty hunter looking for the reward placed by Coady's mother. More excitement. More danger. The conflict keeps rolling along with a twist and turn.

1. Boggs enjoys history and he gives you plenty. Fun reading.
2. Well, fun listening anyway.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Brief: "File Under" by Lemony Snicket

Brief: File Under: 13 suspicious incidents by Lemony Snicket, 2014, 9780316284035

13 short stories about Snicket's time in Stain'd-by-the-Sea. Most stories have Snicket working completely alone and without his Chaperon, S. Theodora Markson. I cannot recall if Snicket capitalizes chaperon. Chaperon seems like a job title, so I do capitalize it. I was also adding an "e" on the end until I did a spell check.

Done Minute Mystery and Encyclopedia Brown style. Snicket narrates the story and you flip to the back pages to read the resolution. Some stories are written as real mysteries where you use the clues to deduce the crime. A couple are just kinda silly.

You read more about Snicket, his pals in town, his acquaintances in town, his stay-away-froms in town, and Ms. Markson. Snicket is often out at night. He mostly walks, he sometimes rides, he meets with clients who are fellow teenagers. Some cases are serious. Some cases are minor. Snicket solves them all.

1. I like the kids-on-their-own theme of the Snicket story. I've enjoyed those ever since watching the Our Gang comedies when I was a boy. Children are acting in adult roles but without the everyday chores of bills, laundry, groceries, and feeding the dog.
2. My dog has black hair. She will lay - lie? - upside down on our asphalt drive every day during the summer. If the dog has not been bathed recently your hand will come away black after petting her.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Heard: "Complex 90" by Mickey Spillane and Max Alan Collins

Heard: Complex 90 by Mickey Spillane and Max Alan Collins, 2013, download, narrated by Stacy Keach.

I was disappointed in this one. I thought Mike Hammer would be spending all his time in 1965 (or so, I don't recall if a year was listed or implied) Russia. Hammer in Russia? Spying on Ruskies? Solving murders of dissidents or politicians? Bedding Russian lady spies? Nope. It's Hammer visiting Russia as a Senator's bodyguard, getting arrested, violently escaping capture, and escaping to the West. Hammer takes about four months to sneak his way west but that story is not detailed. Oh, well.

Hammer is working security at a NY Senator's cocktail party. A guest shoots at the Senator but kills the P.I. who had asked for Hammer's help at the party. Hammer is then shot in the leg but returns fire and kills the gunman.  Hammer is patched up and asked to take the dead P.I.'s place as Seantor's escort to the Soviet Union. Hammer still has a relationship with a super-duper secret U.S. spy agency.

Hammer sleeps with their steel dentured lady guide. The lady guide removes her steel teeth before performing oral sex. Hammer is picked up the KGB and taken to an prison for interrogation. Hammer kills his way out. Upon arrival back in the States Hammer speaks with Federal suits. They say he may get sent back to Russia to stand trial for murder. "Nuts to you." says Hammer.

Things happen. Why was Hammer arrested? What's the connection between his Russian adventure and that cocktail party? Why are Russian agents after him in the U.S., do they want to kidnap him? Kill him? Or something else? Is there a connection between Velda's years on the run in Russia? Between Hammer's destruction of dual spy/assassin team years before.

As usual Hammer fights the powers that be, sleuths around, discusses his .45, flirts, sexes up the ladies, lovey-doveys Velda. With political shenanigans, dorky scientists, people telling Hammer he is a caveman, spies, Russian killers.

1. Hammer and Velda have that odd relationship. Velda waits on Hammer to decide to commit and Hammer has sex with any woman he likes. Hammer sometimes feels bad about this, but his lust and the women's bodies push the guilt aside.
2. More great narration by Keach.
3. I had more to say but forgot.

Bailed: "American Fantastic Tales" edited by Peter Straub

Bailed: American Fantastic Tales: terror and uncanny from Poe to the pulps edited by Peter Straub, 2009, 9781598530476.

Todd Mason recommended this and Volume Two a few Fridays ago. I quit on page 378 of 713. The first story is from 1805. My point in getting the book was to try out the older stories. The writing style would often clash with my preferences. I've supposed this is not just an issue of changing language but of reading style. 1805 surely had less reading option and variety. No need to rush through a novel with another pile waiting to be read. No TV and radio to compete with a novel; read at your leisure for as long as you want to burn the light.

I write that because some of the stories are thick.  Loooong sentences with lots of commas. Long-winded, too. Just say it, damn it. As I leaf through the book I see quite a few stories that were fun. The lame stories fill in between the fun stories and I lost steam.

1. There are a few authors in the last half of the book like Robert E. Howard and Robert Bloch that I am interested in but I've had this book too long.
2. My favorite was Lukundoo by Edward Lucas White. Explorers in Africa meet another Anglo in the jungle who is there to ask them for help. They travel to the other man's camp where his colleague has hidden himself in his cabin. The hidden man has been growing bumps, those bumps are tiny human heads. That was creepy and much like Stephen King's I Am The Doorway.
3. I bailed on the Henry James story. Bleah.
4. Ambrose Pierce's The Moonlit Road has two people and ghost telling their version of a killing and disappearance, Rashomon style.
5. I've never seen Rashomon.
6. I recall F. Marion Crawford's tale about a murder and ghost being good.
7. Frank Norris had a Grendel-like vampire in Iceland.
8. Gertrude Atherton has a man looking for his missing friend who was presumed drowned.
9. Madeline Yale Wynne's story was good. Two spinster sisters raise a girl. The girl tells her daughter of her favorite room in the house. The room is missing on the next visit - only a pantry is there. The sisters say the room never existed - the room reappears a few years later on another visit by the daughter of the now grown girl.
10. Ralph Adams Cram's narrator tells of a boyhood walk that detoured into The Dead Valley. Years later the man tries to find the haunted place.
11. Robert W. Chambers was interesting because it was set in the future year of 1920 in a fascist state with recently constructed suicide buildings. Chambers published the story in 1895 and could not foresee automobiles, machine guns, and WWI. His main character is insane and believes himself the inheritor the royal seat of King in Yellow.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A While Ago: "On Dangerous Ground" edited by Ed Gorman, et al

A While Ago: On Dangerous Ground: stories of Western noir edited by Ed Gorman, Dave Zelterserman, Martin H. Greenberg, 2011, 9781587671920.

We were all at the Fitchburg library a few weeks ago. I cannot recall why we all went. I was specifically looking for Westerns, which are interfiled with the rest of fiction. I did a quick catalog search and this came up.

A good book but I finished reading it a couple weeks ago and do not recall very much.  All the stories were good. They all stuck to the noir tradition of bad people doing bad things. Plenty of stories with O. Henry endings. Let's take a look...apologies if I recall these incorrectly.

Hockensmth's reminded me of another story. I cannot recall what. Two crooks get drunk and plan to murder a Pinkerton. Backstabbing ensues.
Crider's has a whorehouse piano player rescuing a daughter sold by her father in a card game. She did not want rescue.
Gorman's was set in the Barbary Coast with an Native American prostitute, her violent husband, and an admirer.
Zeltersman has a farm couple pulling a robbery, committing murder during the robbery, and fleeing to Abilene. Abilene, Kansas not Abilene, Texas. Not sure which city Hamilton sings about.
TL Wolf had a drifter chancing on a cowboy job and seeing his old love and fellow con(wo)man living with the ranch owner.
I liked Healy's story of a Cavalry Lt. trying to frame his black Trooper for murder. Courtroom scene and all.
Randisi had a gambler in NYC trying to figure out who had several men murdered and he is aided in his investigation by Bat Masterson.
That's  it, I'm done leafing through the book.

1. Is noir capitalized as a genre?
2. Zeltersman is difficult for me to spell.
3. What did O. Henry go to prison for? Embezzlement?
4. I just listened to Johnny D. Boggs's Big Fifty. Fifty has Bat Masterson as a secondary character with buffalo hunters on the TX plains. I did not know Masterson was at the Battle of Adobe Walls.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Heard: "A Spy Among Friends" by Ben Macintyre

Heard: A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the great betrayal by Ben Macintyre, 2014, download. Narrated by John Lee.

Macintyre's Foreword says he is not trying to repeat the Philby stories and analysis of previous books. Macintyre wanted to focus on the personalities and relationship between Philby and longtime friend and colleague Nicholas Elliott. (These are my notes as I listened to the book. I won't clean them up much.)

In case you forgot: Philby was one of the Cambridge Five, a Soviet spy ring that proved hugely successful from it's 1930s inception to the 1960s.  Philby and his Cambridge University classmates were recruited in the 1930s and they went on to join government and newspaper jobs. All of them were upper or middle class and presented themselves as loyal Englishmen.

The Cambridge Five were part of the English crust that thrived on exclusivity: public school, university, private clubs, family ties and spying. You did not apply to the spy service, you were recruited. You were recruited only after a family friend or relative gave you a recommendation. Background checks were minimal and could be resolved after a reference of, "I know his father." Being a Soviet mole is the elite of the elite - the only one - and that attracted Philby.

Philby and Elliott met during World War Two and were fast friends. They worked in the same cities and freely traded shop talk over many boozy evenings. They both advanced through the ranks of MI6 (British secret intelligence service that focuses outside Britain, akin to the CIA). Elliott was Philby's friend and defender. Elliott never knew that Philby's allegiance had always been to Philby's communist ideal.

Philby was charismatic. People wanted to be around him and be his friend. His presence would lift their feelings and made a party successful. Spy and political information flowed during late night booze ups and dinner parties. That inside information stayed inside the spy agencies - among the employees - but traveled from office to office, , bureau to bureau, person to person, agency to agency. News went from "Bob" to "Dave" to Philby to Russia.

All that free flowing shop talk is what made Philby such a successful spy. As a senior agent and social butterfly Philby was directly responsible for hundreds of deaths. During the late 40s and early 50s Albanian and Ukrainian infiltrations were completely given up: landing locations, gear, radio equipment and codes, agent names and hometowns. Many more people - relatives, friends, former neighbors of agents - were killed, tortured or imprisoned by governments.

During WWII a German defector gave over names of non-communist anti-German fighters. Philby shared those Eastern European names and locations with the Russians. As the Russians pushed through Poland and Germany they carried lists of names and murdered any possible future opponents.

Things were dicey for Philby in the early fifties when his pal and fellow spy Guy Burgess split England with a third spy, Donald Maclean. Some intelligence officers starting connecting the dots among all the failed operations that all had a connection to Philby. But, there was no proof and Elliott repeatedly went to the mat for Philby. Philby was forced to resign, had a few jobs, was denounced in Parliament, and ultimately hired back by MI6.

MacLean and Burgess skipped town after a Venona cable was decrypted. That Russian cable from 1944 said a British mole was living in NYC and had a pregnant wife - that was enough to identify MacLean. Burgess was used as intermediary to warn MacLean and smuggle him out of England. Burgess's name was already mud because of his alcoholic guzzling and bizarre and rude behavior. Both of them skipping out put suspicions everywhere, certainly on Philby.

Philby was forced to resign.  Tons of circumstantial evidence from multiple failed operations behind Iron Curtain. He struggled financially, the Reds got him some money at one point, and MI5 thought him guilty. MI6 was split with Elliott going to the mat for Philby again and again. Elliott was the one who gained public school admission for Philby's oldest son. Philby went to work for MI6 in Lebanon under cover as a reporter. He also went right back to work with the Russians.

Proof against Philby was finally strong enough. Shortly before this another spy was found out, convicted and sentenced to over forty years imprisonment. The sentence was shockingly long. Philby was under a big threat with no Old BOy network to save him. Elliott interrogated Philby over a couple days. Philby skipped out of Beirut and went to Moscow. He never regretted his actions.

1. The wartime stories reminded me of Soldier of Orange. Most of the agents sent from England into Holland were caught and killed. The Germans had an inside track on the infiltrations and tortured and killed the men. They used stolen radio codes to send false positives to England.Soldier author Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema knew something was wrong but British intelligence ignored the signs and kept sending people to their death. The same things happened in the Cold War.
2. Philby was pals with CIA agent MIles Copeland, Jr. Copeland's son Stewart was in The Police.
3. Oh, Yeah! That was one of the jokes in Anthony Neil Smith's The Drummer. Someone says Merle's band should do some covers, like some Police tunes. Merle responds with "What?! You try drumming that stuff. Too hard."
3. Philby worked with Graham Greene as well. Greene was a junior colleague to Philby and Elliott.
4. The Afterword by John Le Carre discuses Le Carre's brief stint in British Intelligence and his many conversations with the famed Elliott. Elliott's career was long and successful but Elliott's reputation was darkly stained by his defense or and decades long friendship with Philby.

Listened to: "The Thirty-Nine Steps" by John Buchan

Listened To: The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan, 1915 (2011 listed for this audio), download. Frederick Davidson narrated.

There have been several reviews of this from the Forgotten Books crowd. I have vague memories of seeing the black and white Hitchcock version and had already wanted to read this one.I've been listening online to some of BBC Radio's World War One commemorations. Those programs have included both straightforward historical reports and panel discussions. There was a panel discussion about this novel, Buchan, and the book's popularity among soldiers and civilians. That the book's plot of German spies working to start a war was a way for people to try and understand or accept what the all-consuming battles in France and Belgium. I think this was the program I heard.

Richard Hannay is a native Scotsman living in London. Hannay served in the Boer War, worked as a mining engineer in Africa, and in his middle 30s has retired to London. Hannay is bored though. London does not hold much interest for him. He then meets his upstairs neighbor.

The neighbor comes to Hannay's apartment asking for help. Neighbor spins a tale of espionage and military plans for war. Of Jews conspiring to start war. Of Germans willing to wage war. Of Neighbor's information that could stop the plot and his need to hide from those enemy spies. Hannay, being a bored man-about-town says, "Sure, Old Chap. Wot wot."

Hannay wakes up the next morning and finds Neighbor dead in Hanny's spare room. The man was stabbed to death and the room searched. Hannay figures the bad guys left the dead man for Hannay to take the blame. Hannay ends up finding Neighbor's encrypted notebook and flees the apartment, just missing police capture. Hannay figures, "My my, what a close call, I do say. I'll head to the North, what? Back to Scotland."

Most of the rest of the novel is Hannay traveling incognito around Scotland and evading the German spies and police who are chasing him down. He tramps a bit, takes a train, lies about his identity, confers with a couple others, and decrypts the notebook. Hannay discovers more about the plot and Neighbor. Hannay meets up with a small town politician who will introduce Hannay to his uncle, a government Minister. Hannay is captured by Krauts and escapes using stored explosives to blow up half a farm house basement he has been imprisoned within.

Hannay meets the Minister, has the police case squared away, and starts working to identify the spies and stop them from taking British naval plans across the Channel.

1. I read about the anti-Semitism and was not surprised when Neighbor started spouting how "Jews are to blame". But, that was the only place in the book and the tale was more guff by Neighbor who, being a spy, was unwilling to tell the complete and true story to Hannay.
2. I did not know there are other Hannay books. I also did not know how many different film, stage, and radio versions were produced.
3. The chasing around Scotland reminded me of Kidnapped. Hannay spends a lot of time outdoors and on the road meeting different people.
4. The idea that mysterious and sinister people are pulling strings. Hannay is working against very powerful spies with plenty money. They have manpower, cars, and even planes to track Hannay.
5. The novel has no women. This was mentioned on the BBC show. Hitchcock had to invent a woman character for Hannay to interact with in the 1935 film.  There was discussion about Buchan and women and women characters but I cannot recall what was said.
6. A fun story. Fast moving and fine narration by Davidson.