Thursday, May 18, 2017

Maybe Re-Read: "Blood of Victory" by Alan Furst

Maybe Re-Read: The Blood of Victory by Alan Furst, 2002, 9780375505744.

I have been focused on reading some of the many books I own and never got around to cracking open. I'm no Bill Crider but I have a few boxes worth of fiction and nonfiction I've picked up at used book sales. I had not read a Furst novel in quite a while and grabbed this one that was discarded by Maricopa County Library System when we lived in Phoenix.

I might have read this before. I'm not sure. Since I have read or listened to several Furst novels I may be confusing his style and fondness for Eastern European spies and refugees.

IA Serebin is a poet and journalist whose wartime photo during the Russian Revolution made him slightly famous. Serebin's slight celebrity even garnered an invite to dinner with Stalin and the fish eye by a Army general. Serebin skipped out to Paris before any Stalin purges hit him and has been working with a org that assists and socializes Russian exiles.

Serebin is riding as a passenger on a Black Sea cargo ship bound for Turkey and starts shtupping a fellow passenger, the wife of a Count. The Count doesn't care. Serebin hits Constantinople, decides to call it Istanbul, and goes to visit his tubercular ex-girlfriend in the country house he bought her. They are old friends from their Odessa youth and her helped her get away from the commies.

While staying in Istanbul Serebin is helping out with the local Russian ex-pats. During an ex-pat party Serebin is called away and misses the bombing that kills most everyone else. He is later contacted by Count's Wife and is slowly and slyly recruited into a British spy operation.

Things happen.

This is before Operation Barbarossa and Russians are okay living in occupied Paris. Serebin works there a while and then heads into Hungary, Bulgarian, and Romania to try and rebuild an information network developed by an industrialist over the past couple decades. Serebin and Count's Wife get emotionally close. Serebin survives the Nazi takeover of Romania.

The meat of story comes as Serebin and Co. try to figure out how to stop or impede the flow of oil from Ploesti, Romania to Germany. The oil fields are heavily guarded and too massive an area for sabotage. Serebin and Co. focus on trying to somehow block the Danube.

Sneakiness and subterfuge ensue. Serebin wonders who people really are. Serebin wonders how he will survive. Serebin writes a little poetry. Furst supplies another happy-ish ending with Serebin and Count's Wife escaping to Turkey.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Heard: "Agent 6" by Tom Rob Smith

Heard: Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith, 2013, overdrive.com download.

Another Cold War tale with former KGB dude Leo Demidov. Third in the series and initially set in 1965 and nine years after the second novel. Promo "stuff and blurbs" calls this series a trilogy.

Leo's wife Raisa and two daughters are traveling to NYC as part of a choir. They will perform at the United Nations and D.C. Leo is staying in Moscow and working at the warehouse-factory-whatever.

Daughter #2 has been seduced by a undercover Russian spy and is tasked by the spy to encourage a Paul Robeson character-whos-name-I-forgot to appear at the NYC performance. Robeson has been isolated and marginalized by the FBI and can no longer sing professionally. When Robeson does show outside the event and gives a sidewalk speech he is shot dead.

In the aftermath of the shooting the murder weapon is slipped on Raisa, Raisa is arrested, and Raisa is shot dead when Robeson's wife shoots up the police station in a mournful rage. Raisa's violent death strikes Leo hard: his new life goal is to travel to NYC to investigate the murder, find the people responsible and vengefully deal justice.

But, Leo is an outcast of the KGB and cannot leave the USSR. A few years later he tries a winter crossing into Finland but is caught. Leo's Politburo patron spares his life but Leo is sent to Afghanistan.

Fast forward to 1980 and Leo has been in Afghanistan for seven years. If he leaves the country Leo's adult daughters and their families will be killed or sent to a gulag. Leo has been working as a advisor for years and, now that the Soviets finally invaded, has been teaching recruits for the Afghan spy service.

When his single female student is the only survivor of coordinated insurgent attacks on all the students the two of them end up on the run, bring along an orphan girl, and escape to Pakistan and strike a deal with the CIA. Leo and Co. end up in NYC. Leo continues the hunt.

Anyhoo. The book has three sections: NYC in '65, Afghanistan in 1980, and NYC in 1981.

Comments:
1. Smith tells a good story and the Afghan stories are interesting in drawing parallels between 1980 Russians and 2003-present Americans.

2. Paul Robeson character is very interesting. A black guy fighting for equal rights joins the only people who give - or at least say they care - a shit about equal rights: the commies. Robeson makes huge bucks on his singing tours but the FBI's Cointelpro gradually shuts him down. They smear his name with accusation of sexual shenanigans and claim that Robeson hates the country. His career ends when any place that hosts a concert is hit with IRS investigations, health code violations, etc.

3. The Leo character led a very tough life starting with starvation as a child in 1930s Russia. He is taken by adoptive parents but then sent to war, recruited into the NKVD and KGB, exiled to Siberia, etc. After Raisa dies he has no happiness. His life was built upon her presence and he does not allow himself to recover.

Older: "The Mercy Seat" by Martyn Waites.

Older: The Mercy Seat by Martyn Waites, 2006, 9781933648002.

I'm two weeks behind in typing up my book notes. Maybe that is for the best. I will only remember the things that struck me while reading. Or not.

Short: Investigative journalist in self-imposed exile is asked to help his old newspaper with a story involving politics.

Longer: Joe Donovan's six-year-old (or so) son went missing and Joe abandoned his career, family, and some sanity during his constant and guilty search for the boy. He's been living a self-imposed and mostly incommunicado exile in a run down house in the North.

A 14-year-old rent boy in London steals an audio disc detailing a confession about murder and industrial espionage and some other stuff. The boy listens to the disc and realizes he can sell the information. He remembers Donovan's name and calls Donovan's old newspaper offering to sell the disc. Donovan is recruited back into the fold with assurances of both payment for the job and access to any resources assisting in the search for Donovan's son.

Things happen. Beware the spoilers. Donovan and the newspaper editor shag. The boy is being pursued by a murderous and 'roided up skinhead. Donovan is a self-hating boozer. The boy has never had a stable home and can only think of getting enough cash so he won't have to sleep in abandoned cars or sell sex to middle-aged men.

The bad guy is a cop from the North who is a weasel. He is violent. He uses and abuses women. He wants money and status. There is a missing scientist involved and his absence is a huge news story.

Blah, blah, blah. As usual everything boils down to the characters, how they are developed and how they interact. There are some holes in the plot: how would a mostly illiterate 14-year-old street kid remember or know anything about an investigative reporter who went off the grid 1-2 years ago? Donovan can be frustrating and there are a couple private investigators that don't seem to fit the story.

The teen boy is the best character. He's trying his best to be brave and tough but he is just an abused kid who has been surviving day to day. Teen Boy is used by everyone and when some decent people come along - Donovan and the paper's editor - he has not reason to trust or believe in them. He goes North and is lost and a little bewildered outside of his London neighborhood.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Finally Heard: "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn

Finally Heard: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, 2012, overdrive.com download.

I read Flynn's first two books and enjoyed them. I especially liked the Kansas one, Dark Places, and emailed her saying as much. At that time she had not published Gone Girl and had the time to actually respond to fan mail.

I enjoyed this book too but do not quite understand the massive popularity and success it achieved. The book certainly hit the zeitgest though and left us with girl this and girl that. I mentioned to my wife I was finally listening to this and she said the hated the novel. She was specific in saying the actually hated the book because she did not find any of the characters likeable.

Crime novelists have discussed the topic of likeability plenty of times and how those unlikeable people can be one of the points of a story. Well, tell my wife that and she'll let you know her opinion. She also disliked Dark Places because Flynn wrote about Salina's suburbs. Salina has no suburbs. I was more willing to go along with Flynn's artistic license.

Anyhoo. Spoilers await.

Nick and Amy live in fictional North Carthage, MO along the Mississippi and not far from Hannibal. Nick is a native of Carthage and met New Yorker Amy when he was a journalist in NYC. They married and after they both lost their writing jobs they moved back to MO to assist with Nick's cancer stricken mother and Alzheimer's father.

One morning Amy disappears. The house has signs of a struggle. Nick calls the police. Amy is a Pretty Blond In Danger and hits the news. [I mentioned to my wife the other day that if anything happened to her at least she'd fall in that category and hit the news. She did not appreciate that observation.] Nick gets sympathy and help but falls under suspicion of the police.

The story is told through the journal entries of both characters. Bother characters are selfish. Both characters are lying. Halfway through Flynn has a big reveal that Amy's diary entries in the first half of the novel were all faked. Amy spent a year setting up Nick for a murder wrap. x

Amy's entries paint Nick as a woman hating jerk. A baby hating jerk. An abusive jerk. A jerky jerk. Nick, on the other side, admits to us he lied several times to the police. Nick has been stepping out on Amy with another woman for a year now. He has paid little attention to Amy - a nutbag sociopath. Amy tightly strings Nick up with clues and evidence and Nick is arrested. Amy returns home only when she runs out of money and the old friend she relied on turns out to be a good back-up plan. That back-up plan lets Amy set up the friend as a bad guy kidnapper to take the fall for a fake abduction.

Things happen and you wonder if Amy will get away with things or if Nick will be declared the innocent victim of a vindictive nut. The real fun is in Flynn using the characters to cover so many different topics of family, marriage, hate and revenge, sex roles, sociopathy, and sexism. Amy writes about things I never realized - even minor facts like how women despise the word "panties". Good, I don't like the word either.

I think the novel dragged things out for too long but Flynn wrote a good ending. She has murderous Amy pregnant and Nick forced to stay with her or Amy will abort the child.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Comic Novel: "The Fade Out: Act Three" by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

Comic Novel: The Fade Out: Act Three by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, 2016, 9781632156297.

Third and last compilation of the Hollywood murder mystery set in the 1950s.

Screenwriter Charlie and his secret writing partner Gil still want to know who killed starlet Valeria. Charlie was secretly shtupping Valeria and woke up in a bungalo to a hang over and a Valeria's dead body.

More things happen and you'll want to read the first two entries. You could still read this by itself I suppose. That is up to you.

Anyhoo. Gil has been trying to stir the pot with studio security and he and Charlie team up. They find photo evidence that the old studio boss was not only running a casting couch but also running a pedophile rape couch. Charlie has a couple women after him but is still a mess after his war experience. Gill is still a impulsive drunk. The security chief is a goon with a goon squad. The FBI is on a red hunt. The studio wants more money and everything that gets in the way - including dead bodies - gets swept under or out.

Comments:
1. I like this artwork. I enjoy the art style and some of the panels have really neat perspectives.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Long: "Little Heaven" by Nick Cutter

Long: Little Heaven by Nick Cutter (Craig Davidson), 2017, 9781501104213.

Man, this was a long book for me. 486 pages. Set in 1965 and 1980. 1965 has a trio of hired killers in a loose alliance working various robbery and burglary jobs in the Southwest.

One-eyed Micah is a heartless hitman and Korean War vet. Minerva is an orphan and bounty hunter but gets nervous in gunfights. Ebenezer is English and also a Korean War vet.

1965: Micah is approached by the sister of a woman he used to run with. The sister, Ellen, offers to pay Micah to help Ellen find her young nephew and ex-brother-in-law who joined a remote religious camp in New Mexico. Micah is not a kind man but he likes Ellen and has nothing else going on. Minerva and Ebenezer tag along.

1980: Micah's young daughter is kidnapped by a tall, gangly monster. Micah knows who took the girl and that the reason for the abduction traces back to 1965. Micah finds Minerva and Ebenezer to help out.

Micah and Co. went to the forest camp in 1965 and discovered a Jim Jones style preacher who brought his church from San Francisco. The preacher, Flesher, is a rotten guy who only wants money and power. Micah and Co.'s travel to the camp includes surviving an attack by monsters in the woods. They arrive and are sheltered by the camp but are considered 'outsiders' and untrustworthy.

The camp is in an uproar after a young boy goes missing. A massive search does not find the boy and then the boy's parents also go missing while searching the forest. Flesher the Preacher refuses to go down the mountain to ask for police assistance.

Other things happen. It's basically a monster story with an evil entity at the core. We spend a lot of time with each member of Micah and Co.'s group and I enjoyed learning about those people.

Of the three Cutter penned horror novels I think I enjoyed The Troop the most. All three are decent books but this novel was too long for my taste.

DNF: "The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea" by Yukio Mishima.

DNF: The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea by Yukio Mishima, John Nathan translation, 1965, 1993, 9780679750154.

I first learned of Yukio Mishima back when I studied the annual Roger Ebert guides and read his reviews. I watched the film Ebert reviewed, Mishima, but I was probably about 16-17-years-old and not too interested in the flick.

I recently read a couple articles and on Mishima and his work. Mishima's story is fascinating: accomplished novelist and playwrite, actor, and all around super celebrity of 1960s Japan. He was also a nut and tried overthrow the Japanese government and committed ritual suicide after the spectacular failure.

Anyhoo, I figured I'd try out one of Mishima's books and this came recommended by the article. I never got into it because, mainly, I had a stack of other stuff to read. I also was not in the mood for a more reflective and philosophical book. I've had this way too long and will send it back to Mukwonago P.L.