Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Read an ARC of: "The Brass Verdict" by Michael Connelly

Read an ARC of: The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly, 2008, no ISBN.

Good book with another interesting look by Connelly at the legal system in Los Angeles. This came in my raffle basket from Muskego. I did not know it was there until I was rifling through the raffle stuff a few days ago.

Criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller is practicing again after a year long break post-Lincoln Lawyer's events. Haller got shot, hooked on pain pills, went to rehab and was about to start taking on clients when a fellow attorney is murdered. Haller and the Dead Dude used to help each other out on cases and the Dead Dude listed Haller as the one to take over his active cases if he dies.

One of those active cases is a big-name murder trial involving a Movie Studio Owner. Studio Owner is accused of killing his wife and her boyfriend and refuses to delay his trial which starts in just a week. Things happen with different characters. Connelly's Detective Bosch shows up. Haller is a dick. Studio Owner is a major jerk.

The legal stuff is the real draw for me. Interesting characters have to carry the story but the methods and tactics employed by Haller are most interesting. Haller is always strategizing; he does it with conversations, with investigations, with discovery of evidence, with court requests, with phone calls, etc. Haller is like Joe Pitt in Every Last Drop by giving nothing away unless he wants to. The difference between Pitt and Haller - aside from the vampire crap - is that Haller is dedicated to his client. Haller takes his duties as an attorney very seriously; even when his conscience starts to rage against him he never fails to carry out those responsibilities.

Connelly (through Haller) gives a real life look at the court system and the process of justice. Jury selection, attorney negotiations, sharing of trial evidence, questioning of witnesses at trial, and other events get real neat dramatizations by Connelly. The fact that some defense clients need to be hounded for payment and are often unreachable with no fixed address.

I assume Haller will appear in another book. If he makes a career change it will be interesting to see what happens. The end of Brass has a set-up for future interaction with Bosch. Maybe Connelly will tie the two tighter together.

EDIT: Something I forgot. The plot falls apart a bit at the end with Studio Owner being murdered by relatives of Dead Boyfriend. I suppose Connelly jut wiped out Studio Owner to clean up a loose end in the plot. The set-up by Secret Bad Guy to kill Haller seemed a bit messy. For that matter, Secret Bad Guy was not too secret and not all that important anyway. Skipping out on the Secret Bad Guy subplot and focusing on Studio Owner's weasel-ness would have been better.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Read: "Every Last Drop" by Charlie Huston

Read: Every Last Drop by Charlie Huston, 2008, 9780345495884.

I'm liking these books. The vampire aspect is embarrassing to admit to but the stories have been well done. This one does not do so well as a stand-alone. Reading this one first would likely leave some readers lost since there are so many recurring characters.

Lead character Joe Pitt is still a vampire in NYC. He is still a self-serving jerk. Other vampires are still wanting to kill Pitt for multiple reasons. Pitt is on the outs with all the vampire clans of NYC. Pitt has been hiding out in the Bronx for a year (people die) when some other vampires nab him and take him to their leader (someone dies). Leader wants to kill Pitt but gives Pitt to Recurring Character #1 who bites his left eye off since Pitt did that to her a book or two ago.

Recurring Character #1 takes Pitt to Coalition Clan security chief Predo (someone dies). Predo wants to kill Pitt buts needs him as a spy. Pitt goes to spy on Recurring #2, Recurring #2's girlfriend wants to kill Pitt but they want to use him as muscle. Pitt visits Recurring #3. Recurring #4 shows up and wants to kill him. Instead, Recurring #4 wants to use Pitt to get cash. Pitt returns to recurring #2 (People die) and gets sent to Queens. He meets New Character, finds awful gravel pit/slavery business that gathers blood for vampires (more people die). Pitt returns to Manhattan, visits Recurring #2 and Recurring #4 - who wants to kill Pitt, again - then goes to find Recurring #5. Predo intercepts Pitt (people die) and wants to kill Pitt. Pitt meets Recurring #6 at location for Recurring #5. Recurring #5 is angry at Pitt. Recurring #6 wants to kill Pitt. Pitt leaves location, slugs out Recurring #2, and slips into sewer as novel ends.

Like usual Pitt plays both sides against each other and never tells the full truth to any side. Pitt is still self-serving and not given to allegiances with other Clans. Pitt never knows exactly what to do but plays along while keeping his real goal, seeing Recurring #5 again, a secret. Pitt acknowledges that he is not always very smart and is mostly suicidal. Pitt gets the emotional shakes a couple times.

Problems with this one: 1- Everyone threatens to kill Pitt but do not do the smart thing and do so. 2- Huston has almost run out of boroughs for Pitt to travel to, only Staten Island remains. I think. 3- There are about a thousand or so vampires in NYC, Huston seems to have had most of them in his novels.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Finished: "The Fever Kill" by Tom Piccirilli

Finished: The Fever Kill by Tom Piccirilli, 2007, 9780976921745.

Boy, this was a downer at the end. No wonder Bruen wrote the introduction. Good job by Piccirilli.

Crease's drunken, ex-sheriff father finally drinks himself dead after seven years of hitting the bottle. Crease and his father are outcasts in their Vermont town after the drunken dad botched a kidnapping case that left the six-year-old victim dead. The dad dies and Crease leaves town at 17 vowing to return and get even with the current sheriff and anyone else who did them wrong.

Crease gets sidetracked, gets hired as a cop in New York City, makes friends with a drug boss, Tucco, and spends two years undercover as Tucco's right hand man while doing all sorts of nasty and illegal things with the NYPD's approval. Crease is a freakin' mess. He had a great wife whose kindness he could not accept. Crease's eight year old son is burning with anger over having a crap dad and Crease has been screwing and falling in love with Tucco's girlfriend.

Crease cannot take the undercover life anymore and announces his true identity to Tucco in a strip bar and then walks out. Crease then vamooses up to Vermont to settle the ten-year-old old score - but in reality he is just running away from and avoiding his other issues.

Things happen, people are beaten, and Crease fights his "fever". When thinking about the dead kidnapped girl, or his father, or the damn town Crease gets an immediate and body consuming anger and starts sweating profusely. Crease resolves the mystery about the kidnapping, resolves some anger against the town and his father, confronts Tucco, makes friends with a gravedigger, life goes on.

The ending is pretty open with Crease awaiting medical help for a couple nasty stab wounds. The reader can decide whether they want Crease to live or die. To go back to being a regular cop or running Tucco's old criminal empire. To decide whether Crease's son's mental stability and anger issues improve.

Piccirilli's horror writing background comes through here, at least for me. I had a feeling or dread at times for Crease and the storyline about the kidnapped girl had some scares and unpleasant scenes.

Piccirilli's sequel to The Cold Spot, The Cold Mile, should be coming out soon. I think I already placed an order.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Read: "Murder Among the O.W.L.S." by Bill Crider

Read: Murder Among the OWLS by Bill Crider, 2007, 9780348090.

Sheriff Dan Rhodes gets beat up by a woman again. The woman was a larger gal with a big, heavy purse, but he still got beat up by a girl. Again.

Rhodes is at home one morning when he opens the back door to go out and some strange cat slips through the door and into his kitchen. Rhodes' wife recognizes the cat as a neighbor's. Rhodes' goes to investigate at the owner's house and finds her dead. The usual events occur: Rhodes gets a bit flumoxed. Lawton (the jailer) and Hack (the dispatcher) anger each other and annoy Rhodes. Rhodes gets beat-up (as mentioned). Rhodes gets muddy. Rhodes rationalizes poor dietary choices. Rhodes figures everything out and drinks some Dr. Pepper while doing so.

Things to note:
1- I did not want to read this. After reading the depressing World War 1 story in Birdsong I was not quite in the mood for 'lighter' fair. Rhodes' adventures were worth the effort, like usual.
2- Rhodes gets shot at on two different occasions and attacked by a chainsaw once.
3- Rhodes gets to drink some Dublin, TX Dr. Pepper that one of the characters has shipped to her.
4- A character refers to Joe R Lansdale's books by saying, "His books are just filthy."
5- A local community college english teacher is slighted. Funny.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Read: "Birdsong" by Sebastian Faulks

Read: Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, 1993, 067943545X.

Birdsong is different than most books I have been reading lately. This is an actual "literary" novel. Set in 1910, during World War One, and in 1978.

In 1910 Stephen Wainswright is sent by his English textile company employer to observe and learn at a provincial French textile factory. Stephen stays at the factory owner's home, falls for the owner's wife, the two run away, the lady gets pregnant and leaves Stephen. Stephen stays in France but enlists in the English army and joins the infantry. While in France he takes leave to the same factory town where he meets both the lady and her sister.

In 1978 Stephen's granddaughter deals with a married boyfriend, starts researching her grandfather and WW1, and gets knocked up by the boyfriend.

This was really well written. I was disappointed during the beginning of the novel. It took a while for the dude and gal to get involved and advance the story into the war setting.

The most interesting part of the novel was the tunneling done by engineers at the front. I had not read about that aspect of the war before. Stephen is promoted to Lieutenant and becomes close friends with an officer of engineers. The reader follows Stephen, the engineer, and an enlisted sapper down into the tunnels underneath German lines. Both the Germans and English are digging tunnels, setting mines, trying to either blow up the opposition, or digging into their tunnels to attack. Infantry from Stephen's platoon are detailed underground as security for the digging sappers.

The sappers work under nasty conditions in tight, enclosed tunnels. The closer they get to enemy lines the more dangerous the work becomes. The constant danger of cave-ins is matched by the threat of German soldiers digging to find them. Both sides set and blow mines in attack.

Between WW1 and WW2 the first war seems worse. In both wars troops would get rotated to the rear areas for a break. But, WW1 was such a meat grinder; whole companies and battalions would be destroyed in one day. In Sassoon's Memoirs of Infantry Officer all Sherston's friends but one end up dead. Same thing here, most everyone but Wainswright dies. I got used to, and started to like, characters and *bang* they were gone.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Never Read: "The Night Class" by Tom Piccirilli

Never Read: The Night Class by Tom Piccirilli, 2002, 0843951257.

This book stunk. Literally stunk. The paperback has that awful, old paperback smell. I didn't get past the first page before I quit. If this was from my Library I'd withdraw it. I breath in that kind of rotten paperback smell and worry about getting lung cancer.

This was a horror novel. I have another Piccirilli novel sitting at home in my book queue that does not smell.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Finished: "Home is the Sailor" by Day Keene

Finished: Home is the Sailor by Day Keene, 2005, 0-8439-5356-X.

Good. Not great, but I liked the book. A Hard Case Crime reprint. The story was good but the characters were not very interesting to me. I bought this at the used bookstore in the Milwaukee airport waiting for the Parker's plane to get in for Thanksgiving.

It's 1952 and Swede has just quit the merchant marine. Swede intends to head back to Hibbing, MN and spend his savings to buy a farm and find a wife. He goes on a drunk after leaving his ship in San Diego and after a nasty bar fight gets picked up by a gorgeous blond, Corliss, who owns a travelers hotel.

Swede and Corliss decide to marry after a passionate couple of days. Shortly after the two decide to marry Swede punches and kills a guy who Corliss said just raped her. Swede and Corliss take the dead guy and his car to the cliffs along Highway 101 overlooking the Pacific. They put the dead dude in the driver's seat and send the car off the cliff into the water.

Swede has been drunk on rum for the past several days after coming ashore but still recognizes that Corliss's behavior changes aftere Swede killed the guy and the two drove to Tijuana to get married. Turns out Swede was right. He wakes up in jail and all he can remember is that Corliss told him to get out of her life. After getting pulled over for drunk driving Swede has a recently fired pistol, Corliss's car, Corliss's bloody clothes, and several thousand in cash and the cops are convinced he killed her.

Swede escapes the cops and tracks Corliss to a ratty San Diego hotel room where she dives out the window rather than go to jail. Other things happen during all this. Other characters appear, speak, and interact with Swede.

Never Finished: "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" by Lynne Truss

Never Finished: Eats, Shoots and Leaves: the zero tolerance approach to punctuation by Lynne Truss, 2004, 1592400876.

I chose this for the Men's Book Club. I got behind on my reading schedule and started it late. I did not have time to finish the book before the meeting but intended to finish afterward. Since the book was piled on my desk for the past month and a half I can outwardly say, "Screw those good intentions. I have other things to do."

Parts of this were interesting. The fanaticism of some people's love for commas and apostrophes is not disturbing but is definitely odd. There was not enough for the book group to discuss since no one in the group is very obsessive about grammar.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Read for Book Club: "The Terrible Hours" by Peter Maas

Read for Book Club: The Terrible Hours: the man behind the greatest submarine rescue in history by Peter Maas, 1999, 0060194804.

Good story. Charles "Swede" Momsen and his diving group save the lives of 33 crewman of the Squalus that went down during initial testing in 1939.

A quick read by Maas. Maas heard about Momsen in the '50s from one of his Navy officers. Maas asked to meet Momsen and spoke with him many times and wrote a couple magazine articles about him. in the '50s or '60s before doing this book.

Swede got interested in subs early in his career and after two went down with all hands lost started working on solutions to rescue crew. He designed and developed the Momsen Lung for crew rescue and a rescue diving bell to carry crewman to the surface.

The Squalus went down outside Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Swede is flown up from DC to lead the rescue effort. The Navy sub, Sculpin, sent to look for the Squalus was lucky to find it at all since it was over 200 feet down and the dive coordinates had been screwed up in transmission. An officer on lookout just barely caught a glimpse of a smoke rocket sent up by the Squalus.

Divers locate the Squalus, attach a line, and are able to guide down the rescue bell and rescue survivors. Maas does not get too nitty-gritty on sub details and tells a good story.

Quickly Read: Gun Camera - World War II by L. Douglas Keeney

Quickly Read: Gun Camera - World War II: photography from allied fighters and bombers over occupied Europe by L. Douglas Keeney, 1999, 9780760310137.

Interesting but I made very few emotional connections with the photos. Several shots were rarely published. How many times can you be shocked by seeing a black and white photo of a plane split apart by flack?

There were some really dramatic photos of bombers on fire and split apart mid-air. B-24s and an A-20 streaming massive flames behind them. A B-17 with it's nose blown off but still piloted along, it's fuselage a "200 mile-per-hour wind tunnel."

Read: "Big City, Bad Blood" by Sean Chercover

Read: Big City, Bad Blood by Sean Chercover, 2007, 9780061128684.

I enjoyed reading this and finished it pretty fast. There were some things that did not fit so well.

Ray Dudgeon is a former journalist who now works as a private investigator in Chicago. Ray and his new girlfriend have really hit it off but Dudgeon gets into a lot of scrapes and his girlfriend does not know if she can deal with that. Dudgeon gets hired to protect a locations manager for a film company getting ready to film in Chicago. Locations Guy got conned by a mob (the "Outfit" in Chicago) guy named DiMarco when Locations Guy was renting studio space in town. Locations Guy is set to testify against DiMarco but is getting threatened. Ray takes the threat seriously when other witnesses are killed.

Ray takes the bodyguard job. Ray gets beat up by DiMarco's boss's goons. Ray finds out that low-level Outfit guy DiMarco is in cahoots with an upper level Outfit guy who is making a play on Outfit leadership. Ray's girlfriend never wants to see him again. Ray travels to Los Angeles with Locations Guy. Ray avoids getting carbombed in LA. Ray fucks famous LA actress he meets at party. Famous actress gives Ray fancy Shelby Mustang. Ray and Locations Guy return to Chicago. Ray sets-up and murders DiMarco since DiMarco is trying to kill Ray too. Locations Guy and his assistant are tortured and killed. Ray finds out DiMarco was blackmailing multiple politicians and cops in Chicago. Ray gets out of trouble in killing DiMarco and turns over evidence of the the blackmailing to make nice. Ray goes down to Georgia to heal up after getting tortured by the outfit for the blackmail evidence.

Chercover uses a lot of characters. There are the usual assortment of PI people: the PI, the girlfriend, the PI's cop friend, the PI's "anything for you pal" buddy from childhood, the client's sleazy boss, the bad guy, the outfit guy who is friendly with PI. There is not enough time for Chercover to really get to everyone.

The girlfriend was a neat character but gets cut off halfway through when she dumps Dudgeon. The "anything for you pal" childhood buddy makes a sudden appearance near the end when he previously had never been mentioned. DiMarco and his evil outfit boss never appear in person until DiMarco's murder (not too big deal, Chercover dealt with that well) and Ray's torture. Chercover fleshes out Locations Guy some but I never had much sympathy or worry for the dude.

Chercover had good gun stuff but I have read that there is a fat chance a private investigator in Chicago could get a carry license for work. But, hey, it's a novel and Ray did have a cop friend with rank.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Finished: "Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance" by Gyles Brandreth

Finished: Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance by Gyles Brandreth, 2007, 9781416551744.

Okay. This could have been much better if cut back by about 100 pages. It went on too long and meandered a bit.

Oscar Wilde discovers the body of a male prostitute in a trysting house's room where Oscar was scheduled to tutor his god-daughter. The body disappears and the room is spotlessly cleaned when Oscar and his friends Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Sherard come along to see if he is telling the truth. Sherard narrates the tale which covers about five months and introduces the reader to a very odd homo underground in London.

I think Wilde enthusiast Brandreth got carried away with Wilde information. Brandreth is a biographer so I suppose that is understandable. Wilde was a complicated dude and Brandreth's opinion on Wilde's conviction for perversion is unclear from the novel. But, I gather it is just as likely that Wilde was innocent of the charge and not sexually interested in dudes. No matter. The book went on too long.

The mystery aspect was very well done. The killer and accomplice was a true surprise to me and Brandreth tied it all together very well.

The Acknowledgements have a neat story about how Brandreth's headmaster used to be a friend of Wilde and one of Wilde's kids was in his school during Wilde's trial. During games of Scrabble the Headmaster spoke "with vivid accounts of Oscar Wilde's manner and conversational style - including Wilde's habit of trying out on his family and friends lines that would alter resurface in his stories and plays.

There are some author questions I have not yet read.

Read: "Zeppelins West" by Joe R. Lansdale

Read: Zeppelins West by Joe R. Lansdale, 2001, (Hey! I just noticed this is a signed edition when I was hunting down the) ISBN 193108100X.

Very, very good. I don't just say that because his daughter is good looking and Lansdale is all kung-fuey. I reserved several Lansdale books quite a while ago. A few months ago I had tried reading the sequel-of-sorts to this but was lost in the absurdity. This time around it all worked.

Buffalo Bill Cody, Sitting Bull, Wild Bill Hickok, Ned Buntline, Annie Oakley and others are traveling in a Zeppelin convoy across the Pacific to tour Cody's Wild West show. Sex and violence ensue. After Cody and company capture Frankenstein from the Japanese, Cody's Zeppelin is shot down by Japanese bi-planes, crashes into the ocean, and the survivors are rescued by Captain Nemo (renamed Bemo) and taken to Dr. Moreau's (renamed Dr. Momo) island. Includes appearances from the Tin Man and Frankenstein who carry on a homosexual-robot-living dead love affair. There are probably other literary characters that I missed.

Everyone but the Tin Man and Frankenstein die in the end but you learn several important things. For instance, Sitting Bull has a huge schlong. One of Momo's creations has a horse vagina to match the horse cock Momo grafted onto himself.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Read: "In Deadly Combat" by Gottlob Herbert Bidermann

Read: In Deadly Combat: a German soldier's memoir of the Eastern Front by Gottlob Herbert Bidermann, 2000, 0700611223 (paper).

What to say? This was an interesting perspective on World War II for sure. I have read one or two German memoirs of the Eastern Front. When reading those I often enjoyed hearing about their failures and deaths. I felt more concern and compassion for Bidermann and his fellows. Bidermann wrote this for his surviving unit's memoirs. It was not meant as a general history.

Bidermann "captained" an anti-tank gun crew. After a brief time in Yugoslavia they joined the invasion of Russia in June, 1941 and went to the Black Sea to capture the Crimean Peninsula. There were plenty of heavy fights there and after a blistering summer and freezing winter the Germans prevailed over the Russians. Bidermann's division was sent further north into Russia and continued fighting there until German surrender in 1945.

Bidermann is obviously biased towards his fellow kraut soldiers. But, the Germans really did have some tremendous military success against superior numbers. The Crimean terrain could be very rough. The human wave counterattacks supported by armor by the Russians would last for hours. One particular nasty battle had multiple tanks assaulting Bidermann's position. His efficient crew was able to knock many out but the infantry and artillery attacks went on and on and on and on. The machine gunners would be ripping through belt after belt of ammunition and the gunners' hands would cramp closed. One machine gunner screamed out, "I just can't keep killing!"

Half of the book covers the Crimean campaign alone. Maybe all the fighting on the plains and swamps of Russia just blended together into one big, muggy, bloody mess. The swamp fighting sounded awful: constant moisture, no roads, mud defeating their equipment, close quarters fighting.

The final battle at the Courland pocket reminded me of the battle for Danzig (Gdansk) related in Sajer's Forgotten Soldier. Bidermann's men must have suffered under the same hunger and vicious attacks but Bidermann must have suffered it much better. Unfortunately for Bidermann he did not get captured by the English like Sajer did. Bidermann and his Battalion head east into Russian captivity and a 1/3 of them die over the next two years.

One thing about German memoirs that I expect or wonder about is the writer's views on all the horrid things the krauts did. How does the writer address (or not address) the Holocaust, German slaughter of civilians, burning whole towns and leaving civilians to starve? Bidermann's transit into POW status heavily resembled the transit of Jews, gypsies and the rest to concentration camps. Crammed into cattle cars for days with no food or water. Hoping that things will improve but not knowing. Brutality by the guards and no medical aid.

Bidermann must have been aware of these parallels. Was he using those for sympathy? During leave his policeman father shows him the reports by government officials of deaths by prisoners that are marked as heart failure or other natural causes. His father deeply questions those reports but Bidermann moves the story on and does not dwell on the tale.

Bidermann's anger over Hitler and his cronies is clear. He maintains pride in his former General who took place in the attempted coup in '44. The Army leadership's refusal to see the eventual defeat of Germany and surrender early grates him. Bidermann takes pride in the compassionate care he and his men gave to POWs and civilians.

The end of the war was most interesting to me. Germans attempt to escape the Courland Pocket to Germany by sea with mixed results. The Russian treatment was interesting. I half expected most Germans to be lined up and shot by the vengeful Reds. The Germans were true POWs but never treated as such. Soviets would interrogate soldiers and find reasons to sentence them to long prison terms. One soldier admits to slaughtering a hog during the war and gets a multi-decade sentence.

All in all a real sad tale. Bidermann returns to a destroyed Germany and feels no anger or sadness for his lost friends, family, and homeland; he just feels a big emptiness.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Did Not Get To: "A Dirty War" by Anna Politkovskaya

Did Not Get To: A Dirty War: a Russian reporter in Chechnya by Anna Politkovskaya, 2001, 1860468977.

Just never got to this. I have a stack of fiction I want to get to first and am still going through a German's memoirs of life on the Eastern Front. That German book is enough destruction and death for now.

This was by one of those Russian reporters that have been murdered in recent years.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Read an ARC: "Fault Line" by Barry Eisler

Read an ARC: Fault Line by Barry Eisler, 2008 (for ARC), no ISBN.

I lucked into this advanced readers copy (ARC) when at Murder and Mayhem in Muskego. They were running a raffle and winners could pick from several baskets full of books. I saw Eisler's book sitting there and snagged the basket it was in. I know I liked this because I read it real fast.

I was apprehensive to read a new standalone after the Rain series. But, this was good. I'd say this was more of a mainstream book after the personal, hands on violence and passionless assassinations by Rain. There are a lot of similarities in character and action and I laughed out loud when there was a reference to a previous murder by Rain in Silicon Valley.

Alex Treven is a associate attorney with a high falutin' Silicon Valley law firm. Alex's specialty is patents and his latest client's cryptology program promises to be a huge success and will promote Alex into the rarified air of partner - or even higher. When the inventor client is murdered Alex is sort of screwed. When his friend in the patent office, who knew of the program, is murdered Alex is worried. When someone sneaks into his house and bedroom at 3 AM Alex is terrified.

Ben Treven left Stanford after a year and enlisted in the Army. The family had been in turmoil for almost two years before after the middle child and family peacemaker, Katie, was killed in a car wreck. After the dad committed suicide and Ben couldn't take anymore he skipped town. Ben blamed himself for Katie's death and Alex saw him at fault as well. After Alex and Ben's mother died of cancer the two never spoke until eight years later when Alex emails Ben for help.

Older brother Ben had always been steady and strong and Alex calls him out of desperation. Turns out Ben has been working for a very small and very secret Army unit that does assassination work. So, Ben is uniquely qualified to assist Alex.

Eisler does real well with the characters. Ben, Alex, and love triangle gal [what's her name] are real well done and their actions understandable. Ben and Alex at are great odds over the family's tragedies but unable to discuss it and understand one another. Ben has a big chip on his shoulder for anyone who does not understand his work and the deadly threats he stops; he thinks Alex only called him in to clean-up his mess for him. Alex thinks Ben has never been remorseful over Katie, their father, or their mother and hates him for it.

Similarities: Rain and Ben are very similar with the big exception that Ben is a patriot and Rain was a business man. Self defense and tactical awareness play a big part in the characters' actions and decisions. Not as much gun and knife-geek stuff in this (not one mention of Benchmade products).
The tempestuous romance between [what's her name] and Ben is similar to Rain and Delilah.
Eisler likes setting. He uses physical details to really explain and illustrate the San Francisco, Bay Area,and Turkish settings he uses.

Things I did not like: The bad guys needed more time. That's somewhat okay because government policies and actions seem more at fault than the shooters themselves.
The fact that no one really knows who was pulling the strings and issuing orders is fitting. But, not until the end of the book was there a person you could focus on as the true antagonist.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Read: "Murder City" by Michael Lesy

Read: Murder City: the bloody history of Chicago in the twenties by Michael Lesy, 2007, 9780393060300.

Really interesting. True crime by the author of Wisconsin Death Trip. I could tell while reading it that Lesy did a lot of research but his afterward illustrates the massive amounts of time it took to research and write this book.

This is not a statistical analysis or anthropological look of Chicago crime. Lesy focused on the front page news stories of crime and murder that everyone would have followed and known about. Presented are a mix of different crimes with both domestic murder and organized crime told in chronological order.

Lesy does not cover Leopold and Loeb and other famous cases since they are already well known. He starts with smaller domestic murders and disappearances and progresses onwards, as the years pass, to the gangster wars later in the decade. The same government officials and defense attorneys appear again and again. The fallout of previous cases impacts on new cases; notably, the difficulty in convicting wives for murdering husbands. At first Chicago and Cook County's District Attorneys and policemen appear brave, steadfast, honest, and heroic. From what I know about Chicago in the twenties I figured that could not be true.

The later stories strip the veneer off the government's show and reveal the almost complete corruption paid for with the massive amounts of money earned by the mob as the decade went on. Judges, attorneys, cops, bureaucrats and politicians were taking pay-offs and, as Chicago's reputation for crime blossomed, the locals and newspapers started to get fed up. Lesy points out the irony of the newspapers campaigning against crime when just a handful of years before competing papers hired goons to beat, burn, and murder the competition. Newspaper sellers, readers, delivery boys and anyone else handy would be attacked by competing newspaper goons. Incredible.

Lesy points out that crime in Chicago was actually less than many other places. Chicago's status as "The Second City" helped earn an undeserved reputation for crime. I once ran across a listing of obituaries and headlines on a web page from that time that listed all the dumped bodies and bombings in Chicago. If other cities at the time were more violent than Chicago they must have been like Baghdad in 2004-2005.

11-17-08 EDIT: Lesy was googling himself and hit this blog. So, I googled him and found out Wisconsin Death Trip was first published in 1973. That was a surprise. I thought it came out in the '90s but the copy I saw was a reprint.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Read: "Queenpin" by Megan Abbott

Read: Queenpin by Megan Abbott, 2007, 9781416534280.

Good but not enough action for me. Not the guts, gore, and guns I usually gravitate to. Abbott expanded a story she had in Damn Near Dead. Knowing that the book was based off a short story I kept thinking it was going on too long.

Main character - whose know I cannot remember or find when looking - works as a bookkeeper in a small casino. She is noticed by Gloria Denton who works for the big-time gangsters behind most everything in the region. Gloria is an ice queen with perfect legs and a poker face made of concrete. Gloria offers [no name] a job as a courier and bagman for the horse tracks, casinos, and other illicit activities.

Over time [no name] gains the confidence and respect of Gloria. Gloria's practiced detachment and coolness just barely betrays her fondness and concern for [no name] and only [no name], who spends so much time with Gloria, can see it.

[no name] falls for a degenerate gambler and allows him to take [no name]'s pick-up from the horse track. [no name] knows better but is itchy for degenerate gambler and eager to break free of Gloria. [no name] both admires and hates Gloria's abilities and her betrayal of Gloria is a chance to mentally break free even though she knows the fake robbery is a bad, bad idea.

Gloria finds out about degenerate gambler and his heavy handed sex with [no name] that leaves bruises. Gloria connects the dots and when she takes [no name] with her to confront Degenerate Gambler Gloria kills him. Degenerate Gmabler is buried by local hood Mackey's hoods. Later Gloria and [no name] rebury Degenerate to break the hold Mackey may have over them.

[no name] breaks down from the stress of the murder, burying her bloody boyfriend, fear of mobsters, fear of cops, fear of Gloria using her as a patsy, etc. [no name] spills to the cops and when cops confront Gloria, Gloria stabs herself right in the carotid artery and dies.

[no name] splits town in fear of someone finding out she was a snitch. [no name] takes bookkeeping job in other town. Months later Mackey shows up and offers [no name] a job to be a new Gloria in that town.

EDIT: This was a older style pulp novel in several ways. The one thing that sticks out is the pacing and style. This moves slower than most of the stuff I have read and seems to match the writing from 50 years ago more than modern pulp-stylists. The female lead is a switch from what I usually read and Abbott has her following the cultural mores of the time which was neat.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Read: "Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse" by Victor Gischler

Read: Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse by Victor Gischler, 2008, 9781416552253.

Excellent. Once of the greatest novels ever written.

Mortimer has been set-up in his mountain cabin in Tennessee for nine years. A pending divorce ,a worsening economy and crumbling society sent him up there with supplies. The end of civilization made him stay. Looking out his cabin window one day he sees people for the first time in those nine years of hiding.

Mortimer realizes how lonely he has been and goes downhill to say hello. The three guys Mortimer saw seem to be out hunting. But, Mortimer is a little paranoid so he waits until two pass by when he calls out "Hello." from behind a tree. The third guy is startled and swings his rifle towards Mortimer. So Mortimer shoots him. Then Mort shoots the second guy. Afraid of angry friends coming after him Mort then shoots the third guy after a brief foot chase.

Mort leaves the mountain and goes through various adventures on a search for his
ex-wife. Makes a couple friends. Gets rich selling his massive booze supply at Joey's Armageddon bar. Fights cannibals. Almost gets raped in an old insane asylum. Fights rampaging member of the Red Stripes gang. Meets Joey Armageddon and agrees to travel to Atlanta to try and kill the leader of the Red Stripes.

Lots of humor. Some sex. Many brains separated from skulls. A crazed Ted Turner in Georgia. Fantastic stuff.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Listened to: "Retribution" by Max Hastings

Does a good job covering both the strategic planning and the people. Neat coverage of both the ranks and ranking officers; the hazards of combat and the personal conflicts and egos of the upper ranks.

Notes as I listen to this:

Production numbers astonishing. No way the Japanese could keep up. Same as Germans.

Disparity in numbers between ETO and PTO. So many troops in Europe but MacArthur, even with a grand title and rank, commanded just a portion of soldiers that European Generals commanded. MacArthur surrounded himself with sycophants and chose new staff based on looks and obsequiousness. MacArthur seems to have spent so much time on publicizing himself it's a wonder anything got done. His staff would ignore intelligence reports and repeatedly underestimate the enemy while their press releases would crow success.

The clashes of personalities and egos affected outcomes. The Philippines naval battle where where a task force commander chased after empty aircraft carriers rather than then support his other ships were caught by surprise by a great Jap force. Fog of war involved there as well as how the Jap force cut off its chase of US ships and the sure chance of the US ships' destruction.


The popularity of kamikaze pilots in Jap society. There was no problem in recruiting pilots. Many more attacks would have been carried out except for lack of planes and pilots never making it to the theater through a gauntlet of US defenses. Did not realize how many there were and how effective they were. Many missed or did not make it into a ship but could cause massive damage. Especially from the fires that would start on carriers after the airplane fuel started on fire. Massive burn injuries and deaths from ship fires.

Hatred and anger engendered by the institutionalization of kamikaze attacks. Started to despise the Japs even more than before. Refusal to assist surviving Jap sailors in the water. Praise in the West for men who would sacrifice themselves in battle - award of MOH or VC as recognition - but the bizarre thought of training and purposefully killing yourself.


The eternal problems of getting infantry to close with the enemy. In the Philippines soldiers would do the rational thing and stay put when shot at. Infantry would wait for tanks, air, or artillery to eliminate a threat. Unit success depended on the commanders' ability to drive the men into action. Units would claim to be pinned down. Pinned down is defined by Hastings a having several casualties and unable to maneuver without incurring more or worse casualties. But, units would - again, rationally - not move and claim to be pinned down.

Battle of Manila. Incredibly vicious and brutal. Systematic and institutionalized brutality, torture, rape and murder by the Japanese. Mostly Jap Naval forces were left behind with plenty of ammo and multiple hard-points in a city built to withstand earthquakes. Japs would round up people and center them to make killing easier. Directions from on high instructed them to use as little ammunition as possible and bayonets were used as a result. The Jap defensive tactics were fantastic but fortunately they never could get larger units coordinated and the counterattacks almost always failed.
Discussion on whether Manila should have been bypassed in lieu of capturing airfields and naval bases to continue the path to Japan. Because tens of thousands of a Filipinos were murdered by the Japs but the US killed almost at many with artillery and air attack. I understand the argument but even with MacArthur ignoring intelligence reports and showboating there was no way to know the result. Bypassing would have still left the civilians open to atrocities and criticism would center on leaving the civilians to suffer instead of liberating them.
The Philippines campaign was a mistake overall and unnecessary. The campaign of Luzon Island and then sending out landing units to all the other archipelago islands was a waste of lives and resources. MacArthur let his personal egos get in the way and ignored the Joint Chiefs. He would promote his incompetent subordinates to make himself look better.

Iwo Jima: "hand wringing" over carrier operations carried against the Jap islands rather than used against Iwo. Author's view that the deep, rock fortresses and caves of Iwo withstood the three day naval bombardment with no trouble and extra artillery attacks would not have helped. The real mistake was not invading sooner; if the US invaded in 1944 the defenses would not have been finished. The Japanese were absolute experts in defensive warfare.

Submarine warfare: The US Navy was very successful in shutting down Jap shipping. The figures Hastings quoted are surprising (not that I remember them). Submarine service required very aggressive boat commanders and a lot of captains were canned from their jobs unless they came back from patrol after sinking enemy.
The faceless nature of naval warfare is more pronounced when under water. Submariners rarely saw the destruction they wrought. But, they certainly heard and felt it, especially when hitting ammunition ships. Attacks by depth chargers were awful to endure. Crew would have to check for leaks to make sure oil or air were not leaking from the hull and alerting the enemy.
Submariners whose ship was sunk were often executed by the Japanese naval and merchant crewmen who suffered under their attacks.

USAAF attacks on Japan: The B-29 Super Fortress was a mess. They cost $0.5 M each and had multiple technological and mechanical problems. Multiple per mission would be lost due to engine failures and other problems. The would crash on takeoff and landing and be ditched in the ocean mid-mission.
The B-29s bombing ability was poor too. Inexperienced air crews would get 2% of the bombs on target. Radar would be used to identify ground targets but was still not accurate. Navigation by sextant required constant measurements by the navigator. Hastings used survivors' stories to tell the story of the March 9, 1945 incendiary attack on Tokyo. The resulting carnage was horrifying to listen to. The wooden and thatch houses of Tokyo quickly caught fire and the firestorm's winds and heat killed 100,000 people. "Crinkled" bodies littered the resulting wasteland with the only standing structures the few brick buildings, upright pipes, and iron safes.
General LeMay comes in for a lot of modern criticism for the firebombing of Japan. Hastings points out that the real blame lies with LeMay's superiors from the President on down who never expressed concern of ordered him to stop. LeMay used what he had: breaking B-29s and incendiary carpet bombing since pinpoint bombing never worked.

Several chapters covering China. China was a clusterfuck with the Nationalists and Coomunists both ineffective except for one division or regiment trained entirely by Americans. Mostall communist units were light infantry with nothing more than rifles - if they had those. The one good thing about China is that it tied up so many Japanese troops. They were left in the concquered territory and not fighting the real threat from the US.

Okinawa: another deadly island battle with fanatical resistance. The US estimates on battle casualties for an attack on Japan were welll founded. There were 1900 kamikaze fatalities by the Japanese. It must have seemed like a never ending flood of suicidal pilots. I was struck by the similiatirties to the current war's suicidal attacks. Both sides are or were supported by family and "government". The Japanese were defeatred and their crazy militaristic governance and ideals changed.

The End: A US General referred to the Japanese physically brave but "moral cowards". he got that right. Privately they would acknowledge that the war was lost and must accept surrender. Publicly they pledged to fight on. The upper military officers feared the eager majors and Colonels on their staffs who wanted to fight on. Meanwhile, while the cabinet and military dithered and dallied under the delusion on continuing the fight, enlisting Russia to their side, or demanding terms, more soldiers and civilians died.

I don' think I ever knew about Russia's invasion of Mongolia in 1945. The Soviets collected a fairly massive invasion force to include new divisions and combat-proven divisions shifted over from Germany. The Soviet invasion against the Japanese Army in Mongolia was one of the last nails in the coffin and shortened the war up. The Japanese could not rely on those troops anymore and hope to bring them back home to fight.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Finished: "Yellow Medicine" by Anthony Neil Smith

Finished: Yellow Medicine by Anthony Neil Smith, 2008, 978193257701.


This was good but I'm ultimately not sure what to think. I raised my expectations way too high after reading such good press about the novel and was criticizing rather than enjoying. The plot was a bit too outrageous to convince me and some characters could have used some more description and presence. I was reminded a couple times of James Crumley’s work but cannot recall why.

Billy Lafitte is fired from his Deputy job in Mississippi after taking bribes and working the black market post-Katrina. The illegal shenanigans Lafitte was up to are never really explained but you know he is a bad egg.

Freshly divorced after the scandal of his firing Lafitte gets a job offer as a Deputy from his ex-brother-in-law who is the Sheriff in Yellow Medicine County, MN. Lafitte has some Southern charm and starts ingratiating himself with co-workers and citizens while shaking down the local meth dealers for payoffs.

Things make sense up to there but then some violent Asian guys show up from nowhere and start horning into the meth market. The Asians are pressuring the local dealers to work under them instead of Lafitte. The Asians stupidly up the local violence level by killing those who do not comply

The Asians came to MN from Detroit when Lafitte’s ex-beat partner sends them over. Ex-Beat Partner figures Lafitte will be game to sharing the control as long as the money is right. Lafitte says no and the Asians continue killing off the competition.

Turns out the Asians are there to finance a terror ring based in Detroit. Lafitte and Sheriff Brother-In-Law and Lafitte's Sort-Of-Girlfriend Drew head over to Detroit to work up the local terror chain and try to get them to leave MN in exchange for Lafitte and Friends staying quiet.

Of course Smith does a better job at telling the story than I do. I wonder if Smith had a draft set in chronological order. Slipping back in forth from flashback to current time can be really effective but the way he set-up the story confused me. I am easily confused but still…

Thoughts:

  • Lafitte’s and the reader’s perception of Lafitte's brother in law changes from do-gooder to do-whatever-needs-to-be-doner. It was neat to see that change but I wish more time was spent on him.
  • Drew, the Sort-Of Girlfriend, was not all that fleshed out.
  • The bad guys had lots of nasty potential – they’re terrorists for fucks sake - but I just wasn't feeling it.
  • Smith's injection of reality over the characters actions and possible repercussions was neat. Lafitte realistically worries about going to prison, keeping a paycheck alive to send money to his children in MS, not dragging other people into his mess.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Finished: Odyssey of an Eavesdropper by Martin L. Kaiser III

Finished: Odyssey of an Eavesdropper: my life in electronic countermeasures and my battle agains the FBI by Martin L. Kaiser III, 2005, 0786715464.

Very interesting. I caught Kaiser on C-SPAN's BookTV one weekend. I only heard the tail end of his talk but the stuff he was discussing was fascinating.

Kaiser has an innate ability to work with electronics. But, with a reading disability he ended up dropping out of college in 1957 and getting a job with an electronics lab. After different gigs working for different companies he started his own electronic repair business. His repair work would take him to all sorts of places. Driving around Baltimore in Fall of '66 he drove past a sign saying U.S. Military Intelligence, Fort Holabird. Thinking they had to have something that needed fixing he drove on in. He ended up in the office of an intelligence officer who had him repair some surveillance equipment. Kaiser easily fixed the stuff and told the Intel guy that he could make better equipment at a cheaper price.

Soon Kaiser's business was almost solely electronic countermeasure and bug building work. He produced equipment that sold to federal, local and military customers and had a staff of seven technicians. Black Bag jobs by the FBI and other government agencies were still going on all the time. When the FBI started buying equipment they did so through a middleman to conceal all the stuff they were getting. Kaiser distrusted this method and although he billed the middleman he would deliver the equipment direct to the FBI.

In 1975 Kaiser testified to a House committee and really pissed off the FBI. His information about the bugging devices, dual invoices through the middleman, and other shenanigans embarrassed the FBI greatly. All sales to the FBI and most other LE agencies ceased. Kaiser had to lay off his employees and started suffering from stress and depression. Fortunately for him he had a fall back specialty in bomb detection and bomb disruption equipment and loyal bomb detection/disposal customers who stood by him.

Kaiser places a lot of blame on the FBI for failed business and character assassination. But, you only read Kaiser's side of the story so I'm not convinced of all that he says. I am inclined to believe him though. Kaiser sounds like a real honest guy and Hoover's FBI could be particularly nasty in the '60s and '70s.

Kaiser added a forty page appendix at the end discussing modern eavesdropping and countermeasures. In the appendix intro Kaiser writes how he simplified everything in the appendix for laymen to understand. But, I still got lost.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Read: "Bathtub Admirals" by Jeff Huber

Read: Bathtub Admirals by Jeff Huber, 2008, 9781601640192.

Humorous at points but not great. This is something that a Navy veteran would likely enjoy.

Follows Jack Hogan through his Navy career in the '80s until his retirement post 9/11. Hogan has a great brain but has to battle the jealousies and pettiness of fellow officers and commanding officers who spend more time advancing their careers or trying to sabotage each others than doing the work that needs doing. Meanwhile is personal life often takes a backseat and suffers.

Since Huber, the author, and Hogan, the character, share so many traits I assume this is mostly autobiographical. But, as the author writes in the "forecastle" (preface): Most of the major events described actually happened, but not the way I describe them. names, places and identifying scars were changed to protect the author. Some things I remembered wrong, some things I remembered wrong on purpose. Some things I forgot entirely and was too lazy to do any research, so I remembered something new.

Some of those changed names are obvious. Wesley Clark, Senator McCain, Admiral Boorda.

Hogan was a good character and the supporting cast was good too. Huber sets a lot of the story at sea and the interactions among officers and crews is neat to read. The long duty hours trying to stay awake at 3 AM by telling stories. Huber's ragging on the stupidity and arrogance of fighter pilots.

Exaggeration is throughout but you gotta worry about military efficiency and truthfulness with the BS Huber satirizes. Sending out fighter/bombers without operating missiles or E2s without operating radar. Fighting during the Kosovo War among the Army (in charge), Air Force (wanting to win a war on their own), and the Navy (trying to justify a fleet of ships in the area). The buddy system protects some while scapegoating the rest. The bizarre Catch-69 of don't ask don't tell. The years long fallout over Tailhook.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Quit Listening To: "Spoon River Anthology" by Edgar Lee Masters

Quit Listening To: Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, downloaded from Overdrive.

Too difficult to follow in audio. I should try reading this again. I was reading it about 2.5 years ago - sometime in the winter - but it kept getting put aside and then was lost under a pile of stuff and I had to send it back.

I'm not so enamored with the poetry but like the short intertwining stories that intertwine the different characters and different time periods.

Read: "Bill Mauldin: a life up front" by Todd De Pastino

Read: Bill Mauldin: a life up front by Todd De Pastino, 2008, 9780393061833.

I ran across Mauldin's cartoons while doing a paper at Gustavus my Junior year. The illustrations were striking in their truthfulness. No wonder so many generals, Patton included, hated Mauldin and tried to shut him down. Mauldin said he never met a stuffed shirt he did not want to poke.

Mauldin grew up dirt poor in New Mexico and Arizona under a mentally ill mother and a shiftless father. He always enjoyed drawing and kept a paper and pencil with him. He started selling illustrations while high school aged and took instruction during H.S. in Phoenix and through a correspondence course. He joined the peacetime Army and ended up in Oklahoma and Texas during the Army's build up of 1939-1941. Mauldin despised the pissant rules and bureacracy of the Army and hated the politics and incompetence of his former National Guard - now regular Army - division. Mauldin wrangled a space on the division newspaper and from there on was always working.

Mauldin's career had assistance from sympathetic and admiring officers who gave him a chance at different military papers but his success was pure talent and hard work. He busted his ass observing troops in the field and front lines and then worked long, long hours sketching his final panels. He also worked hard to sell his work commercially and at the end of the year was w-i-d-e-l-y syndicated.

The bulk of Mauldin's fame came from his war work. A Pulitzer Prize, the love of millions of former GIs, the famous Willie and Joe characters, Mauldin's clash with General Patton, all of that was difficult to outlive. But Mauldin's growing work through the '50s and '60s as a journalist - a writer and columnist - was something he worked at and took pride in. Mauldin stayed away from Willie and Joe and his past career. But, when his illness was publicized in newspapers infantry veterans from everywhere came to show their thanks to him. His cartoons' impact during the war on both troops and at home was massive.

A couple interesting bits:

Mauldin made slovenly-less and cynicism chic for rear-echelon troops. Instead of emulating pilots by wearing silk scarves and rakish hats, some troops stopped shaving and wore beat-up fatigues.

Mauldin got punched out by a crony of Mayor Daly in Chicago when he was photographing all the double-parked cars on the street outside the Mayor's house during a wedding reception there.

There were some great quotes by Mauldin in the book. Mauldin had plenty of faults but was a very perceptive and smart fella and a person worth emulating in many respects.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Read: "Battlelines: the last good war" by James Reasoner.

Read: Battlelines: the last good war by James Reasoner, 2001, 031287345X.

I do not recall why I grabbed this one. This the first of three novels in a series. I'll likely read the next two.

Reasoner does not skimp on sex scenes. There were several in this one. Slightly graphic but not like those goofy vampire books that pass through.

Three dudes, one gal, and the gal's brother in 1939 and 1940. All three dudes are college-age with one in law school. Joe and Dale are brothers from a poorer family and are about 3-4 years apart in age. Adam is also poor and lives with his mom in an apartment and is dating the wealthy WASP Catherine. Catherine is the daughter of a physician and well-known isolationist. Her dad is privately an an anti-semite who forbids her relationship with Jewish Adam. Catherine gives Adam a handjob in a outdoor alcove of her parents' house anyway. Catherine's brother, Spencer, is a 17 year old layabout who is kicked out of boarding school for running a gambling ring. Spencer ends up screwing a local high-class, but sleazy, acquaintance of one of his high-roller gambler friends. He then has to steal cash from his father when the floozy extorts money out of him for a (false) abortion. Joe and Dale (I kept thinking of Chip 'n Dale) don't always get along and their father is turned a drunkard since an injury keeps him from work. Dale ends up screwing a banker's wife - he did not know she was married - and in revenge the banker starts putting hte screws to the family. Catherine marries Adam on the sly and they engage in lots of sex scenes.

All five join the service to escape bad situations. Jim and Dale join the Army to get out of Chicago as a way to satisfy the cuckolded husband. Adam joins the Marines for several reasons. Catherine joins the Navy as a nurse to try and be near Adam. Spencer joins the Navy after his father kicks him out of the house. Adam goes to the Pacific and is upset because he is all set to kill Hitler. Catherine is posted to Hawaii and witnesses the attack on Pearl and her brother's death. Joe and Dale end up in Texas and are assigned to mechanic and radio specialties. Joe and Dale are assigned to a armored unit that is testing tanks destined for England under the lend-lease program. They deploy as trainers to England.

Great job showing the build-up to the war. The importance of lend-lease and guarded supply convoys bringing the country to a war footing. The inevitable feeling of war with Germany but no concern for Japan's aggression. The draft implementation and attempted build up of forces. The reluctance of being drafted. Good descriptions of life as a new soldier and the rapidly built camp in Texas. Texan and pulp aficionado Reasoner finds a way to stick Robert E. Howard's name in there.

I must have liked this more than I think because I sure wrote a lot about it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Read: "Killing Floor" by Lee Child

Read: Killing Floor by Lee Child, 1997, 0515123447.

Very

good. This is the fourth Jack Reacher book I've read. Two of those

novels were so-so. Some of the mystery aspects were good in those two

books but the stories ended up blah. I suppose Reacher himself is the

real draw for readers anyway.

Reacher

is eating breakfast in a small town Georgia diner when four cops burst

in and arrest him for murder. Several hours before, and a few miles up

the road, a guy had his face shot off and was kicked to a pulp. The

usual happens: Reacher does really smart things, Reacher out thinks

people, Reacher draws on his extensive experience, Reacher wears the

same clothes, Reacher pours the pork to a gal cop, Reacher uses his

bulk and muscle to kill without remorse.

The

plotting was good. Of the four Child books I have read there are one or

two things that are a real stretch. This one has the town being paid

off at $1,000 to each shop owner with the town leadership not only

rotten but viciously violent. I liked this one though. It was fun to

read.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Read: "Long Road Home: one step at a time" by G.B.Trudeau

Read: Long Road Home: one step at a time by G.B.Trudeau, 2005, 0740753851.

That was quick.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Flipped Through: "Ditch Medicine" by Hugh L. Coffee

Flipped Through: Ditch Medicine: Advanced Field Procedures for Emergencies by Hugh L. Coffee, 2002, 1581603908.

Read about this online and reserved it.

An introductory technical guide. More for third world, and disaster medicine. Made me think more of medics or special forces soldiers out in the far boonies without hospital care.

Interesting to look through because it goes beyond first aid or advanced first aid. Has instruction on field techniques for intravenous therapy, decompression and drainage of the chest, infected wounds - including photos of a gun shot wound through the foot, small wound repair - with illustrations of a buttocks injury opened up and bandaged. The amputations section is gruesome, "The PCHP holds the amputation knife firmly in his hand ans starts the incision at the side of the extremity opposite to where it stands...after the deep muscles have been retracted, the periosteum of the bone is incised and the femur sawn through flush with the retracted muscle."

TO GOOGLE SEARCHERS: I read several good comments about this book and that is why I took a gander at it. But, I cannot vouch for the authenticity of those reviewers or their training or skills; my experience is limited to very basic first aid instruction. If you search through some of the online forums for guns, police, or survival you'll likely find more information on Coffee's book and similar books.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Read: "War Stories, Vol. 1" by [a bunch of people]

Read: War Stories, Vol. 1 by [a bunch of people], 2004, 1401203280.

Comic book short stories by several writers and artists.

Four fictional stories set in the Eastern Front, Germany, convoy duty, and Italy. The stories were okay - nothing spectacular. The artwork was okay - nothing spectacular. The advantage in this is the format and how they plan the images. The artwork for the convoy duty story stunk.

I think I ran across this comic while selecting for the Library. It came from Watertown. I should browse their shelves or shelf list sometime.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Read: "Yiddish Policemen's Union" by Michael Chabon

Read: Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon, 2007, 97780007149827.

Good and bad. Chabon is a literary darling. I hate to slur him like that but it's true. So I spend time thinking of there is some deeper literary meaning to his work I should be catching onto.

This was a good book but I suffered under the Yiddish, European, and Russian names. Chabon also uses a lot of Yiddish language or slang and it was hard to catch on to what the hell the characters were talking about.

Det. Meyer Landsman is a drunken cop in Sitka, AK. Sitka was given to the Jews 50 years ago and is now facing Revision back to the U.S. in just two months. No one knows what will happen after Reversion and most people are hoping to emigrate elsewhere or get a green card. Kind of like Hong Kong I suppose.

Landsman lives in a flophouse of a hotel where a fellow resident is shot in the back of the head. Landsman takes the case but is told to shelve it because his new boss and ex-wife, Bina, wants all cases cleared out before the turnover. Landsman and his cop cousin Berko continue to investigate and cause trouble.

A good crime novel. There is brief but very well done action scene with Meyer getting a round grazing off his head during a gunfight. I just kept lost among all the names and locations. I kept thinking of Arkady Renko the whole time with the cold weather, powerful and competing interests, a depressed protagonist.

Mostly read: "Combat Techniques" by Chris McNab and Martin J. Dougherty

Mostly read: Combat Techniques: an elite forces guide to modern infantry tactics by Chris McNab and Martin J. Dougherty, 2007, 9780312368241.

A basic primer on how things are done. Has a British emphasis. I bought this for the Library because I got Chris McNab confused with Andy McNab.

Covers infantry movement, tactics, heavy support, terrain, etc.

Just another attempt to figure out how the hell they do things in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Listened to: "The Woods" by Harlan Coben

Listened to: The Woods by Harlan Coben, downloaded from Overdrive.com.

I'm split on this one. I really disliked the audiobook narrator and the main character was annoying, but the plotting was really good.

Paul Copeland is a District Attorney in New Jersey. His sister and another teen, Gil, went missing twenty years ago in the woods of a summer camp while two other teens were slashed up. Her body was never found but a couple New York City police detectives have Copeland come see a murder victim's body who Copeland identifies as Gil. Copeland wonders if his sister is alive.

Copeland is dealing with an important rape trial while digging into the past that involves his dead father, runaway mother, summer camp girlfriend, Gil's family, his in-laws and other issues. Copeland's wife died five years ago and he is still in mourning over her. Obviously and 0bnoxiously so. He's always whining about his poor dead, beautiful wife who was his strong right hand, blah blah blah blah.

I disliked quite a few of the characters but they were all well drawn. Coben keeps things moving along at a good pace and uses the second story line (rape trial) to illuminate the first (dead sister). Suspicions on the responsibility of the murders shifts back and forth and Coben planted a few seeds that had me guessing about what might have happened.


Maybe I would have enjoyed it more if the narrator was not such a pinhead. I could have easily glossed over the annoying parts if I were reading them.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Read: "That's Alright Elvis" by Scotty Moore and James Dickerson

Read: That's Alright Elvis: the untold story of Elvis's first guitarist and manager, Scotty Moore by Scotty Moore and James Dickerson, 1997, 0028645995.

Interesting look at Elvis' early touring years and recordings. Scotty met Elvis at Sun Studios and toured with him for several years as part of the Blue Moon Boys. The book repeatedly asserts how important Elvis' band was to his early success. But Elvis was the star and he made all the money.

At one point Scotty and the other two band members were put on salary at $200 a week on tour and $100 a week on the road. Scotty only stayed solvent through his second wife Bobbie's job at Sears. In fact it was Bobbie's car that drove the band around the country on tour. In later years when elvis would give aw3ay cars to friends and strangers Bobbie never got one.

A big part of the trouble was the Colonel who immediately after getting involved with Elvis worked to become his manager and get rid of anyone there before him. Scotty never bore a grudge against Elvis and loved him until The King died. But, Scotty and the other band members really got screwed over. Example: Elvis was getting paid $50k for a series of television performances while the band was still making $200. The COlonel saw them as expendable and treated them that way. Elvis would pick up endorsements while the band was forbidden from even doing adverts for local car dealers.

After the 1968 "Comeback" special Scotty gave up playing guitar for over 20 years and worked in Nashville as a studio engineer. Not until the late 1980s and the 1990s did he perform again. At the end of the book it says Scotty will have to perform the rest of his life to keep food on the table.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Listened to: "Gentlemen of the Road" by Michael Chabon

Listened to: Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon, downloaded from Overdrive.com.

A pretty good adventure story. Set in 1200 or so in Eastern Europe. Two guys, an African and a german, have been traveling companions for several years. One is older with years of martial experience and the other is also a fighter but, at heart, a physician.

After staging a fake fight to the death at a travelers tavern they plan to skip town with their gambling winnings. Before they do so a guy who figured out their ruse tries to get them to take along a teen boy to his family. They end up taking the ungrateful, surly, and insulting teen, the boy gets kidnapped after escaping, in a rescue attempt the African is captured. The captures fail to defend against a Viking raid and the boy convinces them to fight against the king who overthrew the boy's royal family, army builds on the march to the king's city, boy exposed as a girl by king's troops, something else happened, gal and Gentlemen sneak into religious leader's (like an Iranian mullah the final authority in the kingdom) castle to make him get king to abdicate, something else happens I don't recall, king is killed, German and gal do the deed, German and African hit the road.

I hate characters with foreign names in audio titles. I have a very difficult time keeping track of the names of characters and geographical spots. This was a short piece which is very good because Chabon has a long-winded and boring afterword that was included at the end. Because it is the Afterword. The words that come after. After as in the end.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Read: "Tango For A Torturer" by Daniel Chavarria

Read: Tango For A Torturer by Daniel Chavarria, 2007, 9781933354194.

Very good. More of a literary novel than stuff I usually read. Kind of a crime novel but not quite. Uruaguyan author Chavarria has been writing in Spanish for quite a while but only recently has been getting translated - or so I read.

I avoid translations because so many are written in a style that is too "foreign". The styles are too thick or fantastic or meandering - they follow a cultural style I am too impatient or disinterested to learn. This one has some of that character but was very well written and, I assume, very well translated.

Aldo is a native Argentinian who was arrested and tortured in the early 1970s along with his wife. He now lives in Italy and while on vacation in Cuba discovers that Orlando, infamous Uruguayan torturer responsible, is now living under an assumed name in Cuba.

Aldo is busy trying to concoct a plot of revenge and screwing his Cuban hooker girlfriend, Bini, when Bini steals a car and gets stuck in mud. After extricating Bini's car during a nighttime storm Bini is giving him a handjob and Aldo runs over a bicyclist. Aldo easily convinces Bini to lie for him and blame Orlando for the crime. Orlando used to hire Bini and she assists in putting together frame-up.

Told from several characters with multiple flashbacks. Aldo was deeply effected by his torture and suffered sexual side affects for years until meeting the mercurial Bini. Bini is a a greedy and slutty gal but has the Oscar worthy heart of gold. Orlando is a vile piece of trash. He no longer works his "trade" and at first does not seem like too bad a guy. At first.

Other characters like Aldo's Cuban friends, a prison official, police investigators and others flesh things out. A major character is Cuba and Havana itself. The weather, the people, the food, the politics are all used to fantastic effect.

I'm very certain I read another Chavarria's Adios, Muchachos. But, that may have been before I started keeping track like this.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Read: "Dirty Money" by Richard Stark (Donald Westlake)

Read: Dirty Money by Richard Stark (Donald Westlake), 2008, 9780446178587.

Excellent. Parker tries to recover the money that was stashed and left behind in Nobody Runs Forever. Parker's identities are burned and he needs Claire's assistance as a driver - Claire has stayed out of any of his work so this is a big change. Of course she had no direct involvement in this one - just as a driver.

Told from the perspective of several characters, many of whom return from the previous novel. Great use of little mini cliff hangers with hops back in time to different characters. Westlake packs a lot of character attributes into a small amount of space.

There is a lot going on that Parker has to deal with. Recovering the cash, dealing with interlopers, dealing with fellow crooks, avoiding cops, getting new IDs, cutting a deal with a money launderer. Parker likes small caliber pistols. He usually carries a .32 Smith revolver - when was the last time those were made? - but has a Beretta .22 in this one. He does use someone else's Glock in .357 Sig though.

Read: "Volk's Shadow" by Brent Ghelfi

Read: Volk's Shadow by Brent Ghelfi, 2008, 9780805082555.

Very, very good. Ghelfi was at the Mystery One bookstore in Milwaukee and I lucked out seeing apromo in the newspaper. I bought a copy of the book when I went there. Ghelfi spoke a lot about modern Russia and crime, business, graft, Chechnya, corruption and bureaucracy. It was neat to hear him talk about the topics because they all fit directly into the plot. It was not neat to hear the beer guzzling nitwit in the small audience who wanted to jabber on about his views and experiences in Russia.

The novel starts with The General sending Volk to a high rise bombed only an hour or so ago by terrorists who are holed up inside with hostages. Volk goes inside by himself - yeah, not very believable - and is caught in an explosion right when the terrorists catch him in the building. Volk survives.

The bombing was at an oil company's offices and Ghelfi ties that into a tightly woven plot about oil wealth. The Russians are fighting among themselves over oil money and trying to make alliances with Europe, America, and China. With main oil pipelines running through or next to Chechnya all the sides have to deal with competing Chechen bands.

Along for the ride is a digital video showing a mass murder by the Russian Army, a child abduction in Moscow of a twelve year old girl whose kidnapper takes her South to the mountains, and the murder of two soldiers who were buying a long missing Faberge egg for sale by Chechens.

Don't forget Volk's experiences in the Second Chechen War and his capture. While captured he was repeatedly tortured and lost his foot when his captors ground it in the elevation gears of a 155 millimeter howitzer. Of course, the leader of the band that caught Volk is involved in everything.

There is a lot going on but Ghelfi puts it all together well and the the mystery aspect of the plot is well done. There are crime lords, porn, whores, faces cut off victims, Volk killing lots of people, and a Sig. Speaking of the Sig, whats with the ten round mags? Is he carrying a 220 or 225 or 239? Those are single stacks but all the other models must have, at minimum, twelve round mags.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Finished: "Dust Devils" by James Reasoner

Finished: Dust Devils by James Reasoner, 2007, 9780809572458.

This was short at 150 pages but Reasoner packs a lot in. I've read two other Reasoner books besides this one and this one was a good read.

Twenty-year-old Toby travels to the Texas Panhandle, gets a job at a remote farm, fucks Dana the attractive 38 year old owner, demands to know why she left him for adoption two decades ago, and watches in surprise as a two men burst into the house, and Dana kills them both in a nasty fight.

Turns out Dana is not his mother but took the mom's identity after staying with her while the mom died of cancer. Dana has been on the run for a couple years from fellow robbers who think she stole the $400k pot of bank robbery. Toby pairs up with Dana in an attempt to get her clear of her trouble. The story takes a travelogue East to Dallas, West through West Texas and Pecos and down into the Davis Mountains as Dana tries to convince the surviving crooks that Larry, a scummy crook, was the real double crosser.

I think Reasoner may have taken a driving vacation and then written it off on his taxes as research for the novel. He has nice little details of places and towns along the way. Good action scenes and plenty of sex. He does a lot within such a short novel.

EDIT: Neat critique of the book and things that Reasoner did so well at: http://pattinase.blogspot.com/2008/08/reading-forgotten-books-dust-devils-by.html

Monday, July 28, 2008

Listened to: "Stalking the Angel" by Robert Crais

Listened to: Stalking the Angel by Robert Crais, downloaded from Overdrive.com.

I just realized this is the third Crais novel I have listened to. This is the second Elvis Cole novel of the three. Also set in the late 1980s or early 1990s like the last one. Dated references to music, movies, and hunting for pay phones.

Elvis is hired to find a rare book stolen from an arrogant CEO's home. The CEO's family is then threatened and his daughter kidnapped. Elvis and Joe Pike sleuth about. I'm starting to like this series much more. The first novel I heard was not that great but I took this one since I could not find anything else to check-out. This one had a better story and was more believable.

Cole was not as annoying in this one. At times he is way too much a rip-off of the classic P.I. with the wisecracks, rich customers off the street, and drinking.

Read: "The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell" by John Crawford

Read: The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell: an accidental soldier's account of the War in Iraq by John Crawford, 2005, 157322314X.

Really well done. A string of stories of his time there, not a timeline narrative.

Crawford joined the Army after high school, spent three years in the airborne, then joined the Florida National Guard for college tuition. Crawford- as all the book blurbs proclaim - was two credits shy of graduation when he was called up for the invasion. Heck, Crawford was on a Caribbean cruise, during his honeymoon, checking his email in the middle of the night when he read a message from his dad that his unit was calling him up.

Crawford's infantry unit joins in the invasion and spends over a year bouncing from place to place in Iraq getting attached to other units. Their leadership seems more intent on getting advancement opportunities. Their body armor is 20 years out of date, the Humvees don't even have doors, their night vision units gradually break down and are not replaced; all the bullshit and nonsense that NG units suffered through in 2003-2005. They are given multiple dates for their departure but are always delayed and sent elsewhere to help someone else out. At one point they are attached to an armored unit to provide security and an armored unit sergeant comes in to tell them they are staying. While doing so, the dick head sergeant pulls his handgun out and uses the attached laser to point at each member of Crawford's squad for emphasis.

Crawford started writing down his stories while still in Iraq. Crawford and his fellow soldiers are at work every day for over a year and wearing down to nothing. Marriages and relationships are breaking up during the long deployment and dudes are popping lots of pills and getting Turkish whiskey from the Iraqis. They hate almost every hajji (Iraqi) they meet and when Crawford gets home he walks right out of a gas station when an Arabic looking fella is working the counter. He never directly addresses the really difficult things: dead friends, shooting some roadside kids, a ruined marriage. He dances around those issue and by doing so makes the sadness clear.

Crawford seems to heavy some heavy PTSD when he returns. He drinks too much, moves every month and lost his wife. He's a good enough writer that I dislike him out of jealously.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Read: Tarzan: The Lost Adventure: by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Joe R. Lansdale

Read: Tarzan: The Lost Adventure by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Joe R. Lansdale, 1995, 156971083X.

When Burroughs kicked off he left behind a detailed outline of another Tarzan story. Lansdale was hired to flesh it out. There was some blather in the forward about the story also being a comic. Or something.

I've read a couple other Lansdale books and he does good work but I'm not a big fan like some people are. Lansdale looks like L. Ron Hubbard. Lansdale is also some sort of kung-fu mojo master in East Texas. Lansdale has a pretty blond daughter who sings.

I read an old copy of Tarzan and the Ant Men many years ago. The copy surely came from Irving and the story was alright. I was quite a bit younger and the older writing style and intended audience likely made the story less interesting. t was okay. . In that Tarzan is shrunk down to ant size and captured by a tribe of ant-sized people. In this one Tarzan comes across a safari expedition to look for a mythical race of ape-men - the tribe that raised Tarzan and to look for the lost city of Ur. The expedition comes across some murderous French Foreign Legion deserters, survives a deadly storm, are captured by warriors from Ur and fight a scary preying mantis type bug creature from the underworld of Pellucidar. Tarzan ends up buried under ground by a passage leading into Pellucidar which is just dandy since he was thinking of going there anyway.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Read: "Rogue Officer" by Garry Douglas Kilworth

Read: Rogue Officer by Garry Douglas Kilworth, 2007, 9780727865359.

The second book I have read from Kilworth's "Fancy Jack" Crossman series. This was good. There were one or two other novels in between this one and the first one I read, Winter Soldiers. According to the back cover Kilworth has written about 50 novels.

Fancy Jack is sent to India and fights the rebels and general turmoil from the Sepoy Mutiny. I've read a few novels that cover colonial India (Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe and Allin Mallinson's Hervey series and Nightrunners of Bengal by John Masters) and it's a neat time period to read about. The interactions among the Indian princes and kings, the East India Company, the British and the everyday Indian are neat to read about.

Crossman is still working as a reconnaissance infantryman and spy. A cavalry officer named Deighnton has a bizarre grudge against Crossman and is intent on killing Crossman in a duel. Crossman works with his small unit of four men to first locate larger enemy units for the army and then hunt down smaller bands in the forests.

Kilworth gives more of a survey of Crossman's adventures. Kilworth will cover one adventure in detail - Crossman's capture by mutineers - and then give a quick four paragraph overview of a month of campaigning before dropping back into the story. The characters are interesting and the use of setting is very good.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Never Finished: "Truck" by Michael Perry

Never Finished: Truck: a lover story by Michael Perry, 2006, 9780060571177.

Perry is an incredibly good public speaker. He is always very relaxed and very funny. This book tracks about 1.5 years of his life planning and working his garden, fixing his old International Harvester pick-up that has been sitting in his driveway a few years, and dating a gal with a daughter.

I just couldn't move past all the gardening information. The cooking tales, the International Harvester tales, the nursing school tales, the childhood tales, and all the other stuff was good. But, I could not give a rat's ass about gardening and did not want to go through any more. It was torture. That and the guy is sometimes too flowery in his writing for my taste. Damn poets.

Perry is a great observer and talks about things that usually pass me unnoticed.

A great story. In 1986 Bono was such an influence on Perry that Perry scavenged :

Eau Claire County's lone mall for boots like the ones [Bono] wore in the Pride (In the Name of Love) video. The closest match I could make was a floppy ankled pair from an all-women's shoe store. I take a ladies' size 10, as it turns out. I tucked my parachute pants in and wore the boots with an air of meaty goofball angst. It has only recently occurred to me that technically, wearing those boots counts as cross-dressing. Mistakes were made.

Read: "Rex Libris Volume One" by James Turner

Read: Rex Libris Volume One: I, Librarian by James Turner, 2007, 9781593620622.

Fairly decent. A graphic retelling of Rex Libris' work to recover valuable overdue materials and fight the material ghosts of literature that appear in the Middleton Public Library.

A fun read with some good jokes.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Quit Reading: "I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell" by Tucker Max

Quit Reading: I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell by Tucker Max, 2006, 0806527285.

This got a plug in the back of LJ in a section about humor books so I reserved it and gave it a try. Synopsis: College, and then law school student, drinks too much, scores with all sorts of women, retells his stories to laughter, ends up posting said stories online, gets book deal about drinking too much and fucking chicks.

Fifteen years ago I may have loved this book. But, I read 200 out of 300 pages and it is the same tale with different variations. They all involve Max being drunk, stupid, rude, deceitful, spiteful, puking, etc. Some of the stories had some good laughs but it's all drunken college dude humor. By a drunken college dude who thinks he is witty, uproariously funny, a champion drinker, and the smoothest ladies man around.

To be fair Max is quite open about his failings of character and morals and he freely admits to being an asshole to people - especially chicks. On page 152 he gives a clear description of what an ass he was at 21 years old - he didn't get much better. I just got tired of reading the same bullshit over and over. I have other stuff to read.

Quit Listening To: "A Fine Balance" by Rohinton Mistry

Quit Listening To: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, downloaded from Overdrive.com

Set in 1970s India during a Constitutional crisis between Parliament and the P.M. I got about three sections into a 20 section audio but the story was really dragging along. There were multiple flashbacks telling the lives of several characters and those shot story length sections were quite interesting. Not enough to keep me involved though.

Some of the more interesting parts involved the caste system. One character is a tailor whose family were untouchables in a small village. The untouchables lived at the whim of the rich and powerful. One was hanged and another stoned until bleeding for trivial "offenses" like looking at a Brahman or passing too close. One has hot lead poured into his ears after being too close to the temple to hear prayers. The mom has to steal fruit in the orchards during the middle of the night so the children will not starve. As a boy the tailor and his brother are vivicously beaten by a teacher after they sneak into the local school and marvel at the chalkboards and books.

After the boys receive the beating their father could receive no relief from the law or a locally respected upper caste man and takes an 0ffer by a muslim friend for the friend to take the boys - both about 10 years old - to apprentice in the city several hours away. A miserable way to get ahead - sending your children away with brief visits every three months or so.