Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Finished: "The Peddler" by Richard S. Prather

Finished: The Peddler by Richard S. Prather, 2006, 9780843955989.

Excellent. Another Hard Case Crime reprint. Originally published in 1952. I should think of signing up for Hard Case's standing order for home.

Main character Tony Romero is a young (twenty years old) and up and coming pimp. He works his way into the whore house business after running into an old neighborhood gal, Maria, who becomes his girlfriend. Maria is a whore and Tony has her get him an invite to a private party with her boss. It is a fortuitous invite because a guy Tony used to do odd job crimes for is there.

Tony is well written and the story is told from his viewpoint. He is impatient, ruthless, overconfident, plotting and is concerned only for his advancement and income. After he shoots a crooked cop running a competing house he leaves San Francisco until someone else can get pinched for the crime. His boss has him recruiting girls and Tony falls for a local girl in the process. He cannot understand his hesitancy and lack of confidence in dealing with her and cannot understand her intense dislike for his work.

I have not read many dime novels written in this period but was surprised by the sex in this one. There is nothing graphic but Tony Romero bangs his boss's swinging wife at a party, reminisces about gang banging neighborhood girl Maria when she was 13, Maria says she could screw a horse and Tony would not care, Tony procuring girls for whore houses when on the lam, banging a sixteen year old and keeping her in his hotel room until he gets sick of her and sticks her on a bus to San Francisco.

According to Crider, Prather was extremely popular in his time; the book cover proclaims he sold 40 million books.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Listened to: "Better" by Atul Gawande

Listened to: Better: a surgeon's notes on performance by Atul Gawande, 2007, from

I'll rate this as excellent. Some nonfiction books have a great subject that gets lost in crappy writing but this was compelling, well written and well organized. The narrator did a solid job, too.

Gawande is a surgeon in Boston and he got to thinking about how to improve performance in health care. It's a difficult question because each physician is self-driven and coached and faces obstacles of time, money, diligence, dedication, and other factors. Gawande's observations would rate diligence as the top factor in improving performance - people need to police themselves and follow through.

Gawande covered a lot in the book and if I read this rather than listened I wonder if more information would have stuck in my head. His chapter on the polio eradication campaign in India was astonishing. Further tales on his surgical sabbatical in India were also impressive. Physicians there are expected to know and do so much more due to lack of professionals and specialists. But, those Indian physicians are in some areas, like hernia surgery, the best in the world. At least I think it was hernias.

Innovation and the importance of tracking and publishing successes and failures were also very interesting. For example, cystic-fibrosis treatment centers all follow the same treatment methods and guidelines so why are some centers so much more successful in treating patients? Why not share that information to improve the performance of the other centers?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Read: "HOGs in the Shadows: combat stories by Marine snipers in Iraq" by Milo S. Afong

Read: HOGs in the Shadows: combat stories by Marine snipers in Iraq by Milo S. Afong, 2007, 9780425217511.

Very good. Much better than I expected. I thought this would be a dry and poorly written work but Afong did real well.

There are 13 chapters in here and the stories can be very compelling with a lot of neat detail but not overly detailed technical or gun-nerd stuff. The first chapter is about the Marine Corps' scout/sniper selection process and training. Subsequent chapters are about individual Marines and their tour(s) in Iraq.

There are some incredible stories of urban combat. Two that stick-out are a four vehicle convoy of HUMVEEs that gets shot up going through a town that have to turn around and return when the road is blocked. They are shot up a second time and then return for a third time when a vehicle whose radio antennae is shot off is unaccounted for. Turning back for a third drive through the ambush zone one vehicle get a direct RPG hit on it's turret killing the gunner, wounding the crew and stalling the vehicle in an intersection. A long shootout ensues while getting the vehicle occupants to safety. The second story has a sniper and another Marine wounded and stuck on the first floor of a house while insurgents on the second story keep help away. Both sides trade grenades and the sniper - without his M16 - uses his Beretta to kill four insurgents as they come down the stairs and finally throws a remotely detonating claymore upstairs - wounding himself, again - to escape.

Without exception each sniper is very eager to get kills. A couple guys get buck fever right before or after the first opportunity and have to calm themselves. The "one shot - one kill" ideal is not the perfection I thought it was. It reminds me of a television program that compared military versus police snipers. Military shooters have the whole torso as a target while police shooters look for instant incapacitation with a head shot. Of course, police snipers are shooting at less than a 100 yards and Marine snipers will take shots from 1000 yards out. But Marines do not expect the enemy to die right off. They want to get the kill and if took a while for the enemy to bleed out that could be all the better; especially when the Marines could then target rescuers.

There were some close range shots (100 yards or so) where the shooters would aim at the head but the Marines were usually ranging far away outside the usual range of riflemen and machine gunners. A couple snipers would in their first engagements were getting upset about their targets being taken by machine gunners before the snipers could fire. They then remembered that they needed to search beyond 300 yards.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Read: "Indian Bride" by Karin Fossum

Read: Indian Bride by Karin Fossum, 2005, 9780151011827.

Not a mystery novel. Not a police procedural. Took a while for this to get interesting. I was not rushing to read this one but it is a decent novel. Things did not pick up and interest me until halfway through.

Fossum is a Norwegian broad. When reading translations I always wonder how good the translator did. Example: the detective's dog is named Kollberg. Kollberg's name draws questions from one or two characters but I have no idea what "Kollberg" means. Not sure that is the translator's thought.

There was a really neat passage about the detective, Sejer.

There was a woman in his life. Sara Struel, a psychiatrist. She had her own key to his house and came and went as she pleased. There was always excitement in his body when he climbed the thirteen steps to his apartment and reached the top. He could see from the narrow, crack between the door and the doorstep whether she was there or not. He also had a dog, Kollberg. It was his one personal extravagance. Sometimes at night the heavy animal sneaked up onto his bed. Then he would pretend to be asleep and not notice. But Kollberg weighed a hundred and fifty pounds and the mattress sagged mightily when he settled at the foot of the bed.

That passage was on page 84 and really stuck out. Probably because, to that point, Sejer was an unknown. It doesn't stick out as much now.

Plot: Farming implement salesman Gunder travels to India to get a wife. Gunder marries a waitress, Poona, from his favorite lunch place. The day of Poona's arrival finds Gunder at his sister's bedside after a horrific car crash. The cab driver sent to find Poona misses her and her badly battered body is found in a field only a few hundred yards from Gunder's house. Sejer and another cop take the case.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Read Half: "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?" by Raymond Carver

Read Half: Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? by Raymond Carver, some paperback edition.

Just couldn't get into it. All the stories are poor people who drink too much, are unemployed, and unhappy. There was one section of a story where I was real impressed with the writing. I did not get the dark hmor and many of the stories require some thought. I much prefer to have the theme of point of a story to be more clearly explained. I'm not that deep and not an English major.

This was a Book Club selection. I read about half of it though.