Thursday, February 28, 2008

Listened to: "Limitations" by Scott Turow

Listened to: Limitations by Scott Turow, 2006, downloaded from Overdrive.

Good but not specatacular. Turow's Ordinary Heroes was much better. I don't know if this counts as a legal thriller or not. I rarely read legal fiction.

George Mason is an appellate court judge in Kindle County (Chicago) and starts getting anonymous death threats via email and text messages. George's wife is recovering from cancer and George has just heard an appeal concerning a politically hot rape case.

George was an interesting character and Turow writes well but the mystery of the threats was less interesting than George's guilt about a college gangbang he participated in. That part was explored well but the rest of the story kind of lagged. George's wife and staff were also well drawn by Turow but there was not enough of them. I went back and checked Overdrive twice to see if this was an abridgement.

One of the best parts of this was the descriptions and explanations by Turow about how the appellate court works. The way judges interact among themselves and their staffs. One character in particular seemed to be partly modeled after Scalia. But, that's just a wild guess on my part.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Read: "Blood Relation" by Eric Konigsberg

Read: Blood Relation by Eric Konigsberg, 2005, 9780060099046.

Pretty good but leaves me wanting to know more. Konigsberg grew up in Omaha and ended up in NYC working as a writer. After working for a writer and journalist for a time he gets a phone call from an unknown and imprisoned great uncle.

Harold "Heshy" Konigsberg was a loanshark and hired killer in New Jersey until his 1967 (or about then) imprisonment for extortion and a later 1983 (or about then) conviction for murder. The rest of the Konigsberg family has ignored the unpleasant Heshy and downplayed his crimes. Eric is intrigued by this and starts to interview Harold in Auburn Correctional Facility in New York.

Eric writes about Harold, the Konigsberg family, Harold's crimes, his murder trials (Harold admitted to 20 murders to the FBI but was only brought up on one murder - with a retrial), and Harold's psychopathic behavior. Harold is insane. Even as a 70 year old convict his murderous ability scares the hell out of Eric; Harold threatens to rip Eric's eye out, tear his head off, and all sorts of other threats.

The problem is that this isn't a biography. Even though Eric does a marvelous job in researching Harold there is only so much information he can get a hold of. What started out as a magazine article ended up as a really long magazine article. Eric interviewed relatives, FBI agents, family of Harold's victims and even Harold's mob associates. He gained access to FBI agents' interview notes prosecution case files. But, nobody, Harold in particular, are going to say much about Harold's many murders for hire. Harold's many other crimes like loansharking, drug dealing, extortion, robbery, burglary, porn operations, etc. are mentioned but there are no decent stories behind them.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Read: "Hose Monkey" by Tony Spinosa

Read: Hose Monkey by Tony Spinosa (pen name for Reed Farrel Coleman), 2006, 1932557180.

Very good writing, I was impressed after a handful of pages. I'm not so sure about the plot.

Joe Serpe is a disgraced NYPD detective who lost his wife after he lost his job and then lost his fireman brother on 9/11. His life has been in limbo for the three years since. He lives in his brother's old basement apartment, never reads the newspapers, has no friends and drives a delivery truck for a home heating oil business on Long Island. After a retarded co-worker is murdered in the oil company lot Joe starts looking into what happened.

I enjoyed reading the story and following the several twists and turns in the plot. But after I finished I started to wonder if the wandering plot line should bother me. At first the suspect is a Haitian thug who worked at the victim's group home. Then a vicious Latin gang, seemingly based on MS-13, may be at fault. Then the suspects are an anti-immigration group leader and his son. You eventually get to the Russian mobsters at fault.

Since I enjoyed the novel I guess I have no reason to complain. Except the novel seems to be trying to do so many things at once. Immigration issues, rapists, Russian thugs, ex-cop versus current cop, love story with ex-cop, unrequited love, buddy teaming of ex-cop and former persecutor, father-son dynamics, corruption, 9/11 aftermath.

The two things that really bothered me during reading was Joe Serpe and a psychologist hooking up and immediately getting serious. That felt forced. The killer of the victim ended up being a minor player in both the entire criminal enterprise involved but made little mark in the novel at all until revealed as the culprit. That was kind of okay since the overall conspiracy was more important but not okay because the killer's first notable appearance is at the end of the novel.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Read: "A Mammoth Murder" by Bill Crider

Read: A Mammoth Murder by Bill Crider, 2006, 0312323875.

Another good job by Crider. The plotting was good and even with all the necessary clues added in throughout the story I was unable to put everything together. I never tried to solve mystery plots until a year or two ago. My concern has always been that the plot has to be believable and the characters have to be interesting.

Sheriff Rhodes is always pretty interesting. A lover of Dr. Pepper, but disliker of the corn syrup sweetener. Alternately loved and threatened by his constituency. Patient to a fault. Smarter than most.

Rhodes is also infuriating. He's always getting cold-cocked by someone and he doesn't want to carry a gun because he doesn't like how it looks. (Rhodes isn't fashion-forward he just doesn't like the appearance.) Heck, a guy is trying to kill Rhodes and Rhodes shoots high to deter the guy. When that doesn't work Rhodes aims low hoping some flying dirt will deter him. What the hell? What ever happened to center mass?

All that doesn't matter anyway. That's just the kind of books Rhodes is in. A "cozy mystery" with more violence, no damn cats, no damn recipes, and probably better humour than the rest. At least I think it has more than the rest. I don't read that other crap.

Up next is Hose Monkey which Crider plugged a few months ago. Crider says "Jump!" I say, "How high?"

Listened to: "Holes" by Louis Sachar

Listened to: Holes by Louis Sachar, downloaded from Overdrive.com.

Very good. Nice job by Sachar putting the historical and present day storylines together so they seamlessly fit together in the end.

The narrator was good with some characters but so-so with others.

Good description by Sachar of the desert climate and terrain.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Read: "Half the Blood of Brooklyn" by Charlie Huston

Read: Half the Blood of Brooklyn by Charlie Huston, 2007, 9780345495877.

Fairly decent. I suppose the previous two entries in the series were just as violent as this one but this one had a lot. I have no problem with that but the casual violence and cruelty stuck out more in this one. A father murdering his own son, a midget's head bashed into a concrete floor, a double suicide by hanging, people cut into twelve separate sections, so on, so forth.

Joe Pitt, the main character, was "fuck you" kind of guy. Abused by his parents, turning tricks as a teenaged street kid, infected with the "Vyrus" and forced by necessity to be an enforcer for one of the local vampire "clans" he has not had an easy life. He is a typical pulp/noir wise-ass and loner with his own never defined set of ethics and rules. Pitt only enjoys the company of a couple people and only trusts one person, his girlfriend, who is busy dying of AIDS.

The interesting parts include a vampire freak show in Coney Island, vampire Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn who consider themselves the progeny of the cursed Tribe of Benjamin, the storyline of a sole vampire living in the sewers who feeds on the occasional bum. A lot happened in this one and ends with Pitt escaping the Clans of Manhattan, forced away from his now infected girlfriend, and going into exile into the Bronx.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Finished: “Darkly Dreaming Dexter” by Jeff Lindsay

Finished: Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay, 2007, 9780385518338.

A pretty good novel which is no surprise considering the predecessors. This is the third Dexter novel and takes quite a turn from the others. Previously, Dexter had always happily gone about his psychopathic and murderous ways. Since Dexter has no feelings he does not consider himself human. The only quivers or pleasure and joy he receives are in anticipation of and committing murder. But he follows the training of his foster father and is always careful to shield this from everyone.

Dexter has always had a constant companion however. Dexter's Dark Passenger is an interior voice that has guided his actions and his perceptions towards killing. Dexter has let the Dark Passenger take over at those times and guide him along. Dexter considers himself a chauffeur for the Passenger and Dexter enjoys the work. Lindsay never explained the Passenger much before and I always took the “him” to be part of Dexter's psychotic brain.

When Dexter is called to a crime scene at a local university his Dark Passenger has a recoiling fit and flees Dexter's head upon seeing the bodies. Dexter is adrift without his the Dark Passenger and in fear of whatever scared it away. He also starts to wonder what or where the Passenger came from.

Anyway. A well done story by Lindsay that follows the previous storyline of Dexter’s upcoming nuptials-by-error with Tina his girlfriend. Dexter has only been dating Tina as a beard to hide his insanity and he has no feelings for her. The only interest he has in the situation is her two children. Horribly abused by Tina’s first husband both children are budding sociopaths themselves. The book ending wedding ties in very well with Dexter’s novel long predicament of his sorely missed Dark Passenger.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Read: "Fighting Techniques of a Panzergrenadier, 1941-1945" by Dr. Matthew Hughes

Read: Fighting Techniques of a Panzergrenadier, 1941-1945: training, techniques, and weapons by Dr. Matthew Hughes and Dr. Chris Mann, 2000, 0760309310.

An interesting book. Hughs and Mann cover the Panzergrenadier from conception through the end of the war. Panzergrenadiers, like most things German, changed over the course of the war. Units were split apart or reassigned. Older units were newly designated as Panzergrenadiers. Vehicles were broken down and not replaced. The Eastern Front ground everything to the nubs.

Panzergrenadiers were revolutionary because they were the first mobile infantry. The Panzergrenadiers were an integral part of tank warfare. They were given plenty of vehicles so they could keep up with German tanks. Panzergrenadiers could protect the tanks and clean up resistance pockets the tanks bypassed. The concept of armored personnel carriers began with German halftracks (the Krauts used two basic types with several variations) that were lightly armored but able to get within a couple hundred yards of the fighting for the infantry to debus.

Panzergrenadiers were favored units, often SS units, and got all the best and newest equipment. They were also elite units with extensive training. The Hitler Youth Panzergrenadiers in Normandy were trained under very realistic situations (there was an acceptable death rate during training) and proved very stout opponents in the hedgerows. During retreat from the Russians the Panzergrenadiers acted as shock troops for trouble spots. Halftracks would have to be used as assault vehicles when no tanks were available. When industrial production was crippled at the end of the war the Panzergrenadiers had to walk but were still strong units.

Damn, dirty, filfthy, rotten Nazis.

Guy Sajer, whose memoir Forgotten Soldier I read a few years ago, was in a famous Panzergrenadier division, Grossdeutschland.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Read: "Into the Kill Zone" by David Klinger

Read: Into the Kill Zone by David Klinger, 2004, 0787973750.

Pretty good. Klinger spoke with a cross section of officers who had been involved in shootings and collected their oral histories here. Incidents include hostage rescue, warrants, crazy dudes out of nowhere and suicide by cop.

Klinger groups the stories in order of applying for the job, initial training and realization that you may have to shoot someone, experience, close calls, shooting incidents, aftermath. The aftermath matches what I've read and been told about before. Officers in the book covered the extremes of never fully recovering to no lasting effect at all.

All the usual rules apply and the officers' experiences remind and reinforce what to do. Handguns are not guaranteed to put a guy down. Front sight focus. Distance equals safety. Time slowing down into slow motion during shooting. Tunnel vision. Auditory exclusion. So on. So forth.

Interesting tidbits:

Guy is shot and runs into a housing project and takes an ambush position. Officers do not follow on the judgement call of the senior officer who wants to check on the victim. Crook waits in ambush for a bit until a back-up unit arrives. Crook then starts walking off to collapse and bleed out.

One officer is kidnapped by an escaped prisoner and has his weapon taken. Second officer finds them in a clearing within a large, wooded area. First officer grabs his weapon (revolver) by the cylinder so convict cannot fire it. Second officer sprints across clearing and fires as he collides into the other two. Crook is a fat fuck and "the round had gone in at an angle on one side of his belly, traveled between the dermis of the skin and peritoneum, and went out the other side. It never entered his abdominal cavity, so it was basically just a superficial wound."

Two patrol officers respond to crazy woman with knife. Crazy woman is at her doorway and disappears inside. She comes back out waving a eight inch blade knife around. Lowers knife to her side, then raises it again, throws it and the knife sticks in the skull of one of the officers. Officer reminisces, "I was thinking, 'This is the most embarassing thing I've ever been in.' I mean, everyone was staring at me, and I've got a knife in my head. I felt like Friday the 13th or something."

Training officer and his probationary officer get in a fight for their lives at a traffic stop. Both officers are shot and seriously injured but recover. Training officer is recovered and out with a second probationary officer when a suspect runs. Suspect is caught under car and starts fighting with probationer cop. Training officer knocks suspect down, suspect grabs officer's weapon so officer fires shooting the crook in hand. Probationer yells, "I'm shot." Training officers thinks, "Oh, my God, here's another partner, another probationer, shot." Fired round went through crook's hand, off crook's head, into partner's hand.

Great thinking by SWAT cop during home invasion. Team enters house and contains crook and victims in kitchen. Officer is around the corner and steps onto a lower stairway step and braces his MP-5 against the wall at height of crook's head. Crook is taller than female hostage and wearing a blue ski mask. After a couple minutes of screaming the crook pokes his head around the corner, officer sees blue blur and crook gets two .40 rounds in the face.