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.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Read: "Cold Spot" by Tom Piccirilli

Read: Cold Spot by Tom Piccirilli, 2008, 9780553590845.

Excellent. This was very, very good. I was very hesitant to even try finishing it after the first few paragraphs. The scene opens with a surprise hotel room murder and I am sure I have read a similar scene elsewhere. At the time I was quite certain I had read the exact same type of scene in one of Westlake/Stark's Parker novels.

I emailed Piccirrilli to ask him about the scene and whether he was inspired by Parker. Piccirilli responded saying the scene was not inspired by a Parker novel but that as a Parker fan his subconscious may have been involved. (I was hoping I was correct just so that Piccirilli would remind me of the title) Those first few pages had me worrying his novel would be a string of rip-offs and crime cliches. I was thankfully and gloriously incorrect.

Chase's mother was murdered and his despairing father committee suicide when Chase was ten. After a short foster home stay Chase's paternal grandfather Jonah picked him and took him with him. Jonah is an old-time, itinerate crook. A good comparison - echoing my above comments - is that Jonah is like a younger Parker but with living blood relatives. Jonah is ruthless, heartless, emotionless, and primarily concerned with the score and money.

After the hotel room member of a crew member Chase worries about his own safety. Chase is only fifteen but breaks away from Jonah to work on his own. Chase is an excellent grease monkey and driver and makes his way through the South as a getaway driver for hire until he meets and falls in love with a Deputy Sheriff. After a few years of marriage they move to Long Island and she is killed trying to stop a diamond heist. Chase wants revenge on the killer - the crew's driver - and calls Jonah to get some assistance.

Chase has never been a hard-core crook and his "cold spot" where he buried his emotions and feelings was melted away during his marriage. Now he has trouble getting that coldness and hardness back to make him as ruthless as he needs to be. This is a source of friction between Jonah and Chase and also causes Chase to make some wrong decisions.

Real good action scenes, two great characters in Chase and Jonah, a smoothly moving plot with subplots that fit right in and help drive the story along. According to a back page a sequel is planned for publication in 2009.

Read: "Hard Man" by Allan Guthrie

Read: Hard Man by Allan Guthrie, 2007, 9780151012985.

Why don't I like his books more I do? He has all the elements I like in crime novels: violence, double crosses, surprises, ambiguity of characters. The Scottish setting is part of it. Scotland is dang foreign to me and the language sometimes confusing that it throws me off. Guthrie also narrates more than uses dialogue, I like to read the characters banter. I still like the first one of his I read, Kiss Her Goodbye, best.

Pearce reappears in this one. A family of losers and would-be hard men ask them to assist in protecting their daughter/sister, May. May left her abusive husband Wallace and is pregnant by another man. Pearce refuses the work but the Idiot Clan see him as their only help and try to force him into doing the job. The Idiot Clan was already beaten silly by Wallace and then Pearce does the same to them after they sneak into his apartment to test him for the job. Idiots.

Idiot Clan is convinced that Wallace will hunt down May. For a while Wallace does seem fairly innocent of their charges. He isn't. Idiot Clan is also full of lies to one another and Pearce which causes more and more trouble.

Anyway. Part of Guthrie's appeal is his "acerbic wit". Most of that went right by me too. I'll still read Savage Night which released this summer.