Monday, November 17, 2014

Short: "Fatale" by Jean-Patrick Manchette

Short: Fatale by Jean-Patrick manchette, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith, 1977 French, 2011 translation for 9781590173817.

A week ago at WLA someone asked if I was still doing video book talks and posting them online. I've slacked off for several reasons but I will occasionally read something and think how it would be a great piece to read aloud. Fatale is only 91 pages long and the first chapter, at two pages, would be ideal to read aloud for a video.

I ordered this for work after a blurb by Unshelved. Aimee is a French woman, in her thirties, thin and fit, who travels the country finding work as a killer. She'll move to a town, insinuate herself into the lives of the local upper class and pay attention. After a time she'll have identified the schisms, the jealousies, the money troubles, the infidelities and make an offer to make a killing.

Aimee hates "the real assholes" in life and seems to enjoy killing them. She killed her abusive husband and got away with claiming he stabbed himself by accident. Now she travels to Bleville on the West coast and meets the local bigwigs. She plays bridge. She goes to parties. She watches the married couples. She sees who fights. Who plays politics. She identifies a man who others would pay to kill. Many people take up her offer, not knowing the others are paying her for the same thing.

The killing does not go well. Aimee loses her interest but succeeds as the victim bleeds out. She tries to turn herself in and make sure the moneyed people get busted. But, the cop is a stooge for the rich and Aimee is taken to a remote meeting. Bad idea because Aimee makes things very bloody.

Quick and dark. Manchette translated American crime novels and those included work by Westlake. This has stark Stark feel with Aimee a matter-of-fact killer.

Finished: "Supreme Justice" by Max Allan Collins

Finished: Supreme Justice by Max Allan Collins, 2014, 9781612185309.

This is not Nate Heller solving the JFK murder. I kept thinking thatwais the book I took home. Nope. Not this one. The covers are not similar so I'm not sure how I got them screwed up.

I did tear through this book though. I was at work and would plan for getting home so I could grab the book and read.

Former Secret Service Agent Joseph Reeder became famous by jumping in front of an assassin's gunfire to save a President. Reeder's injury led him to a desk job and then a disability retirement. While retiring the left-wing Reeder mentioned how he hated the right-wing President he saved. Reeder became a pariah among his former colleagues and other federal law enforcement types.

Set in about 2025 (You can figure it out from Reeder's age and reference to his birth date but I do not recall the exact year) and the country has taken a hard, legal turn to the right. The 4th Adendment has been gutted and abortion is outlawed. There is a strong conservative block on the Supreme Court and those Justices want to change laws.

Reeder starts a successful security business after his retirement. A Supreme Court Justice is murdered in a D.C. restaurant where Reeder's company installed and services security cameras. A FBI pal of Reeder's asks him to look at the security tape of the killing because Reeder is also an "kinesics" expert; he is a body language and facial expressions expert and can see things other people miss.  Reeder sees that what appeared as a robbery was an assassination of the Justice

Reeder is asked to join the new task force to find the Justice's killers. Reeder joins. Then a second Justice is murdered. Both Justices are on the far right wing of the Court. Uh-oh.  Trouble is brewing. Reeder is partnered with an FBI Agent and they look for the street level crooks who seem responsible for the first murder.

Things happen. Reeder's daughter is dating a doofus.  Reeder and FBI pal have long history and FBI pal lost his daughter to a botched, illegal abortion. Reeder may be overreacting after years away from field work and is antsy-pantsy from being shot. There seems to be way too much knowledge by the killers about police investigations. The killings are way too complex and well planned to be one person. There is a conspiracy in place to change the make-up of the Court.

1. A fast moving and quick read
2. I thought Collins co-write this with his frequent Iowa collaborator, Matthew Clemens. Guess not. Collins's acknowledgments thank Clemens for all research.3. Politics. Collins mentioned on his blog how Amazon reviewers would take a political side and crap on the novel. Lefties would complain that is is a Righty novel. Righties would complain the opposite. Well, Reeder is a leftie but the novel sits in the middle. Either side may align with the view they want. Or, they can complain.
4. My complaint is that the climax was a little of a let down. I enjoy conspiracy novels but have come to expect shadowy people in high places who then - usually - get their come-uppance. The conspiracy here is personal. There is not big money push or political maneuvering by government weasels like in other conspiracy novels.
5. No matter, the book is well worth your time.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Done: "Black Hills" by Dan Simmons

Done: Black Hills by Dan Simmons, 2010, 9780316006989.

Not sure where this came from but according to the front cover it cost $1.00. A fairly decent book but not as great as Drood and The Terror, Darwin's Blade kinda sucked. But, for Drood and Terror I listened to the John Lee narrated versions.  John Lee is a narration god.

Simmons uses plenty of Lakota/Sioux words. I won't try to find the correct words or spelling in my comments.

Paha Sapa is ten years old at the Battle of Little Big Horn/Battle of the Greasy Grass.  Paha Sapa is not warrior in training. His Lakota grandfather, Limps-a-lot, is a "medicine man". But that is a weak description for someone who carries tribal history and myth, knows sacred ceremonies, provides counsel, occasionally has visions, etc. Paha Sapa himself has already had visions. He knows to be careful about touching people because their memories and futures can jump into Paha Sapa with skin-to-skin contact.

 Paha Sapa goes to the battlefield because he does not want to be left behind by the other boys. Galloping into the action he decides to count coup by touching an enemy. Paha Sapa touches Custer. Custer's spirit inhabits Paha Sapas head. Custer won't shut up but Paha Sapa doesn't speak English anyway.

We follow Paha through his life. The destruction of his lodge of families. Capture by the 7th Cavalry. Life on his own. Taken in by a tent housed Catholic School. Work as a cowboy - he's not good at it. Work as Indian with Buffalo Bill Cody's traveling show. Meeting his half-Lakota wife. Caring for his son after wife's death in childbirth.

The meat of the story is what will Paha Sapa do to protect the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota? He has been working for sculptor Gutzon Borglum's Mt. Rushmore project for several years as a demolition man, cutting into the granite of a sacred mountain to build Mt. Rushmore. Paha Sapa has always been a thinker. He's a brave man but not a warrior. His vision during his isolated manhood ceremony as a ten-year-old showed the white people's destruction of the Black Hills. He wonders how he can stop an unstoppable force.

Lots of things happen. Simmons gives a tour of 1880s Indian life and the wars across Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska and the rest. A visit to the Chicago Exposition of 1893. Mining and blasting the granite cliffs of Rushmore. Paha's sadness at his failures in life.  Paha's sadness at his wife's death. Paha's sadness at his beloved son's death. Paha spending a good portion of life alone.

1. Simmons gives both sides of the Indian Wars by using Custer's monologues inside Paha's head and Custer and Paha's discussion over time (after Paha learns English). Custer can see through Paha's eyes but will spend years in silence after arguments with Paha.
2. Competing tribes competing by killing each other.
3. I had to look up the song Garry Owen after a few references. You'll recognize the tune if not the name.

Heard: "Watchman" by Ian Rankin

Heard: Watchman by Ian Rankin, 1988 (2007 audio). Overdrive download.

Narrated by the great John Lee. I've not read or heard many Rankin novels. I likely chose this one after searching for Lee narrations.

Miles Flint is a low level spy for Britain's domestic spy agency, MI5. Miles is a "watchman", a surveillance specialist. He enjoys his job and considers himself an expert. He has no interest in moving to another department or taking promotion.

Miles is married with a college student son.  His job requires secrecy and his specialty prizes invisibility. He's taken those behaviors into his personal life and his quiet behavior has been driving his wife away. Miles has started to avoid going home at night. "I have paperwork to do. I should assist this surveillance team. I need to spend time on this report." Miles loves beetles. Miles wonders what kind of beetle each colleagues and friend would be.

One night Miles helps out a team tracking a suspected Arab assassin. Miles takes the point and follows the Arab into a hotel bar. Miles sits near the Arab as the Arab and another man discuss business issues. Miles is very relaxed, the neighboring conversation sounds innocent, this operation is a bust. A prostitute then sits at Miles's table and chats him up.  Miles banters with her. The Arab goes to the toilet. A second man leaves the toilet wearing the Arab's clothes. Shit.  A couple hours later an Israeli arms dealer is murdered.

Shit hits the fan for Miles and MI5. The men in the surveillance unit are under scrutiny and staked out in the sun by their commander. But, Miles recalls the Arab looking back at Miles as the Arab left for the toilet. Miles recalls a sly smile as the prostitute spoke to Miles. Someone tipped off the assassin.

Meanwhile, Miles wife has been having a (so far) chaste affair with Miles's long-term colleague, I-Forget-His-Name.  Miles finds out. Miles moves out. Miles is not an investigator. Miles starts wondering if a mole in MI5 tipped the Arab. Why were some people on his team kept and others canned? What's going on? Miles thinks of beetles. Miles approaches the home of a suspected Provisional IRA unit and is caught as a suspected prowler.

Miles is sent to Northern Ireland with a "Take this job or you're cashiered after your two fuck-ups." Miles joins some secret Army or RUC killers. Miles and killers raid a Provisional-owned business. Killers are there to kill Irish. Killers are also there to kill Miles. Miles escapes with a IRA man. Miles and IRA Man make fragile truce. IRA Man connected to the English mess. Miles starts putting things together with the help of IRA Man and interrogation of I-Forget-His-Name.

1. Spy novel. I liked it. Hard to not like anything narrated by John Lee.
2. Brief introduction by Rankin on this reprint. This was his second novel and he thought he really jumped around and went back and forth with different scenes.
3. Boredom of surveillance. Miles makes a drastic change from passive watcher to active vengeance.
4. Miles finds out he is not as good a surveillance man as he thought.