Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Quick: "The Highway Kind" edited by Patrick Milliken

Quick: The Highway Kind: tales of fast cars, desperate drivers, and dark roads edited by Patrick Millikin, 2016, 9780316394864.

Stories by (in order) Ben H. Winters, C.J. Box, Michael Connelly, Kelly Braffet, Wallace Stroby, James Sallis, George Pelecanos, Diana Gabaldon, Patterson Hood, Joe R. Lansdale, Sara Gran, Ace Atkins, Gary Phillips, Willy Vlautin, Luis Alberto Urrea.

This was a very good collection. I really enjoyed it. Milliken works at the Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale. I lived in the Valley for five years and visited there just once. Driving from Peoria on the west side to the East Valley was a freaking chore. Especially on a weekend. The 101 freeway was in place by the time we moved there and getting into Scottsdale itself was not too difficult but it still knocked out several hours in a day.

We did go to Scottsdale often enough, every other month or so, I would guess. I always wanted to visit the gun stores. Bear Arms was always a neat one to visit. There was another store, since out of business, that I never went back to again. I was there one day wandering around, looking in the glass display cases as the owner was chatting with another customer. The guy spoke loudly and his conversation could be heard throughout the store. I heard him insult or degrade gay people, black people, Jewish people, and a few other groups. What a dirtbag. I never went back to the store and warned others away from the place. I just learned that the owner retired in 2005 and closed the store. I assume he is still the same miserable SOB he was then. Vile jerk.

Traveling from Peoria to to a southeast valley city like Gilbert or Mesa felt like I was driving to Denver. I'd be in the car for what felt like forever crossing along the freeways and arterial roads until I reached the gun or book store I wanted to visit.

Speaking of Phoenix and driving, James Sallis's Driven captures what I feel is great view of Phoenix. Sallis's story in this collection is not set in Phoenix.

This book has a really nice mix of author styles and stories. There hard core crook stories and regular people stories. I've not much else to say about this but have a couple comments.

Comments:
1. I've not yet read any novels by Gary Phillips's. That's how I ended up reading this book, I searched the library catalog for Phillips and this popped up.
2. I associate Diana Gabaldon with romances. I don't read romances and so have never read any of her novels. Her story is set in 1937 Germany and feature Dr. Porsche investigating the crash of one of his race cars. I'd heard before about the speed attempts set on the German Autobahn in 1937 and the fatal crash as one car was pushed by the wind, spun, and flew into a bridge abutment or embankment. The story was very well done.
3. That's it.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Told To Me: "Rusty Puppy" by Joe R Lansdale

Told To Me: Rusty Puppy by Joe R. Lansdale, 2016, Overdrive.com download.

This is another Hap and Leonard novel by Lansdale. That is really all you need to know. That means the novel is well worth your time and that all the usual stuff happens: Hap and Leonard act like borderline idiots, Leonard gets angry and has a lousy love life, Hap gets a little maudlin at times and is lovey-dovey, most everyone insults the heroic duo, bad guys are both bad and despicable, really stupid people populate the landscape. Hap and Leonard insult most everyone including one another.

This go around has a neighbor across the street from the duo's detecting business storefront asking for help. She says her teenage son was murdered in a neighboring town and that the cops are to blame. Hap starts asking around the neighboring housing project to talk to a witness and Leonard sorta rescues Hap. They keep asking questions and start getting push back from the local cops. One of those cops is a guy who beat Leonard in a kick boxing match and Leonard is still peeved that the guy won on points.

More things happen with all the Lansdale goodness you could want. Bad cops staging bare knuckle fights and dog fights. Town Fathers and Mothers are in on things. Bad cops murdering people. Bad cops harassing women. Characters with lots of character including a foul-mouthed 10-year-old Leonard proclaims as a 400 Year Old Vampire.

Comments:
1. The plot starting point of the teen boy's death .
2. Teen boy's sister not that great a character, she seemed like more of a throwaway.
3. No big shootouts like in some Hap and Leonard books.
4. Leonard is an asshole and a half. He is always looking for a fight and always willing to insult someone. He's very judgmental as well and will rag on anyone. His volubility and criticizing the black kids in the housing project makes you wonder what we'd think of the guy if he were white.
5. For that matter what criticism has Lansdale run across? Do people read his black characters as a white guy's projections? I don't know Lansdale but have read enough of his work and commentary, and read enough about him, to know he is not a racist a-hole. He seems to not abide jerks though.
6. Good stuff. If you've not read any Hap and Leonard novels I do suggest reading them in order if only because

Finished: "Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat" by Andrez Bergen

Finished: Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat by Andrez Bergen, 2011,9780984559701.

Let me immediately come to the most important point if you decide to read this novel: There Is No Anthropomorphic Goat. The absence of such a goat - as promised to me by the cover illustration - was very disappointing. I still enjoyed the novel though.

Brief: a mix between Blade Runner and Terry Gilliam's Brazil.

Long: Floyd Maquina lives in Melbourne and works for the government as a Seeker. Seeker are sent to find fugitive Deviants, capture them - or kill them if needed, and get them sent away. At a population of 20 million people Melbourne is the biggest city in the world. Melbourne is also the only city in the world after an unexplained mini-apacolypse. There is a constant acid rain, a domed section of the city for The Rich, collapsing insfrastructure, and other dystopian stuff.

Floyd is in a bad way. His wife was struck sick by a plague and he joined the Seekers to cover his wife's Hospitalization costs. Yes, the novel capitalizes all those words. Maquina drinks A LOT, smokes too much, hates his mother, gets along with his sister, and has blacked out the memory of when he killed a Deviant.

Floyd associates most everything with old movies. He is particularly found of actor George Saunders, The Third Man, and other films running from about 1930 to 1960. Floyd ends up in trouble with his employers over his drinking but gain a sudden celebrity status when a news reporter and cameraman join him on a stake-out and the resulting half hour show is a hit. Floyd also starts getting into more trouble and has to figure out what is happening

I liked the book. It's a neat SciFi unlike the space epics and military shoot-outs I've usually read. More Philip K. Dick than David Drake. The novel is more about the character of Floyd. Missing his wife and boozing it up. Shutting himself off from the world. Mostly hating his job of taking "Devaints" and sending them to a short life in prison. Fearing his employers will mark him a Deviant. Slowly tracking down Deviants in the run-down areas of Melbourne.

Comments:
1. Purchased for the library in 2012 after a Bill Crider recommendation.
2. Similarities with the setting of Sleepless got me confused. Both plots involve a civililation slowly falling apart with infrastructure and government services failing or non- existant.
3. Bergen's narrator name checks multiple actors, books, writers and films throughout the book. Bergen provides a glossary, bibliography and filmography at the end.
4. According to my magic internet box Bergen has three other novels. Tobacco was his first novel and his second One Hundred Years of Vicissitude is available from the library's digital collection.

Quit Listening: "In the Woods" by Tana French

Quit Listening: "In the Woods" by Tana French, 2007, Overdrive.com download.

My phone's Micro SD card stopped working which means I do not have access to the damn novel. I was at least half way through and very much enjoying the story. Either I'll get the damn Micro SD card working or I'll have to buy another Micro SD card and wait in line to check out In the Woods  again.

On Saturday I went by Walgreens to just buy another Micro SD before I drove the five hours north to Hayward, WI for a mountain bike race. I found the memory card display and - Hey! That Micro SD is on sale for $17! So I grabbed the card, got in line, and picked a couple packs of gum from the impulse buyer's rack.

As the cashier rang up the sale both the gum and memory card came up at a higher price. "You'll need to enter your 'advantage' number for the sale price."

I key in my phone number and the gum price is now cheaper, but the Micro SD is still $30. Turns out the shelf labeling was poorly arranged and the $17.99 sale price is for a different brand of memory card. So, I accept that new item, pay for my stuff, and go home.

I get home, evict Boy #2 from the computer, and sit down to open the package and get the SD card working for an audiobook download. Nope. The sale item was for an SD card, not a Micro SD. I ended up buying a damn SD by mistake. An SD card, of course, is 4-5 times too large to fit. Damn it.

I did end up clearing off some of the phone's internal memory and downloaded Edgar Burrows's  John Carter of Mars and Sleepless by Charlie Huston.  I quite listening to Sleepless a year or two ago (Correction: three years ago) but am enjoying it now.

Still reading? Have you seen the news about those new corduroy pillows? They've been making headlines.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Heard: "Shoedog" by George Pelecanos.

Heard: Shoedog by George Pelecanos, 1994, Overdrive.com download and I do not recall the audio pub year.

A good book. Plenty of Pelecanos style with nihilists, family men, drifters, journeymen crooks, and guys who dig clothes, women, cars and music.

It's 1994 and Constantine is back in D.C. Constantine bolted town once he was old enough to join the Marines. His alcoholic mother was long dead and his father didn't much give a flying fuck about Constantine. After three years in the Corps Constantine hit the road. Working bar and restaurant jobs Constantine stayed in South Carolina long enough to earn  B.A. After that he traveled the United States, Pacific countries, South America (or maybe not) and into Europe. It's about 15 years later and Constantine has drifted into the D.C. area. When his car breaks down Constantine hitches a ride with a guy pushing 60 and they make friends.

Constantine and the guy, Old Guy, head out to a big house in the country where Old Guy rings a bell at the entry gate, demands his $20,000 and gets the shove off - literally - by a couple goons who tell him to come back tomorrow.  Old Guy is a long time heister and robber. He tells Constantine that the money is as good as in hand. When Constantine and Old Guy return the next day they got a job offer from Crime Boss to do a simultaneous pair of liquor store robberies. They accept the offer.

Meanwhile, Raymond is at work slinging shoes at a popular D.C. shoe store. Raymond is a slick salesman with regular customers. He scopes out the buyers, steals customers off other salesman, and jealously guards with regulars. Raymond is "asked" to be a wheelman by Crime Boss.

The rest of the characters are introduced: lifetime losers, guys in debt to the crime boss, lifelong crooks, Crime Boss's kept wife, so on, so forth. The focus starts with Constantine and then shifts among Raymond and a few other characters about 1/5 of the way in.

Pelecanos always seems to lay heavy on music, fashion, and pop culture of the time. Both for this novel which was contemporary and the other historical settings he uses. Men are always chasing women and usually taking them for gratned. Close friends talk about everything. Muscle, power, and prestige are very important.

Comments:
1. While searching the Google box to recall character names I saw that a movie version is listed in IMDB as pre-production with a recent update in May. But, I also read a announcement from 2011 about a production to star "P Diddy" and actors from The Wire. Who knows what is going on.
2. I do not keep track of regular characters from Pelecanos novels. I do not know where this novel fits in.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Finish: "Gun Church" by Reed Farrel Coleman

Finish: Gun Church by Reed Farrel Coleman, 2012, 9781440551703.

I really enjoyed the first part of the story but the ending was far fetched. Even more far fetched than The Complaints which I just wrote my notes about.

Former 1980s wunderkind author Kip Weiler barely survived his years long binges on cocaine, women and booze. His literary career started huger and petered out as he self destructed over several years. Kip's novels got worse, he stopped writing and he was fired from several university teaching jobs until he landed in a Nowheresville community college.

Kip has cleaned up though. The depressed mining town he lives in does not have the drugs and women and nightlife that set him off before. He has spent seven years teaching writing classes and his fame only goes as far as the bookstore remainder bin.

Kip's been killing time in Brixton County Community College. He holds no long term relationships or friendships beyond cheating wives, short term adjunct professors, and the occasional co-ed. He's been pining for the wife who left his drunken, coked up, philandering self ten years ago.

That all changes when a student pulls a handgun out at the end of Kip's class and holds everyone hostage. Kip is not gun guy but recognizes the gun from when he had to pick a gun for a character to write about. Kip engages the student in conversation, grabs the revolver, urges everyone to flee the classroom, and watches as a police sniper shoots the gun wielding student.

After those heroics Kip spends a couple weeks back in the national limelight. He goes on TV, articles are written, and Kip has reason to write again. Even more: Kip's agent calls for the first time in years. Even, even more: the super hot co-ed in Kip's class comes on to him, gives him a blowjob and takes him to Gun Church.

Hidden within a hangar on the local abandoned military base is a concrete block structure where Gun Church takes place inside a room padded against sound. On Kip's first night at Church he witnesses two men wearing Kevlar vests duel with handguns. Gun Church is like Fight Club - but with guns. Kip is an addict the rush of firearms and dueling juices him up.

Kip is also juiced up by the Hot Co-ed, who he calls St. Pauli Girl. Kip makes best friends with a 20-year-old student named Jim who runs the Church, teaches Kip to shoot, and gets Kip to start jogging every day. Kip keeps writing. Kip plays house with St. Pauli Girl. Kip's career has a chance at resurgence as his new fame makes his backlist republished.

Then things go weird. Kip moves back to New York. Kip reconects with ex-wife. Kip thinks he hears Jim's distinctly sounding F150. The book turns into an evil mastermind novel with Jim as an obsessed fan. Jim pulling the strings. Jim killing off people. Jim setting up Kip for murder. Jim thinking Kip should be the 80s gonzo that Jim sees him as.

The entire conspiracy plot was silly. I did not care too much though. I rolled my eyes at the 20-year-old Jim having a years long plan to set-up Kip. That Jim forced St. Pauli Girl to bang Kip. That Jim did all sorts of underhanded scheming. That St. Pauli Girl really did love the much older Kip and Jim forced her to do what she did.  I ignored that and rolled along with the story.

Comments:
1. I just saw that this was published by Tyrus Books. Are they still around? Let me check... nope. I recalled that they were bought a while ago. Simon and Schuster was the final owner and closed them down in April of this year.
2. Ben Leroy started Tyrus and before that he began Bleak House. Both publishers put out a lot of books I enjoyed. Leroy was, maybe still is, based in Madison and Bleak House sent us something once, maybe something simple like bookmarks.
3. A few days ago someone checked out one of Coleman's books that he wrote under the Tony Spinosa name. The two Spinosa books were good fun, I liked those.

In My Ears: "The Complaints" by Ian Rankin

In My Ears: The Complaints by Ian Rankin, 2009, Overdrive.com download.

I am not sure how many Rankin novels I have read or heard. I did watch a couple of the Rebus movies/episodes with John WhatsHisNameFromScotlandWhoWasInTheMummyandAgentsofSHIELD. According to Rankin's web page he has published 38 novels. That is a lot of books. If he cannot find a foot ladder he could stack all those books up and reach a high shelf.

This is the first novel in the Malcom Fox series. I don't think I've met anyone named Malcolm. I heard this novel a while ago and I enjoyed the book. I also do not recall too much about the plot so I won't give a long summary like I usually do. After all, these notes are for me more than anyone else who might read it. That sure doesn't stop me from checking the statistics on the blog.

Malcolm is a single cop in Scotland working for internal affairs - The Complaints - and he is asked to help the secretive sex crimes unit from across the hall. Sex Crimes has word that a Scottish cop named Breck is involved in a online pedophile ring. Malcolm already investigated a different cop from Breck's  division and Sex Crimes figures Malcolm can use that as excuse to feel out Breck without Breck getting suspicious and destroying evidence.

Breck also gets romantically interested in the Sex Crimes detective, WhatsHerFace. WhatsHerFace gives Breck plenty of information to convince Malcolm that Breck may be guilty. Malcolm also has to deal with the violent death of his sister's physically abusive partner. The abusive partner was found beaten to death at a construction site and now Malcolm, protective brother, is being investigated.

Spoiler Ahead.
Pretty soon things start to go bad for Malcolm and Breck. They are both suspended from work and it looks like they are being set-up by a higher up. The whole set-up plot is a bit far fetched. The idea being that a friend of the guy investigated by Malcolm is trying to help the guy out by fucking with Malcolm. Or something. I cannot recall exactly.

The story of Malcolm and Breck working together to unravel the conspiracy is interesting but the concept of the set-up is baloney. The conspiracy plot relies on several assumptions about Malcolm and Breck and how they'll get along, and how they'll react under certain circumstances, and how everyone else will do everything else, how how how.

Comments:
1.Still an enjoyable novel - just gloss over the nonsense bits - but after having thought about it I do feel let down by the ending.
2. Rankin gives you his usual interesting characters.
3. Narrator did pretty well except, if I recall correctly, one or two women characters were not well acted.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Lansdale: "Fender Lizards" Joe R Lansdale

Lansdale: Fender Lizards, 2015, 9781596067172.

This is really a Young Adult novel. But, it is a Lansdale novel so that doesn't matter because the book is very good no matter the intended audience.

17-year-old Dot is a roller skating waitress at the Dairy Bob drive-in restaurant in a small East Texas town. Bob, owner of Dairy Bob's, calls the skating waitresses Fender Lizards. Or, maybe that was Dot and her co-workers - the name doesn't really matter.

Dot has left high school and lives in a trailer with her mother and grandmother. Dot works the max 6 hours a day the law allows a minor to work and then she works a few more hours under the table. Dot's sister, Raylynn, has two children, one ex-boyfriend who ran off, and a current boyfriend who is a lay-around lout. Dot still wonders what happened to her father who went out for a pack a cigarettes and never returned. Dot is still quite angry with her missing father who went for cigarettes and has been missing for 10 years.

One day a guy named Elbert shows up and declares himself the father's brother. No one knows who the fuck Uncle Elbert is, even though he claims he is the missing father's brother. He convinces Mom and Grandmom but Dot doesn't much like Elbert. Elbert ends up parking his van there and staying. Elbert wants to help out the family now that he is out of prison for bank robbery. Dot is not impressed with a failed bank robber.

Things drag on for Dot. She bashes her sister's boyfriend with a piece of lumber after the borfriend bashed Raylynn with his fist. This ends Dot up in court with a week's worth of labor at the local animal shelter (which she enjoys). Dot then reads a carnival poster announcing a cash prize for any roller derby team to play and win against the carnival's roller derby team. Well, now Dot has a goal. She talks about the idea to co-workers and they are interested. She tells Uncle Elbert who reveals his past job experience as a skating clown and roller derby fan.

Meanwhile, Dot keeps wondering about her father. She partly wants to beat him to a pulp. She partly wants to hug him as hard as she can. When she tries a simple web search she discovers he lives less than an hour away. Dot and Elbert go to visit her dad. Things happen and I won't give them away.

Another fine story by Lansdale. He always handles difficult family situations and love affairs with a rough grace. His heroes and heroins know when they've done wrong and try to do better, even though they'd rather hit someone with a piece of lumber. His characters recognize their foibles.

Foibles.

Also Heard: Ritual by Mo Hayder

Also Heard: Ritual by Mo Hayder, 2008, audio download from Overdrive.

I listened to this a while ago so forgive a brief synopsis and comments.

Hayder's police officer Jack Caffery has left London and headed west to Bristol. He sold his family home, broke up with his London girlfriend and has been living a solitary life except for visits to local prostitutes.

Caffery is called to a local riverside (either the Severn or the Avon, I do not recall) where a hand is found in the water. The police dive team that recovered the hand is led by a young sergeant. The Sergeant is pixie sized, full of energy, and emotionally rocky after the accidental scuba dive drowning of her parents a year or two ago.

Caffery starts working the case as Diver starts to nose around herself. There is a connection between the hand, drug addicts, and African magic that uses animal and body parts. Another victim is found and Diver and Caffery end up teaming up and finding a link among drug dealers, African witchcraft, and deadly religious fraud and extortion.

Caffery and Diver are attracted to each but do not try to romantically engage. Hayder is very good about writing about spoiled relationships and missed relationships. People regularly miss the cues of other people. Hayder sets things up very well so that the reader knows the desires of the characters and roots for the characters to resolve their problems, but Hayder then dashes your hopes as characters misinterpret, lie, get false information, or just miss opportunities. Missed opportunities are another thing Hayder seems to enjoy giving us. This is the third Caffery novel and a previous one had a horrific tale of child sexual abuse and slavery where Caffery's long lost brother is revealed to be alive with Caffery just missing finding the now grown brother.

Hayder's books read like horror as much as crime or mystery. There are some supernatural elements to each book and she can really crank up the dread and scares.

Comments:
  • I was reminded of several songs or bands when listening to this.
    • Hayder references the city of Portishead. Although I don't think I ever heard any music by Portishead.
    • A character is near Salsbury Hill at one point. 
    • There was a third connection by I connect recall it now. Probably a place name that shows as a song title or lyric.
  • I kept spelling Caffery as Cafferty. Cafferty is flagged as a misspelling but Caffery is not.
  • Bristol is across Bristol Bay from Cardiff. I just read or heard a Cardiff book. Or movie. I cannot recall what.

Short Stories: "Public Library" by Ali Smith

Short Stories: Public Library: and other short stories by Ali Smith, 2015, 9781101973042.

I read this a week or two ago and cannot say anything too specific about the stories. Smith wrote this when the UK was in the midst of big budget cuts and local councils were closing and selling off local libraries. She relays stories from friends and fellow writers about their experiences with libraries and how important libraries are to learning, literacy, and personal growth.

The stories themselves are all first person - as I recall - and many seemed autobiographical. i do not know if these were intended as nonfic essays or not. Smith's stories deal with emotions. There are is no action or violence. The narration reminisces about family and friends. Talks about regrets. Compares a happy past to a dreary present.

I enjoyed the book more than average. I was surprised by my enjoyment because I checked the book out thinking, "What the hell, I should read this. After a library pays my living." I'm not one of those library people who visit libraries when on vacation. Or reads about library history.

Quit Listening: "Congo Dawn" by Jeanette Windle

Quit Listening: Congo Dawn by Jeanette Windle, 2013 (Overdrive copy).

I selected this novel because I liked the title and cover image. The narration was awful with terrible accents and poor acting. I did not realize this is an inspirational thriller when I checked it out. That's fine I suppose, and I did stick with the story until about half way through the novel.  One character's Bible lesson to the main character had me throw in the towel.

I could have glossed over the Bible lesson - not my bag, man, it absolutely bore me - and the main character's religious crisis if the narration were not so bad. The story was interesting: Former Marine officer takes on military contracting jobs as a translator. She speaks French and Swahili and takes a contract that sends her to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A mining corporation is trying to keep open a molybdenum mine against the attacks of a local guy whose family were killed when the mining corp. arrived. While in Africa the Translator meets the Navy Corpsman she both loves and blames for her Marine brother's death in Afghanistan.

Windle writes well and does a very good job of mixing together: international politics, local thugs, Congo strongmen, faithful missionaries, compassionate doctors, a main character conflicted about her employer and her love for the Corpsman, mining execs who want more money, and mercenaries who are there for the mission and have seen enough death and misery that they do not get involved with local troubles.

Amid all that story Windle lays the schmaltz on thick. Real thick. Vegemite thick. Translator's family troubles with dead parents, a dead brother, a divorced sister, a dangerously ill niece, and holding lots of anger.

Comments:
1. I'm sure someone somewhere liked the narration. I did not like the voices, the accents, the emphasis, most everything. BOOKLIST gave this a starred review.
2. Terrible narration.
3. Rotten narration.
4. According to the online author photo Windle has curly hair. According to my mirror I have thick hair that needs a brush.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Done: "Amsterdam" by Ian McEwan.

Done: Amsterdam by Ian McEwan, 1998, 9780385494236.

This won 1998 Man Booker Prize? What the hell? The "leading literary award in the English speaking world" went to this novel? I'm definitely missing something.

I had not read any McEwan books since I was in grad school and saw a derogatory reference about McEwan in the Times Literary Supplement. I figured, "Heck, I'm checking that guy out!" I then read two of his books and enjoyed them. This is 193 pages of "Let's work the thesaurus and write as thick as possible." There is some black humor here - I think - about two longtime friends in their late 40s who having a falling out and arrange for each other to be killed by some sketchy euthanasia specialists in Amsterdam.

Well, OK. The story could be kinda interesting when discussing UK politics and the press but I still had to force myself to finish what felt like an exercise in navel gazing. Naval gazing I am okay with, that could be interesting. But, endless fixation on your own nonsense is nonsense.

Maybe the whole thing went over my head. Maybe McEwan wrote a parody. I readily admit to taking some things too literally. It's not like sarcasm and caricature are always easy for me to suss out. I'm not going to bother reading any reviews or the Man Booker write-up to see what people say.

Comments:
1. One good thing about the novel is it reminds me of a Len Price 3 song.



2. It also reminds me of a song by Beautiful South.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

E-Book: "Castle Danger: woman on ice" by Anthony Neil Smith

E-Book: Castle Danger: woman on ice by Anthony Neil Smith, 2017, B06XHNPGKL (stupid ASIN number by Amazon rather than a goddamn ISBN let the rest of the fucking world.)

It's neat how Smith's novel are consistently better and better. The stories stay interesting and the pace keeps moving you right along. Smith's characters are insightful and interesting and their thought processes and decisions always make sense even though those decisions may be the actions of an idiot or a desperate panicked nut.

Duluth Police Officer Manny does not get along with his partner (see my views on this at #1, below). Manny also is recovering from severe burns to his groin and abdomen with a accidental fire a few months ago. One day on patrol Manny is tuning out his partner and thinking about his genital trouble when they get a call for a body fished out of frozen Lake Superior. 

On arrival they discover the dead person is a thin women dressed in tight, skimpy clothes and wearing a snowmobile helmet. As Manny's partner starts poking around and searching the corpse Manny and Partner see that the corpse is a man dressed as a woman. The partner and the corpse then fall through the ice into the lake and the corpse is lost.

Things happen. Manny is intrigued and starts to poke into the case. The detectives on the case tell Manny to take a hike but Manny is personally and sexually fascinated by the transsexual lifestyle of the dead person. Manny has unresolved issues and slowly lets on how he dressed in women's clothes as a teen and spends hours each evening masturbating to online transsexual porn. Manny gets a new partner, WhatsHisName.  WhatsHisName and Manny do not get along.

Manny visits some gay bars and asks questions. Manny ends up visiting a secret club for trans people and their lovers and is warned off from asking more questions. The warning comes with a beating. Manny has bumbled his way into a murder conspiracy and sexual secrets. Manny thinks he knows who the now missing victim was. Manny wants to solve the case. Manny wants to transition to woman but is scared. Manny is full of feelings. [I first typed 'fool' instead of 'full'. Manny is also a fool.]

Trouble ensues. Along the way Manny decides, "Damn it. I've had enough. I'm going to transition to the woman I am." Manny gets grief from both the straight and queer sides as he starts his process. The cops call Manny a fag and the queers think he is faking it and an untrustworthy bastard. Manny has to figure out how to wear stockings and skirts. But, Manny also starts feeling like herself. Manny has only her partner, WhatsHisName, to turn to as more hijinks ensue. 

More things happen but I won't turn the plot into a grocery list.  Like other Smith novels this is a neat one. Smith does tend to go over the top in comparison to other writers but it always fits his style and plots. I'm not always pleased with the third or fourth sections of his novels. I don't know why. I'm thinking the pace and fury wear me out.


Comments:
1. Keep in mind that Smith kills off what is obviously the best character in the first chapter of the book when Manny's partner drowns in Lake Superior. Hopefully Smith will find a way to bring that character back. He was the absolute best. The best! 
2. Geographical love. 
3. Cold weather love.
4. Rarely realistic look at what happens when you don't use a holster for your pistol.
5. Book #2 is listed on Amazon with a October 10, 2017 pub date.
6. Smith has covered the topic of sexual identity and preference before. It's a subject he is very good at writing about. It's also a topic that I don't often read about in the other fiction I read.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Done: "Sway" by Zachary Lazar

Done: Sway by Zachary Lazar, 2007, 9780316113090.

I was looking something up about the Manson Family. One of the women, maybe. As I was reading I came across an article about Bobby Beausoleil. Beausoleil participated in the July, 1969 murder of Gary Hinman who was a friend of the group. I saw a reference to this novel about how Beausoleil was connected to the Rolling Stones. I figured, "Okay, maybe the Stones were pals with Dennis Wilson and somehow the Stones hung out with Beausoleil." Nope. The connection is more tenuous.

Anyhoo. Here is the plot. Told from the POV of Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Keith Richards, Beausoleil, Kenneth Anger, Anita Pallenberg, and maybe a couple others.

Beausoleil is drifting up and down the coast with his teenage girlfriend when they meet up with the Manson group. Before that Beausoleil was the kept teen lover of filmmaker Kenneth Anger at Anger's San Francisco apartment. Anger filmed Beausoleil with the intention of having Beausoleil as the lead in Anger's next short film.

Meanwhile, Brian Jones is leading the Stones. Jones was a bit of a jerk. Many people already know Jones could be difficult. But, the girlfriends he used to punch-up would certainly accuse me of being way too nice. (They are correct.) Jones's drug problems and personality issues drive Mick and Keith start writing songs and leading the band.

Kenneth Anger grows up in the Los Angeles area, loves Hollywood gossip, and hits the art world fame circuit as a 20-year-old with the short, heavily homorerotic film Fireworks.

Comment --- If you decide to read the novel you may be like me and want to leave the book to research the many people, places, events, and things involved. I tried watching some of Anger's flicks and my damn internet connection is all screwed up and the film keeps pausing. That really ticked me off ---- Comment

Anger doesn't make much money at film but moves alternately lives in NY, LA and SF. He falls hard into infatuation with Beausoleil and struggles to complete his film. Anger has a fascination with bikers, sailors, motorcycles and cars, and Satanism. Anger's friendship with a London art dealer introduces him to the Stones and he makes friends with Mick and the rest and tries selling Mick on helping with his latest work.

Anita Pallenberg is dating Brian Jones. Anita seems like a fairly nice lady with a not-so nice guy and a fondness for party drugs. Anita ends up leaving Brain and moving in with Keith Richards. Anita also makes friends with Anger.

More things happen and their is this 1960s mix of drugs, casual sex, making friends, black magic, and a fascination with Satanism and violence. That distant and theoretical fascination with violence comes to head with reality after Altamont and the Tate-LaBianca killings.

Comments:
1. I thought the novel bogged down in spots with literary bother. Characters dreaming about the universe and love and whatnot. Bleah.
2. Except for Brian Jones all the characters were all still alive at time of print. Only Anita Pallenberg has since died, that this past June. Kenneth Anger is now 90 and still giving interviews. Anita and Keith had three children. I did not know one child died of SIDS as a 10 month old.
3. No mention of Hollywood Babylon.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Totally Forgot: "City of Thieves" by David Benioff

Totally Forgot: City of Thieves by David Benioff, 2008, Overdrive download.

Audiobook I completely forgot to put down notes for. I listened to this in June or July. A good book. Spoilers await.


Lev is a teenager in wartime Leningrad. During the winter he and his friends see a German pilot parachute down. They check out the body and Russian Army troops show up. The kids scram because people are regularly shot for any kind of looting or pilfering. Lev is caught.

Lev ends up being told by a Russian Colonel of Intelligence that Lev can save his life if Lev can find a dozen eggs for the upcoming wedding of the Colonel's daughter. Lev is paired up with the slightly older Kolya. Kolya considers himself a man of the world. Kolya claims he is: a great poet and writer, a lady killer, and knowledgeable about most everything in the world.

Lev and Kolya head out into Leningrad with a few hundred Rubles and hoping to score eggs on the black market. Armed with a military pass signed by the widely feared Intelligence Colonel they avoid some trouble but strike out on getting eggs.

Lev and Kolya stay with Kolya's friends. Kolya has loud sex. Lev feels nervous about his virginity. Lev and Kolya decide to use the pass to leave Leningrad and travel into the German occupied areas where a nearby town is supposed to have an egg farm.

Things happen. Lev and Kolya end up in a cabin where the young women are housed as sex slaves for the dirty, rotting, stinking, no good, filthy nazis. Lev and Kolya ended up with a partisan unit. Lev goes lovey-dovey for a young woman in the partisans. There is violence. There is cold weather. There is capture by and escape from the dirty, rotting, stinking, no good, filthy nazis.

Lev and Kolya get some eggs and head back to Leningrad. Kolya is shot and bleeds to death. Lev drops off the eggs to discover the Colonel already has already collected several dozen. Lev meets back up with partisan girl and lives happily ever after.

Comments:
1. The novel was pretty good and I enjoyed the narration. I presume there will be nothing new from Benioff for a while because he works for Game of Thrones.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

YA Story: "City of Angels" by Kristi Belcamino

YA Story: City of Angels by Kristi Belcamino, 2017, 9781943818433.

Belcamino sometimes ends up in my Facebook feed. Belcamino lives in MN and writes mysteries so I figured to give a novel a try. Well, I was expecting an modern day adult crime novel set in Minnesota. Nope. It's a YA novel set in 1992 Los Angeles. Well, those false expectations were my own faulty and the novel was a pretty decent YA novel. I was hoping for more adult than young. So it goes.

17-year-old Nikki Black left Chicago for Los Angeles by tagging along with her brand new boyfriend. Boyfriend is in his twenties and works in the film industry. He brings Nikki to Famous Director's house in Malibu. Nikki finds out Famous Director has some violent kinks and that Boyfriend is there to help Famous Director film Nikki for a private feature. A very private feature. A tie-down-Nikki-and-film-her-rape feature. That's not good.

Nikki bolts and as she escapes their evil clutches she finds 12-year-old Rain. Pink haired Rain was a captive in Famous Director's Malibu beach house and they both escape into the night and end up in downtown Los Angeles. They find a room in a cheap residential hotel and Nikki constantly thinks Boyfriend and Famous Director are out to catch her.

Nikki makes friends in the hotel with a mix of artists and musicians and finds waitress work at a neighboring restaurant. There is the usual YA grab bag of 'exotic' characters - meaning musicians, poets, a former model, street people, a drunken cop, celebrities - and Nikki having to face life as a lonely adult. Rain runs away after a fight with Nikki and Nikki spends the rest of the novel trying to find Rain - who Nikki is sure was kidnapped.

Things happen with sputtering and stalling love affairs. Danger. Scary adults preying on children and teens. Nikki stuck blaming herself for family deaths when she lived in Chicago. Nikki going it alone. Nikki accepting help from her new friends. A Scientology-like church that Nikki is convinced is involved with Rain's disappearance. Mystery murders. So on. So forth.

Don't get me wrong. I liked the book as a YA novel. But, I kept reading the story as an adult novel - which it isn't. Belcamino wrote this for teens. The characters are struggling with young person problems and look at things through a young person's eyes. I just wasn't too keen on that as I read.

Comments:
1. Belcamino wrote some neat observations on people and character motivations. But, I forgot what they were.
2. As I type the air blowing in from outside smells kinda like cooked turkey.
3. This is the only Belcamino print copy available in the library catalog. There are two ebooks from her adult series. I just searched Baker and Taylor for some other print books and it says City of Angels is out of stock. B&T are sold out with 42 copies on order.  I presume that means the book is selling well, good for Belcamino.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Done: "The Card Catalog" by The Library of Congress

Done: The Card Catalog by The Library of Congress, 2017, 9781452145402.

I do not see many corporate author headings. I'm surprised no main editor is listed. I put this on reserve for some reason I cannot recall. Maybe I felt I should read for library reasons.

Kind of a mini-coffee table book. I would type down the book's dimensions but, curiously enough, the LOC cataloging-in-publication data does not list dimensions. In a book about cataloging no less.

Anyhoo. The book has plenty of nice photos of old books, old cat cards, and other ephemeria. The text is a brief history on libraries and how library records were organized. From listing of title and author to the first methods of categorizing by subject.

Keep in mind that most libraries were stand alone institutions with their own record schemes. There was sharing of information among some institutions but finding information could be difficult. The printing press meant some standardization started by listing title, author, publisher, place of pub., and subject matter were easy to find in the front pages.

Records went from bound books listing collections to initial attempts of using playing cards as cat. cards.  All the way to the ultimately unwieldy size of card catalog collections that necessitated digitization.

The book was interesting enough to me, I don't know if you will care.  The text itself is a pretty fast read as long as no one is interrupting you and you don't mind holding a book with odd dimensions as you lay in bed.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Listened To: "8th Circle" by Sarah Cain

Listened To: The 8th Circle by Sarah Cain, 2016. Overdrive download.

I was thinking this was kinda so-so as a novel. But, I just read this last line in the Kirkus review: This dark debut isn’t for everyone, but it’s great for what it is: tight, well-crafted, and nasty. It nails the noir. Well, they liked the novel more than I did.

The book wasn't bad but the story did not offer anything new - investigative reporter discovers sex crime conspiracy among the wealthy and powerful - and I never felt like I had to know what would happen next. I thought the book was decent but average.

Anyway. Danny Ryan has been in mourning and seclusion for the past 18 months after his wife and young son died in a car wreck. Ryan won a Pulitzer a few years ago for his reporting in Philadelphia and became a famous columnist in the city. Still under 40 years old Danny has been shut up in his big house and doesn't have to work after his wife's millions went to him. One night a car crash in a neighboring duck pond. The driver is Danny's pal and also the son of the newspaper editor. The driver has also been shot, says "Inferno" to Danny, and dies. Well. Dang. That's odd.

Police ask questions. The buddy is buried. An intimidating caller tells Danny that the caller wants a "package" the dead guy gave Danny. Danny got no package. Things happen. Danny discovers Inferno ties into a serial killer case that his abusive, alcoholic, and now dead father investigated with Philadelphia PD. Local cop investigating Dead Buddy's death is a former FBI guy who also investigated Inferno. Inferno leads to expensive sex clubs that also - apparently - deal with child rape and murder. Inferno has ties to people Danny knows, including his former father-in-law who is a U.S. Senator.

Basically, Cain gave us the full list: investigative reporter, sex crimes, murder, violent family past, dead son, dead wife, mysterious and beautiful woman, sex clubs, sociopath serial killer who was in a mental hospital, rich and powerful politicians, rich and powerful man protecting his killer son, plaster faced political wives, so on, so forth.

Like I said, the book isn't bad but it's about average. Cain has skill because I did keep rolling along with the story but I wasn't compelled to listen.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Finally Got To: "Once A Warrior" by Anthony Neil Smith

Finally Got To: Once A Warrior by Anthony Neil Smith, 2014, 9781499714012


I'm sitting at a table in the elementary school gym during picture day for the local school district. We are signing up people for new cards, replacement cards and 'Read Away Your Fines' cards. There have been no takers and I have no other work I can complete using my laptop. So, here you go.

This is the second novel featuring Mustafa and his son Adem. Mustafa immigrated from Somalia as a boy and his son Adem was born in MN. The first novel had college kid Adem embracing Islam and traveling with his best friend back to Somalia to join an Islamic movement. Before leaving the U.S. Adem and that friend murdered a small town Police Officer. Adem's father and the murdered woman's boyfriend traveled to Africa to find Adem and his pal.

-- Interrupted to sign people up for library cards. Good. --

Adem did not thrive with the Islamist nuts in Somalia and ended up taking on the pseudonym of Mr. Mohammed and became a lead ransom negotiator for Somali pirates.  Adem fell in love with a local woman before his own rescue. The woman's face was later burned with acid, she was left in Africa,  and Adem now pines for her. You don't need all this info to read the second novel but there you go anyway.

The second novel starts four years after Mustafa and Adem's return from Africa.  Adem has just graduated college and wants to take a religious pilgrimage to the East. Mustafa is not happy with that. Mustafa's wife, WhatsHerName, is not happy with that. The government will likely not be happy with that. But off Adem goes because he wants to rescue his acid burned would-be girlie friend.

Meanwhile, Mustafa takes a call from the African cousin who helped Mustafa rescue Adem four years ago. The cousin requests Mustafa find the cousin's daughter who has disappeared from Kenya and is now in the Twin Cities as a sex slave. Mustafa quits his job at Target and goes back to the violent street gang he founded, and then left, years ago. Now Mustafa is overthrowing the current gang leader to use the gang as a tool in his search to find Missing Girl.

Many things happen. Mustafa overthrows the young man currently in charge of the South Side Killaz and Mustafa pretends he is the heartless crook he used to be. Adem is played like a fiddle and repeatedly hoodwinked by African pirates, the CIA, and other nefarious types. Mustafa's secret plan to use the gang to find Missing Girl puts him back into violent street work he no longer wants. By finding Missing Girl Mustafa will also be ruining one the gang's main incomes - a sex slavery ring. Adem continues to believe his bullshit fantasy of rescuing Burned Girl, bringing her to the U.S., and showing her how awesome he is.

Both characters are tossed on the seas and spend time reacting when their plans are ruined.

Smith's characters are usually unsettled and shifty. They may have steady jobs and loving families but they are always a hair away from fucking things up or just bailing on life. They are generally untrustworthy and out for themselves. Mustafa is a bit of a change from that because he is driven by family loyalty and love rather than narcissistic issues.

Comments:
1.  The ending leaves Adem's future up in the air.  I don't know if Smith is going to do a third novel or not. He gets rightfully bummed after spends months of work on a novel to get tepid sales.
2. Some things are a stretch: The niece ending up in Twin Cities where Mustafa lives. The CIA with it's all seeing agents everywhere. The FBI and CIA so forgiving of Adem's previous work as pirate negotiator. Adem not being recognized as the famous and infamous Mr. Muhammed.
3. Smith's most recent novel Castle Danger: woman on ice came out two days ago. Take a look, I have the book on my Kindle but am working on a back log of other books.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Heard: "Deadman's Road" by Joe R. Lansdale

Heard: Deadman's Road by Joe R. Lansdale, 2010, the Overdrive.com edition says it was available in 2014. I'm not sure if the 2014 date is a pub date for the audio or the date available through purchase with Overdrive.

Several novellas of Reverend Jedidiah Mercer who travels wild west Texas fighting demons and other evil creatures. Not much to say. There are episodes of Jedidiah fighting evil around the state with vampires, cave trolls, and other deadly beings from hell.

Mercer has been cursed by God to travel the west wreaking Old Testament style justice. Mercer is not happy with God for forcing the job upon him. But, since Mercer was once caught having sex with Mercer's own sister he kinda understands the punishment.

Lots of filthy people. Six gun blasting. Dead horses. Wanton women. An angry Jedidiah Mercer who quickly kills when suspecting danger. Booze. Dust. Danger. So on. So forth.

The real interest in these stories is that Lansdale writes them. If you like Lansdale we'll like this. I liked this.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Withdrawn Novel: "Kiwi Wars" Garry Kilworth

Withdrawn Novel: Kiwi Wars Garry Kilworth,

No one checked this novel out so I had to weed it. I've 2-3 others in the series so I bought this used copy. Comparable to the Sharpe series by Cornwell where Kilworth has Fancy Jack Crossman going from the Crimean War to India to New Zealand.


The books go fairly fast and a lot of what does on in the stories is us reading about soldiering at the time. Kilworth does not go into elaborate plots or mysteries. We get a good dose of historical doings and the author does not focus on personal drama.

Fancy Jack Crossman, British Army mapmaker and spy, is sent to New Zealand in 1862 to help fight an insurrection by the native Maori. Crossman is great as a spy and scout and the three soldiers who report to him don't get along all that well but are successful at their work. The unit reports to a Colonel (hell, maybe it was a Major, I don't recall) and mapmaking is mostly a cover story to hide their real job of gathering intelligence on the enemy.

Crossman and Co. land on the North Island of New Zealand as the English settlers and native Maori are warring over land. The English started coming over several years ago and Maori did not mind. But, now that the English are buying or taking land the Maori are getting pissed off. The Treaty of Waitangi was supposed to settle land disputes and sovereignty but did not quite work out. Since there is not much in the way of inteliigence gathering in this slowly simmering battle Crossman and Co are sent out to make maps.

Things happen. Crossman pines for his wife but gets a Maori girlfriend. Both Crossman and one of his soldiers are lost in the bush. His no-goodnik Private discovers that his no-goodnik brother is now a wealthy no-goodnik in New Zealand. Crossman and a Maori scout go on a 2-week trek through the bush.

Fun stuff.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Paperback Reprint: "The Man on the Balcony" by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

Paperback Reprint: "The Man on the Balcony" by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, 1968 from a 1993 reprint with 9780679745969. Translated by Alan Blair.

I am at Boy Scout camp all week. I will not try typing into my magic telephone box. I also cannot find an embed code using the youtube app.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Heard: "The Glass Key" by Dashiell Hammett

Heard: The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett, 1931, audio version is listed as 2011 in Overdrive. That date might be electronic version and not production date.

I cannot recall if I read this before or not. I've always enjoyed Hammett's books but did most of that reading in middle or high school. My interest was always the Continental Op so I think I might have skipped this novel.

As I was listening to the first part of the book I thought, "Hey, this is the plot of Miller's Crossing." Well, yeah. Sort of. The first part of the film is much like the first part of the novel and then the stories diverge. I'm not bothering to research and see if the Coen's credited Hammett.

Ned Beaumont works for Paul Madvig. Madvig is a political fixer in a medium sized town not far from New York. Madvig has most politicians under his thumb and an upcoming election has him working to get his senator reelected. Madvig makes money of the government contract scams and the usual illegal enterprises. Ned Beaumont came to town about 18 months ago, started working for Paul and the two of them became tight.

Ned has been the strategic might behind Madvig's dealings. Ned has the brains and the foresight. But, when the senator's son is beaten to death on the street things start to happen. Ned is the first to find the body and walks up the block to Paul's night club. The first concern is for how this will hurt the election. Paul is concerned how the death will effect his pining and mooning love for the Senator's young daughter. Paul is about 20 years the woman's senior but madly in love with her.

Things happen in a Hammett fashion. People lie. Hoodlums enjoy hurting people. Drinking and smoking are vital to daily life. Hats are worn. So on. So forth. Ned splits from Madvig but still helps him out.

I was struck how Hammett would let us know what characters were thinking. His common tactic was to describe their faces - a droop to a lip, eyes looking elsewhere - but I have not firm examples to type in. Hammett also used the word "mien" several times. That's a word that is fallen out of fashion.

I really enjoyed this novel but do wonder if the author's name was part of that. Are my memories of the first readings of his work stronger than the work? If this were printed under another name would I like it as much? If pigs had wings would they fly? If you give a mouse a cookie will he ask for a glass of milk?

EDIT: OK. Fine. I looked. The Coen's did mix The Glass Key and Red Harvest. That's what I was guessing.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Crap, I Forgot One: "The Unburied Dead" by Douglas Lindsay

Crap, I Forgot One: The Unburied Dead by Douglas Lindsay

An Ebook that I'm pretty sure I got for free from the publisher, Blasted Heath. Blasted was an ebook only publisher in Scotland that shut down a few months ago. That's too bad. Anthony Neil Smith spoke highly of the company. I finished this in June. I think.

Detective Sergeant Thomas Hutton is 44 years old, drinks too much, screws around with most any women, has three ex-wives, and lingering trouble with PTSD and guilt from his time as a British Army peacekeeper in the Balkans. So, now you know we're all set up for some standard British gritty noirish noiring in Noir Town.  (But, tell me, what is noir?)

Hutton mostly chose police work while reading newspaper articles about the the daring do of Inspector Bloonsbury, Manly Cop Hero. Several years later Hutton is a detective himself and he knows that Bloonsbury has turned into a bloated, drunken mess.  Bloonsbury did have a brief career resurgence about five years ago after solving a big case but he has now gone back to rock bottom.

Anyhoo.

A killer is on the loose in small(ish) town Scotland. He is slashing women who look like his ex-girlfriend. Well, he slashed one so far. Meanwhile, Hutton is at the police department Christmas bash trying to bed the young lady constables. He fails in his sexual efforts but joins the investigation and also learns of some nefarious goings on from a few years ago. Turns out that Bloonsbury's cop victory five years ago was due to he and his equally despicable co-worker setting up a crime, accidentally killing a victim, and then framing an innocent man to go to prison.

More things happen. Hutton starts juggling women as he shags his superior officer and tries to get on better terms with his second ex-wife. When a couple coppers are killed Hutton wonders if Bloonsbury is killing off his co-conspirators. Or, is the serial killer to blame? Was one cop really killed in a legitimate hit-and-run?

A fun book. I enjoyed the visit with Scottish culture and language. Hutton is well drawn. He's your standard Detective With Issues Who Makes Bad Decisions and I enjoyed it. A couple killings in the novel were a surprise because Lindsay spent enough time with the characters that I felt an impact from their deaths.

There are a couple other books in this series and I should try them out. That or Lindsay's Barney Thomson series.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Long Comic: "The Absolute Sandman" by Neil Gaiman

Long Comic: The Absolute Sandman: volume one by Neil Gaiman and multiple artists, 2006, 9781401210823.

OK, so I finally read the Sandman stuff and, based on years of hype and praise, I am underwhelmed. Maybe I also have to be familiar with the quality of comics that came before this to recognize the work's importance.  

This is a fancy reprint from DC's Vertigo imprint with issues 1 through 20 of Sandman stories plus extra stuff. Since Gaiman wrote the series you can be sure that there is some great storytelling. I still did not give a rat's ass about some of them. According to library catalog Absolute Sandman is a five volume series with pub dates from 2006 to 2011.

Sandman is a god - a lesser god I suppose - who controls dreams and the dreamworld. In 1905 (or so) he is captured by some Englishman who are having an occult ceremony intended to catch Death. They catch Sandman instead and he is stuck as a captive for the next 70 years (or so). The first 10 or 15 issues involve Sandman returning and reclaiming his dream realm and chasing down a few errant dreams - creatures - that left the Dreamworld. There is some fanciful artwork and Sandman has Robert Smith style rat's nest hair.

Comments:
1. A Midsummer Night's Dream won a 1991 World Fantasy Award. Midsummer was the first comics winner for Short Fiction and induced a rules change for that category. Sure, this was a god story but I really do not care about Shakespeare. You can explain to me all you like about the cultural and literary importance of the man's work but that does not mean I enjoy it.
2. Collectors was good. A 20-year-old woman is looking for the 12-year-old brother she has not seen in 7 years. She ends up at a hotel that has been taken over by a convention of serial killers. Sandman shows up chasing down one of his errant dream creations.
3. That is all. I'm not going to comment on each issue in the book. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Book In My Ears: "Cairo Affair" by Olen Steinhauer

Book In My Ears: Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauer, 2014, overdrive.com download.

EDIT: Crap I thought I posted this. I finished the book in early June and don't want to type up too much. I'll be posting spoilers.

Woman is widowed when her diplomat husband in murdered in Hungary. The couple were posted for several years in Egypt and she travels there on the sly when she discovers a connection to the murder.

Sophie and Emmett Kohl married in 1989 - or so - and he joined the diplomatic service. They have traveled around a bit and are living in Hungary when the Arab Spring occurs. Emmett is murdered in a restaurant while lunching with Sophie. Of course Sophie is a bit shaken. Right before the murder Emmett told Sophie her knew she had been shtupping a CIA friend in Cairo while they lived there.

Sophie gets enough information from the Hungarian cops and Embassy staff that she can draw a line back to Cairo.  Sophie starts looking and Steinhauer starts spinning several story lines together. There is CIA guy Jibril who hopes to start a revolution in Libya. Sophie who remembers back to a scandalous 1990 incident in Eastern Europe. Cairo CIA guy who hopes for a full relationship with Sophie. Egyptian secret policeman who hopes to survive in his job and stay out of prison when the current regime is out. A Embassy contractor who drinks too much and is hired to escort Jibril and then Sophie.

Steinhauer builds the story up with a interweaving characters and deceptions. Kinda like a garden trellis. The politics and public stories are the trellis frame with straight and you clearly seen wooden slats that intersect in clear spots. The people are like the vines with secret relationships that twist around and are obscured. This is a spy novel so Steinhauer has his characters trying to figure out who is doing what, who is lying, who is dangerous.

Anyhoo. This was a good listen.


Listened: "Star Wars: Aftermath: Empire's End" by Chuck Wendig

Listened: Star Wars: Aftermath: Empire's End by Chuck Wendig, 2017, wplc.overdrive.com download.

Final book of the trilogy. I'm glad it is finished. If you're not a Star Wars fan skip the series, it's not a starting point for the novels. If you do want to try a Star Wars novel I suggest Kenobi by John Jackson Miller..

Plenty of schmaltz at the end with crying about new children, yelling and weeping over dead characters, bawling and sadness at separation, etc.

The plots starts up a few weeks after the end of the last novel. Mon Mothma is recovering from a assassination attempt. The Empire has formed an armada near the planet of Jakku. Nora is after Grand Admiral Sloane and Nora's her son Temon is trying to follow his mom. There is more blasters, spaceships, lovey-dovey, some political intrigue.

I mostly enjoyed the series but it started to wear me down. Sci-Fi series just go too dang long for me. There are too many characters to keep track of when spread out over three novels. Wendig has some neat observations about people and their psychology but I cannot recall enough to say what those things were.

The novel does explain why Jakku had all the spaceship wrecks on it in The Force Awakens.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Done: "The Story the Soldiers Wouldn't Tell: sex in the Civil War" by Thomas P. Lowry

Done: The Story the Soldiers Wouldn't Tell: sex in the Civil War by Thomas P. Lowry, 1994, 9780811715157.

Interesting book with an awful cover. When I write awful cover I mean to say that the graphic design is just terrible. 

Lowry used documents in the National Archives and many other sources to research several aspects of sexuality during the war. Abortion, birth control, sexually transmitted disease, prostitution, homosexuality, so on, so forth. There is a bib in the back along with a listing of archives and libraries he used.

Interesting stuff but Lowry points out how the historical record can be skimpy on several things. Topics like homosexuality were not often recorded. Lowry relies quite a bit on Walt Whitman's sex diaries. (An aside: Whitman was promiscuous in D.C. and New York and kept records of all the men we had sex with.) Plus, many of the CSA Army records were destroyed by fire near the end of the war. Since Lowry focused on soldiers he had to rely military records - especially military court docs - and this study is mostly limited to the US Army.

The history of abortion and disease were the most enlightening. Both were widespread. You hear a lot about disease like dysentery causing more soldier injuries than bullets but you don't always hear that syphilis and gonorrhea were a big part of that. Do yourself a favor and skip the photos of patients in the third and last stage of syphilis.

I do not have the book at hand. I'll take another look at the book and post info of note if I see anything super interesting.

EDIT: Ok, I have the book. let me look through for the interesting parts by topic.

1. Rape. War zones are always dangerous for civilians. Women have the constant risk of rape by both sides. Black women were especially vulnerable and seemed to be the target of Union soldiers.  Punishments varied from light punishment to death. There was plenty of rapes but Lowry and others  seem to think there was less rape than other conflicts. I'm guessing that the Civil War had less demonizing the enemy than other conflicts. If you don't hear that your enemy is a depraved animal maybe you are more likely to see them as the people they are.
2. Abortion. Lowry refers to several news and magazine adverts that regularly offered ways to end pregnancy. Lowry also references several medical texts that gave instruction for same. One physician of the time estimated 25 percent of women used abortion. His estimate is only 5 points higher than several other contemporaries that Lowry names.
3. Prostitution has two chapters that cover the East and West parts of the country. Soldiers and prostitutes have always been a pair. And the resulting economic and family disasters of war causes plenty of women to take on the work. The Union Army in a couple instances would forcibly empty out the local bordellos, put all the women on a river steamer, and send the women upriver and away from the soldiers. The steamers would be refused docking privileges at many towns and keep traveling with nowhere to put ashore.
4. The Union Army was pretty damn big. Some commanders were realistic in dealing with venereal disease and required licenses and medical inspections of prostitutes. Women and soldiers who were sick were sent to hospitals until cured. Or "cured", because I'm guessing a cure was a remission of symptoms.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Heard a Play: "The Rivalry" by Norman Corwin

Heard A Play: The Rivalry by Norman Corwin, presented by LA Theatre Works, 2009 production (for audio, I do not know about the play).

Dramatic look at the 1858 debates between Lincoln and Douglas. Acted by Paul Giamatti as Douglas, David Strathairn as Lincoln, and Lily Rabe as Douglas's wife Adele. Smippets of debates plus private conversations between the Douglas's and the Douglas's with Lincoln.

Don't listen to the audiobook out loud if only snippets can be heard by passers by. The reason for this is that Douglas's racism is a focus. A neat example of history told through fiction. Although I suppose there are plenty of critics about what Corwin did and did not give his characters to say.

The first debates to be transcribed and printed in newspapers. The 1858 senatorial race made headlines because of the importance of slavery being extended, or not, into the territories. From a modern eye Douglas was a racist prick. He focused on the Union above all and thought blacks were a lower rank of people anyway - Corwin includes several sections of Douglas's speeches where the rails against miscegenation and mongrels. Douglas also wants to get elected and uses half-truths whenever needed. Douglas was a party man.
Lincoln is also a politician. But Lincoln is also Lincoln so of course he will come out better than Douglas. Not a difficult thing to do anyway when Douglas is so easily hung by his own words. Lincoln is full of jokes and stories. His debate style is assured and clam next to a sometimes bombastic and emotional Douglas. He does not travel with his wife like Douglas does. His lawyer income is questioned.

The debates are also the same stuff you hear every 2, 4 and 6 years: Who is more patriotic? Who promises what? Which is them is a liar and cheat? What is being twisted to someone's advantage? The papers are lying about me! That paper told the truth, it's about time! Power, money and reputation are at stake so things get heated.

Comments:
1. Douglas died at 48 years old.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

E-Book: "After the First Death" by Lawrence Block

E-Book: After the First Death by Lawrence Block, 1969, ebook version is some other year.

Once again I am left wondering if Larry Block has ever written a bad book. He might think so but how many readers would agree? I suppose he may - may - have turned out dreck during his drinking days but even that is probably pretty good. That's 50+ years of work.

Anyway.

Recently released convict Alex Penn went on a drinking bender and wokeup in a flophouse hotel room. His brutal hangover keeps Alex from moving for several hours. Once Alex gets up from bed he steps in a puddle of blood and sees the murdered prostitute on the floor. "Uh-oh," Alex thinks, "Not again."

Alex was convicted about five years ago of killing a prostitute during a booze blackout. Recent court decisions won him a release and he returned to New York. Alex has stayed off the booze but one night started drinking again, picked up a working girl, and woke in his current state.

Alex cleans himself up best he can but his clothes are soaked in blood. He steals a set of clothes and hits the bricks. He knows the cops are after him and he refuses to go back into the can. He starts to remember things and recalls someone else in the hotel room that night. He figures he has been set-up for the murder. But only someone from his previous pre-prison life could be so motivated. "Hey! that means I must not have killed the first girl!" thinks Alex.

Alex starts sleuthing. Getting by on what little cash he has on hand Alex tries to figure out who hated him so much to kill a second woman on put Alex on the hook. He starts trying to track down men who could have slept with his ex-wife. Former colleagues itching for advancement over Alex. So on. So forth.

Of course, not everything is as it seems and we follow Alex's amateur adventures with Block during his usual skillful sketches of Alex and the other characters. I assume this was written for a mass market paperback publisher that harped on the sensational and sexy. Block gives plenty of that with drug use, vomit, blackouts, heroin, prostitutes, pimps, and blood. Block also has all those things make sense for the character and setting. The heroin addicted prostitute is not a ful-on scuzzy junkie or a hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold angel. Alex is a blackout drunk.

Comments:
1. Once again I feel like I am sucking up to Block.
2. Oh, Master Block, you are so knowing and powerful. From your keyboard sprouts the wisdom of the ages and the insights of Solomon. Men bow to your feet and women bow to your waist. Editors weep as they read your work. Junior Editors must be chained to their desks to stop them from flinging themselves from high office windows.

Finally: "Round Mountain" by Castle Freeman, Jr.

Finally: Round Mountain by Castle Freeman, Jr., 2012, 0984707824.

I brought no library books on our South Dakota trip and after I finished this novel I barely read much else. I ended up going to sleep or watching movies and TV shows on my tablet.

Scott Phillips once published a book, Rut in 2010, with Concord Free Press. I was lucky enough to get a copy. Concord does paperback runs, gives the books away, and asks that readers pass the book along to more readers. I vaguely remember making a request and receiving this or Rut in the mail.

Short stories set in rural New Hampshire (Vermont?) around Round Mountain. Round Mountain is a land feature not a town. Each story features Homer, small town cop-drinker-father-cuckold, over several decades of the man's life. Most stories are told from Homer's point of view.

Homer at times seems heroic. He works a somewhat thankless job as a small town cop and volunteer firefighter and seeks to do goodworks for people. But, he also sounds like a not so great father and husband. His wife turns out the be a mess of promiscuous trouble and a mentally challenged son seems to get uneven care from the parents.

Each story is a snapshot and shows us Homer from a child to an older man. Homer is fairly solid and steady. He left his hometown for a short while to live in NYC but came back when his father fell ill.

I've not much else to say. I enjoyed the book.

Comments:
1. If you want the book, ask me and I will mail it. Same for Rut, but I'll have to look around for the copy of Rut.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Heard: "The Graveyard Book" by Neil Gaiman

Heard: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, 2008. I did not get the ISBN.

Described as children's book but I think Gaiman's kid stories are always worth the time of adult readers.

Set somewhere in England in a seemingly modern time. An assassin is inside a home and has just used his knife to murder a married couple and their daughter. He is making his way to the toddler boy's room but finds the boy missing. The boy had awoken, climbed out of his crib, thumped his way down the stairs on his bottom, spied the open front door and took a walk.

Across the street from the charnel house is a nature preserve and abandoned graveyard. Baby Boy wanders over and slips through the iron fence. Killer - named Jack - follows the boy's scent into the graveyard where a man materializes and uses paranormal powers of persuasion to escort the man from the graveyard and to forget he senses the Baby Boy there at all.

A council of ghosts is convened. The graveyard is filled with ghosts from all ages but most of the ghosts still sleep away in their graves. When debating what to do with Baby Boy a ghost couple who died offers to adopt the Boy. A mysterious woman on a flying horse shows up and says, "Keep the damn kid."

Each successive chapter follows the boy, now named Nobody, as he grows up in the abandoned cemetery. We don't see much of Nobody's adoptive ghost parents. Nod, as he is known, also depends on a figure to be his guardian. That creature, Silas, is not a ghost but allowed to stay at the cemetery. We figure out Silas is a vampire and Silas is the one who goes out at night to get food for Bod.

Time moves on and Bod is required to stay in the graveyard because the killer, Jack, is still looking for Bod. Things happen. Bod make a human friend. Bod makes a ghost friend. Bod tries going to school. Bod enters an ancient crypt. Good stuff.

Comments:
1. I looked at Gaiman's website about the pub year and he lists the usual "places to buy" and also "Library Search" which is pretty damn groovy.

Re-Heard: "A Short History of Nearly Everything" by Bill Bryson

Re-Heard: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, 2003, CD version, I did not catch ISBN before return to library.

I first listened to this when going back and forth from work in Arizona. That was 13-14 years ago. My wife brought this home to listen to on our vacation drive to South Dakota. Everyone in the family enjoyed the book.

I don't have a whole lot to say about the book except that it is greatly entertaining and you learn a lot about the sciences. Because this is a science book. Sure, this is written by a layman for a lay audience but if you don't care about science topics just skip it.

In most ways a history of science and scientific advancement. The breaking of paradigms. Physical difficulty of scientific expeditions and endeavors. Social and professional exile after taking unpopular positions. The incredible genius - and I do mean genius - of some people.

How some things never change and money rules the roost. Lead was big business for paint and gasoline. The readily known and proven dangers were hidden or lied about for profit.

Human development is interesting. How we were not inevitable. People can argue fate and religion but there are plenty of places in history where a different turn would have developed different beings.

Comments:
1. Bryson mentions Iowa and Iowans whenever possible.
2. Only one or two Wisconsin mentions.
3. Fascinating biographical tidbits of famous scientists like Isaac Newton - who was a nut.
4. Nothing else.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Done Listening: "Where it Hurst" by Reed Farrell Coleman

Done Listening: Where It Hurts by Reed Farrell Coleman, 2016, overdrive.com download.

Another Coleman adventure on Long Island. A few years ago Coleman wrote two books under the name Tony Spinosa, Hose Monkey and The Fourth Victim. I enjoyed those two ex-cops-working-crap-jobs-in-downtrodden-Long-Island novels.  This novel has a similar theme with retired patrol officer Gus Murphy living in a lousy airport hotel and driving the hotel shuttle van.

Murphy's personal life imploded two years previous when his 20-year-old son died of a heart defect during a playground basketball game. Murphy's marriage fell apart. His wife slept with Murphy's former partner. His daughter starting boozing it up. Murphy was full of anger and loss. Murphy dropped contact with all his remaining friends and colleagues.

Murphy has basically put himself into a living purgatory. One day a skell from Gus's police days shows up asking Murphy to help investigate the murder of the skell's son since the cops on the case have been doing squat. Murphy gets angry thinking The Skell is playing for sympathy since Murphy's dead son also died youg. Gus kicks the guy out of the hotel, has second thoughts, tracks The Skell down to apologize. Gus goes to the scrap yard Skell works and lives at and Gus is shot at. He then finds Skell's corpse.  Gus is now involved.

Plenty of things happen. Gus has a focus now. Gus starts talking with former cop colleagues and with the police chaplain who helped him two years ago. Gus still loves his ex-wife but that relationship is poisoned and done with.

Bad guys show up and we meet plenty of the working class and criminal class of Long Island. No East Egg and West Egg and parties on yachts. This is overcast Christmas season with lonely people at the hotel's disco night, parents with dead children, divorce, betrayal, murder, torture, guilt, etc.

Jeeze. That last paragraph makes the book sound like a major downer. It isn't. Gus's arc is upward in this story: he is finally starting to recover and deal with his grief and anger.

Comments:
1. Long Island geography love.
2. Glock 26 love.
3. Beat-up car love.
4. Mysterious Russian-immigrant-with-history-of-violence love.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Finished: "Recipes for Love and Murder" by Sally Andrew

Finished: Recipes for Love and Murder by Sally Andrew, 2015, 9780062397669.

Crimespree Magazine wrote about Andrews's most recent novel and since that sounded interesting I reserved this one. I keep on eye out for South African books after enjoying novels by Deon Meyer and Roger Smith.

My cousin and brother visited Lake Mills over Memorial Day weekend. My cousin has worked in several states, traveled overseas for work, and even had a two year term in Australia. His oil company has locations spreading from Texas, north into Alberta, and to Alaska's North Slope.  Most recently my brother has vacationed in Switzerland, Italy, Iceland, and Svalbard Island way off the coast of Norway.

At one point the discussion turned to skiing. My brother did a high altitude ski trip in Switzlerland. My cousin goes on ski trips to Colorado. The one time I went downhill skiing was in Iowa. Yeah, Iowa for downhill skiing. The location was near Dubuque and used the hills by the Mississippi.  As we were talking I remembered that "Hell, I often never leave the city limits." When I do leave the city limits I oftentimes go no farther then a neighboring county. The last time I visited anywhere overseas was my college semester in Australia in 1992.

I mention this because I consider myself decently aware of other countries, cultures, and international news. I pay attention and read different news sources. I listen to overseas radio. I do this, I do that. Blah Blah Blah.

But, one thing I really rely on for learning about other people and places is novels. I cannot travel much so I rely on books. A good mystery novel can be as didactic as any nonfic tome from an academic publisher. Deon Meyer and Roger Smith are good examples of that and so is Andrew's novel set in the semi-desert Karoo region of Southwest South Africa. Andrew adds a lot of detail about the region. Some of those details are minor but others color and fill-in so much of life for a lot of people there. The different languages, Afrikaans families and loyalties, weather, cars, food, social manners, etc.

Anyhoo.

Tannie Maria (Tannie means Auntie and is an honorific for any woman older than the speaker) is a widowed women in her 40s who lives in a remote house and writes a food column for her regional newspaper. Maria stayed at home most of her life and only married because after her ill mother died she needed to go somewhere. That somewhere was a physically abusive husband. Now that the husband is dead she focuses on food. Maria's daily life revolves around food and her recipe column is popular. When the newspaper's owners demand more readership the local editor gives Maria an advice column to write.

Maria knows little about love and relationships but since she knows a lot about food she prescribes food for the lovelorn. One letter writer is a woman in a bad marriage. Maria gives advice. The woman is murdered. Maria and the other two women for the newspaper get involved in investigating.

Things happen. There is violence. Weird religious people. Mourners for the dead women. A silly shootout. Maria seeing most everything from a food focused point of view. Bad driving. Love affairs. Etc.

I enjoyed the book quite a bit. Which is good because this was 378 pages long. This is the first cozy mystery I have read. Recipes in the back.

Comments:
1. My cousin's oil firm lost a lot of money last year because of economic issues. I was very impressed when he said that they kept on all the employees. Some of the staff spent some days standing around looking at each other but they had jobs. Plus, the people are there, trained, and ready to work when work picks up again - which it did.
2. EDIT: France. I was going through old emails and saw my brother was skiing in France for two weeks. I knew I forgot a country.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Heard: "Doc" by Mary Doria Russell

Heard: Doc by Mary Doria Russell, 2011, downloaded from overdrive.com.

Russell is an author with some real talent. She has a strong perception of people's thoughts and experiences and writes about them very well. I presume she has a lot of brain power because some parts of the book really impressed me, and the writing sucked me in as she dug into the characters. She did an excellent job presenting the characters from the perspectives of others and then revealing the individual character's personal history and motivations that drove their actions. Russell character's are convincing and fully believable. But, I prefer more action.

Russell's forward - or was it the afterword - addresses the issues of accuracy in historical fiction and how sometimes fiction is more truthful and accurate. Russell was able to rely on several historical sources include a recent book written by a Holliday relative who had access to a number of family docs.

Short: John Henry "Doc" Holliday ends in Dodge City in 1878 to grab some of the cattle money flowing through town. He makes friends with a couple Earp brothers, fights with his girlfriend, and coughs up blood.

Long: Holliday loved his family in Georgia. He was very attached to his caring mother who died of tuberculosis and, after his grouchy father remarried, Holliday went to live with extended family. He later attended dental school in Philadelphia and opened a practice in Georgia under the eye of a dentist relative. Then Holliday himself caught TB, headed to Dallas, Texas for the dry-ish air, and joined a dental practice in Dallas.

Holliday's cousins used to play cards all the time as children and Holliday became a skilled dealer so he starts gambling in Dallas after the dental work does not pan out. Holliday's gambling gets him in trouble. Holliday hooks up with Big Nose Kate. Kate and Holliday drift a bit and end up in western Kansas for cattle trail money.

Things happen. We follow Wyatt Earp, Kate, Holliday, Morgan Earp and many other characters in Dodge as they live their lives in 1878. Dodge City is a small community that exists solely for the cattle yards and railroad. There are bars, restaurants, and hotels. No school because there are few kids. Most people are under thirty years of age and most women are prostitutes. The few families are mostly Germans farming outside of town.

The city is dangerous and when Wyatt comes back into town he is hired as undersheriff. Wyatt conks some people on the head. Doc starts up his dental practice and loves the work. Doc has an important skill and education that helps people. But, his disease and coughing make the work difficult, and then impossible. Never mind that dental work can be expensive for the customer.

More things happen and several characters leave Dodge for greener grass and cash.

Comments:
1. Everyone is young. This is something that gets missed by movies and TV. Doc is 27-years-old in 1878. Wyatt is 30. Bat Masterson is 25-years-old. Ed Masterson was 26 when killed in Dodge.
2. I did not know Holliday practiced in Texas and Kansas.
3. Your better as surviving if you are white and protestant.
4. My only time in Dodge has been driving through. The first time was driving a Ryder truck. I had a full load of stuff as we were moving from Kansas to Arizona - not unlike the Earps I suppose. I was coming up to an intersection when the light turned yellow. I was afraid to brake too hard and end up halfway in the intersection and with the load shifting all over the truck.  A local officer pulled me over and gave me a warning. He did not 'buffalo' me with a pistol whip to the head. I told the guy I'd be more careful and, by God, I was more careful.
EDIT, May 26: Man oh man. I reread this post and it was full of typos and half-assed sentences. Heck, it probably still is full of typoss and half-assed sentences don't awful.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Maybe Re-Read: "Blood of Victory" by Alan Furst

Maybe Re-Read: The Blood of Victory by Alan Furst, 2002, 9780375505744.

I have been focused on reading some of the many books I own and never got around to cracking open. I'm no Bill Crider but I have a few boxes worth of fiction and nonfiction I've picked up at used book sales. I had not read a Furst novel in quite a while and grabbed this one that was discarded by Maricopa County Library System when we lived in Phoenix.

I might have read this before. I'm not sure. Since I have read or listened to several Furst novels I may be confusing his style and fondness for Eastern European spies and refugees.

IA Serebin is a poet and journalist whose wartime photo during the Russian Revolution made him slightly famous. Serebin's slight celebrity even garnered an invite to dinner with Stalin and the fish eye by a Army general. Serebin skipped out to Paris before any Stalin purges hit him and has been working with a org that assists and socializes Russian exiles.

Serebin is riding as a passenger on a Black Sea cargo ship bound for Turkey and starts shtupping a fellow passenger, the wife of a Count. The Count doesn't care. Serebin hits Constantinople, decides to call it Istanbul, and goes to visit his tubercular ex-girlfriend in the country house he bought her. They are old friends from their Odessa youth and her helped her get away from the commies.

While staying in Istanbul Serebin is helping out with the local Russian ex-pats. During an ex-pat party Serebin is called away and misses the bombing that kills most everyone else. He is later contacted by Count's Wife and is slowly and slyly recruited into a British spy operation.

Things happen.

This is before Operation Barbarossa and Russians are okay living in occupied Paris. Serebin works there a while and then heads into Hungary, Bulgarian, and Romania to try and rebuild an information network developed by an industrialist over the past couple decades. Serebin and Count's Wife get emotionally close. Serebin survives the Nazi takeover of Romania.

The meat of story comes as Serebin and Co. try to figure out how to stop or impede the flow of oil from Ploesti, Romania to Germany. The oil fields are heavily guarded and too massive an area for sabotage. Serebin and Co. focus on trying to somehow block the Danube.

Sneakiness and subterfuge ensue. Serebin wonders who people really are. Serebin wonders how he will survive. Serebin writes a little poetry. Furst supplies another happy-ish ending with Serebin and Count's Wife escaping to Turkey.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Heard: "Agent 6" by Tom Rob Smith

Heard: Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith, 2013, overdrive.com download.

Another Cold War tale with former KGB dude Leo Demidov. Third in the series and initially set in 1965 and nine years after the second novel. Promo "stuff and blurbs" calls this series a trilogy.

Leo's wife Raisa and two daughters are traveling to NYC as part of a choir. They will perform at the United Nations and D.C. Leo is staying in Moscow and working at the warehouse-factory-whatever.

Daughter #2 has been seduced by a undercover Russian spy and is tasked by the spy to encourage a Paul Robeson character-whos-name-I-forgot to appear at the NYC performance. Robeson has been isolated and marginalized by the FBI and can no longer sing professionally. When Robeson does show outside the event and gives a sidewalk speech he is shot dead.

In the aftermath of the shooting the murder weapon is slipped on Raisa, Raisa is arrested, and Raisa is shot dead when Robeson's wife shoots up the police station in a mournful rage. Raisa's violent death strikes Leo hard: his new life goal is to travel to NYC to investigate the murder, find the people responsible and vengefully deal justice.

But, Leo is an outcast of the KGB and cannot leave the USSR. A few years later he tries a winter crossing into Finland but is caught. Leo's Politburo patron spares his life but Leo is sent to Afghanistan.

Fast forward to 1980 and Leo has been in Afghanistan for seven years. If he leaves the country Leo's adult daughters and their families will be killed or sent to a gulag. Leo has been working as a advisor for years and, now that the Soviets finally invaded, has been teaching recruits for the Afghan spy service.

When his single female student is the only survivor of coordinated insurgent attacks on all the students the two of them end up on the run, bring along an orphan girl, and escape to Pakistan and strike a deal with the CIA. Leo and Co. end up in NYC. Leo continues the hunt.

Anyhoo. The book has three sections: NYC in '65, Afghanistan in 1980, and NYC in 1981.

Comments:
1. Smith tells a good story and the Afghan stories are interesting in drawing parallels between 1980 Russians and 2003-present Americans.

2. Paul Robeson character is very interesting. A black guy fighting for equal rights joins the only people who give - or at least say they care - a shit about equal rights: the commies. Robeson makes huge bucks on his singing tours but the FBI's Cointelpro gradually shuts him down. They smear his name with accusation of sexual shenanigans and claim that Robeson hates the country. His career ends when any place that hosts a concert is hit with IRS investigations, health code violations, etc.

3. The Leo character led a very tough life starting with starvation as a child in 1930s Russia. He is taken by adoptive parents but then sent to war, recruited into the NKVD and KGB, exiled to Siberia, etc. After Raisa dies he has no happiness. His life was built upon her presence and he does not allow himself to recover.