Thursday, February 20, 2020

Pink Comic: "Bad Weekend" by Ed Brubaker

Pink Comic: Bad Weekend: a Criminal novella by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, 2019, 9781534314405.

A few weeks ago I drove my wife to work since she hates driving at night and driving in snow. I hung out for four hours and got some reading done. I don't think I fell asleep.  While I was there I checked out the shelves, grabbed this graphic novel, and read it while I sat around all night.

Hal Crane is a famous comic artist and jerk. Crane's professional life has been a series of blow-ups and bad behaviors. One of his former art assistants, Jacob, has been asked/hired to squire Crane around a comics convention in 1997 and Jacob narrates the tale.

Hal Crane is getting a lifetime achievement award at the convention. Crane smokes a lot, pulls a gun on a art dealer, propositions convention women he assumes are prostitutes, helps create fraudulent original artwork for sale, skips out on the panels he is paid to appear on, and otherwise acts poorly. For years Crane's artwork has been widely loved and people tolerate his behavior because of this. Plus, as one characters says, " That's how he kept getting all those inking gigs... getting his editors laid."

Crane spends a decent amount of time trying to find a piece of artwork he lost or sold or something (we don't find out until the final panels). We learn about Crane's professional and personal mistakes and guilt. How his mentor died in a car wreck as Crane rode along. Crane's long estranged adult daughter who wants nothing to do with Crane.

I enjoyed the artwork. Pink is the predominant color - I'm sure there is a reason for that but I don't know what that reason it.

Heard: "Dooku" by Cavan Scott

Heard: Dooku by Cavan Scott, 2019, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

If you don't dig Star Wars stuff just skip the whole damn novel. Otherwise here are my comments.
I figured to try out another Star Wars novel. I greatly enjoyed Kenobi by John Jackson Miller when I listened to that almost seven years ago. Unfortunately no other books have been as good.

This is done as a radio drama, not a narrated book. There are multiple actors, sound effects, music.

Dooku is about Count Dooku of course from his time as a Youngling up until he quits the Jedi and takes on a apprentice. The story is told by his assistant/apprentice Asajj Ventress and Dooku's written and "holo" journals that Asajj is reading. I know nothing about Asajj but she seems to be a regular character on one of the Star Wars cartoons.

Asajj has been told to find Dooku's missing sister. To accomplish the task she has to learn more about the sister and, therefore, Dooku himself. Since Dooku and Asajj are on the Dark Side Asajj is kinda sneaky and reads things she should not have access to.

Things move along as Dooku relays his life as a Youngling at the Jedi Temple. A visit to his homeworld that he left as an infant. Discovering his blood family. Becoming a padawan  So on. So forth.

The novel has the usual Star Wars elements of the Force and the Darkside. There is political intrigue within the Republic and on different planets. For me the main theme is family and the different ways family alliances are built and fractured. Jedi are taken in as infants and allowed no contact with relatives. As a teenager Dooku has a chance meeting with his sister, learns his family rules the planet, that his father hates him, and keeps a secret correspondence with his sister.

Essentially all the Younglings live in a trade school orphanage. They have no outside schooling or friends. As Padawans they will meet and make friends outside the Jedi Order but are still under the strict guidance of a Jedi. Once they do become a Padawan that Jedi is a surrogate parent during their teen and early adult years. All of the Jedi are alone with a lifetime of "sad devotion to that ancient religion".

I suppose Jedi build a family through their beliefs and morals. Within that group they build relationships as friends, comrades, and adherents. But, the infant Younglings start life as infants severed from any loving - or abusive - relatives. How do they children grow up? Who comforts them? Reads to them? Gets after them to brush their teeth and go to bed?

Plenty of families fracture on their own. Jedi relations do that as well when Jedi differ on what actions to take. Defend a planet or stay out of the mess? Act as diplomats or the Lone Ranger? Jedi are turned by the dark side of the Force but also fall victim to somewhat mundane problems of live: gambling debts, romantic attractions, secret side investigations.

Anyhoo. The book is worth your time if you enjoy Star Wars stuff. There is Yoda and Qui-Gon Jinn content as well.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Another Strike: "Career of Evil" by Robert Galbraith

Another Strike: Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling), 2015, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Well, that could have been much shorter. But, when your name is J.K. Rowling I suppose not many editors are going to tell you to cut things down a bit. I don't know if the Cormoran Strike novels are getting longer and longer but it sure feels like it.

Recap: Rowling wrote a thriller under the name Robert Galbraith. The book had some sharp reviews and a minor print run. Then some attorney working for Rowling's attorneys spilled the beans. Rowling, as I recall, got super pissed off about the leak but it also made the book sell like gangbusters. This is the third book in the series.

Cormoran Strike and his sole employee Robin Ellacott have been doing OK since the big press exposure earned after the cases in the first two novels. Rowling still insists on adding a unexplored sexual and romantic angle between the lead characters. I continue to insist that this subplot is stupid because Strike probably smells of nicotine, sweat, and fast food grease.

I do appreciate that the lost-a-leg-in-an-Afghanistan-IED Strike is not the anguished PTSD veteran. Instead, he is a naturally grouchy SOB whose stump hurts from too much standing and walking. Meanwhile, Robin is an unsatisfied person whose personal issues are mainly due to the fella she has been dating for the past 10 years plus her rape from about 8 years ago.

Things start off with Robin arriving for work and signing for a package addressed for her. She gets inside the office and discovers the package is a severed woman's leg. An included note includes lyrics from a Blue Oyster Cult (BOC) tune. So begins a hunt for the bad guy and a many quotes of BOC lyrics.

Strike immediately thinks of 3-4 men who could have done the deed. One suspect is immediately excluded. Another suspect is Strike's former stepfather who was acquitted in the murder of Strike's mother. The last two men are pedophiles and wife beaters Strike dealt with as a military cop with the British Army.

Meanwhile, Robin doesn't much want to get married. Her husband wants her to quit her job, a job that Robin has never admitted to anyone is her dream job as an investigator. Strike and Robin have two paying clients that require long hours of surveillance. The bad guy is shadowing Robin with the intention to kill her as revenge against Strike. More people are attacked. Amputations become a key part of the mystery. So on. So forth.

Both Strike and Robin have flaws and those flaws cause conflict. Strike is a grouch and will not tell people what he is thinking or doing. Robin is resentful to her fiancee and her immediate family. Strike and Robin enjoy each other's company but are workmates, already have romantic relationships, and don't consciously admit any attraction to one another.

Rowling gives us some interesting enough leads, plot, and suspects. All this is swell but the book is too damn long.

Comments:
1. Rowling has written before against transsexual issues. Part of the plot involves people who have a fetish for amputation. The fetish is either a sexual attraction to amputees or people who want to have a limb amputated. Rowling uses much of the same disdainful language used against Trans people with these amputation characters. It's kinda weird and I don't agree with her position on Trans people.
2. The romance and sexual tension storyline is so damn annoying. Ugh. Strike just sounds. Smelling of cigarettes and his hairy body shedding like a dog.
3. Speaking of which: much dog love.
4. Robin's constant feeling of inadequacy.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Old Horror: "Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley

Audio: Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley, 2008 for the audiobook, downloaded off Wisconsin Digital Library.

An old novel with good legs. The language has not been dated although the language and dialogue are a bit stilted at time.

As I was listening along I got to thinking about how much the film versions created their own stories about Frankenstein and the monster. I also got to thinking about Dave Zelsterman's novel Monster which is told from the monster's point of view and argues that Frankenstein is a dirty liar and dirtbag.

Anyhoo. I think the story stands up and most everything in the story is new to me because they have not been covered in most of the film versions I have seen.

That's all. Give the novel a try if you've not done so. The plot drags a bit compared to modern novels but the story is still a decent time.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Dreary: "Knuckledragger" by Rusty Barnes

Dreary: Knuckledragger by Rusty Barnes, 2017, 9781946502070.

Sheesh, that was a bit dark.

Short version: Small time goon for a Boston crook falls into big trouble with his boss.

Long version: Jason "Candy" Stahl likes eating candy, lifting weights, and works as a collector and people pounder for his loanshark boss, Otis. Otis has a diversified portfolio of crime operations and Candy is on the lower half of the staff rankings. Candy is a big dude and was hired by Otis after Otis beat up a few guys as a bar bouncer.

Candy's sorta girlfriend is a curvy Puerto Rican (Dominican?), Rosario, who is more into Candy than Candy is into her.  One day Candy is hanging out at a public park used by the gang as a meeting place. Candy has made some big collections and is there to pass off money. While waiting he says hello to a comely woman and her young son, Candy then meets with the boss guy who introduces the woman as his wife, Nina.

Turns out Otis the Boss is a very jealous man. Turns out the Wife likes to cause trouble and sleep around. A day later while, Candy is on a short vacation funded by a cash gift form Otis, Otis and a couple goons show up in Candy's hotel room and beat Candy bloody. Otis thinks Candy was making eyes at Nina.

Wellll.... I'm thinking Candy needs to change jobs. Rosario is thinking Candy should change jobs. Candy is thinking he just wants to heal up and maybe get even. Then a couple goons from Boston start following and threatening Candy for Candy's work with Otis that involved pounding on another crook. Things are looking dicey. Candy and Rosario's trip to New Hampshire (Vermont?) is getting spoiled. Rosario is making girlfriends sounds.

Things happen. Things devolve. Candy and Co. go on the run. Murders happen. Fear is deep.

A decent novel. I enjoyed it. Violent and scary but with a happiness from Candy and Rosario's relationship. A relationship that grows against Candy's initial wishes.

A low-end-gangster-on-the-run-with-his-girl story. Candy is not a guy who plans ahead very well. He at least had some cash and guns secreted away and he is not stupid. Candy ends up in a crap situation with no way out.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Short French: "Frantic" by Nol Calef

Short French: Frantic by Noel Calef, 1956 for France and 2019 from Stark House, 9781944520663.

When this started I was expecting a murder thriller as the protagonist tries to clean up the mistakes he made in the murder. That main character - one of several - has murdered a loanshark in the office building both men use. Murderer is leaving the building for the weekend when he recalls he left evidence behind. He rushes back into the building and is taking the elevator up to a top floor when the building manager shuts down all the power in the building. Murderer is stuck there.

Meanwhile Murderer's wife is eagerly awaiting the cad. She's a nervous and troubled woman. She is expecting the philanderer home after a loving phone call with him where murderer was feeling lovey-dovey. Murderer was feeling intense relief by dodging his debt to the now dead loanshark and made promises to his wife. when Murderer does not appear the Wife goes looking for Murderer at his building. She sees his car parked on the street. While she checks inside a Teen Jackass steals the car. Wife comes out, sees the car gone, fears her husband split with his latest dolly.

Anyhoo things happen. The guessed at thriller of guy-stuck-in-elevator turns into something else. Wife runs to her ever attentive brother. Brother has a habit of fixing her problems. Brother's own wife is pissed at Wife for being such a over emotional and manipulative pain in the ass.

Meanwhile Teen Jackass takes his girlfriend for a drive in the stolen car and a weekend in the country. Teen Jackass is full of himself as a soon-to-famous film director, as a man of great intelligence and insight, as a fighter of all that is bourgouise. Girlfriend is pregnant and just wants a reliable guy - her bad luck is to be in love to a jackass.

More things happen, there is another murder, and we mostly leave Murderer in his elevator box. Mid '50s France isn't so bad. Society and economy are still being rebuilt after the war. Manners and morals are changing.

Calef explores different relationships among couples:
- the young lovers with Teen Jackass.
- the disintegrating marriage of Murderer and his unstable wife.
- the Brother's marriage and the tensions caused by his needy sister
 - an older couple who own a rural hotel where Jackass and his girlfriend stay. The older couple love each other and still have their differences
- a final couple where the husband is trying to care for a mentally ill wife.

Comments:
1. The weekend at that time is a lousy one-day weekend. "Weekend" just means a day off for Sunday after a 6 day work week.
2. I made notes about the How the Dead Live and that both world wars were still a part of daily life. Dead Live is set 30 years after this novel and the war is never much an issue in this story.

Belfast Noir: "Belfast Noir" edited by Adrian McKinty and Stuart Neville

Belfast Noir: Belfast Noir by Adrian McKinty and Stuart Neville, 2014, 9781617752919.

I went along with my wife to her job a week or two ago because a snow storm was predicted. I hung out for four hours and prowled the stacks a bit. I ran across this and took it home. I've enjoyed McKinty and Neville's novels so that was a big selling point on trying the collection.

Akashic has done so many of these damn books. I've been kinda hesitant to try one because I presume the authors have to have a relationship with the chosen city. For places like Los Angeles, New York, London, etc. that should not be a problem because those places bred or housed are a ton of authors over the years. With smaller cities I figure they gotta hunt for writers and stories. Expanding into the rest of Northern Ireland makes sense.

I did enjoy several of these stories but have to say a couple tales were duds. I'm glad not everything had to be an IRA or Provo story. I also don't have the book to hand so you're shit out of luck if you're expecting me to list favorites. But, I'll check the list of story titles and give it a shot - Hey, I found it on Google Books and it is letting me read through.

Lee Child: Child is one dark motherfucker.
Brian McGillory: an undertaker is forced to smuggle something across the Irish border. Interesting but not fantastic.
Lucy Caldwell: a story about the narrator as a teen girl besotted with a HS teacher. She acts horribly and manipulatively.

That is it. Fun reading - except for a couple duds - but no work that really impressed me enough to track down more of their work.