Friday, May 18, 2018

Heard: "Montana Hitch" by Richard S. Wheeler

Heard: Montana Hitch by Richard S. Wheeler, 1990, download from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Want some character development? Read a Wheeler novel. I'm coming to the opinion that Wheeler belongs in the rarefied air of Lawrence Block and Bill Crider where he can do no literary wrong.

This is the first Wheeler western I have read that sticks more closely to the Western genre's characteristics. (That is just my limited view. Seeing as how Wheeler has written a ton of novels don't expect me to be writing an accurate bibliography of his work.)

Abner Dent is a hard working rancher who has been on his own since he was 12-years-old. A former Texan he now has squatter's rights in Montana along with several other ranchers who use the open range. Dent built a large, wooden house a few years ago to help woo a hurdy-gurdy girl into being his wife. Abner was struck by love and loneliness and his wife, Eve, turned to be a con woman. Her only desire is money and her life has been one of taking.

Abner's somewhat foolish decision to sell off much of his herd to afford the house and pay for the items that Eve "needs" has lowered his bank account and his reputation with local ranchers. Those ranchers think he is a fool for having a woman who cares so little for him and refuses to do any - any - work in the house or on the ranch. Abner and his cowhand Hungry work the ranch all day and Abner comes home to make the meals, clean the dishes, haul the firewood, heat the water, wash the clothes, etc.

One of the neighboring ranchers is Trump. The fictional Trump is just as much an asshole as the current Trump. Fictional Trump cannot cope with civil society and left his family behind to head west and ranch. He is a bully and busybody and a thief. He's been getting rid of his own bulls and been hiding away Abner's bulls to use with his cows.

Abner is an inherently decent fellow. He's been blindly optimistic that Even will come around to enjoy life on the ranch. He thinks his fellow ranchers are reliable and trustworthy. Things start to go bad when Abner and Hungry take a couple cows and a steer to a nearby butcher so Abner can pay some of the hefty household bills his wife has racked up. Abner and Hungry are stopped by Trump who declares Abner cannot sell his own steer, that the steer is for everyone on the range. Trump takes the steer and shoots Abner's horse dead. The reader's blood begins to boil at the injustice of it all.

Abner heads home for another horse and when he gets there he does not recognize what has been happening when he finds his dirtbag neighbor Dixie Lacy at Abner's house with shiftless Eve. We know what happened and we start to learn about what a scumbag Dixie Lacy is. The reader starts getting angry all over again.

More things happen as Abner has to fire Hungry because he has no money. The 230 pound Trump physically beats the 160 pound Abner at the Spring Roundup after mocking him about his ranching and Eve's rottenness. A couple days later Abner gets home to find Dixie and a group of gunmen have taken over Abner's ranch and Eve is in league with Dixie. The reader's reaction is to demand revenge.

Abner is left without a ranch or a horse and suffering from a beating. He starts to build himself back.

The novel's themes of manliness and work had me thinking of Jack Londopn's Sea Wolf. Sea Wolf had the ship's captain proclaiming the importance of physyical power and dominance and Dixie and Trump both follow that philosophy. Abner is no milquetoast like the protagonist in Sea Wolf because built his ranch with little help from anyone and no one works harder. But, Abner just wants to ranch and have Eve love him, he doesn't want to fight and argue or go to town and get drunk. Other ranchers will admit to Abner that Abner's reputation as a rancher and worker are second to none. But, those same other ranchers buckle under to the loudmouth bullying of Trump.

There is a second theme of love or grift concerning Eve and others. Eve admits to Abner that all she wants is money. She took up with Abner because the promised her the big house they have. Her life has been learning to take from others. Trump is about the same and wants to punish anyone he sees as weak. Dixie is the worse. He is a Civil War veteran who still burns at the war's loss and the U.S. Army's occupation of the South. This novel is set over 20 years since the war but Dixie and his PTSD ridden cohort are still shiftless, still angry, still striking out at anyone. Dixie wants chaos. Dixie wants to cause chaos and turmoil in other people's lives. He enjoys causing pain and rapes and beats Eve daily. His goal is to ruin the stock of all the ranchers by blotching the cow brands and leaving the cattle's ownership to no one.

Eve has lived a rough life and been dependent on men. She is at first enthralled by Dixie's rough and demanding manner. She learns too late what kind of person Dixie is. At the beginning she refers to Dixie as a "real man". She has hated the kindness of Abner and thinks of that kindness and love as weakness. She does not understand live because she has never had it.

Anyhoo. This was a very good novel.

Comments:
1. Dixie defends his actions by saying he is no thief, he is a carpetbagger. He claims the Yankees who came South after the war imprisoned people and took land. It's 20 years after the war and Dixie is still burning over it. My take on that? "Tough shit, asshole. Injustice by the occupying Army may have allowed injustice but cry me a fucking river considering you started a war that delivered 750,000 dead (newer, revised estimate from 2012). Fuckwits. Get over it and start over."
2. Only one women character in the story with anything to do. Besides Eve the only others are three Cree women who take up with Hungry and a hurdy-gurdy girl who speaks to Abner.
3. The resolution does not involve a massive shootout or knife fight or train crash or stampede. There are a couple brief fistfights and the house burns down. Dixie does die but that is it.
4.  There is a change of character by Eve that can make readers uncomfortable. Dixie beats her into cleaning the house, cooking for all the men, and punches who whenever she tells Dixie "no".  It's as if Eve is beaten into having good manners. Well, no. It's that it took a while for her to recognize what a shit she had been to Abner and how wrong she was about him and Dixie both. She and Abner are both a bit dim about realizing their bad decisions.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Took A Long Time: "Special Forces Berlin" by James Stejskal

Took A Long Time: Special Forces Berlin: clandestine Cold War operations of the US Army's elite, 1956-1990, 2017, 9781612004440.

I bought this for the library and it has circ'ed 12 times. That is is decent number for a nonfiction book and I am a little surprised. I went ahead and took the book home after clearing it off the new books shelf. I was expecting stories of derring-do and adventure with details on missions and adventures. Instead we have a straight forward history book. A real history book, too, with thorough endnotes, bib., index, interview details, appendices, and acronym guide.

Stejskal is a fomer member of the super-duper-secret Detachment A in Berlin. The unit was created in the mid-fifties in case of Soviet invasion. They were tasked with preparing unconventional warfare plans so that when the commies invaded the West the unit would help stall the invasion by defending Berlin and sabotaging the enemy advance. If the Soviets were not pushed back the commandos would stay behind enemy lines and work with resisting Germans to attack and harry the enemy.

Detachment A was succeeded in 1984 by PSSE-B. PSSE-B was essentially the same group but the old unit was overhauled because of concerns that the old unit was too well know to the Stasi or KGB. The Army played it safe and shipped out all the Detachment A guys who may have been identified by the enemy and then started all over with new dudes.

The 40 years of work that the soldiers performed was mostly training. Lots of training. Lots and lots of training. Training that required excellent fitness, big brains, toughness, endurance, so on, so forth. They worked with all the super fancy super commandos like the German GSG-9, The US Army's various Special Forces and Airborne people, the British SAS. Exercises and war games in the field could last as long as a month. Intensive boozing would commence after the exercises.

The very demanding job also required a high level of independence and discipline. Since most of the unit's work started as unconventional warfare they lived as spies. They learned how to tail people and throw off tails, communicate with both dead drops and radios, how to case a building, how to plan attacks not as an infantryman with 500 other soldiers but as a group of four people. Unit members lived as local Germans with apartments, only spoke German, grew long hair, and dressed as civilians. Soldiers that screwed up fundamental work could be immediately shipped out.

The German language and cultural requirements were difficult for native U.S. soldiers to carry off. At first the unit was mostly composed of European immigrants to the U.S. even including former Wehrmacht soldiers from WWII. Over time the the unit changed with Vietnam vets and others joining the ranks.

Special Forces operations have never received a lot of support and respect from the regular Army and the Berlin group was no exception. As time went on the unit's mission would change. The unit was assigned unrelated duties that took up a lot of time. They were tasked with training local U.S. Army infantry and German army and police. Assessing security at different installations around the world.

1970s terrorism had the unit constantly training for counter-terrorism work. That kind of work takes a lot of training and time to be proficient. Once a team is proficient they need to repeatedly drill to stay sharp on their skills. The unit ended up with a split focus on terrorism and unconventional warfare without enough people to do both as well as they wanted.

I presume the unit also carried out missions during this time that are still classified. One important mission that came to light was the advance reconnaissance for the Iranian rescue operation in 1980, Operation Eagle Claw.  A recap for those (like me) who could not remember the story: the military planned a rescue operation for the 53 staff and diplomats captured after the Iranian takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran. The plan was to fly in planes and helicopters to the Iranian desert, refuel the aircraft, fly to another location to land, attack two separate locations in Tehran, and evacuate the hostages and soldiers from a local airfield.

Well, the whole thing did not work out when a helicopter ran into a airplane after refueling in the desert. The collision led to a massive fire, the death of eight people, and abandoning the mission. There was a lot of work to get the whole operation planned, managed, and organized with multiple aircraft over long distances and having multiple military units work together. The advance reconnaissance by Detachment A was a thorough success.  Detachment A soldiers were already skilled in fitting in as civilians and acting as spies. The two men (maybe it was three, I don't recall exactly) sent to Tehran took on German identities and spent several weeks in Iran checking out the hostage locations, roads in and out, procuring vehicles and safe houses, scouting landing sites, so on, so forth. They were never spotted by the Iranians and after the mission's collapse and even stayed in the country so a while to avoid suspicion of leaving immediately after the failed attack.


Comments:
1. Gun nerd love with the Walther MPK and other weapons.
2. I had forgotten that soldiers were allowed into East Berlin and Germany as part of the treaty from WWII. The US had a facility in East Germany and the Soviets and East Germans would play dirty tricks to keep the soldiers from freely driving around.

Shoot'Em Up: "Deep Black" by Sean McFate

Shoot'Em Up: Deep Black by Sean McFate, 2017, 2000692364.

Another shoot-em-up with the same character from McFate's Shadow War. Tom Locke used to do super commando and political espionage and insurrection work for super expensive militaryu contractor Apollo Outcomes. Locke has been on the run after his boss, Winters, betrayed Locke and his team in the Ukraine. Locke has to run or die and he and two Super Commando pals end up in Northern Iraq battling Isis alongside Kurdish militia.

Locke and Co. have been off-the-grid taking rescue jobs from people wanting to get their relatives out of Isis controlled territory. Unfortunately for Locke that payment usually comes in the form of carpets and lamps because all the local wealth has been lost.

After hiding out in Iraq for a few months Locke and Co. come back from a job and discover a white suited Saudio hanging out in the courtyard of their house. Saudi wants to hire Locke and recover a Saudi Prince from Isis. The Prince used to be a Isis follower. Even worse the Prince used to be a Isis assassin. With a $100,000 retainer and a $1,000,000 pay day the fellas take the job.

Of course there is more going on than a simple rescue. Bad Guy Winters is in league with a Saudi government minister to smuggle nuclear weapons from Pakistan to Yemen. Winter is simultaneously playing the U.S. side by feeding information and ingratiating himself with powerful people. The Prince is wanted dead by his power hungry Saudi Minister father.

Locke is stuck once again. He's been trying to live decently after years of work with Apollo Outcomes where he overthrew democracies, murdered protesters for oil companies, and performed other rotten jobs. He gets stuck in Isis territory with the Prince's pregnant wife and trying to escape Isis, a kill team sent by Winters, the Saudis, Iranian Quds soldiers, and U.S. drones.

Comments:
1. Everyone is a "Tier One Operator" Ugh. Does every novel have to be populated by Super Duper Commando Ninjas?
2. The novel follows the Bernard Cornwell philosophy of "When in doubt have a battle and kill some Frenchmen." Except the Frenchmen are Isis and other bad guys.
3. The real politik life is depressing. Money and power rule the decisions of those in power. Everyone else better duck and cover.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Noise in Ears: "The Second Life of Nick Mason" by Steve Hamilton

Noise in Ears: The Second Life of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton, 2016, downloaded from the Wisconsin Digital Library.


Let's start off with a Internet Gun Nerd Gripe:  During the aftermath of a shooting one character is recalling his 29 year police career and how he'd carried the same pistol that whole time. Hamilton says the pistol is a SIG P250 in .45ACP. Well, now... let's see here, shall we? According to my Internet Computer Box the SIG 250 appeared in 2007. This book came out in 2016. Therefore, a 29 year career means the character started work in about 1987.

(I will write this paragraph in my most Sarcastic Internet Snark Voice) Oh, so the guy traveled forward in time to buy that SIG huh, Hamilton? Because the cop character was certainly unable to buy it in 1987 when it never existed. Never mind the fact that in 1987 most every pistol available was steel or allow frame and the Glock only came out five years before in 1982.  And the idea of modularity of frame, slide, and fire controls as used in the 250 was likely a pipe dream to most manufacturers. I call shenanigans on you, Mr. Hamilton! Shame on you for spreading such disinformation. Fail. Fail! FAIL!

OK, that was fun. I enjoy Internet Gun Griping. I hope Anthony Neil Smith stuck some errors in The Cyclist so I can complain when I get that downloaded and read. But, please be aware that my griping is just silliness because Second Life is very good. I expect Cyclist to also be very good because Smith's novels just keep getting better and better.

Anyhoo. Here is the short version: Small time crook Mason is from Chicago and goes to federal prison for the murder of a DEA Agent. Big Time Gangster is also in prison and identifies Mason as a possible employee. Big Time Gangster says he can get Mason out of prison but Mason has to do whatever work Big Time gives him. Mason agrees to the contract and trouble and turmoil ensue.

Long version: Mason is a lifelong crook with a couple life-long crook buddies. Mason is in his mid twenties and working straight jobs when he decides against his better judgement to take on a lucrative truck hijacking job at the docks in Chicago.  The hijacking is busted by the cops and an idiot crook starts shooting. A DEA agent is killed and Mason is pinched for the whole job and sent to Fed prison on the felony murder rule. He leaves behind his wife and young daughter.

Mason spends about four years in Terre Haute's prison when a guard tells him "Mr. Cole wants to talk to you." Mason says, "Huh? Who? I'm not talking to anyone," not realizing who the low profile Cole is. Over the next next year Mason has to meet Cole, is moved into Cole's prison unit, and convinced by Cole to work for Cole. You see Mason has had no word from his wife and daughter - the only correspondence was divorce papers from her attorney. Cole offers Mason a way to get out of prison. Cole agrees to 20 years of 24/7 service and Cole gets an arresting officer to say he lied about everything. Cole's conviction is expunged and he is released.

Mason soon discovers he took a bad deal. He is picked up out of prison by a untalkative and muscled guy and driven to Chicago. Mason is given a cell phone and instructed to answer the phone at any time and immediately do as he is told. Untalkative drops Mason at Mason's new home in the ultra wealthy Lincoln Park area of Chicago and presents him with his perfectly restored '60s Camaro.

Things happen. Mason's first job is the murder of a police officer and things don't get any better. He is freaked about his new job duties. His ex-wife wants nothing to do with him. He hates being under Cole's thumb. He rebels against Untalkative. A cop who busted him five years ago for the truck hijacking is after him again. He has no other family. He makes bad decisions through naivete and angry impulse.

Mason is not an ordinary dude. The character is not an Everyman thrown into trouble, but he is a novice with Big Time Organized Crime and we can identify with his bewilderment at the money, the organization, and the power Cole exerts from his jail cell. Mason makes some impulsive decisions that will only get him in more trouble and he pushes back against Cole in a way that should get Mason a bullet in the neck. The bad guys are believable and Mason has to learn on the job as he is sent out on assassination jobs.

Comments:
1. Narration is by Ray Porter who also voices a lot of books by Jonathan Maberry. Porter always chews up the novels with lots of emphasis and declarative tones. That style is not always to my liking. I do enjoy that style for Maberry's books.
2.  When trying to remember the narrator's name I did the Googley Googling and "second life of nick mason movie" came up as a suggestion. Nothing seems to be happening with a movie beyond the initial optioning. My cynical side thinks that the novel's use of vintage Mustang, Camaro and GTO cars gives the movie a chance at going into production.
3. Vintage car love.
4. 10mm love.
5. .338 Lapua Magnum love.
6. Chicago love with street level descriptions and driving tours.
7. The second audiobook in the series is on my phone by I decided on a Richard S. Wheeler book instead.
8. The Wheeler book has started out as a standard western with cowboys, ranchers, and range trouble. That's a real change from the other Wheeler novels I have read.
9. Damn. Wheeler went to UW-Madison and grew up in Wauwatosa. I've not yet visited the library in 'Tosa.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Another Audio: "Murder Never Knocks" by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

Another Audio: Murder Never Knocks by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins, 2016, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

I've gotten out of the habit of reading Collins's Tuesday blog updates which means two things:
1. I'm not sure how fully fleshed out this novel was when Collins took over.
2. I cannot remember if his name is Alan or Allan and I don't want to check.

Before I provide a recap let me post a note for anyone reading this: Hammer is a real asshole. I've written this before and I stand by that statement. Hammer is Spillane's hero and Spillane writes the guy as very smart, very discerning, and very tough. But, Hammer is a prick. He treats police like uniformed apes and thinks his own revenge and justice are more valuable than any court system.

The novel has several shootings and at one crime scene two NYPD cops roll up to find Hammer there. The senior Officer immediately gets attitude from Hammer with Hammer name dropping and saying, "Call Captain Chambers. In Homicide." Hammer is pulling rank he does not own. The Officer is arriving at the sight of a violent crime, discovering a shot up body, and gets asshole Hammer playing it cool, smoking a cig, knowing it all, and telling the guy what to do. Prick.

There a couple of times when Hammer pulls his "I'm an officer of the court" shtick. So fucking what? A court stenographer is probably an officer of the court. So is a fucking bailiff. But, a bailiff doesn't have authority to investigate murders and conceal evidence. Hammer is a "I never lie" guy but frequently lies by omission or misleads legal and law enforcement authorities.

And justice for Hammer often involves beating someone into a coma or killing them. Many of the Hammer novels mention people that Hammer has put in jail through his investigations but we never see Hammer doing that work. Instead we get beatings and shootings and most people end up dead.

I won't get started - again - on Hammer's weird relationships with women and the very weird relationship with Velda who is both Hammer's receptionist/business partner and bed buddy/would-be-wife.

Considering all that maybe it's a bit surprising I continually enjoy each Hammer novel. There is plenty of excitement, whodunit, sex, greasy bad guys, and what not. Hammer is a prick but he always shows himself to be a good guy on the side of the innocent and defenseless.

Murder begins with Hammer in his downtown office's reception room when a man walks in, points a gun at Hammer, and tells Hammer that Hammer's time is up. Of course Hammer gets the drop on the guy and blasts him away. A second attempt is made on Hammer's life and Velda and Pat Chambers start getting worried. Hammer, of course, is not too worried.

More things happen and we get a nice story about murder, mid '60s music and style, marriage, the mob, Hollywood, Broadway, secrets, sham suitors, sex, .45s, and more sex. The plot is a Hammer plot so you know what to expect.

Comments:
1. I was wondering again about the progression of heroes leading from Hammer to beat-up-everyone characters like Jack Reacher. I'm sure Collins can tell you. Ask him.
2. Reminder: Collins held back the last complete (or mostly complete) Spillane novel for Spillane's 100th birthday. That should be neat to read.
3. I've been looking forward to the Western Collins wrote off Spillane's work but have not gotten to it yet. According to the catalog it should be in the shelf but I already have a stack of books I've not gotten to.
EDIT 4. I forgot to mention how masterful Stacey Keach's narration continues to be. I just looked Keach up on my Internet Computer Box and was reminded how he got busted for cocaine in Englandin 1984 and did six months of prison there. I forgot all about that. The arrest was also right at the beginning of the Hammer TV show but the series continued until 1989. I wonder if an arrest like that now would completely derail a show. Hell, of course it would. The actor would be canned in a second.
EDIT 5. Dang it. I had something else to add and have forgotten. Oh, yeah, I remember: I just learned that the cozy series by Collins and his wife has ten novels so far. I'd not realized the series has been running that long.
EDIT 6. Why is it the Quarry series is so damn good? Did Collins hang out at a crossroads one night?

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Poetry: "You Took The Last Bus Home" by Brian Bilston

Poetry: You Took the Last Bus Home by Brian Bilston, 2016, 9781783523054.

Bilston runs a Morrisey parody account on Twitter. I've not seen any posts in a while but he would also post some of his poetry. This book has both Twitter length verse and longer pieces. I really enjoyed this collection but it's not something I can sit and just read, and read, and read. I suppose I cannot do that for any poetry though.

Bilston's work often has a lot of humour and playfullness. His Introduction says, "I suppose that means I shall be disapprovingly exiled to the bleak, literary island commonly known as Light Verse with the expectation that I spend the rest of my writing career complaining about how I just want to be taken seriously. Well, I don't."

Bilston plays around with format by using Venn diagrams, flowcharts, and other formats taken from office work. That work often shows up in Twitter but not as much in the book. Many poems have twist at the last line. Is that O. Henry-ish if done in a poem?

EDIT: I forgot to mention how much Bilston obviously dislikes Jeremy Clarkson and Piers Morgan. Clarkson is ridiculed several times. I presume Bilston is not a fan of Grand Tour on Amazon.




Thursday, April 26, 2018

Ear Noises: "Skin" by Mo Hayder

Ear Noises: Skin by Mo Hayder, 2009, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

The third Ryan Caffery novel I've listened to. Or maybe the fourth, I cannot recall. Doesn't Hayder also write horror novels? This series has had some very unsettling scenes of murder and abuse but Skin does not have as much of the others.

This novel takes up only a few days after the end of the previous novel, Ritual. In Ritual Caffery is integral to catching a small group of men in Bristol, England who killed people and used their body parts to sell for witchcraft. Caffery worked with police diver "Flea" and the two of them lead this novel as well.

Caffery is still seen as a hotshot detective recently arrived from London. His squad is searching for a missing celebrity, a football player's wife. At the same time Caffery identifies the possible murder of a woman whose death is called suicide. Caffery is forced to work the missing person case but thinks the suicide/murder may be related to the murders in the last novel.

Flea is still a driven person but the last novel's focus on the lasting trauma over parent's diving deaths takes a backseat to her idiot and feckless brother. Feckless Brother borrowed hr car a week ago and tore into her driveway one night with a cop on his tail. Feckless was boozed up and Flea claimed she was the driver to keep him out of trouble.

But, a few days later Flea realizes the Eau de Corpse in her workplace is not from poorly cleaned gear but is from her car parked next to the building's air intake. Turns out Feckless ran over Missing Celebrity and killed her. Feckless stuck the body in the car trunk and pretended it never happened. Fucking ass.

Super protective Flea is trying to protect her brother and find a way to deal with the body. Caffery is lying to his boss, finding out someone has been following him, and kinda wants to get closer to Flea.

Hayder's skill is in taking all these story lines and having them overlap but never quite meet. Unlike many novels where different story lines meet together at a story’s climax and denouement Hayder has those many connection miss. Characters know things and act in ways that would solve serious personal and legal issues for others, yet know one knows this. Hayder gives us a bigger emotional oomph when a criminal goes free, a cop misses a clue, or a victim dies alone because of those missed personal connections.