Thursday, June 13, 2019

Tie-In Novel: "Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds" by Gwenda Bond

Tie-In Novel: Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond, 2019, 9781984817433.

You don't need to have seen the TV show to read this. But, don't bother reading it if you've not seen the show.

I enjoyed the novel enough. I had recently re-watched Season 1 and when I saw this in the catalog I figured to try it out. This is a prequel with Dr. Brenner and 11's mother and aunt. 11's mother, Terry Ives, is at IU-Bloomington when a pal of hers talks about a science experiment she had volunteered for. The friend did not like the experience and bails. But, the experiments pay and Terry needs money. So Terry steps in for her pal.

Terry goes to a campus building, does some interviews, meets other test subjects, and meets Dr. Brenner. The tests are secretive and involve doses of hallucinogens. One of the other test subjects says, "This is bullshit. There is no scientific method behind this crap." Brenner has put on the charm but when the test subjects want to bail on the experiments he threatens them with expulsion from campus.

Brenner lets his mask of civility drop and Terry and the rest are not happy. Things happen as the tests grow weirder. Terry starts seeing things. One of subjects gets electroshocks. The meet Number 8 who is about 5 years old and stuck in the Hawkins lab.

Hell, I forgot most of the second season and this story pulls information draws from both seasons. A decent read. Bond does well in drawing both new and established characters but sometimes when reading a tie-in it just feels like supplementary material. As comparison: I enjoyed Christa Faust's tie-ins for Fringe and Supernatural. But, I never watched those shows until after I read the novels.

EDIT: I just reread this and want to clarify that I think the book and enjoyed Bond's character creations within the Stranger Things world. It's just my own thing with tie-ins.

What the Heck: "Bluebird, Bluebird" by Attica Locke

What the Heck: Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke, 2017, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

What hell? Did I finish this the first time or not? I stopped listening to this several months ago for some unknown reason. I thought I never finished it so I restarted the entire thing. Then, when I get to the finish I recognize the ending. Maybe I grabbed the print version and finished it off? I don't freaking know.

Anyways. Locke was awarded one of the annual Big Author Awards. That is to say: Locke was awarded one of the Big Author Awards I actually pay attention to. Locke also called bullshit on the award that was going to Linda Fairstein. Locke reminded the world how Fairstein was a conductor during the railroading of the Central Park Five.

Everything is told POV of Darren.Matthews who is on leave from the Texas Rangers (police not baseball) and his marraige. He stepped into a case involving a family friend charged with murder of a local Aryan Brotherhood member. Darren is in serious jeopardy of losing his job after butting in. Darren's devotion to work and booze has him in trouble with his wife. Shortly after a grand jury appearance in his friend's case Darren gets a call from his high school pal, FBI Man. FBI Man says, "Darren, old buddy old pal, there are a couple murders in East Texas. A black man and a young white woman. Would you be willing to take a look? I need help with a career boost."

Well, Darren has been pushing the Rangers for years to pursue racial bias cases. Darren sees the danger in having people attacked, raped, murdered, etc. for being black. Darren's pushing has not worked. The Rangers see themselves as the experts they are and that they are immune from racial bias and treat all crime the same. Since Darren is black his supervisors have seen him as crusading and looking to upset things.

Darren and his bourbon head to the small town of Lark. Lark is a bump in the road. Lark has a roadside cafe that has catered to black travelers since the '60s ('50s?). Behind that cafe's swamp is found a murdered young white woman who leaves behind a son. Darren starts snooping - without police authority. Darren hears of the murder a few days previous of a middle age black guy from Chicago. Chicago Guy was a wealthy lawyer, what was he doing in Bumfuck, TX?

There are two murders. Personal clashes. Darren fighting his growing dependence on booze. Darren tending his bleeding heart over his marriage separation. Darren untangling Lark's complex and unspoken of family relationships among white and black and rich and poor.

Anyhoo. The entire novel is really all about rules and decorum.

  • There are local codes of conduct related to a person's age, wealth, skin color, etc. About what neighborhoods to enter. About what locals you defer to.
  • There are general small town codes: how you meet people or ask for something.  
  • There are Texas codes: deference to Rangers, black people are at a regular risk of murder, black men and white women do not chat.  
  • The importance of deference to older women. 
  • Law enforcement behavior: Rangers have to be nice to local cops, there written and unwritten rules to follow in investigations. EX: how to give grand jury testimony or request death reports. 
  • Darren's professional pursuit of of the Aryan Brotherhood (ABT)of Texas as a racial issue is rocking the boat at work.
  • Darren's interactions with Chicago Guy's widow crosses lines of professional and personal behavior.
  • How does a ABT member deal with the son he deeply loves actually being the son of a black guy his wife had an affair with?
  • Darren's devotion to friends when he lives Houston late at night to assist that family friend?
  • Darren's relationship with his mother. Darren was raised by his twin uncles and has a difficult and sparse relationship with his mother who is 16 years older than him. 
  • Friendships between black and white people. How far can you trust your white pal to help you?

1. I just read Locke did a bunch of script writing. I've not looked anything up.
2. Good narration.
3. Instead of a gun on the wall Locke gives us a guitar on a wall.
4. Possible SPOILER: Darren's wife is angry he will not quit the Rangers and finish law school in Houston. His job takes him all over the state and away from home, plus Rangers chase down dangerous people. As important seems to be her thoughts about social status and that being a lawyer is better. It's the freaking Texas Rangers. How is being a run-of-the-mill lawyer compete with that. Talk about freaking status? He's a Texas Fucking Ranger. You don't get much more elite.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Rebus: "Even Dogs In the Wild" by Ian Rankin

Rebus: Even Dogs In the Wild by Ian Rankin, 2015 (UK and US?), downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Ian Rankin at times seems like the most Scottish Scotsman that ever Scotted. The Rebus books are all Scotland. Driving in Edinburgh. Restaurants in Edinburgh. Neighborhoods in Edinburgh. Scottish musicians and songs and poetry and sculptors and painters and so on and so forth. I suppose you could say the same thing about me and Wisconsin. Rebus rarely leave Scotland and I rarely leave Wisconsin. Screw it, I stand by my above statement.

Anyhoo. This is book #20 and Rebus is still retired after a brief return to the cold case unit in a previous novel. This time around Rebus's old nemesis and drinking buddy McCafferty gets shot at through his living room window. McCafferty refuses to talk to the cops of course. But, he will talk to Rebus.

Meanwhile, Rebus's old work partner Siobhan (that I also pictures as Chiffon in these audiobooks) is working the shooting death of a senior, wealthy, and well placed lawyer. Along the way is a Glasgow mobster traveling around Edinburgh searching for a missing transport truck and it's contents. The mobster is being followed by some Glasgow cops who are assholes. Malcolm Fox gets assigned as local liaison for the Glasgow Asshole Brigade.

Rankin does his usual plot and throws all these people together and continues to make Rebus a real prick. It's all great stuff and plenty of things happening: gangsters maneuvering for power, cops maneuvering for power, victims suffering, guilty people worrying, hidden child rape by powerful people. Along the way rebus ticks off his friends, smokes too much, drinks too much, and gets everything worked out. Driving the killings is a long buried sex abuse ring run by powerful pederasts who raped the residents of a group home for delinquent teen boys.

Behind all the usual police procedural story is a theme of fathers. Usually lousy or absent fathers heading up fractured families.

  • Rebus rarely visits his daughter who lives in Northern Scotland and has only seen his granddaughter twice. 
  • Malcolm Fox regularly visits his elderly father in long-term hospice but does it out of duty. Malcolm's father regularly disparages Malcolm's ability to be a cop. 
  • The Glasgow mob boss has a son in his twenties who is murdered. He barely knew his son and even though driven to revenge the mob boss doesn't seem too sad. His revenge is more about showing power and getting even. 
  • The killer suffered under a man whose sexual abuse and near murder left him unable to connect and care for a child. The killer blamed the men who made his father a victim and goes after those men.
  • Siobhan Clark has no family at all. I may be confusing novels and authors but I recall her parents dying when she was young. Rebus and other men kinda act as father figures.

Anyhoo. Rankin's books are always - aside from Doors Open - pretty damn good. Great characters and great scenery. Rankin's people always make sense; he doesn't throw in some bullshit reasons to drive his characters to act one way or another.

1. Were the '70s and '80s a couple decades of massive sex abuse by the rich and powerful in the UK? I kept thinking of the Red Riding film trilogy and Jimmy Saville as the book went on.
2. Book title is from a song by the group The Associates. Where are the Associates from? Scotland, of course.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Book Club Thing: "Line Becomes A River" by Francisco Cantu

Book Club Thing: The Line Becomes A River: dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantu, 2018, audio from Wisconsin Digital Library.

My alma mater started an online book club. I sorta signed on and now get the emails that I mostly ignore. When this nonfic title came up as the next discussion I put a hold on it, but the book was not available until the discussion was over anyway.

Short version: Guy joins Border Patrol and has massive stress. Guy quits BP for grad school. Guy has work pal who is goes to MX for his sick mother and cannot legally re-enter US. Guy tries to help pal out.

Long version: Cantu's mother worked for the National Park Service and was assigned to different areas of the Southwest. Part of Cantu's family comes from Mexico and he is bilingual and visited there regularly as a child. He has fond memories of trip sot rewsertyreX with his mom. His father is mostly out of the picture.

Cantu gets out of school and his fascination with border politics, immigration, and culture draws him to join the Border Patrol. He gets an AZ assignment and works with some decent guys and some assholes. He is more - I don't know how to describe it so let's say "relaxed" about the illegal immigrants. He does not see them as evil and dirty. He chats with them, sometimes commiserates with them, and still does his job by taking them in and processing them.

Cantu sees the "I need a job, man" people and the "I'm going to IL to see my family" people. He also sees the drug mules, drug traffickers, and general assholes that any smuggling border region has. The stress of the work causes him health issues. Cantu arrests pregnant women, old men, families, etc. He finds corpses in the summer heat. He finds drug bales on the side of the road. He rescues people who are barely alive after crossing the desert in July or August.

Cantu joins an intelligence group that gets him out of the field but he also has plenty of traveling assignments away from home. He gets to know the other guys on his team but is never quite happy with his job.

Anyway. Cantu has enough after 4-5 years and leaves for grad school. I don't think he ever said where he went but I presume it is AZ State. While in school he works a coffee shop job in a plaza and becomes pals with the facility maintenance dude. Maintenance Dude says breakfast with Cantu and tells Cantu about his three sons.

Maintenance Dude's (MD) mother in MX is in hospice to MD heads down to be with her. But, MD is not a legal resident. He's been in the U.S. fro 20-30 years and US immigration won't let him in. MD sneaks over, is caught, and jailed. Cantu does his best to help out. He helps do translation for MD's family since MD's wife is not perfectly fluent. He takes MD's sons to visit MD in the fed facility because they are afraid MD's wife might be carded and deported. He assists in getting an attorney, translating for attorney and the wife, and finding documents to file an asylum or resident case.

MD's case is denied. The application is done at an administrative level. There is no court appearance - MD's argument is rejected and he is back in MX with 24 hours.  MD takes up temporary residence across from Yuma and Cantu goes to visit for a day.

MD speaks about how all his family are in the U.S. Fed policy goes by the presumption that if a parent of family member is deported then the rest of the family will follow that person over. This is a ridiculous theory.  People will risk everything for their family. That means risking life and limb to travel across the border.  Since family is everything why would they go back to MX where much of the government has been ineffective and incompetent under the drug cartels and other corruption?

Anyhoo. The book is interesting. Cantu writes plenty about border politics, drug policy, and his own family history. Some of this is a rehash of things I have heard elsewhere - mainly the insanity of the drug cartels and how no one can do a thing without their permission.

1. Cantu and other BP Agents did a lot of walking and cutting for sign. They'd park and walk through the desert after alerts from sensors or cameras. They could sometimes follow their own progress by listening to the radio channels used by drug smuggler lookouts on ridgelines and hill tops.
2. Some BP Agents are casually cruel. Example: news stories about Agents dumping out the drinking water left for immigrants. An argument for this is that doing so forces the immigrants to give up and turn themselves in. Reality: people die in the desert and their bodies are never found.
3. So many dead bodies in the desert and many are never found.
4. Border crime. There is plenty of it and hasn't it always been that way? The whole 'build that wall' is a political farce by a racist con man. The issue is that a jackape like Trump polarizes things and people avoid reality on both sides. Of course there are dangerous people on the border. There is plenty of illegal money to be made with smuggling drugs and people. There are people willing to murder for cash and there are even more people willing to share their food with BP Agents after they are arrested and still willing to share their food with BP Agents.
5. The femicides in Juarez. No freaking way the local government did not know about things and were not complicit by their inaction. No way it was one or two serial killers. Cantu says there were reports that groups of men have rape parties and then murder the victims.
6. Cantu discusses a theory on trauma and how it relates to a "warrior gene". That the warrior gene can be triggered by juvenile trauma and cause violence later on.
7.  Cantu splits the memoir into BP and after. There are some things he ruminates upon - like the above mentioned warrior gene - in the first half that are never covered again in the second half. His life before and after is almost a complete break. One life ended and the 2nd half began. He was police and then he wasn't. His thinking and behavior also changed.

Friday, May 31, 2019

German Guy: "Storm of Steel" by Ernst Junger

German Guy: The Storm of Steel: from the diary of a German storm-trooper officer on the Western Front by Ernst Junger, 1961 reprint of the 1929 translation of the 1920 German book, 0865273103.

Junger survived all four years in the Western Front fighting against the British and French. A final chest wound sent him to the rear in mid-2018 (or so) and he did not return to the front by war's end. At the end of the book he tallies that he was wounded 14 times (not all separate occasions) for 20 punctures.

Surviving 4 years of slaughter is fairly amazing. He outlived most every pal and fellow soldier. And what a grind survival was. Junger writes well about the endless artillery attacks. The English would send shells throughout the day every day. That the Germans would assemble and travel on foot through those maelstroms is amazing. That anyone survives shelling at all is amazing. Junger was at the Somme and one passage has him describing being caught by an attack and sheltering in an old trench. The only safe(ish) spot is a slight recess in the trench wall. Junger is crouched down, his face in the dirt, just trying not to go nuts.

And that's a lot of the story. Junger hiding from artillery. Junger surviving near blasts. Junger picking up the human pieces after artillery explosions. Junger and others being buried by the dirt thrown by explosions. Near misses that Junger survived by a the difference of a few seconds. Shells that land among a group of soldiers and kill 20. Shell splinters that wound. Shell splinters that kill. Explosions that atomize bodies.

Troops spent a lot of time waiting to die. Danger is everywhere and normal. You start to ignore some basic safety procedures and precautions. But, if you've stayed alive that long you do many things automatically and without thinking. Troops hearing a shell headed their way immediately know the the shell's size and trajectory. They are constantly aware of the nearest shell hole or dug out to hunker down.

In case you did not already know: not all bodies were recovered or removed for burial elsewhere. The Unknown Soldier is solidly a WW1 thing. Corpses were EVERYWHERE. Dead bodies were regularly exposed by artillery blasts and crumbling craters. More bodies are revealed by the rain and flooding. Junger would come to a new position in 1917 or '18 and the accidentally dig up remains from 1914.

A few years ago when I learned that rotting bodies were a normal wartime occurrence I was aghast. A soldier would be cutting a shelf into a trench wall and discover a rotting body part. When I read about that now it is gross but not a shock. So, it makes sense that a soldier would be desensitized even further and just shrug. Or even start using skulls as ashtrays or candle holders.

Junger wrote about many head and neck injuries as men peek above a trench line or just bob their head over. French and English snipers sit on their rifle sights and just wait for a target. Junger writes of taking a head shot at an Englishman who is 600 meters off in the far back in the 3rd English trench. Junger gives the walking Englishman a lead off the tip of the man's nose and says he makes a hit.  Hitting a human silhouette with iron sights at 600 is doable but he implies he made a head shot after he grabbed the nearest rifle and set the sights for distance. That seems really far-fetched to me. But, I am not a skilled rifle marksman.

I am happy to say I have never been in a war zone but read plenty of memoirs where soldiers gripe about shaving and haircuts and details of regular daily life. The argument I have read is that daily discipline forces people to recall regular life and that the the rules of daily life are enforced. People don't backslide and get away with more and more infractions that may lead to a landslide of bad decisions and animal behavior.

The German units seemed to rotate out of the front lines frequently enough. Junger does not dwell as much on the field conditions as in the English and American memoirs I have read. When Junger writes about the trenches he always seemed to have a bunker or underground slot to shelter in. He always had a servant at hand. They flooded in low lands but he does not talk about pumps running 24 hours. He also never had to do countermining against English troops.

This is the first WW1 German memoir I've read. I never much thought of the Germans having a hard time. Reading about all the tragedies of trench warfare suffered by English, French and American troops means I was thinking the opposite of the Krauts. Figuring that the Germans were on the high ground without flooded trenches, inside concrete bunkers, hanging out, singing songs, and drinking beer.

And there is lots of drinking. Booze (and other drugs) are a universal wartime pastime. Especially when off the line. Beer, brandy, schnapps, and wine. Officers would booze it up during parties. Drinking the trench was regular as long as nobody gets drunk.

Other details:
1. The killing of surrendering troops.
2. Multiple gas attacks. Running through a gas cloud without a mask on to get back to the trench line.
3. Only 3 men of his company are left after one year.
4. Few references to women: I presume the rear areas had plenty of prostitutes but he only writes about a couple younger French women he gawked at. He - of course - is a gallant and kind young soldier.
5. Many patrols into no man's land. Junger, as the subtitle says, was a storm trooper. He was involved in a raid that was planned and prepped for weeks. He was in the vanguard of attacking troops during the Spring 1918 offensive.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Read: "Atlanta Deathwatch" by Ralph Dennis

Read: Atlanta Deathwatch by Ralph Dennis, 2019 reprint of 1974 novel, 978-1732065666.

Lee Goldberg has a big long story on how this Ralph Dennis series of novels were so fantastic that Goldberg created Brash Books for the sole purpose of republishing the novels. There is more detail about Goldberg's love for the series, his tracking down all the entries, contacting Dennis's family for the rights, so on, so forth. With a story like that you gotta the think the series is pretty damn good. Well... it pretty much is.

I enjoyed the novel quite a bit but,  unlike Goldberg and quite a few other fellas, I will not obsessively hunt each novel down. Hell, I don't have to because Mr. Goldberg already did that for us. What's more, if Goldberg's stalker love for Hardman and Evans brought us Brash Books that is pretty damn cool. I recommend you check out other Brash Books pubs like Soak by Patrick McLean or the two Bill Crider westerns,

Anyhoo, let's skip my own obsessive love for Goldberg and get to the story. Jim Hardman was canned from the cops (who were cannily clued to a corruption cloud by creepy crooks) a couple years ago. Hardman also lost his Smoochy-Smoochy Lovey-Dovey Girlfriend who worked for the crooks. She declared under oath that she pursued Hardman because her bosses told her to.

Well, losing his job and future wife was a big double blow to Hardman and he has been barely sliding by since. He works some off-the-books and unlicensed PI jobs and occasionally couriers NYC dope down to Atlanta. He has about two pals left: Hump Evans a former NFL player and local hero and Hardman's former police partner, Cop Friend.

The plot involves Hardman getting hired to follow the co-ed daughter of a wealthy Georgian. He tails her for a bit and she visits a rough bar in a black neighborhood. When Hardman goes into the bar to snoop the locals get suspicious, Hardman gets ambushed, Hardman gets beat up, Hardman is told to not come back. Hardman says, "Ouch! My ribs! My face! Screw this job!"

Shortly after Hardman quits the job the co-ed is murdered. Hardman is forcibly taken to visit The Man...

-- Yeah, this is the 1970s and the character is known by everyone as The Man. This surprises hardman a little because the street crooks he dealt with always spoke of The Man and Hardman figured that was generic. I found this humorous. --

... The co-ed was secretly dating The Man. The Man is a black guy in his 30s with control over a good part of organized crime in Atlanta. The Man wants to hire Hardman to figure out who killed Co-Ed.

Things happen. Hardman uses Cop Friend to gain information. Hump helps out. Co-Ed's family wants her killer found as well and talks to Hardman. Hardman's Cop Friend and Cop Friend's Wife are trying to get Hardman and his former Smoochy-Smoochy back together. There are attempts to assassinate Hardman. So on. So forth.

There is also plenty of other 1970s lingo and social and political attitudes. Hump hits the singles bars. Hardman and Hump drink a lot (well, this is a PI novel). Black guys are called 'studs' and [other lingo I cannot recall and do not have the book handy]. There is a secret bordello hidden in the woods.

1. I enjoyed the book.
2. Speaking of obsessive love: Goldman's love for barbeque and drone footage.
3. Goldberg published his first novel when he was about 19-years-old. Someone - an agent or publisher - told LAPD cop Paul Bishop that he should meet Goldberg because they wrote similar novels which were hard boiled crime fiction. Bishop - as I understand it - was freaking Super Cop. For 35 years he pursued and arrested all sorts of bad dudes. Goldberg's story is that he and Bishop were going to meet for lunch. Super Cop Bishop walks in and sees uber-geek Goldberg (who wrote for Fangoria) instead of a grizzled, wrinkled, tobacco stained guy in his 60s.
3.A. Goldberg tells the story better. Look it up yourself.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Lansdale Again: "Honky Tonk Samurai" by Joe R. Lansdale

Lansdale Returns: Honky Tonk Samurai by Joe R. Lansdale, 2016, downloaded off Wisconsin Digital Library. Narrated by Christopher Ryan Grant who did a swell job.

Hap and Leonard are still working for Marvin's P.I. firm. They are sitting in a car watching a guy's house when Leonard goes across the street to beat up a guy kicking a dog. Hap follows along. The police show up. Marvin is with the cops and announces, "I'm the new Police Chief."  Hap and Leonard are somewhat surprised by the Police Chief news. Hap and Leonard are not surprised when the Police Chief also gives the Dog Beater a couple punches.

Hap and Leonard are equally surprised when later that night Marvin announces he will sell them the P.I. firm dirt cheap. Hap and Leonard are not too keen since they know bupkis about business. But, Hap's longtime girlfriend says, "I'll buy it."

After Brett and Co. do a little office remodeling Brett and Hap are in the second floor offices when a foul-mouthed old lady shows up, shows them video of the Dog Beater Beat-Down and asks for a discount on investigative services or she will send the tape to the press and get Marvin fired.

Foul mouthed old lady is a former floozy and ticks Brett off something fierce. But, Brett agrees to have the Bonehead Twins look for the woman's missing granddaughter. Floozy Granny's granddaughter has not been heard of in five years. Shortly after college the granddaughter had a couple jobs and then worked for a car sales place. Granddaughter then stole $50,000 from Floozy Granny and disappeared.

Things happen and Hap and Leonard immediately stir things up. Leonard stirs things up on purpose because he can be a combative prick. They discover the used car place is a front for prostitution and blackmail. The discover the car sales place's manager is a transgender woman who works for the Dixie Mafia. They find out that messing with the delaership is messing with

Lansdale always writes a good crime story but his language and characters are the draw. I've read all - or most - the other Hap and Leonard books and a reader can start at any point in the series. Lansdale gives you a full story and characters each time.

This novel includes Jim Bob Luke who is one of my favorite characters. I should rewatch Cold in July that features Don Johnson as Jim Bob. The book also has Cason Statler from Leather Maidens. I read Leaiher way back in 2009 but only sorta recognized him here. I did not recognize Cason's psychopath Army buddy from Leather who also reappears in here.

Usually the Hap and Leonard novels will take a sudden turn. Honky starts out with a missing person hunt and turns into a assassin hunt. You'll kinda get two novellas dovetailed together.

Hap Leonard continue to age. If this is really set in 2016 they would be about  60 years old each. That's a couple 60 year guys after 40 years of manual labor, martial arts, and various fist fights, IN real life they would be creaking and groaning. In literary life Leonard is still a hardass. He is also having a difficult personal time as his on-and-off boyfriend keeps having religious issues since his church says he is going to hell for being gay.

Oh, I forgot about Hap finding out he has a 20-year-old daughter from a woman he dated for all of a month.

1. Gratuitous Bill Crider references.
2. Gratuitous Kasey Lansdale references.
3. Alternate title: Return of the Bonehead Twins
4. Alternate title: Hap and Leonard Stumble Around Some More
5. Alternate title: Leonard and Hap Argue Over Nonsense
6. Alternate title: Hap and Leonard and Jim Bob Luke Ride Again
7. Alternate title: Vanilla Ride Rides Again