Thursday, November 15, 2018

Read: "The Zealot" by Simon Scarrow

Read: The Zealot by Simon Scarrow, 2014, 9781590207796.

I took forever and a damn day to finish this novel. I mostly enjoy Scarrow's adventure novels but kept falling asleep to this. Partially because I was not getting enough sleep and partially because I could not get into the story. Scarrow's series about two Roman Legionaries has plenty of adventure and history. I just did not care about Scarrow sending the two fellas to the Middle East.

Cato and Macro are set by the Emperor's (I don't know, Chief of Staff I suppose) on a secret mission to whatever they called Palestine back in 17 A.D. Chief of Staff suspects that the Roman Governor is looking to rebel. Part of that plan seems to be foment rebellion among the locals, then demand Roman troops, then turn those troops to the Governor's interests.

Cato and Macro head to a smaller fort and outpost to investigate what is happening with a local rebel. They get involved with local politics. Deal with corrupt Romans at the fort. Kill a bunch of rebels, invading Parthians, and local crooks. Meet Jesus's mother and son. Meet and fight alongside an older Simon the Zealot.

If I remembered more biblical history I probably would have gotten more out of this.

Heard: "Claire Dewitt and the Bohemian Highway" by Sara Gran

Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway by Sara Gran, 2013, Wisconsin Digital Library download.

This is one of the best books I have read or listened to in a while. Great stuff all the way around. Upon finishing the book I was very happy to learn the third DeWitt just came out. I even signed up for Gran's email list.

From the first sentence I remembered details from the existential detective plot from book #1. DeWitt as a loner P.I. and follower of the great French detective, Silette. Silette wrote and published a famous treatise on detection that is part hippie-dippy-new-age-mystical bullshit and part pragmatic truth.

This time around has DeWitt getting a phone call that a former boyfriend from years ago has been murdered. DeWitt's name was still associated with the dead Paul and a cop she knows calls her to help handle the grieving widow. DeWitt arrives on scene, helps smooth things along, and a couple weeks later is asked by Paul's sister to look into his death. The sister thinks Paul's Wife did the deed.

DeWitt follows the regular path of her life. She works cases no one else can resolve - after all, she may be the world's greatest detective but she also the detective of last resort.  She makes few lasting relationships. She does more and more drugs and she does more and more investigating into Paul's murder.

For DeWitt and other followers of Silette it is the mystery that is the goal. The client, the victim, and the payment are all secondary to the mystery. To be a great detective you should have no attachments - nothing to distract you or hinder your work. DeWitt's sex life is pickups at bars and parties. Her friends are more of the casual night out kind of music, drugs, and drinking buddies. Her recently hired assistant is there as her go-fer and assistant.

I think DeWitt is a very intriguing character and Gran does a hell of a job. The previous novel established DeWitt's continuing search for her missing teen pal from 20-25 years ago. Gran dives deeper into that story as we flash back and forth from her search for Paul's killer to Claire's time as a unsupervised teenager in scuzzy 1980s New York City. Claire and her two best friends at the time were followers of Silette and trying to establish themselves as teen detectives. They were the school-skipping drug-taking opposites of the Hardys, the Three Investigators, and Ms. Drew. Late nights at bars and clubs, Drunken parents, midnight subway rides.

DeWitt and her two friends take on a missing girl case - we are told by a present day character that every case is a missing girl case - of a party girl whose roommates cannot find her. The three girls pursue the case like terriers as they stand up to everyone and go any place. Hell you're getting two novels in one as DeWitt both reminisces and pursues Paul's case.

Comments:
1. Remember that neat-o blog Gran and Megan Abbott used to run? The Abbot Gran Old Tyme Medicine Show.
2. Sara without an H.
3. I've no experience buying drugs but there seems to be a universal truth that customers are stuck listening to drug dealers ramble on and on and on. If a customer buys and runs they risk offending the drug dealer and losing their drug source.
4. Lots of drug use. DeWitt snorts cocaine. Steals pills from multiple bathroom cabinets. Drinks prodigiously.
5. DeWitt names all her cases. Same as Nancy Drew and the Hardys.
6. DeWitt is looking for some meaning. Part of that search is what would have happened with Paul if she had not wandered off from the relationship. If she were able to freely love someone.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Hearing: "Dead Before Dying" by Deon Meyer

Hearing: Dead Before Dying by Deon Meyer, 1996, download from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Translated from Afrikaans. Focusing on Mat Joubert who is now two years past his Police Officer wife's murder. Mat is a heavy drinker, a heavy smoker, and 30 pounds overweight. His police investigative work has suffered and now a new commanding officer is telling the men to lose weight, see the doctor, and reduce stress.

Meyer tells another great story of South Africa. This is set in 1996 when Apartheid has been dismantled but the government and institutions are still building back up. Most people in the police service get along fine. After all it is the police and against every one else but there is some tension along color lines. Black people want to be taken seriously as professionals. White people don't want their dedication to work and justice to be overlooked.

Mat ends up covering two cases with big press. A serial bank robber uses professional disguises and focuses on the branches of one bank. A serial killer is murdering people with the same pistol but Mat and Co. cannot find a link among the victims. As the press gets excited Mat gets more pressure from his superiors. His new boss, Colonel WhatHisName, is a former ANC member who lived in exile in England. The Colonel has been promoted and feels a pressure that people think it was a political appointment. The General at the top feels the political pressure from the press.

Meanwhile, the cops at the bottom are going through the standard police procedure: they talk. They talk and talk and talk to everyone they can think of. They arrive at new crime scenes and investigate the evidence. They theorize ideas among each other. They track down and visit every gun dealer and registered owner they can. They go back and talk to everyone a second and third time.

This novel really, really reminds me of the Sjowall and Wahloo police novels set in 1960s and 1970s Stockholm. There is a neat balance among a few characters with a focus on the cops. Meyer takes a few 1st person forays into the victims and witnesses as he builds the story. He incorporates the way the staid and conservative police service is effected by the political changes going around it.

Meyer has the reader spending a lot of time with Joubert. He's been a emotional shut-in since his wife's line-of-duty murder. When an 18-year-old hotty neighbor comes on to Joubert at a neighborhood barbecue the romantically awkward , 34-year-old Joubert is taken aback. But, that attention and affection from the neighbor awakens Joubert's sexuality and he starts lusting after most women he meets, including his new psychologist, a widow of the serial killer, a consulting criminologist, and more.

Comments:
1. Ever since reading Deon Meyer and Roger Smith novels I've paid more attention to news from SA. Modern day South Africa still uses a lot of cash money. Cash in Transit (CIT) heists of armored cars is still a thing. A few years ago the robbers would force a truck off the road and shoot it up. Now, the robber gangs are well drilled, armed with rifles, take over a whole traffic area to rob a truck, and use explosives to blast the trucks open. https://youtu.be/Mz1CV1Lh0s0.
2. We also meet up with Benny Griessel who is a raging drunk and goes into a sanatorium to dry out before Joubert puts him in charge of the bank robbery investigation - which Benny solves. This is nine years before Benny finally dries out in Devil's Peak.
3. I tried reading the ebook of Behind the Badge about the South African Police Service (SAPS) but never got anywhere. I have too many print books I never get to.
4. Well, Goddamn, I have a audiobook entitled The Blood of an Englishman saved on my phone. That novel just came up when searching for the book listed in #3 above. I was wondering how I picked that one. I had forgotten the book is a crime novel set in apartheid era SA.

Listened: "Tarzan of the Apes" by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Listened: Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1912, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Not as racist as I expected. Sure, the novel is inherently racist of course, but usually not overtly racist. Burroughs gives us a caricature of a African American woman character, and refers to Africans as savages and beasts and makes them cannibals. But, he doesn't seem to go out of his way to denigrate people. (Well, not completely out of his way.) Whether the racism is bearable enough or makes you to bail is up to you. (My wife stopped listening to an Agatha Christie novel because or Christie's racism.) I stayed with this because Tarzan is so iconic nowadays - and modernized to current social standards - I wanted to see the starting point.

Anyway, here is the story. Told as though read  from a journal by Tarzan his own self. Tarzan's parents, the Greystokes from England,  were going to Africa to live and work. On the way the ship's crew mutinies and they leave the Greystokes on the West African shore. The Greystokes live there for a time and Tarzan Senior builds a sturdy home of thick clay. They battle off a gorilla and other animals and then Mother Tarzan goes crazy, never leaves the jungle cottage, and dies when Tarzan is about 24 months old. Tarzan Senior is killed when the local gorillas enter the cottage and smash him. Tarzan is about to be killed but female ape Kala swoops in to claim him since her own child recently died.

Tarzan, being human, takes much longer than the apes for his body and brain to develop. Other apes think he should be banished for being too slow and clumsy. Kerchak, the Ape in Charge (AIC), is a mean ape and would kill Tarzan but Tarzan is well protected by his mom, Kala.  As Tarzan grows his intelligence grows and gives him an advantage over the apes. After observing a local tribe he learns to use bow and arrow and spear after observing a local tribe. Tarzan learns of killing as a natural thing. He enjoys the hunt and the battle.

Later on Tarzan discovers the Tarzan Family Cottage and collects a handy dandy hunting knife that he uses to kill prey and fight off opposing apes. Tarzan also uses the supply of books in the cottage to teach himself to read.  Over time Tarzan becomes big and muscly, swings through the trees at high speed, and uses that hunting knife to kill the AIC to become the new AIC. Then, Jane shows up.

Jane, her father and a few others are the victims of yet another mutiny. Jane's super eccentric father had bought a treasure map, found the treasure, and were headed back to England - maybe the U.S. - when they too were sent to the West African shore.

Anyhoo. More things happen. Shoot-outs. Tarzan killing local people. Tarzan killing lions. Tarzan killing apes. Tarzan falling in love with Jane. Jane and Co. thinking there are two jungle men because Tarzan can read and write English - and leaves notes - but cannot speak English. Some more racist stuff. Tarzan rescuing the white people. Tarzan rescuing a Frenchman and learning French. Tarzan discovering the chest of treasure and taking it. More coincidence and a massive suspension of disbelief.

Tarzan and the Frenchmen end up coming to the U.S. so Tarzan can track down and marry Jane in Baltimore. But, Jane and Co. have left for Northern Wisconsin. But - Oh No! - Jane has promised herself to another man. The other man is a dickhead. What will Tarzan do but swing the Wisconsin forest to rescue Jane from a forest fire. Blah. Blah. Blah.

Comments
1. Let's get back to that suspension of disbelief issue. This novel is full of bullshit.

  • Tarzan taken in by an ape? 
  • Surviving as a child among apes? 
  • Swinging though trees faster than a man can run? 
    • Swinging through the pines of freaking Northern Wisconsin?! 
  • Teaching himself to read? 
  • Somehow he just knows cannibalism is wrong unlike the local people.
  • Tarzan naturally develops a view of the local populace that buys into the dominant racial theories U.S. white people. 
  • It's a mix of rational thinking about how a boy would develop in the wild versus wishful thinking and fantasy.
2. Burroughs uses a eugenics argument about how Tarzan is such a gallant man from the generations of breeding by the English nobility.
3. Jane is accompanied by a black maid, Esmeralda, who also raised her. Burroughs makes her a fat Aunt Jemima figure and has her witless and afraid. She rolls her eyes in terror, frequently faints away, and when hiding from a lion tries to climb into a cabinet where only her head fits. That is some high class 1912 era comedy.
4. Same for the local tribe. Give Burroughs some credit here, the tribe fled into Tarzan and the Apes's territory after the murderous and kidnapping ways of the European settlers. But, Burroughs gives us a vicious and superstitious tribe of cannibals who capture a Frenchman and prepare to eat him in much the same way as seen in the scene from The Naked Prey.
4. Tarzan is a manly man doing manly outdoors things with his manly body and manly visage of noble birth. The constant references to that stuff really reminded me of Roosevelt and Jack London. 
5. Ever seen that 1981 Bo Derek movie? I recall that the film had lots of nudity and violence. I'm going to look up who played Tarzan in that. Wait a second... it was Miles O'Keefe. His career specialty seems to have been sword and sorcery films where his wardrobe did not include shirts.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Paperback: "Bone Yard" by Michelle Gagnon

Paperback: Bone Yard by Michelle Gagnon, 2008, 9780778325390.

I grabbed a paperback for camping during Boy #1's mountain bike races. I listened to Gagnon's YA Don't trilogy featuring teens on the run against a massive conspiracy. This is the second novel with FBI Special Agent Kelly Jones.

Jones has recently joined the FBI's behavioral science unit that researches serial killers. When a remote "bone yard" of graves is found in a Western Masschusetts state park Jones is assigned to go help. Jones is already a workaholic and is now going to miss a long planned vacation in the Caribbean. But, she is the only profiler available and is tasked to go and advise the joint Massachusetts and Vermont investigation.  Jones will not have total legal authority, she is there to lead and advise and immediately finds out how much the Vermont and Massachusetts lead investigators hate another.

Massachusetts state murder investigator Doyle is an all around prick. Vermont cop Monica is more relatable but she and Doyle constantly quarrel and snipe at each other. Jones has to keep the two of them from fighting, guide the investigation to follow leads and interview people, push for results, and generally keep things going. This is not easy for Jones because she does not want to be there and cannot take the case over since no federal crime seems to have been committed.

Things happen. We meet the killer and his nemesis. Jones and Co. chase down leads. Jones's "security expert" boyfriend shows up. Monica tries to get lovey-dovey with the forensic anthropologist sent along with Jones. There is some violence and torture and murder. There are some false leads. There is some relationship drama.

I enjoyed the novel. Gagnon nicely balances all the characters and story lines. Squeamish readers won't like the torture scenes but Gagnon doesn't linger on the blood and gore. I enjoy the way she tells the stories. There are some nice clues and foreshadowing for what to expect and we get a couple surprises as well.

Spoilers below.

The killer is an early reveal by Gagnon. Another early reveal is that the killer is being observed and followed by another local who knows the guy is a torturer and murderer. Second Guy holds a grudge and is getting even. At first I thought this was a pretty lame twist but I ended up enjoying the plot line.


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Paperback: "The Big Keep" by Melissa F. Olson

Paperback: The Big Keep by Melissa F. Olson, 2014, 9781939996213.

Boy, the MARC record for this is pretty damn skimpy. I woulda' sworn Olson lived in the Twin Cities and I bought this for the library off a recommendation. Nope. Olson lives in Madison. At least I presume she still lives in Madison. She may have moved. I don't  know.

I enjoyed this novel a fair bit. This is one of the 20-30 books I grabbed for vacation trips over the summer. I held this and a few others back, after some renewals, to read. Olson's main gig is writing "urban fantasy" with vampires and such. This is a regular PI novel.

Lena Dane quit the Chicago Police Department after she found out a popular senior officer was a serial rapist and serial killer. Lena killed that same cop in self-defense when he attacked her and she resigned her cop job and has been working as a private investigator in Chicago. This means her work is the usual investigations of marital trouble, insurance fraud, so on, so forth. Then 14-year-old Jason visits her Chicago office one day and ask for help searching for his biological father. The bio dad up and left the family when Jason was a baby. Jason's mother has passed and now his stepdad is dying of cancer.

Lena first meets with stepdad to confirm everything is up and up and takes the case. Bio Dad skipped Chicago over a decade ago and Lena's regular database searching finds bupkis until she gets a lead he went out to Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Lena has been spending time with lonely Jason and bringing him along to her father's comic book shop.

Lena has a bad habit of overwork and obsessiveness. This has strained her marriage as her involvement in previous cases involved violent situations. Her husband wants her to dial things back. Lena has not yet told her husband that she is pregnant.

Things happen. Lena heads to Los Angeles and stays with a pal who works for LAPD. Lena tracks down Bio Dad to learn he died just a couple weeks ago. Lena is threatened to stay off the case. Lena is stubborn. Lena lies to Husband. Husband gets super angry. Lena is being followed. LAPD pal thinks Lena should abort the kid, quit the husband, and go back to police work. Jason has no other relatives beyond loving Step Dad and his facing a tough if in group and foster homes.

Anyhoo. Olson throws in some criminal excitement and family drama. I liked the book but likely won't check out the Sexy Vampire Kills Werewolves genre she works in. I do admit to enjoying the happy ending. Lena deals with her pregnancy fears. Lena and Husband work out differences. Bad guys are killed. Lena and Husband take in Jason when Step Dad dies.

More Irish: "Faithful Place" by Tana French

Heard: Faithful Place by Tana French, 2010, download from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Third in French's series about Dublin police detectives. This one focuses on Frank Mackey who appeared in the previous novel. Frank is still the same asshole from book #2, The Likeness. We get an understanding of why he is an asshole. But, he is still an asshole.

Frank left home at 19-years-old without telling a soul. He and his girlfriend Rosie were going to run away to England but she never showed at their Early A.M. rendezvous and Frank figured she had dumped him and left on her own with their ferry tickets.

In the present day Frank gets a call from his older sister - the only family member he speaks to - that a horrible thing has occurred and he must come to the family home at Faithful Place. Frank has been gone for 22 years but shows up and is told Rosie's suitcase has been found in a long abandoned building that is now being renovated. Well, if her suitcase is there where did Rosie go? Did she never make it to England?

We learn more and more as the novel goes on but Frank despises his family and neighborhood. His father was and is a violent drunk and forever on the dole. He and his older brother always fought. His mother is incapable of saying anything supportive or loving. His neighborhood is the Check-Out-My-New-TV-It-Fell-Of-A-Truck-And-If-You-Tell-The-Cops-Everyone-Will-Hate-You type of neighborhood.

We learn that a couple days before Frank and Rosie's planned 1988 departure that Frank's father got roaring drunk. Most of Dad's behavior was kept hidden away inside the house. His punch-ups were indoors only. But that night Dad decided to open up the long simmering feud between himself and Rosie's father. He marched down the street screaming and hollering and tried to break through the front door of Rosie's home. The event was so loud and frightening that someone actually called the cops. Called the cops?! In Faithful Place?  Wellll, that Mackey must be one horrible person and why would anyone want to marry into that family?

Frank figured that public incident with Dad was enough to scare Rosie off. Frank was so angry with his family that when Rosie never showed he figured that since he was already packed and ready to go he may as well start walking.   After a couple years on his own he went to the police college, joined the service, and only ran into his sister a few years later when he took her statement after a mugging.

Anyhoo. The story moves along and spoilers await below.

I've read and heard about growing up with alcoholics and how different people grow up under those circumstances. That is what the novel boils down to. Frank bolted and the other four siblings stayed. Three of them chose to keep keeping on and live their lives. The fourth, Seamus, just got angrier and angrier. Frank developed his own issues of never getting over Rosie's disappearance - something his wife sensed during their marriage and knows is still going on. Frank is acerbic, joking when things are tense, and enjoys causing conflict. Frank has trust issues.

After Frank reunites with the family and sees the suitcase he is ready to disappear again. But, he ends up spending time with his siblings and after talking with them figures out Rosie's body may be in the house. He is correct because the body is found, Frank is in tatters, and now the murder police are called in. Frank is not to be involve in the case but Frank is a Primo A-Hole still pining for Rosie and will get involved anyway.

French spends plenty of time on Frank and his siblings. Frank has anger to spare and spreads it around to his siblings. Frank blamed his entire family for Rosie's exit even though under his 22 year long theory it was his father to blame. But, as Frank comes back the siblings immediately fall back into old routines. Some of these behaviors are funny like when the siblings are sitting out on the front steps and immediately, and wordlessly, warn one another when their mother is coming. A brother and sister wordlessly communicate about a second brother who is being a drunken pain in the ass. An emotional sister gets eye rolls from the brothers who try to distract her onto another topic. But, Frank and his elder brother Seamus immediately bang heads. Frank's younger brother Kevin immediately starts looking up to Frank and hanging around with him.

Frank is rejoining the family after a couple decades of withheld rage. he never gave himself a chance to work through his issues. When you're regularly seeing your relatives over time you can let things fester, or demand satisfaction, or work your way to forgiveness and sanity. Instead, Frank has developed a belief that the family is as bad as a gang of murderers. When he discovers his 9-year-old daughter has been secretly visiting Faithful Place with Sister he has a shit fit. He wants his daughter far, far away from the rotten lot.

Even when Frank realizes his mistaken belief that Rose left him to avoid his family he cannot move forward. When he discovers Rosie is dead and that his family had jack all to do with it he still has plenty of anger left over.  He still sticks to how terrible things were. And aside from an angry relationship with an always angry older brother his siblings seem like pretty nice people. They went through the same crap but came out mostly okay. Even after meeting them all again and getting along - minus those usual sibling arguments - he wants to bail again on the whole family.

The story goes on and you'll likely figure out the killer early on. That's okay because Mackey is wrapped up in his own faulty memories and POV that he misses a few things.

Comments:
1. There are some great lines and observations by French. Those observations feel so natural and obvious when I read them but I then realize she is writing about small things that many authors miss or have to head you over the head with. French keeps things flowing. Example: when Mackey is scaring an old neighborhood pal of Rosie's into talking she does not scream out because "Someone taught her to be quiet." French does not go into a tangent on the woman's behavior or reactions. The scene moves along and I quickly absorbed this uneasy fact.
2. The phrase "Brass Neck". I never heard the phrase before and then heard it from two different sources.  One online definition is "someone who is extremely confident about their own actions but does not understand that their behavior is unacceptable to others." I've known a few people like that but never knew a colloquialism that expressed it. The second instance is a song from 1989 that I first heard a couple weeks ago. https://youtu.be/d9DjDh3yjSM