Friday, December 22, 2006

Read: "Fade to Blond" by Max Phillips

Read: Fade to Blonde by Max Phillips, 2004, 0843953500.

Excellent. This is a Hard Case Crime paperback. An original novel, not a reprint. I have a couple more Hard Case books checked out and one is an Ed McBain from about '58. Another is by Pete Hamill but I do not know the vintage.

This was really well written. Nice Hammett like touches in some of the descriptions by the main character, and narrator, Ray Corson. Ray left home early, bummed the rails a few years, saw service in WWII and now, in the mid-1950s or so, he's a washed out actor/screenwriter/boxer/bodyguard in Los Angeles making do as a construction worker. One day a big chested blonde shows up asking for Ray's help as muscle. The blonde says she has been threatened with facial disfurgerment by a local porn producer. Of course, the blonde's story is not all true and Ray, not dumb but not brilliant, struggles a while before he gets to the truth.

Corson's L.A. is filled with aspiring actors, failed actors, talent scouts, and all the gaffers, riggers and set designers that make up the low end of the movie industry. The setting gives an interesting twist by showing the work-a-day world of Hollywood. No glitter in the Phillips' rented rooms and drug dealer house parties.

Phillips is spare in his writing but his character descriptions are sharp enough that we can fill in the empty spaces he leaves. One nice touch by Phillips was when Corson forcibly takes a drug dealer to see a mobster. The dealer is verbally abusive with Corson and Ray says to the reader, "He made me a recommendation."

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Just Read: "American Skin" by Ken Bruen

Just Read: American Skin by Ken Bruen, 2006, 1932112472.

I reserved this one after doing an author search for Bruen.

I recently read some definition of noir that fits this book: bad people doing bad things to other bad people. Not so much because the book fits that definition but because the main character consciouscly puts himself into the genre.

Stephen Blake, the main character here, is conscious of his own noir activities and compares them against standard noir cliches and themes. But, American is not so much about the bank robbery, double crosses, shootings, deceptions and betrayals that make up the plot. It's not a nod-and-a-wink having fun with the genre. American is more of a mix of the noir novel and the Irish novel, or the Irish novel and the American noir novel. The kind of Irish novel with the IRA, the Provisional IRA, alcoholism, the seemingly inherent depression of the people, Brit vs. Paddy, with heaping helpings of sorrow and regret.

Blake is in the U.S. after a bloody bank robbery in Ireland. His girlfriend, a banker, is back in Ireland laudering the money and due to meet him in Tucson. The reader follows Blake from New York to Vegas to Tucson with multiple flashbacks telling about him, his lifelong friend Tommy, his girlfriend, and Irish sorrow/sadness/despair/anger/blah/blah/blah..

Alongside all the Irish stuff, Bruen mixes in a couple sociopaths for good measure, and that's where it gets an American-Irish twist. Bruen writes a fair amount about the differences between the way Irish and Americans act and think. How Blake is coming to the US and happily turning his back on Ireland and creating an American accent. The American sociopaths in New York and Arizona are different than the sad and angry Irish. Bruen sets each character up according to geography.

I'm overanalyzing the novel. I liked the book. Bruen is a very good writer.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Did not read: "Life of an American Soldier in Aghanistan" by Diane Yancey

Did not read: Life of an American Soldier in Afghanistan by Diane Yancey, 2004, 1590183290.

A YA nonfiction book. I flipped through it. Not what I was expecting. The news is filled with Iraq but there is not much of anything about Afghanistan.

Not a bad book. A good summary of the war there, with little tidbits about different jobs the Army, Navy and Marines are doing. But, it's an '04 book. I wanted something newer and more in-depth.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Gave up: "Black Maria" by Kevin Young

Gave up: Black Maria: Being the Adventures of Delilah Redbone & A.K.A. Jones: Poems by Kevin Young, 2005, 1400042097.

Picked this one out from either an online recommendation or review. Maria is supposed to be a noir novel told through poetry. I gave up real quick.

I found it impossible to figure out which character was speaking, what the characters' relationships were, and how the plot was developing. I had a rough idea of the plot and characters from reading the book jacket but I gave up after a few pages.

Finally Finished: "20,000 Years in Sing Sing" by Warden Lawes

Finally Finished: 20,000 Years in Sing Sing by Warden Lewis E. Lawes, 1932.

I'm not sure if this edition was actually printed in 1932 or not. I also skimmed the book for the last twenty pages because Lawes was wordy.

Lawes worked in the prison system for several years and was the first long-term, professional warden the prison had. All previous wardens were political appointees who would last from 6 months to two years.

Lawes traces the history of Sing Sing and penology theories. He then goes over his career and his and inmates daily routine in Sing Sing and how the prison works as a whole. His views on prisons and prison administration were practical and logical. Lawes talks about the comparative views on penology and the lock-em-up-forever vs. reform-them. Lawes was a practical guy; he knew that some convicts were incorrigable but that some were not and should be helped along. He saw arbitrary prison sentences and the absence of education and recreation in prisons as real good ways to start problems.

It'd be interesting to read Lawes comments about prisons today. Back then prison gangs were nothing like they are now and racial tensions were not so bad. I've read a couple books by Eddie Bunker that compare well to Lawes views on prison administration and convicts and the way to get both to live together. I read Newjack by Ted Conover a few years ago as well. Conover's experiences almost 70 years later that 20,000 are a neat comparison. Sing Sing's prison population are much different, the buildings even older, and Conover had frontline experience coping with inmates.

Lawes coverage of changing public perceptions on prison, the law, ex-convicts, and the courts are accurate for today.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Read: "Ask the Parrot" by Richard Stark

Read: Ask the Parrot by Richard Stark (Donald Westlake), 2006, 089296068x.

Another brilliant novel by Westlake. The Parker novels use such straight forward language, and Parker is so matter of fact, that the intricacy of the plot and multiple characters' viewpoints always surprise me.

I was reading about Parker novels last week and saw this great observation about Parker:

The real attraction of the books is Parker himself, who is staking a claim to being the greatest antihero in all crime fiction. He is unquestionably the most matter-of-fact: If there are emotions in the books, we know about them only because Parker observes them. He doesn't feel them himself. He just uses them or ignores them.

Parker is a ruthless killer, calm and collected, and wickedly smart. He will not screw a partner over, and he'll only kill when necessary because "It puts the law on you like nothing else."

Parrot starts with Parker's escape at the end of Nobody Runs Forever. Parker hooks up with a guy, Tom, who was looking for Parker and his bank robbing pals because he wants to rob his old employer. Parker stays with Tom and susses out Tom's character and motivation to manipulate him and everyone else Parker encounters.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Just Finished: "The Jugger" by Richard Stark

Just Finished: The Jugger by Ricahrd Stark, 2002.

A Mysterious Press reprint of the 1965 novel by Stark (Donald E. Westlake).

The plot is different in this Parker novel. No crime is planned and committed like in most other Parker stories. Instead, Parker travels to Sagamore, NE (North of Omaha) to see if an old partner needs to be killed. That's Parker all right.

The old partner, Joe, had retired to Sagamore five years ago after a lifetime of robberies. Joe is the "Jugger" of the tile, he's an old safecracker. Joe sends Parker a letter that makes Parker think Joe may be going senile and may and will talking about his old colleagues and the jobs they pulled. Parker immediately flies from Miami to Omaha and travels to Sagamore to, if necessary, kill Joe. Parker discovers Joe died the day before and Parker's suspicions about Joe's open mouth bear fruit when he finds that Sagamore's crooked Chief of Police was trying to extort money from Joe.

Parker is as smart as ever. He knows what people are thinking and what they want and he uses that to his advantage. He manipulates the Chief and a few others to get himself in the clear. At least for a time. Excellenrt writing by Westake, I think the twists and the plans by Parker are great.

Next on my list is the latest Parker book, Ask the Parrot.