Thursday, May 31, 2007

Read: "Draw" by James Reasoner

Read: Draw: the greatest gunfights of the American West by James Reasoner, 2003, 0425191931 (pbk.).

Pretty good. Short chapters with biographical sketches of the shootists and the shootout. Some guys show up more than once, like Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp. I reserved this (copy is from Hartford P.L.) after a plug by Bill Crider.

Pretty much all the guys in Draw were unsavory and unpleasant characters. When I read complaints about how bad modern society is I keep in mind how dangerous the "Wild West" (and 1920s Chicago) was. Sporadic law enforcement, lynchings, and unfair trials were standard. The legal standard for self-defense was pretty dang low. Even the lawmen were, oftentimes, crooks and gamblers. A fellow would be a deputy then a gambler then a hired gunman and then a deputy again.

I was surprised at how often people moved around; men traveled from Kansas to Texas to Oklahoma to Arizona to New Mexico to Colorado and would get into altercations at each stop. That's a lot of train trips and horse rides.

Of the 31 stories told by Reasoner there were some really interesting tales with some really interesting people. But, I'm not going to bother retelling them.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Gave up on: "The Price of Honor" by Col. David H. Hackworth (Ret.)

Gave up on: The Price of Honor by Col. David H. Hackworth (Ret.), 1999, 0385491646.

I've read a couple Hackworth books before. I read his autobiography and a compilation of his columns and his commentary on foreign policy and military issues was always interesting. But, he should have hired a ghostwriter to clean this up.

His writing has odd shifts where a person is described in one spot and then, suddenly, seems to be at another. The dialogue is difficult to follow because the characters are not always clearly identified. The writing needed polishing.

The story follows Captain Caine of the U.S. Army. Caine's family history has soldiers all the way back to the Revolutionary War. The one black mark in that history was Caine's father who was killed in Vietnam and accused of cowardice. Is it true? Will Caine discover the truth while fighting through Sarajevo and Somalia? Will he bone the independent and feisty woman reporter? Will Caine family and huge political secrets be revealed? Hell if I know.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Just finished: "No Dominion" by Charlie Huston

Just finished: No Dominion by Charlie Huston, 2006, 9780345478252.

Another good job by Huston The plotting in this one was better, with a surprise at the end that I did not see. The kind of plot twist where the main character has been set-up and unknowingly led along, kind of James Ellroy-ish with a kicker of a surprise at the end.

This is a mystery novel disguised with vampires; the second one by Huston featuring Joe Pitt. The vampires are vampires due to a viral infection and secretly live in Manhattan. Manhattan is divided by several different Clans (gangs) who violently guard their territories. Pitt is a Rogue, unaffiliated with a clan but allowed to live in the Society's territory due to Pitt's past affiliation with the clan and his handiness as a private eye, of sorts.

Pitt is asked to investigate a new, highly addictive, lethal drug that some vampires have been using and overdosing on. Pitt goes from one bad situation to another, gets beat up a lot, and has noir-guy wisecracks in the face of danger. Pitt is also very noir-ish by sticking to his own principles and moral code. Huston keeps the story and plot moving briskly.

Pitt is a very similar character to Huston's Henry Thompson. Both are of the same age, have a similar smart-ass personality, are sort of rundown and down-on-their-luck, and surprisingly capable in the face of violent adversity.

Huston's dialogue is always written according to peoples' actual speech with stops and starts and characters talking over one another. Sometimes the dialogue reads like a transcript rather than a novel.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Listened to: "Gentlemen and Players" by Joanne Harris.

Listened to Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris, 2006, downloaded from

Good. Deceptively good because the characterizations were very well done, so effortlessly well done and flowing that I did not even notice until now. The novel had some surprising moments. I saw the 'big' surprise coming because I was told there was one. Set in an English private school, St. Oswald's, during both present day and fifteen years previous. Gentlemen is narrated by two characters: the son of the school Porter (the handyman/groundskeeper), Julian, and the Classics teacher, Mr. Straitley.

Julian is quite villainous. As a young teenager Julian is mostly adrift without parental support and attention and he goes downhill quickly when attached to Leon, an older, loutish student from St. Oswald's. As an adult Julian is murderous, with – revealed at story's end – a lifetime body count of at least four people. Julian is amoral and set on revenge against the school that never accepted him. His infatuations with the school, it's staff members, and one of the school's students are very well written.

Mr. Straitley is 65 and in his 100th semester of teaching at St. Oswald's. As the semester begins Straitley's curriculum is under siege from the newly established Languages department – whose head has taken away his office - and the school's recent emphasis on computer sciences. Straitley's narration is set in present day and records the reactions of the victims of Julian's underhanded and scheming plan for revenge against the school.

Pretty good n

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Finished: "World War Z" by Max Brooks

Finished: World War Z by Max Brooks, 2006, 0307346609.

Pretty decent. I don't know why I took so long to finish a freaking zombie book. An oral 'history' of the 15 year Zombie War. Brooks even gives an acknowledgement to Studs Terkel. Really more a collection of short stories with multiple characters. Well done by Brooks.

I read a comment about this book where the reader would think, "Those poor people" and then remember she was reading a novel. Brooks never wavers from the book's conceit as a oral history, which is kind of neat Brooks makes the idea of zombies more believable than if written as a novel. Information on the Zombie plague and how Zombies behave is discussed as fact and history rather than sci-fi make believe.

Besides, Brooks covers the globe with 'interviews' from people in Antarctica, Ireland, China, Siberia and elsewhere. Brooks would have had to string together some Herman Wouk or W.E.B. Griffith style narrative if writing this as a novel and I bet the characters and story would have suffered.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Read: "The Last Assassin" by Barry Eisler

Read: The Last Assassin by Barry Eisler, 2006, 0399153594.

Pretty good. I liked the previous Eisler novel better. Last has professional assassin John Rain attempting to do away with his nemesis, the criminal kingpin and politician Yamaoto, who has had a price on Rain's head for a few years. Rain is forced to do so after he is informed that former girlfriend Midori has a son and Rain is the father. Midori is under surveillance - and in danger – in Yamaoto's hope that Rain will show up at her NYC apartment. Rain is typically ruthless and bloody; no broken necks though.

Eisler does another good job in explaining and understanding a difficult character like Rain who has survived in a – literally – cut-throat profession for decades due to his paranoia and a refusal to make friends and allies. Recent changes by Rain to accept a friend, fellow killer Dox, and sort-of girlfriend, Delilah, are difficult for him to accept. Rain has to contend with: loyalty, friendship, love, and a future outside of his chosen profession.

I'm going to take the novel's characters' fondness for Benchmade knives to be a trait that the author holds. Brandnames like Benchmade, Emerson, HAK, and Heckler-Koch make appearances. Eisler seems to do a lot of research by talking to and training with a variety of martial arts, security, gun, and knife people when writing his books; he gives a lot of credit in his Ackowledgements.

Eisler does a decent job with his overseas settings in Barcelona and Tokyo. His descriptions are good but Rain has obscure favorites and favors expensive hotels; murder pays well.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Mostly read: "Rifles" by David Westwood

Mostly read: Rifles: an illustrated history of their impact by David Westwood, 2005, 1851094016.

Good articles with a lot of detail pieces on the history of development and design. Rifles also details how stupid and shortsighted military leaders can be. Forgoing technological advancements that have already made favored techniques and theory obsolete.

I read several articles but did not have enough interest to read them all.

Never finished: "Safari" by Bartle Bull

Never finished: Safari: A chronicle of adventure by Bartle Bull, 1988, 0670818801.

Very interesting and well written but I just never got to finishing it. The large format did not lend the book to easy reading. A well-done history of the African safari, famous hunters, and the evolution of safari along with changes in population.