Saturday, July 28, 2007

Read: "Wolves Eat Dogs" by Martin Cruz Smith

Read: Wolves Eat Dogs by Martin Cruz Smith, 2004, 9780671445957 (paperback).

Very good. This is the fifth novel with Russian police inspector Arkady Renko. Each one has been very good.

Arkady has traveled in all of Smith's novels. Based in Moscow he has also worked on a fishing ship in the north Pacific, traveled into Germany, and gone to Cuba. This time Arkady is forced to travel to Chernobyl for a murder investigation.

Smith's novels are a great mix of character, plot and setting. All three ingredients are used to wonderful effect. Arkady and other characters are well drawn and the Chernobyl setting is well described and plays an active part in the way the characters interact and the plot moves.

The restricted "Zone" surrounding Chernobyl is supposed to keep everyone out. But, scientists, squatters and villagers still live inside the radioactive area. The Zone used to be the home of thousands and included Pripyat, a city of 50,000 people. Arkady stays in the Zone with the scientific enclave to investigate why the business associate of a recent suicide Arkady investigated was found dead in an abandoned graveyard in the Zone.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Re-Read: "Dirty White Boys" by Stephen Hunter

Re-Read: Dirty White Boys by Stephen Hunter, 0679437517, 1994.

Real good book.

I first picked this up in '95 at the UGX when looking at new books. I cannot remember what made me take it off the shelf but the first line is a grabber, "Three men at McAlester State Penitentiary had larger penises than Lamar Pye, but all were black and therefore, by Lamar's own figuring, hardly human at all." I really liked the book in '95 and have been reading Hunter's novels ever since.

A professional criminal and convict, Lamar is wicked smart and ruthless. He and his barely functioning, retarded cousin Odell have been in and out of prison together since kids. Lamar kills a black convict when the convict tries to rape him and knows that his own gang has cut him loose and he is fair game for the black gangs. He quickly devises an escape plan and takes his cellmates Richard Peed and Odell with him.

Bud Pewtie, 48 year old sergeant in the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, is called out of bed at 4 AM to join the search for the escaped cons. Bud is partnered with young trooper Ted Pepper and assigned search duties. After lunch at a diner, Bud and Ted swing by a farmhouse on the request of the worried waitress who has a missing and elderly regular customer. Bud and Ted drive to the customer's remote farmhouse, get out of the car, start walking to the house, and are promptly ambushed by Lamar and Odell. Pepper gets a .45 in the head. Bud barely survives the gunfight. Scummy Lamar and his group escape. Pepper's widowed wife Holly and Bud continue their months old extra-marital affair. Bud and Lamar circle each other and violently meet two additional times.

Bud has been screwing Ted's wife Holly for awhile and the dishonesty and sneakiness of it has been eating him up. He has fallen for the 26 yr. old Holly and fallen out of love with his distant wife. Worried for his two teen sons, not wanting to hurt his wife, the scandal of screwing a dead cop's wife, and Holly pressuring him to leave his wife are a black weight over his head.

Some things about the novel that are interesting: Lamar is scum with good qualities (honesty, loyalty to family, bravery, intelligence) Bud is a good guy with bad qualities (dishonest to family, screwing partner's wife).

The good guys say "goddamn" a lot. The bad guys say "fuck" a lot.

A consistent strong point of Hunter's work is good gun writing. Hunter gives detail and description of firearms, tactics, and shooting that other writers are clueless about. You'll never read a line from Hunter about a "glock revolver".

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Just read: "Two-Way Split" by Allan Guthrie

Just read: Two-Way Split by Allan Guthrie, 2004, 9780809556519 (US ppbk).

Quite good. This is actually Guthrie's first novel, but the second Kiss Her Goodbye was the first publishd in the States. I read that one a while ago.

Two-Way's story has three different narratives colliding at a post office robbery in Edinburgh. Pearce the recently released convict, Kennedy the bored private eye, and the criminal trio of Eddie, Carol and Robin/Don. Carol is insane and on medication. Robin is insane and off his medication. Don is the split personality of Robin's dead brother and very dangerous.

I like that Guthrie doesn't go into the psychology or pathology of his characters; he presents what is going on and you just have accept it as part of the story until additional explanation is given. The revenge motivations of Pearce - who got 10 years for murdering his dead sister's drug dealer - are revealed bit by bit throughout the novel. But, those bits are not dangled in a teasing - and therefore annoying way - because the action keeps going and hard man Pearce is believable.

Guthrie's third novel is at the library but I have several other books I need to get to first.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Listened to: "Grim Grotto" by Lemony Snicket

Listened to: Grim Grotto by Lemony Snicket, downloaded from

Book eleven in the series. A decent novel but I liked some others in the series better. The Baudelaire orphans travel down the Stricken Stream and are rescued by the submarine Queequeg. Klaus gets the hots for the captain's daughter who ends up joining up with Count Olaf when they are captured and she finds her brother is a member of Olaf's crew.

Blah, blah, blah.

The Baudelaires are closer to the end of the series, so the action has to get better. Right?

Finished: "Boxing Stories" by Robert E. Howard

Finished: Boxing Stories by Robert E. Howard, 2005, 0803273525.

I enjoyed these stories but you wouldn't think so for all the times I fell asleep reading them. Howard was a pulp writer in the '20s and '30s who killed himself in 1936 when he was 30. This is another title plugged by Bill Crider. Crider says, "Dance, Monkey! Dance!" and I do a two-step.

Like a lot of pulp writers Howard wrote A LOT and is most famous as the creator of Conan. Howard's publishing history is as interesting as his stories. He wrote across several genres and all the boxing stories collected in this volume were published in various adventure magazines.

Half or more of the stories are Sailor Costigan stories and I liked them quite a bit. The Costigan stories have a good bit of humour and are supposed to be collected elsewhere in their entirety. All the Costigan stories follow the typical set-up where dimwitted but gallant Costigan gets in a beef or needs money and takes a fight. The following fight is narrated by Costigan round by round and Howard does a real good job keeping the story exciting; it's not a plain blow-by-blow recitation.

Either Howard had a fascination with Iron Men fighters or his readers really liked those stories. Either way there are several of those included as well. Iron Men - meaning iron jawed, oak ribbed fighters who could not be knocked out - are fascinating and extinct. The kind of punishment they took - lacking any defensive skills, getting knocked down multiple times, multiple cuts, eyes swollen shut - would never be allowed now, the fight would get called off. Howard mentions the real-life boxer Joe Grim several times. Grim lost about 70 fights and won maybe 5 (I'm approximating). But, Grim was a huge draw because he would stand in the ring with his hands at his hips and just get slugged over and over and over again while throwing wild, easily ducked swings. Grim didn't even duck or sway to avoid the shots, he just waited for an opponent to tire himself out and then hoped to get in a hard shot of his own.

Howard was found of saying punches hit like "caulk mallets" and "trip-hammers".

EDIT 14 Aug 09: This title is no longer in the catalog. I must have really lucked out and got a hold of it before the book was withdrawn.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Just Read: "Cruel Poetry" by Vicki Hendricks

Just Read: Cruel Poetry by Vicki Hendricks, 2007, 9781852429270.

Pretty decent with lots of sex. Recommended by Bill Crider. Crider says "Jump!" and I say "How high?"

Set in Miiami's South Beach and focusing on three characters: hooker Renata (Rennie), would-be-writer Julia (Jules), and literature professor Richard (Dick). Everyone falls in love with sultry and gorgeous Rennie, including her client Dick and her neighbor Jules. Rennie lives in a ratty hotel on the beach and entertains clients in her room and on out-calls. Jules moved to Miami in an attempt to isolate herself and write a novel. She falls for Jules after listening to her through the wall and getting to know her. Professor Dick is infatuated with Rennie and hoping to throw away a good life with his wife and two boys to 'rescue' Rennie from her life.

Rennie doesn't want to be rescued. She enjoys her sex work, enjoys her sort-of boyfriend - and fellow hooker - Francisco, and enjoys living on the beach.

I though this would be more of a straightforward noir novel with more action. There is violence, including three murders, but the focus is on the relationships of the three main characters and the setting of Miami. Just as much of the violence is relayed to the characters in conversation, and without the detail most other authors would go into. That was a neat change, actually. Hendricks was writing from each characters' point of view and adding more people would have been messy to read. Well done by Hendricks but I do prefer novels with more plot for the characters to live within.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Finished: "AC/DC: Maximum Rock & Roll" by Murray Engelhart w/Arnaud Durieux

Finished: AC/DC: Maximum Rock & Roll by Murray Engelhart w/Arnaud Durieux, 2006,978-0-06-113391-6.

Okay, but not great. At 456 pages this took forever for me to finish; the book's thickness was intimidating.

This is more of a superfan book than a throough biography. It's not fauning and starstruck but the authors are obviously big fans of the band. Dissention and management problems are mentioned but never gotten into. Drug and booze problems by two of the band members are glossed over. At times this seems like a 400 page tour history.

Most of the book covers the beginnings of the band plus the first ten years, or so, until Bon Scott's death. The book realy suffers from what seems to be a complete lack of interviews with bandmembers and management. The many quotes seem to come from previously published interviews.

Angus and Malcom Young grew up in 1960s Sydney listening to rock records while older brother George was having a few hits with the Easybeats. Angus and Malcom are big fans of old blues performers and rockers like Chuck Berry. They both played in a variety of bands with changing line-ups until Bon Scott joined up and things started to click for them. The guidance and prodcution skills of brother George were a big part of their success.

The first half of the book is much more interesting with coverage of Bon and their work in Australia. The authors like to talk of all the chicks they were banging in Australia and the wild, alcohol fueled parties they had. For a hard rocking and party happy band it's surprising that Angus is a tea-totaler. Angus's nights were spent in his room smoking cigarettes and playing guitar. Hell, the guy is an introvert who had green teeth from lack of dental hygiene. He woudl wonder why chicks would have sex with him but never hang out.

AC/DC always saw themselves as a straightforward rock and roll band. No frills and pretensions, just straightforward rock tunes with plenty of rhythm. That the band during their time in London got lumped together with all the punk bands was surprising. That they get lumped together with hairspray bands like Motely Crue and Poison is a cruel joke.

I have spent a lot of time on youtube the last couple weeks listening to AC/DC tunes.

Additional, 5 Jy 07: a copy of Let There Be Rock came in for me today. The 2003 reissue's liner notes are by Engelhart.