Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Listened to: "The Terror" by Dan Simmons

Listened to: The Terror by Dan Simmons, 2007, Books On Tape downloaded from Overdrive.

Excellent book with excellent narration by John Lee. A hell of a lot better than Simmons' Darwin's Blade crap. This was real long; total time was 28 hours and 18 minutes.

I started listening to Terror before I read Darwin's Blade. After Darwin's I started wondering if maybe Terror's greatness was due to John Lee's work. But, in retrospect the excellent characters, attention to detail, and pacing are all due to Simmons. Lee's work is icing.

British Navy expedition ships Terror and Erebus have been frozen into Arctic ice for two years while searching for a Northwest Passage north of Canada. The two crews are still doing okay even though both ships are running low on heating coal and their tinned food rations are spoiling. But, the unknown monster on the ice that makes an occasional meal of crew members is definitely making things worse.

Eventually both ships have to be abandoned and the heavy whaling boats (and other small boats) have to be dragged across the ice in an escape attempt. Bad things happen with scurvy killing some crew, the monster others, and treacherous scum killing some more. The evil Caulker's Mate Hickey was particularly well done by Simmons. Hickey's treachery to kill one of Terror's officer - which instigates the murder of a group of recently met Eskimo - seals the deaths of everyone.

At the end of the novel one crew member has survived with assistance of Eskimo. The Eskimo stay warm in furs and travel with lightweight sleds. They sleep in warm igloos or simple leather tents and can hunt for all the food they need. This is in sharp contrast to the English who wear cotton and wool and stay on the frozen ships - rarely above freezing on board - and are running low on the heating coal. The English would only leave their ships for a handful of hours a time and can find no game aside from occasional polar bear.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Finished: "Volk's Game" by Brent Ghelfi

Finished: Volk's Game by Brent Ghelfi, 2007. 9780805082548.

Very good. One of the better books I have read in a while. On par with, and felt similar to, L.A. Rex by Will Beall. Bill Crider said, "Dance Monkey!" So I did.

Volk is a former Russian special forces soldier who served in Chechnya for two years. Volk lost part of one leg from the calf down and is now a gangster in Moscow. Volk's girlfriend and co-worker Valya is an 18 year old Chechen who somehow hooked up with Volk while in Chechnya. Both Volk and Valya are brutal and pitiless after the horrors of the war and Volk trades in anything except children younger than 14.

Turns out Volk is more than just a low-level mob boss. He is a Colonel in the army and indebted to and reports to The General who uses him as a funding source. Volk also works under the permission of mob boss Maxim. Maxim has unusual influence in the Kremlin, so much so he might as well have a job title there.

Volk ends up in a byzantine plot to steal a long-lost da Vinci painting from a St. Petersburg museum. Both the General and Maxim are pulling strings aside the competing interests of a Kremlin politician and the Russian intelligence service, FSB. Volk has to steal the painting and then save his own skin, as well as a kidnapped Valya, when the painting is stolen from him.

Ghelfi does a fantastic job with the Moscow and St. Petersburg settings and in portraying the culture and politics of modern Russia. Volk is a good character and Ghelfi gives just enough info throughout the book to let you try and understand him. The intricate plot with intersecting love lives and betrayals reminded me of James Ellroy.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Read: "Montreal" written by Helga Loverseed.

Read: Montreal written by Helga Loverseed, 1996, 1896339603.

Eh, this book was okay; I reserved it on a whim. One of those paperback photo books aimed at tourists. Slightly smaller than a 8.5" by 11" piece of paper with plenty of color photos. The book is sectioned to cover the different areas of the city with brief, descriptive essays.

Judging by cars, clothes, and hairstyles the photos were taken over a wide range of time. The aerial views are pretty nice and some of the photos overlap, but from different angles. It's neat to look at those shots and make comparisons. I do wonder how photos were chosen because several street level shots are of the same dang buildings.

I was hoping for a longer and larger book with photographs to match. I still hope to visit there again on vacation. There are loads of summer activities for families and kids.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Finished: "Whack A Mole" by Chris Grabenstein

Finished: Whack A Mole by Chris Grabenstein, 2007, 9780786718184.

Pretty good. Another John Ceepak mystery narrated by Ceepak's partner Danny Boyle. The previous two Ceepak books, Mad Mouse and Tilt-A-Whirl, actually involved the carnival rides they were named after but this one did not. The whack-a-mole game gets a few passing mentions by Boyle. Maybe Grabenstein got sick of tying the rides into the story, or maybe he just didn't bother. As before, Grabenstein has nice local color for the New Jersey beach town of Sea Haven and he has two good main characters. Ceepak - who will neither lie, cheat, or steal nor tolerate those who do - does not seem as kooky as before but I am used to him by now.

Boyle and Ceepak come across an unknown, local serial murderer who started killing in runaway teen girls in 1980 but had been inactive for 15 years. While hunting with a metal detector Ceepak finds a high school class ring in the beach sand. Ceepak being Ceepak he investigates the owner to discover that the girl who lost it went missing about 20 years ago. Pretty soon watertight containers are unearthed from the beach sand with victim's skulls inside along with maps directing Ceepak and Doyle to the next container.

Grabenstein does a fair job with the plotting and gives some tricky red herrings for suspects, I was a bit surprised when the killer was identified. He also screwed up and claimed that the BTK killer was from Kansas City. Then, the weirdness that Grabenstein's characters deciding that a Glock model 27 would be a better service weapon than a model 23. Huh? I suppose you can find a retention service holster for a 27 but why? It's a subcompact.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Read: "Darwin's Blade" by Dan Simmons

Read: Darwin's Blade by Dan Simmons, 2000, 0380973693.

Run of the mill, nothing special, mostly a waste of time. I read this after a plug by Bill Crider where Crider said there was lots of gun stuff. In fact, Crider said, "If Simmons and Stephen Hunter sat down to talk, they could go on about guns and ammo for, at a rough guess, thirty-seven years without repeating themselves."

With that kind of plug my expectations were high, so high that Simmons' gun errors stood out even more than usual. I was so annoyed by this that I wrote them down. Some of the errors could be attributed to poor typesetting, like incorrectly writing in .60 and .748 caliber. Other errors seem to fall to Simmons' attempt to overload on detail. Like when main character Darwin gets shot at by a sniper and an hour later the cops/FBI talk say the sniper was using handloaded cartridges with such-and-such a powder and bullet weight. Bullshit.

Simmons' also recycles every internet story about fatal accidents you already read about. Like the solid rocket booster attached to a wahoo's car, a guy using a .22 LR cartridge as a car fuse, and the list of absurd drivers' statements after wrecks. The theory that racking a shotgun will solve all burglaries and the erroneous idea that you cannot miss with said shotgun.

Darwin Minor, professional accident investigator and reconstructionist has some interesting bits to him. But the pretension of being a no television watching, single-malt drinking, classical music listening, philosopher quoting, sports car driving, loft living, grieving after dead wife and son dying, former Marine snipering, loner is way, way too much.

I won't bother with the secretive Russian hitmen, who are also former snipers, killing everyone from afar rather than just walking up and shooting someone in the face.

Anyway. Darwin works for a company that does accident reconstruction for insurance companies. He gets shot at by some Russian killers because, due to a lame plot connection, an accident reconstruction he did helps point to accident fraud. Darwin gets shot at and humps a lady cop investigator assigned to assist him then kills some other Russians in sniper set piece.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Read: "Songs of Innocence" by Richard Aleas

Read: Songs of Innocence by Richard Aleas, 2007, 9780843957730.

Good one. This is an original for Hard Case, not a reprint. Good story with a former private detective trying to find out who killed his best friend, a gal student at Columbia University who worked as a hand-job providing masseuse.

John Blake is a geeky looking dude in his twenties who quit being an investigator after too many bad experiences and took an administrative assistant job in the writing department at Columbia University. After Blake's best friend Dorrie does not respond to phone calls and emails, Blake goes to her apartment and finds her dead in her bath; an obvious suicide. But, all her papers and photos from her work life have been shredded and her laptop cleared of any work emails or contacts. Blake and Dorrie had a standing agreement to call one another if they were thinking of acting out a suicide, and since Blake had talked Dorrie out of it before, he is convinced that the suicide is actually a murder and a client did her in.

The novel has quite a bit of plot twists and red herrings. A couple of really bad dudes, creepy massage parlors, bloody altercations, etc. Aleas does a good job with the plot by leading you one way and then swinging you another.

EDIT: I thought this was the same guy who owned Hard Case, Charles Ardai,and it is. The pseudonym threw me off. 15 October 2007

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Read: "Die Trying" by Lee Child

Read: Die Trying by Lee Child, 1998, 0515125024 pbk.

Pretty decent. I have been dragging on finishing a couple nonfiction books so I figured I would take a novel home. This is a good thriller but I ended up remembering another novel, maybe by Stuart Woods, that had the same setting of secessionist militia dudes in the forest.

Jack Reacher is walking down a Chicago sidewalk when someone drops a crutch trying to get through a dry cleaners doorway. Reacher helps the lady by picking up her 20 or so bags of cleaning and turns to find two armed men facing him. The two men kidnap Reacher and the gal and stick them in the back of a panel truck.

Reacher and the gal are taken to an abandoned town in Montana which has been taken over by a militia organization led by a fat, crazy dude. The gal is an FBI agent, the daughter of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and goddaughter to the President. The gal was the kidnappers' goal but the idiotic team leader took Reacher along rather than kill him.

This is the second Reacher novel by Child but the third one I have read. The other two were quite a bit better with more believable story lines and better plotting (the plotting for The Hard Way was fantastic). Maybe it took some practice for Child to get as sharp as he was for Die Trying, that book really impressed me.

Once again Reacher is wandering the country with no possessions, no home, no method of financial support. But, call him Mr. Irresistible because he bones the FBI gal and impresses the fat, crazy guy enough to delay execution. He's also Mr. Skill since his knowledge and abilities are endless and don't deteriorate, even years after last practice.

Thursday, October 4, 2007