Sunday, August 31, 2008

Read: "War Stories, Vol. 1" by [a bunch of people]

Read: War Stories, Vol. 1 by [a bunch of people], 2004, 1401203280.

Comic book short stories by several writers and artists.

Four fictional stories set in the Eastern Front, Germany, convoy duty, and Italy. The stories were okay - nothing spectacular. The artwork was okay - nothing spectacular. The advantage in this is the format and how they plan the images. The artwork for the convoy duty story stunk.

I think I ran across this comic while selecting for the Library. It came from Watertown. I should browse their shelves or shelf list sometime.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Read: "Yiddish Policemen's Union" by Michael Chabon

Read: Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon, 2007, 97780007149827.

Good and bad. Chabon is a literary darling. I hate to slur him like that but it's true. So I spend time thinking of there is some deeper literary meaning to his work I should be catching onto.

This was a good book but I suffered under the Yiddish, European, and Russian names. Chabon also uses a lot of Yiddish language or slang and it was hard to catch on to what the hell the characters were talking about.

Det. Meyer Landsman is a drunken cop in Sitka, AK. Sitka was given to the Jews 50 years ago and is now facing Revision back to the U.S. in just two months. No one knows what will happen after Reversion and most people are hoping to emigrate elsewhere or get a green card. Kind of like Hong Kong I suppose.

Landsman lives in a flophouse of a hotel where a fellow resident is shot in the back of the head. Landsman takes the case but is told to shelve it because his new boss and ex-wife, Bina, wants all cases cleared out before the turnover. Landsman and his cop cousin Berko continue to investigate and cause trouble.

A good crime novel. There is brief but very well done action scene with Meyer getting a round grazing off his head during a gunfight. I just kept lost among all the names and locations. I kept thinking of Arkady Renko the whole time with the cold weather, powerful and competing interests, a depressed protagonist.

Mostly read: "Combat Techniques" by Chris McNab and Martin J. Dougherty

Mostly read: Combat Techniques: an elite forces guide to modern infantry tactics by Chris McNab and Martin J. Dougherty, 2007, 9780312368241.

A basic primer on how things are done. Has a British emphasis. I bought this for the Library because I got Chris McNab confused with Andy McNab.

Covers infantry movement, tactics, heavy support, terrain, etc.

Just another attempt to figure out how the hell they do things in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Listened to: "The Woods" by Harlan Coben

Listened to: The Woods by Harlan Coben, downloaded from

I'm split on this one. I really disliked the audiobook narrator and the main character was annoying, but the plotting was really good.

Paul Copeland is a District Attorney in New Jersey. His sister and another teen, Gil, went missing twenty years ago in the woods of a summer camp while two other teens were slashed up. Her body was never found but a couple New York City police detectives have Copeland come see a murder victim's body who Copeland identifies as Gil. Copeland wonders if his sister is alive.

Copeland is dealing with an important rape trial while digging into the past that involves his dead father, runaway mother, summer camp girlfriend, Gil's family, his in-laws and other issues. Copeland's wife died five years ago and he is still in mourning over her. Obviously and 0bnoxiously so. He's always whining about his poor dead, beautiful wife who was his strong right hand, blah blah blah blah.

I disliked quite a few of the characters but they were all well drawn. Coben keeps things moving along at a good pace and uses the second story line (rape trial) to illuminate the first (dead sister). Suspicions on the responsibility of the murders shifts back and forth and Coben planted a few seeds that had me guessing about what might have happened.

Maybe I would have enjoyed it more if the narrator was not such a pinhead. I could have easily glossed over the annoying parts if I were reading them.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Read: "That's Alright Elvis" by Scotty Moore and James Dickerson

Read: That's Alright Elvis: the untold story of Elvis's first guitarist and manager, Scotty Moore by Scotty Moore and James Dickerson, 1997, 0028645995.

Interesting look at Elvis' early touring years and recordings. Scotty met Elvis at Sun Studios and toured with him for several years as part of the Blue Moon Boys. The book repeatedly asserts how important Elvis' band was to his early success. But Elvis was the star and he made all the money.

At one point Scotty and the other two band members were put on salary at $200 a week on tour and $100 a week on the road. Scotty only stayed solvent through his second wife Bobbie's job at Sears. In fact it was Bobbie's car that drove the band around the country on tour. In later years when elvis would give aw3ay cars to friends and strangers Bobbie never got one.

A big part of the trouble was the Colonel who immediately after getting involved with Elvis worked to become his manager and get rid of anyone there before him. Scotty never bore a grudge against Elvis and loved him until The King died. But, Scotty and the other band members really got screwed over. Example: Elvis was getting paid $50k for a series of television performances while the band was still making $200. The COlonel saw them as expendable and treated them that way. Elvis would pick up endorsements while the band was forbidden from even doing adverts for local car dealers.

After the 1968 "Comeback" special Scotty gave up playing guitar for over 20 years and worked in Nashville as a studio engineer. Not until the late 1980s and the 1990s did he perform again. At the end of the book it says Scotty will have to perform the rest of his life to keep food on the table.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Listened to: "Gentlemen of the Road" by Michael Chabon

Listened to: Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon, downloaded from

A pretty good adventure story. Set in 1200 or so in Eastern Europe. Two guys, an African and a german, have been traveling companions for several years. One is older with years of martial experience and the other is also a fighter but, at heart, a physician.

After staging a fake fight to the death at a travelers tavern they plan to skip town with their gambling winnings. Before they do so a guy who figured out their ruse tries to get them to take along a teen boy to his family. They end up taking the ungrateful, surly, and insulting teen, the boy gets kidnapped after escaping, in a rescue attempt the African is captured. The captures fail to defend against a Viking raid and the boy convinces them to fight against the king who overthrew the boy's royal family, army builds on the march to the king's city, boy exposed as a girl by king's troops, something else happened, gal and Gentlemen sneak into religious leader's (like an Iranian mullah the final authority in the kingdom) castle to make him get king to abdicate, something else happens I don't recall, king is killed, German and gal do the deed, German and African hit the road.

I hate characters with foreign names in audio titles. I have a very difficult time keeping track of the names of characters and geographical spots. This was a short piece which is very good because Chabon has a long-winded and boring afterword that was included at the end. Because it is the Afterword. The words that come after. After as in the end.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Read: "Tango For A Torturer" by Daniel Chavarria

Read: Tango For A Torturer by Daniel Chavarria, 2007, 9781933354194.

Very good. More of a literary novel than stuff I usually read. Kind of a crime novel but not quite. Uruaguyan author Chavarria has been writing in Spanish for quite a while but only recently has been getting translated - or so I read.

I avoid translations because so many are written in a style that is too "foreign". The styles are too thick or fantastic or meandering - they follow a cultural style I am too impatient or disinterested to learn. This one has some of that character but was very well written and, I assume, very well translated.

Aldo is a native Argentinian who was arrested and tortured in the early 1970s along with his wife. He now lives in Italy and while on vacation in Cuba discovers that Orlando, infamous Uruguayan torturer responsible, is now living under an assumed name in Cuba.

Aldo is busy trying to concoct a plot of revenge and screwing his Cuban hooker girlfriend, Bini, when Bini steals a car and gets stuck in mud. After extricating Bini's car during a nighttime storm Bini is giving him a handjob and Aldo runs over a bicyclist. Aldo easily convinces Bini to lie for him and blame Orlando for the crime. Orlando used to hire Bini and she assists in putting together frame-up.

Told from several characters with multiple flashbacks. Aldo was deeply effected by his torture and suffered sexual side affects for years until meeting the mercurial Bini. Bini is a a greedy and slutty gal but has the Oscar worthy heart of gold. Orlando is a vile piece of trash. He no longer works his "trade" and at first does not seem like too bad a guy. At first.

Other characters like Aldo's Cuban friends, a prison official, police investigators and others flesh things out. A major character is Cuba and Havana itself. The weather, the people, the food, the politics are all used to fantastic effect.

I'm very certain I read another Chavarria's Adios, Muchachos. But, that may have been before I started keeping track like this.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Read: "Dirty Money" by Richard Stark (Donald Westlake)

Read: Dirty Money by Richard Stark (Donald Westlake), 2008, 9780446178587.

Excellent. Parker tries to recover the money that was stashed and left behind in Nobody Runs Forever. Parker's identities are burned and he needs Claire's assistance as a driver - Claire has stayed out of any of his work so this is a big change. Of course she had no direct involvement in this one - just as a driver.

Told from the perspective of several characters, many of whom return from the previous novel. Great use of little mini cliff hangers with hops back in time to different characters. Westlake packs a lot of character attributes into a small amount of space.

There is a lot going on that Parker has to deal with. Recovering the cash, dealing with interlopers, dealing with fellow crooks, avoiding cops, getting new IDs, cutting a deal with a money launderer. Parker likes small caliber pistols. He usually carries a .32 Smith revolver - when was the last time those were made? - but has a Beretta .22 in this one. He does use someone else's Glock in .357 Sig though.

Read: "Volk's Shadow" by Brent Ghelfi

Read: Volk's Shadow by Brent Ghelfi, 2008, 9780805082555.

Very, very good. Ghelfi was at the Mystery One bookstore in Milwaukee and I lucked out seeing apromo in the newspaper. I bought a copy of the book when I went there. Ghelfi spoke a lot about modern Russia and crime, business, graft, Chechnya, corruption and bureaucracy. It was neat to hear him talk about the topics because they all fit directly into the plot. It was not neat to hear the beer guzzling nitwit in the small audience who wanted to jabber on about his views and experiences in Russia.

The novel starts with The General sending Volk to a high rise bombed only an hour or so ago by terrorists who are holed up inside with hostages. Volk goes inside by himself - yeah, not very believable - and is caught in an explosion right when the terrorists catch him in the building. Volk survives.

The bombing was at an oil company's offices and Ghelfi ties that into a tightly woven plot about oil wealth. The Russians are fighting among themselves over oil money and trying to make alliances with Europe, America, and China. With main oil pipelines running through or next to Chechnya all the sides have to deal with competing Chechen bands.

Along for the ride is a digital video showing a mass murder by the Russian Army, a child abduction in Moscow of a twelve year old girl whose kidnapper takes her South to the mountains, and the murder of two soldiers who were buying a long missing Faberge egg for sale by Chechens.

Don't forget Volk's experiences in the Second Chechen War and his capture. While captured he was repeatedly tortured and lost his foot when his captors ground it in the elevation gears of a 155 millimeter howitzer. Of course, the leader of the band that caught Volk is involved in everything.

There is a lot going on but Ghelfi puts it all together well and the the mystery aspect of the plot is well done. There are crime lords, porn, whores, faces cut off victims, Volk killing lots of people, and a Sig. Speaking of the Sig, whats with the ten round mags? Is he carrying a 220 or 225 or 239? Those are single stacks but all the other models must have, at minimum, twelve round mags.