Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Read an ARC of: "The Brass Verdict" by Michael Connelly

Read an ARC of: The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly, 2008, no ISBN.

Good book with another interesting look by Connelly at the legal system in Los Angeles. This came in my raffle basket from Muskego. I did not know it was there until I was rifling through the raffle stuff a few days ago.

Criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller is practicing again after a year long break post-Lincoln Lawyer's events. Haller got shot, hooked on pain pills, went to rehab and was about to start taking on clients when a fellow attorney is murdered. Haller and the Dead Dude used to help each other out on cases and the Dead Dude listed Haller as the one to take over his active cases if he dies.

One of those active cases is a big-name murder trial involving a Movie Studio Owner. Studio Owner is accused of killing his wife and her boyfriend and refuses to delay his trial which starts in just a week. Things happen with different characters. Connelly's Detective Bosch shows up. Haller is a dick. Studio Owner is a major jerk.

The legal stuff is the real draw for me. Interesting characters have to carry the story but the methods and tactics employed by Haller are most interesting. Haller is always strategizing; he does it with conversations, with investigations, with discovery of evidence, with court requests, with phone calls, etc. Haller is like Joe Pitt in Every Last Drop by giving nothing away unless he wants to. The difference between Pitt and Haller - aside from the vampire crap - is that Haller is dedicated to his client. Haller takes his duties as an attorney very seriously; even when his conscience starts to rage against him he never fails to carry out those responsibilities.

Connelly (through Haller) gives a real life look at the court system and the process of justice. Jury selection, attorney negotiations, sharing of trial evidence, questioning of witnesses at trial, and other events get real neat dramatizations by Connelly. The fact that some defense clients need to be hounded for payment and are often unreachable with no fixed address.

I assume Haller will appear in another book. If he makes a career change it will be interesting to see what happens. The end of Brass has a set-up for future interaction with Bosch. Maybe Connelly will tie the two tighter together.

EDIT: Something I forgot. The plot falls apart a bit at the end with Studio Owner being murdered by relatives of Dead Boyfriend. I suppose Connelly jut wiped out Studio Owner to clean up a loose end in the plot. The set-up by Secret Bad Guy to kill Haller seemed a bit messy. For that matter, Secret Bad Guy was not too secret and not all that important anyway. Skipping out on the Secret Bad Guy subplot and focusing on Studio Owner's weasel-ness would have been better.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Read: "Every Last Drop" by Charlie Huston

Read: Every Last Drop by Charlie Huston, 2008, 9780345495884.

I'm liking these books. The vampire aspect is embarrassing to admit to but the stories have been well done. This one does not do so well as a stand-alone. Reading this one first would likely leave some readers lost since there are so many recurring characters.

Lead character Joe Pitt is still a vampire in NYC. He is still a self-serving jerk. Other vampires are still wanting to kill Pitt for multiple reasons. Pitt is on the outs with all the vampire clans of NYC. Pitt has been hiding out in the Bronx for a year (people die) when some other vampires nab him and take him to their leader (someone dies). Leader wants to kill Pitt but gives Pitt to Recurring Character #1 who bites his left eye off since Pitt did that to her a book or two ago.

Recurring Character #1 takes Pitt to Coalition Clan security chief Predo (someone dies). Predo wants to kill Pitt buts needs him as a spy. Pitt goes to spy on Recurring #2, Recurring #2's girlfriend wants to kill Pitt but they want to use him as muscle. Pitt visits Recurring #3. Recurring #4 shows up and wants to kill him. Instead, Recurring #4 wants to use Pitt to get cash. Pitt returns to recurring #2 (People die) and gets sent to Queens. He meets New Character, finds awful gravel pit/slavery business that gathers blood for vampires (more people die). Pitt returns to Manhattan, visits Recurring #2 and Recurring #4 - who wants to kill Pitt, again - then goes to find Recurring #5. Predo intercepts Pitt (people die) and wants to kill Pitt. Pitt meets Recurring #6 at location for Recurring #5. Recurring #5 is angry at Pitt. Recurring #6 wants to kill Pitt. Pitt leaves location, slugs out Recurring #2, and slips into sewer as novel ends.

Like usual Pitt plays both sides against each other and never tells the full truth to any side. Pitt is still self-serving and not given to allegiances with other Clans. Pitt never knows exactly what to do but plays along while keeping his real goal, seeing Recurring #5 again, a secret. Pitt acknowledges that he is not always very smart and is mostly suicidal. Pitt gets the emotional shakes a couple times.

Problems with this one: 1- Everyone threatens to kill Pitt but do not do the smart thing and do so. 2- Huston has almost run out of boroughs for Pitt to travel to, only Staten Island remains. I think. 3- There are about a thousand or so vampires in NYC, Huston seems to have had most of them in his novels.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Finished: "The Fever Kill" by Tom Piccirilli

Finished: The Fever Kill by Tom Piccirilli, 2007, 9780976921745.

Boy, this was a downer at the end. No wonder Bruen wrote the introduction. Good job by Piccirilli.

Crease's drunken, ex-sheriff father finally drinks himself dead after seven years of hitting the bottle. Crease and his father are outcasts in their Vermont town after the drunken dad botched a kidnapping case that left the six-year-old victim dead. The dad dies and Crease leaves town at 17 vowing to return and get even with the current sheriff and anyone else who did them wrong.

Crease gets sidetracked, gets hired as a cop in New York City, makes friends with a drug boss, Tucco, and spends two years undercover as Tucco's right hand man while doing all sorts of nasty and illegal things with the NYPD's approval. Crease is a freakin' mess. He had a great wife whose kindness he could not accept. Crease's eight year old son is burning with anger over having a crap dad and Crease has been screwing and falling in love with Tucco's girlfriend.

Crease cannot take the undercover life anymore and announces his true identity to Tucco in a strip bar and then walks out. Crease then vamooses up to Vermont to settle the ten-year-old old score - but in reality he is just running away from and avoiding his other issues.

Things happen, people are beaten, and Crease fights his "fever". When thinking about the dead kidnapped girl, or his father, or the damn town Crease gets an immediate and body consuming anger and starts sweating profusely. Crease resolves the mystery about the kidnapping, resolves some anger against the town and his father, confronts Tucco, makes friends with a gravedigger, life goes on.

The ending is pretty open with Crease awaiting medical help for a couple nasty stab wounds. The reader can decide whether they want Crease to live or die. To go back to being a regular cop or running Tucco's old criminal empire. To decide whether Crease's son's mental stability and anger issues improve.

Piccirilli's horror writing background comes through here, at least for me. I had a feeling or dread at times for Crease and the storyline about the kidnapped girl had some scares and unpleasant scenes.

Piccirilli's sequel to The Cold Spot, The Cold Mile, should be coming out soon. I think I already placed an order.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Read: "Murder Among the O.W.L.S." by Bill Crider

Read: Murder Among the OWLS by Bill Crider, 2007, 9780348090.

Sheriff Dan Rhodes gets beat up by a woman again. The woman was a larger gal with a big, heavy purse, but he still got beat up by a girl. Again.

Rhodes is at home one morning when he opens the back door to go out and some strange cat slips through the door and into his kitchen. Rhodes' wife recognizes the cat as a neighbor's. Rhodes' goes to investigate at the owner's house and finds her dead. The usual events occur: Rhodes gets a bit flumoxed. Lawton (the jailer) and Hack (the dispatcher) anger each other and annoy Rhodes. Rhodes gets beat-up (as mentioned). Rhodes gets muddy. Rhodes rationalizes poor dietary choices. Rhodes figures everything out and drinks some Dr. Pepper while doing so.

Things to note:
1- I did not want to read this. After reading the depressing World War 1 story in Birdsong I was not quite in the mood for 'lighter' fair. Rhodes' adventures were worth the effort, like usual.
2- Rhodes gets shot at on two different occasions and attacked by a chainsaw once.
3- Rhodes gets to drink some Dublin, TX Dr. Pepper that one of the characters has shipped to her.
4- A character refers to Joe R Lansdale's books by saying, "His books are just filthy."
5- A local community college english teacher is slighted. Funny.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Read: "Birdsong" by Sebastian Faulks

Read: Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, 1993, 067943545X.

Birdsong is different than most books I have been reading lately. This is an actual "literary" novel. Set in 1910, during World War One, and in 1978.

In 1910 Stephen Wainswright is sent by his English textile company employer to observe and learn at a provincial French textile factory. Stephen stays at the factory owner's home, falls for the owner's wife, the two run away, the lady gets pregnant and leaves Stephen. Stephen stays in France but enlists in the English army and joins the infantry. While in France he takes leave to the same factory town where he meets both the lady and her sister.

In 1978 Stephen's granddaughter deals with a married boyfriend, starts researching her grandfather and WW1, and gets knocked up by the boyfriend.

This was really well written. I was disappointed during the beginning of the novel. It took a while for the dude and gal to get involved and advance the story into the war setting.

The most interesting part of the novel was the tunneling done by engineers at the front. I had not read about that aspect of the war before. Stephen is promoted to Lieutenant and becomes close friends with an officer of engineers. The reader follows Stephen, the engineer, and an enlisted sapper down into the tunnels underneath German lines. Both the Germans and English are digging tunnels, setting mines, trying to either blow up the opposition, or digging into their tunnels to attack. Infantry from Stephen's platoon are detailed underground as security for the digging sappers.

The sappers work under nasty conditions in tight, enclosed tunnels. The closer they get to enemy lines the more dangerous the work becomes. The constant danger of cave-ins is matched by the threat of German soldiers digging to find them. Both sides set and blow mines in attack.

Between WW1 and WW2 the first war seems worse. In both wars troops would get rotated to the rear areas for a break. But, WW1 was such a meat grinder; whole companies and battalions would be destroyed in one day. In Sassoon's Memoirs of Infantry Officer all Sherston's friends but one end up dead. Same thing here, most everyone but Wainswright dies. I got used to, and started to like, characters and *bang* they were gone.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Never Read: "The Night Class" by Tom Piccirilli

Never Read: The Night Class by Tom Piccirilli, 2002, 0843951257.

This book stunk. Literally stunk. The paperback has that awful, old paperback smell. I didn't get past the first page before I quit. If this was from my Library I'd withdraw it. I breath in that kind of rotten paperback smell and worry about getting lung cancer.

This was a horror novel. I have another Piccirilli novel sitting at home in my book queue that does not smell.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Finished: "Home is the Sailor" by Day Keene

Finished: Home is the Sailor by Day Keene, 2005, 0-8439-5356-X.

Good. Not great, but I liked the book. A Hard Case Crime reprint. The story was good but the characters were not very interesting to me. I bought this at the used bookstore in the Milwaukee airport waiting for the Parker's plane to get in for Thanksgiving.

It's 1952 and Swede has just quit the merchant marine. Swede intends to head back to Hibbing, MN and spend his savings to buy a farm and find a wife. He goes on a drunk after leaving his ship in San Diego and after a nasty bar fight gets picked up by a gorgeous blond, Corliss, who owns a travelers hotel.

Swede and Corliss decide to marry after a passionate couple of days. Shortly after the two decide to marry Swede punches and kills a guy who Corliss said just raped her. Swede and Corliss take the dead guy and his car to the cliffs along Highway 101 overlooking the Pacific. They put the dead dude in the driver's seat and send the car off the cliff into the water.

Swede has been drunk on rum for the past several days after coming ashore but still recognizes that Corliss's behavior changes aftere Swede killed the guy and the two drove to Tijuana to get married. Turns out Swede was right. He wakes up in jail and all he can remember is that Corliss told him to get out of her life. After getting pulled over for drunk driving Swede has a recently fired pistol, Corliss's car, Corliss's bloody clothes, and several thousand in cash and the cops are convinced he killed her.

Swede escapes the cops and tracks Corliss to a ratty San Diego hotel room where she dives out the window rather than go to jail. Other things happen during all this. Other characters appear, speak, and interact with Swede.

Never Finished: "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" by Lynne Truss

Never Finished: Eats, Shoots and Leaves: the zero tolerance approach to punctuation by Lynne Truss, 2004, 1592400876.

I chose this for the Men's Book Club. I got behind on my reading schedule and started it late. I did not have time to finish the book before the meeting but intended to finish afterward. Since the book was piled on my desk for the past month and a half I can outwardly say, "Screw those good intentions. I have other things to do."

Parts of this were interesting. The fanaticism of some people's love for commas and apostrophes is not disturbing but is definitely odd. There was not enough for the book group to discuss since no one in the group is very obsessive about grammar.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Read for Book Club: "The Terrible Hours" by Peter Maas

Read for Book Club: The Terrible Hours: the man behind the greatest submarine rescue in history by Peter Maas, 1999, 0060194804.

Good story. Charles "Swede" Momsen and his diving group save the lives of 33 crewman of the Squalus that went down during initial testing in 1939.

A quick read by Maas. Maas heard about Momsen in the '50s from one of his Navy officers. Maas asked to meet Momsen and spoke with him many times and wrote a couple magazine articles about him. in the '50s or '60s before doing this book.

Swede got interested in subs early in his career and after two went down with all hands lost started working on solutions to rescue crew. He designed and developed the Momsen Lung for crew rescue and a rescue diving bell to carry crewman to the surface.

The Squalus went down outside Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Swede is flown up from DC to lead the rescue effort. The Navy sub, Sculpin, sent to look for the Squalus was lucky to find it at all since it was over 200 feet down and the dive coordinates had been screwed up in transmission. An officer on lookout just barely caught a glimpse of a smoke rocket sent up by the Squalus.

Divers locate the Squalus, attach a line, and are able to guide down the rescue bell and rescue survivors. Maas does not get too nitty-gritty on sub details and tells a good story.

Quickly Read: Gun Camera - World War II by L. Douglas Keeney

Quickly Read: Gun Camera - World War II: photography from allied fighters and bombers over occupied Europe by L. Douglas Keeney, 1999, 9780760310137.

Interesting but I made very few emotional connections with the photos. Several shots were rarely published. How many times can you be shocked by seeing a black and white photo of a plane split apart by flack?

There were some really dramatic photos of bombers on fire and split apart mid-air. B-24s and an A-20 streaming massive flames behind them. A B-17 with it's nose blown off but still piloted along, it's fuselage a "200 mile-per-hour wind tunnel."

Read: "Big City, Bad Blood" by Sean Chercover

Read: Big City, Bad Blood by Sean Chercover, 2007, 9780061128684.

I enjoyed reading this and finished it pretty fast. There were some things that did not fit so well.

Ray Dudgeon is a former journalist who now works as a private investigator in Chicago. Ray and his new girlfriend have really hit it off but Dudgeon gets into a lot of scrapes and his girlfriend does not know if she can deal with that. Dudgeon gets hired to protect a locations manager for a film company getting ready to film in Chicago. Locations Guy got conned by a mob (the "Outfit" in Chicago) guy named DiMarco when Locations Guy was renting studio space in town. Locations Guy is set to testify against DiMarco but is getting threatened. Ray takes the threat seriously when other witnesses are killed.

Ray takes the bodyguard job. Ray gets beat up by DiMarco's boss's goons. Ray finds out that low-level Outfit guy DiMarco is in cahoots with an upper level Outfit guy who is making a play on Outfit leadership. Ray's girlfriend never wants to see him again. Ray travels to Los Angeles with Locations Guy. Ray avoids getting carbombed in LA. Ray fucks famous LA actress he meets at party. Famous actress gives Ray fancy Shelby Mustang. Ray and Locations Guy return to Chicago. Ray sets-up and murders DiMarco since DiMarco is trying to kill Ray too. Locations Guy and his assistant are tortured and killed. Ray finds out DiMarco was blackmailing multiple politicians and cops in Chicago. Ray gets out of trouble in killing DiMarco and turns over evidence of the the blackmailing to make nice. Ray goes down to Georgia to heal up after getting tortured by the outfit for the blackmail evidence.

Chercover uses a lot of characters. There are the usual assortment of PI people: the PI, the girlfriend, the PI's cop friend, the PI's "anything for you pal" buddy from childhood, the client's sleazy boss, the bad guy, the outfit guy who is friendly with PI. There is not enough time for Chercover to really get to everyone.

The girlfriend was a neat character but gets cut off halfway through when she dumps Dudgeon. The "anything for you pal" childhood buddy makes a sudden appearance near the end when he previously had never been mentioned. DiMarco and his evil outfit boss never appear in person until DiMarco's murder (not too big deal, Chercover dealt with that well) and Ray's torture. Chercover fleshes out Locations Guy some but I never had much sympathy or worry for the dude.

Chercover had good gun stuff but I have read that there is a fat chance a private investigator in Chicago could get a carry license for work. But, hey, it's a novel and Ray did have a cop friend with rank.