Friday, February 27, 2009

Gave Up On: Rebels of Mindanao by Tom Anthony

Gave Up On: Rebels of Mindanao by Tom Anthony, 2008, 9780825305146.

Suffers from first novel issues. The action was sluggish and the tale went along too slow.

Guy living on Mindanao Island in the Philippines is recruited by West Point classmate to hunt down and kill a Turk working for Al Qaeda as a money courier to the Abu Sayyaf terrorists on Mindanao island. Guy is working with limited support from government and has to recruit his own mercenaries to catch the Turk. Guy gets to keep the $5 million that the Turk has brought along to finance a rebellion and get all the disparate rebellion groups on Mindanao to join together.

Things moved too slow. The political explanations behind what was going on were long-winded. The frequent third-person changes from character to character were confusing to follow. I read halfway through and knew I should quit when a major terrorist bombing during a parade was uninteresting and lacked any suspense.

Forgot to List: "Taming the Beast" by Emily Maguire

Forgot to List: Taming the Beast by Emily Maguire, 2006, 9780061122163.

Decided to try this out. I cannot remember why because I had no real intention of reading it when it came in and sat on the shelf. It was okay. The first three pages were a very tough read as the two protagonists, Sarah and Scuzzy teacher, begin their sexual relationship.

Set in Sydney, Australia. 15-year-old Sarah has sexual relationship with a manipulative and abusive 38-year-old English teacher. Sarah loves him and the sex. Teacher's wife catches on to affair and guy quits job and moves up to Queensland. Sarah goes into nosedive and becomes mega-slut in attempt to replace her teenage idea of the Love of Her Life. Eight years later Sarah nails most any dude she feels like. She tries every dude out on the theory that any one of them may, while in bed, make her feel the connection she had with Scuzzy Teacher. Sarah's best friend Jaime loves her and wants to rescue her from her crap apartment and self-destructive boozing and screwing. Scuzzy Teacher returns and Sarah and him start up again. Jaime kills himself.

When I spoke to Maguire I asked her what she would change about the novel if the she had the time and inclination. Since Taming Maguire has written three other books, plus other writing projects, and with that experience in mind said she would change quite a bit. I agree with her that the core idea is a really interesting idea for a story. The idea of a young student and older teacher having a sexual relationship and then meeting up again in several years later is intriguing.

Here are my critiques. 1- Sarah is too over the top in her promiscuity. Her self-destructive habits were too extreme for her to remain the pretty, but thin, gal she was. 2- Too much time is spent on the middle portion of the novel where 22 year old Sarah and Jaime are introduced and expanded on. 3- Scuzzy Teacher did not re-appear soon enough. 4- The second relationship between Sarah and Scuzzy Teacher was odd and unclear. The obsessiveness between the two for each other was creepy and sort-of believable but ultimately unclear to me. 5- I wonder if Maguire was stuck on where to have the story end and how to plot the way there. 6- Jaime's suicide at the end did not fit. Jaime was obsessed with Sarah but, even after, emotionally hurting her by having sex with her I don't think he would have done himself in. His actions fit with Maguire's tale of the character but I still found it unbelievable and could argue that he would not have done that.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sort-Of Liked: "Deadly Departures" by Ted Allbeury

Sort-Of Liked: Deadly Departures by Ted Allbeury, 2008, 9780727865762.

The cover blurb from Booklist said: Hair-raising suspense, brutal violence, steamy sex, and high-octane action. Bullshit. It was okay, the story moved along pretty well. I just noticed that this was originally published in 1976 in the U.K. That explains my confusion over the indeterminate year for the setting. I was able to figure it was the the early '70s after searching for info on a radio transmitter listed in the book. The lack of any maps of Italy was a pain in the ass.

WWII veteran, Max Farne, lives part of each year on the Italian Riviera as a yacht dealer. Englishman Max had been dropped behind the lines in the Italian mountains during WWII to work with and train partisans. He became close friends with a partisan who became a big-time gangster after the war. In a previous novel Max had helped out Big-Time Gangster but Big-Time Gangster was murdered.

Max comes into Santa Margherita and is pressured by one of Big-Time Gangster's criminal heirs into selling him Max's boat for a secret deal of some sort. Max also gets hooked up with the hot, 18-year-old blonde daughter of Big-Time Gangster. Max had never met Blond Daughter before. Blond Daughter has huge boobs that Max frequently mentions.

Max finds out Blond Daughter's life is in danger unless criminal heir finds Big-Time Gangster's missing fortune. The threat is from a second criminal heir competing with first criminal heir. Things happen: Max boinks both the Blond Daughter and Blond Daughter's English mother, searches for the missing loot, sells a couple boats, goes on the run from the gangsters with Blond Daughter, gets help from old partisan colleagues, kills some people, tries to escape by sea, is caught by Italian navy (since cops are co-opted by the gangsters and issued a warrant for Max), gets away by threatening reveal of the loot (multiple pounds of heroin destined for the U.K. and New York) which would embarrass government.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Listened to: "Child 44" by Tom Rob Smith

Listened to: Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith, 2008, downloaded from

Started strong, went weak in the middle, finished okay. A serial killer story where the real villain is the Soviet government.

Leo is a war hero and an MGB officer. The MGB was a predecessor of the KBG and a scary group of nut jobs. Leo is a true believer in the State and has been arresting people for years. That those people are executed or sent to die in Siberia is not his concern. In 1953 Moscow Leo gets called away from observing a veterinarian suspected of subversion to mollify the family of a MGB foot soldier who says their four-year-old son was murdered.

Murder does not exist in the USSR's socialist paradise and to say differently is subversion. Actually, anything is subversive. Everyone is suspicious and everyone is guilty. You are screwed the moment the MGB starts looking at you. Leo pacifies the family and they sign off that the murder was an accident. Leo goes back to the vet investigation. Chases the vet down. The vet - through the weasel-ness of Leo's colleagues - names Leo's wife as a spy. Leo does not denounce his wife and they both survive the investigation only because Stalin just died and no one is sure what to do. "Do we kill Leo and his wife or not? Are we at risk by killing Leo? Are we at risk by letting him go? Hell, let's reassign him to Nowhere, Russia as a low level street cop. We can always kill him later."

Leo goes to Nowhere, Russia, finds a similar murder to the four-year-old boy, recognizes the killer's pattern, sees the murders as a chance at redemption, convinces his superior to help investigate, they both get caught doing so, Leo goes on the lam, finds the killer, kills the killer, and is let go again.

Good things: 1 - The Soviet government and its machinations make a great villain even without individual characters to tag that evil onto. 2 - Leo and his wife are well done. That his wife married Leo from fear that Leo would have her killed if she rejected him was a neat twist. 3 - The paranoia of characters to avoid trouble from the government. 4 - Good use of setting in Moscow, the factory town in Nowhere, Russia, and the weather.

Bad Things: 1 - The killer ends up being Leo's long lost brother - what a load of bullshit. You can see it coming but it is still baloney and over the top. 2 - The villain posited against Leo, Vassily, was not so scary or threatening. 3 - The final ending with Leo and wife getting off scot-free after capture was a big, big stretch.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Finished: "Feed" by M.T. Anderson

Finished: Feed by M.T. Anderson, 2002, 0763617261.

Not bad. Not really good. A sort-of science fiction novel that at it's heart is about a failed teen romance.

Set in about 2200 AD or so. Titus and several friends go to the moon for Spring Break. Titus meets Violet, an odd but pretty girl he really likes. They are at a dance club when some guy goes around with a steel stick that zaps the programming in their "feed". Most everyone - at least 78% of the population Violet says - has an implanted computer called a feed. The computer is inplanted at a young age and becomes an integral part of the brain. Violet's feed is damaged by the guy and starts to fail. She will lose feeling in a limb for awhile, lose memories, and it is only a matter of time until the Feed fully fails and kills her.

The feed drives a consumer culture. People can do chat on the feed, get bombarded with advertisements, tells them when to change the part in the hair for when the style changes, make "phone" calls, etc. The world is a mess. The environment is ruined. Forests are gone and parks are knocked down to build air factories. The ocean is polluted, the third world is a cesspool and there is international political upheaval. People get bleeding lesions on their skin. The rich live in suburbs where individual homes are in bubbles with their own climates and artificial rising and setting suns. Anderson adds in all sorts of made-up slang that gets annoying.

The center of the story is the teen romance between rich kid Titus and poor kid Violet. Titus is not too bright and knows it. Violet is poor and did not get her Feed until she was seven. (Only then because her father decided she would be at an extreme disadvantage without one.) She is smart, home-schooled, and rebellious.

Titus and Violet start dating. Violet gets along at first with Titus' friends but then starts to clash. Violet's thinking and behavior change as she realizes she is terminally ill. Titus wants to hang out and have fun; he cannot deal with a dying girlfriend. They split up, she slowly dies, Titus is sad and confused.

Afterthoughts: I was hunting for more information about Anderson with the vague idea of setting up a phone call for the book club tomorrow. Many comments on Feed discuss the impact of technology on life and the possibilities and abuses of technology. I call bullshit and stand by my comments. This is a romantic tale.

Read: "Knockemstiff" by Donald Ray Pollock

Read: Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock, 2008, 9780385523820.

Short stories recommended by someone online. Either that guy from Vancouver or the guy from Two Rivers. The stories are all set in or around the unincorporated town of Knockemstiff, OH with interconnected characters and spanning about 40 years time. The time setting is not always clear but Pollock would give hints.

Pretty decent. Good writing but the stories dealt with alcoholics, infidelity, sexual abuse, physical abuse, mental abuse, meth freaks, poverty, broken dreams, and other uplifting topics. Only a few of the characters had much to redeem them. Several were just junkies screwing over family and friends. Some were just lonely and had nowhere else to go. The Knockemstiff of these stories is not a good place to visit.

I wasn't going to finish this after the first story started out with a scary, drunk dad humiliating his kid. That was creepy. I had trouble remembering characters' names so I am not sure if the boy in the first story, set in about 1960 or so, features in a later story.

Pollock is from the real Knockemstiff and his afterword says the real place is full of kind people and helpful neighbors.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Read: Night of Thunder by Stephen Hunter

Read: Night of Thunder by Stephen Hunter, 2008, 9781416565116.

Another Bob Lee Swagger novel. Swagger is getting older, is happy with his two daughters, and living in Idaho. Swagger's hair has gone pure gray and he has a limp from 47th Samurai but he is still smart and lethal.

Swagger's older daughter, Nikki Swagger, Girl Reporter, is working for a newspaper in Bristol, TN. Nikki works the cops and crime beat and gets run off a mountain road by the mysterious Sinnerman after a day spent investigating meth related crime. Sinnerman is a professional wheelman and killer. Sinnerman's specialty is running people off the road and causing the victims' car into violent rolls where they die from the severe whiplash. Nikki survives and Bob Lee worries the murder attempt may be related to something in Bob Lee's past.

Bob Lee goes to investigate and while retracing his daughter's steps starts getting followed by the Grumley Clan (bad guys) and people start dying. Bob Lee digs further and runs into more trouble. Brief appearance by Special Agent Memphis. Good gun stuff with a 6.8 Remington, 1911s, Sigs, etc. Much fun is made of the dressed in black, helicopter riding, local deputies who are called Tommy Tacticals.

This was good - I read it quick - but did not pack the punch of previous Bob Lee or Earl Swagger novels. I'm not sure what was missing for me. The bad guys were bad in this one but I don't think they got as much space here; some of them were just so Hunter could set-up them up and have Swagger knock them down. Hunter has done that before, of course. The main bad guys, the Grumley clan, may have made an appearance before in Hot Springs. I won't bother to look.

The ending was a bit of a stretch including both of the last two shoot-outs by Swagger on a hill and in a glade. The death of Sinnerman is caused by a minor character and does not have much of a believable set-up; the final ending felt a bit forced but was satisfying.

Later EDIT: No one recognizes or knows Swagger, even the cops. The events from Point of Impact were less than twenty years ago. There was a nationwide manhunt for Swagger in that novel. he was hunted by every cop everywhere and in a high public court hearing at the end. How are all those people not going to recognize him as he tries to pass himself off as an old, harmless guy?

Second later EDIT: This one and 47th Samurai were made into stories after events that inspired Hunter. Next time he gets inspired he should skip the Swagger characters and come up with a new character. It feels like Hunter got an idea he wanted to write about and then tried to shoehorn his regulars into the story.

Read: "Of All Sad Words" by Bill Crider

Read: Of All Sad Words by Bill Crider, 2008, 9780312348106.

Typically good work by Crider. This one is unique because Sheriff Dan Rhodes not only draws his revolver, but actually fires it. Heck, he shoots his gun three times and even hits two people. That is an increase compared to previous entries in the series. As usual the plotting is really well done and the killer's identity was a surprise to me.

Rhodes has recently run a Citizens Police Academy for the Sheriff's Office and some local County officials think the graduates are being busy-bodies and nosing around where they should not. When a rural residence, rumored to house a meth lab, blows up one of those Academy graduates becomes suspect. When the body of one of the occupants is found shot dead near in a nearby field Rhodes (or maybe it was Deputy Ruth) investigates further and finds an illegal still in the woods. Rhodes and Deputy Ruth are chased down and almost run over by a 4x4 - shooting number one - when investigating the still.

When a local restaurant owner is run over by the same 4x4 the mystery deepens. Rhodes runs into his nemesis, Rapper, who is also bootlegging, and shoots him in the hand during a brief exchange of shots - shooting number two. Rhodes ends up shooting one of the killers in the foot - shooting number three.

Secondary characters Hack and Lawton did not get on my nerves. In the O.W.L.S. novel I was getting pissed off at them. Their behavior was not as bad this time around.

Joe R Lansdale receives mention by a character who claims he studied Kung-Fuey under "Professor Lansdale in Nacgodoches". That same character now lives in Blacklin County but, apparently, was featured in Crider's Sally Good mystery series. 87th Precinct Mysteries also receive mention as does Hard Case's reprint of McBain's The Gutter and the Grave.