Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Got Around To: "The Fighter" by Craig Davidson

Got Around To: The Fighter by Craig Davidson, 2007, 9781569474655.

I read Davidson's brutal little collection of short stories in Rust and Bone. We received Fighter in Jan of '08 and Jacob the Page read it and said it was good but brutal. I saw it on the shelf a couple weeks ago and took it home. It was good: above average but not fantastic. I liked the two sex scenes.

Paul Harris is a rich, snotty 26 year old Canadian. He has lived a life of privilege under his winery owning parents and can be a real snot. When barhopping with a girl he doesn't even like much he insults a boots-wearing working stiff who was hitting on her. The stiff ends up beating a couple teeth and most of Harris' dignity and self-worth out of him. Harris' intense fear during the beating changes him.

Paul was never happy with his do-nothing job at the winery and was just going through the motions in life: finish high school, go to college, work at the winery, keep the same upper-class pals, eventually marry and take over the business. Instead, Paul leaves his office and starts picking grapes, driving his car aimlessly each night, starts lifting weights and taking steroids. He impulsively stops at a boxing club, joins up, and starts training seven hours a day.

Meanwhile, across the border in Niagara, sixteen year old Rob Tully is a naturally gifted and hard training amateur boxer. His father sees boxing as a Rob's chance to escape a dead-end town. Rob's skills are well known but he only trains for family's sake (his father and uncle are both in the fight game).

Anyway... There are parallels of young guys bucking their planned paths. Meanings of manhood and fear. Family obligation and personal choice. Rob's uncle brain dead from an underground boxing competition at the hands of Paul. Paul and Rob fighting at that same underground club.

That description can sound like a nice, clean YA novel with hugs and kisses in the end. Not so. Paul Harris is self-destructiveness and takes massive beatings hoping to transcend both pain and fear. He goes into a steroid rage almost killing a guy during a paintball game. He steal from his parents, shoots up steroids, gets his nostril capillaries cauterized to prevent easy bleeding, and more. Paul never looks for the guy who beat the crap out of him before. The guy at hand is never an issue - it is Paul's transformation during and afterwards that matters.

Rob is a pretty good kid. He does him homework and trains hard. But, even he comes to a breaking point and mutilates his hands to end his career.

Davidson themes I remember from before: Competing definitions of manliness with fisticuffs versus hard work and supporting your family. The fragility of hand bones and their importance to boxers. Poor people getting by and boxing as a family trade or hobby.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Comic Book: "Gotham Central" by Ed Brubaker, et al

Comic Book: Gotham Central: Book One: In the Line of Duty by Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, Michael Lark (art), 2008, 9781401219239.

Hey, I just noticed there is an intro by Lawrence Block. Maybe I should read that.

Gotham city cop stories about the Major Crimes Unit (MCU). MCU officers have a dislike of Batman. They want to solve crimes on their own and not ask for the Bat's help. Mr. Freeze kills one cop and the cop's partner wants to get Freeze and begs his superior not to turn on the Bat signal. Mr. Freeze ends up getting caught with help of Batman anyway.

Story two has lesbian cop getting publicly outed. Some fellow cops are assholes about it
and her family are staunch, immigrant Catholics. Cop supposedly outed by a con who is suing her. Con is murdered. Cop is set-up for the murder and arrested. Cop is violently sprung from jail bus and taken to Two-Face's hideout. Psychotic and schizophrenic Two-Face loves cop. Two-Face thinks they are meant for each other after cop visited him in Arkham and spoke kindly to him. Batman rescues cop from Two-Face after sneakily getting info from cop's partner. Cop rejected by Catholic family and consoled by her girlfriend.

Read: "The Forest of Hands and Teeth" by Carrie Ryan

Read: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, 2009, 9780385736817.

This was plugged in a Sunday issue of Unshelved. Most of the plugs in those Sunday strips are YA or SciFi and I could not give a rat's ass about them. Forest is both YA and SciFi. But, it has ZOMBIES!

Mary's village may be the sole human refuge against a world filled with the undead. The village has survived for several generations due to an equally old fence that surrounds and protects it from the zombies. Seen from the highest point in town the forest is endless; and the forest is filled with human eating zombies. There are two fence enclosed paths leading away from the village but both are abandoned and forbidden to villagers. Mary dreams of a life beyond the forest and is driven by her mother's stories of the ocean and cities full of skyscrapers.

Mary lost her father to the zombies a few years before and then her mother is bitten by zombies and turns. Mary's older brother blames Mary for their mother's choice to go into the forest as a zombie rather than be killed. Mary's brother kicks her out of the house and she has to join the Sisters since no one offers to marry her. The Sisters are the town's nuns and also their political and religious leaders and medical authorities. Mary chafes under their control and one day discovers that a girl, Gabrielle, has entered the village through one of the abandoned paths. The Sisters have hidden Gabrielle into their cloister. Meanwhile Mary has fallen in love with her best friend's betrothed, Travis.

Travis' brother Harry offers to marry Mary. Mary is creeped out, upset, and wishing escape. Gabrielle disappears. Gabrielle reappears as a super-fast zombie. Mary wants Travis but is stuck with Harry. A fence breach lets the zombies in. Mary, her brother, a boy, Travis, Harry and a couple others escape to the fenced path. They follow the path for days until arriving at an unknown village. Village is well stocked and barricaded but still zombified. Mary and others stay until fire burns village up. Travis dies. Mary and others escape to another fenced path. End of path is gate into forest. Mary goes into forest. Mary's brother follows along but disappears after falling into a torrential river. Mary goes in river and wakes up on an ocean beach.

1-Teen angst with zombies. Mary is looking for escape and freedom from her village. She has no idea what lies beyond the forest - the forest may be unending and filled with the undead - but she believes her mom's stories and wants to find out for herself. After generations alone in the village their are no books or photos to corroborate her mom's stories and and everyone feels that the stories are just that, stories.

2-Mary is in love with Travis but her village's customs require marriage and children through a formal courtship and marriage. Love does not enter the equation, the purpose of marriage is survival of the village.

3-Mary and the others are all about 16 or 18 or so. They are dealing with an immediate and violent adjustment from teen life to adult decisions over life and death.

4- Good book but Mary got on my nerves a bit. She is a head in the clouds kind of gal. Her desire for escape and growth is admirable but she does not clue in to reality very well.

5- Not nearly enough zombie killing. This is about the humans and not about zombies or zombie battles.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Read: "Pity Him Afterwards" by Donald E. Westlake

Read: Pity Him Afterwards by Donald E. Westlake, 1964, no ISBN - just an LC catalog number.

I read about this in a reference book on mystery and detective fiction. The article referred to this as Westlake's last "hard-boiled idiom" novel in his own name. He then started writing hard-boiled books as Stark and Tucker Coe. Stark? Did you say Stark?

Crazy guy escapes insane asylum. Hitches a ride and kills the driver, escapes cops and kills elderly couple. Assumes first dead guy's identity and heads a few hundred miles away to a summer stock theater where the dead guy had an acting gig.

A young actor, Mel, shows up at summer stock hung-over and a day late. He mets everyone. Crazy guy is ingocnito with reader not knowing which actor's name he has assumed. Crazy guy kills and rapes a young lady in the house all actors are living in. Mel finds dead girl.

Police captain shows up. Captain is a summer worker like most people in the resort town. He is determined to solve the case without the help of the State Police. Investigation begins. Crazy guy is ecstatic at fooling everyone. Then kills a night watchman. Crazy guy gets worried. Captain gets worried. Mel gets worried but has boner for a stagehand chick.

Mel and chick get permission to go on lake and head to an island. Crazy guy kills another actor in the house with the idea of taking that guy's identity instead. Captain and crazy guy talk. Crazy guy gives self away. Crazy guy runs. Crazy guy jumps in lake. Crazy guy swims. Crazy guy gets on sailboat and kills naked lovers onboard. Crazy guy lands on island where Mel and girl are. Captain arrives in nick-of-time to kill Crazy Guy before Crazy Guy kills Mel.

Mainly told from the perspective of the three guys listed before. CG is a paranoid and convinces himself of his righteousness, or forgets his deeds, as psychic protection; at least according to his psychiatrist. Captain is actually a college prof. and his amateur skills are stretched. Captain blames those amateurish skills on the death of guy actor in house. Mel is mainly worried about having a job that summer to earn his Equity card and in scoring some action.

A psychological look at the killer. Not a procedural. "Pity him afterwards" refers to the pity people have for a man so mentally ill but who know be must captured or killed to stop him.

Pity was okay, nothing here that really grabbed my fancy. My expectations were too high but I am glad I read it. Westlake's description of towns and little insights into somewhat minor characters is evident in this earlier novel. I like that about his books. He doesn't have any wasted words and seemingly unimportant fluff keeps me interested.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Finished: "The First Quarry" by Max Allan Collins

Finished: The First Quarry by Max Allan Collins, 2008, 9780843959659.

This may be the first Collins novel I have read. It is quite good. According to the bib. on Collins website he started the Quarry series in 1976. Collins did only a few Quarry novels before a long hiatus.

Quarry is a Vietnam Veteran and former sniper recruited by The Broker in 1970 to be a hired killer. Quarry's first assignment is to murder a college professor in Iowa City that same December. (Unfortunately I am unable to come up with any good wisecracks against the Hawkeyes.)

Quarry starts a surveillance on the prof and waits for a time to kill him and destroy a manuscript. The prof is busy either banging or advising co-eds and grad students and Quarry has trouble finding a good time to do the job. Quarry has to worry about a co-ed's ex-boyfriend reappearing. Quarry gets shaken down by a PI who is shadowing the prof for the prof's wife who is preparing a divorce case. Quarry kills the PI. Quarry stands in for the PI and fucks the prof's wife. Quarry follows a female grad student to insure she will not come back when prof is getting offed. Grad student is mobster's daughter. Grad student gets kidnapped. Quarry rescues her by murdering both kidnappers. Quarry fucks grad student. Quarry figures out the student's mob father is the client. Quarry gets into prof's house and destroys document. Prof's wife shows up right after prof does and murder-suicide ensues. Mobster comes to town to check on daughter. Quarry kills the mobster to avoid future trouble with mobster.


1- There were several anachronisms in the story. I could be easily wrong of course, since I was not born until 1971, but comments about plastic signs saying "wet floor" and wheelchair ramps outside a store were jarring.
2- Lee Goldberg had that comment about tie-ins and the quality authors who pen them. This is not a tie-in but Collins just did a tie-in novel for the G.I. Joe movie. A part of my instant dislike of tie-ins is that an author must have the plot and characters dictated to him, right? When you're given a piece of crap film and have to novelize it you're already pushed into a corner. I'd like to read one of those books to find out how Collins - or others - handle the situation. Original novels with tie-in characters must give a lot more room for creativity; like taking Monk to Germany and Paris.
2b- What kind of restrictions and rules does a tie-in author have to follow? I checked-in several Hannah Montana books yesterday and got to wondering what publishers require; for those YA and J novels there must be a bullet list like for romance novels.
3- Are there some hidden writer jokes in here about the Writer's Workshop?
4- Quarry is a great character. I'm glad Collins has two other recent Quarry novels plus the movie.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Not too Impressed: "Alan's War" by Emmanuel Guibert

Not too Impressed: Alan's War: the memories of G.I. Alan Cope by Emmanuel Guibert, 2008 (English translation), 9781596430969.

I've run across several comments about how great this book is. It was okay but I do not understand the massive praise. As a war memoir it is interesting but not better than the many memoirs I have read. Maybe the people praising this as a war memoir are all graphic novel nerds who have never read any of the thousands of WWII memoirs out there.

If there is anything to praise it is Guibert's selection and organization of Cope's stories. Guibert became a good pal of Cope and recorded down a lot of Cope's stories. Guibert did do a good job of putting together the narrative text. I could take or leave the artwork itself, but I did like when Guibert would draw just the characters and take out all backgrounds; that was a neat but simple technique to isolate the characters.

Alan joins the Army about midway through the war. He is in training for over a year and serves in different locations and in different jobs. By time he gets to Europe the U.S. Army is in Germany and Cope's unit is on a race to Eastern Europe. Pattons is sending them East fast to try because he wants the U.S. to claim the land. Cope sees very slight action.

The war is a really small part of the story. The meat of the tale is Alan's realtionship's. He becomes a great pal with a fellow trainee. During the occupation he makes friends with Germans: a famous pianist/composer and his wife, a brother-sister accordionist duo and their family, a Nazi's daughter, some Bavarian guys he hikes with.

Cope gets discharged and takes a civilian job with the U.S. Army in Germany. He goes home to California to attend seminary and see his fiance-by-mail. Cope tells several tells of seminary friends, his family, a car crash, travel around CA. Cope decides to go back to France. Cope gets married to French gal. Cope gets different jobs until hired as translator by U.S. Army. Cope grows older. Cope gets divorced. Cope gets older. Cope remarries. Cope approaches retirement starts to think about his life. Cope reconnects with war and post-war friends.

This is just a biography with part of it set during the war. A strong argument for using War in the title is how Cope's service changed his life's direction. Cope's life does take some major turns. His time int eh service assisting an Army minister encourages him to seminary. His time and friendships in France and Germany get him to go return.

Finished: "Conan: the Frost-Giant's daughter and other stories" by Kurt Busiek

Finished: Conan: the Frost-Giant's daughter and other stories by Kurt Busiek, art by Cary Nord, 2005, 1593073011.

I was looking for more of Busiek's Astro City novels. I did not find any Astro stories but this was in the catalog. It's okay, just okay. The story was interesting enough to keep me involved but I did not like the artwork.

A story of a young Conan (about 18 or so I suppose) who runs across some reavers attacking a village. Conan is asked to join the village's warriors in following and attacking the reavers. Conan wants to visit a land way north, Hyperborea, that is supposed to be a land of milk and honey. Conan decides to join the villagers for a while. The villagers split at one point and Conan is the only survivor. Conan is awakened by a naked nymph. Conan follows her and is attacked by her goliath sized brothers. He kills them and chases the girl. She escape's when the Frost Giant god does a big zap of lightning.

Conan rejoins the other villagers. The villagers are betrayed by someone jealous of Conan. They are betrayed to some other monster sized people who take them as slaves to Hyperborea. Conan and the others are drugged and used as gladiators. Hot slave chick gives counteracting drug to Conan to awaken him from his drugged, zombie state. Conan plans uprising. Uprising fails but Conan escapes. Conan kills the two guys who betrayed everyone.

Read: "City of the Dead" by Brian Keene

Read: City of the Dead by Brian Keene, 2005, 0843954159.

After reading The Rising I looked into getting another Keene book. I reserved one and, lo and behold, find out that this is a sequel. Keene's Acknowledgements mentions fans who were upset with The Rising's ending and wrote this.

City takes off from where Rising ended: Jim, Martin, and Frankie are in New Jersey to rescue Jim's son from the zombie hoards. The zombies are still dead bodies inhabited by demons from "The Void". Jim gets to his ex-wife's house and goes in for his kid, Danny. Jim finds Danny still alive but zombies burst out from surrounding homes in an ambush. Martin and Frankie enter the house. Shoot-out ensues. (I love how the zombies keep the memories of the bodies they inhabit and shot back, drive cars, etc.) Zombies set the house on fire. Jim and company are able to escape to a neighboring house where Don lives. They all escape that house in Don's SUV.

The SUV crashes and Martin dies in the crash (a shame since Martin was a good character). The rest are about to be eaten by the zombies when a helicopter rescues them. The helicopter is from a NYC skyscraper that holds a group of human survivors led by a fictionalized and insane Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, the zombies are organizing for an assault on the skyscraper. We learn more about the zombies and how once they kill all the humans their evil brethren will come and take over and kill all the plants, then the Earth will be burned and the demons will travel to other worlds and do the same.

The zombies assault. A human doctor is banging a tied-up zombie. DonaldTrumpMillionaire masturbates at a skyscraper window. Jim enjoys survival with his son. Survivors try to remain upbeat. Zombies get in the building and start killing everyone. Jim and others escape to the sewers. Danny and Frankie are the only survivors to make it to an underground bomb shelter. Danny and Frankie die in their sleep when demon rats chew their way in. The world dies.

Keene's zombies are fantastic, he makes them very funny and deadpan. The zombies will inhabit another dead body if the one the use is destroyed. Jim's and company's escape from the burning house is accompanied by the zombies singing The house, the house, the house is on fire. We don't need no water let the fucking humans burn, burn fucking humans burn. At one point Keene pokes fun at Tom Piccirilli's name.

Why do horror and apocalyptic novels and films always have a selfish or self-destructive bad guy that ruins things for everyone?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Finished: "Running Blind" by Lee Child

Finished: Running Blind by Lee Child, 2000, 0399146237.

I'm still working my way through the Reacher series. It's funny how a lot of books can be easily identified as pre-9/11 or post-9/11.

Reacher is eating at his favorite Manhattan restaurant when a couple thugs come in to extort the owner. Reacher intervenes and sends both to the hospital. Reacher gets back to his house north of NYC and is instantly surrounded by lots of FBI and cops. Reacher gets taken back to Manhattan, stuck in a holding cell, interrogated under suspicion of being a serial murder of former Army women whose sexual harassment cases he investigated. Reacher is threatened over the restaurant thugs incident. Reacher is called a murder suspect. Reacher gets sprung.

The life of Reacher's girlfriend is threatened by the FB-fucking-I. Bad idea. Reacher agrees to be a consultant and liaison with Army for the feebs. Reacher expresses contempt for FBI theories and "profiling". Reacher uses Army contacts. Reach hates some of the agents. Reacher investigates. Reacher cracks the case. Reacher breaks neck of the FBI agent who was real killer. Reacher threatened with murder charges by humiliated FBI. Reacher and FBI reach a truce.

Another solid job by Child. The man does great work. Reacher is still big, still vicious, still brilliant, and still scoring with the ladies. Child's red herring was lousy. I was able to figure out the culprit somewhat early because the suspect pool was limited.

Like I needed other reasons (fictional or not) to mistrust the government and the FBI.

Quickly Went Through: "The Arrival" by Shaun Tan

Quickly Went Through: The Arrival by Shaun Tan, 2006, 9780439895293.

A quick read. This was recommended by someone on the Blue Mountains Library blog. I don't read their blog regularly but sometimes they mention a title that really grabs me. There are a couple others they have mentioned that I still need to get a hold of. She - the gal who did the Tan review - gives a better description than I. But, here is mine anyway.

A story told in pictures about a man who leave his wife and young daughter behind to travel to another country. He brings only a suitcase and at the end of an overseas voyage arrives in a strange and bewildering place. The local alphabet is indecipherable. The maps are bizarre. Even the clocks work with different symbology. Travel is by automatically navigated balloon taxi and the public transit seem to be a floating steamboats.

The man meets several other immigrants who assist him in adjusting to the new place. They each tell their own story of terror and danger in their homelands. In the end the man's wife and child join him. Happy ending with the daughter helping a new immigrant find her way.

A neat look at what immigrants face in a different culture.

LAST NOTE: Tan grew up north of Perth and graduated U. of West Aus. in '95. Hell I may have run into the guy somewhere.

Read: "Give Us A Kiss" by Daniel Woodrell

Read: Give Us A Kiss: a country noir by Daniel Woodrell, 1996, 0805022988.

Damn good. Excellent writing. The third real good novel in row. This was recommended by Anthony Neil Smith much like Cottonwood was. Smith was listing "rural noir" books and Give was here on the shelf. Smith continues to be slightly good for something.

Doyle Redmond is Ozark born and mostly bred. He spent some time growing up in Kansas City and ended up getting college money by pulling an armed robbery with his older brother, Smoke. Redmond is now in his mid-thirties and a mostly unsuccessful novelist who doubles up as a college instructor. Doyle gets fed up with his wife when she starts fucking a visiting poet to advance her career. Doyle steals his wife's Volvo and heads home to K.C. While in K.C. his parents get Doyle to head to Southern Missouri to convince Smoke to turn himself in on some Kansas warrants since the cops are giving their parents grief.

Doyle heads down to West Table, MO. Sees his grandfather, Panda. Expresses the importance of family in the Ozarks. Relates the ongoing and occasionally violent feud with the Dolly family. Tells tale of Panda murdering a local Dolly and losing the family land to pay the law bill and bribes. Doyle meets up with Smoke. Doyle falls for the hot 19-year-old daughter of Smoke's girlfriend. Doyle joins Smoke in growing, harvesting, and selling a marijuana crop. Doyle kills one of the Dolly's intent on stealing said crop. Doyle and the rest get ambushed by Dollys when trying to sell the crop. Doyle goes and kills a super mean Dolly he thinks killed Smoke in ambush. Smoke turns up alive. Doyle's looking at big book sales for due to"crime writer commits crime" publicity.

I felt no connection to the name Doyle. Which seems odd since the name is fairly rare and I have two relatives with the name. Doyle follows the main details of Woodrell's own life: Ozarks native, joined Marines in his teens, late college grad, college instructor, crime novelist with poor sales. I'll bet he got a lot of stupid questions relating the novel's plot and characters to his bio.

I don't have much else to say. Woodrell uses the the hilly and wooded setting to his advantage. Doyle is one of those noir characters that it takes a while to understand and learn about. I was frustrated at times because Woodrell took his time in filling in intentional gaps about Doyle.

Woodrell's Redmonds are a crime family. They are mostly legal now but have a violent history that pulls Doyle in. That family history really influences Doyle who wants to live up to that history and gain approval from relatives living and dead. Doyle is not reluctant though, he accepts and consciously chooses his path. At the end Doyle gets a postcard from an imprisoned relative saying Doyle will be welcome if he doesn't beat his murder rap.

We have another Woodrell book, 2006's Winter's Bone, which I ordered; I sure don't remember doing so. It too is set in the Ozarks and is short at 193 pages.