Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Finished: "Wake Up Dead" by Roger Smith

Finished: Wake Up Dead by Roger Smith, 2010 (U.S.), 9780805088762.

Excellent. This is two damn good books in a row. This and Broken Shore. Note to self: Never visit Cape Town.

Crime novel set in Cape Town, South Africa. (West side of country). Very gritty and brutal. Set in both the wealthy side of town and Cape Flats, a former black settlement with horrific crime. Smith covers racial issues and crime issues. The differences among white, black, and in-between.

Ex-cop Billy Afrika loses his job as a contractor in Iraq when he is picked as a scapegoat. He finds out the guy who hired him has not been paying him. Billy heads him to get the dough. The guy's wife, Roxy, takes advantage of a carjacking to murder her husband. Carjackers take advantage of wife's guilt to blackmail her. Afrika needs the dough to pay off a local crime lord and keep safe the family of his murdered cop partner. Murdering of Afrika's partner, Piper, escapes prison to reclaim his "prison wife", one of the carjackers named Disco. Add other ingredients, mix, stir, bake in the summer heat of Cape Town, watch pan boil over.

The plot does not follow convention. There are - in several instances - no last minute rescues. the people you may expect to turn heroic do not.

A fantastic crime novel. My Comments:
1. Afrika takes on the job of protecting Roxy. Not because he gives a damn about her but because she is the only link to the money he is owed. Roxy is a former model and mega-mega-hot. Roxy is used to using her looks to get her way but Afrika is unfazed - although he is attracted to her. This is a great tack by Smith. He doesn't create a love story between the two.
2. Disco's male beauty is on par with Roxy's. But, Disco is a black soul. He is neither the beautiful hero or villain. He is a junkie criminal in fear of returning to prison and Piper.
3. Piper is not human. He is a killing machine and has been since he was 11. At least I think that was the age given for his first murder.
4. Modern Cape Town and crime. The differences between the uber-wealthy and chic waterfront with high-end designer shops versus the forlorn and gang controlled Flats where burglary, beatings, robbery, theft, drug dealing, severe child abuse, drug abuse, rape and murder are commonplace.
5. Compare this to Blood Safari. There the bodyguard is flawed but heroic and falls for his client, the client reciprocates. In Wake Up Dead there is little love, just guilt and fear.
6. Much mention of Z88s. The SA clone of Beretta 92s.
7. Piper is a scary person. He has 19 tear tattoos on his face of each murder he has done. Piper prefers the intimacy of stabbing people to death. I just did a google image search on Cape Town crime and ran across Piper Knife, which sells a knife defense e-book on knife fighting.

Read: "The Broken Shore" by Peter Temple

Read: The Broken Shore by Peter Temple, 2007 (U.S.), 9780374116934.

Damn good. Mystery novel set in rural Australia. Melbourne homicide cop Joe Cashin was seriously injured by a suspect (massive car wreck) and after getting back on duty sent to work at Port Munro on the shore. Cashin grew up in Port Munro - sort of. Cashin's father died when Cashin was about ten and Cashin and his mother lived an itinerant life as his wife boozed it up and slept around a bit. They settled back down in Munro and Cashin lived with aboriginal relatives.

Lots of great things about this book. Cashin is living in constant pain from the massive car wreck he was in and living in a worn down shack of a house on old family property. Being back in Port Munro brings back a lot of unwelcome memories but Cashin is emotionally damaged and not able to go back to faster paced work in Melbourne.

Anyway. Cashin is called to rich man's estate where elderly man has been beaten nearly to death. Cashin works investigation with cops from neighboring big town. Other cops are racist goons. A couple aboriginal teens from "The Daunt" (seems to be like an Indian reservation here) try to pawn a watch in Sydney. Watch is like one owned by beaten guy. Cops try and stop the kids on their way back from Sydney and two of the three kids are killed. One is shot and another dies in car wreck. Third kid commits suicide a couple days later. Shit storm comes down. Uncle of one kid is Abor. politician who also went to school with Cashin. Case called off. Cashin keeps digging after beaten guy dies and it looks like the kids were innocent. Cashin finds strange money trail, follows trail, finds tortured and dead guy who was pedophile. Cashin continues and finds that there was old pedophile ring. Victim of ring is killing people. Cashin solves the case and gets shot. Cashin hooks up with girl character.

1. Lots of ambiguity.
2. Temple does not spoon feed. You have to pay attention to what is going on. I liked that.
3. Unvarnished look at race relations between white and black. Cashin covers both sides as a white cop and relative of Aboriginals and mixed race.
4. What is gun crime like in Australia now? The one kid is shot when firing a short barreled shotgun. I remember gun crime in Perth being a big deal, whenever it happened in '92 it hit the news.
5. Descriptions of weather and terrain worked well for me.
6. Inside politics in the police service.
7. Whats the deal with cops there anyway? Are there local cops or are they all state cops who can be transferred around?
8. Cashin hooks up with gal he had hots for in high school.
9. Cashin finds out his father committed suicide.
10. I forget the rest.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Read Some Of: "Moonshine!" by Matthew B. Rowley

Read Some Of: Moonshine! by Matthew B. Rowley, 2007, 9781579906481.

A very neat book. Well done by Rowley with plenty of research of historical and contemporary distilling and the white lightning culture. I read the historical and folklore sections and enjoyed them.

I skipped the recipes, still making, still operations because I'm not going to make one and don't even care that much how the still works.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Finished: "Dead-Tossed Waves" by Carrie Ryan

Finished: The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan, 2010, 9780385736848.

A sequel to, and remake of, The Forest of Hands and Teeth. A major chick book with all sorts of loose ends to produce more chick books.

Teenage girl Gabry lives in a seaside town. On the other side of the wall is an abandoned amusement park from before "The Return". One night she and her pals go over the protective wall around her village and several kids are bitten by zombies.

Gabry escapes back over the wall but two others die and the rest are arrested. Those arrested are to be sent into the military. Gabry goes back over to find her missing would-be boyfriend. Boyfriend ends up being one of the one-in-a-million people with zombie immunity.

Gabry meets Other Guy on wrong side of wall. Bizarre love triangle ensues. Gabry finds her mother, Mary (the lead from Forest), actually adopted her after finding her in forest paths as child. Gabry, would-be-boyfriend, Other Guy, and would-be-boyfriend's sister flee arrest and capture by going into the forest paths. Love triangle continues in forest paths. Group is pursued by military types.

Ryan takes the formula from before and runs it again. Disaffected teen girl, zombies, young love, "which guy do I choose?" The most interesting part is at the end when Gabry and would-be-boyfriend discover a valley filled - FILLED - with zombies. The zombies shove back and forth as though an ocean of zombies.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Read: "Death in the A Shau Valley" by Larry Chambers

Read: Death in the A Shau Valley: L Company LRRPs in Vietnam, 1969-1970 by Larry Chambers, 1998, 0804115753.

I requested this after reading a recommendation online. A decent read but not much to it. Maybe I'll check out the more extensive histories that this book followed.

This is a curious book because it is mainly a bunch of leftovers. Chambers wrote a couple other books about LRRPs and collaborated with former unit members on more books. The stories in Death are the leftover, untold stories of Chambers and stories of the soldiers Chambers recruited for the Rangers during Chambers' last couple months in Vietnam.

Because of all that there is only about 160 pages worth of history by Chambers and history of different recon missions. There is an additional 50 page appendix of with excerpts from recon or Ranger manuals about how to operate, what to carry, how to patrol, etc. My eyes glazed over while reading the appendix.

Items of note to me:
1. Chambers had a couple real strong selling points when he was recruiting new members. (At least the points would have appealed to me.) Point one: the recruits would be joining a superior and skilled force rather than a run-of-the-mill line company. They therefore would be safer even though they would have a greater chance of contact. Point two: Ranger comraderie would also ensure survival and guarantee they would not be left behind.
2. Chambers has disdain for the cherries. Nothing new there, I've read that all the time in Vietnam memoirs. But, Chambers and others worked to ensure that new guys were trained and acclimated, not left to live or die.
3. I didn't know that a reaction force would be scrambled to land and help recon teams. I don't recall reading anything like that before for Vietnam. Stories about recon units on the run and fighting it out on their own are common but why the hell not have a reaction team?
4. Patrols would not travel far. Two kilometers over 4 days seems normal.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Read: "The Big O" by Declan Burke

Read: The Big O by Declan Burke, 2007, 9780151014088.

This hit a best-of list so I reserved it. The book was good but not great. Karen does armed robbery for fun and money. Ray has quit his job as a kidnapper for a loanshark. Frank the surgeon wants his ex-wife kidnapped so he can steal the insurance provided ransom and avoid the insolvency of a lawsuit. Rossi is a slimy turd recently released from prison.

All the stories tie together through coincidence and action. The "Big O" refers to the muzzle of a gun. A good tale told through multiple perspectives. Burke did that multiple narration really well.

Also includes: half-dog and half-wolf who hates Rossi, Rossi's narcoleptic friend, Frank's ex-wife who ends up being orphan Ray's mother, a .44 auto in England?, single lady cop hot for Ray, love and infatuation between Ray and Karen.

Finished: "Iron River" by T. Jefferson Parker

Finished: Iron River by T. Jefferson Parker, 2010, 9780525951490.

I'm am absolutely sure that there are people who think this book sucks. That it is boring or poorly written or something else. They're wrong. Iron River is just as good as the previous two Hood novels.

There are several stories running through the novel but they all involve Hood.

Main story: Hood has been assigned to a task force with the ATF (okay, ATFE) in the deserts east of San Diego. Operation Blowdown is focused on stopping illegal gun buys and shipments into Mexico. Hood is only two days into the assignment when a shooting kills a Mexican drug czar's son at a U.S. restaurant. An ATF agent is kidnapped and taken into Mexico to be tortured and murdered in retaliation. Hood and other agents are sent into Mexico in a black operation to rescue the agent. They succeed. The agent is kidnapped a second time from his hospital by a group of 30 Zetas who shoot the place up. Hood and a Mexican cop drive in to Mexico to ransom the agent back from the Zetas. They succeed but Mexican cop is murdered.

Side stories: Hood's love life with doctor and mysterious woman. Mysterious hospital patient, Mike, who knows secret cop intelligence he should not and may or may not be a devil. Bradley Jones continues to walk both sides of the law. Young president of bankrupt Pace Arms who has designed a full-auto .32 pistol he is selling to a Mexican cartel boss.

Real story: Charlie Hood. Hood still likes the Bakersfield Sound and driving but does not take the long nighttime drives of before. Hood is driven by duty and law and loyalty to the agents he works with. Hood hopes for rescue of the kidnapped agent. Hood holds little hope for Bradley's keeping on the good side.

1. Great use of desert setting by Parker.
2. Interesting take from the ATF side. The ATF has a horrible reputation among gun nuts but they have worthy goals. Not much time was spent with the ATF characters. EDIT: I spoke to an FFL holder a few weeks ago who talked about the difficulties of being a licensee: theft, burglary, ATF anal retentiveness (he did not check a box on a form and was grilled by several agents at their office), surprise inspections.
3. The "devil walking the earth" angle could have been a deal-breaker for the novel. I liked it though. Parker's handling of it was well done and the idea that Mike may just be a great liar and insane kept things going.
4. Hood carries a .22 for a back-up gun. Seems like a strange choice. But, what the hell do I care? It's a novel.
5. Great discussions on border issues and the brutality and violence of the cartels.
6. Gratuitious use of Los Straitjackets

Friday, March 5, 2010

Finished: American Patriot: the life and wars of Colonel Bud Day" by Robert Coram"

Finished: American Patriot: The Life and Wars of Colonel Bud Day by Robert Coram, 2007, 9780316758475.

I saw an interview with Day on the Pritzker Military Library's website.

Some reviewer wrote this is a hagiography. He's right. Day grew up poor in western Iowa, joined the Marines in WWII, the Army Reserve, the Air Force, graduated college on the GI bill and then law school in SD, married, adopted four kids, served around the country and world, got shot down in Vietnam, escaped while badly injured, was recaptured and then spent six years in North Vietnam prisons where he was beaten, beaten, beaten, and strung up, and beaten some more.

A very impressive guy who is thanked daily by complete strangers for his service.

1. Issue of biography - especially when the subject is alive - about is it the author or the subject who is talking? Is the author distilling the subjects thoughts and ideas or is the author commenting on issues?

2. POWs and the different caste level within. Outside groups see a unified unit but there are fractures in most any group, even an elite one. I've heard before that inside the special operations community that the hard-core super-capable guys are (or at least were) called snake eaters. Everyone else would look at SEALs and Special Forces as one homogenous group. Same with the POWs. There were several POWs who collaborated with guards and/or accepted early release. They are the untouchable caste. Some other POWs would not follow orders.

Day followed up his time in Hanoi by writing lengthy - several years worth of reporting after all - evaluation reviews. If someone was refusing orders or working with guards Day recorded that and turned it in. Day is easily one of the strongest and toughest and dedicated resisters. I'd like to hear the views by other POWs on Day's standards. As such a hard-case I wonder if Day's standards for his men were achievable or realistic? I don't know but Day always seems like a fair guy.

3. I've liked several things about McCain as a person. Coram's stories of McCain's prison time highlight his faults and strengths. I never got around to reading McCain's autobio.

4. A lot of politics. Politics are important to Day, they are one of his passions. There are several questions that come up during Coram's tale of Day's fight to re-establish full medical benefits to military retirees. One issue that was not made clear: were all benefits cut or was policy changed to require retirees to visit the VA hospitals rather than base hospitals? There is a lot of vitriol aimed at Clinton, his personal affairs, and his policies. But, the benefits fight continued into Bush II's tenure and no criticism of Bush's administration about continuing the policy fight begun by Clinton.

5. Day is a staunch supporter of the GOP. But, Coram makes it clear that Day is no political hack. He opposes candidates he does not believe in and will criticize them where he sees fault. Day's hatred of Kerry is personal not political. Kerry's testimony in front of Congress over Viet and Day's captors repeating that testimony during POW torture sessions is seen as traitorous. Coram puts a lot, I mean a lot, of weight behind his theory that Day was the instigator and prevailing force in Kerry's loss.

6. Day loved Nixon. Nixon was a scoundrel with numerous faults but his Christmas bombing campaign (Linebacker II) forced the NV back to the table and freed the POWs.

7. I still think Ross Perot is a weirdo. I have great respect for his work on behalf of POWs and other people in the service.

8. Early release POWs and full-term POWs should not be put in the same room unless you want to watch one old guy try to beat or kill the other old guy.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Mostly Read: "Inside the Tattoo Circus" by Kristian Misser

Mostly Read: Inside the Tattoo Circus by Kristian Misser, 2009, 9780764331459.

Lots of great illustrations of different tattoos by a lot of different artists. Some of the artists have exceptional skill.

What most impresses me about this kind of artwork is that is no good way to fix a mistake. You can try and color over it but the ones I have seen that done to - very few to be sure - just don't look as good.

Misser is Danish and writes for European tattoo mags. He interviewed several different artists and all the photos are full color. I liked the nude ones the best. Pages 51, 43, 41, 38, 39, 191, 192.