Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Read: "Devil's Garden" by Ace Atkins

Read: Devil's Garden by Ace Atkins, 2009, 9780399155369.

Excellent storytelling. Blending the two real life stories of Dashiell Hammet and Fatty Arbuckle with William Randolph Hearst responsible for the whole Arbuckle disaster.

Consumptive and rail thin Sam Hammett works for the Pinkertons in San Francisco. Arbuckle visits town for a bender, Virginia Rappe dies during the party, Arbuckle is accused of murdering Rappe(crushing her with his weight), Pinkerton Agency assigns Hammett as an investigator for the defense. Prosecutor hides witnesses and Hammett runs into a mysterious man giving payoffs to people involved.

I enjoy historical novels and Atkins hit a grand slam with this one. His geographical and personal descriptions, settings, historical details, and most everything else set the reader down in 1921 San Francisco and California. I'm sure Atkins took liberties - a quick look at a Hammett bio seems to counter some family information in the novel - but I don't care.

Hammett's tuberculosis suffers in the damp SF weather and he smokes and drinks too much. He has a wandering eye but tries to keep it in his pants. Sam fears a dark and mysterious man who he ran into during a Pinkerton job in Montana that ended in a lynching. Atkins writes Hammett as a real-life Continental Op.

Arbuckle has been downtrodden most his life and is living high until he is set-up for a fall. Arbuckle banged Marion Davies - Atkins's Davies has a wandering eye - and Hearst sets up Arbuckle for the scandal. Rappe's death is a matter of circumstance due to a back-alley abortion but the prosecutor rolls with it.

Good job with the plotting. This was not so much a mystery as a crime novel.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Listened to: "Monkey's Raincoat" by Robert Crais

Listened to: Monkey's Raincoat by Robert Crais, downloaded from Overdrive.com

Good. The first Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novel. I read an interview that Crais did with Megan Abbott for a L.A. newspaper and Crais initially killed Pike off but then changed his mind. This came out in the mid-'80s with Cole at 35 years old. I don't know if Crais has aged Cole since then.

Elvis is hired to find a woman's missing husband. It looks like the guy ran off with a girlfriend. The guy is found shot dead and their nine-year-old son is missing. Elvis investigates. Elvis clashes with the police. Bad people appear looking for missing cocaine. Client disappears. Elvis is a smart-ass. Pike says little. Elvis meets main bad guy. Elvis does yoga and beats people up. Pike kills minor bad guys. Elvis rescues client. Elvis bangs client and client's best friend. Elvis and Pike rescue missing kid and Pike is shot.

1. Jeff Deaver was at Muskego and specifically said that he never puts animals or children in danger in his novels. Not so with Crais. Crais has the nine-year-old under threat of death and, and, has the bad guys torture the boy to make him scream.
2. The issue of the missing boy was wrenching. Bad guy cop who takes over the case is willing to let the boy die to make an arrest.
3. Did Ruger ever make a .25? I don't think so. Does Crais have gun whiners complain about inaccuracies?
4. Evil girlfriend of missing guy. Her evil-ness is her complete disregard for others. She stole the missing cocaine and that theft got the client's husband killed, the boy kidnapped, the client/mom kidnapped, the boy tortured and threatened with death. She does not care or even consider that at all.
5. Killings at the end give a good release of revenge for me, the reader.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Finished: "Mr. Monk is Miserable" by Lee Goldberg

Finished: Mr. Monk is Miserable by Lee Goldberg, 2008, 9780451225153.

Aah, much better than the audio version. But, I liked the previous title in the series better because I liked the Germany setting better.

Anyway. Natalie and Monk travel to Paris after Natalie blackmails Monk with a couple photos of Monk being filthy. A murder occurs on the flight from Paris. Monk solves it and they meet a couple Paris cops. Monk and Natalie tour the catacombs and Monk is upset due to all the unorganized bones and how the skeleton bones should be put back together. Monk then finds the skull of a recently murdered person.

Monk and Natalie call the cops. Monk ends up helping the police. Goldberg contrives a reason for Stottlemeyer and his lapdog, Disher, to fly over. Natalie pines for her dead husband - they honeymooned in Paris. Monk obsesses. Natalie tries to enjoy her vacation. Monk has a glorious time riding a motocrotte in Paris. Monk solves the murder. Natalie gets the hots for a guy who lives in the underground caverns and sewers of Paris. Monk is disgusted by the sewer people. Disher has French groupies.

Other things:
1. Monk washes his doorknobs in the dishwasher once a month.
2. Goldberg's Author's Note mentions how the book was written while traveling in Germany and France. Lucky bastard.
3. Monk is fascinated by the sewer system as a major step in civilization. Monk is correct but he is also crazy.
4. Monk's craziness came through to me in the Germany novel more than in this one.
5. Monk is only relaxed when solving murders. I relaxed greatly while reading this because I liked it.
6. A fun quote when Monk and others visit a squatters building:

Monk held out his hand and motioned to me urgently. "Wipes, wipes,"
What did you touch?" I asked, reaching into my purse and handing him a package of disinfectant tissues.
"Nothing if I can help it," he said. "I need to be prepared for the worst. Hippies live here."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Finished: "The Root" by Eric Hammel

Finished: The Root: the Marines in Beirut, August 1982 - February 1984 by Eric Hammel, 1985, 015179006X.

I reserved this after doing an author search for Hammel in the catalog.

This came out just a year after the barracks bombing. I remember the news coverage of the bombing fairly well. What I would not have understand at the time was the massive screw-up that it was. News coverage praised the heroism and mourned the dead but finger pointing and political spin obscured things as they happened and afterwards.

Political shenanigans in Washington and Lebanon were standard. What happened 25 years ago is no different than what happens now. Reagan gets so much credit and praise from the right wing but he really fucked up.

The mission was never clearly defined. They were there to be peacekeepers but no one was quite sure what was to be done. The U.S. professed neutrality but was training the Lebanese Army. When the Israelis withdrew from Beirut things turned worse because the Israelis were the only stabilizing force among the mix of Syrians, Iranians, Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, and the rest. When the Marines were shooting back at attackers at the same time as a Lebanese attack they looked to be actively assisting the Lebanese. That direct support, and perceived support, screwed the Marines.

The government glossed over the fact that the Marines were being targeted. Active sniping, machine gun attacks, and shelling by the moslems/Syrians/Iranians/etc. was referred to as accidental. Marines would be in day-long firefights. Politicians refused to accept the reality of the danger and allow better defense or improved engagement rules.

All the Marines had was some Amtracs and .50s. The rare times they were able to fire their mortars they were usually firing illumination. They brought howitzers ashore but were not allowed defensive fire.

Marines could not carry a rifle with a chambered round. They were not allowed to dig in or build strong bunkers - all they could do was sandbag. Their perimeter was porous and airport traffic could transit back and forth through or by the area.

The bombing itself collapsed a four story building. Body parts and concrete were blown all over. Hammel did a good job pulling together the different stories of Marines in the rescue attempt. Several Marines were trapped with their legs crushed in the collapsed concrete floors and slowly died. Rescuers could hear trapped colleagues but were unable to dig fast enough, or cut through the concrete and rebar to rescue them before they died. One Marine was found with a self-tied tourniquet around his leg but bled out before rescue. Many guys had to withdraw from the scene and try to mentally recover after seeing so many dead and dying colleagues and having to pick up their arms and legs.

Vice President Bush made a brief tour of the bombed building - where Marines running recovery equipment were asked to turn it off since the noise bothered Bush - and then said a prayer in front of all the cameras. President Mitterand of France visited the morgue alone and said prayers over several bodies without the press there. Reagan never attended any Marine memorials.

Hammel's epilogue mentions how Marines were proud of what they did but not sure what it was for. When asked "What did we accomplish?," the standard answer is "nothing."

Quit Listening: "Mr Monk is Miserable" by Lee Goldberg

Quit Listening: Mr. Monk Goes is Miserable by Lee Goldberg, downloaded from Overdrive.com.

I was happy to get this and download it. But I quit after six minutes because I did not like the narration. This was a disappointment, I am looking forward to the story.

The problem with this is that the narrator is speaking for characters who are already firmly established by other actors. It threw things off too much. I'll read the book instead.

EDIT: I just realized I had the wrong title down earlier. I fixed it.

Hey, Goldberg. Natalie narrates all the Monk novels. Yesterday I read some author's comments about female character cliches in fiction. Do you do consciously do anything when writing a female character to avoid cliches or to try and make them more well-rounded? Or do you just write, revise, revise, revise until you are satisfied?

Listened to: "Greenwitch" by Susan Cooper

Listened to: Greenwitch: The Dark Is Rising Sequence Series, Book 3 by Susan Cooper, downloaded from Overdrive.

I think I listened to the first two and did not read them. I really liked the narration on this one. Book 3 merges the characters from the first two books. The three Drew kids - Simon, Jane, Barney - and Wil Stanton . All come together in the small village in Cornwall from the first book.

The golden grail found by the Drew kids in Book One is stolen from a London museum by the Dark. Merriman has the kids invited to Cornwall for their Spring break along with Wil Stanton. The manuscript needed to decipher the grail's engraving was tossed into the ocean in Book One.

The Greenwitch is a humanoid totem annually made of tree branches by the women of the village. Brought to life by magic the Greenwitch finds the manuscript after getting chucked into the ocean. Jane dreams of Greenwitch and Greenwitch reveals her "secret" of the manuscript.

Scary things happen. Wil is an Old One and works with Merriman. Ghosts show up. More secrets are revealed. The bad guy is defeated. So on. So forth.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Listened to: "Valdez is Coming" by Elmore Leonard

Listened to: Valdez is Coming by Elmore Leonard, downloaded from Overdrive.

When did Leonard write this anyway? I assume this is one of his westerns from the '50s, the movie version is from '71.

Roberto Valdez is a part-time constable in a small AZ town and considered a loser only fit to round up drunk Mexicans A rich rancher and gun runner, Tanner, says a guy in a shack is a killer. Tanner surrounds the shack with his hired guns and shoots it up. Valdez walks down to the shack to talk to the guy. Tanner and Co. come up from behind Valdez with rifles, guy thinks he has been tricked, Valdez has to shoot guy. Tanner says, "Oops, wrong guy."

Valdez thinks the dead guy's pregnant wife should get payment. He asks town people for money, for $500. They say no. Valdez goes to ask Tanner. Tanner just pissed and has his goons try to terrify Valdez. Valdez leaves. Valdez visits Tanner again and is tied to a cross of poles and left to die. Valdez lives.

Valdez goes after Tanner using his years of tracking and combat experience as a scout with General Crook. Valdez kidnaps Tanner's girly-friend. Valdez gets hots for girly-friend. Valdez kills people. Valdez and girly-friend live happily ever after.

Substandard narration by Keith Carradine.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Listened to: "Sharpe's Devil" by Bernard Cornwell

Listened to Sharpe's Devil by Bernard Cornwell, downloaded from Overdrive.

Sharpe travels to Chile to look for the missing Don Blas Vivar after his widow asks for his help and offers to pay him. Sharpe gets on wrong side of current Spanish Captain General in charge of Chile. Things happen. Sharpe gets in fight. Sharpe and Harper are deported. Sharpe and Harper's ship is attacked by Chilean rebels. Sharpe and Harper join the rebels. Sharpe, Harper and rebels defeat the Spanish government. Chilean admiral - a Scotsman - wants to rescue Bonaparte from St. Helene and start a United States of South America.

I forgot the neat historical settings and details Cornwell uses in every novel. He does such a solid job with character, action, and plot that I forget how well he uses the history. Of course, you have to listen to the afterword to clear up the fact from the fiction Cornwell creates.Sharpe is weary in this one. He has been farming in Normandy for years and had no interest in taking the job to hunt for Vivar until his wife decided they could use the money. There is none of the previous feelings of joy and elation he used to have in battle.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Surprisingly Read: "A Different Kind of Intimacy" by Karen Finley

Surprisingly Read: A Different Kind of Intimacy: the collected writings of Karen Finley, a memoir by Karen Finley, 2000, 1560252936.

I don't recall why I reserved this. I must have run across a Finley reference and just grabbed this.

I well remember the NEA nonsense of the '90s and Finley's status as the Chocolate Woman (or whatever she was called). I also wondered at her artistic skill or value - which was the point of much criticism. As Finley writes, most of her work was never seen, was misunderstood, was taken out of context, or was treated as bizarre eroticism. She seems like a nice lady. A nice lady who does discuss sex but does not make it the sole focus of her work.

I had written several notes on my bookmark while reading the book. I lost the bookmark. Damn it.

Thoughts I had while reading:
1- Finley had a rough time from the NEA brouhaha and even had a miscarriage due, in part, to all the stress.
2 - When reading the book and excerpts from her performances it is difficult to tell if Finley or a character is talking.
3 - I imagine making a living as a performance artist must be tough. Finley received a ton of attention but how many people actually saw her performances? Does Finley license her performances like a play script? How big an audience is there for this kind of work, can you make a living just off of that?
4 - This is a ten year old book. I did a search on YouTube hoping to find a recorded performance by Finley but a whole bunch of other crap came up and I gave up after 30 seconds. I might try ILL.
5 - I forget what else.
6 - I did write in an interesting comment Finley had to say:
I think what's happened for hundreds of years is this idea that the artist is crazy. That's the whole reason for the Van Gogh phenomenon. Everyone loves Van Gogh more for his being out of his mind and out of control, which is what they want to believe creativity is, than for his paintings. No one could think that a person who is intelligent, or is a professional, or who thinks, could create work. The idea is that creativity only comes out of irrationality.

The same could be said for drug use. That doping up is the way to creativity. People who seem to think that drugs are responsible for great art and music but many artists out of rehab say they were successful in spite of the drugs.

HEY! I just found the bookmark. Let's see...
1. AIDS really wiped out Finley's circle of friends and, resultingly, hit her hard as well.
2. Finley was not desirous of being an art martyr and sick of standing in as Joan of Arc. The court cases took over her life.
3. Not really an autobiography of Finley. More a tale of her professional travails. Not even a autobio of her artwork itself.
4. Finley ended up using food because real props were too expensive. She opened up her fridge to find something to use.
5. Getting past the seriousness of "high art".
6. Critics sexualized her performances.
7. Museums and galleries were still (2000) afraid to invite her to perform. Other people stopped talking to her.

Finished: "The Midnight Road" by Tom Piccirilli

Finished: The Midnight Road by Tom Piccirilli, 2007, 9780553384086.

I did not like this book as much as Piccirilli's other novels. But, like all Piccirilli books, I was obsessively reading the novel until I finished.

Flynn works for Child Protective Services out on Long Island. He investigates an anonymous complaint during a blizzard. He finds a guy locked into a cage in a basement. He flees the house with the guy, a seven-year-old girl, and a French Bulldog. The crazy mom chases them in car, Flynn wrecks his car on ice, Flynn is frozen - dead - for 28 minutes, dog and girl die. Flynn is revived. People are killed with some connection to Flynn. Flynn is suicidal and a zombie walking through life - has been for thirty years. Things happen. People die. Twists turn. Flynn hallucinates the French Bulldog talking to him.

Since Piccirilli does the google I'll address him directly:

The problem I had with this, Piccirilli, is that it felt like the two main stories did not quite mesh. 1- There is Flynn, his car, his dead family, his dead brother, and all his angst and guilt. 2 - The murders in front of Flynn, the threats behind the killings, and Flynn's half-assed investigation.

The bulk of the novel seemed about Flynn and his issues with the murders floating in and out of the plot. Maybe that was the point. Flynn was a good character and the unwinding of his past and troubles was well done.

Enough sucking up to Piccirilli.

1. Piccirilli likes characters who like muscle cars.
2. This is another Piccirilli novel with a Long Island setting.
3. Piccirilli seems to like main characters who are troubled guys and either orphans or with long dead relatives.
4. I wonder if Piccirilli got heat from autism people for having the bad guy be autistic.
5. The bad guy was a surprise. I was wondering if the tactless reporter was involved.
6. I still have not gotten around to reading the most recent Piccirilli novel. Which is also set in a snowstorm.