Friday, December 31, 2010

Read: "Law of the Jungle" by John Otis

Read: Law of the Jungle: the hunt for Colombian guerrillas, American hostages, and buried treasure by John Otis, 2010, 9780061671807.

Amazing story.

American contractors in Colombia flying drug interdiction job are shot down and captured by the FARC. Americans are captive for almost 5 and a half years. The FARC are vicious, lying, scheming, murderous, scumbag fuckwads. I knew this already but this reinforced the truth.

An interesting story on several levels and Otis has a lot to cover.
- The experience and trauma of the prisoners.
- The agony of the family in the U.S.
- The negotiations and work by the Colombian government and the political football of the insurgency and the prisoners.
- The effect of the FARC's kidnapping civilians.
- FARC extortion of civilians.
- FARC's 'taxes' on people in their areas of control.
- FARC's taxes of drug dealers and active participation in the drug trade.
- FARC's vicious treatment of their own troops.
- Paramilitary murder squads.
- Families anxiety and frustration with government plans of alternately negotiation with FARC and playing a hardline.

1. Otis is a journalist and you tell from the book. He screams through the story and packs in a lot of people and events. Judging from his endnotes he did a lot of work and interviewing for this.
2. The helicopter rescue of the Americans and several others was absolutely amazing.
3. I read John Keegan's book about intelligence in wartime. His conclusion was that intelligence helps but does not win wars. He is correct, of course, the infantry and others have to do that actual work. But the intelligence work done by the Colombians prior to the rescue was essential and very, very impressive.
4. I did not know Colombia is so dang big with such varied geography.
5. Hugo Chavez is a real tool but he did get several people freed and brought attention to the captives.
6. The side story of Vulture and Destroyer companies is fascinating. The whole story of these struggling, half-starved, under-supported commandos stumbling upon several million dollars buried in the middle of the jungle is bizarre. The aftermath is not too surprising but still unfair.
7. Ingrid Betancourt came off as a snotty slut but it's not real fair for me to say that considering the praise some captives gave her.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Read: "Rut" by Scott Phillips

Read: Rut by Scott Phillips, 2010, 9780981782447.

I read this before I read Wall of America. The dystopian views of both Disch and Phillips fit well together.

2048 rural Colorado and a girl biologist is doing field research. The environment has suffered over the past 50 years and Girl Biologist's discovery of frogs and then mega large frogs is a big discovery. Girl Biologist is in a small town off the Big Grid. Small town used to be popular ski and celebrity destination until weather went haywire. Small town mayor is corrupt. Local school teacher's husband disappeared and she now shags her ex-husband, the mayor. The state and fed governments are a safety threat to their own citizens. Things happen - but not too many things, this is a Phillips novel after all.

Girl Biologist studies and gets involved with locals. Reader learns of societal, economic, and environmental troubles of the time. Local kid lusts for Girl Biologist. People live much longer. Old slut getting senile. Local drug dealers also fight against cruel government. Gays sent to camps. Various food stuffs and products no longer around or prohibitively expensive. Endless wars overseas bring back legless and armless veterans. Mom of teen guy dies from pharmaceutical reaction to a guy's penile medicine.

1. I liked it.
2. This is like Cottonwood and that you follow the characters around rather than the action. Literary not thriller.

Finished: "Wall of America" by Thomas M. Disch

Finished: Wall of America by Thomas M. Disch, 2008, 9781892391827.

When Disch died in 2008 Crider posted the news online. I was surprised and disappointed to hear Disch had died. I previously read two or three of Disch's horror novels and enjoyed them. After reading this short story collection my disappointment with Disch's death is even greater. Disch did good work and I wish I could have yelled at him, "Don't do that!"

A bib of his books is in the front of this and lists his first novel as 1965. I'm not sure when I read Priest (1994) and M.D. (1992). There is a break in his output of novels from '99 to 2008 which is the time I started to follow his work. After reading the novels I sought his work but, unfortunately, his stuff was not always available through the libraries I was at. That and Disch focused on poetry on one point. I don't dig poetry.

Wall has 19 stories with many having a dystopian bent. Original publishing dates range from 1981 to 2008. I like many and some I did care about although I did not dislike them.

Owl and the Pussycat. Story told from the perspective of two stuffed animals. I figured the story was fantasy until, about halfway through, it is revealed that although the narrator speaks through the two animals they are both the voice of an autistic - and murderous - child.

In Praise of Older Women was a modern, black-humor take on the Oedipus story.

Torah! Torah! Torah!: Three bible tales for the third millennium had Disch's retelling on three bible stories including Moses, Adam's naming of animals, and Sarah saying Abraham is nuts when the police investigate his almost killing of their eldest kid.

The Man who read a book reminds me of Lee Goldberg. Written in 1994 and set in 2010 an ex-con is scammed into being a professional reader and enters a bizarre world of publishing of the kind Goldberg eviscerates in his blog.

1. Minneapolis/St. Paul
2. Art
3. Opera
4. Disease
5. Future disaster and the collapse or near collapse of civilization.
6. I just read an obituary that mentions Disch's use of satire. Yeah.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Just Finished: "Slaygroud" by Richard Stark

Just Finished: Slayground by Richard Stark, 1969, 9780226770925 (2010 reprint)

I was thinking about Westlake already when I saw this on the new shelf. All praise to Univ of Chicago Press for reprinting the Stark books. I skipped the foreword by Charles Ardai. I know I read the first few pages of this before. Another Stark novel must have had a preview at the end.

Parker, Grofield, and third guy rob an armored car in a part of a city deserted during the winter. Third Guy wrecks the getaway car and goes on foot, with the cash, into a shuttered amusement park. Parker scales the entry gate and sees a couple cops and a couple guys in overcoats across the street exchanging an envelope. Parker finds no other exits. Parker analyzes and figures cops are on the take and will come for the armored car money. Parker plans and sets-up various ambushes. Parker perseveres.

1. What else is there to write? This is a Parker novel so you know it will be excellent. Parker is always smarter and tougher. Westlake introduces other characters and kills one off early in a surprise move.

Finally Finished Listening to: "The Information Officer" by Mark Mills

Finally Finished Listening to: The Information Officer by Mark Mills, 2010, on a Playaway a Blackstone rep gave to me.

Crider linked to a best of 2010 list and I was surprised to see this listed. The novel was good - the historical setting in 1942 Malta is very well used - but I'm not sure it is a best-of. Maybe I would think differently if I had not had to listen to it on that stupid piece of crap Playaway that kept quitting on me and was difficult to run.

Anyway. Main Guy is the information officer (propaganda officer) for the Brit Army on Malta. Malta is under daily bombing by the Luftwaffe without the air power or AAA to fight back. Main Guy finds out about a recent murder that is linked to the Brit navy's submarine force which has a base on the island. The investigation is shelved because of the tenuous relations between Limeys and Maltese.

Main Guy looks into murder(s) anyway. Main Guy boinking married gal. Main Guy getting clues from American Army officer on the island. Main Guy sorta hot for Maltese Jewish girl with mom married to fascist Italian. Things happen. Dust covers everything. Supplies are low. Main Guy gets help in investigation. Mystery solved.

Read: "Man with the Iron-On Badge" by Lee Goldberg

Read: Man with the Iron-On Badge by Lee Goldberg, 2005, 1594143722.

Goldberg has written online about plugging away on his e-book sales. Man is one of those books. I finally got around to checking the library catalog and reserving a copy. This is the fifth Goldberg book I have read so I expected it to be pretty good and it was better than that. In deference to a previous comment by Goldberg there will be spoilers ahead.

Harvey Mapes - a perfect name - is the overnight gate guard for a wealthy LA area community. The job requires no thought or action. Every day after work Harvey goes to Denny's, goes home, watches television and sleeps. Harvey is a dedicated fan of mystery and P.I. novels and television shows. When one of the community's wealthy clients asks Harvey to play P.I. and follow his wife Harvey knows the idea is foolish but is happy to take the money and the activity.

Harvey follows wife. Harvey finds things out. Harvey sees wife passing money off to Skeezy Guy who Harvey follows and is then beaten-up by. Wife kills herself. Grieving husband tells Harv to buzz off. Harvey cannot let it go. Harvey travels to Washington state to research dead wife and Skeezy Guy. Harvey plays detective and even claims John D. McDonald as an alias. Harv digs. Harv finds unknown links between dead wife and husband. Harvey finds out a shockingly creepy detail. Skeezy Guy dies. Harvey is left unsatisfied with the messy ending and its unintended consequences.

1. Goldberg takes a normal guy wanting excitement and gives it to him. Nothing new about that plot but Goldberg does a great job with it.
2. Harvey knows he is going nowhere in life but is stuck in the rut. I like that Goldberg does not try to introduce Harvey with too much detail and history. Goldberg fills in that information without overloading the reader.
3. Goldberg's writing in this one is comparable to what I was thinking and reading about Westlake in that last book. Like Westlake, everything is straight forward and realistic. An exception is how Goldberg directly addresses this by pointing out the absurdity of PI cliches and how Harvey is unable to rely on the best friend cop, the kooky but genius computer nerd, old girlfriend working for the DMV, etc.
4. The blooming love affair between Harvey and his sex-buddy neighbor read true as I was reading it. Afterward, when I was thinking about the relationship, it feels a little silly. But, I still like it anyway.
5. This could be considered a throw-away book. An entertaining novel to enjoy and then forget. I disagree with that because I find Harvey an interesting and very engaging character. Harvey gives the reader things to think about as a person and also as he stumbles through the same problems that anyone taking on the kind of task Harvey has. I was thinking this is begging for a sequel or series but the character and stories would end up changing quite a bit if Harvey were to gain investigative experience and even more confidence.
6. One great aspect of Man is Harvey's love of P.I. fiction and television. He runs his "investigation" on what Rockford and or Elvis Cole would do.
7. The cover image is awful. The Kindle version is better.
EDIT #2, 8 Feb 2011
8. After further reflection I am realizing I was reading this as more comedy that hard boiled. But, the incestuous relationship at the core of the mystery is pure hard-boiled. That kind of topic keeps this at a dark, L.A. noir level but I was digging the humor too much to notice the darkness.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Just Read: "Hunt Among the Killers of Men" by Gabriel Hunt (David J. Schow)

Just Read: Hunt Among the Killers of Men by Gabriel Hunt (David J. Schow), 2010, 9780843962567.

This Hunt novel diverges from the usual Hunt formula. There is no supernatural element, no secret and ancient societies or religions, no love interests for Gabriel, no glove trotting to several exotic settings, the villain's evil right hand man is not evil, the world is not saved in the end, and the hunt for artifacts takes a far backseat to the action.

Lucifer "Lucy" Hunt is introduced. Lucy is the hunt sister who ran away from home when she was 17. She is now 26 and skips out on her European house arrest to come to NYC and ask Gabriel for help. Her friend (girlfriend apparently) is suspected of murdering her own sister.

Gabriel helps bail the friend and finds the dead girl worked for a Chinese crime lord who had her murdered. The Friend skips off to China and Gabriel follows to try and convince her to stay out of trouble. Gabriel gets in trouble. Gabriel teams with Chinese girl assassin. Schow uses many obscure words. Schow informs on Chinese culture and crime. Gabriel is caught. Gabriel is rescued. Things happen. Helicopters crash. Guns are shot. People are drugged. Bad guy dies a painful death alone.

1. I read Schow's other Hard Case novel and Schow has put plenty of gun stuff in both. Right Hand Man uses an OTs-33. I looked the pistol up and it is a full auto firing 9mm MAK.
2. I read that Schow does screenplays and other movie work. I wonder if he visited Shanghai for work because at one point he writes about a massive Chinese movie set.

Finished: "The Cutie" by Donald E. Westlake

Finished: The Cutie by Donald E. Westlake, 2009, 9780843961140. Reprint of The Mercenaries from 1960.

I was looking up information on Westlake, independent of this book, and the bibliography on his still living website listed this as Westlake's first published novel. Cutie is an enjoyable read but nothing fantastic unlike all the Parker novels. I'm always surprised at how damn good those Stark penned novels are.

Clay is a the right hand man for NYC crime lord Ed Genolese. Clay is in bed with his girlfriend in the middle of the night when a knock on his door comes from a junkie and small-time drug dealer from Genolese's organization. The junkie is wanted for murder of a rich guy's girlfriend. Clay would usually arrange an "accident" for the junkie to solve the problem but the junkie has friends in high crime places. The junkie ups and leaves and Clay is assigned to find him.

Clay plays investigator while fending off the cops, dealing with his girlfriend who now knows the full extent of Clay's work, negotiating with the dead girl's sugar daddy, and fighting fatigue from his lack of sleep.

While I was looking up Westlake I ran across an online memorial commentary by some dude. Online Dude wrote that one of his favorite things about Westlake was his straightforward dealing with characters and story and the lack of sentimentality in his writing. You can see that here in what is (according to that online bib.) his first novel. Clay is a crook and hired killer. Clay's job is to keep the whores, pimps, drug dealers, extortionists, and crooked union bosses all smoothly working and bringing in money. Clay does not deny this to himself and the novel's moral quandary comes when his girlfriend is deciding whether to stay with him or not. Clay likes his job and the status and power it provides. Clay sees a future with his gal but he does not want to be a two faced guy with a house and the suburbs and a job in the gutter.

Anyway. Clay investigates. Clay hunts for junkie. Clay finds possible suspects for the real murderer. Clay goes to jail. Clay bones his girlfriend. Clay drives his Mercedes around. Clay solves the case. Clay executes the real killer. Novel ends with Clay wondering if his time is up with Genolese.

Further comments:
1. Westlake sure did love .32 caliber revolvers. Both Clay and Parker carry them.

Gave Up On: "Rot and Ruin" by Jonathan Maberry

Gave up on: Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry, 2010, 9781442402324.

I reserved this YA title after reading a couple of other Maberry novels. This novel is about 500 pages long and I finally gave up at page 108.

Here is the plot: Oh, those poor, lost zombie souls.
- "Waaa! I miss my zombie relative. Please, mister, take this money and put that poor zombie down."
- "Sure, lady, I'll be considerate."
- "But, what about those guys who are so mean to the zombies?! It's awful!"
- "We are not like them, we're good and kind zombie killers."
- Blah, blah, blah.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Read: "Dong Xoai, Vietnam 1965" by Joe Kubert

Read: Dong Xoai, Vietnam 1965 by Joe Kubert, 2010, 9781401221423.

Comic book story. This was returned by a guy at the library and I checked it out for myself. I generally don't like Kubert's illustrations. They always seem like unfinished sketches. They worked okay here though.

Story of an A-team in Vietnam. The are briefly posted at one camp and then assigned to Dong Xoai. Members are there as advisors and have trouble getting the regular and irregular Vietnamese units to train up to an effective force. Units and camp are under supported and under equipped. VC units attack in big numbers with mortars, recoilless rifles, even flamethrowers. Many Vietnamese flew the battle out of self-preservation or to evacuate their camp follower families.

A-team guys, and Seabees sent to construct defenses, fight back and hold together until evacuation. You know the battle was real, real, real, bad because two guys are awarded the Medal of Honor.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Read: "Criminal" by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

Read: Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, 2009, 9780785142294 (deluxe edition).

Anthony Neil Smith recommended Scalped. When I was looking that up on the Amazon there was a reference to this title. I read both but so far I like the story Criminal series better. I like the artwork better in Criminal, too. I don't know where the heck I set down Scalped after I finished it.

Comic book short stories with interconnected characters set in what looks like a fictional San Francisco. Overall common thread of the Undertow bar, a criminal hangout.

First tale has Lou. Lou is a lifelong crook and very good at his job. Lou has never been busted by the cops and is completely under their radar. Lou never gets caught because when trouble starts during a job he walks. Others consider him a coward but Lou just has brains and reason, two things that are very lacking among his peers. "Prison is full of macho shitheads who valued their own lives only slightly more than anyone else's No one ever thinks there's consequences to their actions, but there are..." Lou also walks from violence, "I'm not ending up on death row because some asshole listened to too much hip hop growing up."

This has extra artwork and sketches in the back last most of these compendiums. Also included is a comic short story with a newspaper editor getting threatened to not print a story. The thug putting pressure tells tales of journalists around the world who have been murdered for their work. After those stories the thug and journo have this exchange,
Thug: "You what I'm hoping the difference is between you and all those men and women?"
Journo: "What? What?"
Thug: "They all had integrity."

1. Brubaker likes bolding different words of dialogue.