Saturday, November 26, 2011

Listened: "Before Midnight" by Rex Stout

Listened: Before Midnight by Rex Stout, 1955 (according to wikipedia - which I refuse to capitalize), downloaded from OverDrive.

I was striking out on available audio titles on OverDrive. I had not listened to any Nero Wolfe stories in quite a while. Several years ago, in Kansas I think, I went through a bunch of the audiotapes. This digital copy was recorded off the cassettes and had prompts every thirty minutes to "Turn the tape over". My mind tends to wander when listening to these. I think Stout used a good amount of padding.

Archie wants to hit the town. He pesters Wolfe to try and get Wolfe to let him out early. Part of the conversation includes Archie telling Wolfe about a trivia contest sponsored by a perfume company. Archie fields a call from an advertising agency demanding access to Wolfe. The agency is in charge of the aforementioned trivia contest.

Writer of the contest clues is murdered after announcing to the five remaining finalists that he holds the answers in his wallet. dead guy's wallet goes missing. There are plenty of suspects for Archie to visit and Wolfe to be perturbed by. (What's a preposition?) The contest winners, angry husbands, and advert agency partners all had reason to get rid of the dead guy.

Archie investigates. Wolfe grunts. The cops are angry. The suspects are demanding, or wilting, or confident. All are gathered for a showdown in Wolfe's office. The bar in Wolfe's office is impressive. The bar in Wolfe's office helps lead to murder in his office. Wolfe is upset. The cops are upset. Many people are upset.

Wolfe hires the usual gang of on-call PIs to go to the ad agency and investigate deeper. The showdown takes place with all the advert agency partners. Justice is served. Wolfe gets a fat paycheck. Wolfe is fat.

1. Perturbed. That's a word from my parents.
2. There were a couple comments or events in the story that really dated this in the 1955 setting. I do not recall what they were.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Listened to: "Absolute Friends" by John Le Carre

Listened to: Absolute Friends by John Le Carre, Overdrive download, 2005.

The best thing about this book was the narration by Le Carre himself. The novel was dandy but a great narrator improves any book.

Ted Mundy's mother died during his birth in 1947 and he was raised by a Pakistanis nurse. Ted and his military officer father left Pakistan under scandal. Ted was mostly ignored by his drunken father and once they arrived back in England Ted was sent to boarding school. Boarding school brought abuse to a kid asking about mosque time, beating shoes and clothes for snakes, and other cultural differences. Ted found solace under the tutelage of a professor of German and his athletic prowess brought success.

Ted's father died when Ted was about 18 and he enrolled at Oxford. Taking a semester in West Berlin brought Ted into contact with Sasha. Ted had explored socialism and 1960s student demonstrations while pussy whipped to a German girl in England. He and Sasha become fast friends and Ted rescues the pugnacious, but small and physically deformed, Sasha from a police beatdown during a demonstration. Ted ends up deported and the bounces around different jobs.

Ted finds work with the government and marries. While escorting a traveling acting troupe through Eastern Germany he meets Sasha again. Sasha has Ted take classified into into West Berlin. Ted becomes a spy. Ted and Sasha meet often during Ted's work as a cultural attache until the wall falls. Sasha and Ted have a minor falling out and Ted starts a language school in Leipzig.

Ted and Sasha meet up present day. Sasha knows a guy who wants to fight against corporate control of education. Ted is recruited but is very suspicious. Things happen. Things end badly. After Sasha and Ted are murdered during a raid on "terrorists" their reputations are steamrolled by the government and private interests.

1. I once asked an English exchange student if "Paki" was really an insult. He was South Asian got pissed off at me. I was serious though, I had no idea.
2. The post-death character assassination of Ted and Sasha is thorough and without defense. That epilogue is the most distressing event of the novel.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Just Read: "Black Fly Season" by Giles Blunt

Just Read: Black Fly Season by Giles Blunt, 0399152555, 2005.

Much above average. I think this is third in the series set in Northern Ontario.

There is a lot going on in this novel. Murders, drug addicts, mental illness, murderous voodoo, regional bugs, biker gang, Indian-white relations, card reading, family issues, brain trauma, forensic sciences, bad cops. Blunt makes everything run smoothly and puts all these disparate elements together.

Local cop Cardinal gets involved with a "amnesia" case. The woman, Terri, was shot in the head by a .32 and suffered memory loss from brain trauma. While trying to track down Terri's identity - they do not even know her name yet - and find out who shot her, Cardianal and his gal partner Lisa Delorme find a mutilated and rotting body. The cases are connected.

An Indian named Red Cloud has come to town, impressed three local lowlifes with his fortune telling and charisma, has taken over part of the heroin trade, and is busy killing competition. One of the three lowlifes is the brother of the shot woman.

Things happen. A local RCMP trooper is a bad guy. Cardinal's wife's medication is failing and she is going into a manic phase and refuses to recognize it. Cardinal's daughter still won't speak to him. Delorme still has no boyfriend.

1. Fortune telling by card reading? Surely Sara Gran has read this one already.
2. Hey, you know who all these differently matched characters remind me of? Charlie Stella. There are 3-4 different story lines going together and all the characters are fully drawn.
3. Early in the novel Blunt has a 1.5 page section that perfectly and succinctly shows the relationship between Cardinal and his wife. Card's love and concern for her mental health. The wife's focus on her photography and teaching and her denial - or inability to recognize - her worsening condition.
4. Blunt also gives quick but thorough inside looks into a heroin drug addict, the murderous version of voodoo practiced by Red Cloud. Red Cloud is actually Cuban who came with the Mariel boatlift when he was 5-years-old.
5. Colt Police Positive love.
6. Black fly season in Northern Ontario is to be avoided. The little flies make no noise and swarm into to bite, bite, bite.
7. The second Blunt novel I have read and the second time a RCMP guy is a bad guy.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Read: "Nocturne" by Ed McBain

Read: Nocturne, by Ed McBain, 1995? (I cannot find the damn thing).

I brought this home after weeding it at work. There were a box full of McBains that had not circ'ed in years and I laid claim to them. I wanted to keep them on the library shelves but could not justify the space. It had been quite a few years since I had listened or read any of the series.

Carella and Hawes are working the nightshift and get a murder call. A woman in her 80s was shot dead in her apartment. Carella and Hawes investigate. I'll be honest I don't remember much about the whole story. The woman used to be a famous pianist, born in Russian (Ukraine?) and praised throughout Europe. At her death she was an alcoholic living in a cheap apartment with no friends and estranged relatives.

Carella and Hawes try to figure out what happened. A burglary? Maybe.

Granddaughter of woman sings in hotel bar and has two boyfriends her share her. Granddaughter gets message from her dead grandmother to check a locker at the bus station. The boyfriends check it out and find about $100,000 or so. They keep $95,000 and give $5,000 to gal. Gal investigates expecting more money. Gal's investigation and Carella's lead to guy who shot her.

Guy Who Shot Her is also an immigrant.
Guy Who Shot Her made friends with Old Lady. Old Lady asked him to kill her. She was arthritic and no longer able to play piano and just had word a brain tumor was going to take her hearing.

Was there a subplot? I don't recall anything beyond Carella's son being sick. Oh, yeah now I remember. Fat Ollie Weeks catches a call after a hooker and drug dealer are murdered. Ollie is such a fucking scumbag. He is also a great detective. I liked the subplot of three prep school kids, all named Richard, who come to the city 1) Meet a drug dealer names Richard, 2) Kill a hooker and dispose of body with help of Drug Richard, 3) Kill Drug Richard, 4) Head back to school leaving enough witnesses and physical evidence for, 5) Weeks to waddle into the school chapel during choir practice. I liked the subplot better.

1. I always like when McBain refers to himself in novels. This novel has a part where the rear of a limo is filled with feathers. The event reminds a couple cops of The Birds. McBain fits in a couple conversations by different characters that go roughly like this:
1st guy: "You know, that movie Hitchcock wrote."
2nd guy: "I don't think Hitchcock wrote it."
McBain, of course, wrote The Birds under his real name.
2. Another novel has characters discussing Hill Street Blues and the show's incredible similarity to the 87th Precinct and the cops working there. The characters, if I remember correctly, think about how maybe they should sue somebody over the similarities.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Finished: "The Burning Lake" by Brent Ghelfi

Finished: The Burning Lake by Brent Ghelfi, 2011, 9781590589250.

The one main thing I disliked about this novel is that the damn thing ended. I'd been waiting to read this, the fourth Volk novel, and then it goes too fast. I think I liked the previous three better but this was still fine and dandy.

Ghelfi always ties in current Russian craziness and crime to his novels. Ghelfi has incorporated Chechnya, declassified documents, oil interests, graft, prostitution, porn, corruption, and art smuggling. Burning covers the popular Russian past-time of murdering journalists.

Kato was a muckraker journalist who worked Chechnya and political corruption. She was on a story about nuclear fallout and pollution when she was murdered. Kato's murder saddened Volk since Volk first met and banged her in Chechnya. Ever since then Volk was her number one confidential source on Chechen massacres, murders, corruption, etc.

Volk has three concerns. One, he was wants revenge for Kato's murder. Two, he wants to protect his secret about being her informant. Three, his current girlfriend, Valya, doesn't know he was occasionally shagging Kato on the side. Turns out that The General who Volk reports to also wants to know what happened to Kato and assigns Volk to the task.

Volk sees Kato's body. Volk finds out other bodies in the grave were not there at the same time. Ghelfi simulataneously follows a US private military contractor who was involved in Kato's murder and is trying to piece together the "why" for his own gain. Digging and violence from both characters.

Kato was investigating the nuclear pollution in remote Russia. A nuclear waste site so hot with radiation that the lake bed dump site dried up all the water. Early deaths from radiation poisoning. So on, so forth. Violence ensues. Some sex. Sneakiness and subterfuge. Powerful interests keep secrets by killing people. An evil and dangerous Frenchman. Military contractor paid big bucks for dirty work.

1. I just looked through my past notes on Ghefli books. This novel was not as intricate as those.
2. This novel was published by Poisoned Pen Press. Did Ghelfi's previous publisher drop him? Life is unfair because these should be bestsellers.
3. Poisoned Pen Press cover art almost always blow donkey dick. They should try a new graphic artist.
4. Not as much SIG-Sauer love as in previous books.
5. Valya barely appears in this book.
6. The General is not the oppressive presence he has been before.
7. With Volk out of the crime lord business and no longer running whores and online porn the novels have changed a fair amount.

Quit: "Depths" by Henning Mankell

Quit: Depths by Henning Mankell, 2004, 9781595580894.

I tried this out after some personal and online recommendations but could not get into the story.

The North Atlantic interests me. Rolling seas and overcast skies with nothing in sight. No ships, no signs of land, no birds. I liked the cover photo that gives that same feeling.

After a few pages the story did not interest me and the writing - or translation - did not grab me at all. I set the book aside and never got back to reading it so I checked it back in. I have really enjoyed the Kurt Wallender novels. So it goes.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Crap Narration: "Accident" by Linwood Barclay

Crap Narration: Accident by Linwood Barclay, 2011, Overdrive download.

I was searching through Overdrive last night wanting to find something to listen on the drive to WLA in Milwaukee. I decided to try this out. The story seemed okay but I had to quit after less than 30 minutes from the emoting narrator.

Listened: "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter" by Tom Franklin

Listened: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin, 2010, Overdrive download.

Pretty decent but I don't know why it received as many awards as it did. I stayed interested throughout and when I was listening in the gym I paused a few times to focus on the story. But, I'm not sure if it is worth the multiple awards received.

Larry Ott is a loner by circumstance in rural MS. He was lonely as a kid and when in high school was suspected of murder after the disappearance of a girl he took on a date. Silas Jones is the local constable and has avoided Larry for the past 20 years. Larry is white and Silas is black and they were pals as kids. Secret pals. They never spoke at school and, once Silas moved away, they never hung out again. Race relations were not happy in late '70s, early '80s MS enough for black and white kids to hang out together at school.

Secrets come out as the story moves on. In the present day a local teen girl home from the U of MS has gone missing. Scary Larry is on everyone's suspect list. Silas got to know Larry pretty well and figures he's innocent of the second girl. Silas's own secret means he knows Larry is innocent of the first girl - but Silas has never said a word out loud about that.

Story follows from both Silas and Larry's POV. Larry is all alone. He has no friends and his only relative, his mother, has Alzheimer's. His car repair business has had no customers since he took over from his father about 15 years ago. He survives by selling off bits of the family's acreage to the local logging concern. His only interaction is with employees at KFC and the cashiers at WalMart. At one point Wallace Stringfellow - local boozer, user and loser - shows up and Larry seems to have a pal.

Silas is still famed for his baseball playing in high school and college. He's still called by his jersey number, 32, more then by his real name. He bounced around a bit playing baseball at U of MS, joined the Navy, was a campus cop in Oxford, and then took the hometown constable job. His mom is dead and he's mostly alone, except for a new girlfriend.

Things happen. Larry is shot in his home. Silas does seemingly unrelated police work. Flashbacks occur with Silas and Larry. Silas and his mom living in a dirt floor cabin on the Ott property. Larry coming out to make friends with Silas. Events, clues, and characters in the book tie up in the end.

Happy ending except for a massive dog bite, shoot-out, and dead Stringfellow.

1. Very good narration.
2. Not so much a crime novel as a story about two guys growing up in the post civil rights era South.
3. I never heard of spelling Mississippi by saying crooked letter for the S.
EDIT 4 November 2014. 4. In retrospect I think that this novel was pretty damn good. Franklin really takes you into the characters and the setting.  I read this three years ago and still recall quite a bit of the story and several notable events in the characters lives.