Monday, January 30, 2012

Quick Read: "Company K" by William March

Quick Read: Company K by William March, 1957 ( paper edition from Sagamore Press), LOC #57-9761.

I like WWI stories. I ran across a clip or promo for the movie version of this and decided to check it out. This copy was ILL'd from UW-Parkside. 183 pages.

March was William E Campbell. According to Literary Reference Center March joined the Marines for WWI, fought in several battles, and was awarded the DSC and Navy Cross. After the war March went into the overseas shipping business and thrived. He started writing short fiction in the '20s as therapy and Company K came out in 1933. He started writing full time in 1938. I've read that March's 1954 serial killer novel Bad Seed is his most famous. I read a description of Bad Seed and the plot sounds very familiar to something I recently read about online.

Anther source, a 1977 issue of Papers on Language and Literature, says March started writing when he was 15. That piece agrees his first short stories were therapy and first came out in '29.

Company K is written like Spoon River Anthology with many short stories told by multiple characters with no character telling more than one tale; and some telling their story from the grave. Each vignette is matter-of-fact; something that several reviewers remarked upon. Some characters are philosophical and doubting modern morality and truth. Other characters are murderous turds who believe every rumor they are told.

A key event in the novel - and one told by several characters - is the murder of a group of German prisoners. A Sergeant is commanded by an officer to kill some prisoners. He assigns a squad of automatic riflemen for the task. The corporal in charge is happy to do the job. The corporal is convinced the krauts send men over to surrender and those men then lie in wait to attack from the rear during a German attack. Another man sneaks back to rob the bodies. Others are sickened, one runs away, years later one last Marine is on death row refusing a chaplain's visit.

Like Spoon River Anthology I kept flipping back and forth trying to track down characters from story to story. An annotated edition with a complete index would be ideal. This is worth re-reading to try and connect all the characters. But, I have too many other books to get to.

1. One character is gassed and blinded. Left in a dugout he hears and feels an artillery barrage and then hears the German attack. Gas seeps into his dugout and he feels his way out, helpless. The Germans kill him. I felt sorrow for his death and then felt conflicted when a later story showed what a shit he was.
2. Lots of gas attacks.
3. Incompetent officers.
4. An officer whose pride makes him ignore an NCO's advice and gets people killed.
5. I never did get around to reading Sassoon's third novel in his autobio sequence.
6. During my freshman year at Gustavus we had a wrestling practice with Parkside during our J-term trip and I got clobbered. That was humiliating.
7. A bio of March came out in 1985 or so. I won't read it but wonder what he did during WWII. I would think his shipping experience would have been valued. Would he have wanted to re-enlist? Did he fall into the bottle like so many contemporaries?
8. EDIT: A few entries ago I was recalling that all the recent books i read had prostitutes. This did too. One soldier is encouraged to lose his virginity and is set-up with a French hooker by his pals.

Done: "The Case of the Not-So-Nice Nurse" by Mabel Maney

Done: The Case of the Not-So-Nice Nurse by Mabel Maney, 1993, 093941676x.

I saw the novel's cover illustration online. Probably something Christa Faust linked to. I'm surprised the book was in the catalog; Watertown owns it. According to the book bio and wikipedia Maney is from WI. I presume much of the book bio is silliness.

If you read this in expectation of hot lesbo action you will be disappointed. If you read this in expectation of a silly mix of lesbian characters and Nancy Drew detective fiction you will be happy.

Cherry Aimless is a new nurse in Seattle General Hospital circa 1955 or so. Cherry is incredibly earnest and devoted to her work. No matter how much her mother hopes her to find a man the doctors and interns just don't interest her. A Seattle General patient has amnesia and Cherry is sure she can sleuth her identity but then the patient goes missing! Oh dear!

Cherry is due to vacation in San Francisco and visit her aunt. The head nurse requests Cherry drop off a gift in Oregon during her drive. Cherry is followed by mysterious men. Men try to steal away the gift. Cherry visits her parents and then goes to Oregon town to drop gift. Cherry lost the address and is directed to a bar to ask around. How strange, all the bar patrons are women. One women seems particularly interested in Cherry. How darling!

Cherry meets a gal who looks just like her and then meets that gal's close friend and roommate. They are the people she is looking for. What a coincidence! New friend is mistaken for Cherry and is kidnapped! Oh no!

Cherry and roommate head to SF. Cherry searches for famous girl detective Nancy Clue who is visiting SF. Cherry and Nancy meet and head back to Nancy's hotel. (Presumably hot lesbo action happens.) Cherry's aunt is missing. Nuns are involved. Priests are involved. Men are so crude, foul, and rude! More mystery. Kidnappings. Derring do. Plucky teenager involved. Nuns are rescued from scheming priests.

Cherry heads to parent's house to nurse her injured father. Cherry misses Nancy terribly. Nancy and co. come to town to enlist Cherry to solve new and urgent mystery.

1. Silliness of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries. Lots of coincidences and plucky action.
2. Cherry's dad is a bump on a log who returns home from work and sits in a chair until dinner and bedtime.
3. Many descriptions of clothes and shoes. How cute!
4. Good natured earnestness and optimism.
5. Sex puns.
6. This only numbers 184 pages and I thought it went about 20-30 pages too long.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Heard: "Concrete Blonde" by Michael Connelly

Heard: Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly, 1994 (print), downloaded from

There was a recent online discussion about serial killer novels and respondents posted whether they liked them. This came out in 1994 which, if I remember correctly, was during the height of serial killer popularity. Listening to it now, in 2012, it is passe.

Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch is an LAPD detective. He used to be in the elite Robbery-Homicide unit until he killed a serial killer four years before. The killer, nicknamed the Dollmaker, was guilty, but Bosch got in administrative trouble for not calling for help before the confrontation and was subsequently transferred. Now, Bosch is being sued in federal court for denying due process to the dead guy and faking the evidence against him (he didn't).

At the beginning of the trial a note is dropped off at a police station claiming the writer is the Dollmaker and still killing. The note leads to a body encased in concrete. The concrete covered blonde fits the killer's pattern and has a specific tell-tale clue. Bosch starts to worry a bit.

Bosch is under pressure from the court case. Bosch is under pressure thinking he may have screwed up. Bosch is also dating the widow of a policeman whose death Bosch investigated. Bosch is under pressure from girlfriend who wants more emotional connection.

Bosch investigates. Opposing trial attorney is skilled and ruthless. LAPD Lieutenant is an ass. Bosch's city lawyer is inexperienced and fat. Bosch and others investigate and figure note writer is a copycat killer. Bosch has a suspect. Oops, wrong guy. Bosch has another suspect. Oops, wrong guy again. Bosch has a third suspect. Oh good, the correct guy. Bosch and girlfriend reconnect. Everyone lives happily ever after except for the dead people.

1. The first Bosch book I read/listened to. The Mickey Haller series is quite good.
2. Connelly with an E not an O.
3. Three main topics: the trial, the murder investigation, Harry's troubled brain.
4. Harry is one of crime fiction's shut down dudes. He never knew his father, his mother was a murdered street walker, he was foster homed, time in Vietnam, time in the police department. He doesn't drink too much like other Shut Down Dudes be he has difficulty connecting with people. Anyone outside of police work is dismissed for their naivety. Harry knows he is emotionally closed off. Harry wants to speak to Girlfriend about his life but is incapable of doing so.
5. One reason I never tried reading these novels is the name Hieronymus. It made the book sound gimmicky.
6. Harry does not like porn, the pron industry, or the results he sees on the actors.
7. I don't recall what physical description Connelly gave Bosch but Bosch must be a smaller guy to have been a tunnel rat.
8. Harry is often the "grouchy cop." He can be a real dickhead.
9. Indoor smoking at bars.
10. No cell phones.
11. Beepers.
12. Narration by Dick Hill is sub par. Sometimes Hill really annoys me. He adds in throat clearing, whiny voices, grunts, and uhms. His female voices are almost always whiny and meek.
13. Harry really dislikes young lawyers questioning his experience and theories.
14. Henry Weinhard beer. I'm pretty sure I used to buy that in Arizona.

Quit Listening: "Stalking the Angel" by Robert Crais

Quit Listening: Stalking the Angel by Robert Crais, Overdrive download.

I listened to this three and half years ago. To my credit I quickly recognized the novel while listening, even if I did not recognize the title.

I remember the finale including a lakeside house assaulted by Pike and Cole. And lots of Japanese guys.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Quit Listening:"Thirteen Hours" by Deon Meyer

Quit Listening: Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer, 2009, downloaded from

I am unable to keep track of all the Dutch and African names in an audio version. I will read the book instead.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Finished: "Save the Last Bullet for Yourself" by Rob Krott

Finished: Save the Last Bullet For Yourself: a soldier of fortune in the Balkans and Somalia by Rob Krott, 2008, 9781932033953.

I was not entirely sure what to make of this or what to think of Krott. In the end I decided to not interpret his actions and thoughts into any moral discussion but take the book for what it is, an adventure story. An entertaining book.

Krott joined the Army at seventeen and over several years, into his early twenties, advanced through the Army, finished college, deployed to Korea, took several Army training courses, attended Harvard, and did anthropology research in Africa. This book does not give a clear timeline of all of Krott's travels overseas, his jobs, his girlfriends, his gunfights and his many pals and acquaintances. During that time Krott also wrote for Soldier of Fortune magazine and became somewhat well known among that community.

After leaving the Army Krott was 26-years-old and bored with civilian life. He quit his job with the federal prisons to join the Croat Army as a foreign volunteer. Krott's was next hired by a civilian contractor to hire, train, and manage native Somalias (living in the U.S.) to work as translators in Somalia in '93. After Somalia he returned to Croatia and joined a different unit.

Along the way Krott tells plenty of stories about Army buddies, mercenary buddies, nuttiness, idiots, and bureaucratic mayhem. I took three main things away from the book:
1 - Mercenaries are not. There is usually no money in the work. The people who show up are adventurers. Some are there to fight for what they believe in. Some are just there to fight.
I suppose the recent dependence on contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan has radically changed the business. Pay is much better (hell, everyone in the U.S. is footing the bill) and they can hire capable and trained people.
2 - Most Croats, Serbs, and Bosnians were clueless about military operations. Joe Sacco showed some of that. Their organization and skill was no different than me grabbing a rifle from the basement, throwing on surplus camouflage, and going out to fight. Krott and other experienced soldiers were best used when they developed and led infantry training. How do you walk through the woods? How do you use a machine gun? Where do you use a machine gun? How attack? How defend?
3 - I forgot the third one.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Finished Few Days Ago: "Cluck" by Susan Troller

Finished A Few Days Ago: Cluck: from jungle fowl to city chicks by Susan Troller, art by SV Medaris, 2011, 9780981516134.

A committee read. Much more interesting than I expected. Various stories by Troller and a couple other writers about raising chickens. These are small flocks for personal consumption of eggs and meat - but mostly eggs.

Chickens are stupid but have much more personality and behavioral tics than I ever knew. The pecking order among different species is odd, too. One cock was a mean mofo and would attack anything. Except for one certain cat. Anyone carrying that cat through the barnyard was assured of safety from the cock. The intelligence of raccoons to get chickens. All dogs will inevitably stop resisting the urge to chase and chomp chicks and chickens. Hawks and eagles cause a scurrying of fowl.

A couple stories by a grown-up farm kid were about his family more than the fowl. Stoller had interesting comments comparing chickens to velociraptors. Chickens will eat anything and will cannibalize when given the opportunity. Stoller would look at her chickens with a fondness and could, seemingly, feel that same affection from them. But, she would look in their beady little eyes and remember that, given the chance, the little bastards would eat her.

Some of the artwork by Medaris was quite impressive. Especially since I don't give a rat's ass about chicken paintings.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Done: "Katyn Order" by Douglas W. Jacobson

Done: Katyn Order by Douglas W. Jacobson, 2010, 9781590135723.

Average novel. The topic and war setting were neat but the characters did not grab me.

Adam Nowak is an assassin in occupied Poland. Adam partly grew up in Poland, emigrated to the US with his father, joined the US Army, was discharged, went back to Poland, was kicked out of Poland to London, joined the OSS.

Natalia's family was murdered by the Russians and Germans when Poland was cut in half. Natalia works as a train conductor and also couriers messages for a resistance group. During the Warsaw revolution (not the earlier ghetto uprising) she works for the armed resistance, the AK.

Natalia and Adam meet during the uprising. The Germans are slaughtering civilians and shelling everything. The Russians are camped on the other side of the river, refusing to assist the Poles. Natalia and Adam make a emotional/romantic connection but are separated.

After the krauts are defeated Adam is sent by the OSS to do something in Poland. I cannot remember what. The plot got a little confusing for me. Anyway, he is also looking for his Polish uncle who was rounded up by the dirty, rotten, filthy, stinking nazis. Adam searches the records of a camp and starts tracking down his uncle.

Adam enlists Natalia help. Adam and Natalia find evidence that a copy of the order by Stalin and co. ordering the mass murder of Polish civilians and soldiers. Intrigue ensues. NKVD is vicious. Adam and Natalia do the deed. More intrigue with Russians, Poles, and Brits. Much discussion of WWII events. Mostly happy ending except for all the dead Poles and the murderous Soviets taking over.

1. Jacobson did well in illustrating a part of WWII history that most people are probably unaware of. I was.
2. The Poles got fucked. First the nazis and Soviets split the country in half and murder a bunch of people. Then the nazis head East, take over the country and kill some more people. Then the Soviets drive nazis out, kill more people, and grind them under the boot heel for 40 years.
3. I thought the novel should have been shorter and the story simplified a bit with some editing. But, what do I know?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Listened: "'Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat'" by John Lukacs

Listened: "Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat": The Dire Warning—Churchill’s First Speech as Prime Minister by John Lukacs, 2008 (audio anyway), OverDrive download.

A BBC Audiobooks program. I'm not sure if this is a book or a radio production.BBC radio productions often include multiple voices. Let me look....according to the weasels at wikipedia it's a book. Narrated by the Great and Mighty John Lee.

Centered around Churchill's early 1940 speech right after he was installed as PM. The speech to Parliament was not even broadcast. The key sentence used for the book title was actually was misquoted by BBC radio and the newspapers.

Churchill knew they were in trouble. At that point the krauts were still working into the low countries, and France. Churchill's position was in trouble as well. He was not a well liked or trusted man. Churchill took over from Chamberlain but Chamberlain was still very popular among MPs and was the party leader.

Churchill's position as PM was precarious for the first several months. His "years in the wilderness" were foremost in people's minds. His reputation as an outsider, or even a crockpot, had been earned and carried on. It took a few months for many politicians and policy people to believe in Churchill. Even those in his cabinet took time to arm to him and develop loyalty.

1940 was very much in flux as the Germans kept driving on. The British public were unaware of the task and threat ahead of them but Churchill was aware and the Blood reference was a clue to that. Churchill wrote all his speeches but was not that great a speaker. The content of his speeches 'built up' over time with the populace. Events and reminders by Churchill clued the Limeys that the fight was going to be long and bloody. Many Brits still thought they could swoop in and clobber the dirty, rotten, filthy stinking nazis.

In fact, there was the very real prospect that the British may have to surrender to Germany. But, Churchill absolutely refused to even consider the idea. Churchill immediately knew the need for the U.S. to join the war either materially or martially. He asked for assistance in personal correspondence with Roosevelt and in public speaking.

Churchill also knew that Hitler would invade Russia if he did not invade England. As the momentum turned Churchill feared the Russian advance into Eastern Europe and proposed going North through Italy into Europe rather than through France. (Did I remember that correctly? I think so.)

1. The book is a little odd. Lukacs at first focuses on that first, overlooked speech as a good key to understanding Churchill and his initial policies and ideas. Then he just runs on through a few other speeches and the war.
2. The book was still interesting and only three hours long.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Listened: "Fallen" by T. Jefferson Parker

Listened: Fallen by T. Jefferson Parker, 2006. OverDrive download.

I'm a big fan of Parker's Charlie Hood series, the latest one came in the mail today. Fallen's hook is the main character's synesthesia.

Robbie Brownlaw is only 29 years old but a homicide detective for the San Diego Police Department. When running into a burning residential hotel to help evacuate people the arsonist responsible threw Brownlaw out a window. Brownlaw fell through an awning with a hard landing on concrete. Subsequently, Brownlaw sees colored geometric shapes when people speak. The shapes correlate to deception, envy, earnestness, fear, etc. He has kept the synesthesia a secret but uses it as a rough lie detector.

Brownlaw gets the murder case for a murdered ethics investigator for the city, Garrett. Garrett's ethics investigations involved financial chicanery and prostitution. Several political big wigs, police officers, and firemen were involved. There are many suspects.

Meanwhile, Brownlaw's wife has left him. She wants something else. Something more. Brownlaw won't tell anyone, including his partner, about his wife. Brownlaw investigates. Brownlaw digs into Garrett's past. Brownlaw pines for his wife and tries to speak with her. Garrett's daughter drowned and he separated from his gorgeous wife. Brownlaw ponders.

Whores are interviewed not "interviewed". Brownlaw's cop partner dates a super wealthy technology guy after they question him. Madam for high-end whores is a real weasel. Madam's muscle is a scumbag. Brownlaw figures it all out. Shoot-out at the end. Brownlaw starts to recover from missing wife and head trauma aftermath. Brownlaw hot for fellow synesthete gal musician in the end.

1. Recurring Parker themes: Lots of driving. Hot, young, musician chicks playing live music.
2. Everyone refers to San Diego as America's Finest City. They all believe it and want to keep scandal away from the city.
3. 1911 love.
4. Ferrari love.
5. Brownlaw is coping with several issues. His new synesthesia. His wife leaving him. Local celebrity after his fall was caught on video and endlessly replayed. Pressure to solve a politically sensitive case.
6. Parker does good work.
7. The synesthesia is not that important to the story. Don' expect constant description and discussion of the syndrome and Brownlaw's reactions to it. This is a fairly straightforward procedural with some good characters.
8. San Diego mega-love. The audio version did not give that slogan sarcastically. I wonder if Parker meant for some characters to be critical of it. I wonder if I would have come away with a different perspective by reading instead of listening.
9. When my brother whacked his head he didn't develop synesthesia. He lost his sense of smell instead.
10. Grammatical errors are common. But, I'm still peeved when finding them.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Done: "Road to Purgatory" by Max Allan Collins

Done: Road to Purgatory by Max Allan Collins, 2004, 0060540273.

I couldn't get into this one. It did not grab me. I ordered the third novel in the series, a comic book novel again, and that arrived at work yesterday. I read some comments by Collins, maybe on his blog, that he really liked the illustrations in the first novel. Obviously, Collins and my preferred illustration styles do not match. I'll read the novel anyway.

Michael O'Sullivan was left orphaned at the end of Road to Perdition. He is adopted by an Italian family in DeKalb and his name changed to Satariano. Michael joins the service in 1939 (or so) and is in the Philippines fighting the Japanese. Michael is brave, Michael kills many Japs. Michael is wounded and loses an eye, Michael is evacuated off Luzon, Michael is awarded CMH.

Michael goes on war bond tour. Michael comes home to high school girlfriend in DeKalb. Michael bonks girl in back seat of Buick. Michael is a bit of a mess. He suffered under his father's care. He feels guilt about banging Filipino whores. He feels guilt for killing hundreds of Japs. He dumps the girlfriend and is hired by Elliott Ness to go undercover in the outfit. Michael is cool with going undercover. He wants revenge on Al Capone who arranged to have O'Sullivan senior killed.

Michael moves up in the mob and works for Frank Nitti. He murders a few goons in Indiana and is trusted. Michael sent to Capone's place in Florida as an advance security guy ahead of a visit by Nitti. Michael takes the opportunity for revenge. Bloodbath ensues. Capone is a syphilitic wreck. Michael distraught at his missed chance for revenge because Capone's mental state is that of a three year old.

Florida bloodbath mistaken as heroics by Michael to protect Capone. Michael is now a made man. Michael is the second man behind Nitti. Michael is a big deal. Michael is banging a madam and nightclub owner for the outfit. Michael is working for himself not Ness. Outfit power play ensues. Nitti is under pressure. Michael is told Nitti arranged his father's death. That makes sense. Nitti dies. Michael's whore girlfriend murdered (okay, she was the madam not the whore). Michael told by new boss how family is safe and he needs to get one. Michael goes back to DeKalb and proposes to old girlfriend. She knows his real business and will never ask about it.

1. Michael is a freaking mess. He is almost incapable of love. His strongest emotions are revenge and anger. His best work is violence. He has a fondness for his adoptive parents - who love him deeply - but cannot make a deeper emotional connection. Ha! I knew the kid was a mess from Perdition!
2. CMH awardees are everyone's favorite during the parades and speeches but they cannot get a hello a couple months later. Eastwood did a great job in pointing that out in Flags. Think of the Marine who was just awarded the CMH for action in Afghanistan and was getting slurred and sued by his freaking employer a few weeks ago.
3. As usual Collins mixes real characters into his fiction. When I was in middle school and high school my parents subscribed to the Chicago Tribune for me. I remember a long article that rehashed Nitti's suicide along the train tracks with a .32. I remember - do not know if I am right - that Nitti shot himself 2-3 times with the .32.
4. You know likes .32 revolvers? Parker.
5. 1911 love.
6. Period car love.
7. It seems like every novel I read lately has prostitutes. Every novel I read is a crime novel. Go figure.
8. We have a memoir here, Guerrilla Daughter, by a lady who was a girl during the war whose father and brothers fought as guerrillas in the Philippines against the Japanese. I really should get around to reading that. It has only checked out three times.