Saturday, September 29, 2012

Forced Finish: "In Transit" by Mavis Gallant

Forced Finish: In Transit by Mavis Gallant, 1988, 039457575x.

I think I requested this after reading a review of Gallant's work online.  Maybe by that Montreal guy who posts on Friday's forgotten books.  I read the first story and disliked it.  I liked the second story and decided to keep with it.  Nothing very good followed that second story.  I forced myself to finish rather than quit.

Gallant's brief bio on the flyleaf says she left Canada in1950 and moved around Europe before settling in France.  The stories are set around Europe with some French ones.  Many tales with characters from different nationalities interacting.  Different cultural views and behaviors cause conflict or misunderstanding.

Several family stories with unhappy people.  People with little optimism or faith in others. Disaffection.  Stuck in relationships. Unable to follow relationships.

1.  What the fuck?  How did he catch that fumble in stride and make a first down? (Watching WI vs. NE).
2.  Magill's Survey of World Literature: revised edition, 2009 has a piece about Gallant.  She went to 17 different schools as a kid.  Her father died when she was a kid, her mother left her with foster parents, she was taken in as a teen to a psychiatrist couple.  All these things are reflected in the stories.  Especially one piece where a woman remembers back to childhood summer at a cabin where her mother dramatically announced her leaving to be with the boyfriend who had been staying with them earlier.
3. I do not have the interest in reading the full Magill's piece but Gallant became a big deal in the '80s.  At least in Canada.  She also, and I did notice this, set her stories from post-WWII to the '70s.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Read: "Evil for Evil" by James R. Benn

Read: Evil for Evil by James R. Benn, 2009, 9781569475935.

The best thing about Benn's series is that he incorporates obscure events in the European and African campaigns.  Benn uses the real life IRA burglary of of U.S. Army depot in Northern Ireland to create the theft of 50 BARs and thousands of rounds of ammo.  Billy Boyle is sent from Jerusalem to help the Limeys.

Billy is a loyal Boston Irishman whose family supports the IRA.  He now has to work on behalf of the British authorities he has been raised to fear and hate.  Boyle is surprised to learn of the murderous behavior of the IRA.  Boyle investigates.

Several Irish and American characters. A couple Americans are murdered.  Black marketeering and bribes confuse things. Boyle learns about Unionist behavior and organizations.  Boyle learns about IRA history and operations.  Boyle learns about German operations with the IRA and German infiltration of Ireland.  Boyle needs a shower. Boyle learns of the split loyalties of many Northern Irish.

1.  I think the interior monologue of Billy get boring.  He frets over Diana.  He frets over his role in Ireland.  Blah blah blah.
2.  Fun and informative stuff.  Benn does good work.

Listened: "Columbine" by David Cullen

Listened: Columbine by David Cullen, 2009, download.

How to distill the book into a sentence?  No one knew what the hell was going on.  Before the murders.  During the murders.  After the murders. Then, as one person told a killer's parent,  Dylan isn't here anymore to hate, people are going to hate you ."  That blame extended far and wide, whether it was valid or not.

Cullen's work on this is stupendous.  The book is detailed and shows his involvement from the first 911 call to the last lawsuit.  I did not want to stop listening to the book.  When I did stop I did not want to restart because the story is so distressing to hear.

Cullen tells the tale in pieces.  The time in the school from first shot to police finding the bodies was about four hours.  Cullen alternates the story of those four hours with the long aftermath.  And it's the aftermath of an event like this that takes a toll.  Family and friends are left behind with varying levels of PTSD, survivor guilt, rage, and despair.  

Cullen strikingly dispels the one major myth that lasted in my mind:  Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were not bullied outsiders.  Heck, when looking from the outside at Eric and Dylan's school records and social behavior they were both great kids.  Both were very smart with good grades.  They held jobs outside of school.  They had a wide group of friends and Eric was a ladies man.  Their families were stable.  They happily participated in school activities like stage plays and they really enjoyed bowling and watching baseball.

The truth of the shooters is that Eric was a psychopath and Dylan was a depressive.  Both were bullies to their fellow students.  Both went on late night "raids" to vandalize the homes of other students who they disliked or considered weak.  Both had legal trouble including a felony vehicle burglary.

The Jefferson County Sheriff's Department comes in for A LOT of criticism for their reaction during the attack and parts of the ensuing investigation.  But, the detectives who ran the investigation were right on the freaking mark.  They had search warrants for the Klebold and Harris homes before the SWAT teams entered the school. The investigation of a mass murder is equally massive.

I won't try to summarize the book.  Here are some (reorganized) notes I made while listening.

The shooting:
Anarchy and panic during the shooting, how do the Police fight it and organize?  Standard police policy at the time was containment.  The shooters did not need containing, they were there to kill. Cops on the scene were incredibly frustrated because they were not allowed to assault the school.  SWAT teams were not allowed in.  Denver PD and other larger agencies were chomping at the bit and complaining about the po-dunk command decisions by Jeff County Sheriff Dep.

Part of the panic is rumor. What to believe? How to act with so much conflicting information? The shooting lasted for four hours with rumors passing along the airwaves with cell phone calls everywhere and on live TV. Cops pleading to tv stations to not release student locations on air for fear of shooters using the information.

Hostage takers versus thrill killers.  Hostage takers are safer to deal with.  They have a goal and will keep the hostages safe to reach the goal. Non-hostage takers are shooters, they want victims. They want control. Non-hostage takers are more emotional and irrational.

[My thought: Lucky that Eric and Dylan did not have rifles.  I think the short barreled shotguns and pistol caliber weapons meant some people lived.]  Students also fortunate that the many bombs Eric and Dylan brought in failed to ignite.  Dylan himself did not shoot much, he was there to die.  Eric shot a fair amount but, seemingly, got bored as psychopaths tend to do.

One buddy of Eric and Dylan went to the police command post in worry and was cuffed. Other friends knew it was a bad time to be their pals. Many students saw Eric and Dylan and identified them. Reporters keyed on "trench coat mafia" and students said all sorts of nonsense about goth and gay and everything. Even now those rumors stick with me.

The survivors:
Cullen gives a full primer in the physical and emotional reactions of victims.  Many were unable to cry, were emotionally shut down. Afterwards tears and sobs would erupt from nowhere for days.

National media microscope. Principal Frank getting conflicting advice on his own public behavior and how to help the kids.

Fundamentalist Christianity was a big deal in Jefferson County.  Spontaneous student prayer groups would form.  The whole story of Cassie Bernall's story was pushed and promoted by several pastors and the press took a hold of the tale.  The story of Cassie "saying 'yes'"was all a mistake anyway, told by a survivor who was confused and terrified during the attack.  One pastor spoke about how he "smelled Satan" there in Jeff County (Huh?) and then ranted on about trench coats and goth makeup.

The weirdness of PTSD. Some students were deeply effected but out of building at the time. Others saw the shootings but recovered quickly.

Reporters deserve credit for disbelievig the gay rumors that were spreading all over. They did fall for the goth and Marilyn Manson baloney.

Sheriff Dep Criticism:
Blatant lies by the Jeff County sheriff's office. Brooks Brown's was bullied and threatened by Eric and his family complained about Eric Harris to the Sheriffs office for over a year. They called 15 times. Brown family had printed out pages from Eric's website detailing his threats to Brooks and bragging about vandalism "missions".  JeffCo outright lied about the contact and the Sheriff linked Brooks to the killer's and said he was an accomplice. Sheriff investigators had drafted a complete and convincing affidavit for a search warrant for Eric to find bomb and bomb materials but never got the warrant. Eric had been experimenting with devices and timers.  JeffCo lied about it all.  Sheriff himself started rumors and falsely confirmed others when talking to the press.

The cover-up about investigating Harris was much, much worse than the error. They held a secret meeting to discuss ass-covering and hiding information. They lied about the previous affidavit and all investigations into Eric.

Eric and Dylan:
Eric wanted to terrorize outside the event - terrorize the nation or world. Columbine was meant as a public performance. He aimed at a high profile target and one that was his oppressor. The failed bombs had meant his intentions were completely missed. He came off as an angry loner.

 Eric was a charming and skilled psychopath.  Psychopaths enjoy lying. Tricking people is enjoyable, authorities are to be manipulated. Dylan did not try like Eric did. He was intending suicide anyway. He was shining Eric on about their murder plans.

Eric tricked his court appointed counselor in the post-felony diversion program. His personal interaction and written work was aimed for his audience. He would give so much - he was guilty, he feels awful - he masked his emotions and pretended. He had few emotions anyway.  Interesting comment that psychopaths who get treatment become worse; psychology counseling is a training ground to improve lying and deception.

The body count would have been higher but this was a fun event for them - not a body count. They got bored and wandered around.  They tried to set-off the dud bombs and gave up.

Both sets of parents looked out for their kids.  They protected their kids.  Wayne Harris did not believe any of his kids misbehavior as that bad. Wayne kept strict discipline in house and thought Eric was improving and changing his behavior.

Dylan was very depressed and suicidal. Boozing as self treatment. A rare suicide who takes it out on others. Eric used him as a tool.  Eric just wanted to kill and planned and prepared for over a year.

Both kids were good liars. No. Eric was an excellent liar. Judge bought it all, especially with supportive families there and both kids dressed properly and contrite, respectful.

Eric was a true psychopath. He killed to demonstrate his superiority and to enjoy it. People meant nothing to him.

FBI was lucky to have the skilled and experience psychologist with them. The final report was damn lucky to have him living there and responding to the emergency.

Very nice primer on psychopaths and history of the science of it's study. Emotions peak very low. Dogs have more empathy than psychopaths. Psychopaths get bored, even with murder. (That could explains BTKs long hibernation.)

Survivor guilt and PTSD. Staff and principal too. Many teachers reevaluated lives and started new careers. Principal knew he was struggling but still alienated family and divorced.

Plenty of lawsuits going around.  Many combined in the federal court.

Post columbine reactions. Zero tolerance everywhere. Guides to identify possible attackers focus on outsiders NOT being a treat. There is no profile   Shooters came from. All backgrounds. They are not loners and 98% planned it out  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Read: "Miss Don't Touch Me" by Hubert & Kerascoet

Read: Miss Don't Touch Me by Hubert and Kerscoet, 2007 (France), 2008 (English translation), 9781561635443.

Plugged a couple times by the Unshelved guys.  Both writer (Hubert) and artist (Kerscoet) use one name only.  I liked the artwork quite a bit; K. uses plenty of color and mixes in plainer, simpler panels with detailed street scenes and extravagantly decorated rooms.

Sisters Blanche and Agatha are housekeepers in 1930s Paris. Agatha is a party girl who regularly attends popular dances in the parks and woods of Paris.  A serial killer "Butcher of the Dances" has been killing women.  Blanche worries for Agatha.

In their shared attic bedroom Blanche hears a noise from the abandoned home adjoining their building.  Blanche peeks through a small hole in the wall and sees a dead woman and two men.  she runs to find Agatha.  Agatha disbelieves Blanche, peeks through the whole in the wall and is shot.  Blanche runs for the police.  Police arrive and find Agatha dead  with a pistol in her hand.    Blanche is kicked out of the employer's home for the scandal.

Blanche reads that the Butcher of the dance's most recent murdered victim was a hooker.  Blanche discovers the hooker worked a high end whore house.  Blanche determined to find out who killed the latest Butcher victim and sneaks in.  Blanche offered a dominatrix type job.  Blanche takes job as way to investigate.

Things happen.  Blanche clashes with several of the hookers.  Blache makes friends with one hooker.  Blanche suspects the whorehouse owner and his pal, Red.  Blanche gets Red thrown out.  Red is a vile woman-beater, rapist, and sadist.  Blanche chased by Red on the streets and ambushes him, killing him.  Blanche makes friends with tranvestite hooker.  Blanche kidnapped.  Tranvestite finds out what happens and rescues Blanche.  One hooker and a couple guys were kidnapping women from dances (and the occassional hooker) and offering them to sadistic clients who would beat them to death.  Blanche shoots the killer hooker.

1.  Interesting story and setting.  High end whorehouse with big name politicians, celebrities and industrialists as clients.  Yet, the women are forced to live in an attic dormitory and share beds.  The women have limited privileges and get to leave the building on with permission.
2.  Blanche is not that rounded as a character.  She is hell-bent on revenge and does not want anyone to touching her.  That's about it.
3.  Pimps are human garbage.
4.  Hookers is much easier to type than prostitute.
5.  There is a sequel.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Done: "Fun & Games" by Duane Swierczynski

Done: Fun and Games by Duane Swierczynski, 2011, 9780316133289.

Stupid fucking ampersand.  A very fun and fast moving book.  The kind of book that pluggers call "thrill ride" or "rollercoaster" or "adrenaline packed".  But, I won't.

Lane Whatsherface is a famous actress on a recent downward slide of booze, drugs, and bad behavior.  She's being chased along a twisty and dangerous canyon road.  Lane escapes her chaser and is rear-ended on the freeway.  Lane is being chased by killers.  The Accident People (later revealed).  At the rear-ending one Accident Person tries to inject Lane with a speedball.  Lane's death would be blamed on an overdose.  Lane grinds broken windshield glass into her attacker, escapes her wreck, jumps the highway barrier, and heads back into the Hills.

Charlie Hardie is a full-time housesitter who travels around the country to watch expensive homes owned by expensive people.  His current month-long job is in the Hollywood Hills. Charlie shows up and finds a scraped up, bloody, and high Lane hiding in a bathroom.  Lane stabs Charlie with a microphone stand.

Lane tries to convince Charlie people are after her.  Charlie is eventually convinced and Lane finally spills beans that her super important and famous actor ex-boyfriend ran over a child three years ago while Lane was car's passenger.  Lane's breakdown was a result of guilt.  Lane close to spilling beans publicly.  Accident People are called in to protect the financial investments that are dependent on Ex-Boyfriend's film successes.

Accident People who are after Lane are outside the Hills house trying to plot next moves for her suicide or accidental death.  Accident People are all former movie industry people hired to set and create alternate reality.  They speak in movie jargon and talk about "directing a production". They are vile.

Things happen.  Fist fights. Exotic poisons.  Fancy technology.  Connections to political and legal power.  House explosions.  Charlie repeatedly beaten, injected, poisoned, and still going.  Charlie and Lane escape the house. and Lane found.  Lane murdered.  Charlie escapes police custody.  Charlie goes to rescue victims of a subplot.  Everything ends unhappily with two more sequels to follow.

1. A good deal of fun with lots of detail on the Hollywood Hills setting.  Swizzlestikerinski writes in afterword that he got setting idea after visiting David J. Schow's house.  I did not really like Schow's Gabriel Hunt book.
2.  Sweerzinski writes very Victor Gischler-like.  Plenty of humor and action and interesting characters.
3.  A just checked in two Swyycczczinsski novels this morning.
4.  I had something else to add but cannot recall what it was. Oh, yeah.  One of the Accident People's regular actor murders is to dope up booze up the victim.  Not only do they end up murdering someone they ruin that person's reputation and name for history.  To me that is especially horrid.
5. Semi-gratuitous Alan Guthrie novel reference.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Done: "Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death" by Charlie Huston

Done: Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston, 2009, 9780345501110.

Very, very good.  Another Huston novel, another fuck-up as protagonist.  Huston almost always has really fun stuff.  I'm in the middle of a Duane Switzkerlyminskydee novel and the and the similar setting and humor keep mixing the two in my mind.  Spoilers to follow.

Web is a pain-in-the-ass-guy in his late 20s living in Los Angeles.  His roommate and best pal Chev owns a tattoo shop.  Web has no job but plenty of allusions are made to a traumatic past.  Po Sin picks up the tattoo shop's medical waste - bloody clothes, used tattoo needles - and knows Web.  Po Sin offers Web a day job.  Web just broke Chev's phone and also owes him rent money so he takes the $10 an hour gig.

Po Sin's main business service is cleaning biohazard.  Crime scenes, suicides, and decompsoing bodies are Po Sin's beat.  Insults and emotional distance are Web's beat.  Web meets grieving daughter at suicide clean-up.  Web and grieving daughter hit it off in a weird, post traumatic way.  The girl, Soledad, calls late at night to ask Web to clean blood from a motel room.  Motel room houses her dirtbag half brother and blood spray.

Web gets pulled into crime story involving Dirtbag Half Brother and Soledad.  Web bangs Soledad.  Web's boss's van is stolen.  Web is pulled into Po Sin's cleaning business rivalry subplot.  Web assaulted by other dirtbags.  Soledad kidnapped.  Web has to deliver Other Dirtbag's property to rescue Soledad.

Anyway.  Characters have lots of character.  Web deals with his estranged father.  Violence ensues.  Romance ensues.  Tales of PTSD ensue.  Web was a teacher on a school  field trip when his school bus drives through a gang gunfight.  Wisecracks are abundant.  Web wonders if Soledad killed her dad.  Everything ends happily ever after except for the dead people.

1.  Huston's standard dialogue with stops, starts, pauses, and half-finished sentences.
2.  Web comments on the surrealness of the situations he gets in.  Web's father was a famous screenwriter and movie plots versus reality are commented on.  Suspension of disbelief challenged by being discussed.
3.  Plenty of humor.
4.  The clean-up business seems to have brought this novel a fair amount of attention.  That is a fairly small part of the story.  I presume Huston heard about the business and thought it would be neat to write about.  The focus is on the characters not crime scene detail.
5.  I'm thinking this was nominated or won an Edgar or something.  I will not bother checking on this. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Fast Comic: "Baltimore: the plague ships" by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden

Fast Comic: Baltimore: the plague ships by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden, 2011, 9781595820.

Art by Ben Stenbeck who, I presume, also does the Hellboy series because the artwork is the same.  My summary is in chronological order, comic novel was not.

August, 1916 and World War I is over after a plague of vampires.  Lord Baltimore was a British infantry Captain.  Baltimore awoke in no man's land after a failed attack to see giant bats eating his dead men.  One bat goes after Baltimore but Baltimore slices the bat's face with a bayonet.

Baltimore awakes in field hospital minus one leg and with a recently-one-eyed (big red slice on face) stranger standing at his bedside.  Stranger saying he will get revenge on Baltimore.  That the bats were content to eat the dead but Baltimore has started a new war.  Baltimore heads home to find his family murdered.  His wife comes back to life as vampire and Baltimore must kill her and burn the whole family.  Baltimore kits up and goes vampire hunting.

Baltimore is in a coastal French town recently under siege by vampires.  Baltimore kills many vampires.  Baltimore jailed by cops.  Baltimore freed by local gal who wants Baltimore to take her out of town as he chases main vampire down the coast.

Baltimore and Gal catch a ship.  Ship sinks in storm.  Baltimore and Gal land on shipwreck island, island also home to an abandoned and sunken u-boat fleet.  Sunken ships contain many vampires and vampire zombies. Baltimore and Gal fight vampires. Baltimore and Gal return to coastal town.  Gal bids adieu. Baltimore continues his hunt.

1.  I liked the artwork.
2. Fast paced with nice flashbacks to fill in Baltimore's story.
3. I enjoy WWI settings. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Finished: "Murder in the Air" by Bill Crider

Finished: Murder in the Air by Bill Crider, 2010, 9780312386955.

Typical Sheriff Rhodes novel.  Lots of fun that ends too soon.  I do not know if Ivy Rhodes would argue.

Spoilers to follow.  Lester Hamilton owns a major chicken farming operation in Blacklin County.  Everyone living and working nearby hates Lester because the chicken manure stinks everything up.  (I know the feeling.)  Sheriff Dan Rhodes has plenty of suspects when Lester turns up drowned.

Rhodes has angry neighbors and inheritors to interview and investigate.  Deputy Ruth Grady makes several appearances.  Deputy Buddy gets in a snit.  Rhodes does not get beat up but does shoot on two separate occassions.

Aw, screw the plot summary.  The series is always worth reading and traveling Blacklin County through the eyes of the equally pragmatic and philosophical Rhodes is always a pleasure.

1.  Extremely gratuitous use Coyote Connection.  Including author, plot description and pub date.
2. New squad cars.
3.  Rhodes has a new gun.  Every other cop in the country gets something bigger.  Rhodes downgrades to a .32.  A County Commissioner trying to talk Rhodes into getting an M16.  A futile effort.
4. Gratuitously eccentric Seepy Benton.
5. Snotty community college English professor.
6.  Recurring theme of small town nostalgia by Rhodes and others.  The town is still there but so much has changed.
7.  Recurring theme: Rhodes and Ivy sex.
8.  Gratuitous Kingston Trio
9.  Memorized poetry.
10.  Bad puns.

Done: "The Keep" by F. Paul WIlson

Done: The Keep by F. Paul Wilson, 1981, 0688006264.

Okay, but not my taste.  Wilson sat at the same lunch table as I (me?) at Murder and Mayhem in Muskego a couple years ago.  Wilson is a good dude and I recall him saying this is the only novel of his to always stay in print.  Or maybe that was another novel.  Spoilers and long summary cometh.

SS Officer gets plum assignment to design, build, and run new concentration camps in Ploesti, Romania.  First, he has to solve a little problem at an outpost (out, out, outpost) in rural Romania.  Career German Officer, a Captain, had arrived a few days ago to a narrow valley that could act as a attack route by the Ruskies.  Captain and his troops billet themselves in a small.fortified structure overlooking the valley.  The structure is mysterious.  The structure's stone walls and round keep are inlaid with hundreds of brass and metal crosses.  One soldier thinks the brass is gold.  Soldier pulls out a stone and releases something evil.

Evil thing starts killing Krauts.  Evil appears as a light sucking darkness.  Captain calls for help.  SS Officer shows up.  SS Officer wants to follow usual SS procedure and just kill the locals until morale improves and problem is resolved.  Local Keep caretaker is beaten and says a Professor may know how to stop the trouble.

University Professor and Hot Daughter live in Bucahrest.  Professor and Daughter are both scholars but Daughter had been caretaker to the wheelchair bound Professor.  Professor and Daughter had studied the Keep for years.  They are Jews and under the gun.  SS show up and haul them to the Keep.  Professor told by SS Officer to fix the problem or he'll get fixed.

Meanwhile, mysterious redhead travels from Portugal to Romania.  Professor kept at keep.  Evil manifests into corporeal form.  I know it is corporeal because I checked the dictionary.  Evil tricks Professor.  Daughter sent to village.  Daughter meets Redhead.  Spinster Daughter has wet spot for Redheaded Dude.

More things happen.  Too many in the 347 pages to recap.  All ends well except for some dead Romanians who go evil from the evilness of the Evil Guy's evil. 

1.  I think the middle part of the novel lagged.  Things picked up once the Hot Daughter gets boinked by Redhead and I did not have to read about her 30-year-old spinsterishness.
2.  Nice paper in this 1981 copy.
3.  Wilson is popular with gun nerds because of the gun details in his Repairman Jack novels.
4.  When going to Muskego my main goal is to get in the lunch line early so I do not have to wait to eat.  If your goal is to suck-up to authors you should wait a bit until they are seated and then swoop in and harass them with questions.  Where do you get your ideas?  Will you read my manuscript?  When does the movie come out?  How much do you make?  Have you ever met George Clooney?