Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Done: "The Consummata" by Mickey Spillane and Max Alan Collins

Done: Consummata by Mickey Spillane and Max Alan Collins, 1969/2011,

Pretty damn good.  The story behind this is that Spillane wrote a novel featuring a new character, Morgan the Raider.  The novel did very well.  The novel was optioned for television.  Spillane worked on the TV project.  Spillane was so disgusted with the process he shelved Consummata before he finished.  Years later he handed over Consummata to Collins (along with everything else literary) and Collins finished the novel.  The great and mighty Hard Case Crime then published Consummata to my acclaim (a year and a half late).

Spoilers ahead.

It's the late 1960's and Morgan the Raider is on the run from the feds.  He's walking through Miami when he spots his tail. Make that tails. Morgan is boxed and sees an approaching ambush.  Morgan figures his free time is up.  Morgan is suddenly whisked and squirreled away by Cuban expatriates who see Morgan as a hero.

Morgan is shut up in a wall for a few hours and, after being let out, learns the local Cubans are looking for a Cuban agent who stole $75,000 from their anti-Castro group.  Bad Guy Cuban has already killed three good guy Cubans who tracked him down.  Morgan offers to find the guy and recover the money - for a finder's fee of course.

Things happen.  You learn about Morgan's past and his reason for running from the feds.  You learn Morgan married-for-real the CIA agent who posed as his wife when the CIA pressured him into working for him.  Morgan teams up with a Cuban hooker in hunt for Bad Guy Cuban.  Morgan's hotel room is bombed.  Morgan investigates bombing to find Bad Guy Cuban and find out who leaked the hotel information.

Morgan never consummated his marriage with CIA Wife.  Morgan has the sex with Cuban hooker.  Morgan almost has the sex with old acquaintance who is also whore's Madam.  Morgan kills an assassin.  Morgan kills another assassin.  Morgan's CIA Wife shows up.  Morgan makes temp truce with CIA.  Morgan and CIA Wife do the sex.  Morgan finally tracks down Bad Guy Cuban at sex party held by famous dominatrix, Consummata, on a private Florida island.  Cuban traitor revealed.  Morgan kills CIA boss who set him up and caused all the original CIA trouble.

1.  Ever since Collins wrote about his collaborations and the percentages of work by each author I wonder how much of each project Spillane completed.  Some of Spillane's work was only outlines and notes, some was almost finished.  Collins probably wrote in more detail about Consummata's process, but will I scroll through his blog to find out?  Hell no.
2.  I don't know if there will be a third Morgan book.  I'll read it if there is.
3.  Glock anachronism.
4.  Sexy sex.  But not too much sex.
5.  Violence.  But not too much violence.
6.  I wonder what Christa Faust would say about Morgan's comments on the sado-masochism scene that Bad Guy Cuban is involved in.
7.  Sometimes Collins's books make me say, "Meh."
8.  Sometimes Collins's books make me say, "Yeah!"  This was a "Yeah!"
9.  I should try out those Mike Hammer audios done by Stacy Keach.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Finally Done: "American Dervish" by Ayad Akhtar

Finally Done: American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar, 2012, 9780316183314.

Committee book.  Spoilers await.

12-year-old Hayat lives in a Milwaukee suburb in the early '80s.  Hayat is the American born son of Pakistani parents.  Hayat has religious awakening and emotional trauma.  Hayat grows up.  Hayat tells neat little epilogue at the end.
Hayat is overly protected by his mother.  She has not intergrated into American culture like Hayat's father.  His father is a research neurologist and serial philanderer.  His mother is almost always angry with the dad and shares way too much information with Hayat.  She tells Hayat of his father's "white whores" and how awful Muslim men act towards women.

Mom's best friend Mina lives in Pakistan and is recently divorced with a 4-year-old son.  Mom convinces Mina to come over to the U.S.  Hayat falls in tweener love with Mina.  Hayat does not know about sex.  Hayat's feelings are confused.  Hayat is lonely.

Mina starts telling Hayat about Muhammed, reading from the Koran, and tells tales about religious devotees and their religious bliss.  Mina is a progressive Muslim but still devoted.  Hayat's religious fervor builds and he wants to become a Hafiz - someone who has memorized the Koran.  Hayat's father has completely rejected Islam and he thinks it is dangerous foolishness. Mom is not religious but has not purposefully so like Dad.

Things happen.  Mina meets Dad's research partner, Nate.  Mina and Nate hit if off.  A very chaste, South Asian-style romance and courtship begins.  Nate decides to convert to Islam and grows a beard.  Dad says, "You don't want to go the Mosque, man."  Dad, Nate and Hayat go to mosque.  Local iman is fat and much disliked by Dad.  Local iman gives sermon on how Jews are evil.  Nate, born a Jew, stands up and speaks out.  Dad, Nate, and Hayat beat feet.

Nate and Mina's romance falls apart with that and Hayat's sabotage.  Hayat wants everything to stay the same with Mina giving him lots of attention and living with his family.  Hayat sends a telegram to her family in  Pakistan saying Mina is engaged to an unbeliever.

Mina is courted by local Pakistani's cousin.  Dad hates the local Pakistani.  Cousin is a weaselly looking dude but good to Mina's son.  They marry.  Wedding is a eye-opener for Hayat as he hears about sex from a couple older kids and walks by a bar where his Dad is sucking face with some woman.

Mina's husband is abusive.   Mina moves with him to Kansas City.  Mina has to secretly communicate with Mom.  Mina gets cancer when Hayat is older.  Hayat confesses to her about the telegram.  Mina has been through an awful difficult life but is still religious and easily forgives Hayat.  She wants him to be happy.  Mina accepts life as God's decision.  Hayat quit religion a while ago.

1.  Not for me.  The topic of tweener issues and family turmoil usually creep me out. 
2.  Things did not pick up for me until Mina dumps Nate and starts dating the Weasel.  The interactions between Dad and the local Pakistanis was most interesting.  The wedding was interesting.
3.  The cover photo was a good catch with a kid the same age as Hayat riding a bike in the suburbs.
4.  Akhtar shaved his head.  Where was this guy from, Elm Grove or something?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Done: "Mr. Monk is a Mess" by Lee Goldberg

Done: Mr. Monk is a Mess by Lee Goldberg, 2012, 9780451236876.

Yes, he is.

All these novels are told by Monk's assistant, Natalie.  The books have to be told that way.  If Monk narrated the story everything would be told by bullet pointed lists with lectures on cleanliness.

Natalie and Monk are in New Jersey working as cops for the police department now run by Randy Dischler. Goldberg gives his Dischler more brains and skills than the television version.  Monk and Natalie are offered full-time jobs by Dischler and return to San Francisco to pack up and move to New Jersey.

Natalie gets home and finds a dead woman in her bathtub.  Things happen.  Someone else dies.  The FBI accuses Monk and Natalie of stealing a few hundred thousand bucks from the FBI evidence room.  Monk is nuts and self-absorbed.  Monk's brother is nuts and missing his new girlfriend.  Monk does not want to help find his brother's tattooed girlfriend.  Natalie has to threaten and cajole Monk to do the things he does not want to do.  Monk figures everything out.

1.  These novels are as much about Natalie as Monk   This one is even more of a Natalie book. Natalie's daughter is out of the house in college.  Natalie is now a police officer.  Natalie has proven herself as a perceptive and observant investigator.  Natalie knows she needs to keep moving past the memory of her dead husband.

Finished: "Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner" by Alan Sillitoe

Finished: Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe, 1959, 0452269083 (1992 paperback).

Is this forgotten?  Maybe it is.  I first heard of the title 20+ years ago when I regularly read film commentary. Sillitoe was of the "Angry Young Men" school of British writing.  Sillitoe dismissed the label even though one fan and reviewer of a 2008 biography of Sillitoe called him "the angriest".  Loneliness and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958 novel) made Sillitoe's reputation and career.  His career had middling success after those two books (if you can call any 50 year career as a working writer as "middling") until 1989's autobiographical The Open Door which brought much praise.

Sillitoe's autobiographical based work seems to have had the most power.  His stories used the neighborhoods, slums, and families he grew up in.  Sillitoe was one of five kids raised by a sometimes prostitute mother and a violent, occasionally employed father.  The family moved from slum to slum evading landlords seeking rent. Loneliness is set among the working class and dole-taking families of industrial England.  The stories are set from the '30s through the '50s and often told from the perspective of adolescents and children.  Sillitoe had a great feel for kid characters and I am not surprised he wrote several books for children.

The kid narrators in some of the stories are often small time, opportunistic crooks.  They are threatened with Borstal schools (youth detention centers), are hungry, barely tolerating school, and faced with a life sentence at the local factory.  The families are often violent or drunk.  Pawn shops take in Sunday suits so people can buy food before pay day.  

The title story in Loneliness brings all the above elements, and Sillitoe's own rebellious nature, together.  Loneliness's main character is sent to a Borstal and taken with cross country running.  He keeps winning races and is allowed to leave the Borstal by himself for early morning training.  The Borstal's administrator talks up the runner as the next Borstal champion, but the runner wants nothing of it.  The runner rejects Borstal and most of society.  The runner identifies himself as a crook and wants to stay that way.  After trouncing the competition during the championship race he throws the race right at the finish line by stopping short, in full view of the crowd and administrator, and letting the other runners pass him by.

Sillitoe's background and early work history could have pegged him into the same life as one of his ne'er-do-well characters.  He quit school at 14.  Worked in factories a couple years and joined the Air Force.  He caught TB and spent 16 months in a military hospital.  After his discharge in 1949 he traveled Europe off his service medical stipend and started writing in earnest.  Sillitoe was an autodidact whose writing matured and improved over his career (or so I read).  Sillitoe escaped the slums but never gave up the memories or tried to join the upper class.

1.  My favorite story was Fishing-Boat Picture.  A postal worker relays his failed marriage, love of books, simple life alone, and the strange return of his wife who asks for money every month.
2.  I like semi-colons.
3. The above mentioned reviewer of the Sillitoe biography says Sillitoe's work was "entirely free of the miserable fatalism" of working class stories.  But, the work is hard-edged.  These stories are as much part of a "this is life, suck it up" school than "angry young man." The characters see a future - one kid studies maps for a future escape once he gains maturity - but know things are never easy.
4. Only 176 pages long and worth the effort with it's look into an unsentimental, but not overwrought, look at being poor in mid-20th Century England.
5.  Sillitoe's work had a double effect on England as his movie adaptations joined the "Angry Young Man" revolution in film of '58 to '65 (or so).

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Listened: "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand

Listened: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, 2010, Overdrive.com download.

If I remember correctly this was on the bestseller charts for quite a while.  No surprise since this is a great story.

Louie Zamperini grows up poor in Torrance, CA in the '20s and '30s. He's a handful and always getting in trouble.  Once he is in middle school - or so- Louie starts burglarizing the neighborhood and taking food and baked goods.  Louie is often in trouble but his older brother gets him involved in track.

Louie is great at distance running.  Louie wins races across the L.A. area and devotes himself to training.  Louie ends up wining a few trials races and joining the '36 Olympic team.  Louie finishes low in the ranking - he's too young and inexperienced to rival the best runners. Louie heads back to CA and USC and trains for the next Olympics.

The '40 Olympics are cancelled and Louie joins the Army Air Force and becomes a bombardier on B-24s.  Louie is posted to Hawaii.  Louie drinks and plays pranks.  Louie almost runs a four minute mile in sand. Louie has a few combat missions and his plane crashes on a search and rescue mission for another crew.  Louie and two others drift for 47 (or so) days.  One guy dies.  Japanese capture Louie and his pilot.  Louie and pilot shipped from island to island and then to Japan.  Louie shipped from prison to prison.  Louie suffers under horrible and sadistic guards.  The worst tormentor is the mentally unbalanced "Bird".

Louie survives the camps.  Louie does not adjust upon return.  Louie was already a star in Los Angeles for his running victories and his war hero status gains him many free drinks that assist his new hard core drinking. Louie boozes it up hard and heavy for 2-3 years until a religious awakening at a Billy Graham tent show.  Louie turns himself around.  Louie remains spry.  Louie carries the torch in several Olympics.  Louie carries torch at Nagano Olympics.

NBC network interviews the Bird as part of a television profile of Louie.  The Bird escaped arrest in 1945 and was included in a politically expedient mass-pardon of war criminals a few years later.  Bird is unrepentant for the many, many, many, many, many. many awful things he did.

1.  Many reminders of Max Hastings's Retribution.
- Hastings wrote about the high failure rate for U.S. planes.  The B-29 is a godsend to the POWs in this book.  In Hastings's book it was as much a deathtrap as the B-24 was here.
- Japanese brutality.  This is POW (or PW as they were then called) abuse and murder.  Hastings covered the many civilian abuses as well.  Especially during the battle for the U.S. to reclaim Manila.
- Incredible cruelty of people.  This sent my thoughts off on a tangent about state-sponsored and supported cruelty.  That creating rules and giving orders makes the behavior more palatable to the abuser.    People are given permission.  Give something a scientific bent with physician approved rules and that makes it okay.  It's okay to sterilize mentally disabled people.  It's okay to use poor people for secret medical experiments.  It's okay to drown someone when using certain protocols.
2.  37% death rate of POWs in Japanese camps.  Did I remember that correctly?  Holy moly.
3  I did not realize how many camps were in Japan.  There is a guy who lives up the street who was in a Japanese camp.  When he said that I was surprised he survived the experience.  He was captured at the very tail end of the war.  I recall stories of the immediate execution of airmen who bailed out over Japan.
4.  Good research by Hillenbrand and she put the story together with plenty of suspense.
5.  Information on post-war Japan and the hunt for war criminal fugitives was interesting.  Men with death sentences and life sentences had those terms commuted.
6.  Civilians always get it in the neck during wars.  Always.