Friday, November 29, 2013

Read: "Best American Noir of the Century" edited by James Ellroy and Otto Penzler.

Read: Best American Noir of the Century edited by James Ellroy and Otto Penzler, 2010, 9780547330778.

This is thick at 731 pages.  Each story has a short bio of the author and his writing career.I read 2-3 of these stories before.  I enjoyed the later stories more than the first ones.

Favorites?  Hard to say because I don't want to go back through and skim all 39 tales.  They are all good, they're in a "best of" after all. From a quick skim:

1. 1938. Steve Fisher's You'll Always Remember Me narrated by a teen sociopath in military school who is letting his girlfriend's brother sit on death row for a crime the narrator committed.
2. 1953. Mickey Spillane's The Lady Says Die about a guy who gets revenge against a "friend" who stole away his faince by leading him to suicide.
3.  1953. David Goodis's Professional Man.  A hit man is told by his boss to quit a girl so the boss could pursue her.  She refuses the boss and he orders the hit man to kill her.
4.  1956. Evan Hunter and Last Spin.  Two gang members play Russian Roulette.  They were chosen by the gang to play until one is dead as a way to solve a feud.  The guys have a lot in common, the stress makes them quick friends.  Reminds me of a recent Key and Peele skit with a Crip and Blood becoming friends through life but always pointing guns at each other.
5.  1972. David Morrell's The Dripping was especially creepy witha man's mother murderinghis wife and daughter.
6. 1984. Stephen Greenleaf's Iris with a traveling PI having a baby abandoned with him. He follows the loopy-crazy woman and uncovers a baby smuggling ring which ends badly.
7.  1993. Harlan Ellison's mind-reader and a killer who can do the same, Mefisto in Onyx

8.  1997. Joyce Carol Oates's family murder mystery, Faithless
9.  2003. All Through the House by Christopher Coake about a family murder suicide and the killer's best friend who was banging his wife.  Told backward in time.

Heard: "Goliath Bone" by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

Heard: Goliath Bone by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins, 2008, Overdrive download.

Read by Stacey Keach.  Keach does quite well as narrator.  Keach's voice sounds great and he has the skill to use that voice.

Mike Hammer referring to cell phones? To GPS?  To the AARP?  Yes.  He often refers to his and Velda's advanced age as well.  But, if this were totally realistic (in a Hammer novel?) Hammer would be what, 90-something?  I think he worked as a cop before he went into the service in WWII so he would have been at least 25 or so in 1945.  Maybe older because I'm thinking he was closer to 30 in I, the Jury which came out in 1947.

Anyway.  Mike is out late during a winter night when he senses trouble coming.  He sees a couple college kids leaving a restaurant and followed by a suspicious dude.  Hammer follows all three of them down into the subway.  The two kids come running back up the stairs followed by the dude carrying a pistol with a suppressor.  Mike shoots the gun out of the bad dude's hand and the bad guy falls down the stairs and busts his head open.  You know he busts his head open because this is a Hammer novel and you hear about the blood and brains spilling out.

The kids are carrying a heavy package.  Mike calls Captain Pat and then takes the kids back to Velda's apartment. The kids are reluctant to talk but tell their story.  They are the step-siblings of two famous scientists from NYU.  They were visiting their researching parents in Israel and took a trip into the Israeli desert.  When digging a firepit they uncovered a massive leg bone.  A human leg bone.  The leg bone of a 10' tall man.  The leg bone of a 10' tall man buried in the dirt of the Valley of Elah where David killed Goliath.  Oh, that could be neat.

Turns out everyone wants the bone.  Radical Jews to show a great victory.  Radical Muslims to recover a great hero.  Everyone else for fame and fortune and various politics.  Mike offers his bodyguard services.  The kids wealthy parents agree.  Mike takes over the case and faces off against Al Queda and radical Israelis.

Things happen.  Mike is a smart-ass.  Mike shoots more people (including spilling brains out).  Mike runs his contacts inside and outside of the police department.  Mike schemes and makes plans and tells no one.  Mike comes out ahead.  Mike and Velda finally marry. Mike and Velda honeymoon in Florida.  Mike and Velda survive another attack.  Mike and Velda return to NYC.  More action, more showdowns.  Mike retires from work with Pat taking over the PI business.  Mike lives happily ever after with Velda.

1.  Gee, Mike.  Do you carry a .45?  You tell us about it all the damn time.
2.  Spillane meant this as the chronologically last Hammer novel. Collins finished one partially set in the USSR, I want to read that one.
3. Many mentions of Velda's beauty even though she is much older now.
4.  Hammer handles heavy handed justice.
5.  Squib round leading to fisticuffs, a reach for Velda's .38, and more brain matter.
6.  Overcharge round exploding Mike's old .45.
7.  Mike is still famous in NYC after years of press coverage.
8.  Fun stuff.
9. EDIT:  I found a quote I wrote down, "Grabbing my jacket like I was at the wrong end of a dwarf tossing contest."  I laughed at that one.

Done: "The Famous and the Dead" by T. Jefferson Parker

Done: The Famous and the Dead by T. Jefferson Parker, 2013, 9780525953173.

I've greatly enjoyed this series and enjoyed this novel as well.  I like how the series has really evolved from a crime drama with romance into a winding story with supernatural elements.  With Hood and Bradley and Mike the Devil squaring off directly and indirectly through the stories.

I read somewhere that Famous would be the final entry in the series.  But Parker's ending leaves things open for another novel.  I was very satisfied, and impressed, with Parker's ending.

Charlie Hood is still working for the ATF among the desert towns near El Centro in Southern California.  The ATF is still fighting gunrunning over the border into Mexico and facing heat from the recent debacle of the Fast and Furious scandal.  Erin is living with Hood and Hood's girlfriend Beth.  Bradley is facing heat from the Sheriff's Department who are on to his illegal activities.

Hood is still hunting Mike Finnegan.. Hood sends out email blasts to anyone he ever met - many of whom have demanded he take them off the email list - with photos of Finnegan and Hood's contact information.  Hood's newly built "wine cellar" is awaiting Mike.  Mike starts recruiting Bradley in earnest. Bradley accepts.

Schizophrenic goes schizo.  Hood feels the heat from the press, Congress, and supervisors worried about (or looking for) another ATF scandal.  Hood works a gunrunning case that leaves an agent dead.  Mike uses Bradley to put pressure on Hood.  Erin is reluctant to rejoin Bradley.  Bradley finally realizes what a selfish and violent a-hole he is.

Bradley works with Hood to capture Mike.  They catch Mike taking a cold water swim, taser him a few times, shoot him up with 3-4 times the usual human amount of tranquilizers and stick him in Hood's "wine cellar" that was designed and built as a cell for Mike.  Hood quits his ATF job.  And his LASD job.

Bradley still under investigation and about to be arrested.  Bradley dies.  No wait1  Bradley lives!  He faked his death, had plastic surgery, and vocal cord surgery.  Hood stays in the desert with imprisoned Mike.  Hood offered local police chief job.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Listened: "The Painted Bird" by Jerzy Kosinski

Listened: The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski, 1965 (original pub date), downloaded from 

I saw this on Overdrive as I was scrolling through currently available titles.  I knew a little about the book because Victor Gischler referenced it in a couple novels and I had looked up the bare basics.  The author's 1976 Afterword fills in the novel's publishing history and the novel's public, critical, and political reaction are as interesting as the novel itself.  This book feels like torture porn.  Kosinski argues against this - more on that later - but that's what it felt like as I endured along. 

In 1939 Boy, about six-years-old and nameless, is sent by his family from a city in a "Eastern European country" to the countryside to save him from the war.  The countryside is not much different than 100 years ago.  People live in huts, rely on draft animals, and are ruled by superstition.  Each town is it's own entity.  The only outside forces are the partisans who battle each other and the Germans.  Competing partisan groups kill each other and force villagers - Boy always calls them peasants - to support them or be beaten or killed.

The novel is told episodically as Boy stays with different peasants in different towns.  Boy suffers and suffers and suffers again.  His dark hair and eyes clash with the blond and blue of the peasants and is called a gypsy or Jew.  He is beaten, starved, tortured and threatened with death.  Boy fears and avoids all other boys who beat Boy. He is always in fear of being sent to the Germans as an escaped gypsy or Jew.  (He is sent to a German post at one point and an army officer details a soldier to take Boy and shoot him.  The German soldier lets him go instead.)

Only rarely is Boy treated well.  Even the first woman to care for him - who dies and leaves him alone - was not that kind.  Within the villages beatings and murders are usually viewed passively or as entertainment.  Rarely do other villagers intervene when seeing mistreatment.  Abusing Boy is cause for laughter.  Boy fears and avoids all other boys.  They will find and beat him for being a gypsy or Jew.

Murder is common.  Physical abuse a practiced form of familial punishment.  Rape a constant fear.  Social behavior is ruled by superstition.  Children are often commodities.  Child rape.  Child murder.  Incest.  Bestiality.  Potions and salves made from ground up human and animal bones and urine, fecal matter, entrails, goat bile, spit.  Cover your mouth when you smile, someone will count your teeth and for each tooth counted a year of your life is stolen.  Never look a Gypsy in the eyes.   

How long will the boy suffer?  How long can the reader suffer?  Boy is struck hysterically mute.  Boy discovers revenge.

The boy tries to make sense of his situation and develops a few theories during the novel.  First he decides that prayer will save him from a vicious man he is staying with.  Boy prays for indulgences, figuring the more he prays the more indulgences he will receive from God.  He tries to figure out the magic formula to avoid beatings.  "Don't go through the gate.  Say nothing after it rains."

He later decides devils are in the world and control people.  Those people create pain and trouble and infect others with the devil's trouble. He himself is at risk of infection. 

A pro-Nazi partisan group comes upon Boy's village and starts a day long orgy of rape and murder.  Mass rape of women and children.  Torture and murder of women and men.  Gang rapes and partisans trying to one-up each another with imaginative brutality.  When Russian tanks and infantry arrive at the end of the day you want the partisans to suffer and hurt much more than their victims.  The Soviets hang the men by the ankles from trees along a river.

After the Russian Army saves boy Soviet Communism sounds great.  People are cared for and he figures that communism as spoken by the peasants - bringing everyone together - would bring Boy new brothers and sisters and men who would treat Boy with kindness and comfort and defend him.  Boy stays with a military unit and comes to realize the differences between theory and reality.  How the Party members are more important.  How men are to be judged by their own skills and values but that the Party decides what values are most important.

After the war ends the military sends Boy to an orphanage in his home city.  The orphanage is filled with kids acting out what they have lived through.  Beatings, rape, and murder.  Kids gang up on the "gypsy".  His parents arrive. You expect a tearful reunion and happy life.  Nope.  He does not adjust.  He cannot adjust.  Boy has learned that life is lived alone and at night he leaves the family apartment to prowl with the black marketeers, pimps, whores, and thieves.  He is sent to a mountain village, and after getting stuck in a blizzard he awakens in a hospital, answers a ringing phone and starts speaking again.

Kosinski's excellent Afterword gives a summary of the political turmoil the novel caused and the trouble it caused for him personally.  The government in Poland accused him of slurring the country, that Kosinski was a paid agent of the West.  A work of total fiction had people claiming to be the basis for characters or to live in a town the novel is set within. 

Accusation in Europe and the U.S. are that he exaggerates what happened during the war.  Kosinski points out ample evidence of the murder and abuse that critics ignored.  My comment on torture porn echo Kosinski's contemporary critics.  Kosinski argues that the novel is based on real events.   The book is not a sadistic exercise but a way to live through the experience by following the character.  Others who lived through the war accused Kosinski of watering down the story, that he played things nicer than they were to appeal to a U.S. audience.

1.  A reminder how civilization can disastrously fall apart.  When that happens some people stay civilized and some revert. The difficulty of maintain law and order.  Who would want the arrest and trial of the kind of people who gleefully rape and murder?  Clinging to superstition and rumor because the world has fallen apart, attacking anyone or thing that you think puts you at risk.  Don't think that things will be different in the future. 
2.  How many orphans did the Soviet Army come across as that fought back West through German trampled territory?
3.  I watched Come and See a few days ago.  A few days of a Russian boy's life under German occupation and the dramatic re-enactment of Germans murdering a whole village.  Kosinski mentions in his Afterward how concentration camp Germans were ordered to kill children first since they could not work. There is a horrid point in Come and See where a boy - three years old - is thrown through the window back into a burning house. That movie and this novel fit together.
4.  Shades of Europa, Europa with a young boy bouncing around from place to place and surviving.
5.  Kosinski writes how fiction allows the reader into the story more vividly and believably than nonfiction.  Your imagination takes over and you endure with the characters rather than question or ponder a NF story.
6. I was going to read a brief bio of Kosinski but skipped it.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Quick: "City of the Lost" by Stephen Blackmoore

Quick: City of the Dead by Stephen Blackmoore, 2012, 9780756407025.

I used to read Blackmoore's LA crime blog.  I quit reading his LA crime blog when I did a massive cut-back on online reading because I was taking up way too much time and distracting myself from work.  Since then Blackmoore has himself given up on the blog and moved on.

This is a quick read and akin to the work of Charlie Huston and Duane Swierczynski.  Low-level crooks and goons without a lot of brains who fight and kill their way out of trouble.  A fast moving story.

Joe Sunday has been the hired goon of an L.A. crime boss for about 20 years.  Joe meets-up with his leg breaking partner at a bar.  His partner was supposed to recover a valuable stone from a guy.  His partner is freaked out.  His partner ends up slicing his own throat.

Joe is a bit unnerved.  Joe meets up with the guy - the Bad Guy - who his partner met.  Joe is captured.  Joe is killed.  Wait, Joe is not killed.  Joe recovers.  Joe has been cast by some weird black magic and is living dead.  More things happen.  Joe's boss is killed early on.  The valuable stone is magical and needed to make the living dead curse lasting and side-effect-free.  A current side effect for Living Dead Joe is a insatiable vampire style cannibalism.  Joe eats a prostitute.  Or was it a junky?  Both?

More things happen.  Joe recovers the stone and it is stolen again.  A local cop gets involved.  A mysterious hot chick gets involved.  Bad Guy is really 700 years old.  Bad Guy never dies, sometimes he just takes longer to recover.  Joe meets up with hot Latina chick who is a powerful witch.  Joe meets a djinn.  Joe travels low-rent Los Angeles getting into and out of trouble.

1. No Browning Hi-Powers.
2.  Tough guy chatter.
3.  A quick and entertaining read.  The story keeps moving along.
4. This copy has coffee stains all over it.  The stains are not from me and I need to withdraw the book from the library.
5.  Blackmoore's 2013 novel, Dead Things, is owned by Beaver Dam and Waterford.  Does not seem to be a sequel.

Listened: "Night Film" by Marisha Pessl

Listened: Night Film by Marisha Pessl, 2013, Overdrive donwload.

Pretty damn excellent.  The reader's work is award worthy.

Several years ago investigate journalist Scott McGrath was writing a story on the ultra-secretive film director Stanislas Cordova.  McGrath received an anonymous phone call from a man saying he used to be Cordova's chaffeur and that Cordova was up to something with children.  McGrath reported this, on national television no less, and was disgraced when Cordova's lawyers ripped apart the anonymous caller angle and accused McGrath of fabricating the call.

Fast forward five years and McGrath is divorced and living off his life savings from magazine articles and book sales.  Cordova's daughter, 25-year-old Ashley, commits suicide by jumping from a building.  McGrath is still angered over the debacle from before.  McGrath is convinced Cordova has been up to no good and abusing children while squirreled away on his remote, 400 acre estate in Northern New York.  McGrath starts looking into Ashley's death.

McGrath starts tracking Ashley's last movements around New York City before her suicide.  McGrath teams up with a 19-year-old coat check girl - one of the last people to see Ashley alive- and a 25-year-old drug dealer who knew Ashley when they were teenagers.  Cordova's secrecy and rumors of his activities keep coming.  Talk of black magic.  Talk of child abuse.  Talk of Cordova's cruelty, manipulation, artitistic temperament.  Talk of Ashley's brilliance, her magnetic personality, her fear and anger for her family.

Black magic.  High end prostitution.  Cordova's rabid and equally secretive fan base.  Cordova's incredibly effective horror films - are they real?  Did Cordova kill one of his wives?  Did Cordova force his son to continue filming while his hand bled after his fingers were accidentally severed? Who is following McGrath, is Cordova out to get him?  Did Cordova join a local satanist group in Northern New York and make a deal with the devil?

1.  Neat mix of fiction and true stories.  Pessl makes up stories of Cordova and Hollywood that sound real and are reminiscent of Hollywood tales I have heard.  Shades of Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen, and others.
2.  Secrecy and rumors combine and widely split.  Rumors grow on their own as bits and drabs of information are released or discovered.  The rumors split far away from the truth and are fed by subjective interpretation or "facts".  The only people to talk to McGrath have their own issues and troubles.  What they see is only a part of the whole.  The story of three blind men and an elephant applies.
3.  My summary does not do the novel justice.  Pessl injects a lot of secrecy and dread into the tale.  There seem to be hidden forces at work but McGrath is a practical man and resists such nonsense.
4.  SPOILER Cordova is a mysterious figure who only appears at the very end, and in silhouette.
5.  Pessl could have really written herself into trouble here.  She creates Cordova as a brilliant artist.  An Oscar winner whose films are terrifying and constantly dissected and analyzed.  Pessl had to create a story, plot, and other characters who could live up to Cordova and she did so.
6.  A blurb favorably compares Pessl to Gillian Flynn.  I agree.