Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Finished: "What Soldiers Do" by Mary Louise Roberts

Finished: What Soldiers Do: sex and the American G.I. World War II France by Mary Louise Roberts, 2013, 9780226923093.

Committee title.  Interesting but Roberts does not always sell me.  The book itself is pretty decent but what really impressed me was the massive research.  Roberts cites work from archives in the U.S., England, and France and many other research and historical work.  Very impressive.

Anyway.  Roberts focuses on post-invasion Western France.  The Armies have gone fought through and the newly liberated areas are rife with soldiers.  The soldiers are out whoring.  The French people have been starving and suffering for five years and the women do most anything to earn a buck.  Or, even a couple cigarettes (which were as good as cash at that time).  Roberts tells us that U.S. views on French morality and sexuality were mistaken and the poor behavior of many U.S. soldiers (the limeys and canucks behaved much better) was indicative of that and also indicative of the lack of diplomatic and inter-governmental agreements.

Here is a quick recap as I recall it.  U.S. soldiers expected sex, sex, sex, from the what they heard were famously sexy and horny Frenchwomen.  Many soldiers were boorish at best and some cities - Roberts focuses on Le Havre - had prostitutes and soldiers fornicating in public during the day.  Prostitution was rife and VD rates soared.  The U.S. was willing to organize and oversee prostitution but could not do so because of public outcry from the States.  The Army said "we understand the problem, but there is no problem."  Thousands and thousands of soldiers overwhelmed the French police presence.

Meanwhile, make sure you're not black and anywhere near a rape.  You'll be blamed, tried within a couple weeks, and hung in public.  The topic of racial discrimination and blame takes up a third or so of the Roberts book.

 Rape was a problem with black and white soldiers but the black guys were blamed.  Doing so was racism from both Americans and French but also an excuse to say the sexual assaults were not widespread, that one subset could be blamed.

There is more to say but the book is at home and I cannot leaf through it to remind me.  Maybe later.

Hey, I twice used the word "rife".

LATER:  I have the book in hand.  Split into three parts, Romance, Prostitution, Rape.  Now that I do have the book in hand I do not have the enthusiasm to page through and make more comments.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Listened: "March Violets" Philip Kerr

Listened: March Violets by Philip Kerr, 1989, download.

I enjoyed this.  I've heard of Kerr's books before but never had much interest.  No reason for that lack of interest, I just had none.  When I was searching through Overdrive I was looking for titles narrated by John Lee and chose this.  I only just now looked up the pub year.  I thought this series started in the 2000s.

"March Violets" were the fair-weather nazis (I will not capitalize the word nazi) of the '30s.  Bandwagoneers who jumped aboard as the nazis took charge and consolidated more and more power.  Bernard Gunther is a WWI veteran of the Turkey campaign, an ex-cop, an anti-nazi, and a private investigator.  Gunther's PI practice in the summer of 1936 has turned to a specialization in missing persons - missing Jews.  Many of the missing disappeared into concentration camps (KZs) or are floating in the river.

Gunther also does some insurance company work.  Past insurance work has him hired by an uber-wealthy steel magnate to find the jewels that went missing from his dead daughter's wall safe.  The daughter and husband were shot dead in bed and the house set afire.  Steel Magnate would like revenge but hiring Bernie through the insurance company provides more privacy and Steel Magnate can exact revenge.  Of course, not everything is as it appears.

Gunther starts digging.  He visits the crime scene.  He contacts former cop colleagues and accesses the autopsy records and researches the dead husband and wife.  He looks for safe crackers.  He researches Steel Magnate.  He let's Steel Magnates's much younger, famous film actress wife seduce him.  He hires a former journalist as a new assistant.  He finds a link between the Steel Magnate and the son-in-law who was crusading against graft and corruption. He falls in love with new assistant.  He deals with nazis.  He deals with crooks.  All the usual P.I. stuff.

Some unusual P.I. stuff is being busted by the nazis - busted by Heydrich himself - and sent to a KZ.  Gunther was going to go to the KZ no matter what but by finding the safe cracker who is hiding in the KZ Gunther can earn his release.  The safe cracker took and hid some papers from the daughter's safe that name names in the corruption racket.  Gunther locates the guy, gains the information, and frees himself.  Gunther never finds his disappeared girlfriend.  We don't know if the nazis got here, the crooks, or someone else.

Kerr really uses the setting.  I was seeing things from the perspective of  a normal German of 1936.  A guy who knows the current government is a bunch of two-faced thugs enriching themselves wherever they can.  To criticize the Reich gets you a ride to a Gestapo jail.  From there you might be let go, but your family is more likely a probable Gunther client.  How could you guess how bad things could really get?

1. 1930's German cop and crook slang.
2.  Plenty of Berlin geography with buildings, streets, new highways, the rich and poor parts of town.
3.  The Walther PPK is not a 9mm.  I suppose you could argue 9mm Kurz as 9mm but no one will agree.
4.  Who and whom confuses me.
5.  Violence and the threat of violence as political control. Everyone is now expected to give a Hitler salute.  In select company skipping the salute is cause for a beating.
6.  The ending reminds me of 1984 with Gunther physically spent from the KZ and seeing everything around him in a new and depressing light.  His lover is gone and he still may get a bullet in the back of his head.
EDIT. 7.  I forgot to add that Kerr uses as many similes and metaphors as Joe R. Lansdale.  That's a lot.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Done: "Devil in Amber" by Mark Gatiss

Done: Devil in Amber by Mark Gatiss, 2006, 9780743283960.

This novel did not prove popular at work.  I weeded it a couple years ago and bought it to bring home.

English Super Spy Guy Lucifer Box is getting old.  He has been sleuthing and slaying for years now.  Even though he is in great shape - as he loves to remind us - he is getting old and his superiors and fellow agents are questioning his ability.  His cover as a portraitist is also waning.  His style of painting has been passed by for the modern look.

It's the early '30s (hints were given to date but I cannot recall all the hints to look it up) and he's been sent to NYC to kill a guy.  The guy is a cocaine dealer and, yes, killing a drug in America does seem a bit out of his purview.  No matter because Lucifer is almost killed by the dealer but rescued at the last moment by a much younger fellow agent.

Lucifer bones the elevator boy at his hotel and starts shadowing the leader of fascist American organization.  Lucifer works with a member of the fascist group who dislikes the leader.  Turns out Lucifer's long-estranged sister is the Fascist's secretary.  The turncoat is murdered and Lucifer is set-up for the murder.  Lucifer assumes the dead man's identity to board a cargo ship heading to England.

Other things happen.  Satanism.  Sex with the female cabin boy on the ship.  Lucifer wondering why he has been set-up.  Lucifer arriving in England but fleeing from the cops who want him for the murder.  Lucifer following clues about the cabin girl - serendipity rear your head - who is connected to the Fascist's plans.  Travel to the Swiss-Franco border where Lucifer served in WWI.  Satanist cabal defeated.  So on.  So forth.

1. In retrospect the plot is kind of a mess.  With wild coincidence and satanists and supernatural intervention and shooting and sex and estranged sister and cargo ships and cocaine smuggling and Italian-style fascism.  I did not care.
2.  Why did I not care?  Because Lucifer is an entertaining rogue.  I've never read Flashman but this seems of the same type with adventure and humor and a hero who can be a self-loving blowhard.
3.  Lucifer is a humorous and sort-of-self-deprecating braggart.  He knows bragging is gauche and throws in some humility to make it okay.
3.  This was the second novel in the series after Vesuvius Club (2004) - which I read. There was a third entry, Black Butterfly, in 2008.  Gatiss created the ongoing Sherlock TV series so I suppose he's pretty busy doing that and not writing novels.
4.  Yeah, I had to look up the spelling for gauche.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Heard: "All That Is" by James Salter

Heard: All That Is by James Salter, 2013, download.

Why did I check this out?  Because I got confused and was thinking of James Sallis.  I just now read an article saying this is Salter's latest novel in 35 years.  Very literary.  You can tell because not too much happens.

This was entertaining though.  The narrator did quite well.  I had my usual audiobook difficulty of following more than three or four characters at once.  This took a while to finish because me ears were hurting and I stopped listening with ear buds.  [My immediate thought was that I had finally, permanently, and irreparably damaged by ears.  I tend to act like a hypochondriac though.]

The publisher describes the novel as "extraordinary literary event" and "Romantic and haunting" and "sweeping, seductive, deeply moving" and "fiercely intimate account of the great shocks and grand pleasures of being alive'.  Okay, then.  I mean, it was good.  Not that good.

Told in intervals following several characters but focusing on Philip Bowman's life after WWII and into the '80s.  Salter would take little detours into each character for introduction.  He'd write about the character's family, a significant, or even insignificant, event to illustrate the person and their character.  Those little pastiches are incredibly well done. 

But, not much else happens.  We follow Bowman from his post-war Navy career into publishing.  A brief marriage to a D.C. socialite.  An affair with a married Englishwoman.  Various and brief relationships.  The lives of Bowman's co-workers and friends.  Some tragedies.  Some drinking.  Some real estate.  Some traveling.  Some romantic relationships that are one-sided and end.

At one point Bowman is really screwed over a by girlfriend he hopes to marry.  The woman is long-separated from her Greek husband but reluctant to finish the divorce and re-marry.  She becomes a real estate agent, convinces Bowman (without much effort) to by a house, and she lives there.  She starts screwing a local contractor and then files suit against Bowman saying she and Bowman had a verbal contract that the house was hers.  She wins the case after lying in court.  It was unclear to me if this was all a grand plan by her.

A handful of years later the ex-girlfriend's twenty-year-old daughter runs into Bowman.  Bowman is happy to see her and invites her to a party he is hosting.  They then smoke hash, go out on the town, return to Bowman's and have sex.  Bowman impulsively asks her to travel with him to Paris.  She accepts.  They spend a few days in Paris and she awakens in her hotel room to a disappeared Bowman.  Bowman up and left her with a pithy hand written note and no return air ticket, no cash, no nothing.  The daughter has to call her mother to arrange transit back to the U.S.

Bowman's behavior is incredibly despicable.  I understand the anger at the ex-girlfriend.  Bowman spent $55,000 cash he had to scrounge for and was paying on the mortgage.  But, to drag in an innocent party is incredibly low.

1.  I suppose we are following Bowman as he learns to live and get along with lovers.  His own father abandoned the family when Bowman was a infant.  Bowman was raised by his mom, her sister, and her brother-in-law.  His failed marriage to the beautiful socialite already made him gun shy.  The ending piece with Bowman proposing a trip to Italy with his current girlfriend is a resolution of sorts.
2.  If you can call that a resolution.  How do you resolve nothing?
3.  If you like character studies you'll like this.
4.  Nicely narrated.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Quit: "A Murder of Wolves" by Gary J. Cook

Quit: A Murder of Wolves by Gary J. Cook, 2013, 9780985083311.

Here is the story.  I was looking though Library Journal or Booklist and saw an advert for this novel.  I checked the dude out and he publishes a new novel about every 10-15 yers (don't recall exactly).  Previous novels had very good reviews.

I ordered this.  It sat on the new shelf a while and I brought it along when traveling to IL.  I could not get into the story or characters.  I am returning it today.

Plot: undercover cops in Montana try to get even with crooks who want to buy or steal computer chips used for weapons and guidance systems.

DNF: "Goodbye, Wisconsin" by Glenway Wescott

DNF: Goodbye, Wisconsin by Glenway Wescott, 2008, 97870976878179.

Westcott lived '01 to '87 and left WI as a young man.  He traveled around and spent a lot of time in Europe.  He did some very popular work published in the '40s.  These stories are from the '20s.

I got this from Waterloo PL and read the first story.  I did not like the story.  It is actually an essay.  Wescott meandered and blathered.  I am returning the book.

Done: "Legs Diamond: gangster" by Patrick Downey.

Done: Legs Diamond: gangster by Patrick Downey, 2011, 9781461088141.

Well done little bio of the bootlegging gangster.  Downey seems to have done a lot of hunting and researching and has plenty of endnotes and footnotes pointing out inconsistencies among those sources.  Downey says Diamond hit the newspaper most every day at the height of his fame in from about '29 through '31 and was on the front page of the NYT several times. 

But, Diamond is a tough subject to research.  
  • Diamond was only 34 when murdered in 1931 and never seemed to have a legitimate job.  
  • His surviving family barely knew him.
  • Many of his contemporaries were also murdered - or disappeared, same difference.  
  • Surviving peers, employees, and pals were crooks, cons, and liars and highly unlikely to admit to information regarding murder, extortion, drug running, prostitution, etc.  
  • His wife was murdered a few years after his death.  
  • His girlfriend was more interested in cashing in on notoriety and eventually disappeared.  
  • The newspapers of the time reported plenty of rumors and conjecture and a British newspaper fabricated a Diamond interview (some things never change).  
  • The only papers Diamond kept were taken as evidence by the police.

Anyway.  This was an interesting read and I think Downey did well pulling all the archival and public documents he could find.  Diamond was incredibly famous at his prime.  He was recognized in public and reporters followed him.  He worked alongside and against Dutch Schultz, Mad Dog Coll, and Lucky Luciano.  Governor Roosevelt had the State's Attorney going after Diamond.

Diamond was born in Philadelphia but the family fell apart when his mother died of TB.  He ended up in New York City in his middle teens and started getting arrested.  He started bootlegging by robbing the beer and liquor trucks of other gangsters.  He was shot and wounded on four different occasions.  He was suspected in the murders of several people.  He started to expand into the Catskills and forced the many taverns and hotels to buy his beer and booze.

Diamond seemed to both love and loathe the press attention.  He kept a book of his press clippings but would often complain about newspapers and reporters and accuse them of fabricating a persona.  His life in the Catskills was welcome at first, he was a celebrity and could be charming.  Once Diamond's men started threatening locals and kidnapped and murdered a local tavern owner the locals decided he was not so nice after all.

The State's Attorney started to focus on Diamond and the police investigation and seizures cramped Diamond's cash flow.  Attorney fees and bail fees drained his cash.  Diamond skated from court on some acquittals but was still facing federal time at his last acquittal in Albany in Dec., 1931.  He was murdered that same night in the Albany rooming house he was staying in.

1.  Gun nerd thoughts.  Diamond was shot plenty of times but recovered.  Most shootings were from handgun.  I wonder what caliber was used.  Around that time .38 specials were everywhere but so were plenty of .32s and .38 ACP. 
2.  Gangsters would not talk to the police.  Even when they were dying in the hospital. 
3.  Diamond had Dutch Schultz working for him.  Dutch branched later branched out on his own.
4.  In the last few months of his life Diamond was constantly moving around to avoid hit men. 
5.  Who killed Diamond?  There are pet theories but plenty of people wanted him dead.  Theories include: his wife hiring goons, other gangsters, corrupt cops or politicians.
6.  Unlike some slackers Downey has endnotes, indexing, and a resources list.
7.  The Epilogue was very neat and detailed Diamond's wife trying to cash in on the fame and her subsequent murder.  Downey also covers the many colleagues that were murdered after Diamond.