Thursday, October 30, 2014

Done: "Eight Black Horses" by Ed McBain

Done: Eight Black Horses by Ed McBain, 1985, 0877956812.

An 87th Precinct novel. This one has the Deaf Man.  Another copy from the stuff I own.

Just today I checked out a copy of this book to a lady who asks me for recommendations for her husband.  Her husband reads A LOT but I have never met the guy.  She comes in and gets all the books and I've recommended several authors.

What a great first chapter.  Carella and Brown are in a Isola CIty park where a naked dead woman was left. They are waiting for the medical examiner as the homicide dolts - er, Homicide Detectives - make wise cracks about the corpse's ass. McBain has the sparse sentences on the men and uprigth observations about the weather and sky.

Anyway. The city park across the street from the 87th Precinct. The Deaf Man starts sending Carella letters with photocopied images on white paper. The letters start in October and you soon figure out that each letter - police uniform hats, black horses, handcuffs, etc. - are intended as a 12 Days of Christmas.  The Deaf Man has something big planned and once again he is taunting the Detectives with vague clues. This time the Deaf Man is after money and revenge. Money from a cash robbery at a major department store and revenge against the detectives who have foiled and shot him in previous novels.

Carella is the primary Detective and he and the others are left scratching their heads. DO they try and play along with the Deaf Man's game of vague clues? Is doing so worth the effort and time? Carella catches a break when the Deaf Man impersonates Carella, beds a bar hopper, and leaves the woman.  The woman tracks down the real Carella demanding more sex and abuse. (The Deaf Man is very controlling.)  Bar Hopper is the only one who has seen the Deaf Man enough to describe him and help the 87th to find him. But, she is also enamored with the Deaf Man, lets him inside her apartment, says she already spoke to the real Carella, and is killed for her foolishness.

The Deaf Man is incredibly ruthless and kills without regrets.  Don't read the book if you are a horse lover. The Deaf Man's cash robbery goes awry and one of the dopey Detectives discovers the Deaf Man's time bomb set within the precinct house. Deaf Man walks away and the Detectives breathe sigh of relief.

1. No Fat Ollie Weeks. What is Weeks's first 87th appearance? I suppose I could look that up.
2. Are they any 87th Precinct novels longer than 250 pages? McBain is so concise he only needs about 200 pages anyway.
3. Fat Ollie Weeks's "novel" only ran about 30 pages or so, didn't it?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Found: "Rogue Officer" by Garry Douglas Kilworth

Found: Rogue Officer by Garry Douglas Kilworth, 2007, 9780727865359.

I've cut back on borrowing from the library so I can read through some of the books I own. Most of my owned items are either fairly old - from college days - or withdrawn books bought from library sales. Rogue Officer is a withdrawn book. I'm not sure when I weeded this from the library's collection but must have done so within the past three years or so.

Kilworth's Fancy Jack Crossman series is one of those English series that enjoy intermittent U.S. publication.  Kilworth has done eight novels in the series but only three or four seem to have U.S. publication.  These are Richard Sharpe type novels, military adventures following a commando-type character through different battles and wars.  Most Sharpe novels focused on the Napoleonic wars, Crossman focuses on Crimea and India.

Rogue Officer picks up about halfway through the Sepoy Mutiny (or Indian Rebellion depending on your historical viewpoint) of 1857. An explanation in case you've forgotten the story: the British East India Company ruled India and ran their own army. The Company did not treat the Indians well and never saw the signs of brewing rebellion. One point of contention was that the Company wanted the Indian soldiers to serve overseas. The rumor that new rifle cartridges were coated in either pig or cow fat (Muslim and Hindu worries) was the last straw. (The cartridges were wrapped paper with powder and ball inside, the ends had to be bitten off to pour the contents down the muzzle. Both Hindus and Muslims were revolted at the need to put the fat in their mouths.) The rebels were vicious and murdered their British officers, wives, and children. The British counter-attack was equally vicious with military aged men shot down and some rebels tied to cannon muzzles and shot away.

Crossman serves in the British Army, the Irish Connaught Rangers, but has been detached to a military intelligence officer since the Crimean War.  Crossman has been challenged to a duel by a particularly nasty and fearless cavalry officer, Deighnton. Crossman's pistol shot misses and the Deighnton's pistol misfires so the duel is declared over. Deighnton is not pleased. Crossman does not understand the man's animosity but cannot turn down a duel, even though most everyone realizes how stupid duels are, or he will be an outcast.

The novel goes from there with Crossman and his three man unit traveling rural India as spies.  Joining different marches to track down rebel armies.  Crossman getting captured by runaway rebels.  Deighnton plotting against Crossman by accusing Crossman of desertion during Crossman's captivity.  Crossman's sometimes peculiar men. The culture clash between Indian and British, British class clashes, shifting Indian loyalties, horse lovers versus "it's just thing to ride".

1. I read Winter Soldiers back in 2007. The novels are done as linked stories. Kind of like a personal campaign history with a overarching plot thread from beginning to end. This one has Crossman taking various assignments with Deighnton and Deighnton's influence coming and going to influence the story.
2. A good book. At times Crossman thinks back to previous events that, I presume, were in other novels. But, you don't need to know those other things to enjoy the story.
3. The latest Crossman novel is Kiwi Wars with a 2008 pub date in the States.  The library bought it in 2009 and it has only circ'ed three times and the last checkout was January, 2010. I should probably weed it, shelving space is tight in Fiction.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Done: "Big Black Maria" by Johnny Shaw

Done: Big Black Maria by Johnny Shaw, 2012, 9781612184395.

Possible taglines:
The Three Stooges Go Mining.
Three idiots, two burros, and one really angry woman.
Desert living: a guide to failure.
1,000 Ways to Screw Up in the West.
Three Important Reasons to Stay in School
"Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, Son."

This is quite good. Good enough to suffer under my subconscious desire for the book to continue, which means I would not read the book. Why read the novel when it'll end?

Ricky lives in the desert of Southern California and drives elderly men and women to Mexico to fill drug prescriptions. Ricky's 1977 school is bus is almost dead Ricky is just getting by.  Ricky's trailer park neighbor is Harry "Shitburger" Schmittberger. Harry is a drunk on medical leave from his corrections officer job at the nearby state prison. Harry is short, fat, and ugly. Harry also has body order, pukes on himself and has bad manners. Frank is an elderly Indian who travels on Ricky's bus, has two perpetually stoned, marijuana growing grandsons and a daughter with a bizarrely vicious temper.

One night Harry hears a drunken rant about gold in the Chocolate Mountains.  Harry pays Ricky $20 to use Ricky's computer and do some research. Ricky is headed South avoids a road obstacle and crashes his bus. The crash kills a few passengers and leaves muscular Ricky with a withered left arms.  Cancer stricken Frank is banged up in the wreck and visits Ricky in the hospital, they get friendly. Frank talks about his grandfather who worked a gold mine in the Chocolate Mountains. The mine manager went loopy and killed all his employees but the grandfather. The grandfather killed the mine manager and buried him in the manager's home. Harry hears and gets gold fever.

Things happen. The three men click and become fast friends.  Ricky is guilt stricken and boozing. Frank is having cancer treatment. Harry has Frank break Harry's leg so Harry can stay out of work.  Harry talks the other two into hunting for gold. The mine manager's town is now on the lake bed of a reservoir. The trio get a boat and Ricky dives down. The recovered maps and notes show where the lost mine is. The lost mine is in a military gunnery range. Meanwhile, Frank's perpetually angry daughter goes looking for Frank and brings her stoner sons along.

More things happen. People die suddenly. The reader has many laughs.  The characters can be maudlin and depressed at times. Twists are twisty. Turns are sharp. You'll enjoy the book.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Heard: "Way of a Wanton" by Richard S. Prather

Heard: Way of a Wanton by Richard S. Prather, 1952, download production by Books In Motion in 2012.

I read a Hard Case Crime reprint of Prather's The Peddler. I was reluctant to try a Scott novel because I already knew there are a ton of them and I hate to jump into the middle of the series. The cover artwork stinks, too.

Fifth novel in the series. Hollywood, CA based P.I. Scott is invited one evening to a small party by Scott's movie industry pal. The small party is for the cast and crew of a low budget jungle flick.  There are big busted babes, a producer or two, a muscled-up lead actor, and Shell.  This is supposed to be a pool party so one busty and fun-filled gal strips her top off and jumps into the pool. Busty-babe bursts the bawdy boozed up bash by bemoaning the body on the pool's bottom.

Shell dives in to investigate, he is an investigator after all.  Shell finds a strangled woman weighed down in the water.  Shell wants to call the cops. The rest if the party goers say no way. Shell even slugs the muscle-up actor who tries to stop Shell.  The cops arrive. Shell takes an actress back to his place. Shell gets the actress on his bed when the phone rings. The guy on the line is the film's main backer and offers Shell big bucks to come talk about the murder and take on the case. Shell takes the man's offer, accepts payment as a percentage of the film's earnings, and starts snooping.

The murdered woman worked for the film studio. The main backer wants to make sure he does not lose his money. The producer cannot go over budget or he loses money to the main backer.  Right off the bat someone follows Shell, shoots at him, and then tries to kill him by dropping a spot light on Shell at the movie studio.

Shell talks to a roommate of the dead woman. The woman is mugged in her home and Shell is shot at when he goes to rescue her.  Shell has sex with the roommate. Shell goes to a location shoot. Shell has sex with another actress by a nearby lake. Shell is shot at as he swims in the nude. Shell escapes and streaks onto the set while escaping.

Shell figures things out and rescues an actress.

1. Not hard-boiled. Not angsty.  Shell loves to look at the ladies and drink plenty of booze. There is some slapstick action along with the sex and violence.
2. I wonder what the history is of these kinds of man novels. I think Max Allan Collins wrote a book on the topic, or maybe that was pulp magazines.  I presume the modern, post-war version started with Mike Hammer and then took a spy-guy turn with James Bond.
3. Thrilling Detective has a brief write-up on the Shell Scott series. I'll read it later.
4.  I suppose this style of novel hit a peak with Coyote Connection (1981). Everything before and after that masterpiece must be a complete let-down.
5. One of things I enjoyed is the characters describing and denigrating Hollywood and the Hollywood script mill.  Writers are a cheap commodity and everyone takes a shot at the screenplay until it's a pile of mush.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Listened: "Gallows View" by Peter Robinson

Listened: Gallows View by Peter Robinson, 1987, download.

The selection of audiobook titles has shrunk now that I am using my computer-box-telephone to listen to audiobooks. I was hoping to download some Dr. Who selections but those do not come in the required MP3 format. Damn.  Since the previous Inspector Banks novel was okay I tried this one, the first in the series.

Banks has recently moved to Yorkshire. He had some big cases working in London and encountered quite a few violent people.  He is trying to stop smoking and is learning about his new peers, including one who applied for Banks's current position.

A window peeper is prowling past nightfall to peek on panty wearing people.  A couple teenaged boys are burgling the homes of elderly woman.  Detective Inspector Banks is involved in both these fairly tame cases when a WW1 vintage woman is found dead in her cottage. The woman seems to have whacked her head on a counter corner. The cottage was tossed as if a burglar searched the home.  Banks thinks she was killed. An accident from a slight push? Intentional murder? Banks needs to found out.

Banks's superior calls psychologist Jenny Fuller to help the peeper investigation. Fuller will hear the evidence and give deduce the perpetrator's personality and future behavior.  Banks is attracted to Fuller. Fuller is attracted to Banks. Banks is married with two kids. Fuller is single.

We follow the characters - good guys and bad guys -as the scheme, rationalize, and plan ahead. There is a rape scene from the rapists POV that was unpleasant to hear. A teen high on speed invades a home and takes a hostage.  A single dad is shtuping the married neighbor. The man's teen son is a burglar. Banks's wife joins a photography club and the club members are under suspicion as possible peepers.

1. Plenty of internal thoughts by different characters. You get to know several of them very well. Banks, somehow, seems more of a mystery to me. I'm not sure why but the crooks personalities seem clearer and their actions more understandable.  Probably just me.
2. Firmly set in the 1980s. 
2.a. Characters do not like Margaret Thatcher and comment on unemployment and Thatcher's false compassion. 
2.b. Computers are a bit mysterious and require extra training to operate. They are seen as the future but are mostly unknown.
3. Different narrator than the second book in the series. This narrator is rougher and made Banks gruffer and tougher.  Scuffer.  Muffer.  Fluffer.  Buffer.  Duffer. Alliteration gone wild.
4. One of the newly promoted Inspectors takes pride in being able to wear plainclothes.  He also takes pride in a newly mustache.
5.  That weird English use the word "partner" to describe a romantic relationship. When I hear "partner" I think "business partner" or "cop partner".
6. Descriptive sex.
7.  Comment on British dental care. One character compares them to American teeth.
8. Tourists getting mugged.
9. Dated views on feminism. Dated views by feminist characters.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Finally Done: "Dead Letters" by Tom Piccirilli

Finally Done: Dead Letters by Tom Piccirilli, 2006, 9780553384079.

I write "finally done" because I bought this book several months ago.  The mystery bookstore in Madison was bought and moved location across the street from Trader Joe's. While my wife was in the Trader Joe's I walked two bored children over to check the bookstore out. Since I work in a freaking library I do not like to buy books. But, the store was brand new and I wanted to support it. Luckily, I found something worth buying.

Piccirilli has the market cornered on Really Angry Men Riven With Guilt.  Correction: Really Angry Men Riven With Guilt and Living on Long Island.  Piccirilli also creates really despicable villains.

Five years ago Whitt's 5-year-old daughter was the first victim of a serial killer nicknamed Killjoy. Whitt's wife went insane with grief and Whitt quit his advertising job to focus on physical training and hunting for Killjoy.  Whitt has had an unhappy but workable relationship with the local police detective assigned the case. Things get worse for Whitt when Killjoy stops killing children and starts kidnapping. Killjoy takes the children from abusive homes and "gifts" them to the still grieving parents of Killjoy's murder victims.

Whitt was the first parent to receive a child from Killjoy. Whitt immediately called the police and is not sure if he should have kept the girl instead. Some parents of Killjoy's murder victims have disappeared, presumably fleeing with kidnapped children left by Killjoy.

Whitt's guilt and anger have left him pretty screwed up. Whitt's wife lives in a mental hospital, his father-in-law financially supports Whitt's hunt, Whitt has maintained only one pre-Killjoy relationship. Whitt's rage manifests in extreme teeth grinding. He pops fillings loose. He chomps on his steering wheel and cracks more teeth. He lays on the lawn while spying on a family and gnashes grass and dirt.

Part of Whitt's rage is that for years Killjoy has been sending bizarre and insanely rambling letters to Whitt. Taken by themselves the letters are a silly read of made up philosophers and writers acting bizarrely. But, those bizarre letters are a taunt to Whitt from a man - a woman? - who fancies that he and Whitt are much alike and friends.

Anyway. Whitt goes to a house run by a cult.  The cult is responsible for several murders and Killjoy puts Whitt on their scent. Killjoy's knowledge about the cult shows he surveilled them for a long time and Whitt hopes that by investigating them he will find Killjoy.

Things happen. Whitt grinds teeth. Whitt hallucinates conversations with a mini-Whitt living in his daughter's doll house. Whitt dreams of killing Killjoy. Whitt trains with his .32 pistol.  Whitt interviews cult members. Whitt is suspected by the police of being Killjoy and now has a new Federal agent on his back. There is a showdown and Killjoy escapes. Whitt finally figures things out.

1. Piccirilli also has the market cornered on Author Diagnosed With Brain Cancer Given 2% Chance of Survival and Recovers Anyway.
2. Seriously. The man was diagnosed with brain cancer and given a 2% chance of survival. Piccirilli has been cancer free for two years and still undergoes monthly chemotherapy treatment but the man is working and doing well.
3. No muscle cars in this one. Whitt would derive no joy from a car anyway. Whitt's only joy is from revenge fantasies.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Quit: "Cornbread Mafia" by james Higdon, III

Quit: Cornbread Mafia: a homegrown syndicate's code of silence and the biggest marijuana bust in American history by James Higdon, III, 2012, audio download from

I rarely listen or read true crime. I was trying to find audio titles playable on my phone, got sick of looking on my slow phone, and checked this one out.

From the late 1960s until the late 1980s Kentucky became a center for marijuana cultivation and wholesaling.  Higdon relates how a massive multi-state bust in the late '80s netted about 40 (or so) growers and dealers that all originated from the same Kentucky county.

Higdon starts off relating how the lawless attitude to drugs originated from Catholic settlers circa 1800 who ran distilleries. The moonshine business continued through until Prohibition then had a huge hike in employment when prices were high and the Depression put families out of work.  Industrial hemp was grown during WWI and WWII and when soldiers returned from Vietnam smoking marijuana the local farmers used their agriculture skills to grow the dope.  Growing marijuana was a misdemeanor until the early '80s and growers who were caught would post bail in cash and drive off in their new Corvettes.

I quit listening because Higdon seemed to be relating every little story he ever heard. I don't much care about all the roughnecks and crooks in the area who died before the marijuana farming hit big.  Higdorn spoke to a lot of the people involved - crooks and police - and went through court and legal records.  That is great and all but I was overloaded.  This audio clocks at 14'9" and that is too much for me.

1.  The most interesting sections of the book were hearing how the business was run. Getting seeds from around the world. Finding out what varieties would grow in Kentucky. Developing hybrids and cross-breeding. Processing the buds after harvest and shipping them out.  Marketing Kentucky grown products when consumers would turn up their noses at 'hillbilly weed".  Starting farming operations in Belize and smuggling the harvest into the U.S. All those normal business endeavors that are difficult enough in a legitimate business must have been even harder when hidden from the law.  I suppose they did not have to worry so much about bookkeeping when not paying taxes.
2. I should read Gang Leader For A Day by Venkatesh. He hung out with a Chicago street gang for his sociology research and covered the business side of things.
3. In Kansas you can be busted twice over for growing and selling marijuana. If you do not have a tax stamp the state will prosecute for tax fraud. I remember how Gary Howland said people would show up in Topeka and buy tax stamps for that reason. Weird stuff.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Done: "Never Fuck Up" by Jens Lapidus

Done: Never Fuck Up by Jens Lapidus, 2013 (US edition), 9780307377494.

What a bad idea for a title. I imagine the author sitting talking with his agent, "I refuse to alter my title. I don't care that people will not buy or stock a title with an expletive." Too bad because this book is as good as the first in the trilogy, Easy Money. Written with short, choppy writing with Swedish slang and lingo. A good twist on the setting, Lapidus's characters even refer to some other Swedish crime fiction as unrealistic and rosy.

Three main characters and they are all fucked up. Mahmud just did a six month stretch for drug dealing. Niklas has returned after years of warring in Iraq and Afghanistan as a contractor. Thomas is a street cop with a violent streak and corrupt tendencies (just a little here and there, he says). They all mix together in a criminal underworld run by Yugoslavs and a cop world run by internal politics and the reactions to bad press.  The three unknowingly circle around one another in a Stockholm that is not and clean and neat as the Swedes and the rest of the world believe.

Lapidus's Stockholm is segregated. The Svens are the everyday, traditional Swedes, the squares. The blattes are the dark skinned immigrants living in the projects, selling the drugs, and hitting a Swedish glass ceiling in the civilian world. The uber-wealthy pull the strings, fuck the prostitutes, snort the drugs, and move the money around. The Yugos run the underworld and don't give a damn about you; you either earn the Yugos money and do as you're told or you will pay in blood.

Mahmud was in prison for dealing steroids.  He's an oversized gym rat who pops pills and slurps protein shakes.  He owes a few thousand Kronor to another gang for the steroids he was busted with. His humiliation and mental torture - threatened with death while a pistol is put in his mouth - left him very shaken. He takes a job offer from the Yugos to find a fellow blatte who took money from the Yugos.

Niklas was already screwed up after growing up as his mother was frequently beaten by her boyfriend.  Niklas would be sent to a dank apartment building basement when the alcoholic boyfriend wanted sex. After a few years of contractor combat he is double-up on PTSD. He fancies himself as an avenger for women, a military commando for good. He does knife katas for hours, goes on runs and exercises, and starts stalking abusive husbands.

Thomas is a very cynical street cop. He despises desk cops and the street filth he works with. He does some small corruption that is never identified but gives him the cash to work on restoring his 1950s Cadillac.  He's withdrawn from his wife and unable to have sex. He can masturbate to online porn but cannot relate to his wife. Thomas and his partner take a call on a dead body and find a murdered man with no teeth, fingerprint skin cut off, and a beaten until unrecognizable. Thomas notices intravenous injection marks. The autopsy does not list those marks. Thomas wonders, "What the hell?"

Things happen. Mahmud works his way into the Yugo organization but is a nobody to them. Mahmud has big pride and chaffs. Thomas wants to know what happened with the autopsy and when a senior cop appears and blocks his questioning he keeps looking. Niklas visits a domestic violence shelter and steals a list of women's names. He sets up cameras to watch the houses and plot to kill the men. Niklas meets Mahmud after beating up the abusive boyfriend of Mahmud's sister. They are all in the same building on New Year's when Niklas and Mahmud are raiding a Yugo sponsored prostitute party for the uber-rich and Thomas is sneaking in to search the rich home owner's financial binders.

1. All three guys suffer under some sort of PTSD or trauma. 
2. All three guys think they are something other than what they are. They see themselves as good guys even though their actions show the opposite. They see themselves as victims of others rather than victims of their own bad decisions.
3.  Only one or two bad guys get their comeuppance. The ones at the top always get away. Lapidus is a criminal attorney in Stockholm and I presume he has learned how all the front companies, and cut-outs keep the owners and managers out of the clink.
4. A couple recurring characters from the first novel. The Yugo head, Radovan, meets with Thomas and appears at a party Mahmud attends. The Argentinian from Easy Money is still out for revenge on the Yugos and pays Mahmud to raid the New Year's prostitute party.
5. I bought the film adaptation of Easy Money, Easy Money: life deluxe, for work but have not watched it.
EDIT: 6. How could I forget the right-wing police conspiracy to murder Prime Minister Olof Palme? Thomas's derailed investigation into the man's death is linked to Palme's murder. The dead man was a primary witness who connected the suspected shooter to a possible murder weapon (that weapon was still missing). Thomas finds a connection between a right-wing group of police officers who were virulently anti-communist.  Thomas is threatened, and beaten, to warn him off his private investigation. Thomas is kinda like James Ellroys's Bud White, Thomas is better at thumping than thinking.