Thursday, April 30, 2015

Another Listen: "Dead Street" by Mickey Spillane

Another Listen: Dead Street by Mickey Spillane, 2006, Overdrive download.

Spillane's last mostly full book that he was still working on until his death. Hard Case Crime picked up the novel and Max Allan Collins - as always - took on finishing off any rough edges. Reading and listening to these Spillane books is always enjoyable but, more and more, I get interested in hearing Collins's stories about Spillane and fixing up the manuscripts that Spillane left for him. If I remember correctly Collins had to finish the ending using Spillane's notes.

Collins idolized Spillane's writing starting back in 1961 when Collins was 13-years-old.  That Spillane turned out to be a nice man in person, was supportive of Collins, and became a collaborator makes for a great story on it's own.

Retired NYPD cop Jack "Shooter" Stang is asked to meet with a veterinarian from Staten Island. The vet tells a tale: 20 years ago the vet's vet father found a young woman washed up on the waterfront. Dad took her to his vet clinic across the street and found out the woman had no memory and was now blind. The dad reads in the paper how a woman wanted by the mob was kidnapped, stuck in a car trunk, and the car went into the drink after Stang chased the car. Dad figures, "This woman is in danger, I'm keeping quiet and I'm going to take care of her."  Twenty years later Dad dies and Son, now a veterinarian himself, comes to tell Stang what happened.

Stang, you see, was engaged to the woman, Bettie. Stang never got over her presumed death. Bettie is living in a Florida retirement town intended for retired policemen and firemen. There is suspicion that Bettie is still in deadly danger of dastardly dudes. Bettie had seen something 20 years ago at her computer firm that archived records. That something must have been evidence against the mob. Son the Vet says Dad the Vet bought a house next to Bettie's and the house is in Stang's name. Stang heads South. Stang tries to find out what threatens Bettie.

Things happen. Stang packs heat. Stang shoots people in the head. Stang looks for a link between Bettie and the mob. Stang finds a link between a 20 year old Plutonium theft and the mob. Are terrorists after the Plutonium? Stang unravels the threads. Stang has anger control issues. Stang is old and retired but starting to feel young again with the 42-year-old Bettie.

1. 1911 love.
2. Filthy and declining NY neighborhood love.
3. Tough guy talk.
4. Tough guy action.
5. It's a Spillane novel so Bettie is also known as Babe, Doll, and Kitten.
6. Greyhound dog!
7. You can tell that Spillane knew bupkis about computers and technology.

Heard: "No Prisoners" by Karen Traviss

Heard: No Prisoners by Karen Traviss, 2011, Overdrive download.

A Star Wars novel set during the Clone War.

Anakin Skywalker is married to Padme. Anakin sends his padawan Ahsoka to work with Rex the Clone Trooper. Rex and some new troops are voyaging on recently commissioned starship that is taking it's initial shakedown cruise to test and evaluate the systems and crew.

Meanwhile, Republic spy Hallena is undercover on a planet run by a despot. Hallena is infiltrating a group trying to overthrow the Republic aligned government and the rebels are turning to the Trade Federation for help.

When Hallena is captured she sends a distress signal. The only nearby ship is the new one carrying Ahsoka and Rex. The ship is captained by Pellaeon who just happens to be secretly romancing Hallena. The head to rescue. Off planet they meet-up with another ship, the Wookie Gunner, which houses a small Jedi sect, the Altisians, who broke off from the Jedi several years ago.

Rex, and Ahsoka team up with the Altisians to rescue Hallena.  Things happen. Shootouts, crashes, dead Troopers, grief and mourning, light sabers, self-evaluation, Jedi philosophy, battles on the planet, battles in space, malfunctioning equipment.

1. These Star Wards novels almost always have a homogeneous planet. Most beings on the planet speak the same language, wear the same clothes, eat the same food. Each planet is a stand-in for a single city.
2. This is a sci-fi novel so it has philosophical lecturing. The Altisians think Jedi can marry and have families without those relationships causing trouble. The Troopers are raised to be soldiers and nothing else. A couple of Rex's new troopers die after only a handful of days as soldiers.
3. Short for a sci-fi novel.
4. I really enjoy the sound effects and background noise used in these Star Wars audios.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Audio'ed: "The Big Bang" by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

Audio'ed: The Big Bang by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins, 2010, Overdrive download.

Collins preface gave a history on this collaboration. Spillane was up against a deadline to produce a Hammer novel. Spillane set aside the almost complete Big Bang and gave a completed, but shelved, novel to the publisher. Collins was visiting Spillane in the early '80s and Spillane said "Take a look at this." Collins read it, Collins enjoyed it, Spillane stuck it away again. When Collins took on Spillane's unpubbed work he cleaned up Big Bang a bit and published it.

There were a couple spots in here where I instantly assumed I'd heard Collins's contributions. But, really, I'm not expert on either of their work. Although I have recognized that Spillane often describes his protagonists grinning.


It's 1968(ish) and Hammer is exiting a Manhattan office building when a teenager on a moped is run off the road by three goons in a car. Two goons jump out of the car. One wields a chain, the other a club. Hammer wields his fists and feet. Two of the three goons end up dead. The moped teen ends up in the hospital and Hammer goes under the bright light of police interrogation.

Hammer, as usual, comes away clean. Hammer, as usual, gets curious about what happened so he pokes around. The attackers were small time druggies. Moped Teen works as a gofer for the local hospital/med school and is under the wing of a famed Doctor. Why was the boy attacked? One theory is that the boy was carrying a lot of cash on payday. Or, were they were trying to force Moped to turn over hospital owned carcotics?

As Hammer starts to poke around bad guys start trying to poke holes in him. Hammer finds out there is a connection with heroin distribution. The mob is involved. Independent dealers are involved. Somehow Famous Doctor is involved.

More things happen and Spillane sets it up for one character to be a behind-the-scenes bad guy and then pulls the rug out from under you. There's a big action piece at the end with lots of blood and gore.

1. Hammer lovey-doveys with Velma - at this point in the series they have a sexual relationship - and boinks another woman. Hammer never shies from sex talk. He embarrasses Pat Chambers when trying to set Pat up with a wealthy, super sexy woman.
2. Hammer kills without remorse. He discusses the topics of remorse and killing with another character and Hammer explains that he sees his fights and shoot-outs as a matter of survival. Someone is trying to kill Hammer but Hammer got him first. Hammer is a black and white guy.
3. Plenty of sex. Hammer and Velda are an item but Hammer is still free to see other women, and he does. Hammer lusts for Velda and provides frequent descriptions of her curvy hips, legs and chest. How her hair moves. The position of her lips and mouth expressions.  He calls her 'Kitten'. 
4. Junkies are seen as lost. Hammer and others don't talk about rehab and recovery. Junkies are a menace and Hammer will clean them up his way.
5. SPOILER Hammer has always been ruthless. The ending has Famous Doctor poisoning a massive heroin shipment. Famous Doctor figures that when hundreds of people die from the drug that the citizenry will rise up and destroy the Mob that has been selling the heroin. Famous Doctor recognizes his idea is unsound and insane. Famous Doctor questions his actions.  Famous Doctor dies and Hammer is the only one left with the information. At the end of the novel Hammer does not stop the shipment from being picked up by the Mob. Does Hammer let the dope go? Does Hammer tell the police? Spillane lets us wonder.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

In My Ears: "Heads in Beds" by Jacob Tomsky

In My Ears: Heads in Beds:A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality by Jacob Tomsky, 2012, download.

Nonfic written by a guy who is dedicated to providing excellent customer service but whose comments are often contradicting and he sometimes comes off as a real dickhead.

Tomsky is a military brat who attended college in New Orleans. He graduates with a degree in philosophy and then bitterly complains that he has a degree in philosophy. He takes a job as a parking valet in a newly opening luxury hotel in New Orleans.  Tomsky never names names, Tomsky is a pseudonym and he calls himself Tommy throughout the book, and I presume the hotel is a Ritz-Carlton since he names a manager Ritz.

The hotel is big on high end service. Staff are thoroughly trained and supported by management, during a pre-opening celebration the staff are cheered by management as they enter a ballroom.  Valet works suck balls. The multi-story parking garage has no elevator and valets have to run up each garage level in Louisiana's summer heat and humidity. Tom gets a job offer to work the front desk. He takes the job.  He does well. A bellman resigns on the spot and Tom is offered to either take the bellman job - bellmen earn a shockingly high income with all the tips - or run a shift as housekeeping manager.

Tom takes the housekeeping job and his stress level accelerates with 10-12 hour days for lower pay than desk staffers. Tom burns out. Tom's bank account built up because he had no time to spend. Tom goes to live in Europe for six months (maybe it was a year) and comes back to the U.S. Tom moves to New York, finds an apartment and tries to get into publishing. No go.  Tom gets depressed, Tom drinks, Tom is close to getting kicked out of his apartment and applies to a hotel. Tom gets hired.

New Hotel is in Manhattan and is poorly managed but still a luxury hotel with expensive rooms. A private equity firm buys the place, renovates to look modern, and doubles the room rates. Tom chafes under the new owners. Tom and other staff are often written up as management try to kick out old staff. Tom gets a two week suspension (or so) and writes this book.

1. What to say. This is a straight foward memoir of life working in a hotel. Tom likes some of the job but gets in a rut and starts to really hate the work. But, moving to another hotel would mean loss of seniority and going back to third shift hours.  Hotel pay is excellent as well, desk staff, bellman, valets, and doormen receive plenty of cash tips.
2. Tom gives lots of advice on how to receive upgraded services at these hotels. Well, that means nothing to me.  Man, I stay in chain places. Hell, I'm cheap enough I will sometimes sleep in the van rather than get a room along the interstate.  Advice from Tomksy on asking for upgrades at the desk and tipping bellmen means nothing to me.
3. Stories of staff misbehavior. Sex, drugs, booze. Staff work together and start sexual relationships. When Tom managed housekeeping he'd walk in on cleaning staff screwing in the rooms. He had one co-worker who'd be lending or booking rooms for prostitutes. One manager was a big booze hound. Two valets in New Orleans starting choking each other outside the hotel entrance.
4. Relationships Tom developed with customers. Those customers grew to be people Tom very much liked and enjoyed visiting with.
5. New York as a big change from everywhere else he lived.
6. Bellmen's skill at getting tips from hotel guests.
7. Bellmen and doormen who'd make so much undeclared income off tips they could buy second homes in the Poconos.
8. The strength and importance of unions. The NY hotel's new owners hire in a major asshole as manager. The guy's goal for personnel management seems is to make people angry and quit work, or do something and get fired. The union contract stayed with the hotel and protected the staff from asshole actions.
9. At an early point in the book Tom says something like, "You may think I'm a real jerk." I said, "Yeah!" out loud.
10. I adjusted to the guy. After working and learning at the New Orleans hotel he knows how to treat guests very, very, very well. He can be an ass - to be fair, that might just be the way he wrote the book - but he lets you know where he's coming from and I stopped thinking he was a complete jackoff.