Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Listened: "Don't Look Now" by Michelle Gagnon.

Listened: Don't Look Now by Michelle Gagnon, 2014, download.

Sequel to Don't Turn Around and second novel in Gagnon's Persefone trilogy.

Recap: A pharmaceutical company kidnaps street kids, infects them with a terminal wasting disease called pema, and experiments for a cure. The dead teenagers are disposed of and no one suspects a thing except for the novel's teens and a couple adults. Main characters Noa and Peter discover a  black site that warehouses kidnapped teens and medical labs. Even after a raid on the lab by the FBI everything is a secret; the FBI claim nothing happened. The fix is in.

Former street kid Noa is now on the run with fellow fugitive Zeke. They have created a strike team of other street kids rescued from the medical experiments and the group travel the West Coast raiding secret medical sites and hacking computers.  Noa is her group's leader but never feels like she knows what she is doing.

Peter is still in Boston and working as the main hacker to find the black sites housing the secret medical facilities. Peter is under surveillance by the bad guys but somewhat protected by his parents involvement in the conspiracy. Peter is worried about ex-girlfriend Amanda who might be getting sick.

Things happen.  Peter feels unimportant by sitting at a computer. He starts to follow the main bad guy from volume 1, Mason, and Peter bugs Mason's apartment and comptuter in hopes of getting more information and evidence.  Noa and Co. capture a bad guy and the guy is killed. Noa and Co. then go on a raid in Phoenix and rescue three kids. The raid turned violent with a warehouse fire, sary armed guards, and gunplay.

Amanda goes missing and Peter is set-up by Mason. One of the kids rescued by Noa is a plant for the bad guys and Noa's safe house is attacked. Characters die. Teen love drama is everywhere.

1. Gagnon's adult paperbacks circ' pretty well at my library.
2. Some of the teens are not believable. All the street kids can be rough and violent but they are still free of drugs and sex. These are street kids, they're orphans, foster kids, abused kids, kidnapped kids, raped kids, and cut-open-for-experiments kids. I'd not expect such a tight and focused group.
3. Oh, well, it's a novel. Roll with it.
4. The narrator pronounced Gagnon's name and I've forgotten how it's said.

Heard: 'The Sweet Forever" by George Pelecanos

Heard: The Sweet Forever by George Pelecanos, 2002, download. Very good narration by Cary Hite.

Pelecanos's novels are a tough read (listen) for me. He sticks me in the middle of people and culture I do not understand. He has people living in ways - cocaine partiers, racist street cops, ghetto crime  - that make no sense to me. Plus,the slang throws me off.  Pelecanos has good people living through rough times and bad people enjoying the rough times. Even the good guys can be sketchy and violence is often the only option left for them. 

I'm not sure if I read other books in this series. Sweet is a snapshot of cocaine and growing street crime in D.C. in 1986. Cocaine parties and good times precede the coming wave of crack cocaine. The story takes place in March during the NCAA tournament and everything is shadowed by the characters' constant praise and admiration for the soon-to-be-dead Len Bias. The book is full of pop culture music, basketball, and a city saddled with the graft and incompetence of cocaine loving Marion Barry.

Marcus Clay owns three record stores in the D.C. area. He just opened a new one in a rougher neighborhood. Clay's lifelong friend Dimitri Karras helps manage the stores and is burning his candle with booze on one end and cocaine on the other. They get mixed up with dirty cops, neighborhood cocaine dealers, a dumb gangster trying to be extra hard, boys without supervision playing gangster or hooky, an appliance repairman stealing drug money from a burning car, romantic trouble, and parenting difficulty.

Pelecanos gives you characters rich in personality; none of Pelecanos's people are cookie cutter or plot props. You get to know the people and understand why they do the things they do.  The drug money thief is a sad sack in love with a woman who wants money and it's status. He knows she cheats on him, and he doesn't care as long as she stays with him. With an extra few thousand from the burning care the man thinks he can keep her.

1. Narrator Hite really performs this novel. He's telling the story, not reading the story.
2. You do not remember Len Bias? Even I remember Bias. As a star for Maryland Bias was a huge name in college basketball. Bias celebrated his NBA draft pick with some cocaine and died from cocaine intoxication.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Got to: "Tom at the Farm" Michel Marc Bouchard

Got to: Tom at the Farm, Michel Marc Bouchard, translation by Linda Gaboriau, 2011 play, 2013 translation, 9780889227590.

I just mentioned to someone that I ordered this for the library thinking it was a novel. Nope, it's a play. I read the book anyway. Written in French by a Quebecois and had a film version released in 2013. I have not seen the film version. The film was panned by a couple things I read. Apparently the film director is a precocious dude and was too self-indulgent with the movie.

The play is arty. Tom will speak directly to other characters but is thinking out loud, "The lines that Tom addressees to himself or his deceased lover should not be played like the traditional direct asides to the audience. Tom should instead deliver these lines in ongoing interaction with the other characters." Maybe this plays better on stage because I had difficulty visualizing things. 

I was interested in the book because I thought it was a crime/horror story. Young man Tom visit's his dead boyfriend's farming family. The family did not know the dead son was gay and Tom was unknown. Tom stays a few days and things get dark and brutal. Things do get brutal but this is gay-bashing and hidden identities.

Tom is a handsome, stylish, office worker.  When Tom's nameless boyfriend dies in a traffic collision Tom visits the family farm in Northern Quebec for the funeral. Dead Boyfriend never spoke much about his family. Dead Boyfriend got out of No-Gays-Around-Here, Quebec as a young man. Part of Dead Boyfriend's departure was the brutal older brother, Francis.

Things happen.  Francis wants to keep his mother, Agatha, happy and that happiness involves keeping secrets secret. Francis knows Tom's true relationship with Dead Boyfriend but threatens Tom into pretending to be a pal.  Agatha is oblivious to the true nature of both sons. Francis seems to have repressed his own gayness with violence and booze. Tom stays at the farm, works the dairy cows, and is oddly taken in as a new son. Dead Boyfriend's fake girlfriend shows up after Francis (Tom?) asked her to drive up. Tom learns how Dead Boyfriend's first boyfriend was attacked and mutilated by Francis. Francis takes up with Dead girlfriend. Tom murders Francis in the corn field.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Heard: "Little Elvises" by Timothy Hallinen

Heard: Little Elvises by Timothy Hallinen, 2013, download. Narrated by Peter Berkrot.

Junior Bender, volume 2. Since Junior is a burglar and crime solver I keep thinking his name is Bernie. This makes perfect sense because Hallinen writes Lawrence Block Type novels that are Lawrence Block quality. By Lawrence Block Style I mean: humor, some grit, witty banter and love talk, oddball bad guys that are still scary, and good doses of realism sprinkled throughout.

This time Junior has been called in to the local cop shop under suspicion of burglary. A nasty burglary that involved a death. The Detective on the case gives Junior the option to skate on the frame-up if Junior will help the Detective's aging uncle, a retired record producer. What can Junior do? Of course, this doesn't stop him from negotiating payment and terms.

Aging Uncle is suspect in the death of a journalist. Aging Uncle has an alibi but is hiding the alibi. Aging Uncle made his fortune by selecting Elvis lookalikes from Philadelphia. Giving them suits and songs, then selling singles. Junior's computer savvy daughter even wrote a report on the topic.

Junior meets the journalist's widow and falls in lust. Junior has his crook friends help him out. Junior is tabbed by Scary Old Gangster to do some work. You don't say "No" to Scary Old Gangster. Junior pines for his wife. Junior misses his daughter. Junior enjoys his shiftless and dangerous life; he has fun as a crook. Anyhoo.

Things happen. We follow Junior around as he narrates his investigation, his concern for his teenage daughter, jealousy over Ex-Wife's new boyfriend, threats from a nutbag hitman, side plot on a missing woman, etc.

This is the kind of novel where I start reading (listening) and get sucked right into the story. Hallinen tells a great story with a vivid setting and characters. The characters act believably and the dialogue is very fun.

Done: "The Fever" by Megan Abbott

Done: The Fever by Megan Abbott, 2014, 9780316231053

The usual high quality work of Abbott, Jr. I was a year behind on reading this one.

Abbott moves even further away from straight crime and noir novels by focusing more on the psychological. Abbott uses teenage girls again, but this one spreads out compared to Dare Me. Abbott tells the tale by 1st personing three family members: Deenie is the teen protagonist. Eli her older teen brother. Tom her father and high school teacher. The crime at the center of the story is caused by a romantic jealousy driven frantic by teen drama and emotion. It's the crime's strange psychological byproduct that Abbott zeroes in on.

Deenie is a high school sophomore in Dryden. (New York state, maybe? Oh, it doesn't matter.) She is is part of a tight group of four girls and feels her best friend Gabby is slipping away from her. Gabbie is spending more time with Skye and Deenie has been hanging out with Lise. Things start out with teen worries and concerns. Worry over vaccination pain, love interests, reputation, status, family concerns, mysteries of why people behave badly.

Deenie is in class one morning when Lise has a "fit". A thrashing,shaking fit that throws her from her chair and onto the floor. He classmates are concerned enough to make sure they record everything on their cell phones. Deenie is freaked out and worried. Lise goes to the hospital, is released home, has another fit and whacks her head on a table, goes back in the hospital. Then another  girl has a fit. Then Gabbie has a fit. What is to blame? "I'll bet it's that vaccine. You're poisoning our children!!"

Meanwhile, Eli is a hockey playing fool. He spends as much time as possible on the ice and his good looks draw women like flies. Eli has been a slut the past year or two but is getting weary of the behavior. Tom is a careless father and a serial dater after his wife suddenly left after a surprise miscarriage that may have been part of her surprise affair with a married man.

Things start to happen as Abbott bounces us back forth among those three. Deenie is worried for her friends. Worried that she is to blame for the unknown disease. Worried that someone will find out about how she had sex for the first time.

Teen girls are acting weird and anxious. Teen girls are falling sick. Parents are getting paranoid and angry. Parents are blaming anyone they can. Public health starts asking questions. Police start asking questions and searching the school grounds.

Everything ties up nicely in the end with a reasonable and realistic solution, same as Dare Me. Deenie is too distracted by the mess around her to suspect what really happened/.

1. Abbott and Bill Crider are real good at setting things up so everything makes sense in the end.  
2. Abbott got interest in the breakout of "Teen Girl Sickness!" in Maine. Massachusetts? New Hampshire? One of those states anyway. Abbott writes us a close-in account but does not write from the perspective of someone who gets sick. Deenie's homelife is not perfect but she has the self-confidence and stability to not sicken herself from the commotion, worry and anxiety.
3. Yes, "personing" is a word. So is "screwyouitsmywordsothere".

Friday, October 2, 2015

Done: "Black Rock" by John McFetridge.

Done: Black Rock by John McFetridge, 2014, 9781550229752.

A little time capsule from 1970 Montreal. I took a while to warm up to this one and ended up liking it quite a bit.

Constable Eddie Dougherty is about 25-years-old and English in predominately French Quebec. Montreal is enduring a cascade of dynamite bombs set off by the FLQ and who-knows-who-else. The government says, "Foreign interests are to blame." The cops say, "Look in the backyard for the bombers." Constable Dougherty - Dog-Eh-Dee to the French speakers - spends many days chasing bomb calls, searching for bombs and guarding bombing scenes.

But, Dougherty also gets detailed to pick up a drunk Detective. The Detective is in an English bar in Eddie's old neighborhood, The Point. Detective Carpentier is surrounded by angry locals who want Carpentier to be out looking for a missing local girl rather than drinking in the bar. Eddie gets Carpentier out and learns several girls have gone missing and the cops are looking for a guy named Bill who may be killing the young women. Eddie was on the scene for one of those dead victims. Eddie also knows the missing Point girl.  Two days later her body is found.

Carpentier calls Eddie to help identify the corpse. Eddie recognizes a unique similarity between the two bodies and tells Carpentier. Eddie escorts Carpentier to notify the family. Most City of Montreal detectives are assigned to the anti-terror squad and the murder squad has no manpower. Eddie starts helping Carpentier. He puts in his spare time talking to locals and looking for a white Lincoln seen nearby. Eddie tries to get an informant by schmoozing with former Point neighbor and buying dope from him. Mid-20s Eddie does some drinking, meets some women, listens to older cops.

The case unfolds over several months as the bombings ratchet up in frequency and size. Eddie is only involved in the murder case because no one else is around to do the job. As Eddie works his job McFetridge gives a great picture of 1970 Montreal. The counter culture has turned revolutionary. Teenagers want to party. Young men have shaggy hair and desire revolution. Cops are not trusted. The government doesn't seem to care about the bombs until rich people are targeted. Political and economic trouble means union strikes and Parliamentary posturing. Quebecois want independence. Federals want to make Quebec happy.

Dougherty spends more time on the case and meets a grad student in anthropology who researches killers. Dougherty digs her and they spend time but nothing sticks. Dougherty is angry with the killer. He wants resolution and justice. They catch the guy but the victory is hollow and lacks the finale and decisive ending Doughtery wants for the case.

1. I like reading about Montreal. The city has a neat history and after my short trip there in 1999 I've always wanted to return. The English-French divide is in the novel with separated neighborhoods and language issues. Dougherty's mother is French and straddles both sides.
2. Several police departments across several suburbs on Montreal Island. This was before the police and city services were merged across the area.