Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Waited On: "Canary" by Duane Swierczynski

Waited On: Canary by Duane Swierczynski, 2015, 9780316403207.

The reliable Siwzzleleel wrote this after reading about confidential informants who were pressured by the police into spying on crooks. This is not the breakneck pace of the Charlie Hardie novels.

Sarie Holland is in the honors program at a private college in Philadelphia. She is a year younger than most other freshmen and her mother died a year ago. She lives at home with her father and younger brother. Sarie has the hots for an older honors program student. That guy asks her to give him a lift into the city.

Sarie gives him a lift. Sarie drops him at drug house. They are driving off when she drops him to get cheese steaks. Sarie is going around the block when she is pulled over. A narcotics cop busts her and things stat going bad.

This is a good novel but I have a cracked finger and do not want to type any more.

Notes: Read in December, typed on 1-17-16, and back dated to '15.

Done: "Rangers at Dieppe" by Jim Defelice

Done: Rangers at Dieppe, The first combat action of U.S. Army Rangers in World War II by Jim Defelice, 2009, 9780425225691 (paper).

This showed up after our library system conversion. I must have placed a hold a while ago, suspended the hold, and the system conversion released the hold.

A book with a narrow topic. Plenty has been written about the disastrous Dieppe raid in 1942. The Canadians and British mounted a large raid on the coastal French town as a moral builder and dress rehearsal of sorts for future invasion of France. U.S. Rangers were still a new unit. Rangers were training under the guidance of British Commandos in Scotland and several were sent to join the invasion force for experience.

Records are scarce. The Rangers were spread out among several units and battle histories do not give the full story of who went where and when on the day of battle. DeFelice was able to speak with only a couple living Rangers as he worked on the book. DeFelice organizes the book around those Rangers who came ashore - several landing craft never made it to shore - and some of the upper level failures and actions that helped cause a disastrous raid.

I like how DeFelice points out the upper level errors. Rushed planning. Pushing military action for morale and propaganda. Dissent over poor planning was shut down or ignored. The mission was way too ambitious with a tight timeline that could not be met.

30 pages of sources and notes, I like that. A lot. A quicker read and an interesting story about a rarely told story.

Notes: I typed this up 1-17-16 but read it in December so I am back dating.

Complete: "Trench" by Stephen Bull

Complete: Trench: a history of trench warfare on the Western Front by Stephen Bull, 2010, 9781472801326.

This was quite good. Bull knows what he is talking about. Bull throws in his some pointed commentary at times but the book mainly a highly informational piece on how trench life and warfare changed during the war.

The battlefield and tactics were revised and changed over the four years of warfare. "Over the top" is one of the lasting images but, fortunately, those tactics did not last for the whole war. We miss the advances in artillery, tanks, mining, machine guns, gas, patrolling, the depth of built-up defenses with concrete bunkers, mortars, artillery attacks, machine gun attacks, etc. Wars are, after all, a time of quick technological research and achievement.

Troops did not spend a lot of time in the front line. Units were rotated in and out of the line. I think a week at time at the front was usual but rotations depended on the individual division and the army. I remember from several Western Front memoirs how the men would rotate to the rear and officers would take courses in artillery. machine guns, patrolling, etc.

The middle of the book had an handful of paragraphs that wonderfully explained how the war and tactics evolved over the four years. Damned if I can find that section. I looked and scanned but I found zilch.

Plenty of photographs and illustrations. An historian's look at events and people - he doesn't focus on heroic stories and apocryphal tales. Bull points out how the remaining trenches and storng points in France and Belgium differ from their active use. Erosion and settling have down their work and even rebuilt trench lines differ from 100 years ago.

Bulls' topical chapters are:  New Weapons and Tactics, Gas, Raiding and Sniping, Mining, Concrete, The Tank, Over the Top.

Comment: I finished this in 2015 so I am backdating this post. Written 1-17-2016.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Heard Another One: "Stories From the Secret War" by Terrence M. Burke

Heard Another One: Stories From the Secret War: CIA Special Ops in Laos by Terrence M. Burke, 2014, I am not sure if the copyright year is the book, the audio, or the digital audio.

Interesting stuff.

Burke got out of high school, joined the Marines, served several years in the Corps including a stint as Embassy security. Burke decided to try college out and while in school contacted CIA people he meet during his Embassy duty. Burke enrolled at a D.C. area college and got work ended up having a couple "smaller" jobs with the CIA as a tech and a security guard. He applied for clandestine services and paramilitary service. Away he went to training.

Burke did not go into a lot of training details but he spent almost two years learning everything. Spycraft, communications, infantry skills and tactics, communications, language training, etc. Training was mostly done by the CIA but he and some others also did Army courses including a escape and evade course in Central America.

Burke is posted to Laos. An international agreement barred military assistance to Laos. The Army left Laos the CIA moved in. Burke and Friends were tasked with countering the communist influence and helping the Laotian Army and local groups fight. Burke worked with Air America to transport material and people to remote camps. The CIA guys don't actively fight. They train guerrillas and sometimes perform improvised bombing runs on North Vietnamese convoys.

Burke spent two years in Laos working at several jobs from the large, main airfield to smaller camps. The Laotians had surplus equipment and weapons and were '03 Springfields, M1s and M1 carbines. He had training above basic first aid but in several cases ended up being the emergency medicine guy for the locals. One instance had a boy with a crushed arm - maybe it was a leg - and another had a man with a bad head injury.

Towards the end of his time in Laos Burke was based in a camp as an infantry instructor when the camp was attacked by the North Vietnamese. Burke always slept in his boots and clothes and woke in time to see the enemy coming. Good thing, because Burke was targeted by the NVA.  Two NVA soldiers burst in and started shooting. Burke was prone, shot back, and killed them.  Burke and Co. survived the fight and he ended up leaving Laos for the States.

Burke's afterword is also interesting. He gives a quick rundown of the rest of his career. He returned to Southeast Asia on another tour with the CIA and then worked his way up through the Agency. (Burke writes that one motivation to advance in rank was to have fewer and fewer bosses to report to and suffer under.) He retired from the CIA in the mid-'70s and joined the newly formed DEA and retired from that Agency after working his way up those ranks. After that he joined an international security and investigation company and them formed his own firm.

1. What do old activist hippies have to say after reading this? Burke's book is short. He doesn't cover politics or social issues. He believed in his work and trusted in his colleagues.
2. Interesting thing: His M1 actually broke during a gun fight. He writes that the follower popped up out of his gun during the fight I listed above. Lucky for him one of the Laotian troops took off running and Burke was able to grab that man's rifle and keep fighting.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Listened: "The Abominable Snowmen" by [multiple creators]

Listened: The Abominable Snowmen by [as listed on Overdrive] Patrick Troughton, Deborah Watling, Jack Watling, Frazer Hines. Television audio with some voice over narration.

Another audio package from the Doctor Who TV program. Original dialogue and sound effects are used with descriptive voice over, "The Doctor approaches the pyramids and inspects the objects. Victoria sneaks away." According to a fan web page these episodes aired in 1967.

The Tardis lands in the mountains of Tibet. The Doctor is happy and starts hunting through the Tardis for an object. The Doctor finds a big coat and a Tibetan holy bell. Meanwhile, two explorers are attacked by a Yeti and one man is killed.

The Doctor, Victoria and Jamie head into the wind and cold. The find the remains of the explorers's campsite and then find a Tibetan monastery. The surviving explorer accuses the Doctor and Co. of being responsible for the attack. Explorer also accuses the Doctor and Co. of being journalists there to scoop the Explorer's discovery of the Yeti.

Anyway. The Yeti have been attacking people. The warrior monks are led by a sneaky Abbot. A couple warriors are warrior-like and a couple others are more monk-ish and calm. Not Monk-ish and agitated. We find out the Yeti are robots that house control units in the shape of metal spheres. The Abbott is under the control of some mysterious entity.

Doctor Who fights for clear headed thinking, ration, and kindness. Jamie carries a sword around. Victoria screams in terror. People die. Some Yeti monsters walk around and I never get to critique the awful costumes because I am listening to an audio book.

1. Meh. Skip it unless you're a regular Who fan.
2. Throughout the story I kept thinking of The Kinks.

Heard: "X-Files: trust no one" edited by Jonathan Maberry

Heard: "X-Files: trust no one" edited by Jonathan Maberry, 2015, download. Multiple narrators.

Short story collection featuring Scully and Mulder with one story focusing on Skinner. I heard about the book because I (sort of) follow Jonathan Maberry online. Fun to listen to and a nice tie-in to the upcoming episodes.

All the stories list the time and date like each TV episode does.  Most stories were set during the first half of the television show's run. One earlystory has Mulder's wife. Mulder married a woman so she could earn status as a legal immigrant. I think another story was set post-2000 with Scully thinking about her partnership with Mulder as more than work.

All the shapeshifter stories you could ever want. I enjoyed those shapeshifter TV episodes as well, so I will not slight the authors for enjoying the same thing. A few appearances of The Smoking Man. Several stories where super secret men in hazmat suits swoop in, take over a crime scene, and concoct a cover story.

I don't recall all the authors. I do remember Max Allan Collins and W.D. Gagliani. Collins's story was a horror tale. Gagliani had werewolves, of course.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Done: "Worm" by Anthony Neil Smith

Done: Worm by Anthony Neil Smith, 2015, 978-1937495893 (paper).

Smith printed the ebook with Blasted Heath and the paper version is from Down and Out Books.

Short version:
Guy on the Gulf Coast has no job. Guy goes to North Dakota for oil field work. Guy transports meth for more money. Guy's family moves North to be with Guy. Bad things happen with some mystery thrown inside.

Finn - called Ferret by most people - had no job prospects back on the Gulf Coast. Finn quit work as a touring musician and is laid off from [somewhere]. Finn doesn't want a job with his controlling father-in-law and heads to North Dakota for work in the oil fields. He leaves behind is worrying wife and their four-year-old daughter.

Finn gets to the Bakken oil fields and hires on with an outfit managed by Pancrazio. Finn doesn't much like the work, the place, or the people. Handy is the only guy Finn tries to make friends with and Handy pushes Finn away. Finn wants a new start and his family reunited in ND. When Finn figures out Handy and Pancrazio are running meth Finn asks for extra "work" in exchange for some of that plentiful drug money.

Anyway. Many things happen with lonely men getting drunk and chasing the few women. Low level crooks get away with being stupid because there are too few cops. No one is really happy and bad dudes are scheming. Boom town life means everyone is a stranger and there is not enough housing, few restaurants, and driftless morons looking for work but stupid to learn the trade. Things go very bad for Finn. People are trying to live and get ahead but the weather, the work, the bosses, the loneliness, and the crooks grind people down.

Some other dude - this guy - already wrote some nice insights about the novel that I would have missed. How several characters "have two names, two lives and some even have another self they're hiding to their colleagues."I didn't actually read the rest of that review. There was something else about villains.

1. Smith mostly skips the sex scenes. Good idea because A. most scenes in novels are lame and B. All the character except Finn and his wife are looking for love and companionship and never really finding it. The sex is casual. The friendships that exist are - as pointed out by above reviewer - two faced. Even the two best pals from OK are running separate shenanigans.
2. Shenanigans.
3. Continuing Smith motifs: Northern prairie setting. Conflicts with in-laws. Small time crooks. Naive guys learning the hard way.
4. I liked The Hard Way. I saw that one in the theater.
5. Boom town living with high pay matched by higher prices and no place for the workers to spend the dough. Richard S. Wheeler's Sierra did a great job explaining how the boom town economies in California ran in 1850.
6. Spoiler. Smith kills off Finn's Wife Character. Wife Character was a nice woman and Smith gives enough time for us to start liking the lady when Wife Character disappears and is presumed dead.
7. I've got two more Smith books to read and then I will be caught up.