Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Tried Out: "A Mind to Murder" by P.D. James

Tried Out: A Mind to Murder by P.D. James, 1963, Overdrive download.

When I was in high school I bought a P.D. James paperback. I didn't like the book and never finished the story. When I got my first job in Kansas someone asked me to order the new PD James novel. The book was probably A Certain Justice. I mentioned that I forget to order James novels because I did not like her work. I found out that the lady who requested the book was upset at my response. I apologized but I think it was too late.

According to the internets this is James's second Adam Dalgliesh novel. Dalgliesh is a police inspector in London and his name is very difficult to spell. Dalgliesh is also very difficult to say so it's a good thing I had the audio version.

On a Friday Dalgliesh is called to a psychiatric clinic where the [office manager] has been stabbed to death. The clinic is locked up at night and Dalgliesh discovers that the murderer must be a member of the staff. Dead Woman was found in a locked basement room and no patients were left unattended.

Dead Woman could be a imperious jerk and Dalgliesh has plenty of suspects. Doctors, nurses, aides, and porters were there. Dalgliesh keeps the staff in the building and he starts interviewing them all. We hear about illicit romance, missing money, secretive telephone calls, and more. After Dalgliesh finishes his interviews we follow the different staff members back to their homes and families.

Dalgliesh does not interrogate anyone. He interviews people at the clinic, their homes, or neutral places like a cafe. He doesn't haul anyone to the station. He doesn't browbeat or threaten. Dalgliesh is collecting statements and looking for lies and omittance. A straight forward procedural. Nothing raunchy, no rough language, minimal violence.

If there is a theme to this book it is soured and lost love. Divorces.  Unhappy marriages.  Failed affairs. Sexual dissatisfaction. Dalgliesh is lonely and unable to meet someone to go out with. The murderer - SPOILER ALERT - is taking advantage of an emotionally frail woman who is facing the shame of a recent divorce. The epilogue tells us how one staff member with a failed affair is leaving to be a nun.

Heard Another: "Deadly Honeymoon" by Lawrence Block

Heard Another: Deadly Honeymoon by Lawrence Block, 1967 (original), Overdrive download.

I had just listened to a Block novel and was hesitant to try another book of his but I did so anyway. As I listened I wondered what the pub date because of talk about typewriters, newspapers, politics, and sex before marriage. I searched online and found a couple blog posts. One is at Violent World of Parker. Another was at Vintage Hardboiled.

A neat thing about this is that Block took the original idea from Don Westlake. Block and Westlake were visiting one evening and Westlake said he had a story idea: Two honeymooners in a cabin are trapped by killers who rape the woman and beat the man. The couple want revenge. Block had the story idea stuck in his head and a few years later Block asked Westlake if he was doing anything with the idea. Westlake said "No," so Block wrote a novel.

Anyhoo. Two honeymooners are staying in a remote cabin when a couple killers rape the woman and beat the man. The couple go out for revenge.

Eh. What the hell. That's enough description. Follow the above links for more plot.

1.At one point someone says, "What time is it?" The answer is "4:30."

2. Wife does not want to talk to the police after the rape. Together they decide to go after the two hitmen. They don't quite know what they are doing and they are aware of their amateur status. They're making things up as they go along and have a lot of trust in one another after such a brief courtship and brand new marriage.
3. Here's a paraphrase of one of their discussions:
Husband: He'll be sandbagging us.
Wife: What's that mean, "sandbagging"?
Husband: I don't know. I heard it on TV.
4. The novel has the feel of a Westlake novel. With a step-by-step and trial-and-error search to find the killers.

Heard: "Horns" by Joe Hill

Heard: Horns by Joe Hill, 2010, download.

Audio version. Kinda long. Hill rehashes a few events and takes him time doing so.  Using the different characters to Rashomon things did not give me much more insight. Well, those are my complaints.

Ignatius "Iggy" Perrish is about 25, lives in New Hampshire (Vermont?), and one year ago his longtime girlfriend was raped and murdered. Iggy has been shiftless since the murder and most of the town thinks he killed Dead Girlfriend. DG was found in the woods at aIggy wakes up in the back seat of his car after a heavy night of drinking. His forehead hurts and he feels two nubs under his skin. Well, those nubs grow out of his skin and turn into horns.

Iggy heads home and finds his girlfriend-of-convenience. GOC sees the horns and, trancelike, starts to tell the truth about herself and Iggy. Iggy is creeped out. Whenever someone sees the horns they start to tell their deepest thoughts and feelings. Two brutal cops express their homosexual desires. A waitress admits that she lied about Iggy to the police. One man says he wants to go home, put on women's underwear, and masturbate. Iggy is even more creeped out.

Iggy heads to his parents house and sees his older brother. His brother says, "Iggy, I'm sorry, but I know who murdered Dead Girlfriend and I'm partly responsible." Iggy is intrigued. Iggy wants to find the person responsible. That the killer is one of his best pals and sociopath makes things more interesting.

Things happen as Iggy avoids others. Iggy tries to figure how to get the killer. The Killer knows Iggy knows and he maneuvers to get Iggy. Fun stuff as Iggy adjusts to having big horns, turning bright red, and carrying a pitchfork. Plenty of jokes in here as well.

A fun novel that takes you through some serious issues about grief and family.

1. I forgot there was a movie version. I just saw that when searching online to find character names.
2. The other that the Devil is maybe not a devil.  That the Devil is not evil. The Devil is actually an assistant, of sorts, to God. After all, God sends sinners to hell and the Devil punishes them for God.
3. Character names? I do not need to remember any stinking character names.

Catching Up: "Red Harvest" by Dashiell Hammett.

Catching Up: Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett, 1929, Overdrive download and I do not recall the copyright on that one.

Audio version.

The Continental Op makes his famous trip to Personville. Personville is known across the West as Poisonville because it is a rotten town run by a local mine owner who has paid off everyone in town. The cops are on the take. The crooks are crooked. The papers are bent. The politicians are paid off.

The Continental Op is sent to Poisonville when the local newspaper editor hires the Continental Detective Agency. The Op arrives by train and discovers grey buildings grouped into a grey town and surrounded by grey mountains. The city's dominant features are grey (obviously) and tall smelter chimneys. The Op keeps an appointment with the Editor at the Editor's home, but the man is not there. The Op meets the wife. The wife answers the telephone, leaves the house, and returns a half-hour later. The Op is sent back to his hotel.

The Op discovers that the Editor was shot to death. Well, that's a trick. The Op is curious and visits with Mean Old Man who runs Poisonville. Mean Old Man, MOM, is upset is son is dead. MOM wants to hire the OP to clean things up. Op knows this is sketchy. Op knows that MOM wants to get the men who killed his son, he doesn't really want things cleaned up. Op negotiates payment and a deal that the Op won't stop until the dime does drop. (Best rhyme I have.)

Things start quick with Op figuring out how to get the various criminal factions fighting. He lies and schemes his way into their confidence and sets the many sides against one another. Bootleggers, pimps, con men, numbers racketeers, robbers, burglars, and a bent Police Chief. Mob girl Dinah Brand becomes the OP's inside source.

The Op does not handle things ethically or legally. He shoots a couple men and sets other men up for beatings and shootings. A turning point is when the Op wakes up from an alcohol blackout to see he is lying (laying?) next to Dinah and holding the icepack used to kill her. Op wonders if he killed her. As the novel moves on his judgment becomes more questionable and he describes his actions as "blood simple". The Op doesn't want anyone arrested and prosecuted, he just wants them dead. He's been drinking the Poisonville water and he's becoming like the dirtbags he is working against.

Anyhoo. It's worth your time as both a classic and good novel. I suggest reading the book. I think the prose works better on the page than in the ear.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Heard: "Candida" by George Bernard Shaw

Heard: Candida by George Bernard Shaw, 2006 for audio date, not sure on production date, Overdrive download.

Recording of the play by L.A. Theatre Works. Overdrive has several recordings of their productions. I was hunting around for audiobooks and figured I'd give this a try. I know nothing of Shaw but a former library board member published a biography of Shaw in 1980, George Bernard Shaw and the Actresses.

Anyhoo. James is a well known pastor in England and very in demand as a speaker on social issues. His wife, Candida, is returning after being away for a month. Also returning is a friend of of James and Candida, Eugene. Candida is off stage most of the time as goofy, lovelorn and inexperienced Eugene proclaims his life for Candida to James. Eugene is a bit of a dope and despises James as know-it-all who dos not truly understand and appreciate Candida. 

James, in turn, finds himself questioning whether he may really be a prig and if Candida will leave him for the younger Eugene. Meanwhile, Candida's father wants to win some government contracts, James's protege is silly, and James's women admirers lust for him. James and Eugene decide they will let Candida decide who to stay with.

Candida chooses James after calling them both numbskulls and telling Eugene he's acting like a child.

The play description on Overdrive says, "Shaw’s warm and witty play challenged conventional wisdom about relationships between the sexes. A beautiful wife must choose between the two men who love her."  That's bullshit. The point of the play is that the two men are fighting over Candida as if she were property to be divided. Both men considered, and actually were, socially advanced when it comes to women's issues. But, both men were still silly. Eugene thinking he knew what Candida wanted. James thinking she could so easily be wooed away.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Done: "Nemesis" by Misha Glenny

Done: Nemesis: one man and the battle for Rio by Misha Glenny, 2015 copyright with a 2016 pub date, 9780385351034.

I read a review somewhere, maybe in the NYT Sunday book review section. Maybe not. I've been interested in Brazilian crime news ever sense watching City of God and Elite Squad and the Elite Squad sequel. This was talked up in the review as a thorough and exciting true crime by a German who moved to Brazil and reported on Rio for years. Yeah. Well, okay, whatever.

Some background. Rio is built on a bunch of hills. The rich people took the flatland. The poor people built on the jungle covered slopes. As the city of Rio grew from internal immigration the favelas on the slope kept creeping up and up. But, those favelas received few, if any, government services. Water, sewage, electricity, roads, building codes, police service, etc. were not around. Consequently, the favelas fell under the control of the local crime lords who had the means to control the population.

With some crime lords this was not all bad. Smarter crooks would avoid violence and secure the loyalty to the local population. The guys in charge would keep petty criminals out and arbitrate disagreements. After all the police and courts were unresponsive and expensive. Holiday gifts of food and material kept the families happy and supportive or the local criminals.

Dumber crooks would kill their way to power and kill to stay there. Neither the "nice" or violent crime lords stayed on the top for long. Competing gangsters and police operations would knock them off the throne. There are several gangs in the Rio area and each favela is aligned with one or the other but have autonomy as separate fiefdoms.

Meanwhile, the favela residents themselves would endure whoever was in charge. Either cops demanding bribes and torturing and killing suspects, or drunk and high teenagers with guns. Locals still had to make their way down the hills to the bus stations and travel to work in the rich neighborhoods.

Those wealthy neighborhoods are right next to the poor neighborhoods. Rio geography is a patchwork of poverty and riches. Some of the crappiest favelas has views of Copacabana and Ipanema. The wealthy, the police, and the politicians worry about crime from the favelas rolling down into the nice neighborhoods. The police are free to beat and kill those who may danger the status quo.

Anyway. Antonio Francisco Bonfim Lopes grows up in a favela. He marries and has a daughter and gets a good job as a newspaper distributor. But, his daughter gets sick. He and his wife cannot pay for treatment. The incredibly crowded conditions in the favelas, he lives in Rocinho, mean his family shares their apartment and the not working toilet causes even more trouble for them.

Antonio gets desparate and walks up the hill to Rocinho's crime lord and asks for a loan. Antonion ends up getting a job with Crime Lord and renames himself Nem. As Nem he uses his business sense to work his way up the ladder. In time he takes over from his dead boss and runs Rocinho. Nem stays in position for several years.

The World Cup and Olympics are the turning point. There can be no violent outbreaks or political turmoil. The state government plans to pacify each faveal, one by one. This could take some time seeing as how there are hundreds of separate communities. The paramilitary police move in and chase around the crooks. The cops start prepping for an invasion of Rocinho and Nem ends up public enemy number one. Nem is arrested, probably more of a show arrest, and goes to prison. The book ends.

1. I follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter. That guy has lived in Brazil for several years and has been reporting on the recent political turmoil there. Reading this book and current political commentary has been interesting.
2. Did you say nemesis?

Monday, May 16, 2016

DNF: "The Black Arrow" by Robert Louis Stevenson.

DNF: The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson, Overdrive download.

I was having too much trouble understanding the accents and keeping the names straight. I'll have to find a print version.

I originally searched for The Glorious Hussar by Conan Doyle. No audio version was listed in our Overdrive catalog.

Forgot One: "God's Eye View" by Barry Eisler

Forgot One: The God's Eye View by Barry Eisler, 2016, 9781503949614.

I remembered something about this book and realized I forgot to record any notes. Damn.

This is either a new series or stand alone by Eisler. Based off the Snowden revelations with a bad guy NSA Director plugging links by killing people.

Evelyn is an NSA programmer. She has created a system that can hack into any CCTV system around the world. She reports directly to the NSA Director, has a bum of an ex-husband, and a son at home. Evelyn starts putting together the clues showing that some NSA employees and a reporter have died shortly after her talks with NSA Director. Evelyn is kinda worried.

Meanwhile, NSA Director and his protege are working hard to stop any more Snowden style revelations. They will stop the leaks using a couple salaried assassins. One killer, Delgado, is a former mob hit man who made a deal with NSA Director. The other killer, Manus, was rescued from juvenile prison by NSA Director and has total loyalty to NSA Director.

Manus is asked to surveill Evelyn but ends up making friends with her. Since Manus and Evelyn's son are both deaf those two develop a rapport. Manus starts to really like Evelyn and worries that NSA Director director will tell Manus to do more than watch. He does. He tells Manus to kill Evelyn and the boy.

Manus has internal turmoil. Manus tries to come to a compromise. NSA Director just wants blood. Rapey-Murderer Delgado is sent out on the job. Violence ensues. NSA Director ends up deposed and Evelyn is safe. For now...

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Hard Case: "Plunder of the Sun" by David Dodge

Hard Case: Plunder of the Sun by David Dodge, 1949 and 2005, 978-0857683212.

Third of the four Hard Case Crime novels I picked up over the winter. Part of series by Dodge featuring Al Colby as a trouble shooter in South America. At least I think it is part of a series. I didn't look too hard. Call Hard Case and ask Ardai.

Colby is sitting on a park bench in Argentina waiting to meet someone. Colby received a cold call promising a job. A man in wheelchair is wheeled up by a personal nurse. Wheelchair Man offers to pay Colby to take a ship north to Peru and smuggle a small box ashore.  Colby does not want jail time for smuggling so he is reluctant to take the work. Wheelchair Man convinces him and he, Colby, and Personal Nurse board a steamer as passengers. Colby and Wheelchair pretend to not know one another as Colby carries around the slim, small box. There is concern that Colby's cabin will be searched. We meet some passengers including a nasty Peruvian.. We meet Personal Nurse. Colby is coldcocked and Wheelchair ends up dead and his cabin ransacked. 

Colby gets the box ashore but what should he do with it? Wheelchair is dead and seems to have no living relatives to inherit the box. Nurse wants the box. Nasty Peruvian wants the box. Another passenger, Big Dude,  wants the box. Colby opens the box and finds a ancient Quechua from the Maya along with a written manuscript. The Mayan Quipu is twisted rope used by messengers as a form of shorthand. The accompanying manuscript can only be translated by a handful of people. The two items together lead to a hidden Mayan treasure that was collected to ransom a Mayan king from the Spaniards.

Things happen. Colby ties to do the right thing but is surrounded by people with shifting allegiances and hidden desires. He and Big Dude team up to dig up the treasure. Colby wants to recover the gold for the recovery fee from the Peruvian government. Big Dude wants riches. Colby is double-crossed and left for dead.

Colby recovers his health and recovers the treasure and forces a resolution for several of the personal conflicts. A novel with nice setting and a plot and characters that move along.

1. This seems like a Bill Cider special: Mayans, mysterious women, lone hero in South American, hidden treasure and a film version starring Glenn Ford.
2. It took a while to finish this one. I brought it along on Boy #1's Backpack Camporee a couple weeks ago. The camporee was in a Dane County park and more a shakedown experience. Scouts bring along a couple nights worth of gear and have several training sessions. One of the sessions was by  minimalist backpacker who travels with just a rain fly and a lightweight sleeping bag. No spare clothes. A blade from a safety razor instead of a pocket knife. A small alcohol stove made from a cat food can. A water filter straw and no pans.

Minimalist Camper inspired me to not sleep in a tent. The second night of camping I folded one ground cloth in half and put my pad and sleeping bag inside. The cloth was kinda small so I used a smaller ground cloth to layer over my head in case of rain. I burrowed into the bag and used my flashlight to read this novel.

When asked what he does when getting cold in his sleeping bag, Minimalist Camper said "Just do some crunches in your bag, you'll warm up." Minimalist Camper had 50 pounds worth of beer belly, andI think he had trouble seeing his feet so there was no telling how he did any crunches. But, and let's be clear here, he is the one out there doing the hiking and traveling.
EDIT: I forgot to mention that if anyone wants my copy they can let me know. The paperback is a little beat up, but not too bad.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Listened: A Stab in the Dark" by Lawrence Block

Listened: A Stab in the Dark by Lawrence Block, 1981, download and I do not recall the year for the audio version.

Fourth in the Matthew Scudder series and the earliest one I have read/heard. Scudder is still drinking at this point but the end of the novel has him wondering. He almost attends an AA meeting, but gets nervous and decides a drink will calm his nerves.

I'd thought Scudder hit rock bottom after his on-the-job shooting and was on the wagon by the first book.  Nope. Scudder is a functioning alcoholic. He is out solving crimes but every day involves bourbon. (I think Eight Million Ways to Die has Scudder in AA, but I might be getting the novels confused with the film adaptations.)

Anyhoo. New York's Ice Pick Killer of eight years ago has finally been caught. But, the killer says he is not responsible for one of the killings and he has a rock solid alibi - he was sent to a mental hospital. That single victim's father wants Scudder to look into the old case and see what he can see. Scudder actually caught the murder eight years ago until the case was sent to the Ice Pick task force. A former police colleague refers The Dad to Scudder, Scudder says yes. Scudder accepts $1,500 to look into things.

The case is very cold. But, Scudder doesn't have much else to do. He left his wife and kids years ago. He has no pets. His friends are few. Heck, there are bars all over New York so he can travel the boroughs and belt bourbon when he wants. Scudder also acknowledges that he can be a bulldog on cases. He'll dig to China to satisfy his own need for answers.

The victim was killed in her kitchen. Stabbed several times with an ice pick. And she was pregnant. Scudder tracks down old friends, he first husband, neighbors, work mates, anyone. He begins to build a picture of Dead Woman. Along the way we meet shifty cops. Casual drinkers. Happy divorcees. Unhappy married people. Take another Block tour of New York. Scudder starts a relationship with a drinking woman.

Scudder wraps things up in the end. He catches a couple lies and the killer confesses. Scudder novels are never really about the mystery - this one is pretty straightforward anyway. The story is about Scudder, humanity, human behavior and life.

1. Film adaptations. I don't recall much of the Jeff Daniels movie but the Lian Neeson flick was good.
2. Twelve Hard Case crime titles - Including forthcoming books.
3. Let's get back to sucking up to Block.
4. Oh, Mr. Block, you are so wonderful. Your humor and thoughtfulness come through with every word. Your literary brilliance is akin to a star. I'm so very glad you have produced so many wonderful works. I promise to stop confusing you with Donald Westlake and Ed McBain. Especially since those two are dead.