Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Heard: "Black Horse Creek" by Charles G. West

Heard: Black Horse Creek by Charles G. West, 2012, Overdrive download.

The narrator sounded like some of the voices from South Park. I was not pleased.

A straight forward Western with revenge, a bad seed, a ruthless land baron, lonely widow, a bounty hunter, innocent store owners, etc.

Young Billy Blanchard murders a U.S. Marshall in Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and flees home to Kansas. Billy is 20-years-old and has always been a no-goodnik. He is the third of three sons ans spoiled by his violent, cruel, land baron father.

Grayson is hired by the court in Fort Smith to bring Billy back alive. Billy will stand trial, be hanged, and displayed for the public to see. The court wants to make a clear and explicit example of what happens to people who kill court personnel.

Grayson tracks Billy to the family ranch, captures him and heads back to Arkansas. Billy is a sneaky bastard and almost escapes a couple times. Billy's father, Ruthless Land Baron, sent hired guns out to free Billy and gunfights ensue. Billy is killed when one of the gunman misses when shooting at Grayson. Grayson brings the body back to Fort Smith.

Grayson is paid for his work but ambushed by Billy's brothers who shoot Grayson several times. Grayson survives, recovers, and heads back to west Kansas for revenge.  More people die and the townspeople get the gumption to fight back against Ruthless Land Baron.

This was an okay novel but I enjoy the usual Slocum novels more than this stand alone.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Listened to: "A Sleeping Life" by Ruth Rendell

Listened to: A Sleeping Life by Ruth Rendell, 1978 (according to the internet), download.

Cultural and social commentary packaged within a mystery. Rendell covers the expectations upon women and the social limits that constrain them in the 1970s. Plus a murder done as a police procedural.

Inspector Wexford is called out to a murder scene. A woman has been stabbed to death. The body holds few clues to the woman's identity. Police discover she was a former village resident who in town to visit her hospitalized father. Police have a devil of a time tracking down where the lived, who she knew, and where she worked.

Meanwhile, Wexford's daughter has left her husband and moved herself and Wexford's grandsons into the Wexford home. His daughter has being reading up on feminist literature and that has given her the gumption to change the things that have been bothering her. Daughter doesn't want to be forced to stay at home with the children;  Daughter wants to work and not rely on her husband for money, social status, etc. This confuses Wexford quite a bit. He thinks Daughter is ignoring how good she has it and she needs to be stable while the children are still quite young.

Wexford also works the murder case. No one is too broken up over the dead woman. She had moved away years ago and her father is unresponsive after a stroke. Her aunts and cousins barely know her and the only close relative in town is a rat fink drunkard anyway. The body does possess clues to a London based novelist and Wexford follows the lead he has.

Anyhoo. Wexford follows the clues and runs down a few dead ends as his superior officer pressures him for results. Spoilers Ahead. The London Novelist is supposed to be on vacation to France. London Novelist's agent, publisher and typist give some conflicting information. Dead Woman was never an attractive woman and was discounted by many people because of her looks. She never had romantic relationships and the post mortem declares her a virgin.Eventually Wexford figures out Dead Woman is London Novelist. Dead Woman hid her gender and lived as a man so she could get ahead in the world. She only dressed as a woman when she visited her old village.

Anyway. I enjoyed the story but it was not really my bag.

Quick: "The Driftless Area" by Tom Drury

Quick The Driftless Area by Tom Drury, 2006, 9780871139436.

I ended up enjoying this quite a bit. The style is comparable to James Sallis with sparse writing and an acceptance of fate and misfortune. Drury doesn't throw the whole kitchen sink at you, he lets you fill in some holes and accept the absence of an extended story, background, dialogue, etc. The opposite of Joe Hill - who I also enjoy. It's a crime novel with a bit of supernatural in it. The novel is short as well, 213 pages.

There is a film version for which I recently bought the DVD for the library. I saw Drury's name as the story source and decided to try the book.

The Driftless Area covers significant parts of Southwest Wisconsin and parts of IA and MN. Driftless means there is no glacial drift. The glacier did not extend that far south - or split into two sections, I forget which - and left an unscoured area of land with plenty of steep hills and none of the sand, rocks, etc. deposited elsewhere in the state. Drury uses state names but creates fake names for most towns and cities. I'm guessing most of this is set in WI since several town names are similar to real towns.

Pierre Hunter grew up with his parents each on their second marriage. He was never close to his much older half-siblings and his parents died when he was at college. Since his college graduation his time is spent tending bar, drinking, and hanging out alone in his apartment. The booze gets him in trouble sometimes.

One New Year's Eve he leaves a house party and takes a walk. Pierre has a brief and strange conversation with an older man in a public park. Pierre then walks back to the party but goes in the wrong house, refuses to leave, and gets arrested. The old man leaves the park and visits a young woman they discuss Pierre and what they foresee Pierre doing.

A few weeks later Pierre decides to walk to work along the frozen lake and river. He falls in and is rescued by a mid-twenties woman who uses a rope to pull him out. Pierre is enamored with the gal and over the course of a few months finally goes back to visit and they start a relationship. Pierre takes his annual summer vacation of hitchhiking to visit a cousin in California. On the way back he catches a ride in MN with a shifty guy in a beat-up pickup.

Pierre makes a rooky hitchhiking mistake and stows his backpack in the truck bed. The shifty guy literally kicks Pierre out of the truck, drives off, and stops 20 yards away to look back and gloat at Pierre. Pierre throws a rock at Shifty Guy, hits Shifty in the head, and Shifty lets go the gas and crashes the truck. As Pierre recovers his backpack he figures to get some revenge onthe now unconscious Shifty by disabling the truck. Pierre lifts the hood to pull some wires and instead sees a package hidden behind the battery. The package is a bundle of cash. Pierre takes the bundle and splits.

The story moves on with Pierre moving in with Mystery Girl and Shifty looking for Pierre so Shifty can recover the $77k Pierre took. The story is pretty relaxed. We find out Shifty can be a dangerous guy, but he is more crooked than violent and I never had dread about what would happen once he found Pierre. He and his pals are small time, regional grifters and thieves. Meanwhile, Drury fills us in on Mystery Girl's past, Old Man's prophecies of some sort, and Pierre starting to grow up a little.

I enjoyed the showdown finale, that was fun. Pierre's growing relationship with Mystery Girl was well done and not too lovey-dovey.

1. Pierre and Shifty are two sides of the same coin. Two men with good parents, who graduated college, and knowingly took poor paths. Pierre never does much of anything outside of work, drink and hangout. Shifty started thieving in college and just kept on. They've got themselves on a track and just keep going.
2. If you want a read a real review the NYT one is online. I stumbled on that when trying to remember Pierre's name.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Read: "Lost Canyon" by Nina Revoyr

Read: Lost Canyon by Nina Revoyr, 2015, 9781617753534.

Like a loyal Cheesehead Revoyr sticks some Green Bay Packers fans in here. I read Wingshooters in 2012 when I was on the state literary awards committee. After I read that novel I discovered Revoyr also wrote crime novels and I am now getting around to reading one - even if this novel was published after Wingshooters. Hey, I could have used a semicolon there, right?

Anyhoo. Gwen works in South Central Los Angeles. Her nonprofit job is working with local teens to help them succeed in school and prepare for work and adult life. She has made friends with Tracy, her personal trainer, and joined Tracy on several day hikes in the hills around Los Angeles. She is now joining Tracy and a few other people for a hike in the mountains northeast of LA.

Gwen has never done any overnight camping and is a bit worried and intimidated. But, so are Oscar and Todd. Our third person perspective takes turns with each character. Gwen is black and has always been a little chubby, and the others think her a weak link. Oscar is a self-made realtor but a tough market means he is coasting on his past sales successes. Todd is a transplant from Oconomowoc, WI (I have to go to a meeting there tomorrow) who came to CA for law school and married into a wealthy family. Tracy wants adventure and excitement. For Tracy a good time requires surprise and danger and this clouds her judgment during their trip.

There is a some racial and class tension in the group. Oscar grew up in a working class Hispanic neighborhood. Gwen is black and her mother was absent for most of Gwen's life. Todd is a wealthy white guy who rolls his eyes at talk about white supremacists. Tracy is half Japanese and naturally feisty. They all carry unfounded opinions about one another.

The group arrives to the park's ranger station and find out that forest fires have closed off the area of the park they were to hike. A Ranger says, "Here, try this route out. It's outside the park but beautiful." They take the Ranger's hand drawn map, drive down some rough logging roads, and hit the trail.

The scenery is beautiful. The hikers adjust to the altitude, pack weight, and new boots. The hikers enjoy the scenery and get used to each other's company. The hikers are bushwhacked by a teenage Mexican boy with a gun. The hikers have stumbled on a marijuana field and the Mexican kid is neeeeervous at these interlopers. The Mexican kid uses a sat phone to call his bosses and Oscar hears enough to tell everyone, "They're going to kill us and this kid has people on the way to do it."

Things look bad until a hole appears in Mexican kid's forehead. Up pops a rifle carrying white guy with a seemingly happy go lucky attitude. Things look bad again after White Guy does some racial-slur-name-calling and says he is there to protect his own dope field. "Don't you [slurs] run away now, I'll shoot you dead."

Hikers escape White Guy and, with little gear, head East to get back into the park and find help. The book continues on as a wilderness adventure with the four hikers low on food, low on water, and gradually whittled down by weather and other dangers.

An epilogue ties everything up but I think it took the novel 20 pages too far.

1. I say that "judgment" should have an "e" in it.
2. Revoyr has some nice writing about hiking and gear and the sights, sounds and smells of going on a multi-day trek. If I were writing something like this I know I would have missed the little details she puts in about boots, socks, chafing, bear bags, etc. Those details were great reminders to me about trips I took years ago.
3. Speaking of which, in April I attended the Boy Scout's Backpack Camporee with Boy #1. The Camporee does not have much hiking. There are several classes throughout Saturday on hiking and outdoor skills. One presenter was a minimalist camper who takes one set of clothes, a rain tarp, and a mini alcohol stove. I'd like to try a weekend campout this summer but don't know if I'll get to it. I will need some mosquito netting if I wanna try that guy's method.
3. Book Club style question. Why doesn't Revoyr spend time inside Tracy's head? Why tell the story through the three novices?
4. The agony of false summits. You endure a long hike upwards and find that the summit you had your eyes on is just a small plateau before another set of switchbacks.

Gave Up: "Boston Mob" by Marc Songini

Gave Up: Boston Mob: the rise and fall of the New England mob and its most notorious killer by Marc Songini, 2014, 9780312373634.

This had a rave review on either a Friday Forgotten or on Crimespree magazine. I was enjoying some of the crazy tales of psychopaths and killers. I couldn't keep all the names and feuds and arguments straight and quit at page 150 or so.

I'm amazed anyone survived working with or near the nutbags Songini writes about. The killers were casual with death and killed people for the slimmest of reasons.

Gave Up: "Impossible Monsters" edited by Kasey Lansdale

Gave Up: Impossible Monsters edited by Kasey Lansdale, 2013, 9781596065055.

I quit halfway through the book. None of the stories were to my taste.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Heard: "Mr. Monk Goes to Hawaii" by Lee Goldberg

Heard: Mr. Monk Goes to Hawaii by Lee Goldberg, 2006, Overdrive download.

Another Goldberg-goes-on-vacation-and-turns-it-into-a-novel book. Good, we get a nice tour of Hawaii. The internet says this is the second Monk novel. That means it's the first novel with Monk taking Dioxnyl, an OCD medication, that completely inhibits his inhibitions and allows him to fly.

Anyhoo.  Natalie is going to her best friend's wedding in Hawaii and Monk cannot cope without her.  Monk's appearance on Natalie's flight to Oahu is a nasty surprise to Natalie. But, at least out-of-character Monk is not as annoying as regular-nutbag-Monk. After landing, Natalie and Monk catch a flight to Kauai. You get the full tourist experience as Natalie and Monk stay at a high-end resort, go in the ocean (well, Natalie does), eat pie, eat [Hawaiian food], eat other [Hawaiian food], eat third [Hawaiian food], rent a Ford Mustang, chat with local residents, see some sites, and find a dead body.

Monk figures out that the fiance of Natalie's best pal is a fraud. Monk announces this fact right before the wedding ceremony ends. Everyone is mad at Monk for ruining the wedding and Natalie's best pal flees home to San Diego. Since Natalie's trip was already paid for she decides to stay the week.  Then they find a dead body. Well, they walk by the crime scene and Monk gets involved.

Things happen with super observant Monk being a nut. Natalie trying to get away from Monk. Monk complaining about rolled towels. Monk complaining about geckos. Monk complaining about dirty countertops. Monk telling a guy he should get a tattoo on his right wrist since the man's left wrist tattoo puts the guy out of balance.

Each Monk book I have read is pretty dang good and well worth your time.  Monk remains dedicated to truth and justice. Natalie and Monk stay stuck on their dead spouses. Bad guys get comeuppance. Many jokes. Goldberg really dislikes con men and scammers. Good for him, Goldberg calls bullshit when he sees it.

1. I've resisted reading Goldberg's novels with Evanovich because I never much cared about the Stephanie Plum novels. But, Goldberg and Evanovich have the two main characters traveling around and I do enjoy Goldberg's settings.