Thursday, September 29, 2016

At My Leisure: "Greenmantle" by John Buchan

At My Leisure: Greenmantle by John Buchan, 1916 (Project Gutenberg e-edition from 2008 and updated 2013), no ISBN.

I don't like carrying books around. A novel is one more thing to carry and I'll usually lose the bookmark.  But, I often find myself waiting around somewhere with nothing to do but bore myself on my computer-box-pocket-telephone. Monkeying on the internet with a 3.5" diagonal screen is a drag.  What's more, my data service can be real sketchy. "Hey," I thought to myself "why not load a book onto my phone? Maybe some poetry or short stories so I won't forget characters and plot because of infrequent reading."

So, since someone on Forgotten Books mentioned that you can download all the John Buchan novels I figured I would do so. Getting the files to work on my stupid, damnable, rotten, no-good handheld magic box device took a while.

Set mid-war in 1916 or so and Richard Hannay has been in the English countryside recuperating from war wounds after his service in France with the British infantry. Hannay gets a cable from Sir Henry Bullivant. Hannay worked with Bullivant in 39 Steps and Bullivant calls on Hannay to help with an undercover mission. The ever energetic upper-class Hannay takes the challenge to go to the Middle East and discover the secrets behind a German plot to expand and win the war there.

The German plan is still a secret with only a couple clues to Hannay to go on. Hannay is paired with an American, Blenkiron, and a British Army officer named Sandy who happens to be Hannay's pal.

All three men are to travel separately to Turkey and rendezvous in Istanbul (Constantinople?). Hannay decides to go to Portugal, pretend to be a Limey hating South African, then take another ship north to land in Germany and then travel south to Turkey. On board his ship to Portugal Hannay meets a good friend from South Africa and persuades the man to join him.

They get to Germany and declare to be of help to the Krauts. They are shuttled about until taken up by a German Officer who is suspicious of the two but brings them along to test their loyalty.

Anyhoo. Many things happen. This novel is much like The 39 Steps because it's mostly a long chase. Hannay pretends to be someone else, uses his wits to lie, flees on foot and car and boat, and talks his way through tight spots. Once Hannay gets to Turkey Buchan starts to tell more of the plot which concerns a secret Muslim prophet the Germans plan to use as a human guidon and lead the Muslim populations of the Middle East to run over the Russians and English.

Hannay meets up with his fellow spies. Hannay meets the German femme fatale in charge of the German operation. Hannay and Co. are found out, flee, and steal a map showing the German positions and battle plans against the Russkies. Hannay and Co. head East and South to escape Femme Fatale and hook up with the Russian Army.

Everything ends well. Accept for the bad guys.

1. As I mentioned above this book is all about The Chase. The plot about using the Muslim Avenger is interesting but kinda half-baked. Buchan just uses that as an excuse for the adventure.
2. Even though he regularly faces death Hannay still sometimes treats things like a boyhood lark.
3. This came out in 1916 and Hannay has high patriotism even after fighting in the slaughterhouse of the Western Front. He misses and mourns his dead colleagues in France but is determined to win out over the Huns.
4. I mentioned in my previous notes about 39 Steps how that novel was widely read in the trenches. It's plot gave a fictional explanation about how such a massive and destructive war could begin. I imagine Greenmantle gave similar succor in the midst of the war: Hannay as an dedicated infantry officer who takes on a highly risky mission on the chance on dealing a major blow to the Germans.
5. "Succor" is a weird word. If we had an O.E.D. here I would look it up.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Heard: "The Deep" by Nick Cutter

Heard: The Deep by Nick Cutter, 2014 (or 2015 I'm not going to hunt down the American release date), downloaded from

Nick Cutter is Craig Davidson. I like Davidson's Davidson novels and read his first Cutter horror novel, The Troop, a year or two ago. Davidson newest book (released this autumn or winter)  is a memoir of driving a school bus in 2008 when he really needed the dough.

Anyhoo. A mysterious disease is spreading around the world. The Getts, is similar to Alzheimer's in that people start forgetting things and eventually go comatose and die. Iowa City veterinarian Luke is brother to a famous scientist. That scientist is one of three scientists 8 miles down in the ocean exploring the possibility of a cure. The giant floating platform above the deep sea station gets a video message from Jake's Brother asking for Jake. What can Jake do but accept the government offer, fly to Guam, and head down?

Jake finds out one of the three submerged scientists has died. He came back to the service and is completely covered in long red scars from cuts.  Everyone says, "What the hell?" Jake and a Naval Officer, WhatsHerName, head down with WhatsHerName piloting the submersible. Jake and WhatsHerName's submersible connects to the massive underwater station that is analogous to a large spider or octopus with tubes connecting the different buildings.

Jake is getting a little claustrophobic. Jake still suffers nightmares as he wonders what or who took his missing son several years ago in Iowa. Jake finds that one of the remaining scientists is locked into his lab and will not talk to anyone. Jake's brother is still a bit of a sociopath and only concerned with his research. Jake's Brother doesn't care too much about the dead scientist and the loony scientist - less competition for scientific achievement anyway.

Jake starts hearing things. Jack starts seeing things. Jack starts sleep walking. WhatsHerName says, "Hey, it's OK. That is the standard looniness that sometimes affects submariners and we are even deeper." Well, no, things are not okay because this is a horror novel and soon the substance that the scientists are there to study shows signs of intelligence, and deviousness, and violence.

1. A good book but I think it went on a bit too long. I thought Cutter/Davidson was rehashing a few things along the way.
2. Only a few characters and the flashbacks scenes to Luke's insane mother were very creepy.
3. The dog character was a nice choice and Cutter used that and a couple other animal related scenes to creep me out.

Heard A Bit Ago: "The Gods of War" Conn Iggulden

Heard A Bit Ago: The Gods of War by Conn Iggulden, 2011, download.

I completed this a couple weeks ago. I think. I've not much to say about the book. The novel is entertaining but does not leave a lasting impact. Part of that is I do not know what is historically accurate and what is drama.

The basic story is correct: Caesar chased Pompey. Caesar defeated Pompey. Caesar went to Egypt. Caesar and Cleopatra had a child. Caesar went back to Rome and was stabbed to death. I just don't know what else was added on or what order was changed to fit the novel's plot. This is all fine with me - it's a novel not a history. It's just that I have to remember that a fair portion of the story is baloney compared to history.

Anyhoo. Caesar loves himself and thinks he always deserves more. He is always looking for new challenges and wars to fight. His men love him and follow along. Except for Brutus. Brutus is equally cruel and self loving and joins forces with Pompey when Brutus thinks Caesar does not adequately appreciate and compensate Brutus for his talents. After Pompey's defeat Caesar forgives Brutus and Brutus rejoins the Legion.

Caesar and Co. track Pompey to Egypt. Pompey is killed by the Egyptians. Caesar gets angry. Caesar shags Cleopatra and kills her brother King. Caesar goes back to Rome and becomes Emperor. Senators get fed up with Caesar and slice and dice Caesar.

1. For me the best part of the books in this series in comparing ancient political maneuverings and decisions to today's politics. Politicians and leaders have to appease fickle masses. Politicians and leaders also have to lie and deceive fickle masses and create crises to stay in charge.
2. Another part: xenophobia and colonialism. The Romans are assholes.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Paperback: "Seduction of the Innocent" by Max Allan Collins

Paperback: Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins, 2013, 9780857687487.

Third in a series of comic book themed novels by Collins. I did not know the other two books - Strip for Murder and A Killing in Comics - existed. Maybe that's why the first publisher dropped the series after the first two novels.  Hard Case Crime came to the rescue and published this one.

Right in the middle of this novel the protagonist slugs it out with a drunken, brawling cartoonist. The fight scene was fantastic.  The confrontation and fisticuffs only last 2-3 pages and I feel like I should go back and analyze the whole thing and figure out why it was so good. I won't.

Anyhoo. Jack Starr is a troubleshooter for a company that handles nationwide syndication of newspaper comic strips. His job is to keep the artists and writers out of trouble and on deadline. His young stepmother is a former striptease artist and business savant who owns the company. The two get along but  they don't "get along".

Meanwhile, Dr. Werner Fredrick has just published his expose on the dangers of comic books and how they are inciting bad manners, long hair, foul language, chewing gum and all other forms of juvenile delinquency among American children.

Stepmom Starr tries to woo Fredrick by proposing that Fredrick write a syndicated advice column. Heck, Starr Syndicate will even find him a ghost writer for the weekly pieces. Things are looking positive indeed until Starr goes to Fredrick's hotel apartment and finds the good doctor dead.

Starr starts investigating. Along the way we encounter several fictionalized cartoonists, comic book titles, mobsters, personalities, and artists. I actually recognized some of them. Starr has some sex. Starr gets a beating. Starr cracks a little wise. Starr figures it out and Stepmother Starr and Starr reveal the bad guy.

1. What's it called when all the suspects are brought together by the investigator and the investigator reveals the killer?
2. Collins's new Quarry novel comes out in a few months.
3. I've not been able to watch the Quarry TV show. I'll have to wait for the DVD.
4. EDIT: 9-26-16. I fixed some writing errors up above. I also found out that the QUARRY episodes are viewable on YouTube. I've only had time to watch one full episode but the show has been pretty good so far.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Heard: "The Field of Swords" by Conn Iggulden

Heard: The Field of Swords by Conn Iggulden, 2004?, Overdrive download

Swords! Horses! Sex! Intrigue! Back stabbing! Violent Frenchies! Violent Germans! Violent British! Violent Romans! More sex! Politicians being weasels! Weasels becoming politicians! Rioting! Sex!

Third in Iggulden's Emperor series. Caesar has returned from his multi-year assignment as "governor" of Spain. Caesar returns to Rome and brings all his men, a lot of gold, and a yearning to fight someone else. Caesar forges an alliance with Senators Pompey and Crassius and heads to Gaul to kill and steal and loot.

Gaul is tough. There are many tribes to fight and many battles. The Roman Legions march around and kill people. Brutus is Caesar's right hand - and winner of a tournament to determine the best swordsman in the Roman Empire. Death is frequent and lives are cheap. You sign up for 25 years when you join a Legion but don't count on living that long.

Caesar is successful in Gaul but Rome is in turmoil. Two new Senators are grown-up street gang leaders and both of them guide their violent street gangs in efforts to increase the Senator's political power. The Senate grants Pompey dictatorial powers to battle the crime and many riots and fighting ensue. Pompey gets a swelled head and does not want War Hero Caesar returning to Rome and challenging Pompey.

Caesar invades Britain and has a rough time. He has to return to Gaul and put down a rebellion. Caesar then takes his Legions and heads south to Rome. More slavery, violence as politics, rich guys being dicks. A fun action story with plenty of political shenanigans.

1.a.  The novel's politics play nicely during an election year. Especially with Trump on the ballot. Especially with Clinton, for that matter. You can easily argue Trump - like some characters in the novel - has always been out for himself. Trump says whatever he wants in an effort to get elected.
1.b. Clinton, meanwhile, can be argued that she started out as a believer in her work and country but was corrupted by money and power.
1.c Caesar himself is a mix of both. Caesar believes in the power of Rome and it's importance to the world. Caesar also thinks mostly of himself and is blind to his selfishness and failure to thank and praise those who sacrifice so much for him.
1.d. The leaders make decisions to sway the voters and gain power. People are either helpers or speed bumps.
2. Caesar is hugely charismatic and a military genius. Caesar's men are loyal to Caesar more than they are loyal to Rome.
3. This is not real history. Iggulden takes real people and crafts his own story around them. The audiobook had an afterword about this but I have forgotten what he said.
4. I am currently listening to the fourth novel in the series. I have the fifth novel waiting in my phone,

Done: "The Storm Murders" by John Farrow

Done: The Storm Murders by John Farrow, 2015, 9781250057686.

I read Farrow's Ice City (1999) several years ago and thought it was great. This is the fourth book featuring Montreal police detective Emile Cinq-Mars. Farrow is a pen name for Trevor Ferguson. Ferguson is one of those "critical darlings" whose books never sold that well. He took a chance on genre by writing City of Ice and had some good sales.

I waited a long time - or so it seemed - for another book under the Farrow name. I waited even longer for the third book and am still waiting because the third novel, River City, never had a U.S. release. The Canadian edition must have had a small printing because Ferguson himself posted online that online prices for the hardcover were hovering around $3,000. Sure, the cost is in Loonies but the price is still absurd.

Anyhoo. Two Province of Quebec cops are called to a rural farmhouse during a snow storm. The married couple inside are dead and their left hand ring fingers cut off. The cops are talking and realize the killer must still be in the house because there are no snow tracks showing someone exiting the home.  Both cops are shot in the head.

A month of two later retired Montreal copper Emile is at his horse farm and gets a call from his former partner, Mathers. Mathers and an FBI agent, Dreher, come to visit and the FBI agent asks for Emile's help. Well, this is weird in several ways. 1. They are in Canada, why is the FBI here? 2. Mathers works on Montreal Island, not in the exurbs. 3. When does the FBI ask anyone for help? Especially a retired Canadian cop? 4. Why does the FBI give a crap about a killing in Quebec?

Those very questions are what intrigues Cinq-Mars. Besides, he has been getting bored during retirement. Working with horses is fine but Cinq-Mars misses the intellectual challenges of his old career.

Things happen. Emile and his wife are having marriage trouble. His wife, Sandra, demands to be a part of the investigation - she does not want to be shut out and since he is not a cop he is not required to keep secrets. Emile keeps pressing Dreher for Dreher details and explanations about who these people were. Dreher tells of related killings in the U.S. and, again, is tight-lipped about the victims and how they are connected. Emile is intrigued by the mystery and keeps chugging.

More things happen. A trip to NOLA. Sandra briefly kidnapped. A mysterious FBI agent in NOLA. Emile back in Quebec investigating the dead Quebec couple. I enjoyed the story.

1. As I think about the plot I recognize it is kinda messy in spots. The killer's motive and behavior are a little off. But, hey, it;'s a novel.
2. Farrow has real nice character touches that explain Emile and his attitudes and temperament. His big schnozz that was a calling card when he was a policeman. His impatience with most everyone. His hyper awareness of details.