Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Months to Finish: "Mr. Standfast" by John Buchan

Months to Finish: Mr Standfast by John Buchan, 1919, downloaded off Project Gutenberg.

I downloaded this onto my old, broken phone several months ago. I would read the book when I had to sit around or stand in line somewhere. Fortunately I was using Google Books and able to finish the book after buying the replacement mobile phone.

It's late 1917, and into 1918 I think, and Richard Hannay has worked his way up the ranks of the British Army and is now a General. Hannay is in England recovering from injuries when the spymaster from the previous two novels recruits Hannay for more work.

Hannay goes undercover as a anti-war protester up north. He's not too keen on the anti-war angle but takes the job on. His task is to help discover the men behind a spy ring operating out of Northern England and Scotland. He heads north under an assumed name, works with a couple men involved with British intelligence and meets stunning young woman, Mary. It turns out Mary is his contact. Hannay is hot for Mary.

Things happen with Hannay going north to Scotland trying to track the spies. He walks and boats around Scotland. He also gets pursued by the police - gee, what a surprise, Buchan rehashes the same damn chases as the past two books. Hannay finds out how messages are leaving Scotland for Germany. Hannay use The Pilgrim's Progress as a cypher for secret spy messages.

He meets up once again with the American, Blenkiron. He thinks fondly of his long time Boer friend, Peter, who was captured by the Germans when his Royal Flying Corps plane was shot down.  Hannay figures out who the bad guy is. The same guy from Book #1 who is a master of disguise and fools anyone. But, Hannay sees Bad Guy in a fevered panic when hidding in the London Underground during a bombing raid. Hannay says he can never be fooled by Bad Guy's disguises after seeing Bad Guy emotionally stripped down by terror.

Hannay finishes his job, returns to London, and then leaves for the Western Front. Hannay fights in France for several months as spy stuff and general dirty deeds go on without him. But, Hannay serendipitously runs across information and gives it to his handlers. Hannay is recruited again to join the spy fight.

More things happen. Hannay works with Belnkiron. Hannay and Mary make goo-goo eyes at one another. Hannay takes manly risks. Hanny is loyal to the England. Hannay is very English in general.

More things happen again and Hannay travels in France, Switzerland and Italy and then finally - FINALLY - the novel ends after a big multi-army battle in France.

This was an okay novel. My interest is in seeing things from someone in 1919. Hannay's views on politics, war, social behavior, etc. The book is really two novels in one. The first part is the Scotland escapade with sleuthing and escapes. The second half is more spy and war stuff in France and Switzerland.

1. More "No Girls Allowed Club" stuff. Hannay is in his forties and has spent little to no time with women. You wonder about the author and the audience. Was it manly to be with manly man? Or, was it kinda gay?  The entire series has felt like the nonstop adventures of a latent homosexual. Dick goes after manly pursuits and manly doings: mining engineer, big game hunter, explorer, spy, soldier. Kinda like he's avoiding women to hang out with dudes.
2. It reminds me of an SNL sketch with Michael Palin. I looked the episode up and it was from Season 4, episode 18. The sketch was "Miles Cowperthwaite, Part Two: I Am Nailed to the Hull," As I recall, Palin is a young, upper-class man captured by pirates. The pirates are manly pirates who are most concerned with manly doings. After capturing Cowperthwaites ship they only seem concerned with whether there are any equally manly men are on the captured ship.
3.  When Dick and Mary do come together it is instant love. They immediately want to spend their lives together and a marriage proposal is a formality. It's goofy. Buchan has no interest in creating a romance. After two novels with no women he must have needed one here.
4.  Dick has this unsettling paternal view of Mary. He describes her in child like terms and refers to her schoolboy mannerisms during dinner. Mary is a child and he will be her owner - er, I mean protective companion. There is no lust here.
5. Hannay maintains a chivalric view of soldiering.  You live through the Somme and don't want to shoot a German in the back?  Yeah. Right.
6. So very preachy at times. How Germans are not original thinkers. How being a 'businessman' does not automatically make you smart (I do agree with that). The purity of women. Left winger anti-war guys with plenty of speeches and no clue. Lots of period views on people and culture that make for interesting reading.
7. Pilgrim's Progress is discussed several times by the characters. I was thinking I should try reading Progress and decided absolutely no. The books sounds horribly boring and preachy. Which is a little ironic because I, too, can be horribly boring and preachy.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Quick: "The Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide to Becoming a Whiskey Know It All" by Richard Betts

Quick: The Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide to Becoming a Whiskey Know It All by Richard Betts, 2015, 9780544520608.

A big board book my wife bought me for Christmas. This is a basic "learn about whiskey" book but with neat illustrations and scratch and sniff panels.  The scratch and sniff panels are for the aroma of various ingredients and from the resulting product: corn and what or cinnamon and malts.

A fast read and fun to read and sniff through. Comes with neat fold up chart so you can follow your preferred ingredients and floral notes to find a whiskey. The chart is a whiskey wheel similar to  this at

The problem with reading this and other whiskey or beer books is that I read about great spirits and brews but those great spirits and brews come with great price tags.

Heard: "Wilde Lake" by Laura Lippman

Heard: Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman, 2016, download.

Megan Abbott kept praising this on Twitter so I nabbed the digital audio. This is a novel with a murder mystery but not a murder mystery novel. The novel is set upon the faulty memories and misunderstood experiences of a 10-year-old who grows up to be a District Attorney in her home county.

Luisa "Lu" Brant is the newly elected District Attorney of a Maryland County just outside Baltimore. She lives with her retired father who was District Attorney for about 20 years (or so). Lu is widowed with twins in first grade. She tells the story as both a 10-year-old and present day adult.

Lu is 8 years younger than her brother, AJ. Her mother died only a couple weeks after Lu's birth and she grew up in a young, idealistic, rural suburb with AJ and their father. Lu greatly admired high school AJ and his group of high achieving friends. Lu's young age, innocence, and hero worship made for some incorrect assumptions about her brother and his friends.

Adult aged Lu gets a murder case of a woman killed in her home. The suspect happens to be an alum of the local high school. AJ claims to not know the man. Lu prosecutes the case. The murder and prosecution Lippman's path to talk about a lot of things: sexism, faulty memories, family secrets, pride, arrogance, excuses for poor behavior, how social mores and criminal laws change and evolve over the decades.

Lu is guilty of some poor decisions as a child and adult. So are her family members. The novel is Lu coming to grips with those things while trying to be a good mother, daughter, and servant of the law. Lu is firmly grounded in her present-day life but so much of the murder case makes her think about events of 30+ years ago. Lu reveals more and more secrets as the novel goes along. Those revelations are partly discoveries during the murder case. Other revelations are historical and hinted at by Lu during the story and gradually revealed to the reader.

1. I still have not read Abbott, Jr.'s latest novel from mid-2016. She is so good at laying on creepiness and dread that even thinking about the novels makes me uncomfortable.
2. You know. I guess I don't have too much to say about this novel. I thought I did. But, as you can see above, I am mostly blank at the moment.

Took A While: "Snitch Jacket" by Christopher Goffard

Took A While: Snitch Jacket by Christopher Goffard, 2007, 9781585679546.

I've been watching a lot of TV and movies on Netflix and Amazon. That means I've been slack on my reading. I placed a hold on this novel after reading a scathing review. I would link to the review in questions except I , of course, cannot find the damn review. The review was withering so I assume Kirkus published it.

Imagine my surprise five minutes ago when I discovered that Snitch Jacket was nominated for an Edgar in 2008. Oh, I suppose you don't have to imagine my surprise when I call tell you: I was mildly surprised. Only "mildly" because I think the book is pretty decent with a bit of a nitwit narrator and some humorous situations.


Benny Bunt is one step above being a alcoholic bum. Benny is a reformed tweaker and has been off meth for a few years. He washed dishes in a Mexican food restaurant, bicycles everywhere, has a shut-in and hypochondriac wife, and spends every night at a Skid Row bar, the Greasy Tuesday, in Costa Mesa, California. The Greasy Tuesay is populated with low level crooks and hard core drinkers.

After getting busted for selling marijuana Benny has been working as a small time confidential informant for the Costa Mesa cops. He idolizes the handsome cop who butters up Benny with compliments. Benny also has a perfect memory. Benny's perfect memory offered him an opportunity to get revenge on some crooked colleagues from his past and he always listens close to the local crime crowd so he can pass on tips to the cops.

One day Gus "Mad Dog" Miller comes in the Greasy Tuesday. Gus is preceded by his massive gut and trailed by his aged dog. Gus promptly declares himself the Vietnam battle buddy of the bar owner's dead father. Gus is a dramatic storyteller and quickly makes friends and admirers among the bar flies. Benny is smitten by Gus's tales of war heroism and U.S. crime.

Things happen. Benny helps Gus out when Gus goes on a big bender. Gus figures Benny is reliable and asks Benny to help with a murder for hire. Benny goes to the cops. Stupidity, incompetence, skullduggery, and petty revenge ensue.

1. Almost everything is told by Benny in a document written for his lawyer.
2. I liked Benny the character. I would avoid Benny the real person. Benny is aware most of his own failings and weaknesses. But, his desire for friendship and respect drive a naivete and a blind acceptance of other people's comments.
3. Benny's writing is florid and can be excessively descriptive. I presume Goffard has Benny trying to show off. Benny is a high school dropout and autodidact. He used to study reference books and encyclopedias.
4. A fair amount of humor. The drunken idiocy at the bar. Gus's insanely exaggerated claims of combat and crime. The cop who loves himself and is always blowing smoke to buck-up Benny and keep him informing.
5. The dust cover says Goffard woked the crime beat for a Florida paper before leaving to work for the Los Angeles Times. I wonder if he had visions of Michael Connelly's career path in his head.
6. Connelly or Connolly? I cannot keep them straight except one of them is Irish.
7. I just looked up Goffard's homepage. The cover of Snitch Jacket shown on his homepage is 10x better than the one in my hand. (I got this copy from Muskego PL.)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Read: "The Body Lovers" by Mickey Spillane

Read: The Body Lovers by Mickey Spillane, 1966,

Last of the three Spillane paperbacks I picked up in Lindsborg, KS about 2.5 years ago. Also the weakest of the three novels I picked up in Lindsborg, KS.

We last went to Lindsborg over Thanksgiving since my mother-in-law has been under the weather. The trip was very nice but I did not find anything I really wanted to get at the public library's for sale shelf. I am pretty sure I grabbed a couple books that I later put back after reconsidering that I have a ton of stuff at home I have not yet read. I am not Bill Crider, after all.


Mike Hammer is off hammering around NYC at night and hears a screaming howl in an abandoned building. Hammer runs over to find a young boy crying next to a dead woman. The boy had wandered out of home to go play in the ruins and found the corpse. Hammer calls the cops. Hammer, as usual, gets involved in the mystery of the woman's murder.

The woman was clothed in a flimsy lingerie and Hammer discovers a connection to another dead woman clothed in similar clothes. Things happen with East Europeans, drug smuggling, high society, low society, models, models turned prostitutes, sadism, and police-constrained-by-know-nothing-do-goodnick-liberals.

The plot is kind of a mess. Spillane gives us some commie-style bad guys this time and spins in the usual sex, gorgeous women, and that weird Madonna-whore thing with his secretary, Velda. Pat Chambers appears and says the usual things like, "You can't do it Mike" or "Yeah, I know you too well, Mike." Political commentary on the United Nations is a bonus special. Mike shows his threatening grin. Mike talks about his hidden animal/killer side.

All of the above is standard Mike Hammer stuff - tough guy talk, Mike's many pals, Mike's drinking and love making. This novel had those things falling flat. Last week I read a review of Spillane's A Twisted Thing that panned the story. Well, I enjoyed Twisted. To each their own.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Heard: "Dr. Who and the Space Pirates"

Heard: Dr. Who and the Space Pirates. BBC Audiobooks production, downloaded from

This was fairly awful. The audio volumes were up and down and some dialogue was poorly recorded. The miner character must have had specific directions to "Be as annoying as possible. I want people to wish you dead by the end of the story."  The music would cut back and forth from bippy-boppy music for the comedic parts and a wailing Star Trek-style vocalization for the dramatic bits.

This aired in 1969 according to As the wikia says this is mainly a western set in space. The Doctor and his companions Jamie and Zoe land the Tardis on beacon in outer space. Several beacons in that part of deep space have been stolen by pirates who want the make-believe-bullshit-space-mineral-of-huge-value used on the beacon.

The Space Pirates are being pursued by the Space Corps (police). The Corps has a handful of cops guarding the station. The cops spot the Who-ians and give chase at the same time the Pirates are cutting the beacon apart to take the pieces to their headquarters.

Aw, hell, the plot doesn't matter. The Doctor and friends get in trouble. The bad guys are mostly boring. The miner character is highly annoying. The woman-character-in-league-with-Pirates is kinda clueless.

Skip the whole damn thing unless you are the hardest of the hard core Who fan.

Interrupted Listen: "Quarry's Choice" by Max Allan Collins

Interrupted Listen: Quarry's Choice by Max Allan Collins, 2015, download.

My damn phone broke halfway through this audiobook. Fortunately I keep the audio files on an SD card and I was able to get back to the book after I bought a replacement mobile phone.

A few months ago someone reviewed a different Quarry novel, I think the review was for The Wrong Quarry, and the reviewer griped about the characters, the plot, the setting, etc. My only thought when I read the review was, "What the fuck was wrong with you, dickhead?" When it comes to the Quarry novels I am a straight on Company Man. A Lifer. A True Believer.


This is 1972 and Quarry has been working as a hired killer for The Broker for a couple years now. He meets The Broker in the Quad Cities for dinner and afterwards Quarry is there to interrupt a drive by assassination attempt on The Broker. The Broker is all shook up and a week later Broker asks Quarry to hound dog the guy The Broker suspects of calling the hit.

Quarry takes the job and heads down to Biloxi, MS. Biloxi is a popular tourist spot and aims to set your tourist soul on fire with plenty of prostitutes, bars, and illegal casinos. Broker has teamed with Victim-To-Be's Partner for Quarry to take a job as Victim-To-Be's bodyguard. Quarry is comped a room and a young prostitute. He feels his temperature rising because she is there to love him both day and night.

The prostitute/stripper is only about 18-years-old but has doing the work for years. Quarry happily enjoys her services but starts to like her as a person. Quarry soon finds that Victim-to-Be is a murderous thug. Quarry finds out Victim-to-Be's Pal is a pimping dirtbag and murderer.

Quarry does a hit to prove his bona fides to Victim-to-Be but prostitute is a witness. Whoops. When Quarry turns Victim-to-Be into Victim at a local hotel he is recorded by Prostitute using the hotel's hidden-for-blackmail-cameras and she demands Quarry kill Victim's Partner in return for the tape.Quarry is caught in a trap; he can't walk out, he needs to recover that tape.

Did that sound confusing? It isn't.

Quarry is already sticking around town after the first kill rather than draw suspicion. Quarry gets his kicks with Prostitute and figures out how to get rid of Victim's Partner.

The whole story is an uplifting tale of Dixie Mafia goons, hired killers, forced prostitution, sudden murder, fatal drug overdoses, beatings, con games, extortion, bribery, corrupt police, and a rental Chevelle.

EDIT, 3-10-17: Collins is slated for Murder and Mayhem in Milwaukee this year. This makes me happy since I can actually attend this year. The past 8 years I've been involved in the planning and running of the annual Cub Scout Pancake Breakfast that takes place on the same weekend.
Doubly cool is that Megan Abbott will also be there. So will Reed Farrell Coleman. But, Coleman is always there. Does he has a relative, his brother, living in Milwaukee?
EDIT, 3-13-17. I am always amused that Quarry lives outside Lake Geneva, WI.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Done: "The Morgue and Me" by John C. Ford

Done: The Morgue and Me by John C. Ford, 2009, 9780670010967.

I saw online by Ford on either a blog or the Facebooking Box. That was a reminder I had not yet read any of his novels. This book was on the shelf so I took it.

18-year-old Christopher lives on the West Coast of Michigan. Chris just graduated high school but his summer internship at the local University fell through after he was caught by the police sneaking into the under construction observatory.

Chris instead lands a part-time job at the county morgue that is housed in the local hospital. Chris is intent on being a spy when he grows up and thinks this will teach him... something. I didn't quite understand his teenager reasoning.

While at the morgue a body comes in and the local Sheriff and Medical Examiner are deep in conversation. Chris tries to sneak a look at the corpse but is sent off by the Sheriff. Chris later sneaks into the cooler room, uncovers the body, and discovers bullet holes in corpse's chest. Chris takes lots of photos. Chriss sees the newspaper article declaring the death a suicide. Chris also finds several thousand bucks in cash in the Medical Examiner's desk.

Things happen. Chris wants to find out what happened. Chris contacts the local news reporter who wrote the suicide story and shares information with Hot Young Reporter. Chris's best pal is a drinker and a bookie and dissuades Chris from investigating.

The rest of the story heads into local corruption and local real estate shenanigans. The family of Chris's friends gets involved. Chris deals with the girl who broke his heart a few months ago. Chris is tongue-tied around Hot Young Reporter. Chris acts like a teenager. He is impulsive, optimistic, idealistic, afraid, partially out from under his parents's wings.

This is an easy going story that would comfortably be shelved in a YA section since there is little to no sex and the violence does not get gory. I enjoyed the story.