Wednesday, June 28, 2017

E-Book: "After the First Death" by Lawrence Block

E-Book: After the First Death by Lawrence Block, 1969, ebook version is some other year.

Once again I am left wondering if Larry Block has ever written a bad book. He might think so but how many readers would agree? I suppose he may - may - have turned out dreck during his drinking days but even that is probably pretty good. That's 50+ years of work.


Recently released convict Alex Penn went on a drinking bender and wokeup in a flophouse hotel room. His brutal hangover keeps Alex from moving for several hours. Once Alex gets up from bed he steps in a puddle of blood and sees the murdered prostitute on the floor. "Uh-oh," Alex thinks, "Not again."

Alex was convicted about five years ago of killing a prostitute during a booze blackout. Recent court decisions won him a release and he returned to New York. Alex has stayed off the booze but one night started drinking again, picked up a working girl, and woke in his current state.

Alex cleans himself up best he can but his clothes are soaked in blood. He steals a set of clothes and hits the bricks. He knows the cops are after him and he refuses to go back into the can. He starts to remember things and recalls someone else in the hotel room that night. He figures he has been set-up for the murder. But only someone from his previous pre-prison life could be so motivated. "Hey! that means I must not have killed the first girl!" thinks Alex.

Alex starts sleuthing. Getting by on what little cash he has on hand Alex tries to figure out who hated him so much to kill a second woman on put Alex on the hook. He starts trying to track down men who could have slept with his ex-wife. Former colleagues itching for advancement over Alex. So on. So forth.

Of course, not everything is as it seems and we follow Alex's amateur adventures with Block during his usual skillful sketches of Alex and the other characters. I assume this was written for a mass market paperback publisher that harped on the sensational and sexy. Block gives plenty of that with drug use, vomit, blackouts, heroin, prostitutes, pimps, and blood. Block also has all those things make sense for the character and setting. The heroin addicted prostitute is not a ful-on scuzzy junkie or a hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold angel. Alex is a blackout drunk.

1. Once again I feel like I am sucking up to Block.
2. Oh, Master Block, you are so knowing and powerful. From your keyboard sprouts the wisdom of the ages and the insights of Solomon. Men bow to your feet and women bow to your waist. Editors weep as they read your work. Junior Editors must be chained to their desks to stop them from flinging themselves from high office windows.

Finally: "Round Mountain" by Castle Freeman, Jr.

Finally: Round Mountain by Castle Freeman, Jr., 2012, 0984707824.

I brought no library books on our South Dakota trip and after I finished this novel I barely read much else. I ended up going to sleep or watching movies and TV shows on my tablet.

Scott Phillips once published a book, Rut in 2010, with Concord Free Press. I was lucky enough to get a copy. Concord does paperback runs, gives the books away, and asks that readers pass the book along to more readers. I vaguely remember making a request and receiving this or Rut in the mail.

Short stories set in rural New Hampshire (Vermont?) around Round Mountain. Round Mountain is a land feature not a town. Each story features Homer, small town cop-drinker-father-cuckold, over several decades of the man's life. Most stories are told from Homer's point of view.

Homer at times seems heroic. He works a somewhat thankless job as a small town cop and volunteer firefighter and seeks to do goodworks for people. But, he also sounds like a not so great father and husband. His wife turns out the be a mess of promiscuous trouble and a mentally challenged son seems to get uneven care from the parents.

Each story is a snapshot and shows us Homer from a child to an older man. Homer is fairly solid and steady. He left his hometown for a short while to live in NYC but came back when his father fell ill.

I've not much else to say. I enjoyed the book.

1. If you want the book, ask me and I will mail it. Same for Rut, but I'll have to look around for the copy of Rut.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Heard: "The Graveyard Book" by Neil Gaiman

Heard: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, 2008. I did not get the ISBN.

Described as children's book but I think Gaiman's kid stories are always worth the time of adult readers.

Set somewhere in England in a seemingly modern time. An assassin is inside a home and has just used his knife to murder a married couple and their daughter. He is making his way to the toddler boy's room but finds the boy missing. The boy had awoken, climbed out of his crib, thumped his way down the stairs on his bottom, spied the open front door and took a walk.

Across the street from the charnel house is a nature preserve and abandoned graveyard. Baby Boy wanders over and slips through the iron fence. Killer - named Jack - follows the boy's scent into the graveyard where a man materializes and uses paranormal powers of persuasion to escort the man from the graveyard and to forget he senses the Baby Boy there at all.

A council of ghosts is convened. The graveyard is filled with ghosts from all ages but most of the ghosts still sleep away in their graves. When debating what to do with Baby Boy a ghost couple who died offers to adopt the Boy. A mysterious woman on a flying horse shows up and says, "Keep the damn kid."

Each successive chapter follows the boy, now named Nobody, as he grows up in the abandoned cemetery. We don't see much of Nobody's adoptive ghost parents. Nod, as he is known, also depends on a figure to be his guardian. That creature, Silas, is not a ghost but allowed to stay at the cemetery. We figure out Silas is a vampire and Silas is the one who goes out at night to get food for Bod.

Time moves on and Bod is required to stay in the graveyard because the killer, Jack, is still looking for Bod. Things happen. Bod make a human friend. Bod makes a ghost friend. Bod tries going to school. Bod enters an ancient crypt. Good stuff.

1. I looked at Gaiman's website about the pub year and he lists the usual "places to buy" and also "Library Search" which is pretty damn groovy.

Re-Heard: "A Short History of Nearly Everything" by Bill Bryson

Re-Heard: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, 2003, CD version, I did not catch ISBN before return to library.

I first listened to this when going back and forth from work in Arizona. That was 13-14 years ago. My wife brought this home to listen to on our vacation drive to South Dakota. Everyone in the family enjoyed the book.

I don't have a whole lot to say about the book except that it is greatly entertaining and you learn a lot about the sciences. Because this is a science book. Sure, this is written by a layman for a lay audience but if you don't care about science topics just skip it.

In most ways a history of science and scientific advancement. The breaking of paradigms. Physical difficulty of scientific expeditions and endeavors. Social and professional exile after taking unpopular positions. The incredible genius - and I do mean genius - of some people.

How some things never change and money rules the roost. Lead was big business for paint and gasoline. The readily known and proven dangers were hidden or lied about for profit.

Human development is interesting. How we were not inevitable. People can argue fate and religion but there are plenty of places in history where a different turn would have developed different beings.

1. Bryson mentions Iowa and Iowans whenever possible.
2. Only one or two Wisconsin mentions.
3. Fascinating biographical tidbits of famous scientists like Isaac Newton - who was a nut.
4. Nothing else.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Done Listening: "Where it Hurst" by Reed Farrell Coleman

Done Listening: Where It Hurts by Reed Farrell Coleman, 2016, download.

Another Coleman adventure on Long Island. A few years ago Coleman wrote two books under the name Tony Spinosa, Hose Monkey and The Fourth Victim. I enjoyed those two ex-cops-working-crap-jobs-in-downtrodden-Long-Island novels.  This novel has a similar theme with retired patrol officer Gus Murphy living in a lousy airport hotel and driving the hotel shuttle van.

Murphy's personal life imploded two years previous when his 20-year-old son died of a heart defect during a playground basketball game. Murphy's marriage fell apart. His wife slept with Murphy's former partner. His daughter starting boozing it up. Murphy was full of anger and loss. Murphy dropped contact with all his remaining friends and colleagues.

Murphy has basically put himself into a living purgatory. One day a skell from Gus's police days shows up asking Murphy to help investigate the murder of the skell's son since the cops on the case have been doing squat. Murphy gets angry thinking The Skell is playing for sympathy since Murphy's dead son also died youg. Gus kicks the guy out of the hotel, has second thoughts, tracks The Skell down to apologize. Gus goes to the scrap yard Skell works and lives at and Gus is shot at. He then finds Skell's corpse.  Gus is now involved.

Plenty of things happen. Gus has a focus now. Gus starts talking with former cop colleagues and with the police chaplain who helped him two years ago. Gus still loves his ex-wife but that relationship is poisoned and done with.

Bad guys show up and we meet plenty of the working class and criminal class of Long Island. No East Egg and West Egg and parties on yachts. This is overcast Christmas season with lonely people at the hotel's disco night, parents with dead children, divorce, betrayal, murder, torture, guilt, etc.

Jeeze. That last paragraph makes the book sound like a major downer. It isn't. Gus's arc is upward in this story: he is finally starting to recover and deal with his grief and anger.

1. Long Island geography love.
2. Glock 26 love.
3. Beat-up car love.
4. Mysterious Russian-immigrant-with-history-of-violence love.