Thursday, July 27, 2017

Paperback Reprint: "The Man on the Balcony" by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

Paperback Reprint: "The Man on the Balcony" by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, 1968 from a 1993 reprint with 9780679745969. Translated by Alan Blair.

I am at Boy Scout camp all week. I will not try typing into my magic telephone box. I also cannot find an embed code using the youtube app.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Heard: "The Glass Key" by Dashiell Hammett

Heard: The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett, 1931, audio version is listed as 2011 in Overdrive. That date might be electronic version and not production date.

I cannot recall if I read this before or not. I've always enjoyed Hammett's books but did most of that reading in middle or high school. My interest was always the Continental Op so I think I might have skipped this novel.

As I was listening to the first part of the book I thought, "Hey, this is the plot of Miller's Crossing." Well, yeah. Sort of. The first part of the film is much like the first part of the novel and then the stories diverge. I'm not bothering to research and see if the Coen's credited Hammett.

Ned Beaumont works for Paul Madvig. Madvig is a political fixer in a medium sized town not far from New York. Madvig has most politicians under his thumb and an upcoming election has him working to get his senator reelected. Madvig makes money of the government contract scams and the usual illegal enterprises. Ned Beaumont came to town about 18 months ago, started working for Paul and the two of them became tight.

Ned has been the strategic might behind Madvig's dealings. Ned has the brains and the foresight. But, when the senator's son is beaten to death on the street things start to happen. Ned is the first to find the body and walks up the block to Paul's night club. The first concern is for how this will hurt the election. Paul is concerned how the death will effect his pining and mooning love for the Senator's young daughter. Paul is about 20 years the woman's senior but madly in love with her.

Things happen in a Hammett fashion. People lie. Hoodlums enjoy hurting people. Drinking and smoking are vital to daily life. Hats are worn. So on. So forth. Ned splits from Madvig but still helps him out.

I was struck how Hammett would let us know what characters were thinking. His common tactic was to describe their faces - a droop to a lip, eyes looking elsewhere - but I have not firm examples to type in. Hammett also used the word "mien" several times. That's a word that is fallen out of fashion.

I really enjoyed this novel but do wonder if the author's name was part of that. Are my memories of the first readings of his work stronger than the work? If this were printed under another name would I like it as much? If pigs had wings would they fly? If you give a mouse a cookie will he ask for a glass of milk?

EDIT: OK. Fine. I looked. The Coen's did mix The Glass Key and Red Harvest. That's what I was guessing.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Crap, I Forgot One: "The Unburied Dead" by Douglas Lindsay

Crap, I Forgot One: The Unburied Dead by Douglas Lindsay

An Ebook that I'm pretty sure I got for free from the publisher, Blasted Heath. Blasted was an ebook only publisher in Scotland that shut down a few months ago. That's too bad. Anthony Neil Smith spoke highly of the company. I finished this in June. I think.

Detective Sergeant Thomas Hutton is 44 years old, drinks too much, screws around with most any women, has three ex-wives, and lingering trouble with PTSD and guilt from his time as a British Army peacekeeper in the Balkans. So, now you know we're all set up for some standard British gritty noirish noiring in Noir Town.  (But, tell me, what is noir?)

Hutton mostly chose police work while reading newspaper articles about the the daring do of Inspector Bloonsbury, Manly Cop Hero. Several years later Hutton is a detective himself and he knows that Bloonsbury has turned into a bloated, drunken mess.  Bloonsbury did have a brief career resurgence about five years ago after solving a big case but he has now gone back to rock bottom.


A killer is on the loose in small(ish) town Scotland. He is slashing women who look like his ex-girlfriend. Well, he slashed one so far. Meanwhile, Hutton is at the police department Christmas bash trying to bed the young lady constables. He fails in his sexual efforts but joins the investigation and also learns of some nefarious goings on from a few years ago. Turns out that Bloonsbury's cop victory five years ago was due to he and his equally despicable co-worker setting up a crime, accidentally killing a victim, and then framing an innocent man to go to prison.

More things happen. Hutton starts juggling women as he shags his superior officer and tries to get on better terms with his second ex-wife. When a couple coppers are killed Hutton wonders if Bloonsbury is killing off his co-conspirators. Or, is the serial killer to blame? Was one cop really killed in a legitimate hit-and-run?

A fun book. I enjoyed the visit with Scottish culture and language. Hutton is well drawn. He's your standard Detective With Issues Who Makes Bad Decisions and I enjoyed it. A couple killings in the novel were a surprise because Lindsay spent enough time with the characters that I felt an impact from their deaths.

There are a couple other books in this series and I should try them out. That or Lindsay's Barney Thomson series.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Long Comic: "The Absolute Sandman" by Neil Gaiman

Long Comic: The Absolute Sandman: volume one by Neil Gaiman and multiple artists, 2006, 9781401210823.

OK, so I finally read the Sandman stuff and, based on years of hype and praise, I am underwhelmed. Maybe I also have to be familiar with the quality of comics that came before this to recognize the work's importance.  

This is a fancy reprint from DC's Vertigo imprint with issues 1 through 20 of Sandman stories plus extra stuff. Since Gaiman wrote the series you can be sure that there is some great storytelling. I still did not give a rat's ass about some of them. According to library catalog Absolute Sandman is a five volume series with pub dates from 2006 to 2011.

Sandman is a god - a lesser god I suppose - who controls dreams and the dreamworld. In 1905 (or so) he is captured by some Englishman who are having an occult ceremony intended to catch Death. They catch Sandman instead and he is stuck as a captive for the next 70 years (or so). The first 10 or 15 issues involve Sandman returning and reclaiming his dream realm and chasing down a few errant dreams - creatures - that left the Dreamworld. There is some fanciful artwork and Sandman has Robert Smith style rat's nest hair.

1. A Midsummer Night's Dream won a 1991 World Fantasy Award. Midsummer was the first comics winner for Short Fiction and induced a rules change for that category. Sure, this was a god story but I really do not care about Shakespeare. You can explain to me all you like about the cultural and literary importance of the man's work but that does not mean I enjoy it.
2. Collectors was good. A 20-year-old woman is looking for the 12-year-old brother she has not seen in 7 years. She ends up at a hotel that has been taken over by a convention of serial killers. Sandman shows up chasing down one of his errant dream creations.
3. That is all. I'm not going to comment on each issue in the book. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Book In My Ears: "Cairo Affair" by Olen Steinhauer

Book In My Ears: Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauer, 2014, download.

EDIT: Crap I thought I posted this. I finished the book in early June and don't want to type up too much. I'll be posting spoilers.

Woman is widowed when her diplomat husband in murdered in Hungary. The couple were posted for several years in Egypt and she travels there on the sly when she discovers a connection to the murder.

Sophie and Emmett Kohl married in 1989 - or so - and he joined the diplomatic service. They have traveled around a bit and are living in Hungary when the Arab Spring occurs. Emmett is murdered in a restaurant while lunching with Sophie. Of course Sophie is a bit shaken. Right before the murder Emmett told Sophie her knew she had been shtupping a CIA friend in Cairo while they lived there.

Sophie gets enough information from the Hungarian cops and Embassy staff that she can draw a line back to Cairo.  Sophie starts looking and Steinhauer starts spinning several story lines together. There is CIA guy Jibril who hopes to start a revolution in Libya. Sophie who remembers back to a scandalous 1990 incident in Eastern Europe. Cairo CIA guy who hopes for a full relationship with Sophie. Egyptian secret policeman who hopes to survive in his job and stay out of prison when the current regime is out. A Embassy contractor who drinks too much and is hired to escort Jibril and then Sophie.

Steinhauer builds the story up with a interweaving characters and deceptions. Kinda like a garden trellis. The politics and public stories are the trellis frame with straight and you clearly seen wooden slats that intersect in clear spots. The people are like the vines with secret relationships that twist around and are obscured. This is a spy novel so Steinhauer has his characters trying to figure out who is doing what, who is lying, who is dangerous.

Anyhoo. This was a good listen.

Listened: "Star Wars: Aftermath: Empire's End" by Chuck Wendig

Listened: Star Wars: Aftermath: Empire's End by Chuck Wendig, 2017, download.

Final book of the trilogy. I'm glad it is finished. If you're not a Star Wars fan skip the series, it's not a starting point for the novels. If you do want to try a Star Wars novel I suggest Kenobi by John Jackson Miller..

Plenty of schmaltz at the end with crying about new children, yelling and weeping over dead characters, bawling and sadness at separation, etc.

The plots starts up a few weeks after the end of the last novel. Mon Mothma is recovering from a assassination attempt. The Empire has formed an armada near the planet of Jakku. Nora is after Grand Admiral Sloane and Nora's her son Temon is trying to follow his mom. There is more blasters, spaceships, lovey-dovey, some political intrigue.

I mostly enjoyed the series but it started to wear me down. Sci-Fi series just go too dang long for me. There are too many characters to keep track of when spread out over three novels. Wendig has some neat observations about people and their psychology but I cannot recall enough to say what those things were.

The novel does explain why Jakku had all the spaceship wrecks on it in The Force Awakens.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Done: "The Story the Soldiers Wouldn't Tell: sex in the Civil War" by Thomas P. Lowry

Done: The Story the Soldiers Wouldn't Tell: sex in the Civil War by Thomas P. Lowry, 1994, 9780811715157.

Interesting book with an awful cover. When I write awful cover I mean to say that the graphic design is just terrible. 

Lowry used documents in the National Archives and many other sources to research several aspects of sexuality during the war. Abortion, birth control, sexually transmitted disease, prostitution, homosexuality, so on, so forth. There is a bib in the back along with a listing of archives and libraries he used.

Interesting stuff but Lowry points out how the historical record can be skimpy on several things. Topics like homosexuality were not often recorded. Lowry relies quite a bit on Walt Whitman's sex diaries. (An aside: Whitman was promiscuous in D.C. and New York and kept records of all the men we had sex with.) Plus, many of the CSA Army records were destroyed by fire near the end of the war. Since Lowry focused on soldiers he had to rely military records - especially military court docs - and this study is mostly limited to the US Army.

The history of abortion and disease were the most enlightening. Both were widespread. You hear a lot about disease like dysentery causing more soldier injuries than bullets but you don't always hear that syphilis and gonorrhea were a big part of that. Do yourself a favor and skip the photos of patients in the third and last stage of syphilis.

I do not have the book at hand. I'll take another look at the book and post info of note if I see anything super interesting.

EDIT: Ok, I have the book. let me look through for the interesting parts by topic.

1. Rape. War zones are always dangerous for civilians. Women have the constant risk of rape by both sides. Black women were especially vulnerable and seemed to be the target of Union soldiers.  Punishments varied from light punishment to death. There was plenty of rapes but Lowry and others  seem to think there was less rape than other conflicts. I'm guessing that the Civil War had less demonizing the enemy than other conflicts. If you don't hear that your enemy is a depraved animal maybe you are more likely to see them as the people they are.
2. Abortion. Lowry refers to several news and magazine adverts that regularly offered ways to end pregnancy. Lowry also references several medical texts that gave instruction for same. One physician of the time estimated 25 percent of women used abortion. His estimate is only 5 points higher than several other contemporaries that Lowry names.
3. Prostitution has two chapters that cover the East and West parts of the country. Soldiers and prostitutes have always been a pair. And the resulting economic and family disasters of war causes plenty of women to take on the work. The Union Army in a couple instances would forcibly empty out the local bordellos, put all the women on a river steamer, and send the women upriver and away from the soldiers. The steamers would be refused docking privileges at many towns and keep traveling with nowhere to put ashore.
4. The Union Army was pretty damn big. Some commanders were realistic in dealing with venereal disease and required licenses and medical inspections of prostitutes. Women and soldiers who were sick were sent to hospitals until cured. Or "cured", because I'm guessing a cure was a remission of symptoms.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Heard a Play: "The Rivalry" by Norman Corwin

Heard A Play: The Rivalry by Norman Corwin, presented by LA Theatre Works, 2009 production (for audio, I do not know about the play).

Dramatic look at the 1858 debates between Lincoln and Douglas. Acted by Paul Giamatti as Douglas, David Strathairn as Lincoln, and Lily Rabe as Douglas's wife Adele. Smippets of debates plus private conversations between the Douglas's and the Douglas's with Lincoln.

Don't listen to the audiobook out loud if only snippets can be heard by passers by. The reason for this is that Douglas's racism is a focus. A neat example of history told through fiction. Although I suppose there are plenty of critics about what Corwin did and did not give his characters to say.

The first debates to be transcribed and printed in newspapers. The 1858 senatorial race made headlines because of the importance of slavery being extended, or not, into the territories. From a modern eye Douglas was a racist prick. He focused on the Union above all and thought blacks were a lower rank of people anyway - Corwin includes several sections of Douglas's speeches where the rails against miscegenation and mongrels. Douglas also wants to get elected and uses half-truths whenever needed. Douglas was a party man.
Lincoln is also a politician. But Lincoln is also Lincoln so of course he will come out better than Douglas. Not a difficult thing to do anyway when Douglas is so easily hung by his own words. Lincoln is full of jokes and stories. His debate style is assured and clam next to a sometimes bombastic and emotional Douglas. He does not travel with his wife like Douglas does. His lawyer income is questioned.

The debates are also the same stuff you hear every 2, 4 and 6 years: Who is more patriotic? Who promises what? Which is them is a liar and cheat? What is being twisted to someone's advantage? The papers are lying about me! That paper told the truth, it's about time! Power, money and reputation are at stake so things get heated.

1. Douglas died at 48 years old.