Thursday, November 30, 2017

Listened: "The Boys of '67" by Andrew Wiest

Listened: The Boys of '67: Charlie Company's war in Vietnam by Andrew Wiest, 2012, Overdrive download.

Wiest works as a history professor and teaches classes on the Vietnam War. Maybe that is why this book works great as an introductory story of the war. The book encompasses most of the story of Vietnam with the men in this story all part of the 9th Division which was specially formed to go to Vietnam.

The 9th Division was built up specifically to serve in Vietnam and arrived 1967. Training was conducted at Ft. Riley in Kansas and the men traveled by troop ship to Vietnam. The Division served in the Mekong Delta as part of the Mobile Riverine Force (MRF) where they alternately stayed on land and a troop ship and took smaller ships along the rivers to where they would work.

Wiest covers the stories of a lot of the men in the unit. He had access to a to of primary sources: platoon, company, and divisional reports. Letters, diaries, and reel-to-reel recordings. Interviews and news articles. Citations and awards.Wiest uses that info to good effect by telling the soldiers's stories  from their childhoods to draft notices, training, military service and their return to the U.S.

Fighting in the jungles of the South in 1967 and 1968 means the men were doing all the Vietnam stuff I've read about over the years:

  • Drafted versus volunteering. 
  • Arrival as a know-nothing trooper who needs to quickly adapt and learn to survive.
  • Operations in thick, clinging mud as they avoid biting red ants, develop a love/hate for the locals, drink beer, visit prostitutes, and visit orphanages on downtime.
  • Endless and dangerous patrols with multiple booby traps, landmines, and infrequent but vicious firefights.
  • Anger and impotency when friends and unit members lose a foot against a mine and the remaining soldiers have no enemy in sight.
  • Commanders fucking up and foolishly walking men into minefields or ambushes.
  • Quick and efficient discharges from the service with the soldiers immediately losing the close relationships with other soldiers and unable to reintegrate into civilian life.
  • New civilians now unable to sleep, jumping at noises, scared in crowds, and drinking aware their nightmares and paranoia.
  • Some marriages falling apart. Families of the dead trying to move on and the dead soldiers' children wishing they knew their fathers.
  • PTSD issues. PTSD will will always be around for many of the men and will be for all future soldiers. The trauma effects everyone in the family and many people cannot, or refuse, to acknowledge or deal with the trauma.
There are also the standard battle stories of death, elation, terror and burning rage. One of the best stories is one that I wish Wiest had more information on. Throughout their time in Vietnam there was an Lieutenant who was hard-charging but incompetent.

Early in their time in the Delta the Lieutenant led his platoon into an ambush that killed and wounded several men. After that disaster the Lieutenant was assigned different staff jobs in the read. But, once casualties mounted the Lieutenant was put back in the field. After having been on base for so long Lieutenant was raring to find the enemy and attack.

The now experienced soldiers in the platoon dreaded going out with Lieutenant and actually tried to have Lieutenant relieved of the command. Their worries bore out when the Lieutenant;s inexperience and foolhardiness got several men injured and killed.

After a couple decades of loneliness by some of the former soldiers several of the men starting finding one another and arranging reunions. They did not invite everyone though. They did not invite Lieutenant. The first big reunion was in Las Vegas. The unit had one ballroom and another hotel ballroom was hosting a wedding. That wedding was for the Lieutenant's daughter.

Sure enough, all the soldiers are in the ballroom drinking beer and reminiscing when all talking ceases and heads turn to the entryway where Lieutenant is now standing in a tuxedo. He had seen the sign pointing to the "Company C Reunion" and walked over. Lieutenant kinda looked around and one of soldiers walked straight over, leaned over, and told uninvited Lieutenant to "Get the fuck out." Lieutenant gave an exaggerated look around, said, "there's no one I want here I want to see anyway" and left.

That's a story I wanted to know more about. What are Lieutenant's memories of Vietnam? He must suffer the same trauma and bad memories of all those other men. But, his actions of 30 years ago leave him completely alone from the unit. The other guys can share and express sorrow but Lieutenant is left playing it tough and pretending to not care.

I suppose Lieutenant refused to talk to Wiest. I don't know.

Heard A While Ago: "Legend" by Eric Behm

Heard a While Ago: Legend: A Harrowing Story from the Vietnam War of One Green Beret's Heroic Mission to Rescue a Special Forces Team Caught Behind Enemy Lines by Eric Blehm, 2015 (Overdrive and print versions), Overdrive download. 

The Studies and Observation Group (SOG) was a super-duper secret commando unit during Vietnam that worked in western Vietnam and across the borders into Cambodia and Laos. The group members signed agreements to keep everything secret for 30 years. John Plaster wrote a history of the unit that came out in 1997. I bought the Plaster book for my library in '97 and ended up reading the book. The story of SOG was pretty fascinating and the work was especially dangerous because the soldiers could not rely on infantry and artillery for help. No US or ARVN infantry could rush to the rescue. SOG relied on their own stealth and rescue helicopters.

Roy Benavidez joined the SOG group as a Green Beret in 1967 or so. Benavidez had been in the Army or Texas National Guard since he was 18. Benavidez was a hard core, hard charging lifer who grew up working as a migrant worker with his family. When a 12 man SOG patrol was surrounded by the NVA in Cambodia Benavidez was at his base, heard about the trouble, and hopped on a helicopter to help. When Benavidez'z helicopter was hovering near the patrol Benavidez impulsively jumped to the ground and ran to join the patrol.

Benavidez was shot twice during the 70 yard run to one of the two sections of the separated patrol. During the rest of the battle he was wounded a few more times by shrapnel, another bullet, and a stabbed with a bayonet. He treated the other soldiers and himself, organized their defenses, used emergency radios to call for air strikes, and eventually carried a couple men to the rescue helicopters. Upon arrival at a U.S. base Benavidez was presumed dead. His blood loss and exhaustion left him aware of his surroundings but unable to move or speak. When Benavidez was being zipped into a body bag he was only able to announce his living presence by blowing and spitting blood out of his mouth and into the face of the man closing the bag.

Benavidez was incredibly driven and brave. Listening to the book made me think as much about the war's politics as on the ground fighting. The story of the rescue of the SOG team is plenty interesting but not enough to fill out  an entire book. Blehm focuses on Benavidez's military service but also gives us a general biography of Benavidez with plenty of background on the war itself. 

1. The library hosted a program in 2010 of Vietnam veterans. The program was in conjunction with a Wisconsin PBS program on Wisconsin Vietnam War vets. Tensions were still running high for some people at the event.
2. The bravery of both sides still gets lost. When do you ever want to mention the bravery or sacrifice of the other side when they are killing your friends, relatives, neighbors, etc.? But, the Vietnamese casualty rate was how much higher than the U.S.? 300%? Maybe more? Whether they cause was good and just is up to whoever decides but they certainly were brave attacking into such powerful enemies.
3. Then again, don't forget or excuse the atrocities of the VC and NVA. Benavidez's first tour in Vietnam was as a advisor. While there he witnessed the aftermath of the crucifixion of two children by the Viet Cong and saw the children's relatives weeping in front of the bodies. 
4. Then again, don't forget the atrocities of the U.S. Better to remember how such horrible situations can make for horrible actions by everyone.
5. Response of the anti-war crowd to returning soldiers. I've never read or heard of anyone admitting to yelling at returning service members or spitting at them. I've read more about that being a myth. But, there are plenty of stories that soldiers were ordered to wear civilian clothes when they returned to the U.S. Others had to deal with plenty of abusive jerks, spitting, and provoked fist fights.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Third Rabe: "It's My Funeral" by Peter Rabe

Third Rabe: It's My Funeral by Peter Rabe, 1957, 2014 and 9781933586656 for Stark House omnibus.

Daniel Port is hanging out in Los Angeles. Port has no particular reason to be there but just got into town, bought an MG and is heading to the beach. Being new to town he wonders why a Cadillac seems to be following him. After a swim in the ocean Port is getting some sun when up walks his old "pal" Mnuchkin. Okay, that's not actually his name but I think 'Mnuchkin' is close and they're both sleazy.

Mnuchkin is a crook who worked for Port's boss from the first book. Mnuchkin is persistent - he'll ignore any slight or insult and keep pressing on to get POrt to lend him a hand. Port does not want to get involved with anything Mnuchkin is up to even though Mnuchkin says he is now on the up and up and working as a legitimate talent agent.

But, the help Mnuchkin is asking for is help with a blackmail case. A famous starlet - a Marilyn Monroe or similar stand-in who is now named MarMon - is getting blackmailed over a sex film. Port decides to help out (for some reason I don't recall) and starts getting involved with Mnuchkin, MarMon, and a studio boss's self-important son. Never mind Port's wooing of a local singer and clashing with a Nevada crook also interested in The Singer.

Many things happen. Port drives his tiny MG among all the Cadillacs of Hollywood. Port heads to Nevada to visit The Singer and stumbles upon a blackmail operation that goes after the female celebrities who stay in a casino's performers' suite.

There are some fist fights. A couple car crashes. A few concussions. Backstabbings. Disrupted lovemaking. Weasels. So on. So forth.

Of the three Rabe novels I've read I think this is the best.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Done: "The Out is Death" by Peter Rabe

Done: The Out is Death by Peter Rabe, 1957 (original), 2014 and 97819 33586656 for Stark House omnibus.

Second novel in the Daniel Port series. Port has left behind the people and city of the first novel and is in California (Washington? Oregon?) to help out an old pal. The old pal is literally that, an old crook. Port knows Old Crook from a few years before and is fond of the man. Old Crook is just out of prison, in poor health, and asking Port for assistance.

Turns out Old Crook just finished a ten year prison term and has a chronic illness. Old Crook worked as a skilled burglar and jugger for several years. Now he is in poor health and just wants to go East and live with his family. But, after getting out of prison Young Crook shows up. Young Crook and Old Crook worked before the prison term and Young Crook is now blackmailing Old Crook. "Help me plan this factory burglary or I tell the cops you boosted that bank a few years ago - and I have your old planning notes to prove it!" Except, for the all the jobs Old Crook did he did not even do that one.

Anyhoo. Port shows up and tries to talk some reason into Young Crook. No dice. Young Crook is a vain, prideful jackass. When Port pushes Young Crook, Young Crook pushes back and uses his hoodlum friends. This end up at a draw. Old Crook cannot go back to prison because he'll die there. Either Port gets Old Crook out from under Young or Old Crook has to do the job.

Port's in a bind. He's made promises to Old Crook. Old is a tight lipped guy about his past. He is stubborn as well. Port convinces Old Crook to at least tell Port where Old Crook really was when the bank job went down several years ago.  Port heads to small town Minnesota to find the woman Old Crook was with at the time.

The novel takes a weird detour with Port heading out to try and convince the woman to help out Old Crook. C'mon, Mrs. Smith, do him a solid. But, Mrs. Smith is no longer the teenager her alcoholic father pimped out to gangsters on the lam. She wants nothing to do with Port or Old Crook or any old memories.

More things happen. Port returns to the West and he and Young Crook clash. Port cajoles Young Crook's abused girlfriend to betray the guy. Port's set-up to stop Young Crook goes wrong and Old Crook is in peril. IN PERIL!

A fairly simple novel. No madcap adventures. Few characters. No convoluted plots. A quick read and mostly enjoyable.

1. I am close to finishing the third novel in this omnibus and I'm only so-so on these Rabe novels. I liked the first one and it's small city hoods and politicos. That one reminded me of Hammett's Glass Key and Red Harvest.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Ebook: "Castle Danger: Dead End Follies" by Anthony Neil Smith

Ebook: Castle Danger: Dead End Follies, by Anthony Neil Smith, 2017, B074H12327 (that stupid fake ISBN Amazon uses and calls a ASIN).

Second in Smith's Castle Danger series. Another very nice cover design.

I enjoyed the novel quite a bit. Smith linked to a review by Benoit Leviereirierieri. I'm going to go read that review and steal his ideas. Wait here...

Meh. I don't quite agree with everything he has to say so I'll make this up on my own. But, this time I'll do it with Numbers!

1. Manny Jahnke returns for the second go round in the series. Forewarning: you're better off reading the first book because just tears along rather than fill in a lot of the story from before. I'm not sure when the third novel will release. These are currently e-book only. I asked Smith online if paper versions were planned and he wrote, "No."
2. Manny is a cop no more and impatiently starting his transition to womanhood. The first novel's resolution of all the murders, sex shenanigans, and political greasiness involved Manny striking a deal with the U.S. Senator for Manny and her ex-police partner Hothead (cannot recall the character's name) to work for the Senator's campaign for Minnesota Governor. Manny is a kind of trans-person liaison Hothead is a security guy.
3. One of the Senator's campaign workers is absent. Manny goes to check on the guy and finds the workaholic gone from his apartment and leaving his phone behind. Uh-oh. Political worries! 
4. I read this a couple weeks ago and have forgotten all the details but Manny and Co. receive notice that Workaholic is captive. Manny and Co. also receive a link to a secret website where a live webcam is showing Workaholic's sexual torture. The Senator and the Senator's new Campaign Boss wonder if Workaholic is scamming them. Is Workaholic faking this for the oppisition? Hey, let's get Manny to find out!
5. Meanwhile, back in Manny Land there is turmoil and tension because Manny is still living half a life as a man and the other half as a woman. Manny wants to do the full transition. FUck talking to psychiatrists. Fuck getting permission for hormone treatment. Fuck waiting for a public debutante announcement for GOP Senator to woo the liberal vote.
6. Manny is hot and bothered by super sexy powerful Campaign manager. Hothead is still dating his manipulative girlfriend and acting like a hothead. 
7. More things happen and Manny and Hothead are in peril and have to rely on one another. Too bad they have never much liked one another. There are: shootouts, car chases, abductions, sexual torture resulting in murder, sex crime involvement by MN bigwigs, more torture, Manny and Hothead on the run, so on, so forth.
8. I enjoyed the book. Things twist and turn a lot. Smith got away from the first novel's focus on Manny and her changes.

1. The series so far is built on several themes. A. Sexual transition is difficult for the person and their families. Manny took years to understand and accept who she is. Doing so meant a complete change in career, friends, residence, etc. B. The rich and powerful get what they want and will step on you to keep things that way. C. The rich and powerful are also inherently perverted and pursue violent, illegal, or immoral activities that are antithetical to their public personaes.
2. Oh, hey. That Benoit fella lives in Montreal. I sure did enjoy my trip there in 1999. 
3. Smith made a serious mistake of not bringing back the best character from the first novel. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Read: "Dig My Grave Deep" by Peter Rabe

Read: Dig My Grave Deep by Peter Rabe, 1956 (Stark House omnibus from 2014), 9781596545434 (omnibus edition).

Someone wrote this is a "hard-hitting story of political corruption". Hard hitting? Well, I suppose. There is some violence. Some very matter-of-fact and natural sex. Hard hitting does not feel right.

Daniel Port is a WWII vet who ended up working for a political boss in some unnamed city. Port was in NYC after the war when he met Political Boss and was hired on. Port has been in the city for a handful of years as a political fixer and strategist. Port gets out the vote, pays off the local politicians, rigs the city contracts, and other underhanded shenanigans that keep Ward Nine under the control of Political Boss.

But, Port has had enough and wants to leave town. Port had looked after his brother for several years. That brother is barely discussed in the book but we learn he was killed as part of Political Boss's operation. That death and Port's dissatisfaction leads Port to the local United Airlines office where he boss a ticket out of the city.

Political Boss hears that Port is leaving - mainly because Port keeps saying he is leaving. But, Boss leans on Port's sympathies and loyalties to Boss and Port agrees to stay on long enough to assure that Ward Nine will stay save of a redevelopment deal that would move voters away.

Things happen. Port recruits a spy against Political Boss's adversary. Port meets a waitress who is the new spy's sister and Port digs her. Port clashes with Political Boss's protege. Port silently whistles when he is nervous or excited and only drinks cold coffee. Port sleeps with a local prostitute who gives Port a lead.

Everything is written with spare language. There is little description of people or place. I only thought of the city as a generic city in 1956. There are streets, brick buildings, people walking around - daily life of families, sports, apple trees, or whatever are never discussed. The city could have been Cleveland, Buffalo, Newark, anywhere. The only things that mattered were Port and the relationships that he used to get his and Political Boss's way.

This is a crime novel but the violence is more of a tool; violence is another way to persuade or convince. I suppose coerce is more like it.

Anyhoo, I tried this one out because I've read plenty of references to Rabe novels but never tried one. Stark House has reprinted 21 (unless I miscounted) of his novels. This was part of a three novel omnibus featuring Daniel Port and I am currently in the middle of the second novel.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

One more Audio: "Whoreson" by Donald Goines

Listened To: Whoreson by Donald Goines, 1972, Overdrive download.

I was scanning available titles on Overdrive and figured to try out a Goines novel. Whoreson could also be known as My life as a serial abuser and rapist. The narration was really well done.

Whoreson Jones is born to a young prostitute in a local Madam's apartment. Jessie Jones goes into labor as she is street walking during the Detroit winter of 1940. She is rushed upstairs to the Madam's apartment and in a fit of anger, despair, or whatever she names her son Whoreson immediately after his birth.

Whoreson is pronounced as one word with emphasis on the first syllable HOR-sun. Jessie dotes on the boy and buys him whatever he wants. Whoreson loves his slum neighborhood and as a child does not recognize the crime and poverty he lives in. His mother starts calling him her 'little pimp' when he is a boy and teaching him in street skills. She has a local gambler teach Whoreson and Whoreson's friend how to cheat at cards and dice, simple short cons like cheating store cashiers, and shoplifting skills.

As he grows older Whoreson and his friends start to use other girls as sex objects. Grabbing them, bossing them, commenting on their value, etc. When Jessie dies of TB Whoreson starts working as a pimp when he is only 15 years old.

The story runs over the next ten years of Whoreson's adventures: aspiring to pimp hard, beating prostitutes with his fists and wire coat hangers, drinking/smoking/snorting/pill-popping, fleeing the police, cutting the face of a woman in a bar fight, serving prison time where he preyed on and raped other convicts, going out for revenge against the friends and prostitutes he saw as screwing him over.

This could be a real tough book to listen to. Whoreson starts his criminal career hi earnest when he should have been in high school. He thinks of himself as being a strong pimp who others will not cross and whose women will fall in line when told. But, Whoreson the narrator is truthful. He tells us of his crimes and the learning curve of dealing with street people, other pimps, crooks, and prostitutes. The mistakes he makes along the way along with the work he is proud of.

I was disgusted by Whoreson's actions but the story was compelling and interesting. The relationships are mostly about power and control. The women are verbally and physically abused but attach themselves to the pimps like the battered women they are. To leave the pimp is to risk death or disfiguration and to leave their only home, their friends, and all their belongings behind.

Pimps strive to control everything about the women who work under them. Where they live. When and where they work. When and what they eat. All the money they earn, Their behavior at any place and time. Subservience is required but each woman is given lead to act out and up. The pimp wants the women to feel fear as well as love.

Love and loneliness play a strong part of what goes on. Whoreson is alone in the world after his mother and surrogate grandmother die. He never had a father and has no siblings or extended family. Whoreson works to have no feelings for the women. He teaches himself that he must work them and use them. He is sexually and emotionally attracted to them but cannot let that effect business.

Anyway. There is a sort of upbeat ending. Whoresone cons an older married woman into a fake marriage to get her $20,000 and flees to New York. While there he tries going straight, hooks up with a neighborhood friend who is a rising singer, gets busted by the Feds, thinks positively about starting a family once he is out of prison.

1. According to the Wikipedia entry Goines was an Iceberg Slim fan. I still, still, have not read any Iceberg Slim novels.
2. Not that I have much faith in Wikipedia but the article says Goines lived in Junction City for a while. I suppose that would be a great spot for prostitution because of Fort Riley being next door. My times in Junction City were almost entirely limited to using the exit and on ramps from US77 to I-70.  The one or two times I did go through JUnction City I was surprised by all the pawn shops and cruddy apartment buildings.
3. Goines writing career is pretty damn impressive. He was murdered at 36-years-old but put out several very popular novels. Kinda like Robert E. Howard (although I keep thinking E. Howard Hunt.)
4. I looked E. Howard Hunt up and that draws me into all the fascinating JFK conspiracies and reminds me of James Ellroy's 1960s novels.
5. Excellent narration by Kevin Kenerly. Kenerly puts a lot of character into Whoreson. He draws out the dialogue in a street slang style that sounds genuine to me. But, it's not like I would know, I live in rural(ish) Wisconsin. I'm so white I'm pearlescent.