Sunday, December 31, 2017

Comic Novel: "Britten and Brulightly" by Hannah Berry

Comic Novel: Britten and Brulightly by Hannah Berry, 2009, 9780805089271.

Mystery set in - I think - London in the 1930s. I really enjoyed the artwork. Main character Britten is a private detective who only takes on murder cases. He has worn out on following married people to catch them cheating.

Berry's draws Britten with a white face and dark brown shadows around this eyes. As if he is a mutilated war veteran wearing a porcelain face mask. Britten's partner, Brulightly, does not get much ink at all. That is because Brulightly is a tea bag. Brulightly only talks to Britten, of course, and Brulightly as on the racy side.

Anyhoo. A young lady comes into Britten's office saying her fiancee would never have committed suicide. "He was happy, We were engaged!" Britten warns her that the outcome may not please her and takes on the case.  Young Lady thinks Fiancee may have been helping her wealthy Publisher Father with a blackmail problem. Britten starts digging.

As in any comic book novel the images are as important as the description and dialogue. As mentioned above I really enjoyed the artwork.

I've not much else to say except that in the pursuit of the case Britten recognizes a name from a case he had a couple decades ago.  He digs around and discovers what happened.

1. I finished this in 2017 so I am backdating the post.

Novella I Heard: "Star Wars: The Perfect Weapon" by Delilah Dawson

Novella I Heard: Star Wars: The Perfect Weapon by Delilah Dawson,

I think this was called a short story. I say, "Bullshit, this is a novella and I am marking it down as a separate audiobook."

Bazine Netal is a hired gun and very minor character from The Force Awakens. She'll do most any mercenary, assassination or bounty hunter work and she is very skilled. Netal was taken in as an orphan by a mercenary who ran his own training school. Fighting, killing and sneaking is all Netal has ever done.  She is a master of disguise, always on the alert, always on the move, never trusting anyone.  She gets a mysterious job offer to go and look for former Stormtrooper TK-1472 and recover some files TK-1472 owned.

Netal takes on the job. Meets up with her old trainer. Kills some things. The old trainer asks her to take along a protege of his named, Orrie. Netal has been warned their is a competing mercenary after the files. Netal worries is Orrie is the competitor. Netal travels through space. Netal uses disguises. Netal sneaks around. Netal ends up going to an abandoned military retirement home that is covered in huge killer bees.

1. I enjoyed the story. Netal is the of the "loveable rogue" variety of Star Wars characters. Which, of course, overlooks that she is a hired killer without conscience.
2. This also has all the sound effects and music of the Star Wars audio productions. I really like the music and sound effects. Bzz. Whish. Click whir.  Hmmmmmm.
3. Backdating this entry since I finished the audio in 2017.

Heard: "Standing in Another Man's Grave" by Ian Rankin

Heard: Standing in Another Man's Grave by Ian Rankin, 2012, download.

Rebus is retired from police work but has no life. What's a retired copper to do besides drink too much and wait for a heart attack? Well, for Rebus it means going to work as a civilian with the cold case squad. Rebus gets a call from a insistent woman who says her missing daughter's case follows the same general facts as several other woman who went missing in Northern Scotland. All the young women went missing along a remote stretch of the A9 highway which runs across northern Scotland to Inverness and up to the North Sea.

Rebus may be a civilian but he is the same old person as usual. He ends up helping with the latest missing person's case and finding commonalities among the missing women. At one point he and his former partner, Siobhan, interview several member of a road construction crew. Rebus recognizes one of the men as someone Rebus sent up once before. Rebus puts the screws to him and the guy says, "You were a bastard back then, too. Just not so fat and old."

That is Rebus all right, a real bastard. At least he is a equal opportunity bastard: crooks, politicians, business people, mobsters, co-workers, shop keepers, partners, commanding officers. I seem to recall he is almost always pleasant to barkeeps. At least until he gets served. Heck, Rebus is barely in touch with his grown daughter. She lives in the north and he drops by her house when he is in the area for work. He doesn't call ahead to make sure his daughter will be there though - something that is pointed out by himself and Siobhan.

Anyhoo. The police procedural parts are fun like usual. Rebus talks to possible witnesses. Rebus talks to friends and family of the missing women. Rebus has reapplied to join the police force and the Complaints are digging into his background and his regular coffee meetings with a mob boss. Rebus antagonizes the smaller time crime boss who is connected to the latest disappearance. Rebus drinks too much. Way too much. Rebus loves his old Saab. Rebus breaks plenty of rules and acts like a cop, even though he is not a cop.

Rebus is the hero of course. Even though he is an A-grade jerk he also figures out their is a serial killer and forces the police to follow the case and he presses to find the killer and get a confession.

1. Yes. You will try to follow along on a map as Rankin drives around Northern Scotland.
2. The Scottish narration had me thinking, and almost, speaking with a bad Scottish accent.

Backdating this post since I finished the book in 2017.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Listened: "The Philadelphia Quarry" by Howard Owen.

Listened: The Philadelphia Quarry by Howard Owen, 2013, Overdrive download.

Second in the Willie Black series . Willie is still a newspaper reporter in Richmond, VA. Philadeplphia starts a year after the last novel and the newspaper is still in financial trouble. Richard Slade has been freed from prison after 28 years. DNA evidence cleared Slade's rape conviction and Black is there at the courtroom with everyone else.

Black knows the showboating defense attorney and wrangles a ride in the attorney's car along with Slade and Slade's mother. Well, the interview with Slade starts going OK - Slade is more interested in looking out the open car window than talking - until Black has to admit the paper he works for.  The problem with that is that Black's newspaper not only beat the drum against Slade 28 years ago, but it's editorial vitriol was damn near lynch-worthy.  Black gets kicked out of the car.

Missing among all the furor over Slade's release is the presence of the rape victim whose eyewitness testimony sent Slade to prison. That same woman is shot dead a week later during her 7AM drive home from her gym. Uh-oh. Sure enough the police look real hard at Slade. That hard look leads to an arrest. 

Black starts looking at this new case but gets big pushback from the newspaper owners who, it just so happens, are buddy-buddy with the dead woman's influential, old-money family. Things happen. Black looks into things. Black gets suspended from his job. Black has to defend his story from the newsroom vulture who swoops in to get a shared byline. Black has trouble getting people to talk. Black drinks way too much. Black gets busted for a DUI. Black thinks, "I'm not an alkie. I can stop drinking whenever I want. I just don't want to stop." Black thinks with his dick.

I've been enjoying this series and the narration is quite good. Owen does not build a complex plot of whodunit. You can figure out the bad guys without too much trouble. Heck, the last novel had Black chasing the same guy all the way through the story and Willie just had to collect enough evidence. The strength of the novels have lain in Richmond's history of old money, mixed feelings about race, and Black's own personal issues and history.

This novel has Black more directly addressing his own heritage. Black's father was black but died before Willie was born. His white mother is a long-time pothead and very flighty. She never spoke much about his father or his father's family and Willie never tried digging much deeper. Willie is taken aback when his mother offhandedly mentions that Willie is related to Slade. Later on Willie is having lunch with his college age daughter and she mentions taking a African American history class and Black realizes his daughter does not know her own grandfather was black.

Willie does not tell his daughter anything about his family. It's kinda weird. Willie passes for white - as his newfound cousin points out - and he has never denied his blackness. In fact Willie's kinda counted on his blackness keeping him employed since the newspaper can tally him in their staff diversity profile. 

To me this is an interesting aspect about Willie. Owen has kinda danced around it over the past two novels and it will be interesting in how he addresses the topic. Does Willie think he is "post-racial"? Hell no, he's witnessed the disparity between black and white every damn day. 

Anyhoo. I liked the novel. Straightforward and fun reading.
Backdating the post since I read it in 2017. 

Quickish:"Kill My Mother" by Jules Pfeiffer

Quickish: Kill My Mother by Jules Pfeiffer, 2014, 9780871403148.

Meh. I have never enjoyed Pfeiffer's art style. This is plugged as a noir tale and I brought it home from Fitchburg Public Library when I checked the shelves during their holiday party. The story was alright but not very believable. Spoilers ahead.

1933 and teenager Annie Hannigan lives with her widowed mother, Elsie, in the Bay Area. Annie's best friend is a apartment building neighbor, Artie. Elsie's cop husband was murdered a couple years ago and she took an assistant job with the husband's former partner is now a PI. The PI is a drunk and has done little to nothing to solve the husband's death. Annie hates her mother and wants Elsie dead.

PI takes on a rich client looking to find a woman. PI ends up taking the job, things happen, the client wants PI to murder the missing woman. Things happen and we advance to 1943. Annie has created a massive radio hit called Shut up, Artie. Elsie works for a movie studio to quash bad press. Artie is a Marine in the Pacific.

More happens with jealous actors, radio show sponsor trouble for Annie, blah blah blah. If this were a shorter book I would have probably bailed.  I didn't much care about the characters and I consider the artwork to be sloppy. Yeah, I wrote sloppy. I don't care how many awards Pfeifer has, I think the artwork is sloppy. Sloppy. Sloppy. Sloppy.

The story has a noir feel but did keep me interested. There is a second volume, Cousin Joseph, that is a prequel. I might try that one out. I'm not sure.

Finished: "A Blind Goddess" by James R. Benn

Finished: A Blind Goddess by James R. Benn, 2013, 9781616951924.

Benn takes a turn aware from some of the more obscure battles and episodes of WWII. Instead he takes us to rural England, gives us some murders, a child killer, German spies, racial turmoil in the U.S. Army, and the surprising British welcome for black U.S. troopers.

I write 'surprising' because I've read plenty about racism in England from the 1950s to today. Maybe that racism came with post-war immigration from the Caribbean and Africa. I'm not sure, I do recall learning there was an influx of POC immigrants in the 1960s. Anyhoo.

Billy Boyle is on leave with his hoity-toity girlfriend is on leave and she still recovering from her torture by the dirty, rotten, stinking, no-good filthy nazis. Boyle and his two co-workers Kaz and WhatsHisName are sent off by Colonel WhatsHisFace in military intelligence to investigate a murder in a a small canal town. The murdered man was a English civilian and Boyle questions the Colonel, "What the hell am I going there for? I'm in the U.S. Army."

The Colonel says, "The boarding home of the victim is regularly visited by a U.S. soldier dating the owner's daughter."
Boyle replies, "So what?"
Colonel tells Boyle, "Shut your fucking mouth. Do what you are told. Do not involve the German immigrants who own the place. If you fuck up I'll send you to prison for violating the secrets act."
Boyle says, "*gulp*"

Boyle arrives at the bucolic town and starts asking some questions. Quite a few things are going on. The dead man was murdered outside his canal side boarding house and dumped down the outside stairs to the cellar. A teen girl from a nearby home for refugees has gone missing. Boyle's high school pal shows up and tells Boyle that H.S. Pal and other black troops are treated like dirt and one of them is on the hook for the murder of a local constable. The German couple running the rooming house are supposed to be ardent anti-nazis who fled Germany. Military Intelligence is keeping a close eye on Boyle's investigation. A dead teen girl is found in the canal during a search for the first missing girl. So on. So forth.

Benn writes a good mystery plot and police investigation but that stuff just lays the groundwork for the topics Benn enjoys exploring about WWII. Benn focuses a lot on the treatment of black soldiers and their contrasting experiences between service in the U.S. and England. How troops based in the U.S. South could be quickly lynched by civilians and the lynchers get away with it because the Army wants to keep the peace. How some white U.S. troops bring that prejudice along to England and break all the glassware in a English pub rather than use the glasses used by black men.

Benn also touches a bit on German spies in England. How the krauts had both short and long term spies. Many of those spies were turned by Brit Intelligence and England would dictate the spies messages to Berlin. If just one of the spies got through an accurate message that could have derailed the whole invasion of France.

I greatly enjoy these novels. I'd been trying to red them in order and that delayed my getting back to the series. Reading is order is not necessary.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Completely Forgot: "Farewell My Lovely" by Raymond Chandler

Completely Forgot: Farewell My Lovely by Raymond Chandler, 1940 first print, 2007 for title.

How the hell did I forget to write this one down? I was just downloading another audio book and the software package still had this one listed. I listened to this on my broken phone. I thought I had noted what I finished listening to on that phone.

Phillip Marlowe is in downtown Los Angeles trying to track down a deadbeat. He sees a huge man in a garish suit go into a neighboring business. Pretty soon everyone inside that business is running out the door. Marlowe is intrigued. Marlowe goes inside to take a look. The business is a dance club. You pay a fee and dance with the ladies on staff. Big Galoot In An Ugly Suit is demanding to know where his former girlfriend Velma is.

Big Galoot In An Ugly Suit just got out of the slammer and after years of pining for Velma and the fjords he decides to find his lost love. Big Galoot In An Ugly Suit is violent. Big Galoot In An Ugly Suit kills the black man who runs the club. Big Galoot In An Ugly Suit hightails it out of there, but not before scaring the bejeezus out of Marlowe.

Later on Marlowe gets a call asking for his PI skills to handle a ransom trade for stolen jewels. At this point you may as well look at the Wikipedia entry because that is what I started doing. Hell, I finished this several months ago. I don't remember the whole plot.

Chandler is Chandler. He doesn't make much money. He doesn't have close friends. He keeps his ideas to himself. He doesn't trust people easily. He gets involved in murder cases.

I presume Chandler is still remembered by people as a groundbreaking novelist. I'm 46 and certainly grew up learning that Chandler was a BIG DEAL. I wonder if the home video and cable TV explosions of the 1980s are part of that. From the 1950s to the 1970s was Chandler's literary reputation skipped over?

Except for the weekend late night show on the local PBS station not many stations within broadcast range of Champaign, IL showed old movies. Once TBS and WGN were available I regularly saw old Sherlock Holmes, Charlie Chan, and Godzilla flicks. Once VHS tapes hit the streets all those old flicks came out again.

I cannot recall how I first heard of Chandler and Hammett. There is a good chance it came from watching or reading about The Maltese Falcon. The film stayed famous but I never heard about the novel.

Heard: "Oregon Hill" by Howard Owen

Heard: Oregon Hill by Howard Owen, 2012 (print), download.

Newspaper guy writes novel about a newspaper guy in the newspaper business doing newspaper reporting. I listen to the book and enjoy it quite a bit.

After hearing Whoreson I looked to see what else Kevin Kenerly narrated and chose this. First novel in a series featuring Virginia newspaper reporter Willie Black. Black is a hard drinking, slutty, unreliable guy in his 50s. He has three ex-wives, a distant relationship with his college daughter, works in a dying industry, and his "Screw you, asshole" attitude often leaves him in trouble at work. That work trouble has him off the cushy job of capitol political reporter and working the third shift crime beat as a Night Cops Reporter.

Black grew up in the titular area of Richmond, VA called Oregon Hill. During Black's childhood the area was working poor white people. Black's flighty mother moved her and Willie around from boyfriend to boyfriend. Half-black and half-white Willie is light skinned and avoided a good amount of racial conflict that way. Black still has friends on Oregon Hill and his mother now lives there with he current, and long-lasting, boyfriend.

When a co-ed turns up murdered and decapitated Willie catches the story. Willie then also catches interviews with both the arrested suspect and the the suspect's mother. Willie sees some inconsistencies and chases the story. Since this is a mystery novel those consistencies lead Willie to the real killer and all the danger and trouble that entails.

Things happen. Willies Boyfriend-in-law has dementia and Peggy his mother - Willie only calls her by her first name - calls Willie to talk the ex-roofer/ex-baseball player off the roof or from the ballpark. Willie talks to his daughter. Willie talks to his ex-wives. Willie drinks a lot. A LOT. Willie unravels the truth about the connections between a decades old murder, the new murder, rich people, local history, one of his neighbors, the burglaries within his own apartment building.

This is not a cozy. This is not quite a procedural. Willie is a neat character. Willie's professional life has years of success that don't matter a damn bit in a struggling economy and with a financially strapped local newspaper cutting staff to cut costs. Willie is a successful reporter but his higher salary makes him expendable. Willie has passed as an "exotically colored" white guy since he was a boy. He seems to have not had to deal much with race issues and I don't think he is comfortable with who he is. That's an angle Owen explores more in the second novel.

Ebook Read: "Death on the Island" by Bill Crider

E-Book Read: Death on the Island by Bill Crider, 1991 (print), download.

Crider wrote this so you know it's good. I checked this out through the digital library to take part in the online Crider tribute a couple weeks ago. Well, I changed my mind on how to participate on that day and instead took more time with this novel.

Truman Smith was a private eye in Dallas specializing in missing persons. When his sister went missing he headed back to Galveston Island to look for her. After devoting a year to the search Smith came up empty and flat broke. He's living in the upstairs apartment of a vacant business building in Galveston. Up the stairs climbs a pal from high school asking him to come visit another high school pal, Dino, about a job.

Dino wants Truman's help in finding a missing student. Dino won't give up much information though, he only says the woman is the daughter of a former prostitute and friend of Dino. Dino met her years ago when Dino's uncles ran Galveston's flourishing prostiution, gambling, and booze houses.

Truman doesn't have much to go on but he needs the dough. He speaks to the woman's mother. He speaks to the woman's best pal. He speaks to the boyfriend. Truman starts digging deep enough that he gets jumped by three goons and pounded.

More things happen and we have an honest to goodness, straight-forward PI novel. Truman is a loner with an empty apartment, few friends, and no family. His days are spent reading Faulkner novels, going jogging, and thinking of his sister. He gets in Dutch with the cops after finding a murder victim. He gets violent and doesn't tell the cops. He drives around Galveston and rescues the woman in distress.

Good stuff. The plot is not as solid as the Sheriff Rhodes novels. Truman is a good character for a well worn genre. Crider cranked up the setting and really gives us a great sense of Galveston as a tourist place starting to look run down. As a former high end resort town that has lost it's gleam.

The novel has a good dose of Crider Nostalgia. Truman doesn't exactly wish for the old days to return but the changes around him do sadden him. That nostalgia is often of specific buildings and places. Truman remembers tooling around town with high school pals but I think he - and some other Crider characters - put that focus on buildings.

Heard: "Drifter" by Nick Petrie

Heard: The Drifter by Nick Petrie.

This has been compared to the Jack Reacher novels because the main character is a rootless veteran, capable of violence, and helping out a woman in need. Well, okay, if you overlook that Jack Reacher is a inherent asshole and borderline sociopath.

Set in (about) 2010 and Lieutenant Peter Ash got out of the Marine Corps 18 months ago. Ash has some bad mental health issues after several overseas combat trips as a Force Recon commando. His PTSD manifests in what he calls his "white noise".  Whenever Peter goes indoors it starts a panic attack with a buzzing inside his head and tensioned muscles. Being near a window can help ease Peter's tension but the aftermath of Iraq's urban combat has him spending all his time outdoors.

After demobilization (is that what it is called any more?) Peter got rid of his belongings and took to the forests of the Sierras. With enough cash saved up Peter would make supply runs into local towns. After a year in the mountains Peter learns his former Platoon Sergeant has committed suicide and left behind a widow and two orphans. Peter feels he failed his dead Sergeant so he reclaims his old pickup and drives out to Milwaukee. 

Ah, Milwaukee. The land of beer, duckpin bowling, cheese, polka, and bomb plots. Peter visits the man's widow - which, somehow, he never met after serving several years with the Sergeant - and, to save her pride, says the USMC is paying Peter to fix up her run-down house. While fixing the rotted front porch Peter finds a huge, scary dog and a suitcase filled with $400,000 cash. Well, that's odd.

Peter starts trying to figure out what the deal with the cash is and is confronted by a scarred, mean guy with a .32. Peter then confronts an old crook friend of Sergeant because Peter suspects a link to the money. Peter takes in the Big Scary Dog. Someone tries to murder Peter. So on. So forth.

Things happen and Petrie writes us a novel with plenty of action and plenty of meat. The meat is veterans's mental health issues and the economic collapse induced by banking malfeasance. Peter is disabled by his panic attacks but refuses mental health treatment and chooses to drift. Other veteran characters have similar issues and recognize Peter's sweating, tension, and distraction whenever he goes indoors.

The bad guys - spoilers ahead - are motivated by greed and anger. Some of the guys are angry over the Haves getting away with everything and fucking over the Have Nots. (We'll avoid my opinions on elections and the similarity among voters for both Obama and Trump demanding change and improvement.) Ash sets this in the middle of the recession when homes and jobs are being lost. Vets come back without work, unable to easily integrate back to civilian life, and their extended families are struggling to get by. The bad guy vets feel they are owed for their military service.

The bad guys want to set off a truck bomb two times the size of Timothy McVeigh's bomb. They expect the bomb to cause a financial panic and the bad guys will short the market and make a mint. Peter ends up in the middle of this because he figures out Sergeant was murdered and that Sergeant's wife and sons are in mortal danger over that $400k.

It's a fun story but a couple characters are pretty thin. Mention is also made of Peter growing up in Northern Wisconsin and his parents still living there. But, Peter has zero contact with his parents, which is weird. Maybe that is another symptom of his mental health issues - I'm not sure.

1. I do NOT know Milwaukee geography. I know how to get to the airport and the place where the mystery bookstore used to be. I did not try to follow along on a map as Peter and Company drove around the city.
2. Big Scary Dog is a borderline Wonderdog.
3. Gratuitous old pickup truck love.
4. Gratuitous absence of beer talk. 
No Lakeside
No Potosi
No Stillmank
No One Barrel
No Tyranena
No New Glarus
No Karben4
No Ale Asylum
No 3 Sheeps
No Wisconsin Brewing
No Central Waters
No Capital
No Milwaukee Brewing
No Door County
No Lake Louie
No MobCraft
No O'so
5. Okay, okay. One Barrel and Karben4 may not have been around in 2010.
6. I think there was mention of Goose Island but they are out of Chicago.
7. I bought a copy of this novel when Petrie spoke at my library system's Trustee Dinner a month or two ago. Petrie gave a nice talk and is a good dude. Since the audio version was available I decided to grab it and shrink my TBR pile.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Comic Style Story: "Alan's War" by Emmanuel Guibert

Comic Style Story: Alan's War: The Memories of G.I. Alan Cope by Emmanuel Guibert, 2006 (France),

Guibert was 30 when he met the 69-year-old Cope. Cope was, apparently, a master storyteller and Guibert and Cope became friends. Guibert decided to draw and write Cope's life story to just after WWII.

Cope was a California native. He joined the Army and attended several training schools for tanks and radio operations until he landed in Northern France in 1945. His unit bummed around for a bit until their equipment reached them. Then they had a long, difficult drive East that just kept running and running. His platoon of armored cars only fired their guns at the enemy just once. They fired the armored car's machine gun and the gun's bolt broke quite soon. (Be aware that a firearm's bolt is an integral part of the gun and the broken bolt made the whole thing a 50+ pound hunk of worthless steel.)

The members of his armored car are being run ragged because Patton was pushing his Army as far East as possible to occupy the land before the Soviets move in. Alan gets shot at a couple times but has little contact with Germans. Cope tells a story of when his convoy and a German convoy passed one another on a road. The German convoy was made of tanks and each tank had a man on foot in front of the tank to guide the tank driver because of the driver's limited view. The German tank guide looked in shock at the American convoy and stopped walking. The German tank driver never saw the stopped man and slowly rolled over and killed the screaming, thrashing man. The tank's engine and mechanical noise meant the driver never heard the guy.

The story is interesting for a reminder of all that went on in such a massive undertaking of people and supplies. Of all the food, gasoline, and ammunition that had to keep up with the advancing Army. How information does not filter down; you follow orders even if they make no sense to you. You see the aftermath of the moving front lines where walking civilians crowd the roads and are displaced from their homes to billet soldiers.

Even though Cope is never in combat the work is still very dangerous. Especially because there are a bunch of 20-year-olds driving heavy vehicles at night with little to no sleep. Cope mentions how the retreating Germans would destroy bridges. The Americans are driving with blackout lights that are not visible from more than a few feet away and how jeep, tank, and truck crews would drown after driving drive into rivers. That danger same with the narrow mountain roads of Afghanistan and the deep canals of Iraq.

A fair amount of talk about homosexuality. A couple young guys on a troop train. A drunk man who ass grabs Cope when sharing a bed. A couple other instances. Gay history is certainly more talked about now then when I started reading WWII history 30 or so years ago. Some stories with heterosexual activity. Cope was an inexperienced young man and trading letters with a woman back in California. A good pal of Cope's tells Cope about being one of the first troops into liberated Paris and how the guy "fucked all the time!"

Anyhoo. I did not think the book was all that great. Cope must have been a great storyteller because what he talks about his mostly mundane. There is little excitement to the stories. I do like the illustrations.

1.Guibert's introduction addresses inaccuracies. He says Cope had a fantastic memory but I wonder about that. I've read enough about comparing oral history to original sources and how the oral histories lose accuracy. If Cope was a great talker those details may just be "details". Or the stories are mixing one event with another.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

In Review: Bill Crider's Novels

In Review: Bill Crider's Novels.

I started reading Crider novels when I lived in AZ.  I took a Sheriff Dan Rhodes book home, read it, and starting talking to my wife about the joys of bologna sandwiches and Dr. Pepper. Dr. Pepper with real cane sugar, too. (The TX based Dr. Pepper bottling plant using cane sugar was shut down by Dr. Pepper a few years ago but, I believe, they still bottle a similar recipe made with cane sugar. Look it up yourself if you want more information. You can order online but shipping costs are high.)

The Rhodes novels feature great characters settings. Crider's mysteries were always well thought out. I'm not a reader who tries to figure out the killer before the author reveals the person - but Crider always set things up to make the killer a bit of a surprise. He would always have the killer well hidden.

Rhodes himself is a great character. He is so entirely human and living in his hometown that continues to change around him.  A few years ago I wrote this in some book notes: An easy comparison for this is Rhodes versus Andy Taylor. As a half-hour comedy show Mayberry focused on jokes with character an integral part. Only after viewing several episodes do you recognize what a strong personality Andy was. Balancing his son, work, friends, and romance in a small town where, as Sheriff, everyone feels it's fair to observe and judge him. Andy was always fair even though frequently exasperated and annoyed.

Rhodes gets angry over murder. He is always self-doubting his work and mistakes. He criticizes his work. Did he ask the wrong questions to the wrong people? Should he have recognized something earlier? Could he have done something to stop the 2nd and 3rd murders in the story? He's a worrier at times.

After greatly enjoying that first novel I started reading more Crider novels and looked the author up online. Sure enough I discovered Bill Crider's Pop Culture Magazine. My first thought was, "Well, I guess you could call that a magazine if you want. But really..." That initial smirk never mattered because I ended up being one of the blog readers who checked the website several times a day for both the posts and the comments.

Heck, I remember the first time I decided to join the blog's online conversation. There was a post about Sam Cooke. I recalled writing that Cooke "could sing the phone book and make it sound good." Well, my memory was a little faulty, but accurate in theme.

As I read more of the blog my reading list started to expand. I also started to buy those novels for the libraries I worked at.Who are some of those writers I learned of through my start with Crider's blog?
Anthony Neil Smith
Victor Gischler
James Reasoner
Vicki Hendricks
Patti Abbott
Megan Abbott
Joe R Lansdale (read before and encouraged to return)
Duane Swierczynski
Brent Ghelfi
Dan Simmons
Jon Clinch's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn prequel
Richard S. Prather
Christa Faust
Charlie Stella
Ed Gorman
Charles Portis
Stephen Gallagher
Ted Wood
Max Allan Collins
The Slocum westerns
Sara Gran
Lee Goldberg
Stuart Neville
Charlie Huston
Peter Rabe
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Johnny Shaw.

Anyhoo. Crider is a good dude.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Done: "A Hard and Heavy Thing" by Matthew W. Hefti

Done: A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew W. Hefti, 2016, 9781440591884.

Hefti won an Outstanding Achievement Award from the Wisconsin Library Association for this one. A couple people from the Literary Awards committee did a webinar a month or so ago and I reserved the novel after listening to them speak about the book. The book was ok.

Basically written as a kind of love letter by one guy to his best friend. Levi and Nick live in La Crosse, WI, play in a punk band, drink too much, smoke dope, live like slobs, and half-heartedly attend UW-LaCrosse. During one drunken night after 9/11 they impulsively decide to join the Army and actually carry through with that decision the next day.

The book was a bit confusing to read at first with a constantly changing point of view and narrative asides in [brackets]. On page 60 Hefti actually addresses the issue when [in brackets] he writes about a Professor character, "He also would have hated the shifting points of view, these constant regressions into the colloquial first-person ... did I really need to intrude into the story using brackets like hugs? And did I need a hug because I lacked confidence? To which I reply: If I sound unsure of myself, it's because I am." Levi is the narrator but he tells the story from a shifting 1st person perspective and a 3rd person view.

The story focuses on the relationship between best pals Nick and Levi, their time together in Iraq, a difficult return to Wisconsin and a slow, or failed, recovery by both of them into civilian life. Reading about Levi's self-destructive behavior was difficult. Levi was a non-com and blames himself for Nick's burn injuries in Iraq and deaths of some other soldiers. Nick's vehicle was hit by an IED and the explosion killed three soldiers and wounded two. Levi thinks those tragedies happened after a prank by Levi that started a series of events that snowballed into the ambush. Levi had put a small stone under Nick's body armor where Nick could not get the rock out. After hours of patrolling and distraction from the pebble Levi thinks Nick's distraction caused him to miss identifying the IED.

Nick, in turn, is doing fairly well recovering from severe burns on his face and body. He woke up in a blasted vehicle with his vehicle commander's arm laying across his chest. Nick does okay with the aftermath of combat but his new marriage is not going well. Nick and his wife are now in a constant state of tension. His wife had her drinking problem under control but Nick still frets over it.  Since Levi has returned to LaCrosse and lives in their basement, drinking like a fish, Nick and his wife are dealing with PTSD addled Levi's general pain-in-the-assery.

The book is not really my bag. I almost bailed on it but finished. A neat thing is that the section set in Iraq has Hefti portraying himself as a character. Hefti served as a EOD guy for several years and spent four tours - I think it was four - across Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hefti's acknowledgments thank Tyrus Books. Tyrus was shut down this year by the house that bought them out.

Heard: "The Castle of Kings" by Oliver Potzsch

Heard: The Castle of Kings by Oliver Potzsch, 2016 for this English audio, not sure of the original German date. Downloaded from Overdrive.

Two years of the German peasant war of 1524 and 1525. A love story with young adults Matthias and Agnes. A mystery with a ring, a document, a secret society, and a mysterious assassin. Also a pursuit story with Matthias trying to rescue the abducted Agnes before she is sold by slavers or murdered.

The story is well told but Looooooong. This is a 27 part audiobook with a 25h 18m run time, so be aware of what you are getting into.  Don't get me wrong I enjoyed the story but was surprised by the length. Potzsch does drag things out with a couple cliffhangers on revealing a family secret - that did annoy me.

The history is interesting and well used by Potzsch. Germany is run by the church and the aristocracy. Knights and Dukes and Counts have the power. Agnes's father is a knight and Castellane of Trifels Castle. The castle has fallen on hard times - it takes a lot of money to maintain a castle - and the Castellan is being squeezed by his Duke for more and more tax revenue.

The peasants are getting angrier and angrier about things as the Castellan, and others, squeeze blood from stones when dealing with the peasants. Meanwhile the church's priests and monks are living high on the hog as they sell indulgences and live in luxury. Luther's recent religious revolution has the peasants thinking they don't have to suffer the bullshit they put up with.

Matthias is a blacksmith and rebellious. He likes to hang out with the peasants talking revolution. He gets in trouble. He works to forge a cannon so Castellan can attack a neighboring robber-knight. Things happen and revolution boils up.

The peasant revolution is violent and brutal as they slaughter priest and monks and attack the rich. The aristocratic reaction is equally violent and brutal because the peasants are "defying the natural order." Beheadings. Hangings, Quarterings. Torture. Heads on pikes. Bodies hung from trees. Rape. Looting. So on. So forth.

I enjoyed reading about the way of life and how government and social organizations worked. It's also a reminder on what happens in war without restraint. About how quickly civilization can - or will - devolve as things get worse and worse and food, shelter, and safety are at risk. I should read more historical novels.

There are other storylines: Emperor Barbarossa's ring and heritage. A forced marriage for Agnes. Blah. Blah. Blah. Read a review if you want more of the plot details.

I've not heard the full afterword by Poltzsch writes that he is a nut for castles and drags his family to all the ones he visits.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Almost Forgotten: "Heavenly Table" by Donald Ray Pollock

Almost Forgotten: The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock, 2016, 9780385541299.

I either totally forgot or missed seeing a pub notice for this novel. I have really enjoyed Pollock's previous work and Devil All The Time was quite good. This too is an interesting novel and for all the murder, violence, drinking, raping, stabbing, kicking, stomping, abduction, torture, robberies, con jobs, lack of love, physical abuse, racism, and sexism the book was not a downer for me. I'm not sure why. Maybe because the characters are always moving forward and themselves are somewhat optimistic.

This certainly fits into the Rural Violence genre of books I've been reading over the past few years. I suppose that is not a well recognized category of literature but if people can call some novels Rural Noir I can say Rural Violence.  After reading my first Daniel Woodrell novel I promised myself to avoid the Southern Missouri Ozarks at all costs. I would only travel there with at least three guns and one of those had to be a long gun.  Danger and menace seem to be all around when I read Woodrell's fiction.

Reading Pollock's Knockemstiff and Devil All The Time had about the same effect. But, for whatever reason they come off as optimistic. Every character in Pollock's novel is some sort of fink. Sure, the murderers are much worse than the adulterers but only a couple characters never take advantage of other people. In Woodrell's stories prison and violence are an inevitability. Someone is going to be under threat for any and all reasonable or bullshit reasons. Most of them will backstab you given the chance.

There about 10 characters you could call lead characters in Heavenly. Even the minor characters come with a backstory and full descriptions. That full backstory never bothered me. Pollock may have had a character appearance last no more than a couple pages but I just plain enjoyed the side stories.


Here is the short version: It is 1917 and three brothers in Kentucky start robbing banks and making their escape to Canada. In Southern Ohio a poor farmer tries to keep his farm afloat while fancy pants Army officer trains new troops, hides his homosexuality, and dreams of glorious death. All of them meet up after plenty of other characters get mixed in.

I really did like this. But, the plot is not as important as the people and the way Pollock tells the stories. For my own records here are some comments to spark some memories of the novel when I reread this in a few years.

- The three brothers are 17, 20 and 23 and poorer than dirt poor. After their father dies they go to burgle the rich farmer who has been underpaying them for field work. They end up killing the man, robbing banks, collecting guns and practicing their gun skills. They kill anyone who gets close enough in hopes of earning the big reward money for them.
- The farmer was taken for all his family's life savings, $1,000, by a con man who sold the farmer cattle owned by someone else who was out of town for an extended time. The farmer was deeply shamed and embarrassed and his 15-year-old son has left home to become a raging alcoholic. At first he thinks the son has joined the US Army at the new WWI base near their farm. He has a lot of trouble admitting to his wife when he learns the boy is now a booze hound.
- The Army Lieutenant is a college graduate and one of the few experts in the card games of ancient Rome. His fiancee left him and he planned a glorious suicide until he ended up joining the Army. He now plans a glorious suicide in France's No Man's Land while huddled with the handsome Private in his training platoon. The, he hooks up with a local gay guy and starts shtupping all the time.
- Orphan guy with enormous schlong is deeply ashamed of his penis. His hyper religious mother used to manipulate an shame him all the time. He is about 20-years-old and only had one other friend before. His current job is to check the levels of all the city's outhouses. A recent flood overflowed many of the outhouses and caused several cholera deaths. Orphan walks the city wearing high rubber boots and carrying with a long pole covered in feces to gauge latrine depths. Orphan smells like his outhouse pole.