Monday, December 31, 2018

Heard: "Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead

Heard: Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, 2016, download from Wisconsin Digital Library. Finished this in 2016 so I am backdating the entry from January, 2019 creation.

Short: Slave woman is about 18-years-old when she flees a Georgia plantation and keeps travelling state-to-state to escape capture and a vengeful slave hunter.

Long and with spoilers: This was pretty good. The horrific violence and crime were a shock. Protagonist Cora tells most of the story with a few detours to other characters. Her own mother ran away when Cora was about 8-years-old and there has been no word about her mother since. Cora has no other family on her large plantation and has survived rape, violently protected her own small garden, and mostly escaped the abuse of the dirt-bag brothers who own the plantation.

The large and active plantation means the owners regularly buy and sell people. A newcomer to the plantation is Caesar. Caesar was born to a kind owner who let her slaves grow as people - as much as possible under slavery that is. When Caesar's owner died she left no will, the executor sold all her property, and Caesar went from a easier life South to Georgia. Caesar makes friends with Cora and gets them to flee.

On Sundays Caesar sells things at a nearby local town. He meets a member of the Underground Railroad there and makes a plan. He and Cora head off through the swamp. This is no casual event, attempting an escape means death.

Anyhoo. Bad things happen. Cora and Caesar make it to South Carolina which is a much kinder slave state. Cora escapes recapture and ends up in highly dangerous North Carolin. Another escape takes her to Indiana. Another escape has her on a wagon train West.

Whitehead was awarded a Pulitzer and National Book Award for this novel and the book is pretty decent. He tells a compelling story and Cora's travails and sufferings frequently enraged and shocked me. Cora is a strong person but suffers the doubts and personal worries of everyone. Her mother disappeared into the swamp and Cora had to live alone on a plantation that was sometimes dog-eat-dog. She had no love after her mother left - and, we learn, died in the swamp from a snake bite.

Caesar was raised by a family that was allowed to have self dignity. Unlike Cora who never left the plantation or the immediate area Caesar had witnessed better conditions and knew that life could be better.

Cora is a loner by nature and lack of nurture. The two of them never become romantically involved. Cora is smart. She understands people and deciphers their behavior. Her survival senses are sharp but she is also human and makes mistakes.

At the basics this is an adventure story. A chase story. Cora and Caesar are traveling through enemy territory with a infamous slave hunter on their tracks. Within this Whitehead weaves all sorts of U.S. history with a tie lapse of U.S. slave history as Cora travels from state to state. I finished the book a while ago and forgot many things but do recall these:

South Carolina: forced sterilization and syphilis experimentation on unknowing people.
North Carolina: lunching, sunset towns, and Jim Crow laws.
Indiana: free but at risk of murder at the hands of unhappy white neighbors. Resulting massacres like Rosewood and Tulsa. Two characters representative of Du Bois and Booker T Washington.
Wagons West: the Great Migration from the South. I'm blanking on another term for that migration. Let me check... nuts, I cannot find it. Maybe I'm thinking of a book title about people moving to Chicago and Detroit and other industrial cities.

I greatly appreciate that I am not the only person who, as a child, took the phrase Underground Railroad literally. Whitehead has an actual subterranean railroad system. If you have my admiration if you can spell subterranean without spell check.

1. Will this big time award winner have a lasting impact on me where I will periodically think back on the story and be surprised about how much I recall? Hell if I know. I've read some other award winners that were kinda 'meh' when I read them but their plots and characters would pop into my mind.
2. What the fuck?! How can any one, at any time, have defended and excused slavery?
3.  I'm a middle aged white guy and slavery is always an abstract. I don't have a family history with relatives who suffered under the system. There is nothing personal in the history for me. Sure, I know the history. But, reading a well written novel like this is incredibly angering. Whitehead draws up some sharp characters we get to like and some villains that are villainous.
4. What's more, the villains are not cartoons - something a character actually references when comparing a slave owner to a caricature used by anti-slave literature. The slave owners and chasers are solid in their beliefs that black people are lesser and should be slave.
5. I want to spell Colson with a 'U' as Coulson.

Bound Paper With Words: "The Satanic Mechanic" by Sally Andrew

Bound paper With Words: The Satanic Mechanic by Sally Andrew, 2017, 9780062397690.

Cozy mystery sequel to Recipes for Love and Murder. Someone mentioned to me that they never heard of the cozy genre of mysteries. Here is my definition list:
Woman protagonist either solves or assists in solving murder. Protagonist is not a Police Officer or PI. Protagonist often romantically involved with a male Police Officer or other manly man. Many recipes involved. No guts. No blood. No gore. One or more kooky but friendly characters. One or more threatening characters.

Anyhoo. Tannie Maria is still in her 40s and working for the Klein Karoo Gazette as a advice and cooking columnist. Maria writes advice columns that prescribe recipes to the letter writers. Maria is also coping with the trauma from her now dead husband's verbal, physical, and sexual assaults on Maria.

The most problematic issue in Maria's personal life is that when she starts getting sexually active with her new Police Officer Boyfriend (POB) she has flashbacks to her husband and shoves off POB with a scream. Maria sets out to find counseling. The first counselor tells her to go on a diet - she does sound quite heavy - and take antidepressants and diet pills.

Things are going better at Maria's work and her advice column is very popular. The newspaper's reporter - the entire small town newspaper is staffed by just three people - interviews a Bushmen who just won a big court case against mining concerns. The court victory returns land to the Bushmen. The Bushman is now living under death threats and Maria is fascinated by and completely impressed with the man. When the newspaper staff then travel to another town's local festival they witness the poisoning death of the Bushman and Maria is quite shaken.

Not too much later Maria starts hallucinating a Kudu and wonders if the Kudu is the lingering spirit of the Bushman. Maria, of course, gets involved in the murder investigation. POB gruffly demands she not be involved. Maria joins a casual therapy group run by an auto mechanic who once joined a Satanist Church. Her hallucinations continue. The therapy group is briefly held-up by a trio of Satanists. POB is angry Maria seems to keep walking into danger. Maria bakes lots of food. Maria can only relieve her stress by eating binges. A wacky local character is concerned about rare rabbits. There is another murder and this time it is at the therapy group. POB is even more worried and upset. Are the first murder case and the therapy group murder connected?

Not the kind of book I generally read but I do enjoy the South African setting. The amalgam of different cultures and languages in South Africa is fascinating. Hell, S.A. has 11 official languages. Roger Smith sets his books in the urban crime of Cape Town. Deon Meyer covers both urban and rural. Andrew is focusing on a remote part of the semiarad Karoo. The Karoo region covers a huge chunk of the southwest part of the country.

Maria's Afrikaans culture is interesting because most of the book's characters have seem to come to grips with the terror of the apartheid regime. The Afrikaans culture also sounds very repressed and conservative. Andrew could not leave her abusive husband because leaving a husband is more of a taboo then admitting to the abuse.

If you like recipes there are about a dozen - Wait, let me check... there are 13 recipes. Plus a glossary for all the African languages and terms.

Damn It, Forgot Another: "The Blood of An Englishman" by James McClure

Damn It, Forgot Another: The Blood of An Englishman by James McClure, 1982 (I think, I did not search too hard), Wisconsin Digital Library audiobook download.

I just learned this novel is the sixth novel in the Kramer and Zondi series. I was searching for novels set in South Africa and this came up on Wisconsin Digital Library. I listened to his back in September or October, 2018. Soho Press does reprints and mentions "absurd humor". Well, I kinda remember that.

What I most paid attention to was the relationships between black and white. I'm still stuck on how the hell people were able to get along under apartheid. In many stories it seems apartheid is just like the weather - it's always there and you have to live under it, rain or shine.

Kramer is an Afrikaans cop. Zondi is his black partner. Both are detectives. There are friendly wisecracks between them that likely wouldn't be approved of now, things like 'black bastard'. And they are not equal partners. Zondi is a smart detective - as is Kramer - but the whites are still in charge and the black cops have to cajole and convince. They cannot order.

Anway. A antiques collector is shot and wounded. Then, a visiting tourist from England is murdered with the same caliber weapon. The press thinks there is a mystery serial shooter. The cops get lots of pressure and pursue a wide ranging investigation to gun shops, gun licensees, gunsmiths, and the lives of both victims. Then a third murder happens and the pressure builds up.

Kramer and Zondi are pulled into the wide ranging investigation but also investigate the death of the Englishman who is a former South African who journed the RAF in WWII. Englishman is back in S.A. for the first time in 40 years to visit his sister. Kramer and Zondi pursue several leads: is there a WWII feud? An girlfriend from Englishman's teen years? Family squabble? A random murder?

There is a sociopathic crook Kramer uses as a informant. (Kramer also forces the small stature crook to sit atop a tall file cabinet until the man talks.) The antiques dealer is skeezy. Dead Englishman was  a bit of a prick at times. There are a few drunks, a link to WWII turncoats, and more.

McClure does a nice job with the book and I enjoyed it quite a bit. A fair bit of humor concerning foolish Police commanders and the relationships among the Police Officers. The plot was well laid out and the many investigative leads keep you guessing.

1. How tough was it to be a fair Police Officer under apartheid? You want to see justice done and bring people to account. But, you are working under the laws of system that is purposefully unfair.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Paperback: "Moffie" by Andre Carl van Der Merwe

Paperback: Moffie by Andre Carl van Der Merwe, c2006 but a 2011 US edition, 9781609450502.

I am not sure how I came across this novel and bought it for work. I've been slowly but steadily reading South African fiction over the past few years but have been limited to crime novels. One of those novelists I read may have pointed to this book, and I then viewed an online author talk by van Der Merwe on YouTube. A author  presentation which I now cannot find. Damn it.

Wait a second... maybe that was a different guy talking on video and he was speaking about the bush wars. Damn it, now I'm not certain. Screw it.  I thought this was a fictionalized war memoir with a subplot of main character Nicholas hiding his gayness.  Nope, it's a fictionalized memoir of growing up gay when everyone else would rather you be dead than gay.  It's a tough way to grow up and things get even worse when Nicholas does his required national service with the Defense Forces and joins the infantry. The infantry is run by nut jobs who think all the black people of Africa are subhuman and out to kill them and that the blacks have joined the communists to enslave everyone that does not get murdered. Jeez, that's some real psychological projection there, fellas.

The novel bip-bops back and forth from the army to Nicholas's childhood under an angry father and repressive culture. Nicholas's beloved older brother dies when Nicholas is 5-years-old and Nicholas never gets over the death. Nicholas is an introvert, arty, and not sporty. Three things that mark him as a sissy. Being called sissy is bad enough but the true slur and reputation destroying word is moffie. Moffie means fag. Moffie means outcast. Nicholas's father explicitly says that if Nicholas turned gay he'd disown the boy and let him starve in the street.

Nicholas gets through a rough adolescence in his small, white farming community. He escapes a riot in a nearby black town. He tries to pray away the gay. He joins the Army for national service and his father hopes it will toughen him and make him stop embarrassing his father.  Nicholas goes to the initial training camp which is purposefully brutal and demeaning. He then gets sent to the infantry school where conditions are even worse and one soldier dies of heat stroke and Nicholas's best pal kills himself.

van Der Merwe is half Afrikaans and half English. The novel is set in the late 1970s and only 70 years before this the English and Dutch Afrikaans were working hard to kill one another. During the Boer War thousands of Dutch civilians died from disease after internment in concentration camps. (I often see the phrase "forced internment" and that's just silly. Internment means forced.)  Hard feelings by the Boers remain as the Afrikaans now control S.A. government and the army. That means the Afrikaaners in charge of Nicholas's unit have him and his pals marked for extra harassment.

At one point a couple soldiers are found swapping spit in a darkened building. The sergeants and corporals in charge fill cloth sacks with metal pieces and beat both men. The two soldiers are there for a short time before being sent to the S.A. Army's Ward 22. Ward 22's patients receive the latest treatment in heavy drug doses, aversion therapy, shock treatments, forced boxing smokers, and are locked inside the morgue for 48 hours. Ward 22 is just institutional torture.

With colonial rule slowly receding after across the continent after WWII the S.A. government is dedicated to keeping power. Keeping power means keeping every black or coloured person in control. (Coloured meaning mulatto meaning there-must-be-a-decent-non-racist-one-word-meaning-for-mixed-race.) The Afrikaaners get violent when the colonial powers to the north of S.A. retire from their game of Fuck The Locals, Let's Get Rich and the black Africans start running governments.

Part of that violence involves sending troops north into a twenty year Border War in Angola. The bush war involves killing plenty of Cuban trained SWAPO fighters and any civilians who get in the way. (There seem to be plenty of different views on the Border War. Arguments of "they fought for apartheid" v. "they fought to stop communists".) Nicholas and a good gay pal are sent North and see a small amount of action before both men are wounded when their truck hits a land mine.

Anyhoo. The novel itself was not that compelling to me. The writing style and plotting are not my style. I thought the story dragged at times. I kept waiting for the battle scenes to speed things up. I suppose van Der Merwe kept to reality where most of army life is bullshit and boredom interspersed with terror and war crimes.

I kept with the novel because of van Der Merwe's somewhat unique view on what happened in the late '70s. I've seen a couple documentaries and read articles on the events but none of those were personal experiences or experiences by a gay dude.

Nicholas was in an incredibly repressed culture. Hard core Dutch Reformed ministers. No kissy, no huggy until marriage. Wear black suits to church. Blacks are only valid as servants. Don't leave your husband no matter how much he beats you. Never talk back to your parents.

It is kinda amazing that van Der Merwe survived all this.

1. I was recently looking up the Border War and Bush War. I cannot keep all the wars and conflicts in Southern Africa straight. The end of colonialism brought plenty of death and turmoil.
2. Apartheid ended over 20 years ago so it's easy for me to forget how fucking awful it was.
3. Modern crime novelists I've read - Roger Smith, Deon Meyer - show a great deal of integration of black and white. It's amazing the country did not completely fall apart. I know the economy and crime are rough but there were no mass riots, massacres, and vendettas like other countries. I presume the Truth and Reconciliation Committee was a big part of that success. There was more of a restorative justice aspect to the process.
4. Regarding memoirs about brutal Army training: There sure are a lot of them.
5. There are a few YouTube channels I follow that focus on firearms hobbies. One video was discussing a FN-FAL rifle that was used in the border wars. The rifle was notable because it is a rare import to the U.S. and is absent a lot of manufacturing marks to show it's origin. During the video one former U.S. Army guy says something about the fight against communism in Africa. I cringed at that. I understand what he was saying but I see that fighting being as much about colonialism, proxy wars, and resource wealth fighting for democracy.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Ear Sounds: "Saints of the Shadow Bible" by Ian Rankin

Ear Sounds: Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin, 2013, w

Quick quiz. Who is the biggest a-hole in the Scottish Police? John Rebus. I suppose other readers will argue in Rebus's favor or posit their own favorite from the many Scottish crime novels out there. But, this is my blog.  So shut up.

Rankin retired Rebus a few years before this novel and then brought him back as a retiree working cold cases. Now Rankin has Rebus back on the police department. Rebus is at a lower rank because the department had not open positions for his retired rank.  Rebus doesn't care about rank or approval. He just wants to work the job and solve cases. He'll follow like a bloodhound until he collapses.

Rebus will also drink like a fish and insult like Don Rickles. Which brings me back to the Biggest A-Hole in the Scottish Police. Few people are willing to work with Rebus. He has become a legend within his department but once people get to know him they either get to like him or - most usually - just tolerate him.

Rebus serving under his former partner, Siobhan Clarke, now that she is a Sergeant. Again, Rebus doesn't much care about this but does bristle when a retired pathologist makes a few digs about it. And Rebus is always pushing back against his commanding officers no matter what.

Rebus and Clarke get called to a car wreck. The female college student's wealthy London father has political pull and Rebus and Clarke are there to dot the i and cross the t. Being a particularly suspicious and A-Hole Rebus spies some inconsistencies with the young lady's story and starts asking questions, questions, questions.

Rankin has also come under suspicion over the actions of a detective unit from 30 years ago when Rankin was a freshly minted detective. The unit called themselves The Saints of the Shadow Bible. The Saints broke rules, punched suspects, and made me want to re-watch the Red Riding trilogy.

Anyhoo. Rankin is back up against Inspector Fox - a newer Rankin character - from the Complaints Department as Fox investigates the Saints. Rebus has to stay loyal to his former colleagues and the rule of law. Because, let's be clear, Rebus may be a rule breaker himself and he will push the envelope of acceptable behavior, but he is all about the rule of law and catching those that break it.

1. You know, other reviewers have mentioned how the loss in rank is galling to Rebus. Maybe Rankin is pursuing that part of Rebus but I just never saw Rebus being ticked off over rank. (Or, I completely missed it.) Like I mention above, Rebus doesn't like anyone with a higher rank. He doesn't like anyone he considers incompetent.
2. Rankin was on BBC 6 Music a couple weeks ago plugging his band. Rankin mentioned how Fox and Rebus are quite similar. He retired Rebus and created Fox and now has them working together. They are so alike they initially don't get along but are forming a friendship.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Audiobook: "Rascal" by Sterling North

Audiobook: Rascal by Sterling North, 1963, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

I vaguely recall this book sitting around or being discussed in elementary school. I never read it. I sorta recall the Disney movie on television. I did not watch it.

At work we get occasional mailings from the Sterling North Society promoting his books and home/museum in Edgerton, WI which is about 20-25 miles away. Wait, let me check... 22 miles is most direct route. The Society plugs Rascal in their mailings. I saw the audio and tried it out.

Set exactly 100 years ago from Spring, 1918 to Spring, 1919. North is the youngest of four children and his mother died when Sterling was seven-years-old. His lawyer father often travels and leaves 12-year-old Sterling by himself. Sterling's three siblings are older and have moved away to live their adult lives.

One day Sterling and a pal are going through the woods when they scare an adult raccoon that runs up a tree leaving it's four baby raccoons behind. Being 12-year-olds they think the best solution is to climb the tree, knock the raccoon off, capture it, and reunite it with the baby raccoons. Sterling climbs the tree and the raccoon retreats to the end of a tree limb. Being a 12-year-old Sterling figures to use the saw blade on his pocket knife to cut off the limb and his pal will catch the raccoon, wrap the animal in his coat, and then... something. Who knows what the hell their entire plan was.

The plan, of course, fails. The raccoon falls, runs off, and three baby raccoons follow. Sterling takes the remaining baby raccoon home. Taking a raccoon home is no trouble since his father is often gone and demands little discipline or behavioral standards. Sterling already has a 170lbs St. Bernard, a pet crow, a guppy pond, and two skunks. He's been using the living room as workshop to saw and sand his way to constructing a wooden canoe.

Things happen. The raccoon spends a year growing from a straw fed baby to a 13 pound adult. There are plenty humorous stories and I enjoyed the novel. The raccoon is smart, affectionate, and adventurous. Rascal loves strawberry soda pop and cube sugar. He learns to hunt crawfish. One night he crawls into bed with Sterling after learning how to open the screen door and come inside. At night Sterling will fill en suite bathroom sink basin with water for Rascal to get a drink.

One story I repeated to my half listening children:
Both Sterling's crow and Rascal loved shiny things and would take items and hoard them. The two animals would often fight over objects. Sterling's older sister comes to visit and kicks Sterling out of her old room on the home's first floor. While putting away her belongings Rascal comes wandering into the room and Sister screams and jumps on a chair. Sterling is indignant, "It's rascal's room too!" but loses the fight. Rascal is locked out of the house at night.

One morning Sister goes on a tear looking for her missing engagement ring. She often loses the ring and one time Sterling and his father dug up 85 feet of sewer line before she found the ring in a purse. Sister is greatly upset over the ring and Sterling helps search. Sister is adamant that she took the ring off and set it on the sink of the en suite bathroom. As Sterling helps search he recalls that early that morning he woke to the sound of Rascal and Crow fighting on the porch. The fight ended and Sterling, half asleep, went right back to bed. Sterling realizes he did not lock the door the previous night.

Sterling theorizes that Rascal came inside, avoided Sister asleep in the bed. and went to get a drink from the bathroom sink. Rascal spots the ring on the sink, takes the ring outside, and Crow promptly steals it away. Sterling climbs up to Crow's nest in the neighboring church belfry and finds some missing marbles, a spare Oldsmobile key, and Sister's missing ring. Sister is so happy she lets Sterling keep the canoe in the house.

1. This is one of those Boy On His Own adventure stories where the boy has little supervision or takes off for the woods. Same as Tom Sawyer. Not quite a bildungsroman. the kind of story I enjoyed as a kid and would go, "Oh no! Not that!" when the kid would make a foolish and reckless decision.
2. What is the dad really doing on all these work trips? Avoiding responsibility of Sterling? Drinking? Skirt chasing? Sterling is often lonely while his dad travels as far as Montana.
3. Sterling has many passages about his mother. He seems to crave matronly affection and is happy to receive it from an aunt, teacher, and neighbor.
4. This is a memoir and Sterling writes about lousy behavior of a few adults and one classmate. A neighboring pastor is a prick. His uncle is a bully. His classmate is a bully and prick. This book came out 45 years after the events but the book has a greater impact than any else's stories or memories of those people. Weird how a short kid's story can forever tar a person's name.
5. I should drive over to see the North museum sometime. That'd be a nice bike ride in warm weather.
6. Sterling worries a lot for his brother in France. The brother does not tell them the truth of his extensive combat experience until after the war.

Listened to a book: "Broken Harbor" by Tana French

Listened to a Book: Broken Harbor by Tana French, 2012, Wisconsin Digital Library download.

The fourth of Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series. There is a definite pattern to each book. The protagonist is a screwed down and serious cop with some past traumatic experiences as a child or teenager. The cops go against everything they were trained or experienced in work so that they act self-destructively during the investigation. They willingly or unknowingly blind themselves to a clear solution because they cannot help but view the current crime and people through the filter of their own past.


Scorcher Kennedy is a bit of a hotshot murder investigator. He is a very "by the books" fella and he has a high clearance rate for his murder cases. Scorcher gets assigned big name cases that hit the press. His latest is a call that sends him to the edge of Dublin (Which I initially typed at 'Budlin') to an unfinished housing development by the sea. Formerly called Broken Harbor the newly named Brianstown is a mix of abandoned construction and shoddily completed single family homes. The estate was in progress and partially populated when the booming Celtic Tiger economy went bust. Of the entire estate only a few homes were completed and still inhabited.

Scorcher brings along newbie detective Richie Curran who is only recently promoted from the uniform division. They arrive to a fresh crime scene with one dead and bloody father and his two smothered young children. The wife was found barely alive with multiple stabs and slashes and evacuated to the hospital.

There is no immediate evidence of a break-in or intruder. The ME says the dead people were killed around 3AM. Most evidence points to a domestic murder-suicide attempt. But, the weapon is completely missing. And there are strange holes busted through the drywall at various parts of the home with video baby monitors aimed at the holes and the attic access. That's kinda odd.

When the cops search the area they find a "sniper's nest" in the abandoned construction behind the victim's home that looks directly into that home's backyard windows. The nest has a sleeping bag, binoculars, and food. Someone had been surveilling - or creeping - the dead family.

Things move on in standard police procedural fashion. Clues don't match up. Dead ends take time. Witnesses don't want to talk. Family members of the victim's and neighbors interfere in police interviews. The crime scene evidence is inconclusive.

OK, that's all standard. So what matters is the characters. Scorcher is a divorced cop with two sisters, a depressed father, and a dead mother who killed herself by walking into the same damn sea off newly named Brianstown. Scorcher and family used to take summertime caravan vacations in Brianstown. Those vacations were the only times his severely depressed mother would be okay. Until their last vacation when she woke in the middle of the night, took the youngest sibling, and walked alone into the ocean. Youngest sibling survived, was found hiding in the sand dunes, and has never spoke about the experience.

After his mother's suicide Scorcher and one sister have been in charge of keeping the family together. Their father falls apart and just watches television and the second surviving sister has developed mental health issues - the same kind as the mother. Scorcher does not want to go back to Broken Harbor/Brianstown and being there messes him up. Scorcher tells the story first person and cannot accept that the surviving victim - the mother - may have murdered her family. Instead, he focuses hard on the guy who was watching them. The guy was an old friend and his behavior does put him smack into a plausible theory of the crime.  That plausible theory does not have much evidence and comes with a obviously false confession.

French is one of those writers who tells a good tale but is also very perceptive about people. Her characters are peppered with details and behaviors. The first person narrations are not unreliable, they are just unaware or unseeing of what is in front of them. So, let's list recap French style things that have been in the four books I've heard.

  • Family trauma.
  • More importantly - childhood or adolescent trauma of the narrator. Dead parents are in three novels.
  • Narrators who deny that their own emotions and history are driving their motivations. 
  • Narrators will acknowledge their own poor behavior and decision making in the past narration (or whatever it is called) but at-the-time they reason away their actions.
  • Narrators are who inherently lonely. 
    • One narrator left a alcoholic and dysfunctional family to leave on his own and thought hit girlfriend left him because of his family. He does not make relationships.
    • One narrator was the sole survivor of a group abduction where the other two children were never seen again. He was sent to boarding school and lost all memory of time before the abduction.
    • This narrator lived in constant worry for his mother's life and he and his sister took over for the mentally absent father and a mentally ill younger sister.
    • One narrator was orphaned in a car wreck where she was the sole survivor and left in the wreck - with her dead parents - for several hours before discovery. Raised by a distant and overwhelmed aunt and uncle.

1. I presume that French is pretty smart.

Forgot One: "The Tomb" by F. Paul Wilson

Forgot One: The Tomb by F. Paul Wilson, 2011 reprint of the 1984 novel, 9780765327406 (paperback).

I've had this paperback sitting around a few years. I finally read it a month or two ago and promptly forgot to type up any notes. I enjoyed the novel a fair amount. I've seen references by Internet Gun Nerds to the novels but those people are not the best advisors on reading material. Those guys enjoy the gun references.

Wilson was at Murder and Mayhem in Muskego a few years ago when i was able to attend. Lunch there was in the two large meeting rooms at Muskego PL. Your registration assigned you to a room, you got in line, waited a while, grabbed a sandwich, and picked a big round table to sit at. People would wander around a bit looking for a prime spot to sit. Wilson was at my table that day (as was Ann Voss Peterson who is a pal of his). Wilson mentioned that the only book of his that has always been in print is The Keep. I have no point to this story.

Anyhoo. This is set in the mid-'80s and Jack is way 'off the grid'. He never tells anyone his real name and uses no last name. Jack works as a fixer and has done so since he was a teenager. His reclusiveness does not seem to harm his career but the secrecy and violence of his chosen career drove away his girlfriend Gia and Jack is now seriously pining for her.

Jack gets a call from an Indian diplomat asking Jack to recover a necklace Diplomat says was stolen from his mother (grandmother?) during a mugging. The Diplomat heard of Jack at a U.N. cocktail party and will give Jack $shit-ton if Jack can recover the necklace within 24 hours. Diplomat is an imperious prick but Jack takes the case.

Meanwhile, Jack's ex-Girlfriend and her daughter are staying with an elderly step-aunt whose sister has gone missing. The police think Missing Aunt took walkabout. Everyone else sees mystery. Ex-Girlfriend is incredibly disgusted with Jack after learning of his violent business but calls him to help find Missing Aunt.

Things happen and we get action, romance, sex, violence, and some supernatural activity and real-life monsters. All of which connect back to a rogue British Army Officer who robbed a Indian temple back in the 1850s (or so).

The Ex-Girlfriend and Missing Necklace storylines converge and a couple people are eaten by the monsters. Repairman Jack prevails and has the sexy-sex with Indian Diplomat's sister and Gia.

Wilson tells a good story. I think he killed Repairman Jack off 3-4 years ago.

1. Neat to read the 1984 references that were written in the present day for the novel.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Florida Paperback: "Mad Dog Barked" by Rick Ollerman

Florida Paperback: Mad Dog Barked by Rick Ollerman, 2016, 9781944520090.

Stark House Press prints some really neat stuff. Stark does a ton of reprints and new novels from people like Ollerman and the great Charlie Stella. I really enjoyed this novel. Ollerman does some fine work.

Scott Porter owns a private investigation agency in Florida.
He has several employees.
He is very secretive.
He is not warm and cuddly. Although he would like to get warm and cuddly with his married assistant, Trudy.
He has a weird guy walk in asking Porter to protect him from issues related to his purchase of a first publication of Murders in the Rue Morgue.
Things start moving.

The weird guy says his assistant is missing and may be dead. That weird guy is immediately leaving town after his meeting with Porter and hands over a big fat check and a coded letter found in the book. Weird Guys is vague and says the letter is likely an issue. From my description you can imagine that Porter has little to work on. But, he now has a big check to cash and takes the case.

Pretty soon Porter and his PI staff run across a murder at Weird Guy's local estate. Early in the novel Porter declared to Weird Guy that Porter won't do anything illegal. That changes toot sweet - even after Weird Guy is next found dead in Virginia.

Things move along as Porter starts sparring with a New Jersey hit man who is roaming town and looking for the letter. Porter continually tries to romance Trudy who he had a one-night-stand with several months ago. Some violence ensues. Some double dealing ensues. Porter tells many half-truths to Trudy, his staff, Hit Man, the police and has to keep his lies straight.

Porter is like many fictional PIs but with a realistic bent. Porter has a real agency - he is not a one man shop with a single room office and a bourbon bottle in a desk drawer. He has pride in his work and wants to do it right for his client. He also wants to win. He is not going to back down from Hit Man's threats and demands.

Ollerman has us following Porter around as he works to figure out what is going on with the case plus hoping Trudy leaves her abusive and philandering husband for Porter. I've not much else to say, I'm drawing a blank on interesting commentary.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

NonFic: "The Odyssey of Echo Company" by Doug Stanton

NonFic: The Odyssey of Echo Company: the 1968 Tet Offensive and the epic battle to survive the Vietnam War by Doug Stanton, 2017, 9781476761916.

Short version: journalist and writer meets an old Sergeant in Afghanistan (Iraq?). Old Sergeant was in Vietnam and says writer should write about it. Writer ends up doing so.

Long Version: I enjoyed this book. Stanton did a lot of research with interviews, after action reports, correspondence, and other original sources and history. He focuses on Stan Parker who joined the Army once he turned 18 and was eager to fight in Vietnam. The book follows the standard war biography with:
  • Stan joining the Marines against his mother's wishes
  • Stan going to training
  • Stan excited and proud of being in the paratroopers and reconnaisance 
  • Stan eager to go overseas, frustrated over being sent elsewhere, ignoring the warnings of people now in combat
  • Stan arriving in Vietnam and ready to win the war
  • Stan adjusts to combat
  • Stan sees his friends suddenly killed and civilians suffering
  • Stan is numbed by combat
  • Stan leaves Vietnam and has trouble adjusting after a sudden reintroduction to peace time

An unusual part of this is that Stan joins the Army a few years later and goes into Special Forces with the Reserve guys based in Colorado.
- An Aside: how does the Special Forces unit in CO work? Special Forces soldiers have to be so highly trained and experienced that I don't understand how a part-timer can stay proficient. All the things they have to keep up with: high level of fitness, working with their team, shooting skills, parachuting, hiking, stalking, spy guy skills, language skills, tech skills, blowing stuff up skills. How part-time are the reservists? -
Stanton loves being in the service and continues on through several other deployments until a career capper as a Command Sergeant Major in Afghanistan (Iraq?).

After all that time in the military and working in several danger zones Stan is still haunted and unable to talk about Vietnam. Many of the men he served with will not tell anyone they were in Vietnam after the reactions they had upon their return to the U.S. Stanton ends up traveling to Vietnam with Parker and visiting a battlefield where Stan was badly wounded. They end up meeting a local guy who was a commander in the battle and - by all evidence - Stan and he were trying to kill one another.

1. A. I was at a meeting this morning that spoke about children's health. One topic was toxic stress. How young children who act out are doing so because of stresses at home over domestic violence, abuse, boozing, so on, so forth. They are constantly on alert and reacting with a flight or fight response. A teacher's frown can set them off because at home a frown presages a yelling or a beating.
1. B. The same thing happens to people in war zones. The brain is conditioned to act quickly to survive. Civilians end up with depression, suicide, and other troubles - a recent article on Sri Lanka. Since we don't have war zones in the U.S. we hear about our military veterans who we send away to war.
2. Years ago I read a Vietnam memoir by an infantryman who had an arm blown off. His preface or afterword said he was standing on a street corner when a guy walked up and asked
3. Stan is in Vietnam during Tet and his unit is sent north to the area around Hue. From previous reading I knew Hue was a big objective of the NVA but never read about the fighting outside the city. Well, this was Tet after all, which means there were a shit ton of NVA and Vietcong there trying to take over. Stan and his Company were in contact every day. Death was normal. Death became a nonevent.
4. I was reminded my theory on war I devised back in 2006.

  1. When in a war zone the first thing you should do is immediately leave. 
  2. If you cannot leave make sure that you leave. 
  3. If for some reason your exit is blocked, leave anyway. 
  4. If normal modes of transportation are unavailable, leave. 
  5. If borders are blocked, leave. 
  6. If you have spent your whole life in that one place and all your belongings, money, prestige, and security have been there forever, leave. 
  7. Above all else, the first thing you must do when caught in a war zone, is leave.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Quit at 80%: "Double Cross" by Ben Mcintyre

Quit at 80%: Double Cross: the true story of the D-Day spies by Ben Mcintyre, 2012, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

I quit this audio book at the 80% completion point because I could never get into it. I just now saw that McIntyre also wrote the Kim Philby book I listened to in 2015, A Spy Among Friends. I enjoyed that book and the Cambridge spies sections of this book were the most interesting.

This just dragged on. I was expecting interesting Spy Guy stuff about the Normandy invasion and tricking the dirty rotten stinking no-good filthy nazis. Instead, we get minutiae concerning the agents, double agents, and triple agents the English were running. Stories about their girlfriends, married girlfriends, gambling, drinking, debts, clothes, mustaches, teeth, and every other damn thing.

How can the danger and terror of living among the dirty, rotten, skinking, no-good, filthy nazis be tedious and boring to read about? You can argue most of wartime is boredom punctuated with terror but a book should be more interesting.

Anyhoo. McIntyre writes plenty of details about the spies. The strategies employed in using those spies was interesting. The beginning of the war had great espionage success by the Brits. People in occupied Europe were all too willing to spy on France and sent lot of information over. But, once the dirty rotten stinking no-good filthy nazis consolidated they rolled up many of the spies, turned the spies, or assumed the spies identities.

England cultivated more spies. Germany cultivated more spies. England caught most German spies, killed them, and pretended to be them. New German spies would travel to England and immediately surrender. England had plenty of dudes and dude-ettes who sent Germany true data. "chicken feed", to keep the dirty rotten stinking no-good filthy nazis thinking the spies were theirs.

Yadda, yadda, yadda. I'm getting bored even typing about it. Try the book if you are REALLY into WWII history.

1. I read Soldier of Orange back in 1995 or 1996. The author escaped Holland and worked in England with the British. He remained part of the Dutch military but the Dutch were forced to work in England under English control using English resources. The author and his Dutch colleagues had a large group of spies working in Holland and were constantly receiving coded radio reports on what the dirty rotten stinking no-good filthy nazis were up to.
1.A.. But, most of those reports were just filed away. The English either did not have time to read them, did not believe them, or did not have the people to take action on the information. Later on the dirty rotten stinking no-good filthy nazis broke into the spy cells and when Dutch spies trained in England parachuted into Holland the had Germans were waiting for them on the drop zone.
1.B. The author became very frustrated with the English. On one occasion he came took a small boat ashore to a city dock in Holland in search of a colleague he was to meet. He arrived during a foggy evening and kept his Dutch military uniform on. Wearing civilian attire meant being shot as a spy and he figured the poor visibility, the Dutch uniform's similar color schemes to German uniforms, and the absurdity of walking around on a quay  in occupied Holland would see him through.
1.C. On that brief night excursion he did walk by a few people. One of those pedestrians gave him a surprised or confounded look. A few months later the author was drinking in a English bar - as he often did - and met the same guy who recognized his uniform that evening. The guy told the author that he was very pessimistic about Holland's survival living under the thumb of the dirty rotten stinking no-good filthy nazis. Seeing the author walk around in uniform on Dutch soil gave a massive burst of hope and encouraged him to escape to England.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Sound Waves: "Revival" by Stephen King

Sound Waves: Revival by Stephen King, 2014, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

I finished this book a month or more ago and never got to completing my notes.

The first King book I have read or listened to in a long while. Nothing scary or spooky much happens until a third of the way into the novel. After that introductory scariness there was not much more until the finale. No chills and thrills for me but the story is entertaining and provides memorable characters. But, I could take or leave it. 

Short: Lifelong rhythm guitarist kicks drugs and fights evil.

Long: Jamie Morton grows up in small town Maine and as a seven-year-old (or so) becomes pals with the new minister in town. Charles Jacobs, his pretty wife, young son, and fancy car move into town and replace the church's aging fill-in. Jacobs and his wife are popular. The boys fall for Mrs. Jacobs and the girls for Minister Jacobs.

Mr. Jacobs has a fascination with electricity and building electrical devices is his favorite past time. When one of Jamie's brothers suffers an injury and loses his sense of hearing - or speaking, I don't recall, Jacobs hooks the kid up to his new device and the device cures him. Or, it seems that way. Jacobs thinks it Jamie's brother was psychosomatic anyway.

Not long after that "healing" Mrs. Jacobs and the Jacobs's son die in a car wreck. Minister Jacobs goes off the deep end and is fired after delivering a sermon that famously strays from orthodoxy. Jamie continues to grow up, fall in love with music, and start playing rhythm guitar in a high school band. Life goes on and Jamie moves from band to band. After a bad motorcycle accident Jamie gets hooked on pills and stays sober enough to join one touring band after another.

A few years later Jamie is stranded in Oklahoma and sees the image of Mr. Jacobs on an advertisement for a magic show at the state fair. He goes and visits Jacobs. Jacobs takes Jamie to a workshop. Jacobs zaps Jamie with a device and cures Jamie's drug cravings.

Things go on. And on. And on. And on. (This is a King novel after all.) Jamie runs into Jacobs on occasion and decides Jacobs is insane. Jacobs, in turn, is brilliant and driven and cares little for anyone he harms with his experiments.

King brings everything back around by united long separated characters and putting them back in Maine. The End.

1. King has a daughter who is either a minister, or married a minister, or both. I've not read many King novels but religion has been a part of several of the ones I have. I wonder if the family was religious when the children were growing up.
1.A. I don't actually wonder too much. Hell, I mostly don't give a rat's ass, I just thought about it.

Damn It: "Exit Music" by Ian Rankin

Damn It: Exit Music by Ian Rankin, 2006, Wisconsin Digital Library audio download.

I was out walking the dog on Sunday when I decided to finally bail on listening to Double Cross by Macintyre. I was forcing myself to finish the interminable details of scuzzy WWII spies and finished 80% of the book. I stopped to take of photo of the lake and since I had my phone I figured to to just start another book. This Rebus novel was first on the screen so I went with it.

The story was immediately familiar and the familiarity was not back due to Rankin's writing style or Rebus's grouchiness it was because I already heard this fucking book. Damn it. What's worse I never recorded any notes on the damn thing. Double worse is I cannot recall much about this book versus another recent Rebus novel.

A guy is found dead at the bottom of a stairway as winter is starting. He has been beaten to death. Rebus n is a week from retirement as he ans his partner roll to the scene. I think this has Rebus kinda-sorta working with a local gangster. Rebus hates the gangster. Rebus wants the gangster in jail. rebus is waiting for an opportunity to stick the man away for life. The crook, in turn, has no affection for Rebus. The crook feigns happiness and pleasure with Rebus but would prefer Rebus dead.

Rebus's relationship with the crook is questioned as suspicion falls upon Rebus that he may be trading favors with the crook or getting bribes.

OK. That is all I recall. Look it up yourself.

1. That other novel was Standing in Another Man's Grave with Rebus driving all around rural northeast Scotland trying to track a serial killer. I recall quite a bit about that plot.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Read: "The Zealot" by Simon Scarrow

Read: The Zealot by Simon Scarrow, 2014, 9781590207796.

I took forever and a damn day to finish this novel. I mostly enjoy Scarrow's adventure novels but kept falling asleep to this. Partially because I was not getting enough sleep and partially because I could not get into the story. Scarrow's series about two Roman Legionaries has plenty of adventure and history. I just did not care about Scarrow sending the two fellas to the Middle East.

Cato and Macro are set by the Emperor's (I don't know, Chief of Staff I suppose) on a secret mission to whatever they called Palestine back in 17 A.D. Chief of Staff suspects that the Roman Governor is looking to rebel. Part of that plan seems to be foment rebellion among the locals, then demand Roman troops, then turn those troops to the Governor's interests.

Cato and Macro head to a smaller fort and outpost to investigate what is happening with a local rebel. They get involved with local politics. Deal with corrupt Romans at the fort. Kill a bunch of rebels, invading Parthians, and local crooks. Meet Jesus's mother and son. Meet and fight alongside an older Simon the Zealot.

If I remembered more biblical history I probably would have gotten more out of this.

Heard: "Claire Dewitt and the Bohemian Highway" by Sara Gran

Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway by Sara Gran, 2013, Wisconsin Digital Library download.

This is one of the best books I have read or listened to in a while. Great stuff all the way around. Upon finishing the book I was very happy to learn the third DeWitt just came out. I even signed up for Gran's email list.

From the first sentence I remembered details from the existential detective plot from book #1. DeWitt as a loner P.I. and follower of the great French detective, Silette. Silette wrote and published a famous treatise on detection that is part hippie-dippy-new-age-mystical bullshit and part pragmatic truth.

This time around has DeWitt getting a phone call that a former boyfriend from years ago has been murdered. DeWitt's name was still associated with the dead Paul and a cop she knows calls her to help handle the grieving widow. DeWitt arrives on scene, helps smooth things along, and a couple weeks later is asked by Paul's sister to look into his death. The sister thinks Paul's Wife did the deed.

DeWitt follows the regular path of her life. She works cases no one else can resolve - after all, she may be the world's greatest detective but she also the detective of last resort.  She makes few lasting relationships. She does more and more drugs and she does more and more investigating into Paul's murder.

For DeWitt and other followers of Silette it is the mystery that is the goal. The client, the victim, and the payment are all secondary to the mystery. To be a great detective you should have no attachments - nothing to distract you or hinder your work. DeWitt's sex life is pickups at bars and parties. Her friends are more of the casual night out kind of music, drugs, and drinking buddies. Her recently hired assistant is there as her go-fer and assistant.

I think DeWitt is a very intriguing character and Gran does a hell of a job. The previous novel established DeWitt's continuing search for her missing teen pal from 20-25 years ago. Gran dives deeper into that story as we flash back and forth from her search for Paul's killer to Claire's time as a unsupervised teenager in scuzzy 1980s New York City. Claire and her two best friends at the time were followers of Silette and trying to establish themselves as teen detectives. They were the school-skipping drug-taking opposites of the Hardys, the Three Investigators, and Ms. Drew. Late nights at bars and clubs, Drunken parents, midnight subway rides.

DeWitt and her two friends take on a missing girl case - we are told by a present day character that every case is a missing girl case - of a party girl whose roommates cannot find her. The three girls pursue the case like terriers as they stand up to everyone and go any place. Hell you're getting two novels in one as DeWitt both reminisces and pursues Paul's case.

1. Remember that neat-o blog Gran and Megan Abbott used to run? The Abbot Gran Old Tyme Medicine Show.
2. Sara without an H.
3. I've no experience buying drugs but there seems to be a universal truth that customers are stuck listening to drug dealers ramble on and on and on. If a customer buys and runs they risk offending the drug dealer and losing their drug source.
4. Lots of drug use. DeWitt snorts cocaine. Steals pills from multiple bathroom cabinets. Drinks prodigiously.
5. DeWitt names all her cases, e.g. The Case of the Missing Horse, The Case of the Congestive Duck (I made those up.).. Same as Nancy Drew and the Hardys.
6. DeWitt is looking for some meaning. Part of that search is what would have happened with Paul if she had not wandered off from the relationship. If she were able to freely love someone.
EDIT: 11-29-2018. I just received Gran's irregular email newsletter. I sent a response email just because. The email bounced back as The address you sent your message to wasn't found at the destination domain. It might be misspelled or it might not exist. I do not know if that is intentional but it is so damn fitting for DeWitt's and Silette's philosophy. You'll only find the correct email if you are meant to find the correct email.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Hearing: "Dead Before Dying" by Deon Meyer

Hearing: Dead Before Dying by Deon Meyer, 1996, download from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Translated from Afrikaans. Focusing on Mat Joubert who is now two years past his Police Officer wife's murder. Mat is a heavy drinker, a heavy smoker, and 30 pounds overweight. His police investigative work has suffered and now a new commanding officer is telling the men to lose weight, see the doctor, and reduce stress.

Meyer tells another great story of South Africa. This is set in 1996 when Apartheid has been dismantled but the government and institutions are still building back up. Most people in the police service get along fine. After all it is the police and against every one else but there is some tension along color lines. Black people want to be taken seriously as professionals. White people don't want their dedication to work and justice to be overlooked.

Mat ends up covering two cases with big press. A serial bank robber uses professional disguises and focuses on the branches of one bank. A serial killer is murdering people with the same pistol but Mat and Co. cannot find a link among the victims. As the press gets excited Mat gets more pressure from his superiors. His new boss, Colonel WhatHisName, is a former ANC member who lived in exile in England. The Colonel has been promoted and feels a pressure that people think it was a political appointment. The General at the top feels the political pressure from the press.

Meanwhile, the cops at the bottom are going through the standard police procedure: they talk. They talk and talk and talk to everyone they can think of. They arrive at new crime scenes and investigate the evidence. They theorize ideas among each other. They track down and visit every gun dealer and registered owner they can. They go back and talk to everyone a second and third time.

This novel really, really reminds me of the Sjowall and Wahloo police novels set in 1960s and 1970s Stockholm. There is a neat balance among a few characters with a focus on the cops. Meyer takes a few 1st person forays into the victims and witnesses as he builds the story. He incorporates the way the staid and conservative police service is effected by the political changes going around it.

Meyer has the reader spending a lot of time with Joubert. He's been a emotional shut-in since his wife's line-of-duty murder. When an 18-year-old hotty neighbor comes on to Joubert at a neighborhood barbecue the romantically awkward , 34-year-old Joubert is taken aback. But, that attention and affection from the neighbor awakens Joubert's sexuality and he starts lusting after most women he meets, including his new psychologist, a widow of the serial killer, a consulting criminologist, and more.

1. Ever since reading Deon Meyer and Roger Smith novels I've paid more attention to news from SA. Modern day South Africa still uses a lot of cash money. Cash in Transit (CIT) heists of armored cars is still a thing. A few years ago the robbers would force a truck off the road and shoot it up. Now, the robber gangs are well drilled, armed with rifles, take over a whole traffic area to rob a truck, and use explosives to blast the trucks open.
2. We also meet up with Benny Griessel who is a raging drunk and goes into a sanatorium to dry out before Joubert puts him in charge of the bank robbery investigation - which Benny solves. This is nine years before Benny finally dries out in Devil's Peak.
3. I tried reading the ebook of Behind the Badge about the South African Police Service (SAPS) but never got anywhere. I have too many print books I never get to.
4. Well, Goddamn, I have a audiobook entitled The Blood of an Englishman saved on my phone. That novel just came up when searching for the book listed in #3 above. I was wondering how I picked that one. I had forgotten the book is a crime novel set in apartheid era SA.

Listened: "Tarzan of the Apes" by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Listened: Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1912, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Not as racist as I expected. Sure, the novel is inherently racist of course, but usually not overtly racist. Burroughs gives us a caricature of a African American woman character, and refers to Africans as savages and beasts and makes them cannibals. But, he doesn't seem to go out of his way to denigrate people. (Well, not completely out of his way.) Whether the racism is bearable enough or makes you to bail is up to you. (My wife stopped listening to an Agatha Christie novel because or Christie's racism.) I stayed with this because Tarzan is so iconic nowadays - and modernized to current social standards - I wanted to see the starting point.

Anyway, here is the story. Told as though read  from a journal by Tarzan his own self. Tarzan's parents, the Greystokes from England,  were going to Africa to live and work. On the way the ship's crew mutinies and they leave the Greystokes on the West African shore. The Greystokes live there for a time and Tarzan Senior builds a sturdy home of thick clay. They battle off a gorilla and other animals and then Mother Tarzan goes crazy, never leaves the jungle cottage, and dies when Tarzan is about 24 months old. Tarzan Senior is killed when the local gorillas enter the cottage and smash him. Tarzan is about to be killed but female ape Kala swoops in to claim him since her own child recently died.

Tarzan, being human, takes much longer than the apes for his body and brain to develop. Other apes think he should be banished for being too slow and clumsy. Kerchak, the Ape in Charge (AIC), is a mean ape and would kill Tarzan but Tarzan is well protected by his mom, Kala.  As Tarzan grows his intelligence grows and gives him an advantage over the apes. After observing a local tribe he learns to use bow and arrow and spear after observing a local tribe. Tarzan learns of killing as a natural thing. He enjoys the hunt and the battle.

Later on Tarzan discovers the Tarzan Family Cottage and collects a handy dandy hunting knife that he uses to kill prey and fight off opposing apes. Tarzan also uses the supply of books in the cottage to teach himself to read.  Over time Tarzan becomes big and muscly, swings through the trees at high speed, and uses that hunting knife to kill the AIC to become the new AIC. Then, Jane shows up.

Jane, her father and a few others are the victims of yet another mutiny. Jane's super eccentric father had bought a treasure map, found the treasure, and were headed back to England - maybe the U.S. - when they too were sent to the West African shore.

Anyhoo. More things happen. Shoot-outs. Tarzan killing local people. Tarzan killing lions. Tarzan killing apes. Tarzan falling in love with Jane. Jane and Co. thinking there are two jungle men because Tarzan can read and write English - and leaves notes - but cannot speak English. Some more racist stuff. Tarzan rescuing the white people. Tarzan rescuing a Frenchman and learning French. Tarzan discovering the chest of treasure and taking it. More coincidence and a massive suspension of disbelief.

Tarzan and the Frenchmen end up coming to the U.S. so Tarzan can track down and marry Jane in Baltimore. But, Jane and Co. have left for Northern Wisconsin. But - Oh No! - Jane has promised herself to another man. The other man is a dickhead. What will Tarzan do but swing the Wisconsin forest to rescue Jane from a forest fire. Blah. Blah. Blah.

1. Let's get back to that suspension of disbelief issue. This novel is full of bullshit.

  • Tarzan taken in by an ape? 
  • Surviving as a child among apes? 
  • Swinging though trees faster than a man can run? 
    • Swinging through the pines of freaking Northern Wisconsin?! 
  • Teaching himself to read? 
  • Somehow he just knows cannibalism is wrong unlike the local people.
  • Tarzan naturally develops a view of the local populace that buys into the dominant racial theories U.S. white people. 
  • It's a mix of rational thinking about how a boy would develop in the wild versus wishful thinking and fantasy.
2. Burroughs uses a eugenics argument about how Tarzan is such a gallant man from the generations of breeding by the English nobility.
3. Jane is accompanied by a black maid, Esmeralda, who also raised her. Burroughs makes her a fat Aunt Jemima figure and has her witless and afraid. She rolls her eyes in terror, frequently faints away, and when hiding from a lion tries to climb into a cabinet where only her head fits. That is some high class 1912 era comedy.
4. Same for the local tribe. Give Burroughs some credit here, the tribe fled into Tarzan and the Apes's territory after the murderous and kidnapping ways of the European settlers. But, Burroughs gives us a vicious and superstitious tribe of cannibals who capture a Frenchman and prepare to eat him in much the same way as seen in the scene from The Naked Prey.
4. Tarzan is a manly man doing manly outdoors things with his manly body and manly visage of noble birth. The constant references to that stuff really reminded me of Roosevelt and Jack London. 
5. Ever seen that 1981 Bo Derek movie? I recall that the film had lots of nudity and violence. I'm going to look up who played Tarzan in that. Wait a second... it was Miles O'Keefe. His career specialty seems to have been sword and sorcery films where his wardrobe did not include shirts.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Paperback: "Bone Yard" by Michelle Gagnon

Paperback: Bone Yard by Michelle Gagnon, 2008, 9780778325390.

I grabbed a paperback for camping during Boy #1's mountain bike races. I listened to Gagnon's YA Don't trilogy featuring teens on the run against a massive conspiracy. This is the second novel with FBI Special Agent Kelly Jones.

Jones has recently joined the FBI's behavioral science unit that researches serial killers. When a remote "bone yard" of graves is found in a Western Masschusetts state park Jones is assigned to go help. Jones is already a workaholic and is now going to miss a long planned vacation in the Caribbean. But, she is the only profiler available and is tasked to go and advise the joint Massachusetts and Vermont investigation.  Jones will not have total legal authority, she is there to lead and advise and immediately finds out how much the Vermont and Massachusetts lead investigators hate another.

Massachusetts state murder investigator Doyle is an all around prick. Vermont cop Monica is more relatable but she and Doyle constantly quarrel and snipe at each other. Jones has to keep the two of them from fighting, guide the investigation to follow leads and interview people, push for results, and generally keep things going. This is not easy for Jones because she does not want to be there and cannot take the case over since no federal crime seems to have been committed.

Things happen. We meet the killer and his nemesis. Jones and Co. chase down leads. Jones's "security expert" boyfriend shows up. Monica tries to get lovey-dovey with the forensic anthropologist sent along with Jones. There is some violence and torture and murder. There are some false leads. There is some relationship drama.

I enjoyed the novel. Gagnon nicely balances all the characters and story lines. Squeamish readers won't like the torture scenes but Gagnon doesn't linger on the blood and gore. I enjoy the way she tells the stories. There are some nice clues and foreshadowing for what to expect and we get a couple surprises as well.

Spoilers below.

The killer is an early reveal by Gagnon. Another early reveal is that the killer is being observed and followed by another local who knows the guy is a torturer and murderer. Second Guy holds a grudge and is getting even. At first I thought this was a pretty lame twist but I ended up enjoying the plot line.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Paperback: "The Big Keep" by Melissa F. Olson

Paperback: The Big Keep by Melissa F. Olson, 2014, 9781939996213.

Boy, the MARC record for this is pretty damn skimpy. I woulda' sworn Olson lived in the Twin Cities and I bought this for the library off a recommendation. Nope. Olson lives in Madison. At least I presume she still lives in Madison. She may have moved. I don't  know.

I enjoyed this novel a fair bit. This is one of the 20-30 books I grabbed for vacation trips over the summer. I held this and a few others back, after some renewals, to read. Olson's main gig is writing "urban fantasy" with vampires and such. This is a regular PI novel.

Lena Dane quit the Chicago Police Department after she found out a popular senior officer was a serial rapist and serial killer. Lena killed that same cop in self-defense when he attacked her and she resigned her cop job and has been working as a private investigator in Chicago. This means her work is the usual investigations of marital trouble, insurance fraud, so on, so forth. Then 14-year-old Jason visits her Chicago office one day and ask for help searching for his biological father. The bio dad up and left the family when Jason was a baby. Jason's mother has passed and now his stepdad is dying of cancer.

Lena first meets with stepdad to confirm everything is up and up and takes the case. Bio Dad skipped Chicago over a decade ago and Lena's regular database searching finds bupkis until she gets a lead he went out to Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Lena has been spending time with lonely Jason and bringing him along to her father's comic book shop.

Lena has a bad habit of overwork and obsessiveness. This has strained her marriage as her involvement in previous cases involved violent situations. Her husband wants her to dial things back. Lena has not yet told her husband that she is pregnant.

Things happen. Lena heads to Los Angeles and stays with a pal who works for LAPD. Lena tracks down Bio Dad to learn he died just a couple weeks ago. Lena is threatened to stay off the case. Lena is stubborn. Lena lies to Husband. Husband gets super angry. Lena is being followed. LAPD pal thinks Lena should abort the kid, quit the husband, and go back to police work. Jason has no other relatives beyond loving Step Dad and his facing a tough if in group and foster homes.

Anyhoo. Olson throws in some criminal excitement and family drama. I liked the book but likely won't check out the Sexy Vampire Kills Werewolves genre she works in. I do admit to enjoying the happy ending. Lena deals with her pregnancy fears. Lena and Husband work out differences. Bad guys are killed. Lena and Husband take in Jason when Step Dad dies.

More Irish: "Faithful Place" by Tana French

Heard: Faithful Place by Tana French, 2010, download from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Third in French's series about Dublin police detectives. This one focuses on Frank Mackey who appeared in the previous novel. Frank is still the same asshole from book #2, The Likeness. We get an understanding of why he is an asshole. But, he is still an asshole.

Frank left home at 19-years-old without telling a soul. He and his girlfriend Rosie were going to run away to England but she never showed at their Early A.M. rendezvous and Frank figured she had dumped him and left on her own with their ferry tickets.

In the present day Frank gets a call from his older sister - the only family member he speaks to - that a horrible thing has occurred and he must come to the family home at Faithful Place. Frank has been gone for 22 years but shows up and is told Rosie's suitcase has been found in a long abandoned building that is now being renovated. Well, if her suitcase is there where did Rosie go? Did she never make it to England?

We learn more and more as the novel goes on but Frank despises his family and neighborhood. His father was and is a violent drunk and forever on the dole. He and his older brother always fought. His mother is incapable of saying anything supportive or loving. His neighborhood is the Check-Out-My-New-TV-It-Fell-Of-A-Truck-And-If-You-Tell-The-Cops-Everyone-Will-Hate-You type of neighborhood.

We learn that a couple days before Frank and Rosie's planned 1988 departure that Frank's father got roaring drunk. Most of Dad's behavior was kept hidden away inside the house. His punch-ups were indoors only. But that night Dad decided to open up the long simmering feud between himself and Rosie's father. He marched down the street screaming and hollering and tried to break through the front door of Rosie's home. The event was so loud and frightening that someone actually called the cops. Called the cops?! In Faithful Place?  Wellll, that Mackey must be one horrible person and why would anyone want to marry into that family?

Frank figured that public incident with Dad was enough to scare Rosie off. Frank was so angry with his family that when Rosie never showed he figured that since he was already packed and ready to go he may as well start walking.   After a couple years on his own he went to the police college, joined the service, and only ran into his sister a few years later when he took her statement after a mugging.

Anyhoo. The story moves along and spoilers await below.

I've read and heard about growing up with alcoholics and how different people grow up under those circumstances. That is what the novel boils down to. Frank bolted and the other four siblings stayed. Three of them chose to keep keeping on and live their lives. The fourth, Seamus, just got angrier and angrier. Frank developed his own issues of never getting over Rosie's disappearance - something his wife sensed during their marriage and knows is still going on. Frank is acerbic, joking when things are tense, and enjoys causing conflict. Frank has trust issues.

After Frank reunites with the family and sees the suitcase he is ready to disappear again. But, he ends up spending time with his siblings and after talking with them figures out Rosie's body may be in the house. He is correct because the body is found, Frank is in tatters, and now the murder police are called in. Frank is not to be involve in the case but Frank is a Primo A-Hole still pining for Rosie and will get involved anyway.

French spends plenty of time on Frank and his siblings. Frank has anger to spare and spreads it around to his siblings. Frank blamed his entire family for Rosie's exit even though under his 22 year long theory it was his father to blame. But, as Frank comes back the siblings immediately fall back into old routines. Some of these behaviors are funny like when the siblings are sitting out on the front steps and immediately, and wordlessly, warn one another when their mother is coming. A brother and sister wordlessly communicate about a second brother who is being a drunken pain in the ass. An emotional sister gets eye rolls from the brothers who try to distract her onto another topic. But, Frank and his elder brother Seamus immediately bang heads. Frank's younger brother Kevin immediately starts looking up to Frank and hanging around with him.

Frank is rejoining the family after a couple decades of withheld rage. he never gave himself a chance to work through his issues. When you're regularly seeing your relatives over time you can let things fester, or demand satisfaction, or work your way to forgiveness and sanity. Instead, Frank has developed a belief that the family is as bad as a gang of murderers. When he discovers his 9-year-old daughter has been secretly visiting Faithful Place with Sister he has a shit fit. He wants his daughter far, far away from the rotten lot.

Even when Frank realizes his mistaken belief that Rose left him to avoid his family he cannot move forward. When he discovers Rosie is dead and that his family had jack all to do with it he still has plenty of anger left over.  He still sticks to how terrible things were. And aside from an angry relationship with an always angry older brother his siblings seem like pretty nice people. They went through the same crap but came out mostly okay. Even after meeting them all again and getting along - minus those usual sibling arguments - he wants to bail again on the whole family.

The story goes on and you'll likely figure out the killer early on. That's okay because Mackey is wrapped up in his own faulty memories and POV that he misses a few things.

1. There are some great lines and observations by French. Those observations feel so natural and obvious when I read them but I then realize she is writing about small things that many authors miss or have to head you over the head with. French keeps things flowing. Example: when Mackey is scaring an old neighborhood pal of Rosie's into talking she does not scream out because "Someone taught her to be quiet." French does not go into a tangent on the woman's behavior or reactions. The scene moves along and I quickly absorbed this uneasy fact.
2. The phrase "Brass Neck". I never heard the phrase before and then heard it from two different sources.  One online definition is "someone who is extremely confident about their own actions but does not understand that their behavior is unacceptable to others." I've known a few people like that but never knew a colloquialism that expressed it. The second instance is a song from 1989 that I first heard a couple weeks ago.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Comic : "Bird and Squirrel On Fire" by James Burks

Comic: Bird and Squirrel on Fire by James Burks, 2017, 9780545804295.

The library I work at had a staff tour of the Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) at UW-Madison this past Spring. CCBC reviews children's literature, has seminars, and advises and tracks book challenges across the U.S. 

The CCBC also gets a crap ton of review copies sent to them every year.. Many of the new books are on display at CCBC and I saw Bird and Squirrel on Fire. I liked the title and the illustrations so I reserved a copy. I enjoyed the book.

I would guess the novel is aimed at 4th-6th grade readers. Bird and Squirrel are pals and, according to other titles in this series, have been traveling all over. B&S have now returned to their forest home. Homebody Squirrel is overjoyed to be back. Bird is exuberant as always. But, something scary seems to be traveling around in the woods.

I do not recall the whole plot but B&S meet a red haired female squirrel and Squirrel is immediately tongue tied and bashful. Bird decides the two of them should throw a party at Squirrel's tree. Squirrel does not like disorder and almost faints away at the suggestion. They compromise on an outdoor party.

Things happen and spoilers follow. Bird and Squirrel rescue a young mouse from a warren of vicious rats. Bird and Squirrel get in an argument with a beaver whose massive damn and has blocked water to the forest animals. Bird and Squirrel have a fight and Squirrel is angry about his solitude being interrupted. The rats attack the party. The forest catches on fire. Bird and Squirrel drive off the rats and wreck the damn to flood the fire. Bird dies in the flood.

I was surprised Bird was killed. The novel takes a one year jump in time and Red Squirrel and Squirrel now have a child and named him after Bird. Then Bird knocks on the door, announces he is alive, and said a broken wing and being washed down the river meant he took a while to return.

I was annoyed that Bird was alive. Make up your mind, Burks. But, if you have a successful series you may as well not kill off a main character.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Irish: "Those We Left Behind" by Stuart Neville

Irish: Those We Left Behind by Stuart Neville, 2015, 9781616956363.

I've read a few other Neville books and enjoyed them. Neville had a book tour stop in Madison not too long ago but I was unable to attend. So far this is a standalone novel.

Ciaran Devine went to prison seven years ago as a 12-year-old murderer. DCI Serena Flanagan investigated the case and interview Ciaran for that case. Now, Ciaran is 18-years-old and ready for release on parole. Serena is just back on duty in Northern Ireland after cancer treatment. Paula Cunningham is Ciaran's newly appointed parole officer and responsible for getting him settled and guiding him forward. Meanwhile, Thomas's older brother, an accessory to the murder, has been out of prison and is reuniting with his brother.

Things go horribly for every one.

I've not too much to say about the plot and I do have spoilers ahead. Basically, Thomas and Ciaran bounced around foster homes for several years. Their father died in a car wreck and their mother turned into an addict. Ciaran put his faith in Thomas and missed his mother. Thomas put his faith in himself, misogyny, and violence. Thomas is mentally and physically abusive to Ciaran. He bites Ciaran, he hits Ciaran, he threatens to leave Ciaran by himself. Thomas forces Ciaran to murder their foster father.

Meanwhile Serena has her issues. She is a workaholic and avoids home and her husband and children. Serena gets involved again with Ciaran's old case when Cunningham consults with her on Ciaran's release. Serena gets more involved when a fellow resident of Ciaran's halfway house is beaten into the hospital. Serena gets a bit worried when the only surviving member of the murdered man's family dies in a stabbing after confronting Thomas and Ciaran.

Things happen. Neville puts characters in danger. Neville makes us sympathetic to the manipulated and child-like Ciaran. Thomas is scary as a guy with lots of anger and no fear of injury or prison.Serena refuses to let let logic and sense drive her decisions. She angers quickly. Cunningham didn't ask for any of this crap and is already drinking way too much.

I'm gradually changing my interests so that plot matters less and less to me. Everything ends up being about the character interaction and the plot just gives them something to do. I still greatly enjoy use of setting and how the setting influences the story and the characters.

Anyhoo. I enjoyed the novel but think Neville's other work is better. I cannot say why I think that. I just do.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Paper: "The Rest is Silence" by James R. Benn

Paper: The Rest is Silence by James R. Benn, 2014, 9781616952662.

Captain Billy Boyle is still working for his Uncle-By-A-Cousin's-Marriage Ike in Europe. He's a investigator and troubleshooter that is sent out to quash trouble that can negatively effect military operations. This time Benn has Boyle heading to Southwest England where part of the D-Day invasion force has been living and training.

A unidentified body has washed onto the beach of Slapton Sands. Borne ashore by the tides that run every six hours the body has been in the water for up to a month. Boyle is sent to investigate because the area is top secret. If a German spy got among the locals and the troops the invasion plans of Western France could be jeopardized. Boyle has to determine who the dead guy was and make sure he was not a spy.

Along for the ride with Boyle is his Polish sidekick  and fellow investigator, Kaz. Kaz is a aristocrat, Oxford graduate, and wealthy man about town. Kaz has an Oxford pal who is convalescing after his RAF plane was shot down. The pal has been inviting Kaz to visit so Boyle have a place to stay in the super fancy estate house.

Since Boyle is an ever nosey street cop he notices the family tension at the estate. Kaz's pal, David, has bad facial burns from combat and his wife can only bear to look at the unburned side of his face. Kaz's sister and brother in law are on the outs and staying at the estate under the grace of the sisters's father, the Duke (or Count or Princeling or Squire or WhatEverTheFuck). Rounding out the house drama are a 90-year-old great aunt and a few servants.

The story moves along as Boyle drives around the seaside questioning people and following clues. He and Kaz are joined by a former Brit airman who was wounded in action and now a constable. The dead guy turns out to most likely be a mobster and the trio trace down the likely killers. The killers themselves are recently murdered and Benn and Co. drop the issue as a military matter.

That's all ok because Benn has Boyle in place for the massacre disaster of Exercise Tiger. Pre invasion plans include exercises in the area because the local beaches and inland are amazingly similar to Normandy. A initial exercise leaves many dead soldiers when a boat of troops land right before a naval bombardment. The next day the shores are littered with drowned dead after a convoy of Allied ships are attacked by German attack boats in the early morning. Two LST ships are sunk and there are about 700 dead (depending on what stats you prefer).

Boyle and Co. are then tasked with finding missing men who know invasion plans, finding out why a dead guy who was never on a ship is wet and dead on the beach, and also detangling the family drama and death at Rich People Manor.

Beenn's novels usually have a couple story lines going on. There is Boyle's Army mission plus either  Boyle's romantic drama or local rigmarole. The Upstairs, Downstairs angle on this one was weird. Benn was kinda mashing a drawing room mystery with a blood-and-guts mystery. The detour into black market crime and gangsters was also a little odd.

I still enjoyed the novel, of course. One of Benn's strengths is to put Boyle in the middle of a mostly unknown event or setting of WWII and giving us some nice period detail and information.

1. Gratuitous appearances by Yogi Berra (in the Navy) and Agatha Christie (visiting the home the Army took over).
2. The cumulative effect of death and combat and mental trauma. Billy has been in combat in several locations across Italy and North Africa and gets angry when soldiers do not take training seriously. He mentally considers the bravado of the naive.
3. Kaz's combat and war trauma gets a little heavy and overdone. Vacant stares over a dead fiancee and massacred family and combat experience.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Thin: "Tommy Red" by Charlie Stella

Thin: Tommy Red by Charlie Stella, 2016, 9781933586960.

I used to regularly check in to Stella's online commentary on his blog. His posts were mostly family talk, Buffalo Bills desperation, power lifting, and politics. I severely cut back on blog reading a few years ago because it was using way too much time. Plus, all Stella's talk reminded me that he did not have a new novel coming out soon. That was depressing. After all Stella had regular work and family life to keep him busy - he can't be cranking out new books every six months. Hell, half of the writers I follow only do part-time novelizing.

Stella has several characters who make recurring appearances in his novels but Tommy "Red" Dalton is a new one to me. Tommy works as a independent murderer who gets most of his work through longtime friend Sal. Sal has the mob connections and he brokers the work for Tommy.

Right off the bat we learn Tommy has a few issues. He is in Atlantic City getting ready to kill a local drug guy when Tommy runs into his college aged daughter he has not seen in six months. Tommy married young and fast to a stripper and the marriage fell apart after Tommy did a couple prison stints. There is no doubt Tommy cares and loves for his children but he has mostly been absent and quarreling with his ex-wife.

After spending part of the next day with his daughter Tommy checks out of his hotel, gets his van, uses a rifle to shoot a drug dealer in the head, and heads home. While driving on the interstate Tommy converses with another driver using his horn and his middle finger. Tommy follows the other driver to a rest area and kicks the guy in the crotch. Seeing a watchful crowd Tommy gets back in his car and leaves before, presumably, beating the guy bloody.

More things happen as we meet a retired NYPD cop who hates his wife. A FBI Special Agent In Charge approaching retirement and living in burnout. Several members of a small NYC mobster family that has already been decimated by prosecutions and turncoats. Tommy's ex-wife and daughter. Sal the broker.

Driving the story is the murder of a witness living under U.S. Marshall protection in New Hampshire. During a visit to the island the guy works on the retired cop recognizes the guy and figures to tell the mob and make a bundle of cash.

The mob is a shell of it's once powerful self. Even the made guys don't keep their mouths shut and the prosecutors cut deals left and right. Both the mob and the FBI dislike this situation. The mob because they cannot trust anyone and the FBI because murderers get away with a five year sentence and a new life in Arkansas.

Tommy ends up with the contract and the mob starts killing off anyone connected with the hit. Things happen as the FBI figures out the mob outfit and hitters responsible. Tommy gets angry and vengeful. Sal gets shot. Tommy worries for his family's safety. The mobsters worry about themselves and willingly kill longtime friends and colleagues.

Tommy thinks of murder as work. Work is work and Tommy is just doing a job, those people would have been murdered whether Tommy did the job or not so he may as well do the job and take the cash.

Stella has written before how Charles V Higgins's The Friends of Eddie Coyle was a revelation to Stella.  Not because Higgins was a word magician but because he wrote about real people who happen to do nasty work. Higgins was a prosecutor who listened to hours of crooks sitting around talking. Stella hung around with crooks and did that same talking.

Tommy is a family and work dramedy as much as thrillers or crime novels because Stella puts in daily humor and laughter everyone lives. The story is not all doom, gloom and kaboom.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Comic Novel: "Normandy Gold" by Megan Abbott and Alison Gaylin

Comic Novel: Normandy Gold by Megan Abbott and Alison Gaylin, 2018, 9781785858642.

Compilation of the limited run published by Hard Case. Can Hard Case do wrong?

An extended riff on the 1970s films that played on HBO and cable during the late 1970s and into the 1980s. Or the older films you'd get from the video store. Post-Watergate paranoia films from the '70s. Titillation art films that were really just a step up from the grindhouse. Taxi Driver. Shampoo. Dressed to Kill. All the President's Men. Parallax View. Three Days of the Condor. The Conversation.

Normandy is a small town Sheriff in the Pacific Northwest. She gets a phone call from Lila, her long estranged sister, in Washington, D.C. telling Normandy how great things are going. As they speak Normandy hears a fight and a scream of "Noooooo!" (Yes, it was six "O"s. I counted them.) The reader, of course, sees the assault on the half naked Lila and a man's hand holding a hypodermic needle.

Normandy correctly fears the worse and heads straight for D.C. carrying her hunting knife. After a burst of anger against a sexist cop puts Normandy in a holding cell she speaks to the Detective investigating Lila. Normandy finds out Lila was working for a high end madame whose client list includes all the high level muckety-mucks of D.C.

Normandy starts looking for her sister and is rebuffed by the madame's receptionist. Instead she makes friends with a prostitute leaving the madame's office, double teams a john with the other woman, and gets a hooking job with the madame. Things move along as Normandy enters the party life and tries to track down who knew her sister and her sister's clients. Normandy also continues to talk to the Detective and we learn more and more about Normandy's tough background.

A fun book and a slide through D.C. sleaze of limo sex, swinger club sex, cocaine, political creeps, violence against women, double-crosses, and ubiquitous but hidden tape recorders.

Abbott and Gaylin credit some of the films - I listed a few above - that drove the story idea and even inspired the comic panels. I myself kept thinking of Parallax View as I read this. I saw that as a late night TV movie and it really stuck with me. For some reason the movie struck me as a reality based story and the paranoia and machinations of a deep state rang true. Americans love a conspiracy after all. That movie was my first introduction to sociopaths as well. Well, at least a discussion and explanation of the idea.

1. I really enjoyed the illustrations.
2. Lots of nudity.
3. Normandy brandishes her hunting knife and stabs up a couple people. I've been looking online trying to decide on a fixed blade knife to use as a camping knife. I'd like to try a bushcraft trip where you use a knife of hatchet to make a shelter, build a fire, make your own cordage, etc. Of course I'd bring along a tent and regular gear in case I fail at the other stuff.
4. I'm just as likely to buy a $15 Mora as something for $75.  My budget is below $100 but there are A LOT of neat knives in fancy steels for more money. I am being very indecisive. I'm getting to where I may put together a spreadsheet listing:

  • steel type
  • blade length
  • handle length
  • handle material
  • blade grind
  • blade thickness
  • weight
  • country of origin
  • sheath style
  • sheath material
  • price
  • shipping cost
  • blah
  • blah
  • balh

Animal Farm

Audio Version: Animal Farm, 1945, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Orwell was so good at distilling chicanery. He identified the political and social manipulations that have worked for centuries and continue to work today. "Gaslighting" is just a currently popular name for lying your way out of what you did.

Ok, maybe you never read the novel or watched the animated film. Here is the story: the animals on an English farm rise up against the brutal farm owner and drive him and his laborers off the land. They are lead by a wise old boar, Old Major. The animals rejoice and come together in comradeship to run the farm on their own. After Old Major dies two other pigs step in to lead. Over time the two pigs disagree and one pig, Napoleon, uses the dogs to purge the opposition. Over time Napoleon continually tightens his grip on power: The dogs are his police. The other pigs are his politburo and propaganda.The other animals are forced to labor under progressively more difficult conditions and with lessened rations. The pigs consistently amend the governing rules of the farm to stengthen their control and become the horrid rulers of the original farmer.

If you want a modern analysis on Animal Farm's prescience or adaptability look somewhere else. These are some of my thoughts:

1. The story is rage inducing. The compact length keeps the plot tight and the animals's successes are quickly followed by the defeats and then the traitorous actions of the pigs.  All the events keep piling on. Lots of lies. Lots of abuse. Lots of manipulation.
2. I suppose Orwell's decisions to use animals has been well documented and discussed. I was certainly sucked in. Doing so ends up a way to avoid all the biases readers may have against real people. It also avoids having to really develop the characters. Orwell mostly kept the animals as animals, he did not anthropomorphise them so there was no need to develop the characters. After all, how much personality do you want in a chicken? 
3. Mind you, chickens are just little dinosaurs. If they were large enough they would eat us.
4. How do you read into the idea of the smart pigs tricking the dumb horses? Is this to say smart people will take advantage of dumb? The cream rises to the top? I don't know. Make your own decision.
5. The story takes place over a few years which, in the life span of some farm animals, is a few generations. As the story ends many of the animals have no memory of the cruelty of the previous farmer. They've been taught that Napoleon is good and wise and that he deserves the luxuries he lives in. Unspoken is the fact that dissension means death by dog bite. How do you fight back against that? The animals won the first battles against humans because they worked and planned together. Napoleon has split their ranks and subdued them under his authority as ruler so that there is no unified resistance.
6. I watched the film version in school. I suppose that was early 1980s. Anti-communism was going strong in the Reagan era. Several of the film's images stick with me: frightened Snowball the pig fleeing the dogs, the horse bucking and attacking humans, the farm rules painted on the barn and then added on to, the pigs walking on two feet and gorging themselves in the farmhouse.
7. The end of the novel has a comment that made it clear to me that this was not just a allegorical treatise against communism. I cannot recall the portion but it directly refers to despotism and/or fascism. I learned of the book as a anti-commie lesson and still think of it as such.