Thursday, February 22, 2018

Ed Gein

Heard: Deviant: the shocking true story of the original "Psycho" by Harold Schechter, 1989 original with 2016 audio production. Downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

1989 book about the Butcher of Plainfield. The Ghoul of Plainfield. The Real Psycho. The Grandfather of Gore. The one and only, Ed Gein. Not a guts and gore true crime and not a full biography.

I'd read a few short items about Gein before and even knew a guy who worked at the Mendota Mental Health Institute when Gein was there. But, I knew little about the Gein and what he did.

Gein did some incredibly horrible things but he killed "only" two people. Any murder is one too many. But, Gein's murder count of two in 1957 seems quaint in comparison to the many serial killers and mass murderers with victim counts into the double digits. The horror is what he did with the bodies of the two women he killed and all the corpses he dug up from local cemeteries.

The various film versions of Gein are not always too far out from reality. Gein did use the skin and skeletal remains of many people to create masks, belts, leggings, and torso pieces. He would wear the remains around his house and mounted the faces on his walls. His soup bowl was the top half of a human skull.

Gein's childhood and life follow the pattern of many serial killers and the "quiet, and lonely troubled killer". His father was a drunken layabout and his mother was a religious and sex wacko. Gein was no genius and socially inept. He was a great babysitter for smaller kids. He had a strong reputation as a hired hand. He would creep people out with his weird smile and behavior. His was caught after he murdered his second victim at her hardware store. Days before the killing he was questioning her on whether she would be open during deer season (when the town would empty out into the woods to hunt). A trail of blood from the store's counter to the back door alerted the victim's son to trouble and the son then found a handwritten receipt with Gein's name on it.

I kinda wonder how much you can trust Gein's truthfulness. On some issues he was very forthcoming. He admitted to the body parts and pieces around the house. It took a while to get him to fess up to the murders - he would still claim one killing was an accident with a rifle he was inspecting. One topic I doubt his veracity on is whether he was a necrophiliac or cannibal.

Gein's mother was a nut who thought unmarried women were evil, most men were evil, and all sex outside procreation was vile and evil. Whenever Gein talked to a woman it would bring a very forceful lecture from his mother. His habit of dressing as women - literally so because he was in their freaking skin - seemed to have a sexual aspect. Heck, using a skull as a bowl would seem to fit cannibalism already so why wouldn't he eat some liver and heart? (Stories of Gein sharing human meat chili with his neighbors is false.) But, Schechter is adamant about Gein not doing either.

Schechter uses some purple prose with descriptions of evil, and sinister, and dark. Yet, he stays away from sensationalism. In fact he spends a good deal of time on the press madness about Gein. Plainfield was a town of less than 1,000 people (2010 population was 862) and was flooded with local and national reporters. Those reporters would print most anything a local resident said. Rumor, exaggeration and speculation found their way into print. Off the cuff statements were printed up. Other people would claim to be Gein's best pal. One woman said she was his fiance and dated him for years and then recanted after going to press.

Schechter also covers, to a lesser extent, the surviving victims. Maybe 40+ years made it tough to track down any willing interview subjects. Gein's actions made Plainfield notorious and many people were left wondering whether their relatives's graves had been robbed. Grave exhumation was a very touchy topic for the town residents and the Sheriff's office.

The Sheriff himself was overwhelmed. The Waushara County Sheriff's Department was three people. How do you investigate two murders, multiple grave robberies, perform a full forensic search of a house and 200 acres of land, and guard the house 24 hours a day? The Sheriff couldn't pay for all the work that needed to be done. The State of Wisconsin did not have enough money budgeted to cover many of the expenses.

1. Gein may have killed his brother. Gein's older brother, Henry, died in 1944. Ed claimed Henry was missing after caught in a prairie fire. But, Ed led searchers straight to the body and the body did not show much evidence of burns but was found in a burned field. I don't recall if the author wrote about an autopsy and checking for smoke inhalation.
2. Robert Bloch used to live in Milwaukee. He and his wife were living with her parents not far from Plainfield as the wife had recovered from an illness  I don't think I ever read one of his novels.
3. After Gein was caught there was hope he may be the guilty party for several disappearances around the state. The book discuses the Wechler girl's disappearance in 1947 in Jefferson. The girl went missing after being dropped off at her house after school. There was a recent follow up article in the Jefferson newspaper on that disappearance. Other disappearances discussed include a 15-year-old in La Crosse.
4. Plainfield is South of Stevens Point and just off Interstate 39.  I go through Stevens Point one or two times a year to get to some of Boy #1's mountain bike races. Gein was buried by his mother and father in Plainfield in 1989. I've thought about touring through there to see if there are any Gein sites. I have not done so.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Read: "A Little More Free" by John McFetridge

Read: A Little More Free by John McFetridge, 2015, 9781770412644.

I really, really enjoy the Montreal setting of this series.

This is set in 1972, a couple years after Constable Eddie Dougherty was a young cop in Black Rock and helping out Detective Carpentier on a murder case. Eddie is now a lot more experienced as a patrol officer and he knows the city of Montreal and it's people. As a half English-half French he is also more comfortable with the officers of the mostly French police department.

There a few things going on in this one. Eddie starts working with Carpentier on another murder. He starts dating a Leftie Protestor he meets during the murder investigation. He  responds to a night club fire that kills 37 people. He and the rest of Montreal are captivated by the summertime hockey series between Canada and the "amateur" Soviet hockey team. His father has a heart attack and Eddie cannot deal with his father, a man in his 50s, laid up and helpless in a hospital room.

Eddie also still wants to be a Detective. When he catches a call about a body at the base of some steps by Mount Royal it is Detective Carpentier who gets the case. Eddie's interest in Detective work waxes and wanes a little throughout the novel as Eddie works alongside Carpentier and experiences the job. But, Eddie is also dedicated and works extra hours (paid and unpaid) to chase leads.

The murder victim was a U.S. Army deserter who fled to Canada and was active in the anti-war groups in Montreal. Murder Victim was an illegal immigrant and, unable to legally get a job, was working the drug business. Eddie starts talking to protestors, leftists, deserters, and draft dodgers. He starts talking to drug dealers, low level mobsters, and other unsavory dudes.

Eddie is a right-wing kinda guy but confused by his almost immediate attraction to a work boot wearing, left-wing chick who is very active in protest movements against the war and real estate development.  Eddie has poor opinions of deserters and draft dodgers. He grew up surrounded by WWII vets and he sees their service as a automatic thing for everyone. Those WWII veterans almost never speak about their time in the Army but Eddie does connect that horror with Vietnam combat.

The novel follows Eddie police procedural style as he learns the tactics of interviewing, uses shoe leather on tracking people down, and mostly avoids thinking about his ill father.

The novel is a story of opposing sides. The City is split in several ways. English and French - also noted as West Island and East Island. Left and Right politics.  Protesters and rich developers. Young and old. Eddie is about 27 and is starting to feel separate from the night club crowds he used to hang out with. He also still straddles the French-English divide with his Irish father and French mom; some French cops still call him Dog-Eh-Dee. Eddie himself is still sees life as right and wrong and black and white. But, he is also starting to see the grey and understand other people.

I think McFetridge does some great writing. His work is descriptive but never overlong. There is a great conversation at the midpoint between Eddie and Work Boot Girl about what interests them both and motivates them. I think the scene is really great because both characters are in their mid-twenties and starting to questions what and why they do things. Their initial impressions about work and politics are being questioned as they run into the practical problems of life and troublesome people. They are both smart and somewhat self aware and it makes for an interesting conversation for the reader.

1. I may have mentioned before that my wife and I traveled to Montreal after we got married in Vermont. (Or, New Hampshire. The one on the right side of the map.) I was thinking a couple days ago about how much I enjoyed the Montreal Arboretum and the penguin display in the Biodome. In 1999 and 2000 I used to regularly watch the Biodomes webcam of the penguin habitat.
2. I also used to regularly visit a couple real estate websites and check out the apartments and condos in the cit and daydream of living there.
3. It's the 1970s so Eddie doesn't actually have Work Boot Girl as a girlfriend. They don't know what they are because they both avoid the topic and neither one seems to care that much about it. Eddie does like her quite a bit though and thinks of her often.
4. The dead deserter is from Madison, WI. I was expecting a tie-in to the 1970 campus bombing and the search for the four bombers.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Heard: "Bleed For Me" by Michael Robotham

Heard: Bleed For Me by Michael Robotham, 2010, Audio download from Wisconsin Digital Library.

I finished listening to this about three weeks ago. The fact I cannot recall the killer might be a sign I was not very engaged with the story. I read Robotham's first or second novel when it came out several years and I remember enjoying it and reading some others. It had been a while since I read or heard one of his books.

I do recall the basics of this plot: Forensic psychologist teaches at a English university and he is also separated from his wife. He still keens for his wife and their two daughters life with her. His teen daughter's best friend is suspected of murdering her retired cop father. As a forensic psychologist he asked by the investigating cop to help the initial investigation and then the court assigns him to evaluate the teen girl suspect.

Things happen with Psychologist nosing around. The murdered ex-cop was loved by former co-workers but there is evidence he was sexually assaulting his children. Someone is trying to derail the psychologist from nosing around and poisons his dog. There is family turmoil for both the victim's and the psychologist's families. Sexual turmoil with Psychologist. Legal turmoil. Police turmoil. Turmoiling turmoil.

I suppose the killer doesn't matter all that much. We're following Psychologist around as he pines for his wife and family. As he does the sexy sex with a teacher from his daughter's school. As he tries he follows what he wants rather than the evidence. So on. So forth.

The story is okay. The aspect of Psychologist's advancing Parkinson's Disease is interesting because Psychologist is getting frustrated with his physical decline. Not much else sticks out in my mind. An entertaining story but nothing that really engaged me.

E-Book: "Seven Days Dead" by John Farrow (Trevor Ferguson)

E-Book: Seven Days Dead by John Farrow (Trevor Ferguson), 2016, ebook from Wisconsin Digital Library.

AKA "Cinq-Mars Goes on Vacation".

Emile Cinq-Mars has retired from life as a Montreal Police Detective. (Inspector? I cannot recall the correct work title.) He and his wife Sandra are still having marriage trouble. Emile can be a difficult man to get along with and his wife's work with horses demands a lot of hours every day. They take a drive east to New Brunswick for a two week summer vacation on Grand Manan Island in the Bay of Fundy.

Much geography writing ensues and I spent a fair amount of time on my computer tablet trying skip back and forth between the novel and a maps program. Of course there is a murder as well but the island is a character of it's own.

Grand Manan has a year-round population of 2,400. There are no bridges or tunnels to the island and permanent residents are either in fishing, kelp harvesting, or tourism. Consequently the island is tight knit and most people know one another. When the island's richest resident - and biggest asshole - dies most of the people are quite glad. Even the dead guy's daughter.

Dead Guy's daughter gladly left her awful father and the island years ago. She braves a thunderstorm and dangerous boat trip after he telephoned her to say he was about to die. Well, the death of a deathly ill man is no big deal for the police until the the eviscerated body of a local Priest is found on an island high point.

Dead Priest was the last person to see Dead Guy alive. The island's police force is made of a rank rookie Mountie and a PTSD riddled Mountie out to pasture on low-key Grand Manan. New Brunswick's top cop knows CInq-Mars is on vacation there and has the locals ask Emile for help.

Things happen. Cinq-Mars has a big, hawkish nose and that nose is excperienced in sniffing out crime and crooks. He agrees to snoop around and does so. Emile is a talker, he gets people to open up and his memory and perceptions make him successful. He travels the island and we learn about the locals, the smaller communities on the island, the local way of doing things, so on, so forth.

The mystery plotting is not so fantastic. Sure, I liked it the murder mystery angle but that's not the point of the story.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Done: "The Obama Inheritance" edited by Gary Phillips

Done: The Obama Inheritance: fifteen stories of conspiracy noir edited by Gary Phillips, 2017, 9781941110591.

Anthony Neil Smith has a story in here so I bought a copy for work. I wasn't into this collection but did finish the book. A lot of the stories are really out there. These are not the kind of scifi I dig.

Other stories are by:
Kate Flora
Adam Lance Garcia
Eric Beetner
Danny Gardner
Lisa McClendon
Andrew Nettle
Travis Richardson
Christopher Chambers
Robert Silverberg
Desiree Zamorano
Anthony Neil Smith
L. Scott Jose
Gary Phillips

Thursday, February 8, 2018

E-Book: "Cogan's Trade" by George V. Higgins

E-Book: Cogan's Trade by George V. Higgins, 1974. I read a 2012 movie tie-in entitled Killing Them Softly after the Brad Pitt movie.

I read Higgins's The Friends of Eddie Coyle after the great Charlie Stella mentioned in several online interviews about how significant Friends was on his own writing life. Cogan's Trade is set in the same criminal underworld of 1970s Boston.

Frank and Russell are unwashed (literally, they smell bad) ex-cons meeting with Jack Amato. Amato has a robbery lined up but needs a couple guys to do the work. Jackie and Russell take the job and rob an illegal card game protected by the mob. The three of them figure they can get away with the robbery because the man who runs the game, Trattman, robbed his own game once before.

That Trattman got away with the first robbery means he'll surely get the blame for the second robbery and then Amato and company will get away clean. Frank and Russell rob the joint and Jackie Cogan is called in. Cogan has worked under the infamous, hitman and fixer Dillon. For this call Cogan is hired by an unnamed lawyer who, in turn, works for an unnamed mob boss.

Cogan starts asking around. Almost the entire book is guys talking. Talking about the robbery. Talking about life in the Navy. Life in the Army. Life in prison. Talking about hot women. Talking about sex or the lack of. Talking about other crooks. Talking about using older convicts in prison for sex. Brothers discussing family life before giving Trattman a vicious and casual beating.

All the crooks need money. They need money for wives. They need money for children. They need money for mistresses and cars and attorneys and new roofs. They all need money and they are all willing to do things for money. After all, no one wants to go back to prison, but they can hack it if they do. And, if they are in prison at least they won't get nagged by wives and girlfriends - sometimes by both.

Read it.

1. Cogan pushes the lawyer for the hit on Trattman and the robbers. Cogan is right with his underworld logic, "You gotta kill Trattman, or you're fucked because every card game will be at risk." But, Cogan is also getting another $5,000 payday per murder.
2. The film version with Pitt very closely follows the novel. Some of the film dialogue is word-for-word with the novel. That makes sense seeing as how Higgins seems to have been the dialogue dude when it comes to crooks, cons, and hangers on. Even the murders and robbery exactly follow Higgins's text.
3. I checked the inflation calculator on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website and it says $5,000 in December, 1973 is worth $26,680 today. Cogan earned $80,000 for three murders.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Quit: "Deer Life" by Ron Sexsmith

Quit: Deer Life: a fairy tale by Ron Sexsmith, 2017, 9781459738775.

Sexsmith has written some fine songs and put out some neat albums. I think it is good that an artist decided to stretch his limits and try out a new art form. I do not think it is good that a publisher tried to cash in with Sexsmith's fans by publishing this dreck.

Dreck? Yes, dreck. Harsh but true. I read the preface and about four pages of the story and gave up on the thick and unskilled writing. If I, the complete amateur and unskilled grammarian, identifies ways to clean up the text then something has gone wrong.

The story starts with a young woman and her dog visiting a roadside inn. I gave up beyond that.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

LIstened to: "Matterhorn" by Karl Marlantes

Listened to: Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes, 2009, downloaded from I should point out I always use the Wisconsin Digital Library which contracts with Overdrive. I do not have a separate, commercial account with Overdrive.

One of the best novels I have heard or read in the past several years. Marlantes spent over 30 years working on this book. When I read a tidbit like that I think, "Ugh, this will be a thick, wet dog of a story." Nope, it was pretty damn good.

The narration by Bronson Pinchot was masterful. I'm glad I did not realize Pinchot was reading this because I might have skipped the novel. I really hated Pinchot's TV show Perfect Strangers - talk about a wet dog - but Pinchot was excellent.

The novel focuses on Second Lieutenant Mellas on his first assignment in Vietnam near the DMZ and right by Laos. Mellas joined the Marine Reserves to pay for college and, after a few years, ended up an Officer. He's being sent out as a freshly starched Infantry officer with a Battalion that has already participated in some dangerous operations.

Other characters get the 1st person treatment and we meet other officers, noncoms, and everyone else. I was absorbed into the group. Marlantes walk you through Mellas's introduction to the unit and adjusting to life as a no nothing 2nd Lt. There is nothing new here as far as Vietnam War fiction. There is a fairly standard list of things the characters endure:
Draftees vs. Lifers
Race relations
Ringworm from waist to ankles.
Jungle rot.
Immersion foot.
Biting ants.
Falls down rock faces.
Falls off cliffs.
Sprayed by Agent Orange, "Don't worry, it's okay, it's safe for people."
Fighting among Marines and Soldiers who are fed up and exhausted kids but are also trained killers.
Heat exhaustion.

But, Marlantes puts life into everything. The drunken Lieutenant Colonel is trying to keep his career on track while knowing he is fucking up. The black Marines are justifiably angry with their treatment by a racist Sergeant. The Lieutenants are trying to keep things running. The company commander knows the Colonel's orders are foolish but he has no choice.

You relearn about how so much of war time military life is deadly even without the enemy. A Marine has a leech crawl up his urethra leaving him in excruciating pain from backed up urine. Crossing swift rivers and climbing rock cliffs with just a couple ropes. Told to hike for days and doing so with out any food or fresh water. Setting a night ambush and having your best friend eaten by a tiger.

The purpose of the infantry is supposed to be straighforward. Everyone works together to kill the enemy and take their land. But, you're stuck with incompetent commanders, commanders concerned with stats to pad their CV, Marines who are unskilled or incompetent, racial trouble between angry black Marines and racist Southern Marines, constant physical labor to develop firebases for artillery and then abandon the bases. So on. So forth.

The book makes you joyful, frustrated, angry, relieved, and crushed.

1. This is the second book that insults Rotary Clubs. Hey, man, I'm in Rotary and it's not a bunch of local know-it-alls sitting around toasting themselves.
2. I'm now looking at a PDF addendum to the audiobook that has maps, a list of principal characters, and a glossary. That would have been handy while I was listening.

Leonard Paperback: "The Switch" by Elmore Leonard

Leonard Paperback: The Switch by Elmore Leonard, 1978, (my paperback is not handy).

A decent novel, but nothing that I was wowed over. Except for reading Raylan a couple years ago it had been a while since I read any Leonard novels. I wasn't too impressed with Raylan either. Maybe my tastes have changed. Maybe the book was below average for Leonard.

Short: Two ex-cons decide to kidnap the wife of a Detroit real estate developer and extort some of the developer's freshly laundered Caribbean cash.

Long: Mickey doesn't much love her golf loving husband, Frank, whose life revolves around golf at the country club, drinks at the country club, and dinner at the country club. Mickey and Frank have a teen son whose is on track to be a professional tennis player. Mickey is a devoted tennis mom with no job and she is getting sick of her life and dependence on Frank.

Ordell and Louis both recently got out of prison. They met doing time in Ohio and Ordell has been selling stolen goods to Frank's real estate company. Frank uses the stolen goods to furnish apartments. Ordell has found out that Frank is claiming a lower occupancy rate on his rental units and hiding the extra rent income in a Bahamas bank.

Ordell invites Louis in on a kidnapping plot to nab Mickey and hold her for ransom. They figure Frank cannot call the police because if he does the IRS will eventually learn about the hidden dough. Ordell has also hooked up with a weird security guard with a nazi fetish. Fetishist has his own house and a spare bedroom set-up as a cell for Mickey. What could go wrong?

Things happen. Frank goes to the Bahamas to "meet with clients" but is actually meeting his paid for girlfriend. Mickey's son goes to a month long tennis camp in Florida. Mickey is kidnapped from her home (I'm glossing over some other plot points) and watched over by Fetishist, Louis, and Ordell.

Frank gets the ransom call and realizes, "Hey, I don't have to get a divorce. Not if the kidnappers carry through on their promise to kill Mickey." Frank ignores the demands. Mickey wonders what is going on. Ordell and Louis wonder what is going on. Frank wonder's if Mickey is dead yet.

Anyway. There is a shoot-out. Some sex. Some back stabbing. Some scheming. I just never got too into the story and the sort-of Stockholm Syndrome thing with Mickey annoyed me. There was nothing really driving the story for me.

1. I found out that there is a 2014 adaptation entitled Life of Crime. I have a library DVD copy of that at home but not yet watched it.
2. I just read that Ordell and Louis are the main bad guys in Rum Punch. I cannot recall if I read Rum Punch but that was the basis for the flick Jackie Brown.