Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Electronic Novel: "The Cyclist" by Anthony Neil Smith

Electronic Novel: The Cyclist by Anthony Neil Smith, 2018, I bought a Kindle version.

Smith's work has been progressively better over each new novel. I classify his work as being solidly reliable for good reading. This does take a turn from his usual madness and tones everything down a bit. At least I think so.

Failed Navy SEAL candidate Judd works for a bank in Minneapolis-St. Paul and spends almost all his spare time on his road bike. Judd rides until exhaustion every night and puts in 100-mile-days on the weekends. Judd isn't running from his troubles. Judd is riding from his troubles.

Those troubles are his deep feeling of failure after washing out of SEAL training when he accidentally shot an instructor during an exercise. The deep disappointment of his father over Judd's failure. Judd's crappy trading job with the bank. Judd's rising debt from purchases of bikes, bike parts, bike gear, bike this, bike that. Judd's seeming dissatisfaction with everything except cycling.

On top of this is the drunken presence of the sailor that Judd shot during SEAL training, WhatsHisName. (Let's call WhatsHisName Burt.) Burt was a extra super duper SEAL. A snake eater. A man among men. A veteran of fights across the globe and a booze guzzling monster. Burt cannot believe that Judd, a soon-to-washout candidate, put Burt on the ground and forced Burt into medical retirement. Burt has plenty of his own issues because he moves to the Twin Cities to drink too much, live in a shithole apartment, and harass and harangue Judd most every day.

Judd's one other joy besides long cycle rides and trips past Paisley Park are his daily video conferences with Catriona, "Cat", in Scotland. Judd and Cat's work conversations about market prices in Scotland have turned personal. There is flirting. There is talk of cycling. Cat starts hinting Judd should visit sometime. Cat flat out says Judd should visit. So, Judd empties his bank account, buys a shipping container for his road bike, a one-way ticket to Scotland, and says goodbye to his barren apartment.

Since this is a Smith book you know that the budding romance between Judd and Cat won't be working out. Read ahead for spoilers. We find out beforehand that Cat's real boyfriend is a psycho killer who just got out of the mental hospital. Psycho Killer and Cat murdered Cat's parents about 10 years ago and plan to kill, kill, kill some more.  Cat saw Judd online and recognized his strong resemblance to Psycho Killer. They plan to take Judd to the remote highlands, kill him, take his passport, fly to America, and kill, kill, kill.

More things happen. Judd gets to the UK and realizes something is amiss. Cat is all hot for Judd but then won't sleep with him. She said she was a cycling master but she gets winded after a couple miles. She lives in her parent's house that is unchanged from the murders (I suppose the blood was cleared up). They visit all the cool, rural places Cat suggests but the people give her the fish eye.

Violence ensues. Drama ensues. Judd fights to survive. Judd cannot cope and keeps on cycling.

Short-ish length. There are several aspects of the characters that Smith touches on but does not flesh out. He keeps things moving instead and the reader has to pay attention and maybe think a little.

1. Alternate title: Bike Nerd Goes Scotland.
2. Alternate Title: Smith Writes More Torture Scenes.
3. Gratuitous IPA beer insults.
4. Gratuitous Belle & Sebastian insults.
5. Gratuitous 'most beautiful scenery ever' comments.
EDIT 6: I thought I was up to date on all Smith novels but just saw I have not yet read To the Devil, My Regards that Smith wrote with Gischler and Sin-Crazed Psycho Killer! Dive, Dive, Dive. I think To the Devil was a grad school or post grad school lark with Gischler. I think Sin-Crazed was a pulpy pulp novel for an Italian publisher; I'm not sure, ask Smith.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Huh?: "Sisters" by Lily Tuck

Huh? : Sisters by Lily Tuck, 2017, 9781683245711 (large print).

106 page novel I was taking off the New shelf and decided to try out since I like short novels. After finishing the novel I was left with "What the fuck was that?"

Told in small sections with as little as one sentence to two pages at a time and with snatches of conversation. Told thorugh the observations and obsessions of the narrator who is the second wife to a wealthy Wall Streeter.

2nd wife starts the marriage wondering about 1st Wife and what she is like. 2nd Wife becomes obsessive over 1st Wife's personality, marital experience, and general history. 2nd Wife and 1st Wife  only meet a couple times over the years, even though man and 1st wife have two children. 2nd Wife gets along with the children as time goes on. 2nd Wife recalls how she took up with the man not knowing he was still married (I think the narrator was lying there...) and the marriage ends after the man finds out the 2nd wife slept with the teenage son.

Yeah! That was my reaction, "What the fuck?!" Even more weird is that the novel end's with 2nd Wife planning to call up the 1st wife looking to be pals. What?! She commits incestuous rape of the woman's teenage son and expects to be pals?  2nd Wife denies the rape but at this point of the novel we know she is unreliable. We also know she is kinda weird.

Anyhoo. I was left wondering what the hell I just read. Maybe it's a rambling half-confession of a drunk. Or a self-serving narcissist's justification and excusal.

1. Hey, there may have been a mention of Wisconsin. I'm not certain.
2. I just found a NYT review online. Not sure if I will bother reading it.
3. OK. I skimmed the article and the reviewer calls the narrator a stalker. I don't agree with that.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Book Noises: "The Likeness" by Tana French

Book Noises: The Likeness by Tana French, 2008, download from Wisconsin Digital Library

Second novel of cops in Dublin. French's previous book, In The Woods, focused on Rob, the male half of a partner of murder investigators. This time French has us seeing through the eyes of Cassie.

In The Woods ended in professional and personal turmoil for the Cassie and Rob relationship. Cassie left the murder squad and has spent the last year in a domestic violence squad. One afternoon she gets a call from her 'secret' cop boyfriend, Sam.  Sam is in a bit of a panic and asking Cassie if she is alright. He then asks her to come to a murder scene.

Cassie drives into a rural area in the Wicklow Mountains and finds her old supervisor from her days as an undercover cop in the drug squad, Frank Mackey. Frank is his cheerful and manipulative self. Frank and Sam walk Cassie into a long abandoned cottage to see the body of a woman that is a dead ringer for Cassie. Everyone has a doppelganger but Cassie's doppelganger was stabbed, walked her way to the cottage, and bled to death. Just as important is that the dead woman is using Cassie's past alias as an undercover cop, the name Lexie Madison. Well, that's weird.

Good old Frank has the brilliant idea to have Cassie step into the shoes of the dead woman to investigate the murder. Let me point out that when I write "brilliant idea" what I mean to say is "abso- fucking-lutely the dumbest idea any fucking idiot would know is fucking stupid fucking idea." [More on that later.] Frank is motivated to find out how and why this woman has stolen the identity of someone who never really existed. Frank is also excited about the chance to do an undercover job that has never been done before.

Frank's plan is nutty but Frank has some pull and skills of persuasion. The woman's death is kept quiet for a few days and Frank convinces the police brass and Cassie that the idea will work. They claim the dead woman went into a coma from blood loss, was found just in time, and has spent a week in the hospital. During that week Cassie researches everything they can find out about the woman. Cassie watches multiple videos to act out the woman's mannerisms. Jut importantly those videos introduce her to her new best friends: the four grad students that Lexie shared a house with.

Cassie is dropped off at the crumbling rural mansion. Cassie is now Lexie. She is Caxie. Lexie was stabbed and almost died so Caxie can hide her gun and recording device under bandages. Lexie had memory loss so errors by Caxie can be blamed on trauma.

As you can guess Cassie has a difficult time being Caxie who is trying to be Lexie. You can also guess that the roommates are going to feel that something is wrong. But, Cassie as Caxie as Lexie pulls things off.

Not much more to say without burning the plot for you. French gives us a whodunit where the victim goes back to a house full of murder suspects. Cassie has several issues to deal with.

  • Frank who is kinda sketchy but dedicated to his job and Cassies safety. Too bad Frank is also willing to put Cassie in danger, "It's part of the job."
  • Sam who is very fearful for her safety and the viability of their relationship during what could be a long undercover assignment. 
  • Sam and Frank do not get along. Sam is a murder investigator and wants to do a regular investigation. That he came up empty handed in the first few days was one of the reasons the undercover job was approved. 
  • Cassie starts to really enjoy her life as Caxie as Lexie. Caxie starts going native. She likes the housemates who have come together as a family of convenience. Each of the other four have poor relations with their own families and formed a tight group since first year of university.
  • Cassie has to watch her step. After all, someone murdered Lexie.

This novel and the last focus on characters who are a bit lost. Cassie was an orphan raised by an older aunt and uncle who never got very close with her. Her previous life experiences with a stalker kept her from getting close to people. Her failed romantic, professional, and personal life with Rob caused more trouble. She has been happy - if kinda noncommittal - with Sam but the family she finds as Lexie is a big draw to her. She starts to dream that she could continue on as Lexie with all the laughs, in-jokes, booze, and closeness of the house.

Anyhoo. French writes a very good story.

1. But, what about that batshit crazy idea of impersonating a dead woman with five very close friends? The premise is absolutely absurd. A cop taking on the identity of a murder victim? Bullshit. That's why you have homicide investigators. Would the police really hold off interrogating every roommate, schoolmate, workmate, and acquaintance within reach? Not go through the victim's every belonging, electronic device, office space, vehicle, etc.? Serve warrants to tear apart the house. Separate the four housemates/suspects and repeatedly question and question and question them?
2. French gives us an easy crimes with investigators who go offtrack. In the Woods had Rob thinking a murder was related to his own kidnapping as a child. Cassie has a houseful of very good and obvious suspects but thinks something else is going on. She likes the four housemates too much to really go after them.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Complete: "The Bomb Shelter" by Jon Talton

Complete: The Bomb Shelter by Jon Talton, 2018, 9781464209574.

CrimeSpree Magazine did a blurb on this. The 9th book in the David Mapstone series and the first one I've read. I recall the first novel Concrete Desert. I was living in AZ when that first one came out and I think Talton and the book received a decent amount of local press.

Talton sets this entirely in Phoenix and bases the story off a modern investigation of the 1976 murder of Phoenix journalist Don Bolles who was murdered by a car bomb. Talton fictionalizes the hell out of the event and writes a neat story.

David Mapstone is a Deputy Sheriff for Maricopa County. Mapstone has had a varied but not quite peripatetic career. He's been a Deputy Sheriff, a student, a history professor, a private investigator and now he is a Deputy again. Mapstone's longtime friend and work partner Mike Peralta is now the Sheriff and hired Peralta on as the Historian. Historian means, "You'll work the cold cases, buddy."

A few days after the 40th anniversary of the reporter Sheriff  Peralta comes into Mapstone's office and says, "You've got a couple weeks to go through several boxes of files and see if you can find anything new." To incentivize the search is a threatening text to Peralta to stay out of an investigation. Next comes another bombing murder witnessed by Mapstone and threats that more murders are forthcoming if Peralta comes up empty handed.

The bad guys are mean and murdery and Mapstone has to investigate the 40-year-old case, find the current bombers, worry off his wife who is still recovery from a gunshot, deal with a tempestuous Sheriff, and not leak out word that the old case is being investigated.

Talton really uses the Phoenix setting. He covers old mob killings, land fraud rackets, political corruption, sexual shenanigans, so on, so forth. He writes up the changing landscape of concrete and housing estates, freeways, water issues, Phoenix and as the place of B-list and retired celebrities, and global warming heatwaves. Neat stuff.

There is plenty of long lasting relationships in the novel and Talton has Mapstone frequently recalling, reminiscing and regretting a few of those. Talton never leaves us out to dry on those things; the reader doesn't need to read the previous novels to know what the hell is going on.

1. Gratuitous Phoenix and Valley of the Sun geography love.
2. Mapstone is assisted by a history doctoral student. The student and Mapstone have these unrealistic conversations on social justice, being "woke", racism, sexual identity, etc. I least I thought the conversations were unrealistic and silly. Maybe Talton has been button holed by guys who talk that way.
3. The previous Sheriff carried on Arpaio-style antics. Arpaio is such a freaking opportunistic, power loving dirtbag.
4. Sheriff Dan Rhodes style of maudlin thoughts about modern change. Old neighborhoods going away.  Sprawl and concrete. Changing social behavior and mores. Change marching on and Mapstone isn't too happy about it.
5. I enjoyed hiking up Camelback on the times I was able to drive over there. I would be sucking wind and the super fit people would be running up the damn trails.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Another Audio: "Exit Strategy" by Steve Hamilton

Another Audio: Exit Strategy by Steve Hamilton, 2017, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Sequel to The Second Life of Nick Mason. Mason is still under the thumb of Big Bad Crime Boss Cole. Mason is still killing for Cole. Mason is still keeping his real life secret and dating a pet store owner (manager?). Mason still have to do whatever he is told or his ex-wife and daughter will be tortured and murdered.

Hamilton tells another fine story with Mason. Mason is still impulsive and quick to anger. He tamps down his frustration and rage and does the assignments he gets from Cole's man in Chicago, Quintero.  Mason is injured when murdering a protected witness housed in a fictionalized Water Tower Place in Chicago. Mason, for reasons I do not recall, goes to the girlfriend's place. Bad idea. No one can know Mason is on Cole's payroll as a killer.

Mason barely stops Quintero from killing girlfriend and strikes a deal of sorts with Quintero. Things move on and Mason murders as the police, U.S. Marshalls, and the U.S. Attorney work to protect witnesses for Cole's upcoming retrial. Cole has been busy bribing and threatening his many police and prosecutor 'pals' to change statements, make up new statements, and generally destroy the public's case against Cole.

Mason is in an impossible position. We follow him around as the murder assignments become progressively more difficult and dangerous. As he plans to try and get under from Cole by surveilling Cole's lackeys and develops a love affair with Cole's other kept employee, Diana.

I was split between wishing the (mostly) likable Mason succeeds in his murders and escape plans, and hoping Mason goes back to prison or is killed. Cole is thoroughly despicable and killing anyone in his way or anyone connected to someone in his way.

I like how Hamilton advances the story. He is not rehashing the plot of Second Life. We don't learn a whole lot more about Mason but do get new characters, backgrounds of existing characters, greater threats and challenges for Mason to overcome, so on, so forth.

1. Narrator Ray Porter does not chew up the words like last time. Good.
2. Gratuitous Chicago geography.
3. Gratuitous liberties with reality. The idea of Mason killing these people and getting away is absurd.
4. Characters killed off. Good, makes for neat twists and really alters the story's direction.
5. Blood and gore.
6. A couple characters and plot lines are immediately disappeared or changed. Those characters and actions are not forgotten, Hamilton just swerves Mason into a different direction. ZHamilton just gives Mason more trouble to deal with.
7. Extremely gratuitous Goose Island beer.