Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Doctor Who Yeti: "Web of Fear"

Doctor Who Yeti: Web of Fear by Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln (according to the internets), downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Another audiobook that is the audio from a Doctor Who story arc with added descriptive narration. The audio quality on this sucks, sucks, sucks. Don't bother unless you are hard core.

The Doctor and his pals jamie and Victoria land in the London Underground. The place is dark and abandoned and locked up. Meanwhile, Professor Travers is back. He was in a Abominable Snowman arc - which I actually listened to a couple years ago! - but is now 40 years older for this 1967 time setting. He brought home to London a mechanical Yeti or two. The Yeti monsters were controlled by a remote device and have now wandered off to do something or other.

The Doctor and Co. find out the Underground has been set with explosives for demolition. The Yeti are wandering around killing people. London has been evacuated. Some sort of spider webby fungus is growing on everything. Soldiers and the Professor are the only people around. Blah, blah, blah.

Like I said above, skip this one. The old TV sound goes up in down in volume and with sharp bursts of sound. If you want a big rundown on the plot you can check the internet fan peoples.

Back dating this to December 31 because I heard it in 2019. Written on January 9, 2020.

WHO Audio: "Prisoner of the Daleks" by Trevor Baxendale

WHO Audio: Prisoner of the Daleks by Trevor Baxendale, 2009, Wisconsin Digital Library.

An original novel and enjoyable.

The Doctor is by himself when the Tardis makes a goofy landing on a abandoned planet that was once used as a refueling place for starships. When poking around he gets locked into a room. Six days later the small crew of a privateer lands and lets him out. Then some Daleks show up.

The Daleks are there to EXTERMINATE. The spaceship crew are there as Dalek bounty hunters. the Doctor is there to be the Doctor.

When a Dalek follows the crew onto their ship a crew member is killed before the Dalek can be frozen and ultimately defeated and killed. These is immediate distrust and dislike of the Doctor by the rough guy crew who end up blaming him for their crewmate's death.

The Doctor does not ease the relationship by advocating against torturing the surviving Dalek squid-thing-creature after he is pulled from his robot shell. It doesn't matter because everything is a set-up anyway as the Doctor and crew arrive at the remains of a destroyed planet, are captured by new Daleks, and discover they have stumbled into a trap for EXTERMINATION.

We get the irrepressible Doctor. The gruff ship's captain. The gruff ex-soldier crewman. The tech crewman. The last surviving member of her planet crewmember. Dalek X who is the Dalek's supreme inquisitor. Plus some: scary Daleks, some sort of ghost creatures, a planet cut in half, humans worked to death as miners, a massive Dalek command ship, more details on the Human-Dalek War.

All fun. All better than the many WHO TV story arcs I have listened to on audio. Those TV shows with descriptive narration can have really spotty audio.


Irish Audio: "Gun Street Girl" by Adrian McKinty

Irish Audio: Gun Street Girl by Adrian McKinty, 2015, download from Wisconsin Digital Library.

I enjoyed this quote a bit. The narrator's American accents were pretty awful though. Accents so awful that I enjoyed them.

I just read my notes from reading McKinty's The Cold, Cold Ground and that novel set me on the same path as this novel. I started reading rereading about The Troubles and all the craziness of of 20+ years of simmering civil war. I had forgotten something McKinty covered in that novel which is that the head of IRA's squad to find, torture, and murder informants (The Nutting Squad) was himself an informant for the English.

Sean Duffy is the 2nd ranking cop at the Carrickfergus police station in Northern Ireland. He has some privilege with his rank but is called out by a colleague to help out with a murder. There is a dispute over jurisdiction and after Duffy sorts that issue he gets involved with the investigation of a murdered married couple and their now missing adult son. The son turns up dead as a cliff diving suicide and a note claiming responsibility for the murder. Duffy and Co. are still suspicious.

More things happen and Duffy and Co. visit England to investigate the son's background. The run into stonewalling and screw-ups. They find Son had a background in weapons. They run into Special Branch. They run into Short Brothers of Northern Ireland which is the last remaining manufacturer of any note in NI. Short Brothers is a weapons manufacturer. Short Brothers is missing Javelin missiles (a super fancy and high tech anti-tank missile).

OK. That's all good and fine. McKinty puts all this standard police procedural stuff together with skill. Secrets are revealed. Danger is threatened. Mysterious people appear. The fun stuff is that McKinty is taking real events and shaping those into the story.

We get the IRA goons. The Ulster Defense goons. The Ulster Volunteer Force goons. The British government goons. The true believers. The con men posing as true believers. The patriots that are nothing but goons and con men.

All of the above includes a look at 1985 NI and England. Thatcher wields all the power and the recession is grinding most people. Short Brothers stays open only by the grace of the government's support and contracts. NI is over a decade into the active war of The Troubles and the English seem perfectly happen to let the blood flow. As one character says, the 25% of the IRA's men are informants or otherwise compromised by the English. The English know most of what is going on with the other side but also participate in keeping it going.

Really great stuff and after a some good guy losses the bad guys pay a price. Of course, the bad guys at the top never really get in trouble.

1. An Oliver North appearance in a character named Connelly. In real life: North traveled to Iran under a Irish passport. McKinty ties in Reagan's arms dealing with Iran. During the same time period there were arrests over missile technology being sold to embargoed South Africa.
2. Short Brothers in N.I. had a simulator stolen in the '80s and Javelin and Blowpipe parts went missing. The novel has Javelin missile system missing-but-actually-stolen for resale to embargoed countries that would then reverse engineer the systems.
3.  The fact that 25% of the IRA were informants or compromised one some way. That the English had turned high ranking IRA men. Never mind all the state sanctioned murders by English soldiers and policemen who moonlighted with terrorist groups.
4. The IRA was no better and would claim the murders of people like Jean McCanville were justified killings of spies during wartime - McCannville who was the 38-year-old widow of 10 children - and then cry foul when armed IRA men would be shot down during IRA attacks instead of being arrested. 5. Claims of national security to hide misdeeds.
6. Of course Reagan knew what was going on with Iran Contra. Don't be fucking dense.
7. Duffy's personal car is a BMW. He checks the undercarriage for bombs every time he needs to drive.
8. Glock love.
9. Pharmaceutical cocaine love.

Paper: "Tijuana Mean" by Jesse James Kennedy

Paper: Tijuana Mean by Jesse James Kennedy, 2019, 9781724161628.

Someone online plugged Kennedy's first novel Missouri Homegrown and it was violent anti-heroes in the Ozarks. I enjoyed that novel a decent amount and I bought this one for work.

Be aware that if you don't want read this if you don't want the bad guys to win. Most everyone here is a bad guy except for one or two FBI guys. I suppose Kennedy putting his trio of killers in narcocorrido land makes sense because this is the same thing but (all) fictional.

Anyhoo. Jimbo, Jay and Jack McKay killed off a bunch of Police Officers and narco traffickers in the last novel and fled their Missouri marijuana farm. Tijuana has the three teaming up with a Mexican drug lord after a truce at the end of the last novel. The four of them are driving cross country to get to Mexico. Along the way they steal some cars and murder a couple state troopers.

Meanwhile, their cousin WhatsHerFace is back in MO and taking over their marijuana outfit. She takes in a couple young cousins and has to fight off a new biker gang that is moving in to fill the vacuum left by the McKays.

The FBI undercover from the last novel and her partner are drinking too much and paired with a new supervisor who is chasing the multi-murderer Mckays. FBI Undercover Woman has the hots for one of the McKay men.

Things happen as the McKays participate in a private MMA fight. Kill people. Do heroin, alcohol, weed, and pills. Ambush narcos with IEDs. Continue to team up with the Mexican narco as the narco battles against his own uncle for supremacy in Tijuana.

There is:
1. Lots of violence.
2. Lots of swagger and boasting.
3. Lots of both casual and calculated cruelty.
4. Child abuse.

This is a popcorn and soda story. This is not Rust Belt drama or Daniel Woodrell family trouble.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Another Spook: "Clash of the Demons" by Joseph Delaney

Another Spook: Clash of the Demons by Joseph Delaney, 2008 (in the UK), 

I drove five Boy Scouts in my van up to Black River Falls. Another two Scouts rode in a second vehicle. I wanted to play this audiobook but got to worrying that the 6th and 7th graders might get spooked. These are young adult novels but I think the gruesomeness gets amped up for each successive novel.

Thomas Ward is just shy of 15-years-old. He is alone at the Spook's house while the Spook is away on spook business. He awakes to see Alice - sent away by Spook at the end of the last novel - appearing in tom's mirror and warning him of a maenad about to attack. Tom doesn't even know what that is but grabs his staff and silver chain to investigate.

The house is still protected by the Spook's pet boggart but the boaggart is missing when a witch attacks Tom outside the house. Tom capture her with the chain and shortly after the boggat appears and thrashes the would be assassin to death. Strange things are-a-brewing.

Spook returns home. Spook ponders. Spook finds out the boggart was drugged by a trough of tainted blood. Spook and Tom return to Tom's farm to meet Tom's mother. Tom's mother is returning from Greece and is recruiting local County witches to return with her to Greece and fight against an ally of The Fiend.

Does all this makes sense to you? Don't worry. It's a fantasy adventure novel and the tales move fast and are not too difficult to catch up on. The basics are that Tom is a teen apprentice, his profession is distrusted by many people, and Tom and Alice are not an item but have that weird teen thing going where they are friends and sorta-siblings but other smoochy- smoochy things may be happening. 

Advances in the story: Spook is against anything or one that may work with Dark magic. He has to set aside those long held rules to team up with Tom's mother and the County witches to fight in Greece. Tom and Alice have to fight against newly learned Dark parentage that mark them as suspect to hardliners like the Spook. More characters are killed. There are scary monsters. There is lots of blood magic and the witches like to drink blood and use body parts for magic.

1. I have really enjoyed the series.
2. Thomas and Co. travel to English cities are their way to Greece. I suppose the setting was never in doubt but I don't think Delaney used real city names before.
3. The stories are presented in such a way that this a real history. The concept being that Tom and the Spook are fighting evil. There is a buildup to a final battle to vanquish evil. That final battle defeating the fiend and evil would therefore put an end to evil, including witches, boggarts, and all the rest. We then end up in the modern era where stories of witches are seen as fairy and folk tales.

ebook: "How the Dead Live" by Derek Raymond

ebook: How the Dead Live by Derek Raymond, 1986 (no date for ebook reprint), 9781612190150.

Well, this is the 2nd Raymond novel I have read in the factory series and life in Thatcher England was dark and dreary.

Getting up to date: The Factory series novels by Raymond are well known and had recent reprints. All were written in the early to id-1980s and feature a nameless police detective Protagonist from department A14 - Unexplained Deaths - investigates cases over five novels. He is single and has no manners, patience, or family. He's a nihilist with a hopeful streak.

Protagonist is sent on a 90 minutes drive from London to investigate the case of a missing small-town woman whose case was set aside by the local cop shop. Protagonist never seems to be in a good mood but maybe that is just my reading. He is proud of his job and reminds people that he may be a jerk, but he'll do the same thorough work if the complainers get killed or go missing.

Anyhoo. Protagonist arrives in town, starts looking around, finds out the local cop shop is staffed by dicks and an crooked chief. He finds out the missing woman had not been seen in months and used to walk around town with a veil over the lower part of her face. Protagonist really dislikes a few of the people. Protagonist really likes a few of the people. Protagonist is always getting in trouble with his work superiors and will never get a promotion.

A dark and deep novel with plenty of booze and uncaring people. Economic calamity with Tahtcher's "Fuck you" to the working class. Every day has bother world wars front and center: Protagonist a child of the war with a Army father, war veterans or both wars living in the small town, evidence of how the war effected everything and still drives many decisions and behaviors.

Let's not pretend Protagonist is there to help and care for strangers. He feels sorry for a few people but he is mostly shut down from his emotions and the things he sees and the people he deals usually spark anger rather than empathy. He hates bullies. He hates conmen. He hates goons.

Give the series a try. Raymond has some great storytelling. I just gloss over the overly long philosophical posts as Protagonist recalls a londg dead girlfriend who used to speak about life, destiny and meaning.

1. This got me thinking about the Rule of Law and how important it is for society to run well. People are held to account and the state, not the victims, are the one who make the process fair. Police Officers make human mistakes but their honesty and dedication are vital. It also makes me remember how the Rule of Law fails and the super rich and powerful get away with all sorts of shit, shit, shit.

Audio: "Fire Witness" by Lars Kepler

Audio: Fire Witness by Lars Kepler, 2011 (for Sweden, I think), 2018 (maybe, Overdirve gives goody dates that don't always match pub dates), downloaded form Wisconsin Digital Library.

I read a couple recommendations for the latest Kepler book so I took this one. Nordic crime and police procedural written by a husband and wife team. Native Finn Joona Linna is a Swedish cop on a task force that handles murders nationwide. He investigates a double murder and the resultant kidnapping of a 5-year-old.

The novel's writing has that Nordic matter-of-fact style. Different than a noir-style with straightforward facts with minimal description. The characters go through emotional troubles but the authors don't dwell on emotion in the same way as writers in traditional Anglo countries. People are sad, terrified, lonely, and in love but the vibe is different. I feel the same when reading the Swede series by Henning Mankell (1 read), Sjowall and Wahloo (most read), Jens Lapidus (4 read).

Anyhoo. This is the third novel in the series and Joona has been suspended since the last novel because he is suspected of telling some crooks/political troublemakers that a police raid was coming. Joona's boss asks Joona to go north where a home for troubled teens has had a double murder with a teenager and adult counselor beaten to death. Joona will have no legal authority, he's just there to guide and help.

Things happen. The local investigator is grouchy and doesn't know he is out of his depth. Joona is endlessly polite but won't be stopped or dissuaded. The teen girls at the home have some serious issues and don't cooperate with interviews. The therapist husband of the dead woman is deeply distressed and put under psychiatric care. A fake medium in Stockholm starts seeing a "ghost" and thinks the ghost is the victim come to tell the Stockholm woman what happened.

Joona starts hunting down a missing 15-year-old from the home. That girl's room has lots of bllod evidence and the teen ran into the woods sometime in the early morning of the murder.. The teen then chanced upon a car and stole the car when the driver was taking a piss break. Inside the car is a 5-year-old boy. Both teen suspect and boy go missing.

There are forensic investigations of the crime scene and forensic  psychology. Joona wants to stay on scene but has no local authority and wants to chase the girl down. The local cop is a jackass. Joona is worried for the missing boy. So on and So forth with Joona driving around rural and urban Sweden.

The story was a good one and the characters interesting. The novel touches on a few tropes and genres but always it's own thing. There is:
  • Renegade cop who doesn't follow orders. 
  • Out-of-town expert cop who is shunned by local cops. 
  • The sad, mourning cop missing his long lost family and partner and unable to commit to a new woman. 
  • Troubled teen on the run.
  • Serial killer that his hidden the crimes within everyday life events.
Initially I kept expecting story to end soon as the chase for the 15-year-old was on. Then saw I was only halfway through the novel. The killer is an easy guess. The detective's pursuit is enjoyable.

1. Rich people being uber rich. Reminded me of the Jens Lapidus novels of rich people who are awful, awful people but always getting away with murder.
2. Poor children being abandoned. (Reminded me of the ultra right assholes who blame immigrants for everything. As if white people don't kill, cheat, steal, and rape.)
3. A subplot about Joona's family that is fairly unbelievable subplot. The subplot has Joona solving a serial killer case in a previous book. The serial killer is in prison but threatens Joona's family. Joona's former partner and family end up dead so Joona sends his wife and daughter, fakes their deaths, and with promises to never contact one another. Ditching his wife and daughter instead of fleeing with them? Man, I call bullshit.

Paperback: "Too Many Curses" by A. Lee Martinez

Paperback: Too Many Curses by A. Lee Martinez, 2008, 9780765318350.

I read Gil's All Fright Diner shortly after it came out in 2005 and thought it was really great. I read several other Martinez novels after that and then got off track. This novel was weeded off the library shelves within the last year or two so I bought it.

My advice: skip it and read Gil's All Fright or Nameless Witch. This has character after character and doing thing after thing and it was too much. Sure, I finished the novel but had to tune out each new character who popped out.

Short version: Nessy is in charge of Margle the Horrendous massive and magical castle. Margle is truly horrendous and over the centuries has populated the castle with the ghosts and trapped souls of those he has killed. A few thousand different spells and curses keep things together.  When Margle is killed through his own misadventure Nessy is left to take care of things. Nessy is a bit obsessive compulsive and wants to keep the castle and all her pals running smoothly.

Longer-ish Version: I don't know, man. Stuff happens. When one famous wizard dies other wizards usually show up to take everything they can find. Nessy wants to survive and take care of her cursed pals and ghosts. The bi-bopping around from character to character in the first half of the novel really dragged things out.

1. It looks like Martinez'z Constance Verity series has been optioned and will be filming. But, who knows? Names get listed to all sorts of media projects and things never happen.

Australia Ebook Crime: "Wyatt" by Garry Disher

Australia Ebook Crime: Wyatt by Garry Disher, 2010 and 2011, download from Wisconsin Digital Library.

I forgot about listing this novel. I finished it back in October or November.

I was trying to find the original pub date of this novel and everyone in the damn crime fiction world describes this novel as an Australian Parker. Well, yeah, that was what I was going to say. What's more this is the seventh novel in the series. I was looking for something else on the digital library and saw this. So I took it.

Wyatt is all sorts of Parker: a loner, suspicious, very careful, violent only when needed, and a multi-purpose crook. The novel is written in the sparse style used by Westlake/Stark. Wyatt is back in Melbourne after a years long absence. His rip-off of a shipyard bribery scheme goes haywire and he gets barely any money from the score. What's more, two of his hidden stashes of cash and weapons have disappeared through redevelopment during his years away.

Wyatt needs dough but experience has taught him to only work with professional thieves and take on realistic jobs. Of course things go wrong as Wyatt is double-crossed and other cops and crooks insert themselves into the situation.

Short take: I enjoyed the novel. The characters were okay. The plotting was pretty decent. The atmosphere and setting were fun. There is a dirty cop. Scuzzy diamond merchants. Wyatt's backstabbing pal and the pal's volatile and violent girlfriend. Unemotional Wyatt's unexpected and unwanted love interest. A French killer. All sorts of interesting crime drama with Wyatt overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Longer take: The setting was a bit distracting because I kept cutting away from the story to look up the locations Disher had Wyatt and Co. traveling to and from. One scene has them in small park and Google Maps lets you zoom in and out and have street level views of the place. I just tried finding the park again - called Reserves over there - and cannot find it. I thought it was on Toorak highway. maybe my phone has a history, let me see... Nope. I cannot find it.

1. I recall the bass player for INXS being named something like Gary Garry. Let me check on that... Nope, but close. Garry Gary Beers with some sort of story behind the name that you'll have to figure out yourself.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Letters Book: "Address Unknown" by Kathrine Kressman Taylor

Letters Book: Address Unknown by Katherine Kressman Taylor, 1938, 2001 printing, 9780743412711.

Foreword says: Woman writes a series of fictional letters that are published in Story magazine in 1938. Immediately popularity. The story is then printed as a book an is a bestseller.

Taylor was Kathrine Kressman. She ran across an article saying how some US students returned from Germany and wrote to friends in Germany. The Germans said, "Don't make fun of Hitler in your letters. We will be arrested." Kressman pondered on that situation for awhile and created two friends and business partners who co-own an art dealership on the west coast.

One gallery owner returns to Germany. His U.S. dollars make him a wealthy man in depressed Germany and he has a mansion and servants. He enters high society and joins the nazis. His Jewish friend and partner cannot figure out what is happening to his pal who now spouts the party line on Jews being dirt.

Things happen and the German refuses to assist his friend's actress sister in Germany. The business relationship is dissolved. The sister is pursued and killed by the rotten, filthy, stinking, no good nazis. The Jewish gallery owner starts writing letters to the German referencing Moscow, money transfers, traditional Jewish names, and weird stats that could be code. The German disappears.

Very brief book. Reading the Foreword took almost as long as the book.

1. I won't capitalize nazi.

Finally Done: "The Hilliker Curse" by James Ellroy

Finally Done: The Hilliker Curse by James Ellroy, 2010, 9780307593504

Well... Ellroy is even more fucked up than I realized.

Yes, you too may end up a psychological mess when your mother is raped, murdered, and dumped on the side of the road when you are only ten-years-old. Especially if you are then sent off to a shiftless, alcoholic father and receive little to no guidance on grief and life.

Ellroy's tales of women troubles. Starting out as a young peeping tom and underwear burglar. Then a  drug addict and all around creep. He gets cleaned up and employed as a caddy. Moves East and starts selling novels and marries the first time. He then self destructs a few times along the way from marriages in New York, Kansas City, and California.

This book started out fantastic. The writing was superb and Ellroy admits to everything and seems to know himself very well. But, I suppose that knowledge was earned only after all the screw-ups, dangerous infatuations and obsessions he has for different women. How his fervent and unreasonable demands for intimacy are all wrapped up in grief and loss for his mother. Ellroy goes into all sorts of explanations and reasoning for his behavior but as the years went by he kept doing it.

I am presuming that after writing his first autobio, My Dark Places, going through more and more trouble and writing this book allowed him some insight into his own behavior. After all, if your normal is craziness how do you know?

At book's end Ellroy is in a relationship with a woman he partly wooed away from her husband. Ellroy writes that the latest love infatuation already had a dead marriage.  I'll have to believe him only because the Ellroy's the only one talking. His behavior creeps me out and I don't see how she is falling for it. Ellroy has tons of charm and delightful gab. He is a great showman and has a good amount of intensity that bears out in those author photos of his stare melting a hole through the camera lens. I guess some chicks dig that rather than run.

He's obsessive. He's weird. His main hobby is to sit in the dark, listen to Beethoven, and think. 

I ran out of steam in the last 40 pages. He ends the novel in loving bliss with his latest woman but it just feels like one more trip around the block. I wore out. I'm not sure how he does not.

1. My wife and I went to a luncheon at the 1998 PLA conference in Kansas City. We were waiting in line at the book signing table and he told a person ahead of us that, "I write by longhand. That's why my right hand is bigger and stronger." My joke was, "Oh, that's why." I did not make the joke to him but I thought the gag was hilarious.
2. I enjoy sitting and thinking and listening to music. But, I do more than just that.

Comics Comp: "The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics" edited by Paul Gravett

Comics Comp: The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics edited by Paul Gravett, 2008, 9780762433940.

I see Mammoth Book of- and immediately think of Maxim Jakubowski and all the mystery compilations he edited. When I saw he published a novel, It's You That I Want To Kiss, in 1997 I bought it for my library and read it. I recall being disappointed in the book. I do recall the cover though. Solid colors and an image of a cut open fruit. Let me test that memory...  nope, I am wrong. That was a different color.

This book is a collection of comics from the 1930s to the pub date. Some neat stuff and a wide range of artwork. I finished reading this a while a back and don't recall much about any individual stories.

Dashiell Hammett's Secret Agent X-9 was well told and I like that kind of art.
An 87th Precinct story suffered from the poor artwork.
Neat to read a Ms. Tree comic after having heard about them for a while.

1. Regarding Ms. Tree and Max Alan Collins. Collins really stepped in it when trying to make a joke and really ticking off and offending a bunch of people. After reading his posts and commentary over the years I have a decent amount of faith that Collins is not a prick. That includes him not being any of the many despicable -ists that are out there. I was impressed and happy to see he soon realized his mistake and understood the effect his comment had.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Comic Book: "Rick and Morty Vs. Dungeons and Dragons" by Patrick Rothfuss and Jim Zub

Comic Book: Rick and Morty Vs. Dungeons and Dragons by Patrick Rothfuss and Jim Zub, 2019, 9781684054169

Morty thinks gamers get laid. So he goes to a game store, meets a hot girl who plays Dungeons and Dragons, and Morty lies about his gamer experience. Morty is invited to join Hot Girl's Saturday night D&D game. Since Morty figures he may have a chance with the girl he needs to learn all about the game.  Rick finds out Morty is into D&D, gets excited, invites Morty to join up.

Adventures ensue. Things go sideways. Dungeons. Dragons. Monsters. Spells. The entire family ends up in alternate world that is a D&D world.

Skip it if you are not a fan of the television program.

1. I like the artwork.
2. This is the only book by Rothfuss I have read. Where does that guy live? Eau Claire? Wausau? Stevens Point?

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Popular: "The Chain" by Adrian McKinty

More Sounds: The Chain by Adrian McKinty, 2019,

Don Winslow was praising McKinty to high heaven for the past few months. Winslow  enjoyed McKinty's work enough that he championed this last novel and McKinty scored a decent publishing deal that led to the bestseller list.  This was pretty a decent novel but almost nothing can match the kind of blurbs that McKinty received. I just don't rate this book that high.

Rachel is divorced, has a 15-year-old daughter named Kylie, and has been cancer free for one year. She is on her way to a follow up oncologist appointment when a woman calls to say Kylie has been kidnapped. After that call Rachel receives another call by a computer disguised voice representing the Chain. Rachel has to pay $25k and kidnap another child for Kylie to go free. If Rachel does not pay or kidnap another child then Kylie will be murdered.

The Chain requires the kidnap victims's families to have no association with police, reporters, or politicians. Everything is kept silent because the parents are forced into a violent crime and are under threat and the coercive force of The Chain. They can be recalled at any time to follow, investigate, or even murder people that The Chain wants information on.

The whole operation depends on The Chain as being practically omnipotent: we know who you are, what you do, who you talk to, where you go. Your entire family can be killed whenever we want.

Anyhoo. Rachel cannot tell her chatty ex-husband what is occurring, so on her own she starts scrambling to raise money and search social media for likely victims. Her former brother-in-law (and unemployed junkie Veteran) helps later on.

McKinty lays it thick on the idea that a parent will do anything for a child. And it is all believable. The Chain gives a timeline, clear threats, and people willing to carry out the threats. Of course everything turns out well in the end but you never know who may get killed off along the way.

1. Bitcoin love.
2. Many Gun Guy gripes on accuracy.
3. Old Volvo love.
4. Skip the novel if you cannot read about children being attacked, threatened, abused, etc. Those parts made me very uncomfortable. McKinty raised some surefire anger at the way the kids were treated and how the bad guy masterminds were sociopathic shits.

Crime Sounds: "Charcoal Joe" by Walter Mosely

Crime Sounds: Charcoal Joe by Walter Mosley, 2016, Wisconsin Digital Library download.

I keep putting James Ellroy's name in for Mosley. Mainly because I was simultaneously reading Ellroy's memoir and also because Mosley and Ellroy tread a lot of the same ground. Both writers mine 1950s and 60s Los Angeles and work with characters who are both noble and pragmatic. The characters know that crooks and big business run most of the world. Truth, justice, and honor are often a sham. But, Mosley's characters have the extra trouble of white people forcing black people under society's thumb.  Ellroy and Mosley do such a great job of character POV.

If you're unfamiliar with the series: Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins grew up in a rough part of Houston, served in the Army during WW2, and has lived in Los Angeles since the war. He's worked various jobs at aircraft factories. as a school custodian, and a landlord but the stories revolve around his job as an unlicensed PI who can work in the black neighborhoods that white people cannot.

I've been reading and listening to the Easy Rawlins series out of order. In fact it has been five years since I read any of the novels. Charcoal Joe is set in 1968 and Easy's older adopted son is now married and moved away. His teenage, adopted daughter Feather is in a private high school and Easy is ready to propose to his girlfriend. Things go bad of course. Easy's girlfriend decides to take up with an ex-boyfriend and Easy is gutted.

Mouse then shows up asking if Easy can take a PI job. I've always counted Mouse as one of the scariest characters in fiction but he does not show up much in this book. Mouse is an intermediary for a black gangster that he has has never heard of, which seems a bit far fetched knowing Easy's many past cases and contacts. But, Los Angeles is a big city.

Anyhoo. Big-time gangster Charcoal Joe wants Easy to help out a 22-year-old PhD who was arrested for murder. Things happen and easy has to track down the correct people, face off against killers, tamp down his anger, conquer his fears, so on, so forth.

I've not much to say. Easy is an interesting character as he navigates several worlds of black/white, rich/poor, and his love and family lives are always challenging him. There is sex, violence, and Easy almost gets even against the bad guys and brings some sort of justice against the people or parts of society hat almost always get away scott free.

1. .25 caliber love.
2. All men's suits are described by cut and color.
3. I want to stick an extra "e" in Mosley.
4. Mouse is one of Easy's few lifelong companions and Mouse is a psychopath. Easy has been alone since 8 years old. All his relationships have been made - there is no family. Hell, Mouse murdered his own father.

Hardcover: "Bull Mountain" by Brian Panowich

Hardcover: Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich, 2015, 9780425282281.

Rural crime novel set in modern Georgia. I enjoyed the book but I thought it went a little off the rails at the end.

The dust cover lists this as Panowich's first novel. There are some blink-and-miss'em characters that just don't add much to the story but are there just the same. I wonder if this is one of those first novels that started out bloated so the author had to cut the story back and kept some of his favorite characters somewhere in the story. Or, I don't know what I'm talking about.

Anyhoo. Clayton Burroughs married young and did not follow the family crime business. One day his wife mentioned how the long-lasting and crooked County Sheriff was retiring. "Maybe you should run for the office."  "Yeah," thinks Clayton, "Fuck it. Why not?" and Clayton wins election. Clayton gets elected because everyone rightly fears his family's last name. But Clayton, unlike Nixon, really is not a crook.

Clayton's family has been making and running moonshine, marijuana, and meth for a century or so. But, with Clayton turning into a decent Sheriff who follows in the law there has been a bit of a territorial truce between him and his family. Bull Mountain is a massive tract of land now ruled by Clayton's older brother, Halford. That brotherly relationship has never been strong, Halford is ten years older, and Clayton was disowned by the family when joining the police. Halford controls the mountain and Clayton patrols the valley and towns.

The peaceful balance has lasted for several years. Their father died under questionable circumstances, likely killed by Halford, and the middle brother was just killed in a raid by the Feds. Clayton has let the Mountain run itself and the Feds periodically come in trying to clean the mountain up. The Feds always fail and go home and harbor deep suspicions about Clayton's integrity and familial loyalty.

In rolls an ATF agent (or is he DEA?) with a deal for Clayton. ATF Guy says, "I've got a deal. I'm looking to bust some Florida bikers who traffic with your bro. You get your bro to roll on these biker trash and he'll get a free ride. Your brother can retire in peace with no one trying to swindle or murder him."

Clayton usually stays out of the Fed V. Halford disputes but the ATF Guy gives a unique pitch and seems sincere. Clayton has not spoken to his brother in years and his appearance and the middle brother's funeral is very uncomfortable. The brotherly discussion is not brotherly and events start rolling along.

Spoilers ahead.
So, I think the book was pretty decent. But, like mentioned above it feels like an abbreviatd family crime epic.
  • There are longish flashbacks to Clayton's murderous father, grandfather, and Halford's viciousness and ruthlessness. (When Clayton is about 10-years-old halford brings Clayton along as Halford goes to murder a moonshiner working without the family's permission and does so by burning the man to death.) 
  • Those extra characters have lifelong ties to Clayton but flit in and out. 
  • ATF Guy turns out to be the offspring of a young prostitute who was deformed after beaten and cut by the dad in the early '70s.
 Give it a shot if you enjoy rural crime stuff, which I do. Hell, the novel won or was nominated for several fancy awards.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Spook: "The Wrath of the Bloodeye" by Joseph Delaney

Spook: Wrath of the Bloodeye by Joseph Delaney, 2008, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

I continue to enjoy these narrations.

Another Spook novel featuring apprentice Tom Ward. Ward is apprenticed to his county's Spook who catches and traps witches, boggarts, and other things on the side of the Dark. Tom is 14 and lives with the Spook. Alice, born into a witch family, also lives with The Spook but the Spook is very suspicious of Alice. The Spook thinks Alice has spent too much time with witches and Dark magic and may be doomed to serve The Dark.

These Spook novels keep getting longer and the plots more complex. Violence is increasing as the danger to Tom increases. There are more decisions by the Spook about dealing with Alice and threats by the Spook to send her away or bind her in a pit. Ward and Alice do not a lovey-dovey relationship though Spook obviously sees that happening - or worries for it.

The Spook also continues to show his age little by little and he cannot as quickly recover from physical challenges. He also cannot provide the fight training that Thomas needs - especially since Thomas is marked a threat by the recently introduced The Fiend. So, Thomas is sent North for a six-month apprenticeship with grouchy drunk Bill Arkwright.

Arkwright lives by the coast and knows all about water witches and dealing with them. Arkwright's home is a old mill that is falling apart. His ghost mother and father live there since there suicide and accidental deaths years ago. Arkwright is an angry man and an angrier drunk. He doesn't want Thomas there and takes him on because of a debt to Spook.

Things happen as Thomas is on his own and struggling to deal with a drunken bully. There is action and witches and deadly threats. Delaney continues to tell a good story and I like the characters. More and conflict get introduced with deadly threats, worries over Alice, and Thomas growing into a teenager.

1. SPOILER. Alice is announced as The Fiend's human daughter. This was no surprise.
2. The Dark is not like The Dark Side of The Force. There is not a all encompassing presence that forces people. It's not quite like the Dark in Susan Cooper's series.
3. Susan Cooper is still alive at 84. I think she was married to a famous actor. Let me check... yeah, she was married to Hume Cronyn from 1996-2003. Jessica Tandy died in 1994 so I guess a two year break is socially acceptable before remarriage.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Heard: "Dead I May Well Be" by Adrian McKinty

Heard: Dead I May Well Be by Adrian McKinty, 2003, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

This past summer Don Winslow went on a long term Twitter fan boy rave for McKinty. I've enjoyed the McKinty novels but the latest and greatest novel, The Chain, was out and I took this one. This is an earlier novel and not as strong as his other work.

A crime novel to a prison novel to a revenge novel. Michael Forsythe had to leave Northern Ireland after getting kicked off the dole. He moved to New York to get a job with a distant relative. He's had a few jobs but now works as muscle for an America-Irish mobster nicknamed Darkey. Michael is 20-years-old, banging the boss's much younger girlfriend, not enjoying his work that much, an autodidact, and has a dishonorable British Army discharge because who the hell expects a mouthy 16-year-old to get along in the damn Army?

It's 1992 and Michael lives in a mob provided shithole apartment in Harlem. Michael is a friendly fella and gets along with most people. When a fellow strong-armer gets beat into the hospital another Irishman (actually from Ireland) crook gets the small crew together pledging revenge on the guy who did the beating. Michael and Co. bust into his apartment and give him a Northern Ireland (or IRA) six pack.: a bullet each to the ankles, knees and elbows.

Michael did some small time crime and IRA hanging-around before he joined the Army, but he is sickened by his participation in the shooting. But, Darkey is very very pleased that the young guys took the initiative to defend turf and reputation. Things go on and after honset-to-God shoot out Michael is praised again by Darkey. Michael is wary about Darkey, especially since Michael is porking Darkey's girlfriend Bridget. But everything seems okey-dokey and Michael and three others are sent on a job to Mexico.

The novel then takes a sharp turn into prison drama, Until this point the novel had been a standard "immigrant in the urban jungle". NYC crime rates in 1992 are through the roof. Michael hangs out with his Serbian building superintendent. Michael wants to make more money. Michael collects extortion and gambling payments. Michael does plenty of drinking with Irish crooks and meets women in bars. When four of the men are arrested for drug smuggling they have no trial and are stuck in dank Mexican Prison. Under horrible conditions a couple men die and Michael and a pal make a daring escape.

Only Michael survives the escape and somehow survives a hurricane and days and says of stumbling through a jungle in Southern Mexico. He pledges revenge on Darkey and Darkey's lieutenants and makes his way back to NYC after a lot of travel and an amputated foot.

Screw it. I'm not going to give any more plot rundown. The story is enjoyable but the split in the story from NYC to Mexico to NYC revenge be-bopped around too much. McKinty also has longer passages with Michael considering life, the universe, and the meaning of it all. I did not care for that stuff so much. But, with an audio book you can kinda zone out on the boring stuff.

I'd rate this novel as decent but recommend reading McKinty's later work like the Sean Duffy series which is much better.

1. I am fairly certain I've read or heard 2-3 of the Duffy novels but only see one in my notes.
2. this novel had me thinking of Cycle of Violence and Of Wee Sweetie Mice and Men by Colin Bateman. Irish crime novels with lots of humor. I read one or two more Bateman novels then could not find ones. I just checked and he published regularly for about 15 years. According to my magic internet box Bateman may have started TV or movie scripting and has not had a novel since 2014.

Hardcover: "The Dry" by Jane Harper

Hardcover: The Dry by Jane Harper, 2016, 9781250105608.

I read a blurb on this from someone and tried the book out. This is well, well above average. Some excellent writing, pacing, and characters. The sense of place was not as strong as I was hoping for - rural farm town in Australia - but still quite enjoyable. Besides, no matter what Harper may have written about the land I will also think of the two lane blacktop and wheat fields of Mad Max.

Aaron Falk is a federal cop living in Melbourne who investigates financial crimes. He is about 36 years old and has not been back to his hometown in 20 years. We find out why Falk and his single dad left town before Falk graduated high school and, I must see, Harper does an excellent job telling the story. Harper did not tease things out too long for a Big Shocker Reveal! at the end. We already know a girl was killed and Falk fled forever. Harper as much focus on the contemporary crime and Falk's assistance with a sub rosa investigation.

Anyhoo. Here are more details. Falk's best pal from high school has been murdered in his farmhouse along with his wife and ten-year-old son. The family's infant daughter was spared. The dead man's father calls Falk up and demands Falk show to the funeral with a threat of "I know he lied for you."

Falk drives the several hours to town. The dead man's parents want Falk to look into things. After all Falk was on TV for taking down that investment crook, right? Falk makes friends with the local cop (one of only two) and helps ask around, snoops the crime scene, so on, so forth.

The police procedural plot moves alongside Falk's memories of former neighbors, the same neighbors who accused him of murdering a friend who was found drowned in a river with her pockets filled with rocks. Falk and his father left town in disgrace.

Falk has a few mixed feelings about most townspeople but does sport a boner for a hot chick and former pal. After his unpleasant hometown experience and his father's death Falk has crated no lasting romances or close friendships over the past 15 years. He does well at work but his last long-term girlfriend left him when he seemed like an empty suit. Falk sure doesn't want to stick around - he was hoping to leave immediately after the funeral. But, the dead mate's mother was often a surrogate mom to motherless Falk. A hug from her is a reminder of everything lacking for 30+ years. He wants to say yes to her and he wants to avoid the trouble the dead mate's dad threatens.

Give it a try. Really good stuff.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Crime Audio: "The Force" by Don Winslow

Crime Audio: The Force by Don Winslow, 2017, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

You've read it before: Noble cop goes crooked and tries to redeems himself. But, Winslow writes very well and spins a great tale.

Denny Malone is from a Irish cop family on Staten Island. His firefighter brother was killed on 9/11.  Since that death and some work related issues Denny had been devoted to work. He is separated from his Staten Island wife and rarely sees his two children who live with the wife. Denny now hates Long Island and spends all his time working in Manhattan and boinking his new live-in girlfriend. He is addicted to the excitement of Manhattan and busting crooks and being on a task force that admits 0.001% of NYPD cops. 

The task for is The Force or Da Force. They are known across the city and the island. That fame transcends daily life of cops and robbers. Da Force makes the papers and the TV news. Da Force gets into any restaurant and is comped free drinks. Da Force has juice and power.

Denny is a famous cop on a famous task force and Denny has been on the take for years. He works for and with organized crime, street gangs, carries bribes from defense attorneys to prosecutors, bribes to city politicians, and more. One night Denny gets grabbed by the Feds after a payoff the Feds start squeezing and squeezing. Denny is facing prison but refuses to talk about fellow cops.

Hell, Denny has worked with informants for 20 years, "I can turn this my way. Those stupid Feds don't know shit about real police work. I'll never turn snitch." Denny is wrong of course. Denny gets panic attacks. Denny says he will never snitch on fellow Officers but is slowly crunched by the feds and circumstance.

Throughout it all Winslow does not try and give a full bottom to top view of the various power structures in New York City. We get a sample of corruption's reach as Denny interacts with other corrupt - and rapist and murderous - Officers, on-the-take TV reverends, mobsters, so on, so forth. Denny knows who is on the take but the strict power hierarchy means he can only exert control on those below him. He cannot make demands or threats on those above, those people have too much power and can toss him to the wolves.

The whole corrupt set-up is depressing to read about. A crime victim is rolling the dice calling 911. If the perpetrator is connected the victim may be told to skip it or shut up. Or, if a fairly honest cop takes the case another cop may lose the evidence or pay off the prosecutor or judge. Sure things are periodically cleaned up but it all surges back. The structure is built to protect itself. The crooks at the top only let other crooks advance - you cannot promote a do-gooder who will investigate your rackets. Cops can either share the money or shut up. The PD is built on trust and loyalty and everyone learns that informing on another cop - even one who also works as a hired killer or gun runner - is forbidden and means ostracization from all your friends and most of your family.

Anyhoo. Denny is a very angry man. Angry about his dead firefighter brother. Angry at a drug kingpin who had an entire family murdered. Angry at people who do not realize the wave of violence he and other cops push back against. 

Denny is not a hero. He lies all the time. He murdered heroin dealers and kept 50kg of heroin to sell later. He accepts the gun running cop's plan to sell arms to fuel a upcoming gang war. Denny is 60% cop and 40% mobster. And the cops are mobsters, they are just a different type than the goombas.

The story moves on and Winslow arcs the tale to a conventional finish. Very entertaining. Winslow is always excellent at incorporating current events and issues into his fiction. 

Electronic: "Brainquake" by Samuel Fuller

Electronic: Brainquake by Samuel Fuller, 1993 (French) and 2014 (English), downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Charles Ardai has a intro or afterword about this novel and how it came to Hard Case Crime. Fuller wrote regularly during his lifetime and published this when living in France. Someone found the English original and Ardai published it.

The story of Samuel Fuller as an experienced Hollywood director leaving a poor job market in California and living in France is more interesting than the novel itself. The book keeps moving along and I mostly enjoyed it but the concept is a bit goofy and, in retrospect, the whole damn story went all over.

Set in the early '90s and starting out in NYC where Paul Page is a bagman for the mob and is a full-time cypher. That is how he is described, as a cypher. He has no facial expression and can barely speak. From that point there is plenty of exposition about how bagman must be inscrutable and faceless. They are not allowed any other jobs, no booze, no pills, no romantic relationships. The bagmen have a garage of vehicles and disguises and courier millions of dollars to a final destination.

Paul has mental and behavioral issues of some sort. Issues which are never adequately explained by Fuller and include his "brainquakes". The brainquakes are a kind of seizure that includes vivid visual hallucinations that Paul reacts against. These hallucinations are violent and Paul violently reacts to defend himself or imagined others. No doctors have found a cure or treatment for Paul and his condition will likely be fatal. Basically, Fuller's concept of a brainquake is a load of horseshit.

Anyhoo. The highly reclusive Paul has no friends or family and has speech difficulties as well. But, he still falls hard for a 20-year-old he calls Pretty Face (or something equally inane) he sees walking in Central Park. After a bit of stalking Paul is sitting on a park bench as Pretty Face is pushing her newborn's stroller and walking with a guy who suddenly drops dead of a gunshot. Fuller then proceeds to complicate everything. You see there was a gun and bomb hidden under the infant and set to go off when the boy pulled his favorite toy hanging from a mobile. The police show up, a crowd forms, Pretty Face is in a tizzy.

If the complication of a gun, bomb, elaborate mechanism to fire the gun, and a pressure plate to set off the bomb wasn't enough there is the secret boyfriend who wants Pretty Face for himself. He set-up the entire weird-ass murder scheme and figures to get some dough as well. Never mind the killer's brother getting involved.  And then Paul sending Pretty a daily dose of flowers and poems. And Paul's Boss of Bagmen and her deaf adult daughter with their own too-long back story. And that other bagmen getting robbed and killed. And the mob wants to find the mole working with the robbers. And the famous NYPD Detective investigating the baby carriage case. And so on. And so forth. And other muddied waters.

Then, after we get through all these NYC shenanigans - which should have just been the damn novel on it's own - Paul and Pretty Face and Pretty's infant fly to France and are pursued by a Mob hitman and Pretty's secret boyfriend. Along the way Paul has new brainquakes and fears that every next quake will kill him. Pretty is stringing Paul along while planning to kill him. Blah, blah, blah.

Everything sorta makes sense if you're like me and willing to suspend A LOT of disbelief. And, as I wrote above, the story does keep moving along. Too bad Fuller seems to have jammed two novels together with NYC Crime Story and Paris on the Lam with Femme Fatale dovetailed together.

Once in France I thought the story got more interesting. Try it if you like, but only if you have my same low standards.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Long NonFic Audio: "Vietnam" by Max Hastings

Long NonFic Audio: Vietnam: an epic tragedy, 1945-1975 by Max Hastings, 2018, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

I read or heard a history of the Pacific campaign a few years ago but cannot find any notes here. I was for sure that Hastings wrote that book but his pub list says, "No."

This is a neat read and oftentimes a major bummer. 30 years of awful government by the French, the South, the North, and the unified country. Lots of death, crime, war casualties, murders, thievery, and grief.

I took notes throughout my listen. These are things that struck me at the time or reminded me of things I had forgotten. The notes are only slightly cleaned up. Read it if you like.
Ho lived life as a International Man of Adventure (low rent version) until he returned to Vietnam. The guy traveled everywhere. HO was fighting the French were complete murderous bastards. Atkinson points out French massacres and long-term, murderous repressions against people in Algeria and Madagascar. Events that would have been big news but for happening after the meat grinder of WWII.

Dien Bien Phu was amassive clusterfuck. No political leadership and the French massively outnumbered and surrounded by hills. French resupply pilots were under threat and showed a real lack of interest - let alone bravery in flying in to resupply. What's more, the French were running out of planes. Supply drops would be done at too high an altitude and supplies would float down into Vietminh territory. At the end the French had about 1,000 casualties in Dien Bien Phu's shrunken perimeter. About 1,000 French deserters survived in the forest outside the French camp scrounging supplies from missed parachute drops.

Plenty of men kept volunteering to parachute into Dien Bien Phu as reinforcements. But, the troops there had revolts, no food, constant shelling, nighttime infantry attacks, and mud. A miserable place to be with no chance of escape or withdrawal.

After the French surrender only one quarter of the missing and captured French forces survived captivity. Of course Ho and general Giap were entirely willing to sacrifice their own people who were starving and diseased at the same time. Ho and Giap were real bastards.

Atkinson points out that at time of writing (2015-ish) the North has never provided figures for all their losses in the '50s. Dien Bien Phu was likely several thousand Vietminh but there is little clue as to how many were killed and imprisoned afterwards. Or starved to death.

After the insurrection against the French ended the communists did the usual communist thing: send people to "reeducation" camps, murder others, imprison some more. Ration cards were denied to anyone whose family might have been middle class.

Family separations nationwide. Communist cadres and soldiers in the South were told to go North. About 10,000 Vietminh stayed in the South to fight if the political resolution failed. French and Vietnamese anti-communists continued to fight on in North Vietnam for a couple years without resupply or support. Atkinson relates a radio communication by a Frenchman pleading for assistance (a desperate need for ammunition) before they were overrun.

The South's dictator ran it as a family organization and the U.S. was pumping in millions of dollars to keep the country afloat. Of course corruption soaked up a lot of the money. One US official said the US should just pay North Vietnam 500 million bucks as "rebuilding funds" if they promised to butt out of the South. Pay off the enemy and call it quits.

Both governments in South and North were "cruel and incompetent".
Laos was the lead news item over Vietnam in late '50s and early 1960s. Big country with few people. Then North Vietnam essentially invaded to use it as a highway. Laotian culture described as friendly and enjoyed dick jokes, "priapic humor."

War in South Vietnam was waged by locals. Southern insurgency was not fed by North until later. The initial fighting was at the point where a massive American intervention was feared. Which proved right of course, because we killed tons of people. But, the North and their Chinese and Soviet supporters wanted to avoid drawing US power directly into the mix.

Conditions in the North produced revolt. Protests, bombs, etc. But the North killed their way to submission. People were resigned to the governments power. Mentioned in the introduction is how plenty of people in the North wanted the war to end - same as the US - but good luck getting any traction, and certainly no public protests and press would be allowed.

From '60 to '63 there were thousands of assassinations by the VC. They had no weaponry to fight up front. Weapons were all captured, mostly, from ARVN. Assassinations were easier. The number of assassinations dropped because local guys who were accessible and vulnerable were already killed. There was no one to take over the jobs and provincial or national leaders were safer. the national gov unable to reach out and provide any services. Locals could not depend or rely on any government services because the workers were not there. The communists relied on brutality with public murders and executions. 

Hastings says how it was unique at those early stages where "America can do no wrong". My response: What about early mid '90s with American power at an apex? The whole "World's 911" philosophy where we rush in to rescue everyone else?

Planning was always flawed in that the US was also pushing to prepare for invasion from the North like what happened in Korea. The usual error of a military always fighting the last war. But war in the South was always an insurgency. The North did not started shipping weapons to the South until 64 (63?). Most of those came by small boats into the Delta region.

ARVN had lots of trouble. Draftees were sent to areas that they had no connection to. Vietnam society is heavily based on families. Family more important than a national pride. And not much pride in a government of assholes. Troops would have 5 to 6 weeks of training then sent out. No there was no way out of the army, "out of green", except death or a wheelchair.  In all 3 countries the rich escaped the draft.

Mention throughout the book of John Paul Vann and details of a battle he was advising. The battle became famous and Vann became famous but the defeat itself was not as awful as other battles. The problem was that the battle was witnessed by foreign journalist who told the tale. After the failed battle a fake, 2nd assault was planned by teh ARVN as a show. The VC had already left. A prepatory artillery bombardment of 50 some shells landed on the ARVN position. The ARVN infantry commander pulled a pistol and murdered the forward observer who called in the artillery.

Tonkin Gulf. The result of electronic phantoms shooting that were assumed to be attacking a US ship. This came after alerts from 4 North Vietnamese patrol and torpedo boats who fired on a destroyer doing signals intercept. Te Navy launched airstrikes even though an attack was still in question and called in as such. Captured signals traffic from the North Vietnamese discussing a battle was the North's Navy  referring to events of two days ago. The US Navy ignored and suppressed evidence to contrary. There was confirmed evidence in 1990 of a Northern politburo member urging the initial attack.

The US Navy's post-Tonkin attacks were seen by people in the North as unprovoked. The bombings united the North against the US. Other results included the 1st pilot shot down and captured who then spent 8 years in captivity. The North also decided to send an NVA unit South. Chinese starting shipping modern rifles, machine guns, RPGs, and more. Several Mig 17 planes arrived. The Tonkin resolution was not too big a thing at the time "only when the administration's" lies came out was it recognized as important.

Johnson start to accelerate the war once the 1964 election ended. The US started bombing supply trails in Laos.  The South was plagued by multiple coups. Coups became a normal thing for civilians. US had discussions about the ARVN invading the North but the ARVN would have failed miserably because they were incapable. The US was always trying to get other countries involved and tried to get the UK involved. There could "spend a billion dollars" and not get the boost that one British battallion would provide.The US needed the political coup of a new partner, not the military dudes to fight. 

Mention how no one thought to tell the South Vietnamese government that the Marines were going to land in Danang in 1965. In turn there were thousands of Chinese and Russian advisors worked in the North but they stayed quiet, did not go South, and had no free press to talk about it.

During those middle years of the decade the South had many political and physical battles against Buddhists that included mass murder and imprisonment.

There was an industry to defend and promote US involvement. A Rand researcher spent '64 to '66 in Vietnam and his arguments, "research" on VCR morale, and fervent personal anti communism were a primary reason US air attacks kept up. Even after appalling civilian casualties. The rand researcher was "arguably deranged". When he was asked what the solution to the war was responded "when the Air Force pays the bill the only answer is: air power"

Some neat history about the US air wars into the North and the bombing campaign of '66. The US clobbered NVA planes and pilots. But, B52 missions with had WW2 level accuracy due to ack ack.  All the promises and threats of bombing into Vietnam and Laos into the rock age but those countries already were already there. Bombers aimed for Northern oil facilities when industries there still ran on coal and wood.

Chapter on air campaign very interesting. Daily process of wake, prep flight, and go. Navy missions often were just 90 minutes long. A short trip over the ocean, over land to the target, and back again. And bombing missions would involve multiple aircraft: fighters, bombers, fuel tankers, helicopters..

The fantasy of winning war through bombing continued throughout. Gen Lemay went to his grave saying unlimited bombing would have won. The modern AF still gives same argument. Kosovo was an air war only but Iraq and Afghanistan threats were ground fire and no AA or enemy planes.

For all the bombing of the North and all the news it received the South was clobbered even more. More tons of munitions and more bombing runs. The North was energized by the bombing the same as the UK under the Blitz. The population strived to win against enemy attacks.

There were frequent peace overtures and Hastings says it was "absurd" to believe everyone in the North embraced the fight. Hastings writes about civilian life in the North and a quote that, "It was a terrible time. We had no happiness". Life in the North meant hunger and no pet was safe. Rat meat was common.

North's defensive measures of surface-to-air missiles (SAM).  Hastings uses the usual description of the missiles that look like "a telephone pole with stubby wings". The missiles carried a 350lbs warhead that was lethal within 100 yards. Electronic countermeasure (ECM) improvements meant safer evasion as the war went on. The North got more and more missiles but the kill ration of missiles per shoot down went in the US's favor. I had notes on the missile to shoot-down ratio but lost'em.

No such thing as precision bombing when having to fly fast and low and sudden sharp turns to avoid enemy fire. Bombs kept falling way off target. In the US the Right would not recognize the errors and deaths. The Left would not recognize the North's propaganda and lies or the North's  allegiance to Lenin and Mao style of governance. People would reject the lies of the US Army and White House but fall for the lies from the North. [Hey, man. I know the feeling. I fell hook, line and sinker about Saddam and weapons of mass destruction.I thought people would be tripping over mustard gas shells in the Iraqi deserts for the next 30 years.]

The US had trouble identifying targets and even when ID'ing a target the planes would still miss. "Reasonable accuracy" to USAF would lead to civilian casualties. It's not easy to pilot a plane at high speed through enemy gunfire but that standard of accuracy charts a radius that reaches out into civilian areas. Hastings compares Japan bombing vs Vietnam bombing. Plenty of dead in both wars.

ARVN were horribly underpaid. The country had massive inflation and military pay never kept up. Many soldiers had to work part time jobs or were unable to feed themselves or their family. And draftees had no end date. No DEROS for them, they served until the end of the war or the end of life or limb.

Hastings talks about the reverse bizarre victory of Tet. Any other leader who ran the attack plan that the North came up with would have been shitcanned. Totalitarian North Vietnam meant Tet's mastermind stayed in place. The Southern forces were clobbered to nothing during Tet.

More talk on the secretive North that hid their awfulness.

AR15/M16 talk misses a few points I already know about. The problem with Hastings or any historian covering 30 years and the history of a few million people necessitates things will be missed. That details can be misleading without clarification. It's like anything else - historians make mistakes and have blindness.

Hastings rips freely on North and South and the US's Left and Right. I am definitely more of a lefty but even thought I was born in 1971 I take needless offense at his digs on the left for not seeing the North for what they were. Hastings says how well the North hid their true nature in the press.

The press and media during and after Tet were hunting headlines and left little analysis in the stories. But, why should the press have had any trust in MACV when MACV made shit up? A story about Westmoreland bitching about Marines in Hue when the military leadership asked the impossible like "take 200 guys and travel 11 miles across unknown terrain and enemy and get there in a half a day."

The North's mass murders in Hue. "Your name is the list so you die". Children and entire families were murdered by the VC. Bay Lop (his code name) was the man shot by a South Vietnamese Officer with a .38 in the famous photoo. Lop had just murdered family of 8.

Post-Tet meant many dead VC. The Delta area went from strong point to ghost town. Survivors were hiding out. Regular small boat supplies not getting through and safe areas were no longer safe.

The US strategy by statistics. Same in Iraq a few years ago.

The "Secret peace plan" campaign promise by Nixon. Hastings takes it real easy over Nixon's pre-election meddling in peace talks and his campaign's communication with the North. Hell, Hastings pretty much skipped right over it. Watch Ken Burn's Vietnam documentary if you want to boil your blood

Support for Nixon versus ending the war. Massive support of for Lieutenant Calley even after he was convicted of murder. Calley one had 42 months confinement to quarters and his higher officers got off scott free. Calley's Captain was acquitted. There was a "culture of casual murder" in some parts of the US Army. Killings and casual murders were normal. It brings back.importance of discipline and rules. Shaving and ironing and polishing are enforced to maintain discipline and maintain civilized behavior. I have KILL ANYTHING THAT MOVES  by Nick Turse in the library and that is all about civilian killings. I should read that.

The US Army falling apart starting in '69. I read a memoir by a soldier in an armor unit whose time straddled 91968. He saw the complete trun from soldiering to fucking around. Soldiers who did earlier tours came back to Vietnam with "what the fuck?!" response. Lots of marijuana usage. And heroin usage. And as always booze guzzling.

Fragging trouble of killing superior officers and noncoms started. Racial trouble included a riot a month. Poor discipline with drug use while on patrol. Many draftees with zero motivation.
Hastings at times rips some of the press as voyeurs and tourists. That some pressmen were career builders. Hell the Army encouraged that kind of work in the officer corps. Officers needed a combat assignment to advance so they'd serve in a combat unit for six months or so and then leave.

There is a section on Australian and New Zealand troops who were very well regarded and not as trigger happy as Americans and ARVN. ANZAC methods were different where field craft skills and silent movement were prioritized and much better than Americans. The smaller numbers of the ANZAC contingent meant they were able to only take soldiers who wanted to go to Vietnam. Australia had a collection of foreign enlistments. One British soldier wrote to South Africa, Rhodesia, and Australia special forces units saying "I am a trained killer, do you have a job?" He had positive response from all but Australia sent a plane ticket and off he went.

ANZAC did not have big body counts but their numbers were not inflated either. US Army was not always happy with ANZAC tactical methods and statistics.

Uncle Ho's "ruthlessness was absolute" and had been since the '54 takeover.

ARVN 4th largest army in world during the war.

A famous firebase attack and slaughter of American and ARVN troops who refused to build strong defenses or work guard duty or take things seriously at all. You may hate to be there but you can still be killed.

Nixon's famous trip to China meant Nixon also learned that China would not interfere on behalf of the North. Nixon admin's reaction was "Bombs away."

After the US withdrawal the North's invasion of the South was stumbling at times and had massive massive losses. 20% survival some North units. They did not know how to fight a conventional war. One tank attack on a city had huge losses. They seemed to think the tank's were invincable and could scare everyone. Instead the tanks entered the city and and were clobbered in the streets by infantry. One North attack was held back by FAC of Army and Marines. John Paul Vann alone scared up 300 B52 airstrikes as her flew around in a spotter plane.

1972's wheeling and  dealing before the election and reminders of Nixon's 1968 secret peace plan. Lies, coercion and promises. The US's betrayal of Saigon was rationalized. Same as the US just did to the Kurds. I saw plenty of parallel to current events as I listened to this. US negotiations with North did not involve South which is similar to negotiations with the Taliban that excluded  Afghanistan.

Nixon's bombing campaigns and strategy were partly driven by "how dare you not follow what I say" when the North did not agree.

Linebacker 2, 1972's Christmas bombing campaign, was an attack on morale. I read a book by a former POW who claimed the bombings freed them. NVA missile and AAA defense morale crumbled. The soldiers were up all night and living under big stress.

A fair primer on the B52. A difficult plane to fly and requiring muscle for unpowered controls. Fliers were revolting during the late bombing campaign. A General came for a morale visit to a B52 base in Thailand and brought his family. The General addressed pilots and when talking about strain of deployment on marriage aged "some not meant to last" when he himself brought his own family. Air Force Officers were shouting at the General and things were thrown at him.

White House transcripts have Kissinger saying "bullshit" of WH claims the Paris Accords were reached by Christmas bombing. 64% approval though.
21,000 dead since Nixon;s reelection and his claim of a secret plan to win the war: same as fuckface Trump.

Aftermath: Life in unified Vietnam for ARVN survivors meant prison, no civil rights, no jobs . All Officers went to prison. No freedom of speech. The North ran a controlled economy that led to a famine.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Paperback Western: "Wrath of the Savage" by Charles G. West

Paperback Western: Wrath of the Savage by Charles G. West, 2014, 9780451468192.

A throwback Western where the Native Americans are mostly bad and the white people mostly good. I decided to read this as a novel that is firmly stuck in it's 1876 setting on the far Western frontier of Wyoming and Montana. There is a guerrilla war ranging and raging across thousands of square miles. Some tribes are actively fighting the US Army and others are just trying to get by. Same goes with the white people moving in. Having the Native Americans as savages is sensible for the main characters but not for us.

Second Lieutenant Bret Hollister is a recent West Point graduate who arrives at his newly assigned prairie Fort shortly after the Little Big Horn. Hollister helped clean up the bodies at the battlefield but his unit has been left at post while other units pursue the Lakotas and Cheyenne. Holister is a hard charger. He is assigned a short patrol to investigate the recent burning of several white homesteads. While on patrol he discovers that two women were kidnapped by the Native American who burned the farms. In the process of searching for the raiders his men are ambushed at night. The next morning Hollister and the recently hired civilian guide go after the women and the lone cavalry survivor is tasked with returning the cavalrymen's bodies and reporting back at the Fort.

Well, things don't go well. The surviving Trooper runs into a deserter and the two concoct a story about Hollister being a coward and running off. When Hollister and the guide end their search and return to the Fort Hollister is court martialed and kicked out of the Army. Bummer, Hollister. You've spent your life as an Army brat, four years at West Point, and are now set adrift. What will you do? "Well, might as well continue searching for the two women."

Things happen. Hollister teams up with the civilian guide again. They rescue one woman. Break away to recover. Go back for the second woman. Sneak away once more. Are pursued by a vengeful Native American. Have a couple more gunfights. Live happily ever after.

The troublesome parts of this novel are some of those standard Western motifs: Savages who raid, kidnap, rape and murder. Hell, the title is a bit of a tip off, isn't it? Kidnapping and rape of white people is well documented. But, having Native Americans as the default bad guys just doesn't sit well as people - meaning me - have come to understand a balance of what was happening on the frontiers.

Anyway. My decision to take this as the characters being a firm a part of their time got me through the novel. They battle both sides as the Army betrays Hollister and Hollister's main opponents are a couple vain and puffed-up Native Americans who their own tribes don't even want around.

Hollister and Co. don't hate the tribes. West doesn't have portray the tribes as bloodthirsty primitives. But, I felt some real discomfort reading this. Striking a balance between period and modern ain't easy. Heck, I had typed "Indian" throughout this text and changed it to Native American because I'm feeling Indian is either offensive or just kinda dick-ish to use. If I was paying attention I could use the character names or tribes but I don't remember those things.

Audio: "Ways to Hide in Winter" by Sarah St. Vincent

Audio: Ways to Hide in Winter by Sarah St. Vincent, 2018, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Short: 25-year-old single woman living in rural Pennsylvania meets an undocumented alien and battles ennui, pill popping, and her self-image.

I am split on this novel. I enjoyed the book enough but not much happens. I don't even remember the ending all that well. Maybe if I looked up some book club discussion questions I'd be clued in to some important plot points or character development that I missed. Or not. Generally not my cup of tea. But, I kept involved in the story and wanted to know what was going to happen.

Kathleen was horribly injured in a car wreck that killed her husband about three years ago and is now hooked on pain pills. She works for low wages at a general store off the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania. She lives with her ill grandmother, is distant from her hard drinking parents, her brother has been in the Army and communicates rarely. She has one friend from high school and college. That friend has a young son and a deployed soldier husband and lives with family. Basically, Kathleen is lonely, her ill grandmother requires care, ashamed of her lingering scars and dragging leg, and mentally adrift.

One day a strange guy shows up at the store asking about the hiker's hostel across the street.. Winter is coming and the hikers are gone but Kathleen opens the hostel for the man and gets him a room. The keeps sticking around town. He has no luggage, little cash, and a Russian-like accent. Kathleen gets to be friends with the guy.

Internal things happen. We spend all our time inside Kathleen's head and she slowly reveals the cause of her injuries and limp. Why she avoids her former in-laws. What her marriage was like. Why she is estranged from her parents. So on. So forth.

Along the way there is talk about the former World War Two era POW camp outside town. Local history of an Underground Railroad way station. A painted sign that marks the location of Depression era children who were left to die. Kathleen has her pill addiction and the meds give her a break from life. Wait a minute. I sense a theme of despair and abandonment. A feeling that is incorporated into most everything Kathleen does.

Anyhoo. Kathleen comes to some realizations. Kathleen discovers she has been conned. Kathleen goes through with her plan to escape her present and past by leaving town.


St. Vincent gives a slow reveal of the cause of Kathleen's injuries and her brutal and dead husband. You get to know Kathleen more and more as the story goes and the slow betrayal of her husband and his increasing violence has more impact.

Kathleen knows she is hiding out. But, after hooking up with the husband when she was just 15-or-so she had not had much opportunity in life. She went to college but was still tied back to the town where he continued to live and work as a mason. His behavior and mental state deteriorated and she ended up a captive in their house. Her attempts to escape included a trip to the family pastor who counseled her to accept her husband's frailties and work on the marriage. The pastor then called the husband who took her home and locked her in the garage for three days without food or water.