Thursday, August 22, 2019

Re-Listen: "A Walk In The Woods" by Bill Bryson

Re-Listen: A Walk in the Woods: rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson, 1998, some download my wife got.

I heard this again on the drive out to KS for summer vacation. This may be my third time to listen to it, actually.

Anyhoo, here is the skinny: Bryson is living in Vermont (New Hampshire?) and back behind his rear yard is the trail. He gets a yearning to make the hike. He cannot recruit anyone to go with him - he even tries all his old high school pals in Iowa. One IA guy calls him and comes along. Things happen and Bryson sticks in plenty of information about the history of: the Trail, National Park Service, urban sprawl, bear attacks, crime on the Trail, so on, so forth.

The book is 21 years old but not much has changed I suppose. Maybe some more sprawl. I am four years older than Bryson when he did this walk and really cannot see the big deal his wife seems to have made of it. Sure, the hike is a big undertaking requiring planning and decent gear but as long as you prep for the hike and do some multi-day prehikes to shake out your gear and get in shape is not the huge, dangerous adventure it sometimes comes out as.

Most trail trouble comes from Bryson's hiking companion, Katz. Bryson writes much of the story about Katz because he is quite the character. For instance: Katz shows up for the hike overweight, in poor fitness, and with way too much weight in gear. There are at least two instances where Bryson writes about Katz getting fed up with all the extra crap Katz brought and chucking half the stuff off a cliff.

----Which reminds me: in Yellowstone we only did a one night back country hike. They provide bear bag poles with a cross beam running between two trees. Our campsite's bear pole was next to some boulders. I walked behind the boulders to dig a hole and relieve myself and found a bunch of uneaten food scattered around. There was no evident bear claw marks or slobber so I figured someone didn't want to haul there full jar of peanut butter around. That is an asshole move because I ended up having to pack their garbage out for them.------

Katz comes off much worse in the film version. Being portrayed by a bloated, red-faced Nick Nolte is nothing to be happy about. I only just now discovered that Katz is a pseudonym for Matt Angerer who was still alive in 2015, but less one leg after a medical amputation. That sounds about right as Bryson wrote about Katz.
https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/movies/2015/09/01/bill-brysons-stephen-katz/71494350/

Faust: "The Killing Joke" by Christa Faust and Gary Phillips

Faust: The Killing Joke by Christa Faust and Gary Phillips, 2018, 9781785658105.

Faust and Phillips team up again for a novelization based on a Batman comic set in 1988. Plenty of characters and brief storylines and arcs. I read this book in bits and pieces because of vacation travel and therefore was unable to keep track of all the characters.

Pretty damn good though. This is the kind of novel that, to me, seems simple because I just cruise along through it. I don't realize how skillful the authors are in pacing and smooth writing until I actively think on it.

Written in 3rd person and, interestingly, their is not a lot of POV by Batman and none by the Joker. The Batman parts I recall were action and trying to get Joker to talk when Batman visits Joker in Arkham Asylum. There is isn't much internal monologue about what he does and why.

The other characters do get some of that 1st person development. Mainly Commissioner Gordon, Batgirl, and a couple other characters I don't recall.

Anyhoo. I enjoyed the book but must admit not much has stuck with me. Maybe that is a part of having read the book in bits and pieces. Maybe it is a part of the fact that I don't much give a damn about Batman. I read the book because Faust and Phillips wrote it.

Wait. I do recall something. This has some origin of Harley Quinn - a character I know next to nothing about except she always wears hot pants and pale makeup. I also learned Batgirl is Commissioner Gordon's daughter.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Ebook: "The Legend of Caleb York" by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

Ebook: The Legend of Caleb York by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins, 2015, Wisconsin Digital Library download.

Besides working on adapting a few Mike Hammer films Spillane also did some Hollywood scripting. He was pals with John Wayne and Wayne hired Spillane to develop/write a western for Wayne's production company. The project never got going and Wayne's company went out of business. So, Collins wrote a novelization.

This is a straightforward western with some Hollywood style schmaltz in it. Bad guy Sheriff Gauge is either buying or forcing out the local ranchers. Gauge is a long time crook and gunfighter who forced is way into the Sheriff job when the local Madam recruited the crook to the job. Gauge brought along his gang, made them Deputies, and uses those men to kill locals who get in the way. Gauge himself is a skilled and fast gunfighter. He and the Madam have a thing going and Gauge has made himself a silent partner in most local businesses.

This is not enough for Gauge though. A larger local ranch run by Cullen and his daughter Willa is a hold out. Gauge wants that ranch. Gauge wants that woman. Gauge is patient and plotting but he's also killing his way to success.

Old Man Cullen, blind, proud, and cantankerous, has enough of gauge's foul deeds after one of his ranch hands is shot down by the law for the crime of working for Cullen. Of course Gauge is Sheriff and can use any number of  spurious reasons to justify the killing. Besides, all the locals are too scared to confront or oppose Gauge and the state government says, "He's the Sheriff, what are talking about? Vote him out.".  After the ranch hand's funeral Cullen makes his to the telegraph office and sends a message to an old business partner that the partner should cable famed gunfighter Caleb York and offer $10,000 to get rid of Gauge by any means.

Well, Gauge finds out about the telegram and the ball starts rolling. There is shooting. There is sexy sexy sexing. There is brutal conniving. There is cold blooded killing. There is an oddly chaste romantic longing side-by-side of characters while they perform the sexy sexy sexing with other characters.

In short: a guy comes to town a day or so later and immediately beats up and subsequently shoots down two Deputies. Is he York? Could York get here that fast? If he isn't York then who the hell is he? Will Cullen's plan to drive Cullen under succeed?

Ranching Willa wants more say but she is a woman. The Madam wants more from Gauge than sex and business but Gauge is just using and abusing her. The Stranger keeps getting involved in local business but doesn't really want to.

A quick-ish read. The violence and sex match Spillane's style. Collins doesn't shy from that sex and violence and presents a western that is more '70s than '50s, and more Peckinpah than Ford. There are no cut aways as characters kiss and there is plenty of blood and cruel violence.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Audio True Crime: "Sex Slave Murders" by R. Barri Flowers

Audio True Crime: Sex Slave Murders: the true story of serial killers Charlene and Gerald Gallego by R. Barri Flowers, 2012 (for this audio version), downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

This book seems to have had several printings and editions. I will not try and track those editions and dates down but a few references in the text mention updates to the story. I categorize this as Supermarket True Crime. The paperback you find on a spinner,printed on acidic paper, and with a lurid cover and description.

Flowers loves to use the phrase "sex slave" over and over again when writing about the Gallegos's crimes. To me "sex slave" sounds like a sounds more "sex games" or "let's get kinky". As if Flowers is trying to titillate the reader before revealing sex life details. So, don't get to think the title is a nod and wink. This is about kidnapping, rape, and murder.

Gerald Gallego had a difficult upbringing with a father executed for murder and a mother with a revolving door of husbands and boyfriends and lots of booze. He was a charming womanizer, multiple married, violent and rapey ex-con when he met teenage Charlene.

Charlene was a single child of overindulgent parents who was charmed by Gerald. She took up with him and actively and passively participated when Gerald wanted to start kidnapping teen girls for rape.

Gerald was certainly abused physically, sexually, and emotionally. He himself abused a 6-year-old when he was 13. Flowers writes how Charlene had a sharp change in behavior as a teen that, to me, shouted "Sex Abuse!".

Anyhoo. Petite, blond, and pretty Charlene would chat up a couple girls and get them to the Gallegos's van. The girls would be tied up and driven to a remote location (the murders happened IN Ca, NV, and OR). Gallegos would rape the girls, shoot them, and bury them. Charlene would hang out at in the van.

The two of them were getting away with murder when they execute the risky abduction of a college couple outside a fraternity dance. The Gallegos forced the couple into the back of the victim's car when a friend of the couple approached, spoke to the couple, saw the Gallegos, and the Gallegos drove away. The now missing couple are searched for, the murdered bodies are found, and the cops track down Charlene and put things together.

Flowers does a good job telling the entire story. As mentioned above she is very fond of the phrase "sex slave" and repeatedly emphasizes how Gerald murdered a pregnant women. But, Flowers put in the work and fills in details on Gerald's childhood, the crimes, the investigation and the many arguments and maneuvering over which state would get primary jurisdiction for prosecution.

Flowers details the absolutely bizarre parts of the trial in Nevada where megalomaniac Gerald acts as his own attorney. He puts Charlene on the stand and tries to get her to take the blame for some crimes. Their interaction is a fucking bizarre back-and-forth conversation of people acting like 8th graders but discussing rape, murder, and the possibility of a state death sentence.

Giving a vicious control freak like Gerald a free voice in court was nuts. The court had to accede to the situation and Gerald must have been on an emotional moon rocket as he got to stand in court and try to push around witnesses and make demands.  Fucking vile person.

And Charlene mostly gets away with all this. She plays the "poor little me" victim and, like Karla Homolka a few years later in Canada, gets away with just a few years in prison. Gerald was a controlling thug and I understand that leaving that coercive control can be very difficult. But, Charlene actively participated in murder.

Comments:
1. The female narrator's male voices were awful with this weird gruff voice that only had one emotion: anger.
2. I will associate this book with wearing a 35 lbs. pack and walking the dog at Korth Park in preparation for the Yellowstone high adventure trip.
3. Flowers talks about Charlene getting out of prison and appearing on the Sally Jessy Raphael show. I could not find a online video of the program.

Novella: "The Last Deep Breath" by Tom Piccirilli

Novella: The Last Deep Breath by Tom Piccirilli, 2011 (for ebook version), downloaded ebook from Wisconsin Digital Library.

More greatness from the late Piccirilli. Spare writing, sharp characters, and gaps to for the reader to figure out.

Remember back when Piccirilli announced he had brain cancer? He went through treatments and things were looking rough? Then he was admitted to a experimental treatment program and got better? And then the cancer came back? And then Piccirilli died? That was a kick in the guts. Piccirilli was a good dude and wrote some great stuff.

This is more of a novella and continues with some themes and features Piccirilli regularly wrote about: Lonely men, violent family members, muscle cars, lots of driving, protagonist stuck in a crook's life but kinda happy there.

Grey is a orphan, former foster kid, and Army Vet with a dishonorable discharge. He is on the hunt for a former foster sister who he and a foster brother went on the run with after the foster brother killed the rapist foster father. I typed foster five times. Six.

Grey and the sister and brother did not spend too much time together but Grey has a very strong attachment to them. He followed Foster Brother into the Army and Foster Brother has gotten Grey out of a couple binds. Grey has been living in NYC after getting kicked out of the Army and Foster Sister shows up at his apartment with a bad knife wound. Grey has not seen her in years but that does not matter. Grey calls a former Army Medic pal and gets Sister treated that evening.  When Grey awakens the next morning Sister is gone. The only information for Grey to work with is that Sister mentioned a guy's name and the Medic tells Grey that he recognizes Sister from porn.

Grey wants to find the injured sister. Grey gets on the phone with Foster Brother and the ever-capable Brother tells him, "Wait. I will be back in two months." But, Grey cannot wait. Grey has a brotherly love for Sister that barely hides his sexual love for sister. After some digging in NYC Grey decides to head to Los Angeles and track down Sister's porn past.

Things happen and Grey gets tangled up in his memories and desires. Grey slowly makes his way westward. He meets women. He beds women. Many of those women ask Grey to kill the woman's significant other. Grey wonders, "What kind of weird ass killer vibe do I put out?" In Reno, Grey meets a mostly washed up film actress and the movie loving Grey pairs up with her and heads to Hollywood.

Things happen and Grey uses a little too much force out west but finds out more about Sister and her drug use and her former boyfriend. He works as a manager of sorts for Actress and gets her on track for a decent film job. He's then heading out for the East coast on the track of Sister.

The novel is like a lot of Piccirilli stuff: protagonist with lousy family. A hard worker who feels less-than around violent, hyper-masculine relatives. Split between straight life and crook life. Lots of muscle cars. Lost love from teen years and still pining for the adult version of that teen girl.

Like most Piccirilli stories there resolution is not a feel good. Grey finds his MacGuffin (Foster Sister) but does not come to terms with his own problems.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Saw: "William Wegman: Being Human" by William A. Ewing

Saw: William Wegman: Being Human by William A. Ewing, 2017, 9781452164991.

Smaller photo book of Wegman dogs. A jokey introduction by Ewing that still covers some interesting topics. 1- How much of a collaborator is a dog? 2 - What artistic styles is Wegman mimicking or mocking? 3 - portraiture is an art and how do these photos compare with use of pight, perspective and props?

I just like pictures of dogs and there are some great ones. Those Weimaraners are well trained and relaxed.

There is a printed interview between Wegman and Ewing at the end.
There is a piece by Wegman about the dogs over the years.

Audio True Crime: "Handsome Johnny" by Lee Server

Audio True Crime: Handsome Johnny: the life and death of Johnny Roselli, gentleman gangster, Hollywood producer, CIA assassin by Lee Server, 2018, download from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Italian crook from Boston ends up under the Chicago mob and working in Los Angeles.

Roselli is born in Italy in 1905 and five years later his family travels to the U.S. in 1911 to join the father. Dad dies in 1918 and the family struggles along. Johnny has school trouble as an immigrant. Quits school and travels town to town with a pal. They work odd jobs and do some crimes. Roselli ends up in Chicago in the '20s and then Los Angeles. Along the way he changes his name and falsifies paperwork in his new name.

This is a neat story and Roselli was an active crook until the 1960s. His crooked and straight jobs touched a lot of famous names and events over five decades and he was around during the same corruption and mob troubles in LA that Hammett and Ellroy fictionalized. There is Al Capone, Frank Nitti, Jack Dragna, Bugsy Siegel, Howard Hughes, Marilyn Monroe, the Kennedy assassination, Los Vegas casino skimming, Frank Sinatra, and more.

Roselli was a charmer and when he grew older he stayed away from violence and therefore avoided some legal scrutiny. During Prohibition he ran booze. In Los Angeles he ran rackets and gambling operations. Gangsters were kinda hip so he schmoozed with the wealthy and famous. He then went a little straight and worked some film projects.

The book has plenty of stories but the most interesting parts to me were: The 1920s gambling boats off the CA shoreline. The 1950s gang battles with Dragna and Mickey Cohen and others. The CIA and Mob assassination plots on Castro.

The unions became a big moneymaker because anywhere there is a buck the mob will try to grab it.  Server clearly explains the history of how the Chicago mob became involved and took over a union by forcing their picked candidate into the presidency. The union's 1934 convention and election in Lousiville was attended by Lucky Luciano and Louis Buchalter (head of Murder Inc.) The convention hall was filled with gunman and everyone was told who to vote for.

That union then started to swallow other unions. Extortion income rolled in to the mob by threatening strikes. Raising member dues gave a bigger skim to the mob.  They "loaned" themselves money from the retirement fund and used union dues to start Las Vegas casinos.

The Cuba plots and Kennedy tie-ins are always interesting to me. The mob ran free in Cuba under Batista and were unhappy about losing all the casinos, bordellos, and drug trade when Castro took over. Server writes about plenty of the skeezy work the CIA and the mob undertook and how the mob tied into the 1960 US Presidential election through a Joe Kennedy connection. How Robert Kennedy had a hard on for prosecuting the mob and the mob figured to shut RFK down by teaming with Joe. How RFK, JFK, and Joe would be shtupping the same women. Everyone's fondness for mistresses and prostitutes.

There is plenty of history about Sinatra, Giancana, and Kennedy and their mistresses. James Ellroy's favorite PI Fred Otash shows up. (Otash secretly recorded a conversation between Rock Hudson and his wife where she accused him of picking up men on the street. Hudson emphatically denied this.)

Roselli was intricately involved with helping the CIA to organize Cuban exiles trying to overthrow Castro in Operation Mongoose and the ZR/RIFLE assassination program. He was helping plan or participate with covert missions into Cuba, midnight boat trips and speedboat insertions, and working with the CIA to hire assassins and plan plots.

The 1950s gang wars had Mickey Cohen surviving murder attempts. One of Cohen's methods of getting cash was to borrow money - or "borrow" money - and never pay it back. Cohen learned that as the right hand man of Bugsy Siegel.

Roselli did a couple prison terms and when released in the 1970s he lived with a sister in Florida before he was murdered, his legs chopped off, and his body parts stuffed into a metal drum and dumped in a bay.

Comments:
1. Low-key mobsters last longer. Schmoozers make smarter deals than the strong arms and killers.
2. Actors versus film versions. Dramatizations often have older actors portraying mobsters who were in their twenties. Capone was born in 1899 and running the Chicago outfit in his twenties.
3. Capone's entire family were crooks. The library has a book by his great niece that mentions the bordellos the family ran in Northern Wisconsin.
4. A Fred Otash interview with Mike Wallace from 1957 regarding Hollywood gossip magazines. https://hrc.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15878coll90/id/25/rec/29
5.  A Mickey Cohen interview was referenced at the above website in an introduction before another interview. I recall a Mickey Cohen biography detailing how Cohen spoke to Mike Wallace when Cohen was under investigation and prosecution. Cohen couldn't keep his mouth shut and insulted and defamed the cops who went after him. That interview does not seem to be in the online archive. And, interestingly, the keyword search does not come up for him in the transcript. I only found that when messing around and searching "Wisconsin".
6. Los Angeles Mayor Frank Shaw ran the City. The Grand Jury members were all appointed to block prosecutions. A local bible thumper and restaurateur campaigned against crime when getting on the Jury and seeing what happened. His house was bombed.
7. Server mentions the many Florida training camps for exile Cubans. Those camps were still running in teh 1980s and I suppose they are going now in one place or another.
8. All the Cuba talk reminded by of John Sayles's novel Los Gusanos from 1991. I've not watched any Sayles films in a long time.


Thursday, July 11, 2019

ILL From MI: "Allied Strafing in World War II" by William B. Colgan

ILL From MI: Allied Strafing in World War II: a cockpit view of air to ground battle by William B. Colgan, 2010, 9780786448876.

I used to keep a file of titles to request through interlibrary loan. I rarely request books that way because so much is already available and waiting through the library system, the digital library, used books, etc. I read about Allied Strafing several years ago in a catalog from McFarland and Company. Since my reading pile was smaller I figured to try this out and the copy came from Western Michigan University

I was hoping for all sorts of fancy gun camera footage. Colgan collected quite a bit of footage but I was naive to equate "never before published!" style descriptions with "clear and sharp images". An okay book with some awkwardly written passages and you'll need to have some interest in the topic.

Anyhoo. Colgan joined the Army Air Force (AAF) during World War II (maybe before, I don't recall) and flew in both the Mediterranean and European Theaters. He continued to fly until retirement in 1973-ish with a tour in Korea and a handful of combat flights in Vietnam. Colgan focuses the book on World War Two with some introductory information and the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

There are a few points that Colgan nails away at:
1. He reminds us constantly that strafing is gunfighting. Air-to-air combat and Aces have gotten the press ever since the first fights in WW1. But, strafing is by far the more dangerous mission. Pilots were driectly fighting with people on the ground. Flying down low into a target requires flying in a straight line and everyone is shooting at you - both the target and enemy near and far. And pilots would have to get in close because their wing guns would be aimed from 750 to 900 feet out. German flak wagons built on tank chassis would have four guns pounding away at AAF planes.
2. The massive amounts of damage inflicted by fighter-bombers. Aces would get the press but strafers would destroy air forces. Colgan collected a lot of primary and secondary sources for the book and some of those were battle results. One report from April 1945 records a Fighter Group in Europe destroying 11 planes in aerial combat. Strafing attacks destroyed 146 planes.
3. The dangers of flying close to the ground. Planes move fast. The wing guns are all aimed to a single point that is slightly up and into the pilot's aim point. To be most effective and use their ammunition effectively the planes would get real close before pulling out. The ground killed many pilots and trees, building, and towers were a danger. In Italy the Germans and Italians would string cables across valleys to cut planes in half. Valleys were especially dangerous because the flak guns would be firing up at them from the valley floor and down at them from the slope. There might be little maneuver room limiting the planes's approaches and exits.

Fighter-Bomber pilots were not thousands of feet in the air. The saw the bodies and body parts. The .50 caliber machine guns were armed with armor piercing ammunition that tore through most targets and could stop tanks by firing through exhaust vents - pilots could be shockingly accurate - or shooting out the bogey wheels for the tank tracks.

Pilots destroyed so, so much. Locomotives were a prime target behind the lines and the trains could not move in daylight without the engines being destroyed and the train cars shot up. Trucks couldn't move. Troops in the open would be torn apart by the gun fire. One flight of planes destroyed a locomotive in the winter. Troops bailed out of the train cars but were stuck in deep snow along a narrow piece of ground. The planes such up everything and when the flight leader called of the attacks a pilot said, "Thank God."

I should point out that in 2010 when this was published Colgan would still get annoyed when a motion picture would show a strafing attack stitching a line of bullets across the ground. Real life pilots needed to aim burst of fire into a single point. Total firing time would max out at 10 seconds or so. Pilots would many times shoot for only .5 or 1 or 2 seconds at at time - depending on the target and whether the pilot could steer the guns onto a secondary target next to the first. Shooting the dirt was a waste of limited ammunition.

According to Colgan the pilots would be amazingly accurate. Germans and Italians would hide as much as they could under trees, next to buildings, in alleyways. Once a target was spotted the pilots would line up a run, fire directly into the target, and spare any rounds from hitting a home, school, etc. I kinda wonder about that. All the bullets may have hit the target but those armor piercing rounds could to right through and ricochet all over.

Comments:
1. Dang. It looks like Colgan is still alive. He'd be 99. There is a website: http://colgan-books.com/ with the same gun camera images as in the book.
2. Gun camera film was rarely saved. The film was used by the combat pilots for review. Colgan's webpage links to a compilation video: https://youtu.be/9nlzUJuumuY. Remember that the tracer ammunition was only 1-in-5 or 1-in-10 of the bullets going out.
3. Video interview from 2009. https://youtu.be/1B60ip3AUPY

Friday, July 5, 2019

E-Book: "Deadly Beloved" by Max Allan Collins

E-Book: Deadly Beloved by Max Allan Collins, 2007, download from Wisconsin Digital Library.

I was in bed without my current book. I did not want to get up and hunt the book down so I pulled up this novel which I had checked out for my Scout camp-out a couple weeks ago.

I've read several comments by Collins about his Ms. Tree comic which he first published about 30 years ago. (Double checked: started publication in 1981. That makes it 38 years ago.) I never read the comic but I've read plenty of his novels. Since this is also a Hard Case Crime book how could I pass it up?

Ms. Tree is named Michael Tree. Her father was expecting a son and gave her a boy's name with a justification that "Hey, women have the name. Look at actress Michael Learned who played Olivia on The Waltons". When the novel begins Ms. Tree is speaking to her psychiatrist one year after Tree's husband (also named Michael Tree) was murdered on their wedding night. Ms. Tree killed her husband's killer and has been running their private investigation agency since.

Ms. Tree gets a call from a high priced defense attorney. Defense Attorney has a new case with a mentally unstable client who killed her husband and a prostitute. Defense Attorney believes the previously stable client was pushed into murdering her husband. He wants Tree to dig around and see what was going on.

After Ms. Tree takes the case she finds that the cops are surprisingly free with information and cutting red tape. Ms. Tree knows the Officer in charge of the investigation since she and her husband both quit the Chicago PD before starting their PI firm. The Officer says the murder has the hallmarks of a few other killings. Killings that are possibly the work of a rumored assassin who arranges killings that are written off for other reasons: crimes of passion, robberies, car wrecks. What's more is that the Officer thinks Ms. Tree's husband may have been a victim.

Ooooh. It's a double mystery! And another, third mystery of why a long-time colleague and co-partner in the firm quit the firm. And Ms. Tree's secret sexy-sexy relationship with another cop. And Ms. Tree getting in shoot-outs.

As usual Collins provides a nice story. I've not read any other work of his done with a female protagonist's POV. This also reads very much like a Mike Hammer novel and I recall Collins saying Tree was initially imagined as Mike's daughter - either literally or figuratively. The story plotting. The wise-ass PI with a violent streak. The reveal at the end. They all feel Hammerish and I enjoyed that.

Anyhoo. Shit. I just saw there is an afterword by Collins about Tree's creation. I'll read it later. A fun read and worth your time.

Comments:
1.Ms. Tree as in Miz Tree as in Miz ter-ee as in Mystery as in How the fuck did I not notice that before?
2. The Hard Case Crime promos at back of the book mention Spillane's Dead Street. I thought I read that but apparently I heard the audio instead.
3. I think I am behind the Quarry novels. The Quarry novels are top notch.
EDIT: 7-6-19. A print copy of The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics (2008) just landed on my desk. There is a reprint of Ms Tree: maternity leave inside plus a couple Mickey Spillane authored comics. Every comic in the book is black and white. I wonder if they were that way originally or if reprinting in black and white was cheaper.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Heard: "The Real Lolita" by Sarah Weinman





Heard: The Real Lolita: the kidnapping of Sally Horner and the novel that scandalized the world by Sarah Weinman, 2018, audio from Wisconsin Digital Library.




Sarah "With an H" Weinman wrote a neat book but I admit to being a little bummed that there was not more about the girl and her family. Weinman seems to have done a lot of research and interviewed all the surviving friends and relatives of the girl who she could . But, Horner died in 1952 when she was 15 and her niece was only about 4 years old at the time. Weinman dug up court docs and some letters and journals that were related but all the people directly involved are dead, dead, dead.




Weinman addresses this issue of evidence and people because for her this absence made the story all the more compelling. Many of the people involved passed away with the past 10 years or so and therefore were juuussst out of reach. Horner's story was national news at the time and mostly forgotten. Many documents and papers of the time are still around but have to found in basements and attics and boxes.




This is not all true crime. Weinman is addressing the question of whether Nabokov was inspired by or used the story of Horner to write Lolita. This is not literary theory, instead she tells about Nabokov and Horner and a few other New Jersey crimes.




Anyhoo. Florence Sally Horner was 11 years old in 1948 when garbage human Frank La Salle kidnapped her in Camden, NJ and kept her for almost two years. La Salle was already a serial rapist and degenerate scumbag. He saw Horner trying to shoplift and convinced the girl that he was an FBI Agent and she had to do what he said or go to jail. He moved her around a bit in NY and then to Philadelphia, Dallas, and ending in San Jose.




Meanwhile, Nabokov was teaching at Cornell, being a bit grouchy, and taking long summer vacations in the car to hunt butterflies.  Nabokov worked on Lolita for about ten years and seems to have overcome a literary hump in the story at the same time Horner's rescue from shitbag La Salle hit the national news. But, Nabokov was no ordinary novelist. He was an ARTISTE! Vlad did not need any damn inspiration, he was the inspiration! How dare you suggest he took features of the real kidnapping and people and employed them in his art! Everything was fully formed inside his brilliant min and sprang forth onto the page through his hard work and native brilliance!


And that's why this is kinda-sorta a big deal. A big deal enough deal that this book has a lot of press when it came out last Autumn. Mr. Big Shot Literary Dude was a private guy and kept his work a but mysterious. So the idea that he used a true life incident is neat for Lolita fans. But, as Weinman clearly points out, Nabokov referred to Scumbag rapist La Salle within the text of Lolita. It's like listening to Trump, Nabokov admits to something in the damn book and then says he never heard of the guy.










I don't give a rat's ass about a literary mystery. I just enjoyed the story. And since Weinman did not have a whole lot of information about Horner and her family she gives some interesting crime details of New Jersey in the late '40s and early '50s. There are plenty of other rapes and murders. There is a young woman whose preacher father has her beaten to death for the insurance. A spree killer WWII veteran in Camden. And a few other events. The spree killer story was particularly interesting and Weinman tried to hunt down surviving witnesses but the killer outlived them all when he died in 2009.


Within all this is the social impact Lolita has had. The publishing travails of Nabokov. Multiple adaptations that mostly sucked. Vera Nabokov's work on behalf of her husband. So on. So forth.


A more interesting aspect of Lolita is current day awareness of rape and silence. Sarah Horner was a freaking kid. She was taken with her mother's consent (well, not exactly, but read the book for details), and raped for two years as the Piece of Human Filth La Salle posed as a caring father. 11-years-old and she still gets ostracized upon her return. For fuck's sake, the cops put her in custody at a youth facility because of bullshit reasons of being a witness.  And her mother says in an interview, "No matter what she has done I'm sure we can get past it."


Match that up with all the other women getting assaulted and murdered in New Jersey at that time. It all runs down to sex and power and control. LaSalle had a history of controlling and that kept up after his arrest. He filed appeals that were full of lies directly contradicted by his own court testimony. He sent flowers to the service for Horner after she died in a 1952 car wreck.


Weinmand quotes Vera Nabokov and others about how people miss the point that Lolita was being raped. Even using the name Lolita - a name derived by the rapist Humbert Humbert from the girls real name, Dolores.  The novel is told by the rapist and many adaptations and discussions if the characters are missing the fact that she was a freaking child. Instead they use Humbert's rationalizations and fantasies and portray the girl as a vixen or tease or sexually precocious.


Anyhoo times two. I enjoyed the story and Weinman makes a strong argument that Nabokov heard about Horner


Comments:
1. Deserves to be Burned to Death LaSalle was one of those cagey liars. He lies whenever he feels the need - which reminds of another rapist, Trump - and his background was partially concealed. He did leave a surviving daughter though. Weinman spoke to her and the daughter had only really heard her father's bullshit stories and still believed him decades later.
2. Nabokov took a fantastic trip from Ithaca, NY west one summer. They drove south of great lakes, through IA and NE, arriving in Salt Lake City for a conference and workshops. They then dorve North to the Grand Tetons for butterfly hunting and east through MN into Northern Ontario. Sounds fantastic.
3. Horner was 15-years-old when she took a weekend away from home with a friend. She was killed in a car wreck when taking a drive with a 20-year-old dude. The car crash aftermath included multiple lawsuits and prosecutions.






4. Weinman references Memoirs of Hecate County when discussing the trouble with publishing Lolita. I never heard of it before.
5. Nabokov signed with a sketchy publisher to get his book out. The publisher gave him a shit deal and was late or never paid royalties. Due to the contract Nabokov also could have lost the copyright after five years. Since the book sold like hotcakes that would have been a disaster.



6. Nabokov wrote the initial screenplay and it tallied at 400 pages. Kubrick rewrote the thing with no credit and the Oscar nomination went to Nabokov.
7. Discussion on the further adaptations written by middle aged men. Focus on Lolita as envisioned by Humbert Humbert. That she was a sexy tease and not a child.
8. Weinman found only 1 interview with Nabokov copping to reading or hearing of middle age rapists.
9. The discussion of seeing Lolita as a sex object reminded me of Taming the Beast by Emily Maguire. That involves a high school girl carrying on with a married teacher and the awful effect it has on her life. Back when I was doing videos for work Maguire was kind enough to talk to me from Australia. Watch the video because hardly anyone else has.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Roger Smith: "The Truth Itself" by James Rayburn

Roger Smith: The Truth Itself by James Rayburn, 2018, 9781538507483.


The great crime writer Roger Smith writes a thriller as James Rayburn.

This has some of the standard political/spy thriller styles: short chapters, constantly shifting POV, slimy bad guys in D.C. who are seemingly immune from the hero's revenge, international travel, 'exotic' locations, commando style expertise, ruthless bad guys who will kill children if needed.

Kate Swift and her young daughter has been living in Northern Vermont for a couple years as Kate runs a gift store. One morning when Kate drops her daughter off at school she zeroes in a on a couple of suspicious teen boys. She sees what is happening and intervenes as the boys start shooting up the school. A couple adults are killed before Kate comes in time to save her daughter and other children. This will be big news so Kate collects her daughter, gets her go-bag, and drives to Montreal.

Kate has been living under an assumed identity since she was called a traitor by her former boss at the CIA, Lucien Benway. Benway set-up Kate after she revealed what awful things Benway was responsible for, including targeting Kate's husband for a drone attack. Kate's husband was a CIA asset but Benway had [reasons] that really just involved him being a trash human. People want Kate dead so Kate needs to start over. To start over she needs help.

Anyhoo. Since Kate needs to get a new identity she goes to Germany to find to a retired CIA pal/supervisor. Retired CIA pal gives her Harry Hooks's address in Thailand. Hook was renowned as a miracle worker when in the CIA but is now mostly a retired drunk. Kate and her daughter go to Thailand. Trouble follows as Hook reluctantly agrees to help and they make plans.

This is not as dark as some of Smith's crime work but there is some rough stuff in here. (I have still not finished one of his crime novels that begins with a man allowing a young child to drown so he can profit off the grieving family. That has been too much for me.) There is a good amount cruelty and sadness here: lonely Kate whose husband was murdered by the CIA, Lucien Benway's bizarre cruelty and control over his wife who suffered wartime rape in Bosnia, Benway's aide-de-camp who is willing to kill anyone - even children.


I enjoyed the book. It has the quick flowing and short chapters of a lot of thrillers. The good guys are mostly black and white with a few shades of grey along the way.

Comments:

1. Smith has written before about interviewing and chatting with crooks in Cape Town. He's met people who have freely and casually murdered and whose time in prison included cannibalism done to gain status.


Thursday, June 27, 2019

Audio A While Ago: "Greasy Grass" by Johnny D. Boggs

Audio A While Ago: Greasy Grass: a story of the Little Bighorn by Johnny D. Boggs, 2013 print publication and 2018 audio version, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Nuts. I forgot Boggs wrote this. I have really enjoyed all his work and this is no exception. A great retelling of the Battle of the Little Bighorn/Greasy Grass.

Boggs uses the voices of historical people to tell the story. Some of these stories are listed as letters, diaries, court documents, etc. Audiobooks never have endnotes or bibs so I do not know if Boggs used primary docs or took reliable information and put it into a character's voice. Boggs uses both Native warriors and Army soldiers and sprinkles in the voices of relatives and children and others.

The main part of the story concerns the entire event: movement and politics before the campaign by Custer, step-by-step account of maneuvering and battle by both Native and US Army units. Boggs also builds are interest by having characters talk about their background and what they think of other people involved.  Boggs also puts in the hatred and racism and classicism of the time. Natives as subhumans. Officers as a better class of people. Immigrants as drunks. Women get stuck with a dude whether through love or desperation.

A few things I recall and enjoyed the details of.

  1. Weapons. I've read about the theories on firepower of Native versus Army. How the tribes had repeating rifles and the Army single shot rifles. There is some neat talk about ballistics (I do not recall the details) and ammunition. The ammunition information is interesting because the Army was using copper cartridges. Unlike brass the copper cartridges would split from the pressure or not shrink back to size. This meant the cases were stuck in the chamber and required a cleaning rod or stick to clear the rifle.
  2. The topic of battle trauma. A few soldiers are suffering from the trauma of battle, either the Civil War or the Indian Wars. The Natives don't seem to do so as much. Both sides consider each other subhuman or otherwise as lesser beings. Dehumanizing the opponent to make killing easier is no new thing. But, if the culture and society and fighter are all firmly believing in both that and their cause does that lessen the after effects? Native Warriors are fighting for their land and their families - a possible massacre was literally over the horizon - and believed when they recited "It is a good day to die." Does that mean they had less PTSD? 
  3. The issue of Custer blundering about and splitting his forces. I doubt it would have mattered. The 7th Cavalry was fucked. There were 700 US Army soldiers versus 1,500 to 2,500 Natives. And Custer expected the tribes to haul ass rather than attack and fight. 
  4. Controversy of whether Captain Reno was drunk and cowardly and therefore made awful decisions. I don't know or care but Boggs has Reno's voice from a letter to a son where Reno repeatedly has to declare he was sober. 
  5. The surviving soldiers had to wait a couple days until rescue. Wounded men had to travel downriver for several days on a steamship to a hospital. 
  6. Nepotism happy Custer got a bunch of his family killed. 
  7. Custer also had an Native mistress for a time during a previous campaign. Not sure how much of a mistress she was seeing as how she was just likely hooked up with  him out of desperation. Better to mooch off a Army officer than starve to death.


Comments:
1. We visited the battle field last August (2018) and it was freaking HOT. The existing battlefield is
pretty big and takes time to drive across. I don't see how Custer's split cavalry forces would have been able to travel over the 1-2 miles separation and reform and successfully fight. The battlefield includes a walking options and a audio narration through either cell phones or car radio - I don't recall which.
1.A. Original rifle pits are still there. I spent a decent amount of time on the battlefield walking with Boy #1 through the section of Reno Hill where the surviving unit stayed.
1.A. The official battlefield tour does not include a grouchy son and bored wife. You'll need to plan ahead and bring your own.
2. The story brings to mind the topic of Who Do We Remember and Why? I suppose Custer was a celebrity but there are plenty of famous people who fade away over time. Custer's wife lived until 1933 and defended Custer's legacy with three books and speaking engagements until her death. Sure, the rule of "The winners tell the tale" applies but the recent furor over Confederate statues and dedicated buildings means the losers do as well.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Finally Ended: "Deep Silence" by Jonathan Maberry

Finally Ended: Deep Silence by Jonathan Maberry, 2018, audio downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.


This audiobook kinda dragged on.

I've gotten sick of Ray Porter's narration where he chews up and spits out everything in these books. He reads these stories as a performance and I really enjoyed previous entries. But, now Porter's purposeful hamminess and Maberry's schmaltz have been getting on my nerves.

This Joe Ledger series features Joe Ledge of the super secret Department of Military Sciences (DMS) has about 12 entries. Here is the scoop: Ledger and Friends fight powerful bad guys and high-tech threats and many, many people die and Ledger as Friends save the world from destruction.

The series is very comic book but with sharp edges. There are big shootouts. Car chases. High tech guns and gear. A little schmaltzy romance and pensive introspection by the heroes. Shadowy international organizations. Jet planes flying around the world. Big disasters. Alternate realities. Mind Control. Biological terrorism.

This time aroud Ledger and company are fighting against Russians who are intent on setting off God Machines - machines using technology from an alternate reality that cause massive earthquakes - and destroying the U.S. and much of Europe. The Russians will then take over. Part of the God Machine's unexplainable technology also sends off waves of power that drives humans homicidally and suicidally insane.

An attack on Washington D.C. lives the country in turmoil. The Trump-like President is more concerned about himself and since he already dislikes the DMS he works to stop them from getting an work done. Meanwhile, the President's chief advisor is a dirty rat and working with the terrorists. Ledger and Co. have to go around the President's foot dragging and track down the No Goodniks to stop them from killing more people.

We get more shooting, stabbing, punching, bleeding, exploding, dog biting, hidden caverns, shock silences, super computers, and false climaxes as the hits keep coming. Meh, it passes the time.

Comments:
1. Some of the series regular characters barely appear in this novel. One character who is mostly absent, Rudy Sanchez, still says "Ay Dios Mio" every damn conversation.
2. The characters witty and stress relief chatter is getting on my nerves as well. Never mind all the super high technology gadgets that always work - but, I suppose this is science fiction.
3. Maberry rejects real life into parts of the novel and references Putin's screwing with our elections.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Another Tie-In: "Sins of the Father" by Christa Faust

Another Tie-In: Sins of the father: Fringe Series, Book 3 by Christa Faust, 2014, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

I needed books for a short backpacking trip with Scouts. Rather than hunt down a paperback at home I picked out four novels to load onto my phone. Since I already read Faust's previous two in this series I figured to finish this last entry.

There are three primary characters in the TV show Fringe. Walter Bishop, Peter Bishop, and Olivia Dunham and Faust wrote a novel for each character. All Faust's novels are prequels to the TV series which, I presume, allowed Faust more leeway in creating the stories. This novel follows Peter Bishop immediately before the TV series started.

Fringe's final fifth season ended six years ago in 2013 so I kinda doubt any non-TV-show-viewing-readers will pick up a copy of this. With that said you can read for the story anyway, previous knowledge of the Peter character is not needed. If you're a big Faust fan like me you may just read anything she does anyway. I've never watched Supernatural but I read her tie-in novel of that show.

Anyhoo. Peter needs a lot of money to pay loan sharking debts he owes to a Scotsman. Peter has been running from the debt for a while. He is in Malaysia (Thailand, maybe?) and running a con to steal cash from North Koreans and Chechen terrorists after arranging a fake sale of software between the two.  A shootout ensues and when Peter is escaping he picks up the wrong suitcase and gets zero dough.

Uh-oh. Not good for Peter. But, Peter discovers that the case he ended up with has a vial of serum that was stolen from a research lab in the U.S. The serum is valuable so he may as well try to sell the serum back to the lab.

Things happen as Peter takes a circuitous route back to the U.S. Peter charms men and women as the confidence man he is. Meets up with Good Looking Scientist. Gets into scary situations. Has some sex. Acts altruistically which is NOT his thing. So on. So forth.

It's a fun book. As usual Faust delivers the goods with what I think is some fine writing that transcends the "Let's type this up and cash the check" product some other tie-ins deliver.

Comment:
1. I had a comment. I know I did. I've now forgotten it.
2. During the campout I used my rainfly-and-tarp method of camping. The tarp extended under the rain fly and caught water during the nighttime rain. My sleeping bag got wet at my feet but I was still fairly comfortable - except for the too-thin sleeping pad. Temperatures were not too low and tucked my feet up. I tried shifting around the tarp but did not want to go out from under the rain tarp to move things around. The rain tarp had sagged over night as well.
3. The rain was on the 2nd night. After the first night I was awake at 4:45AM from the birds who woke with the morning gloaming. With the 1AM night rain I kept waking up from the thin pad that had me turning over. In the morning I was fine and did not feel tired. When I got home I took a Father's Day nap and was out like a light for 2-3 hours.
4. I need to pony up for a better, thicker sleeping pad. I did just get a $37 bivy bag to try out. I can replace my big tarp with the bivy bag but may want a small groundsheet for underneath the pad and bivy. I still need a mosquito net of some sort. Besides, after adding up all that stuff I wonder if there will be a weight advantage over a lightweight solo tent.
EDIT: I just figured out I never read the Supernatural tie-in. We still have it at work, I'll give it a try.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Tie-In Novel: "Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds" by Gwenda Bond

Tie-In Novel: Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond, 2019, 9781984817433.

You don't need to have seen the TV show to read this. But, don't bother reading it if you've not seen the show.

I enjoyed the novel enough. I had recently re-watched Season 1 and when I saw this in the catalog I figured to try it out. This is a prequel with Dr. Brenner and 11's mother and aunt. 11's mother, Terry Ives, is at IU-Bloomington when a pal of hers talks about a science experiment she had volunteered for. The friend did not like the experience and bails. But, the experiments pay and Terry needs money. So Terry steps in for her pal.

Terry goes to a campus building, does some interviews, meets other test subjects, and meets Dr. Brenner. The tests are secretive and involve doses of hallucinogens. One of the other test subjects says, "This is bullshit. There is no scientific method behind this crap." Brenner has put on the charm but when the test subjects want to bail on the experiments he threatens them with expulsion from campus.

Brenner lets his mask of civility drop and Terry and the rest are not happy. Things happen as the tests grow weirder. Terry starts seeing things. One of subjects gets electroshocks. The meet Number 8 who is about 5 years old and stuck in the Hawkins lab.

Hell, I forgot most of the second season and this story pulls information draws from both seasons. A decent read. Bond does well in drawing both new and established characters but sometimes when reading a tie-in it just feels like supplementary material. As comparison: I enjoyed Christa Faust's tie-ins for Fringe and Supernatural. But, I never watched those shows until after I read the novels.

EDIT: I just reread this and want to clarify that I think the book and enjoyed Bond's character creations within the Stranger Things world. It's just my own thing with tie-ins.

What the Heck: "Bluebird, Bluebird" by Attica Locke

What the Heck: Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke, 2017, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

What hell? Did I finish this the first time or not? I stopped listening to this several months ago for some unknown reason. I thought I never finished it so I restarted the entire thing. Then, when I get to the finish I recognize the ending. Maybe I grabbed the print version and finished it off? I don't freaking know.

Anyways. Locke was awarded one of the annual Big Author Awards. That is to say: Locke was awarded one of the Big Author Awards I actually pay attention to. Locke also called bullshit on the award that was going to Linda Fairstein. Locke reminded the world how Fairstein was a conductor during the railroading of the Central Park Five.

Everything is told POV of Darren.Matthews who is on leave from the Texas Rangers (police not baseball) and his marraige. He stepped into a case involving a family friend charged with murder of a local Aryan Brotherhood member. Darren is in serious jeopardy of losing his job after butting in. Darren's devotion to work and booze has him in trouble with his wife. Shortly after a grand jury appearance in his friend's case Darren gets a call from his high school pal, FBI Man. FBI Man says, "Darren, old buddy old pal, there are a couple murders in East Texas. A black man and a young white woman. Would you be willing to take a look? I need help with a career boost."

Well, Darren has been pushing the Rangers for years to pursue racial bias cases. Darren sees the danger in having people attacked, raped, murdered, etc. for being black. Darren's pushing has not worked. The Rangers see themselves as the experts they are and that they are immune from racial bias and treat all crime the same. Since Darren is black his supervisors have seen him as crusading and looking to upset things.

Darren and his bourbon head to the small town of Lark. Lark is a bump in the road. Lark has a roadside cafe that has catered to black travelers since the '60s ('50s?). Behind that cafe's swamp is found a murdered young white woman who leaves behind a son. Darren starts snooping - without police authority. Darren hears of the murder a few days previous of a middle age black guy from Chicago. Chicago Guy was a wealthy lawyer, what was he doing in Bumfuck, TX?

There are two murders. Personal clashes. Darren fighting his growing dependence on booze. Darren tending his bleeding heart over his marriage separation. Darren untangling Lark's complex and unspoken of family relationships among white and black and rich and poor.

Anyhoo. The entire novel is really all about rules and decorum.

  • There are local codes of conduct related to a person's age, wealth, skin color, etc. About what neighborhoods to enter. About what locals you defer to.
  • There are general small town codes: how you meet people or ask for something.  
  • There are Texas codes: deference to Rangers, black people are at a regular risk of murder, black men and white women do not chat.  
  • The importance of deference to older women. 
  • Law enforcement behavior: Rangers have to be nice to local cops, there written and unwritten rules to follow in investigations. EX: how to give grand jury testimony or request death reports. 
  • Darren's professional pursuit of of the Aryan Brotherhood (ABT)of Texas as a racial issue is rocking the boat at work.
  • Darren's interactions with Chicago Guy's widow crosses lines of professional and personal behavior.
  • How does a ABT member deal with the son he deeply loves actually being the son of a black guy his wife had an affair with?
  • Darren's devotion to friends when he lives Houston late at night to assist that family friend?
  • Darren's relationship with his mother. Darren was raised by his twin uncles and has a difficult and sparse relationship with his mother who is 16 years older than him. 
  • Friendships between black and white people. How far can you trust your white pal to help you?


Comments:
1. I just read Locke did a bunch of script writing. I've not looked anything up.
2. Good narration.
3. Instead of a gun on the wall Locke gives us a guitar on a wall.
4. Possible SPOILER: Darren's wife is angry he will not quit the Rangers and finish law school in Houston. His job takes him all over the state and away from home, plus Rangers chase down dangerous people. As important seems to be her thoughts about social status and that being a lawyer is better. It's the freaking Texas Rangers. How is being a run-of-the-mill lawyer compete with that. Talk about freaking status? He's a Texas Fucking Ranger. You don't get much more elite.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Rebus: "Even Dogs In the Wild" by Ian Rankin

Rebus: Even Dogs In the Wild by Ian Rankin, 2015 (UK and US?), downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Ian Rankin at times seems like the most Scottish Scotsman that ever Scotted. The Rebus books are all Scotland. Driving in Edinburgh. Restaurants in Edinburgh. Neighborhoods in Edinburgh. Scottish musicians and songs and poetry and sculptors and painters and so on and so forth. I suppose you could say the same thing about me and Wisconsin. Rebus rarely leave Scotland and I rarely leave Wisconsin. Screw it, I stand by my above statement.

Anyhoo. This is book #20 and Rebus is still retired after a brief return to the cold case unit in a previous novel. This time around Rebus's old nemesis and drinking buddy McCafferty gets shot at through his living room window. McCafferty refuses to talk to the cops of course. But, he will talk to Rebus.

Meanwhile, Rebus's old work partner Siobhan (that I also pictures as Chiffon in these audiobooks) is working the shooting death of a senior, wealthy, and well placed lawyer. Along the way is a Glasgow mobster traveling around Edinburgh searching for a missing transport truck and it's contents. The mobster is being followed by some Glasgow cops who are assholes. Malcolm Fox gets assigned as local liaison for the Glasgow Asshole Brigade.

Rankin does his usual plot and throws all these people together and continues to make Rebus a real prick. It's all great stuff and plenty of things happening: gangsters maneuvering for power, cops maneuvering for power, victims suffering, guilty people worrying, hidden child rape by powerful people. Along the way rebus ticks off his friends, smokes too much, drinks too much, and gets everything worked out. Driving the killings is a long buried sex abuse ring run by powerful pederasts who raped the residents of a group home for delinquent teen boys.

Behind all the usual police procedural story is a theme of fathers. Usually lousy or absent fathers heading up fractured families.

  • Rebus rarely visits his daughter who lives in Northern Scotland and has only seen his granddaughter twice. 
  • Malcolm Fox regularly visits his elderly father in long-term hospice but does it out of duty. Malcolm's father regularly disparages Malcolm's ability to be a cop. 
  • The Glasgow mob boss has a son in his twenties who is murdered. He barely knew his son and even though driven to revenge the mob boss doesn't seem too sad. His revenge is more about showing power and getting even. 
  • The killer suffered under a man whose sexual abuse and near murder left him unable to connect and care for a child. The killer blamed the men who made his father a victim and goes after those men.
  • Siobhan Clark has no family at all. I may be confusing novels and authors but I recall her parents dying when she was young. Rebus and other men kinda act as father figures.

Anyhoo. Rankin's books are always - aside from Doors Open - pretty damn good. Great characters and great scenery. Rankin's people always make sense; he doesn't throw in some bullshit reasons to drive his characters to act one way or another.

Comments:
1. Were the '70s and '80s a couple decades of massive sex abuse by the rich and powerful in the UK? I kept thinking of the Red Riding film trilogy and Jimmy Saville as the book went on.
2. Book title is from a song by the group The Associates. Where are the Associates from? Scotland, of course.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Book Club Thing: "Line Becomes A River" by Francisco Cantu

Book Club Thing: The Line Becomes A River: dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantu, 2018, audio from Wisconsin Digital Library.

My alma mater started an online book club. I sorta signed on and now get the emails that I mostly ignore. When this nonfic title came up as the next discussion I put a hold on it, but the book was not available until the discussion was over anyway.

Short version: Guy joins Border Patrol and has massive stress. Guy quits BP for grad school. Guy has work pal who is goes to MX for his sick mother and cannot legally re-enter US. Guy tries to help pal out.

Long version: Cantu's mother worked for the National Park Service and was assigned to different areas of the Southwest. Part of Cantu's family comes from Mexico and he is bilingual and visited there regularly as a child. He has fond memories of trip sot rewsertyreX with his mom. His father is mostly out of the picture.

Cantu gets out of school and his fascination with border politics, immigration, and culture draws him to join the Border Patrol. He gets an AZ assignment and works with some decent guys and some assholes. He is more - I don't know how to describe it so let's say "relaxed" about the illegal immigrants. He does not see them as evil and dirty. He chats with them, sometimes commiserates with them, and still does his job by taking them in and processing them.

Cantu sees the "I need a job, man" people and the "I'm going to IL to see my family" people. He also sees the drug mules, drug traffickers, and general assholes that any smuggling border region has. The stress of the work causes him health issues. Cantu arrests pregnant women, old men, families, etc. He finds corpses in the summer heat. He finds drug bales on the side of the road. He rescues people who are barely alive after crossing the desert in July or August.

Cantu joins an intelligence group that gets him out of the field but he also has plenty of traveling assignments away from home. He gets to know the other guys on his team but is never quite happy with his job.

Anyway. Cantu has enough after 4-5 years and leaves for grad school. I don't think he ever said where he went but I presume it is AZ State. While in school he works a coffee shop job in a plaza and becomes pals with the facility maintenance dude. Maintenance Dude says breakfast with Cantu and tells Cantu about his three sons.

Maintenance Dude's (MD) mother in MX is in hospice to MD heads down to be with her. But, MD is not a legal resident. He's been in the U.S. fro 20-30 years and US immigration won't let him in. MD sneaks over, is caught, and jailed. Cantu does his best to help out. He helps do translation for MD's family since MD's wife is not perfectly fluent. He takes MD's sons to visit MD in the fed facility because they are afraid MD's wife might be carded and deported. He assists in getting an attorney, translating for attorney and the wife, and finding documents to file an asylum or resident case.

MD's case is denied. The application is done at an administrative level. There is no court appearance - MD's argument is rejected and he is back in MX with 24 hours.  MD takes up temporary residence across from Yuma and Cantu goes to visit for a day.

MD speaks about how all his family are in the U.S. Fed policy goes by the presumption that if a parent of family member is deported then the rest of the family will follow that person over. This is a ridiculous theory.  People will risk everything for their family. That means risking life and limb to travel across the border.  Since family is everything why would they go back to MX where much of the government has been ineffective and incompetent under the drug cartels and other corruption?

Anyhoo. The book is interesting. Cantu writes plenty about border politics, drug policy, and his own family history. Some of this is a rehash of things I have heard elsewhere - mainly the insanity of the drug cartels and how no one can do a thing without their permission.

Comments:
1. Cantu and other BP Agents did a lot of walking and cutting for sign. They'd park and walk through the desert after alerts from sensors or cameras. They could sometimes follow their own progress by listening to the radio channels used by drug smuggler lookouts on ridgelines and hill tops.
2. Some BP Agents are casually cruel. Example: news stories about Agents dumping out the drinking water left for immigrants. An argument for this is that doing so forces the immigrants to give up and turn themselves in. Reality: people die in the desert and their bodies are never found.
3. So many dead bodies in the desert and many are never found.
4. Border crime. There is plenty of it and hasn't it always been that way? The whole 'build that wall' is a political farce by a racist con man. The issue is that a jackape like Trump polarizes things and people avoid reality on both sides. Of course there are dangerous people on the border. There is plenty of illegal money to be made with smuggling drugs and people. There are people willing to murder for cash and there are even more people willing to share their food with BP Agents after they are arrested and still willing to share their food with BP Agents.
5. The femicides in Juarez. No freaking way the local government did not know about things and were not complicit by their inaction. No way it was one or two serial killers. Cantu says there were reports that groups of men have rape parties and then murder the victims.
6. Cantu discusses a theory on trauma and how it relates to a "warrior gene". That the warrior gene can be triggered by juvenile trauma and cause violence later on.
7.  Cantu splits the memoir into BP and after. There are some things he ruminates upon - like the above mentioned warrior gene - in the first half that are never covered again in the second half. His life before and after is almost a complete break. One life ended and the 2nd half began. He was police and then he wasn't. His thinking and behavior also changed.

Friday, May 31, 2019

German Guy: "Storm of Steel" by Ernst Junger

German Guy: The Storm of Steel: from the diary of a German storm-trooper officer on the Western Front by Ernst Junger, 1961 reprint of the 1929 translation of the 1920 German book, 0865273103.

Junger survived all four years in the Western Front fighting against the British and French. A final chest wound sent him to the rear in mid-2018 (or so) and he did not return to the front by war's end. At the end of the book he tallies that he was wounded 14 times (not all separate occasions) for 20 punctures.

Surviving 4 years of slaughter is fairly amazing. He outlived most every pal and fellow soldier. And what a grind survival was. Junger writes well about the endless artillery attacks. The English would send shells throughout the day every day. That the Germans would assemble and travel on foot through those maelstroms is amazing. That anyone survives shelling at all is amazing. Junger was at the Somme and one passage has him describing being caught by an attack and sheltering in an old trench. The only safe(ish) spot is a slight recess in the trench wall. Junger is crouched down, his face in the dirt, just trying not to go nuts.

And that's a lot of the story. Junger hiding from artillery. Junger surviving near blasts. Junger picking up the human pieces after artillery explosions. Junger and others being buried by the dirt thrown by explosions. Near misses that Junger survived by a the difference of a few seconds. Shells that land among a group of soldiers and kill 20. Shell splinters that wound. Shell splinters that kill. Explosions that atomize bodies.

Troops spent a lot of time waiting to die. Danger is everywhere and normal. You start to ignore some basic safety procedures and precautions. But, if you've stayed alive that long you do many things automatically and without thinking. Troops hearing a shell headed their way immediately know the the shell's size and trajectory. They are constantly aware of the nearest shell hole or dug out to hunker down.

In case you did not already know: not all bodies were recovered or removed for burial elsewhere. The Unknown Soldier is solidly a WW1 thing. Corpses were EVERYWHERE. Dead bodies were regularly exposed by artillery blasts and crumbling craters. More bodies are revealed by the rain and flooding. Junger would come to a new position in 1917 or '18 and the accidentally dig up remains from 1914.

A few years ago when I learned that rotting bodies were a normal wartime occurrence I was aghast. A soldier would be cutting a shelf into a trench wall and discover a rotting body part. When I read about that now it is gross but not a shock. So, it makes sense that a soldier would be desensitized even further and just shrug. Or even start using skulls as ashtrays or candle holders.

Junger wrote about many head and neck injuries as men peek above a trench line or just bob their head over. French and English snipers sit on their rifle sights and just wait for a target. Junger writes of taking a head shot at an Englishman who is 600 meters off in the far back in the 3rd English trench. Junger gives the walking Englishman a lead off the tip of the man's nose and says he makes a hit.  Hitting a human silhouette with iron sights at 600 is doable but he implies he made a head shot after he grabbed the nearest rifle and set the sights for distance. That seems really far-fetched to me. But, I am not a skilled rifle marksman.

I am happy to say I have never been in a war zone but read plenty of memoirs where soldiers gripe about shaving and haircuts and details of regular daily life. The argument I have read is that daily discipline forces people to recall regular life and that the the rules of daily life are enforced. People don't backslide and get away with more and more infractions that may lead to a landslide of bad decisions and animal behavior.

The German units seemed to rotate out of the front lines frequently enough. Junger does not dwell as much on the field conditions as in the English and American memoirs I have read. When Junger writes about the trenches he always seemed to have a bunker or underground slot to shelter in. He always had a servant at hand. They flooded in low lands but he does not talk about pumps running 24 hours. He also never had to do countermining against English troops.

This is the first WW1 German memoir I've read. I never much thought of the Germans having a hard time. Reading about all the tragedies of trench warfare suffered by English, French and American troops means I was thinking the opposite of the Krauts. Figuring that the Germans were on the high ground without flooded trenches, inside concrete bunkers, hanging out, singing songs, and drinking beer.

And there is lots of drinking. Booze (and other drugs) are a universal wartime pastime. Especially when off the line. Beer, brandy, schnapps, and wine. Officers would booze it up during parties. Drinking the trench was regular as long as nobody gets drunk.

Other details:
1. The killing of surrendering troops.
2. Multiple gas attacks. Running through a gas cloud without a mask on to get back to the trench line.
3. Only 3 men of his company are left after one year.
4. Few references to women: I presume the rear areas had plenty of prostitutes but he only writes about a couple younger French women he gawked at. He - of course - is a gallant and kind young soldier.
5. Many patrols into no man's land. Junger, as the subtitle says, was a storm trooper. He was involved in a raid that was planned and prepped for weeks. He was in the vanguard of attacking troops during the Spring 1918 offensive.


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Read: "Atlanta Deathwatch" by Ralph Dennis

Read: Atlanta Deathwatch by Ralph Dennis, 2019 reprint of 1974 novel, 978-1732065666.

Lee Goldberg has a big long story on how this Ralph Dennis series of novels were so fantastic that Goldberg created Brash Books for the sole purpose of republishing the novels. There is more detail about Goldberg's love for the series, his tracking down all the entries, contacting Dennis's family for the rights, so on, so forth. With a story like that you gotta the think the series is pretty damn good. Well... it pretty much is.

I enjoyed the novel quite a bit but,  unlike Goldberg and quite a few other fellas, I will not obsessively hunt each novel down. Hell, I don't have to because Mr. Goldberg already did that for us. What's more, if Goldberg's stalker love for Hardman and Evans brought us Brash Books that is pretty damn cool. I recommend you check out other Brash Books pubs like Soak by Patrick McLean or the two Bill Crider westerns,

Anyhoo, let's skip my own obsessive love for Goldberg and get to the story. Jim Hardman was canned from the cops (who were cannily clued to a corruption cloud by creepy crooks) a couple years ago. Hardman also lost his Smoochy-Smoochy Lovey-Dovey Girlfriend who worked for the crooks. She declared under oath that she pursued Hardman because her bosses told her to.

Well, losing his job and future wife was a big double blow to Hardman and he has been barely sliding by since. He works some off-the-books and unlicensed PI jobs and occasionally couriers NYC dope down to Atlanta. He has about two pals left: Hump Evans a former NFL player and local hero and Hardman's former police partner, Cop Friend.

The plot involves Hardman getting hired to follow the co-ed daughter of a wealthy Georgian. He tails her for a bit and she visits a rough bar in a black neighborhood. When Hardman goes into the bar to snoop the locals get suspicious, Hardman gets ambushed, Hardman gets beat up, Hardman is told to not come back. Hardman says, "Ouch! My ribs! My face! Screw this job!"

Shortly after Hardman quits the job the co-ed is murdered. Hardman is forcibly taken to visit The Man...

-- Yeah, this is the 1970s and the character is known by everyone as The Man. This surprises hardman a little because the street crooks he dealt with always spoke of The Man and Hardman figured that was generic. I found this humorous. --

... The co-ed was secretly dating The Man. The Man is a black guy in his 30s with control over a good part of organized crime in Atlanta. The Man wants to hire Hardman to figure out who killed Co-Ed.

Things happen. Hardman uses Cop Friend to gain information. Hump helps out. Co-Ed's family wants her killer found as well and talks to Hardman. Hardman's Cop Friend and Cop Friend's Wife are trying to get Hardman and his former Smoochy-Smoochy back together. There are attempts to assassinate Hardman. So on. So forth.

There is also plenty of other 1970s lingo and social and political attitudes. Hump hits the singles bars. Hardman and Hump drink a lot (well, this is a PI novel). Black guys are called 'studs' and [other lingo I cannot recall and do not have the book handy]. There is a secret bordello hidden in the woods.

Comments:
1. I enjoyed the book.
2. Speaking of obsessive love: Goldman's love for barbeque and drone footage.
3. Goldberg published his first novel when he was about 19-years-old. Someone - an agent or publisher - told LAPD cop Paul Bishop that he should meet Goldberg because they wrote similar novels which were hard boiled crime fiction. Bishop - as I understand it - was freaking Super Cop. For 35 years he pursued and arrested all sorts of bad dudes. Goldberg's story is that he and Bishop were going to meet for lunch. Super Cop Bishop walks in and sees uber-geek Goldberg (who wrote for Fangoria) instead of a grizzled, wrinkled, tobacco stained guy in his 60s.
3.A. Goldberg tells the story better. Look it up yourself.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Lansdale Again: "Honky Tonk Samurai" by Joe R. Lansdale

Lansdale Returns: Honky Tonk Samurai by Joe R. Lansdale, 2016, downloaded off Wisconsin Digital Library. Narrated by Christopher Ryan Grant who did a swell job.

Hap and Leonard are still working for Marvin's P.I. firm. They are sitting in a car watching a guy's house when Leonard goes across the street to beat up a guy kicking a dog. Hap follows along. The police show up. Marvin is with the cops and announces, "I'm the new Police Chief."  Hap and Leonard are somewhat surprised by the Police Chief news. Hap and Leonard are not surprised when the Police Chief also gives the Dog Beater a couple punches.

Hap and Leonard are equally surprised when later that night Marvin announces he will sell them the P.I. firm dirt cheap. Hap and Leonard are not too keen since they know bupkis about business. But, Hap's longtime girlfriend says, "I'll buy it."

After Brett and Co. do a little office remodeling Brett and Hap are in the second floor offices when a foul-mouthed old lady shows up, shows them video of the Dog Beater Beat-Down and asks for a discount on investigative services or she will send the tape to the press and get Marvin fired.

Foul mouthed old lady is a former floozy and ticks Brett off something fierce. But, Brett agrees to have the Bonehead Twins look for the woman's missing granddaughter. Floozy Granny's granddaughter has not been heard of in five years. Shortly after college the granddaughter had a couple jobs and then worked for a car sales place. Granddaughter then stole $50,000 from Floozy Granny and disappeared.

Things happen and Hap and Leonard immediately stir things up. Leonard stirs things up on purpose because he can be a combative prick. They discover the used car place is a front for prostitution and blackmail. The discover the car sales place's manager is a transgender woman who works for the Dixie Mafia. They find out that messing with the delaership is messing with

Lansdale always writes a good crime story but his language and characters are the draw. I've read all - or most - the other Hap and Leonard books and a reader can start at any point in the series. Lansdale gives you a full story and characters each time.

This novel includes Jim Bob Luke who is one of my favorite characters. I should rewatch Cold in July that features Don Johnson as Jim Bob. The book also has Cason Statler from Leather Maidens. I read Leaiher way back in 2009 but only sorta recognized him here. I did not recognize Cason's psychopath Army buddy from Leather who also reappears in here.

Usually the Hap and Leonard novels will take a sudden turn. Honky starts out with a missing person hunt and turns into a assassin hunt. You'll kinda get two novellas dovetailed together.

Hap Leonard continue to age. If this is really set in 2016 they would be about  60 years old each. That's a couple 60 year guys after 40 years of manual labor, martial arts, and various fist fights, IN real life they would be creaking and groaning. In literary life Leonard is still a hardass. He is also having a difficult personal time as his on-and-off boyfriend keeps having religious issues since his church says he is going to hell for being gay.

Oh, I forgot about Hap finding out he has a 20-year-old daughter from a woman he dated for all of a month.

Comments:
1. Gratuitous Bill Crider references.
2. Gratuitous Kasey Lansdale references.
3. Alternate title: Return of the Bonehead Twins
4. Alternate title: Hap and Leonard Stumble Around Some More
5. Alternate title: Leonard and Hap Argue Over Nonsense
6. Alternate title: Hap and Leonard and Jim Bob Luke Ride Again
7. Alternate title: Vanilla Ride Rides Again

Thursday, May 9, 2019

NonFic War Book: "We Few: U.S. Special Forces in Vietnam" by Nick Brokhausen

NonFic War Book: We Few: U.S. Special Forces in Vietnam by Nick Brokhausen, 2018, 9781612005805.

The Studies and Observation Group (SOG) was a super-duper secret commando unit in Vietnam. The unit was given an innocuous name and classified secret until 1996 or so. In 1997 I bought a copy of John L. Plaster's book SOG: the secret wars of America's commandos in Vietnam for the library I worked for. I read Plaster's book in 1997 and will now occasionally see references to SOG. Well, I read a reference a month or two ago, then searched the catalog, then requested this book.

Brokhausen was a Special Forces guy on his way back to Vietnam. He'd already done one or two tours and arrived in Vietnam with no assignment. He and a couple guys were to be waiting around for a place to go when he was recruited - bamboozled - into volunteering for SOG.

SOG was a volunteer unit because the work was incredibly dangerous. They were often sent into Cambodia, Laos, the DMZ, and even North Vietnam. This meant they were out of reach of the usual help from U.S. infantry and artillery. 

Brokhausen worked with a team of about 10 guys who carried about four times the ammunition of a regular infantry unit. Most SOG patrols were actively hunted by dedicated units of the NVA from the time the SOG teams were inserted by helicopter. Very, very rarely did one of these reconnaissance not get in a gun fight. Some teams just disappeared.

Brokhausen lived and succeeded in all this slaughter and terror. But, most of the stories - each chapter a different story - are about life at the base camps. Brokhausen mentions several times how a three day mission is 72 hours of high terror and little sleep. Gallons of booze, hot showers, and bordello trips are enthusiastically consumed when not training, patrolling, or planning patrols.

If you want stories of fightin' and killin' there are a couple in here. The rest are tales of hijinks and shenanigans. Brokhausen and friends playing pranks and screwing each other over. Getting to know their Montagnard partners. Complaining about their officers and senior noncoms. Much bitching and hatred about the Military Police. Griping about rear echelon "twinkies" in starched camouflage. Trying to avoid the crazy guys in their units.

Brokhausen frequently mentions the insanity. Usually when I read things like "We're all crazy" I kinda roll my eyes and think, "OK, ooh la la, you drank until 3AM and tipped over the outhouse."  But, Brokhausen would often consider murder as an acceptable method for conflict resolution on base. Now, to be fair, Brokhausen is not clear on these thoughts. I cannot say for sure if he was dead serious or joshing around. But, he thought about it often and they all acted in ways that were definitely not in in line with civilized life.  Brokhausen and friends's survival in the field was based upon immediate violence and killing. That kind of solution became a natural response.

Back at camp he and other SOG guys would used their suppressed .22s to shoot out the tires of MP jeeps, they regularly stole all manner of vehicles (one guy took a helicopter), dump CS gas grenades in the base tavern, have multiple bar fights, etc. 

Within all this are some very dedicated soldiers. They all dread going out on missions and are terrified of certain sectors that crawl with NVA troops. The SOG guys go out anyway. And the Montagnards are equally - or more - brave and dedicated.

Many of the stories are written as fond reminiscing of horseplay and friends and long drunks. A couple non-combat stories stuck out to me and they were the last two in the book. One was when a group of the SOG guys are driving in a jeep convoy early one morning back to their base. A U.S. Army truck comes driving along the jeeps and shoots them up with rifles and 40mm grenades. No SOG guys are shot and the grenades do not explode, but the impact of one grenade breaks some ribs and an elbow.

The drunken SOG guys are infuriated. The don't survive jungle trips to die at the hands of "junkies" who are targeting the SOG guys because they are white. The storm over to where the truck went and beat and threaten the local unit's guards and commanders. The SOG guys are close to killing people - in addition to one truck passenger killed when SOG shot back - until the SOG commander cools them down and the Army sweeps the issue under the rug.

The second story was a continuation of the previous one. Brokhausen and friends were on a huge drunk because they were expecting to go out on a horrible assignment. Brokhausen recently played a prank that greatly pissed off his commander. As punishment he was expecting his team to go into one of the super dangerous areas. The broken ribs and elbow of his two American teammates meant his squad was stood down and put on R&R. After a couple nights in Saigon Brokhausen took a solo trip to Vung Tau on the coast. He hangs out on the beach. He takes lots of showers. He makes friends with two pilots and two Australian women.  One of the woman is gorgeous and Brokhausen is enamored with her. I'm reading along thinking, "Does he end up marrying this woman or something?" when Brokhausen writes how he and the two pilots are 100 yards from a massive terrorist bomb.

Brokhausen and the pilots run over to give aid. Brokhausen assists one person, then finds a woman's leg, then assists one of the Australians who is missing a foot, and finds the corpse of the second, pretty Australian. Brokhausen is exhausted. He's been through so much terror and when he arrived at Vung Tau he was actually able to relax. He was making new friends who aren't killers. He could sleep in comfort. The Australian were a step back into normal civilian life. And then the war comes rushing back in with bodies parts, pools of blood, and the corpse of someone he liked.

Comment
1. Plaster - listed above - used to live in Northern Wisconsin. Maybe he still does.
2. Plaster was interviewed for Wisconsin Vietnam War Stories back in 20110.