Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Swedish: "Top Dog" by Jens Lapidus

Swedish: Top Dog by Jens Lapidus. 2018 (English translations. 2017 for Swedish), 9780525431732.

More greatness by Lapidus. I greatly enjoyed Lapidus's Stockholm Noir trilogy and found out about this novel in January.

As in previous novels we follow around several characters. Primary are:
Teddy: reformed gangster. From the Balkans.
Emelie: criminal lawyer with her new solo practice. White Swedish.
Nikola: newphew of Teddy who had been training as an electrician until pulled back into the crook life. Balkan family.
Roksana: supposed to be in college but more interested in parties, hanging with the hip crowd, and Instagram popularity. Family from Iran.

Mix'em all together with a pedophile and sexual slavery ring operated by the super-rich plus some violent gangster turmoil. Emelie is hired by a former victim of the sex ring to help the victim work with the police. Emelie asks Teddy to assist her. Roksana and her roommate find several kilograms of cached drugs in their new apartment and sell it all. Nikola's best friend is a gang member and is murdered and Nikola goes out for revenge.

Things move around quite a bit over a 12 month period as Emelie and Teddy try to figure out the conspiracy hiding the wealthy rapists and Nikola tries to deduce who arranged the murder of his best friend.

Lapidus's constant theme through his novels is the underdog in Sweden.  Lapidus's novels have a range of characters but his sympathies are always with the lower level crooks.  The crooks he sides with are people who are striving to work their way up in life. They want money and status and see the easy life of the wealthy Swedes and want to join.  The crooks are always rationalizing the rotten and violent work they do. Some of the protagonists have bad records of murder, robbery and other serious crimes. I'll greatly dislike some of these people but Lapidus gives us characters we can understand.

Most of the characters are either immigrants or first generation Swedes. There are always plenty of Balkan crooks. Economic trouble and social stigma push people into crime - that is the excuse anyway - as a white-upper class keeps down the poors.

Lapidus is - or was - a Swedish defense attorney. I reckon his work is comparable to George V. Higgins. Higgins was a prosecutor and, I presume, had the same professional experience of working with crooks, sitting in police interviews, and reading all the interrogation transcripts and court documents. Lapidus knows about crooks, writes all about them, and puts us in their corner.

Police corruption is a key theme as well. Lapidus shows the cops through a poor guy's or low-level crook's eyes. The cops harass the poor, are racist, and kowtow to the rich. The few bad apples are plenty bad and on the grift.

1. In Stockholm the suburbs are the ghettos
2. The rich stay rich by being crooks and keeping down the rest - see the recent college cheating furor regarding Felicity Huffman and Lori Laughlin -
3. Comparable to Charlie Stella's novels because of: high quality, a great sense of place, multiple characters, corruption, loyal crooks screwed by self-serving mob bosses.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Quit Listening: " The Heist" by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

Quit Listening: The Heist by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg, 2013, download from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Too cute by far. A novel with the schmaltzy action that Evanovich has written to the tune of a plenty of best sellers. A style I do not enjoy. Goldberg has written some really great novels solo so I figured to try this out.

Recap: RBI Special Agent finally catches the con man she has chased for five years. He escapes custody and she catches him in Greece to find out the con man has secretly cut a deal with the FBI to secretly work for them to catch other crooks. FBI and Con Man are irresistibly attracted to one another while also despising each other. Cue the sexual tension. Send the characters around the world. By time I quit at .25 of the way through the book the two leads had been to LA, San Francisco, A remote monastery in Greece, Berlin and were to meet in Cape Girardeau, MO.

Why does everyone have to be a former Navy SEAL or super-duper, covert soldier/Marine/etc.? I enjoy some silliness and complete break from reality - Swierczynski's books - but this was too far fetched to accept. Also, why do I also have to be told about FBI Woman's Glock and kevlar vest all the time?

Too bad I did not enjoy the book because the series has six novels so far.

Quit at Half: "A Selfie As Big As the Ritz" by Lara Williams

Quit at Half: A Selfie As Big As the Ritz by Lara Williams, 2016, 9781250126627.

I follow musician Juliana Hatfield online. A few weeks ago Hatfield linked to an article that was entitled something like "Best Bass Performances by Women" that referenced her playing on It's a Shame About Ray by The Lemonheads. That 1992 album was big at the time but I had no idea she was listed as a band member. I never actually listened to the full album before so I checked the library catalog for a copy.

There is one copy of the album in the system - available from Town Hall Library - and I placed a hold. A Selfie As Big As the Ritz was also in the search results because one of Williams's short stories shares the album's title. I looked at the bib for A Selfie As Big As the Ritz and figured, "Might as well try it."

Well. I tried it.

Several very short stories by Williams that mostly deal with dissatisfied women straddling the age of 30. Failed relationships. Dissatisfaction with love or work or life in general. Living in England and going out on dates. Nothing about the characters or circumstances grabbed me at all. The stories use a perspective that I am nowhere near experiencing in my own life but not much really happens. Unhappy women make decisions based on desperation or ennui.

On Friday my wife and I were at Sunshine Brewing and we chatted with someone who spoke how she no longer forces her self to finish books. I think that influenced me because I decided to bail on this rather than force myself to finish.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Audio True Crime: "Wolf Boys" by Dan Slater

Audio True Crime: Wolf Boys: two American teenagers and Mexico's most dangerous drug cartel by Dan Slater, 2016, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Holy Shit.  I always knew the Mexico drug wars were horrid. I did not know that the Zetas used prisoners as training aids to teach murder. I also know that thousands of people have been killed but not that the Zetas would have day long killing sprees that would hit as many as 10 locations and commit at least one murder per location. Never mind all the people who have disappeared. The Zetas used to abduct people, question them under torture, and burn the bodies to ash.

Freely joining this fucking disaster were Gabriel and Bart, a couple small time teenage crooks in Laredo, TX who would steal cars and then sell them in Nueva Laredo, Mexico to the cartels. They get recruited into the Zeta organization in 2005, go to a two month training camp in Mexico, and start working as sicarios during assassination trips in Mexico and the U.S.Slater focuses on these two American teenagers and the Laredo homicide cop who finally stopped them.

Slater gives a introduction and summary of drug war history and Mexican politics. Aerial crop eradication of marijuana and poppies fields in the 70s. Cocaine smuggling start-ups of the '80s. The economic disaster to Mexico of NAFTA and the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. Decades of one party rule across all levels of Mexican government and the endemic corruption. How the new cartels of the 1990s evolved into the hyper violence of the Zetas and Knights Templar and all the other groups.

The Zetas are mostly gone now (2019) but were created by an initial core of graduates from the School of the Americas. The School has received plenty of righteous condemnation over the years for the murderous work of their graduates.  The Zetas were not just graduates of that school but were trained and experienced Mexican Special Forces soldiers who started working for the cartels and then formed their own organization.

Those soldiers took all the combat training, organizational skills, communications skills, and secrecy and applied it to the Zetas. Every Zeta leader used a code name. Zeta recruits were trained in weapons, driving, torture, radio communications, etc. The Zetas accelerated the drug violence in Mexico and man oh man they were awful.

Gabriel and Bart worked under the command of Zeta leader Z40. I'd read about Z40 before and Slater tells stories of Z40 bragging about murdering over 800 people. Even if Z40 was exaggerating by two or three or four times that is a incomprehensible number. Where previous cartels would threaten or bribe the Zetas seemed - to my reading - to be more inclined to go straight to murder. And they would murder entire families.

The saying of plata or plomo (silver of lead) still applied of course. Money (silver) bought most everyone.  I've read heroic stories of underpaid journalists daring to write about the violence of the drug wars and the complicit or active involvement of government officials. But, news people were under the same gun as the cops. If journalists wanted to survive they did not write about massacres, missing people, corruption or anything else. The news stories were limited to restaurant openings, tourism, and puppy dogs. Police chiefs promising honesty and reform would - literally - be murdered the day after winning election.

All the millions of U.S. dollars floating South bought everyone in Mexico so you can figure there is no way the cash has not been paying off thousands of people in the U.S. as well. A major part of the Mexico problem is the corruption at the top and the poor wages at the bottom. Some underpaid Mexican cops could look the other way. When the Mexican economy went bad post-NAFTA so did police wages. Cops stopped ignoring trouble and started actively working for cartels. (Don't forget how many of the kidnappers working today seem to be in the police or working hand-in-hand with officers.)

Anyhoo. I am getting way off track. Slater has to tell the wider story to make sense of the smaller story. Gabriel and Bart are not good kids. By Laredo standards they are not bad kids either. But, 18-year-old Gabriel has been stealing cars in Laredo and taking them across the border. On one trip Z40's group catches him and Gabriel starts working for them. He attends their rural murder school for a couple months. He makes lots of money and dresses in designer duds. He spends long nights at bars and clubs. He goes out and murders whoever he is told and kidnaps others for torture.

Most of the violence was still in Mexico but the American Zetas started using their citizenship to easily cross the border for murders and drug trafficking. Gabriel and others would stay in Laredo safe houses and go after competing drug workers and former Zetas who defected to another cartel. A lot is made nowadays about how safe El Paso is. But, the smaller city of Laredo had plenty of new murders in 2005 and beyond. How many more murders were never reported because bodies were hidden or burned?

Against this insanity of teenage sociopaths was Detective Garcia of Laredo. Garcia is the kind of guy who pisses off all his co-workers but does excellent work. He spends several years at part of a DEA task force and gradually loses all faith in the drug war. Upon return to regular duty in Laredo he becomes a homicide detective and  helps convict the two teen assassins.

The story of Gabe and Bart really hit the news. Neither one of them thought they got a fair shake in the press. What did they fucking expect? They committed mass murders. Both of them did not like the way the press portrayed them but Slater was able to connect with them somewhat and get their versions of the story.

1. Reading about all this craziness makes me want to pack heat and I am a 1,400 mile drive away from Laredo.
2. Slater wrote that former US Drug Czar Barry McCaffery was at one point in command of the unit or area that ran the School of the Americas.
3. Laredo murders peaked in 2003 and 2006 at 29 and 22 respectively. 2017 had 10 murders.
4. Cutting deals with drug heads - evidence that a Zeta brought $60M into the U.S. to lower his sentence. That info was kept out of court records but leaked to the author.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Printed On Paper : "The Infinite Blacktop" by Sara Gran

Printed on Paper: The Infinite Blacktop by Sarah Gran, 2018, 978-1-5011-6571-9.

Quite excellent. Third and best novel of the Claire DeWitt series.

This ends immediately after the second novel, Bohemian Grove, with DeWitt waking up in a stationary ambulance and knowing that someone is trying to kill her. DeWitt gets even more desperate than usual and tries to track down the person trying to murder her.

The novel covers three time periods. One: DeWitt as delinquent teen in NYC. Two: DeWitt as a drifting journeyman investigator who stays in 1992 Los Angeles to earn enough hours to get her P.I. license. Three: DeWitt in present day trying to figure out how her own history has led to a murder attempt on her life. You needn't read the first two books to understand the story but you might as well because the novels are so damn good.

I'll admit the plot is difficult to remember even without my finishing this book about a month ago. DeWitt is doped and boozed so much of the time that the story will truck along and then veer. Her behavior is erratic - sometimes even Claire is so far gone she realizes she is acting strange.

I'll boil it down to this: Claire wants the truth. Claire wants no attachments. She is a true adherent to the teachings of Jacques Silette. The truth is only thing that matters and to reach the truth you have to be entirely independent. DeWitt has been in the roughly acquainted circle of Silette apostles and followers and that loose affiliation has both helped her and bit her hard on the ass.

The truth of a case drives DeWitt but the rest of her life has always been a bit of a mess. She doesn't acre for money or clothes. If she wants sex she'll pick a guy up at the bar. She'll steal prescription drugs when visiting someone. Booze flows like water.  Dewitt has her own personal truth to follow and nothing will get in the way - aside from hangovers.

There is even more of DeWitt The Loner here.  She is always by herself really because she is alone by choice and nature. This plot has her without her new-ish assistant, mysterious homeless colleagues living in the woods, or a client to interact with. Even the 1992 case has no client - it's her just going through a cold case for a P.I. that was hired by the now dead parent of a missing person.

Comments and Spoilers:
1. The idea that Jacques Silette's missing and assumed abducted daughter is alive and well was very intriguing to me. Gran lays the groundwork and writes up that mystery so damn well. A long lost and never solved event that intrigues but, over time, has left zero clues.
2. Anyhoo. Gran adds in little, grubbing DeWitt comments everywhere.DeWitt is the ultimate cynic. There were several passages and observations by DeWitt that were fantastic. I never marked them down so take my word for it.
3. So much of what Gran writes about makes me wonder if she based any people or plots on historical events. Gran and Abbott, Jr. ran that fantastic blog a few years ago that touched on some of the same vibes of this story.

Stuck It Out: "Cowboys and Aliens"

Stuck It Out: Cowboys and Aliens by Joan D. Vinge, 2011, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Audio version of the tie-in novel from the film Cowboys and Aliens. I recall the film being a flop. Well, after hearing the book version I suppose the film was rotten. I forced myself to finish off the last three hours of this novel. The story went on f-o-r-e-v-e-r.

The basic story is that a guy wakes up in the New Mexico desert with no memory and a weird metal thing on his wrist. Soon, he has quickly killed three bounty hunters and rode into a former-now-failing gold town. Memory Guy finds out he is wanted, gets in a fight, has a rich guy after him, and everyone is attacked by aliens. Then there are some fights, some chases, a half-baked love affair, blah, blah, blah.

I suspect Vinge had jack all to work with here. I was trying to imagine the screenplay version and there seems to have been plenty that Vinge had to put into the novel about the characters, their histories, alien society and culture, and the desperado gang. How much could the author create on her own? How much was outlined already? There is minimal dialogue in first part of story. How was that shown in the film?

Anyhoo. There are a bunch of stock western characters. There is a desert. There are aliens capturing people and eating them - I guess - and the aliens are mining gold.

Don't read it.

1. Max Alan Collins has written how he wrote the tie-in novel for Road to Perdition. Collins received all sorts of revision notes from the film's producers even though Collins wrote the damn source material.
2. Other tie-in novels I have enjoyed: Christa Faust's work. Lee Goldberg's work.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Short Stories: "Murdaland" edited by Michael Lagnas

Short Stories: Murdaland: crime fiction for the 21st Century edited by Miachel Lagnas, 2006, 074470279761.

This is a very nice collection. A book I never got to when it came out. An interesting thing is that this collection precedes the novels of several of these people before others received a lot of exposure. Daniel Woodrell (though you can argue he already had press), Anthony Neil Smith, JD Rhoades, Patti Abbott, Les Edgerton, Tom Franklin.

All stories were by modern authors except one story by David Goodis. I read this a while ago and have little specifics on the stories. Let me look through:

My War by Paolo Madrigal. A new author and setting to me. Government fighters in 1980s Central America going against anti-gov guerrillas. Brutality of a dirty war mixed with personal conflict over a love affair.

I read the Woodrell one before.

Anthony Neil Smith's story about a obsessive and possessive jackass controlling the funeral of his dead girlfriend who didn't even like him.

Scouts by Tristan Davies. A fundraiser for Boy Scouts is a sexual dirtbag who is shagging a donor's wife.

Felon by Les Edgerton. I'd not read any of his work until this. An author I've been meaning to get to. Life as a small time crook. Taking jobs where needed. Booze and drugs and cheap hotel rooms. He doesn't want to go back to jail but the risk is just part of life. The jolt and excitement of pulling robberies, burglaries, and other crimes.

I quit Mary Gaitskill story very quick. That was some stream of conscious crap.

An excerpt from the novel Smonk by Tom Franklin. A teen prostitute on a turn-of-the-century riverboat kills a couple johns. I bought Smonk for work, it's sitting on the library shelf, and I never got to reading it. My library's copy was catalogued in September, 2006. Went out 8 times. Last circ'ed in November, 2013.

Anyhoo. That's enough. This is a completely solid collection. Except for that Gaitskill one - definitely not up my alley.

Hockey Comic: "Check, Please!" by Ngozi Ukazu

Hockey Comic: Check, Please!: Book 1: #HOCKEY by Ngozi Ukazu, 2018, 9781250177957.

This had a very positive review in either Booklist or Library Journal. The author was in a screenwriting class at some Ivy League school and decided to write about hockey. She was from the South, knew jack-all about, hockey, started hanging out with the hockey team, ended up loving hockey.

Story: Dude from the South takes up hockey after training several years as a figure skater. Dude is such a sharp skater that he earns a hockey scholarship to a school in the Northeast.. He has a few ups and downs over his first two years.

Eric "Bittie" Bittle is smaller guy who loves to cook and vlog. The story begins as a monologue addressed at Bittie's laptop camera. He has just moved into his dorm for August hockey training. Over time he becomes close friends with his teammates, tells everyone he is gay, tries to overcome an intense fear of checking (he is a small guy who does not want a 250 lbs. bruiser whacking him into the boards), and anxious about traveling on his own from AL to the WhereEver.

The comic book novel compilation follows Bittie's first two years of school. Bittie has no love interest but deeply admire the Quebecois team captain who who is the son of a NHL All Star. Captain was a hockey wunderkind until a drug habit derailed him when he was 18. He has become a college star and will soon head to the NHL.

Meanwhile the rest of the team can be described as "woke boozehounds". The team is very much dedicated to both booze and enthusiastic student themes of equality. It is an odd mix at times. Their team hazing is to take have new guys wear their underwear out to center ice and told to prepare for Hazeapalooza. No one takes it seriously. Bittie brings pie to the event and they all end up arguing before going home.

This is a fun book. The artwork is bright with big-eyed happy characters. The conflict is Bittie overcoming nerves, striving to improve his hockey skills, wishing for love affairs, and finding out Captain is gay and into him.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Audio Noises: "Bling Ring" by Nancy Jo Sales.

Audio Noises: The Bling Ring: how a gang of fame obsesses teens ripped off Hollywood and shocked the world by Nancy Jo Sales, 2013, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

The brief summary in the library catalog says An in-depth expose of a band of beautiful, privileged teenagers who were caught breaking into celebrity homes and stealing millions of dollars worth of valuables. That's the problem right there: a book about inane teenagers obsessed with fame who decided the burgle famous people so they could wear their clothes and carry their purses. The book dragged.

This was a 9.3 hour audiobook about dipshits. Sales wrote a 2010 Vanity Fair expose on the case and expanded the whole thing into a book. But, when you're writing about 18-year-olds who only care about reality TV, Los Angeles club hopping, looks and clothes, and appearing on TMZ you don't have much content. Sales had to pad a lot of the book with sociological chatter about teenagers, social media, celebrity obsessing culture, and the explosion of celebrities who are famous for being famous.

Anyhoo. Here is the story. Some teenagers in the Valley are really into fashion and famous people. A couple of the teens are good looking and one teaches pole dancing and another was a Playboy Cyber Girl. They started burglarizing celebrity homes and stealing clothes, shoes, purses, cash, and drugs. The burglaries accelerated. The victims's houses were left unlocked and alarms turned off. Video surveillance caught the crooks in the act but not always recorded their faces.

With one-of-a-kind designer items, a Rolex collection, and cash the burglaries tally into $100,000+. The kids are caught. Some of the stolen materials is recovered. When the book was published some kids are convicted. Some of those kids are still pretending they did not do the burglaries even though caught and plead guilty.

They are all idiots. They were all overjoyed at paparazzi questioning their involvement as they left night clubs, or asking for quotes during their perp walks. If I had read this in 2013 it might have been of interest. However, this craziness is nothing compared to the current shitshow of a idiotic, self obsessed, former reality TV star becoming President.

1. Sales did a lot of work on this story. She was all over Los Angeles with interviews with burglars, cops, lawyers, friends, family, neighbors and court documents.
2. Celebrities famous for being famous. Sales mentions how a Kardashian became famous from a sex tape and that started the family business. When I was growing up there were people who were on the same spectrum but they were there after initial successes. Charo and George Hamilton are two that come to mind. Hamilton, though, hit it big with Love at First Bite and got somewhat regular roles after. Charo was both a punchline and skilled entertainer - just not enough to stay big.
3. The pole dancer and Playboy girl burglars did parlay their local party girl reputation into a reality show. The show was so awful is was canceled after a couple episodes. Sales quotes Joel McHale's blistering insult on The Soup.
4. Sales wrote this at the peak of reality TV and writes about how reality TV is actually scripted. The show with the dancer and nude model pretended the girls were still in high school. Sales mentions how viewers follow the shows for style and fashion guidance and examples of expected behavior.
5. The reality TV shows reminded me that a lot of the crazy, the boozing, the all-day-bikini wearing of 20-year-olds is actually scripted by TV producers in their forties.
6. Some of the attorneys are more interested in publicity and TV coverage than defending the burglars. One attorney was blathering to Sales about the concepts of judgment, justice, and fairness. How the lawyer was proud of being seen by police and prosecutors as a "fair guy". Fuck that. You're not there to be fair. You're there to fight for your client. You're there to keep the government honest, not get buddy buddy.
6.B. The lawyers reminded me of Connelly's Mickey Haller books. Haller's practice is built on advertising and notoriety. Except Haller actually does have his client's interests in mind.
7. Lindsey Lohan had it rough. She was modeling at age 3 and the generated the family income as a child. Her mother was a party girl. Her father sold her voicemail messages to the gossip websites. Lohan's life became booze, drugs, and no supervision or guidance. No stable home to retreat to.
8. One burglar is rotten to her mother during interviews with Sales. "Stop it! You're not allowed to talk!" The narrator reads that very emphatically.
9. I did not realize how long ago this book came out. Or recognized a film was made.
10. The book starts with Sales meeting with Sofia Coppola who ended up directing the film version.
Sales or Coppola wonder when the celebrity culture will evolve. If there will be a backlash or a change. My comment: the culture has not changed but people do not get away with as much. Before the book was written Paris Hilton was caught on tape disparaging racial groups and homosexuals with no result. Now, that behavior can swing back and sting. Kevin Hart's old Tweets. Governor Blackface in Virginia.
10.B. EDIT: now that TV is in the new Golden Age I presume the fascination with and ratings for reality TV have dropped.