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

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.


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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.