Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Aug 2009 Reads

Here is a rundown of the books that I read this month:

Columbine by Dave Cullen
Tarot Card Book Mark: none ( I didn't think it tasteful considering the subject matter)
We all pretty much know this story don't we? or do we? This book is a journalistic look at the events that leading up to and the aftermath of the mass murders at Columbine High School in Littleton Colorado in April of 1999. Two students, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris attempted to blow up their school and kill hundreds of their classmates. The book was very well written, and unlike to many true crime tales did not wallow in the more sensational aspects of the crime. I think the most important things that I took away from this book were that 1) this wasn't a school shooting, it was a failed bombing that lead to a shooting 2) that it was mainly the Jeffco Sheriffs Department not telling the public and what they had learned that caused the media to run with so many erroneous stories in the immediate aftermath of the incident. If there are any lessons that parents, students, police, and the education establishment can take away from this book it's that you can not prevent everything, and preventing these events means taking an honestly look at your population and speak up when you think there is an issues. Also this book pointed out that as an institution you need to have plans to deal with this kind of event. Overall it was an excellent read that everyone who has a interest education, law enforcement, or the societal issues around upper middle class suburban life of Gen Y teens in the USA.

Killer's Payoff by Ed McBain
Tarot Card Book Mark: The Shell
The 6th of the 87th Precinct books. Cotton Hawes steps to the fore as the romantic lead in this installment. He sleeps with women, he carries the bulk of the story doing the the leg work and he solves the crime-- in this case extortion. It did not completely work for me, as part of the allure of the series is the ensemble cast and the lack of a womanizing, hard drinking PI type story. McBain writes in the intro to the 1993 edition that I was reading that he was under pressure to add those elements, and even though he did there is a level of snark that he adds to the scenes of Cotton Hawes acting like your typical pulp protagonist, as if to say you want this stuff you got it. One thought occurs to me, I have said before that it is going to be interesting to see how things play out with the changes in crime in policing that occurred as the series was written, it also strikes me that it is going to be interesting to see how the changes in publishing of crime novels play out as the series goes on. When the series started paperbacks were cheap quick reads that rarely passed the 250 page mark, but the 70s and 80s the expectation was that paperbacks would be later cheaper editions of Hard Covers, and would have to be longer and give the reader more material for their buck. All that said this was yet another enjoyable installment in the 87th Precinct series.

To Find Cora by Harry Whittington
Tarot Card Book Mark: The Glove
From Stark House Books
To Find Cora is the first of the three novels reprinted in this volume. It is the story of Joe a man who is tearing across the country looking for his wife Cora who he believes has run off with another man. He hears that a woman matching Cora's description has been sited and set out to check out the rumor. Arriving at a remote farm house, he finds not Cora but Vi and Hall. Hall is on the run after having embezzled a large amount of money from the company he works for and believes Joe to be a Detective who has been sent to find him. The story unfolds from this point, with and there are plenty of pulpy twists, turns and complications. The book has a small cast of main characters who are easy to keep track of and there is a big twist at the end, along with a just deserts kind of finally. I'm taking my time to read the three books in this volume, and am looking forward to the next two.

Passport to Peril by Robert B Parker
Tarot Card Book Mark: The Whip
Hard Case Crime book
First off, this is not the same Robert B Parker who writes the Spenser books. A tale of espionage set in 50s Budapest. A fun and smooth read. American John Stoddard buys a forged passport to travel to Budapest so he can look for his brother who has been missing since the war. He quickly finds himself in the middle of a the delivery of a list of people that several parties are interested in. There is a bit of James Bond, but a whole lot more of the classic outsider sucked into something he has no interest in plot. There are a couple of solid action set pieces, and some torture (not described). All in all this was classic pulp read and another worthy entry in the Hard Case Line.

Blood is a Rover by James Ellroy
Tarot Card Book Mark: The Gold
I am still reading this one, so I am going to with hold comment.

The Mourner by Richard Stark
Tarot Card Book Mark: The Earth
This is the earliest Stark book that I have read that shows signs of where Westlake was going later on. In this book Parker gets sucked into a plot to steal a statue from the functionary of a fictional Eastern European country. Things of course go wrong, and touches of humor surface. I could see the seeds of The Hot Rock which reportedly started out as a Parker book. I like the book a lot, but really wanted more of the Parker heist stories that featured in the first four books of the Parker series.

Tarot Card Book Marks? I have a really lame deck of Tarot cards that I pulled off a free cart at the Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library sale a couple of months back, and I started using them as book marks for giggles mostly. I just pull a card at random from the deck, make note of it, and when I am done it goes in the discard pile. Sometimes the card ends up to have a relation to the book in questions, sometimes not.


Dave Lewis said...

A Westlake a month is an intriguing idea. After reading the first few Parkers, I happened on one of the later Dortmunders and thought WHOA - how did he get from there to here? Guess you're going to find out.

Cullen Gallagher said...

I have a bunch of the McBain books at home, and have been trying to go in order. Is this something you recommend?

Iren said...

Dave: Yeah, I started with the Stark books, and when Westlake passed away someone on the 4MA list made the challenge of a Westlake a month for the year 2009 and I figured that I'd give it a shot. I think that 2010 will be a John D MacDonald a month as I have a lot of his paperbacks. I'm looking forward to more of the Parker books to see if there are more hints of not only the Dortmunder books but stuff like The Dancing Aztec.

Cullen: I am reading them in order which I think is interesting, but I did read a number of them out of order in High School and never had a issue following what was going on.

Dave Cullen said...

Thanks for the nice review of my book, Columbine.

I hope you like it Iren.

Dave Cullen said...


Any chance you named your blog after Warren Zevon's song "Wild Age," From BAD LUCK STREAK IN DANCING SCHOOL?

I know he didn't invent the phrase, but that's what it keeps bringing to my mind. The song keeps rattling in my head.

Iren said...

Dave: Thanks for stopping by. Yeah the more I think about your book, the more I hope that it is read by police, teachers, school administrators, and social worker types. Not only could it help them understand what happened, but help them learn how to deal with kids that are of concern for what ever reason. As for your question, I dig Zevon's work, but the title of the blog comes from a song by a Rochester NY band called The New Math, who were around in the late 70s before turning into The Jet Black Berries.