Friday, July 31, 2009

Books July 2009

Devil Born Without Horns by Michael A Lucas
Tarot Card Book Mark: The Home
2009 Will Read List book!

bought this book because Amazon kept recommending it, and it is from Rudos & Rubes publishing, who issued the collection of short stories from 70s Punk Rocker Johnny Strike. The book follows Jim Pichaske, a recent college grad, and his decent into the madness of low rent world of working retail. In this case it's for a poorly run and managed Furniture Company called Nimbus. Jim is of course educated and underemployed , and too often treated like some kind of chucklehead with no brain. As time passes he starts to spiral into a life of petty crime, drug use and finally a last big score which, well like the rest of his life isn't going where he thought it would. I liked this book a lot, maybe it cause I have worked in the furniture business, or that I know all too well what it is to be underemployed and to watch dreams and desires slip away. The book is more in the vein of something like Miami Purity where the crime is the result of a life in free fall or maybe more to the point a life without a real drive or direction.

The Con Man by Ed McBain

Tarot Card Book Mark: None

The 4th of the legendary 87th precinct novels follows the squad as they track a team of Con men who are working the streets fleecing the public, meanwhile the bodies of two women have surfaced in the river, both dead of poisoning and both with near identical tattoos on their hands. The squad works the cases while McBain talks about the Cons that people live with every day, and the trust that it takes to put the truth in someones hands and for them to follow up. There is a element of the book where McBain addresses the reader about the subject of the con, in much the same way that Donald Weslake did in some of his books. Once again there is shockingly dated quality to the book as it is pre-drug apocalypse, pre-professional police movement, and stills stuck with the technology and methods of the 1950s. Still it is worth visiting and checking out.

Killer's Choice by Ed McBain

Tarot Card Book Mark: None

I really liked this one, I have to say that I have liked all of the 87th precinct books I have read, but this one was different. This was the first one that didn't deal with perps that were committing a specific crime, that is to say the last one was the con man and before that there was the pusher and the mugger. This one had a little more of the expected mystery structure and feel to it. I liked that the mystery structure was folded into the police procedural style. I also liked the introduction of the Det Hawes and the exit of Haviland. Who but McBain could get away with some of the really dark humor that's in this book, and in 1957 even. I am taking a little break from the 87th precinct books right now, but hope to get to the next one later in this month or early next month.

East of A by Russell Atwood
Tarot Card Book Mark: Burning
Hard Case Crime is going to publish the sequel to this book in Sept so I wanted to read this one before hand, luckily I ran across a copy of in a paperback trade in joint. East of A starts with P.I. Payton Sherwood arriving home to find he needs to run to the store for some food, only the place on the corner is closed and things just get worse from there. He interrupts the beating of a young woman who repays him by taking his watch. The story unfold from there as Payton searches for the girl, his watch and slowly depletes his bank account trying to get her out from under. It is a Detective novel of it's time (90s NYC), and was a great read. I look forward to the HCC book arriving in just about a month.

Vanilla Ride by Joe R Lansdale

Tarot Card Book Mark: The Mouth
Leonard and Hap and back and riffing their tough talking asses off while things go bad around them. It all started with them retrieving the grand daughter of a friend from her drug dealing scum bag boyfriend, and from their chaos ensues. It's pretty much a lot of crazy action and funny tough guy talking. There is an energy to the book the keeps it from getting boring and standard. No mysteries to solve, no big corruption to uncover, Leonard and Hap really are just two guys who can't seem to stay out of trouble and have to deal with happens.

The Deep Blue Good-Bye by John D MacDonald
Tarot Card Book Mark: The Gift
2009 Will Read List Book!
I have put off reading this book for a long time, and it was time to give it a read. This is the first of the Travis McGee series, and the first full length MacDonald that I have read. If this is any indication of things to come I have to say that I am looking forward to the stack of MacDonald books that I have amassed over the last year or so. The story is pretty straight forward, Travis is an outsider type who lives on a house boat and is in the business of recovering things for friends. In this one he is asked by a friend of a friend to help recover/discover what every it was that her father had brought back from the Far East during the War. That would be WWII, and her father would have died in prison, only to have a former cell mate show up and search the family home, taking off, only to return a rich man. If you look at the cover of the book I have included in this post, you should get an idea of what the riches were. McGee takes the job and is sucked into the world of the ex-con and his psycho way of life and search for kicks. There is a strong undercurrent of the loosing of the social mores and dangers of that ebbing through the book-- it's almost like a prediction of the social chaos to come in the 1960s and 1970s. The prose are direct but have a flow and a spark. There were a couple of places where the turn of the phrase stuck with me, lines that I am going to have to steal for story titles, "These are the Slums of the Heart" and "These are the bunnies who never find a burrow". There is the issue of the wounded women that McGee finds himself in the company of, I don't really have much to say about them at this point in my reading of the series, I wonder if as times changed over the more than twenty years that the books were written if the women become stronger? What I can say is that if you are new convert to reading pulp/hard boiled tales that this will entertain and also give an insight to the steps between Marlow and Spencer in Detective fiction.

Yellow Medicine by Anthony Neil Smith
Tarot Card Book Mark: The Lion
I first heard the name Anthony Neil Smith in connection with the website Plots with Guns and his brother in arms Victor Gischler. A pretty good crime book, that I think I liked more for what it said about some places I have lived than for the over all plot. In a lot of ways the book felt a little-- mushy-- around the edges, like there was a sharpness that was missing from the plot. Things I liked : The stuff about the Minnesota Ice culture. As an outsider who lived in the Cities for 5 years, I know exactly what that 'we had all the friends we needed in the 2nd grade' mentality and culture is all about. As for the description of my home town (and current residence) of Ann Arbor, MI, Smith gets is half right. His description of the town as being filled with smug people who don't know how smug they come off is correct on the first part, but the truth is they know how arrogant and smug they come off and they really don't care. The minor quibble aside, I am looking forward to picking up the newest of Smith's books, Hotdoggin' in the future.

The Cutie by Donald Westlake
Hard Case Crime Book of the Month
Donald Westlake Book for the Month!
I'm running low on time this month, so I am going to go for a two for one here, my Hard Case Crime and my Donald Westlake book for the month. This was the first Westlake novel published way back in 1960, and the first to hit the stands (are there still stands?) in the months after his death. It's the story of a organization man who gets caught up in finding The Cutie. No despite the red head loading the pistol on the cover, the Cutie is someone who thought that they were being cute when they left a passed out junkie next to a woman they had murdered, only the junkie woke up and got out of the scene ahead of the cops. I think I am making it more complex than it is, but it's a hell of a read, and knowing that it was Westlakes first published novel makes it well worth checking out.

Note: 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. This month I had several books where I didn't have the cards as bookmarks, this was mostly due to the fact that I have been moving and everything was in disarray and I didn't always have the cards handy. A couple of the books were also inter-library loans, and I tend to use the paperwork that comes with those as bookmarks.
p.s. I am half wake as I write this let me know if something didn't make sense or I really screwed up the grammar

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Word that Start with H

House Keeping--- or more to the point house moving, which is what I am in the middle of currently. I am moving to a new place, my own apartment, and haven't sorted my Internet connection yet. I am able to check e-mail and do some on-line tasks at work, but my ability to take the time to write semi well thought out and composed blog posts is going to be limited for a while. For that reason I am announcing that I am taking a little, what's the word: Hibiscus? Hit or Miss? Hiatus, that's the one.

In other news, The Ann Arbor News, my home town bird cage liner is closing it's doors today with it's last edition. I can't say that I have been all that enamored with the paper and it's political bent in the last couple of years. I've watched it get thinner and thinner, I've seen as it had followed the trends of the media industry and given less and less space to local stories that are not crime and politics. Living in a town where there is one political party runs the whole show, and the paper is on their side I really don't know that they were doing their job of holding a light on our local government, school board and the university when they made policy that should have been questioned.

That said, there were several moments in my life time where my family was featured in the paper (all in positive lights).
Maybe the most memorable was several years ago there was story on the number of record shops in downtown Ann Arbor-- and the photo accompanying the story was of my sister looking at CDs in one of the used shops. She had tagged along with my brother and I and ended up in the photo. I always thought it was funny that she ended up in the photo, as she is a casual music fan and my brother and I are the Rockfiends. My grandfather, one of the most Conservative men I have ever known, was quoted in the paper when my sister graduated from Community High School. He said that he thought it was great that all of the grads got a chance to speak during the ceremony. Lastly there was the article about my mother and the new letter she published in the 80s for single Christan women, that was distributed around the city. I think it was all the time that she spent on that news letter along with the Church newsletter that influenced my brother start his own zine and the two of us to start out own record label in the late 90s. Like a lot of young people over the years I was also and Ann Arbor New Carrier, back in the bad old days when kids did those jobs. I made a little money, once and a while.

Anyway, later days.

P.S. If you are looking for a Friday forgotten book, I suggest this week, not a book, but about movie about a pulp writer. Le Magnifique which I think I have written about before, it is fun and has an energy to it, and well worth checking out. You can get it from netflix.
From Wiki:
Synopsis: Fran├žois Merlin (Belmondo) is a Jean Bruce type writer of pulp espionage novels, and about half of the film plays in his imagination, where he is the world-renowned superspy Bob "Sinclare" (The name of the character is never seen written in the movie, while some people write his name "Saint-Clair" the way it is pronounced in French sounds like Sinclar.) Christine (Jacqueline Bisset) is a sociology student who is interested in the novels, but in the writer's imagination, she is Tatiana, his paramour. Her clear fascination with Bob St Clair, an irrealistic and idealized hero, begins to bother Marlin, who in real life is the very opposite of his creation: a clumsy, frustrated man who barely makes enough money to get by. As a result Marlin begins to sabotage his own hero.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hard Case Crime: Bi Monthly/Westlake

No, no, we are not going to get 2 new Westlake books a month. However, as many of you know Hard Case Crime had been the most visible purveyor of old school hard boiled plot driven crime paperbacks for the last five and a half years. They have consistently issued a new title each month during that time, both new books in the style of classic crime and reissues of out of print titles.

In the latest News e-mail Editor Charles Ardai announced that they would be taking a break between the two books they plan to publish in December, and their next title, a unpublished Donald Westlake (bow your heads, moment of silence, open your copy of Lemons Never Lie to page 138 and read aloud) novel which is slated to hit shelved in April 2010 (which is most likely going to be the last week in March). Starting with Memory HCC will publish every other month.
(love that cover, it's the red in the chair, the pants and the blanket)

Ardai, didn't go into all of the reasons for the bimonthly*, but the slow down in consumer spending would be my guess. Ardai did say that a lot of people have reported having a back log of HCC books in their TBR piles (and you can count me in that number) which is a valid reason to slow down publishing new titles. Because I am a can do, give it your best shot type of guy, I feel like there is more that can be done to move the masses to pick up and support HCC more. To that end I have a couple of suggestions that I am just going to throw out there into the interweb winds:

1- on the HCC website, how about a printer friendly one sheet PDF list of the books published so far so that new readers can print it off and take it with them to the book store, Amazon, or the library.
2- A PDA/ Black Berry/iPhone/iPod touch version of the same thing so that people can have the electronic shopping list with them.
3- book sets. why not have a special that collects all the Max Allen Collins Quarry books in one set, or all of the Westlake in one set.
4- more merch- posters, postcards, magnets, and bottle openers.
5- Facebook- It would be nice to see a official HCC face book page, with news, updates, art work, and just a general place for fans to mingle and what not.

There you have it--- now I know that the people at HCC work hard and are doing the best that they can, I in no way want to come off like a know it all, or a back seat driver, I simply want them to be able to keep on doing what they have been for a lot of years to come.

oh and they could republish the A. I. Bezzerides novel The Long Haul (*Hint*Hint*)

*(From Does bimonthly mean 'twice a month' or 'every two months'? I'm afraid it means both! But in the publishing industry, it is used fairly consistently to mean 'every two months'. The same ambiguity affects biweekly and biyearly. If you want to be absolutely clear, use a phrase such as 'twice a week' or 'every two years'.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Friday Forgotten Book: Devil Born Without Horns

Devil Born Without Horns by Michael A Lucas isn't a forgotten book as much as it's a lost in the shuffle book. Published by Rudos & Rubes, I discovered it after Amazon kept suggesting it as a book I might like. I had purchased via Amazon A Loud Humming Sound Came from Above by Johnny Strike, which was also published by Rudos & Rubes, and they thought I might like this one as well. I resisted for as long as I could, trying to get the book though Inter Library Loan, before giving in and ordering a copy -- which promptly sat on my shelf for the last couple of months. Knowing that I had a TBR pile that was growing, at the start of this year I made a list of books from the TBR pile that I resolved to read in 2009, and this was one of the books on that list, and I am glad that I can now cross off.

I am glad because I am happy to report that upon picking the book up recently I was quickly engrossed in the adventures of our protagonist James Pichaske. A recently graduating college, he takes a job doing deliveries for a bay area furniture company. It's a mind numbingly awful job, compete with looser co-workers and clueless bosses. Jim tries to be a good worker and make the job work, only no one will let him. I think that the opening passage of the book sums things up well.

Although I'd often been told that a College Education would prove useful regardless of whatever else I did in my life, my Bachelor's degree was of no help whatsoever in making up my mind to shoot someone. Perhaps I could have made my decision more quickly had I majored in philosophy instead of film theory.

As a crime novel it's more about the slide of a person or persons into a life of low level criminal activity. It's a very Gen X tale, over educated and under employed James finds himself left out in the cold, as the Hustle of the culture around chips away at his resolve, his intent, his passions and leaves him a husk of that bright eyes college kid that he thought he was.

I once worked for a major home furnishing company and I identified with a lot of that side of things, and like most everyone I have worked around my fair share of clueless, lying SOB bosses, and know how that can destroy you. All of that is reflected in this book, in a lot of ways it's like Office Space meets, I don't know, maybe Miami Purity or one of those noir tales where a everyday Joe is sucked in over his head.

Note: I am moving house during the next couple of weeks, I haven't figured out what I am going to do about an internet connection at my new place yet, so my already infrequent posting is going to slow down for the next couple of weeks until I figure out what I am going to do.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Gate Way to Book?

For years I have been asking my Rockfiend buddies what album, song, or artist they feel or can point to as having pushed them across the threshold from music listener to Rockfiend. I want to use that same question and ask all of you readers and writers out there:

Was there a book, author or story that pushed you over the line and got hooked you into the life of a reader (or writer)?

Me, I can tell you exactly which records pushed me over the edge to becoming a Rockfiend, but I am less sure of which books. I think it was Where the Red Fern Grows and My Side of the Mountain in the fourth and fifth grade that really opened my eyes. It might have also been that when I was in the second grade my reading level did not improve over the course of the year and my parents had me held back for a second run at that grade. My birthday is in September, and they really should have kept me home another year before kindergarten. At any rate because of the lack of improvement and that I was subsequently diagnosed as Leaning Disabled, my reading education got a lot of attention and that, along with the fall out of have been held back, pushed me towards books as a way to escape an increasingly chaotic life at school and home.

So enough about me, Too Much Coffee Man says Addiction is unavoidable, choose your wisely.
What were your gate away books to the reading addiction?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Friday Forgotten Books: M*A*S*H

In M*A*S*H you have the arc of Forgotten to Highly Celebrated Cultural Sign Post, and in the reverse order that you normally find them-- That is to say;
TV Series: Easily one of the top 25 series of all time, and if not the #1 of it's era in the top 5. Both critically and generally well rrguarded and thought of, it will likely never go off the air in re-runs.

The Film: Only slightly less remembered than the TV show, still it's a classic of the era, it's the film that has been cited as one of the funniest of all time. In 1996, it was deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress and added to the National Film Registry. It really put Director Robert Altman on the map, and it is well worth checking out if you have not had the chance to see it.

The Book: this is where we are going to talk about the forgotten part, most people don't even know that that was book that the whole M*A*S*H empire was based on, let alone have read the book.

Written by former Korean War MASH Surgeon Richard Hooker, the book like the show and the film follows the antics of Captains Duke Forrest and Hawkeye Pierce as they arrive for their tour of duty in the 4077 MASH unit. The play poker, chase nurses, gamble, play golf, drink and work while around them the chaos of war flares-- in other words it is the MASH that most of you know, only this is the source. I read the book a couple of years ago, and enjoyed it a lot. It's funny, touching, human, absurd and has enough of that 'getting the job done despite the BS structure of the organization around them' snark to keep modern readers entertained. Thoughts, comments, favorite M*A*S*H episodes?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Friday Forgotten Books: Trace by Warren Murphy

I found the Trace series via the TV series Murphy's Law which lasted one season and I liked enough to get me to trace (that is the one and only time I will use that pun) down and read all of the books in series. Trace is an insurance investigator who has let's say a contentious relationship with his boss. He's got more than a bit of that Spider Jerusalem, (from Transmetropolitan,) and Irwin F Flecter (Fletch) let's get the job done but annoy the boss while doing it in him. Alas my collection of the Trace series was purged in the great sell of 2002 and I don't have them on hand to refer to right now.

The Trace series rarely was about the mystery, really the going out to investigate was just an excuse to spend time with Trace and his supporting cast. Just as the TV series was short lived, so were the books. I think there was 5 or 6 in all. As we enter the summer season, and with the economy causing more and more cuts in peoples spending if you find yourself in one of those paperback trade in places and run across any of the Trace books you could do a lot worse than to pick them up.
more info: