Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Long Drunk by Eric Coyote | LibraryThing

The Long Drunk by Eric Coyote | LibraryThing:

I decided to review this at the request of the author who sent me a free copy. My first impression was that the cover is awful. [Checking recently, I noticed it had been changed.] The book’s description seems to pander to a particular audience segment, “Set in the gutters, bars, and alleys of Venice, California, this darkly comic crime/detective saga is filled with sex, violence, booze, and plenty of foul street talk,” a segment  that wouldn't necessarily exclude me, but it’s not a description that would make the book leap on to my TBR list either.

OK, now putting aside all that crap.  I  liked this book.  The premise is that Murphy, a homeless drunk (“I’m not stupid, just a drunk,”) former NFL player with a Super Bowl ring suffering from multiple concussions and numerous injuries, is swept up in a police raid to discover if any of the homeless in Venice, CA, might have seen something of use to them in their investigation of a car shooting. Murphy is forced to leave his companion Rottweiler, Betty Bonaparte (because she can take bones apart,) while he’s in jail. After his release  he searches frantically for Betty  Just as he sees her across a highway, the dog runs to him and is hit by a lady in an SUV (talking on a cell phone, of course) who runs the light.  Gathering up Betty into a shopping cart, Murphy runs four miles to the nearest vet hospital he knows of where he learns that Betty might survive but will need hip surgery. She also has lymphoma that will require chemotherapy, all to the tune of $15,000.  (The scene with the compassionate vet and Murphy is very well done.)  Learning that a $25,000 reward has been posted for the killer in the drive-by, Murphy figures he has to solve the crime to earn the reward so he can pay for his dog’s surgery.

Coyote uses Murphy's homelessness to poke not so gentle fun at the foibles of the rich that surround him. Using Raymond Chandler's books as a guide, he detects by asking questions. It was interesting to read some of the negative reviews on Amazon, which focused on the rather sad aspects of Skid Row  and “the depths to which people can sink.”  Ironically, it’s the “bums” and unfortunates that have more character than those in the book who haven’t had to resort to living off society’s detritus. How realistic the portrayal might be I don’t know.

The second volume of a proposed trilogy has yet to appear. Not for the squeamish.

“Interview” with the author at

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Superbia 2 (Book 2 of the Superbia Series) by Bernard Schaffer | LibraryThing

Superbia 2 (Book 2 of the Superbia Series) by Bernard Schaffer | LibraryThing:

This very short sequel to Superbia 1 feels almost like a transition to the longer Superbia 3.  Frank continues his battle with the chief in a rather one-sided, self-righteous view of law enforcement.  The street cops are always right;  the chiefs nothing but “fat-fucks.”  Well, not all of them.  Clayton Cole, who lives in the middle of nowhere is the chief of police in a tiny village who’s saddled with “dumb-shit” cops, so perhaps it all evens out.  (He is a character in the joint effort with Joe Konrath, Cheese Wrestling.)

Frank is very different from the retiring, rather shy new cop he was in the first, yet Vic’s death seems to have been very recent. What caused the change?  How did Frank grow?  I thought the visions of the baton-twirling apparition were ridiculous.

The three books would have been stronger had they been merged together and rewritten to build some transition. Some story lines pop up and disappear with little resolution.  I would not recommend reading these as standalones. I’m moving on to #3.

On the other hand, if you want a  fun, driving, read, however, this series is a good choice.

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate by Rose George | LibraryThing

Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate by Rose George | LibraryThing:

I love ships.  I remember looking at a silhouette picture of an old man in my ChildCraft set, his hand on the shoulders of a young boy, looking out over the sea at a three-masted schooner. The image still creates a frisson of nostalgia for something I never really experienced but always wanted.  Some of that interest stemmed from four voyages on transatlantic liners to and from Europe in the fifties and sixties when I was younger, and I’m sure that my view was unrealistic and nonrepresentational as I watched movies and enjoyed the sumptuous meals.  (We will NOT discuss the bouts of seasickness that preceded succeeding pleasurable days.)

I have zero interest in taking a cruise since they seem to be simply resorts with no destination and gambling dens. And the idea of dressing for dinner?  And too many people!  Geesh.  I want to GO someplace and watch the business of shipping, to see how things work.. I’ve read accounts of traveling on freighters (a list is below of some related books) and would still like to try it some day (the mal-de-mer does give me pause, however.)  This book is the next best thing.

This book does tend to take the shine off the freighter business.  One thing I did not know was that while shipping is a relatively green form of transportation (well, except for the particulates), it generates considerable *noise* pollution. Supertankers can be heard coming through the sea a day before they arrive at any given location which drives away most sea life.  Oil spills have been greatly reduced, however. Between 1972 and 1981, there were 223 spills. Over the last decade there were 63. An industry publicist reported,  “More oil is poured down the drain by mechanics changing their engine oil than is spilled by the world’s fleet of oil tankers.”

The industry, itself,  is dangerous, poorly paid (by our standards - not theirs) , and virtually unregulated, with ships being flagged under whatever country has the lowest taxes and the fewest inspectors.  Double bookkeeping and non-payment of wages is common and criminal actions are impossible to prosecute. Where does a Croatian sailor attacked by a Filipino mate file a complaint?  Cell phones are useless and there is no private internet so reporting incidents or getting assistance is impossible. The captain is God and Supreme Magistrate all rolled into one.  “Buy your fair-trade coffee beans by all means, but don’t assume fair-trade principles govern the conditions of the men who fetch it to you. You would be mistaken.”

Piracy is not the glorified practice of movies and childhood.  (Harvard Business School chose Somali piracy as the “business model of the year” in 2010.)  The author spent a week on an EU counter-piracy patrol vessel which reduced the number of incidents from 200 in 2009 to only thirteen in 2013, but ships passing through the Gulf of Aden (and more than half do to get to the Suez canal) still must hide out in safe rooms on board if fighting them off with firehoses fails, while awaiting naval rescue. Crews are like prisoners even while not under attack, live basically on two decks.  (Samuel Johnson famously wrote that “being on a ship is like being in jail, with the chance of being drowned.” Yet “When the academic Erol Kahveci surveyed British prison literature while researching conditions at sea, he found that “the provision of leisure, recreation, religious service and communication facilities are better in U.K. prisons than … on many ships our respondents worked aboard.” )  Mostly we ignore, or chose to remain ignorant, of seafarers. “; in 2011, 544 seafarers [were] being held hostage by Somali pirates. I try to translate that into other transport industries; 544 bus drivers, or 544 cabdrivers, or nearly two jumbo jets of passengers, mutilated and tortured for years. When thirty-three Chilean miners were trapped underground for sixty-nine days in 2010, there was a media frenzy. Fifteen hundred journalists went to Chile and, even now, the BBC news website maintains a special page on their drama, long after its conclusion. The twenty-four men on MV Iceberg held captive for a thousand days were given no special page and nothing much more than silence and disregard.”

The company she sails with is Maersk, a company just slightly smaller than Microsoft yet one that hardly appears on anyones radar even though it accounts for 20% of Denmark’s GDP.  The ship is the Kendall.  She uses that voyage as a springboard to discuss the impact of shipping on the ecology, piracy, anti-piracy and the business of shipping.  Chapters focus on different issues: poor working conditions, a trip on one of the patrol boats, a pirate’s trial leading to a discussion of the different perspectives on Somalian piracy (she is not at all sympathetic,) and the huge amount of tonnage lost at sea and what the effect might be of floating Nikes and sunken computers (not good.)

The economics of shipping are rather mind-boggling. Would you have guessed that it’s cheaper to ship fish to China from Scotland to be filleted and processed than to pay Scottish workers to do it? Shipping  blouse from China to the U.S. coast less than one cent, even while the large container ships burn thousand of dollars of bunker fuel (like tar and about as dirty) per hour.  Containers have made loading and unloading so fast that sailors and officers have no time in port to relax.

Security is a huge issue in her mind. Only a minute portion of containers are ever inspected and they are used to smuggle all sorts of goods and probably weapons. “; One of the crew tells me he can overcome the blankness of the boxes, although that’s not how he phrases it. He can break a container seal and reseal it convincingly, although I suspect his intent would be for monetary, not intellectual, gain. This skill is more common than it should be. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported on a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol study that “existing container seals provided inadequate security against physical intrusion.” Criminals who don’t know how to reseal a seal could do an adequate workaround by taking the door off. Much of modern security rests on theater and assumption. That applies to airport lines, questionable laws about liquids, and the supposed safety of twenty million containers containing who knows what. Who does know? Only 1 to 3 percent of containers in Europe are physically inspected."

Really interesting book. BUT, I still want to take a voyage on a freighter.

Recommended reading:

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Hit Me (A John Keller novel) by Lawrence Block | LibraryThing

Hit Me (A John Keller novel) by Lawrence Block | LibraryThing:

The Keller hitman series lends itself well to a short story format and that is what we have here, a collection of episodes or stories connected by a character.  Often this means that the reader suffers through some repetition of background details.  And stamps.  And then more stamps.

Keller now lives in New Orleans and where he has a successful business remodeling and flipping homes after Katrina.  He’s married to Julia and has a child, Jennie, whom he loves and dotes on.  Then Dot, his old “hit” contact, calls and offers him a job,  The business having slacked off a little because of the subprime crisis, and wanting to add some rare and exotic stamps to his collection, Keller, with full knowledge of his wife (who gets “hot” when told of his exploits -- something I found truly abhorrent), heads off to other cities to fulfill the contract (and buy stamps.)  Each case is unique and brings its own challenges.  I liked the one at sea the best.

I like the series and in the past eagerly read all of Block, but Keller’s nonchalance about killing has begun to grate, not to mention Julia’s complicity in its rationalization.  Keller’s greatest moral challenge is now which stamp to buy.  The book does have some of the classic repartee between Dot and Keller that continues to make the book fun and interesting.

Of course, if you don’t like stamp collecting you won’t like Keller.

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Sunday, April 06, 2014

Pattern of Wounds (A Roland March Mystery) by J. Mark Bertrand | LibraryThing

Pattern of Wounds (A Roland March Mystery) by J. Mark Bertrand | LibraryThing:

Roland has a chip on his shoulder.  Still devastated by the death of Jessica, his daughter, in an accident committed by a drunk driver, he has made a legal form of revenge his mission. If someone gets off, or fails to intervene when something bad is happening, March works out a way to discover some dirt or malfeasance for which they could be punished.  His job suffers as a result.  He’s also lost whatever faith he had. “ If the Almighty was gonna sit back and let it all happen, somebody had to step up. There’s no such thing in my book as an innocent bystander.”  Charlotte, his wife, enlists their renters, overtly religious types,  to pull him back into the fold, with little success.  

“Carter, listen to me. You mean well, I realize that. But there’s no magic formula or platitude they taught you in seminary that’s going to turn me into one of you. It’s not gonna happen. You have no idea what I’ve seen and what I’ve done. Trust me, if you did, you’d be like me, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”  “I don’t think I’m deceiving myself.” … “People don’t. That’s the whole point. But they go on believing what they’ve been told, they keep voting and buying and praying, they live good lives surrounded by good people in a good world where everything is good. And they think when it’s not good, that’s the aberration. That’s the exception to the rule. But underneath, Carter, if you could turn this city upside down, you’d see it’s all rot down there, all corruption.”

Despite some platitudinous religious overtones (ones that were much less evident in the first book of the series,) there’s a good mystery.  A woman has been found floating in a swimming pool, cut up in a rather bizarre pattern and the murder scene has been choreographed to closely resemble the murder scene in a case March had closed and about which a book had been written.  The photographs in the book of the floating body were identical to the ones of the current case.

As I noted in my review of the first Roland March, I was puzzled by the Christian label attached to it. March has a very cynical view of the world and has little time for the religious, but perhaps some form of over-the-top redemption will take place later in the series.  That would tune me out for sure.  In the meantime it’s a good series although this one can tend to be a bit confusing mixing up characters.  And what’s with the overuse of present tense?

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