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Monday, February 17, 2014

Impact by Stephen Greenleaf | LibraryThing

Impact by Stephen Greenleaf | LibraryThing:

I was a bit reluctant to read this book by Stephen Greenleaf.  I’ve been reading my way through his entire Marsh Tanner series (excellent) and this is a stand-alone. (There is an oblique mention of Tanner on page 295 that was fun.)  Often that means a letdown for the reader used to a particular set of characters. Not so in this case.  I was hooked from the beginning.

The plot revolves around the crash of Surfair 617, a relatively new aircraft that collided with a small private plane. (Shades of an actual crash near Los Angeles between an Aeromexico DC-9 and a Piper Cherokee just a few years before this was written, and if the book has any flaws it’s perhaps the somewhat preachy concerns over flight safety pronounced by Alex Hawthorne.)

The cast of characters includes Alex’s partner, Martha, who keeps him on schedule, organized and satisfied (if you know what I mean.)  Keith Tollison, another lawyer,  is having an affair with Laura Donahue, husband of Jack, who is terribly injured in the crash. (He was sitting next Carol with whom he was having an affair who happened to be the Brenda’s sister.)  He may be permanently paralyzed and neurologically impaired.. Tollison is in an on-again, off-again relationship with Brenda. Brenda has a mentally handicapped son who is devastated by his aunt’s death.  All of these people come together in a nicely done courtroom drama.  Yes, it’s a bit of a soap, but well done.

Greenleaf was trained as a lawyer so the legal aspects appear quite authentic.  Something I found less so, was the conversation between the Air Traffic Controllers and the doomed plane before the crash. I’m a train and plane junkie so naturally I listen to ATC (you can stream it over the internet) for fun. (I often chose to fly United  because they broadcast cockpit/ATC communications over channel 9.) **  The book’s rendering of those transmissions did not ring true.  No matter.

**Sometimes the communications can be funny, e.g. or scary

If you listen regularly you get a real appreciation for the work of pilots and Air Traffic Controllers. Lots of recordings at, which you can also get as an iTunes app - it’s worth the $2.99

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Toll Call by Stephen Greenleaf | LibraryThing

Toll Call by Stephen Greenleaf | LibraryThing:

OK, so by Greenleaf standards, this one is not quite up to par. It's far above the run-of-the-mill detective stories and still belongs in the class with Ross MacDonald whose writing his resembles.

Tanner’s long-time secretary, Peggy, is getting some rather salacious phone calls. Then one night she’s pushed down the stars and Tanner intervenes. Unlike the other books I have read in the Tanner series, this one gets personal and perhaps a bit heavy on the side of psychobabble. Lots of speculation as to why Peggy might have "encouraged" the moron with a concomitant excessive dose of guilt, etc.  I don’t remember Maugham's Of Human Bondage that well, but my goodness, Peggy seems unable to break with this guy.  It’s never satisfactorily explained.  I kept wondering, “now, why would you do that?” or “hey guys, cop time, bring in the heavies.”

On the other hand, there is a plot twist at the end I just did not see coming.

I like Ruthie.  She’s  a stitch who has the most crass similes and metaphors imaginable. "That warning's about as useless as a condom on a canary."

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Monday, February 10, 2014

The Master of Knots by Massimo Carlotto | LibraryThing

The Master of Knots by Massimo Carlotto | LibraryThing:

I had never read any of Carlotto before discovering this book in his “Alligator” series. Marco, ex-con, now private investigator without a license, and bar owner sets out with two other ex-cons (well, Rossini is still an active gangster) to eliminate a gang of S&M degenerates.

Mariano Giraldi comes to  hire Marco and his friends “Max the Memory” and Rossini,  to locate his wife, Helena who has been kidnapped. She specialized in being a model for S&M photographs. The husband who had a relationship with a different submissive dared not go to the police for fear their lifestyle would become public and his business would suffer.  The woman has been gone a month leaving little hope of finding her alive.  Others then disappear as Marco et al realize they have stumbled on to an S&M blackmail ring and snuff-film maker.

There’s a subplot revolving around the G8 summit meeting in Genoa in 2001.  The police engaged in some serious violence against demonstrators and many were later brought to trial.  Max, a Free Trade advocate, goes to protest and is seriously injured. Obviously Carlotto is making a strong political statement.

The dizzying amounts of Italian Lira being thrown around dates the book since the Lira was replaced by the Euro in 1999-2002.  When they pay 20,000,000 Lira as a bribe to a hooker, my head begins to wobble a bit.  That aside, this is a fun, if inconsequential, little entertainment that shows a very dark side of Italy’s corruption.  If you want something as dark but more literary, read Donna Leon’s books.  They are both entertaining and literate.  Carlotto suffers by comparison.

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Raylan: A Novel by Elmore Leonard | LibraryThing

Raylan: A Novel by Elmore Leonard | LibraryThing:

Fans of the TV Series “Justified” (I am) will recognize  all of the plots in this  set of short stories tied together only by Raylan’s presence: the nurse selling kidneys, the coal mining VP trying to get contracts signed, etc.  (He barely figures in the story about the poker-playing girl.) I regret Leonard won’t be able to write any more, but regretfully this is not one of his better works.  Ironically, the TV series holds together better as a novel, especially in its portrayal of the coal-mining areas of Kentucky. This book might have been marketed as a series of short stories.

I don’t know, but have a suspicion that this book was written after, or perhaps simultaneously, with the scripts for the TV series 2nd season as a way to capitalize on the fame of the TV series. No matter, it’s a wonderful modern-day western replete with bad guys and quick-draws.  In real life, Raylan would have drowned in paperwork writing up his extravagant use of bullets.

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Saturday, February 08, 2014

Fear Itself (The Max Segal Series, Book Three) by Dan Greenburg | LibraryThing

Fear Itself (The Max Segal Series, Book Three) by Dan Greenburg | LibraryThing:

Humor is important to me and when a book has dialogue that makes me smile, I can't help but mentally add a star. Such is the case here. I smiled a lot.
Max Segal is a homicide detective rooming with a colleague because he's going through a divorce. He likes his wife's lover, Achmed, but he doesn't like that his son, Sam, does, too.
Not only did Achmed bring Sam better presents than Max did, Achmed also had a comradely ease with Sam that Max was unable to achieve. This may have been because Achmed was not also obliged to see to it that Sam ate sufficient protein at mealtimes or remembered to cleanse all bodily orifices during showers or to floss his teeth before bedtime, but it may also have been because comradely ease was not one of Max’s greatest talents. Sam liked Achmed a lot.
When he stops at what appears to be a routine jumper from the 20th floor of a building (proving that humans really do have many feet of intestine,) the local precinct detective pisses him off so much he decides to check it out, maybe see if it was really a homicide and thus fuck up the guy's clearance rate. Turns out the jumper had a phobia of heights to such an extent, she refused to live above the 2nd floor, yet she had supposedly jumped from the 20th.
Max then runs across two other weird cases. One is that of a woman found naked in a deserted pool, the other, another naked woman discovered dead of a heart attack in the Python cage at the zoo. The first was terrified of water, the second of reptiles.
There's little mystery as to who, how, or why these killings have taken place. The interest in the stories comes from the telling and then characters. You have got to love P.J. McCleary, another detective who joins forces with Max. She's this diminutive little thing who can bring a 300lb. boxer swiftly to his knees.
An interesting question one might ask is why the detail of how the killer manages to coerce the victims into succumbing to try their worst nightmares? Is it an attempt to appeal the readers' own desire to dominate? Be interesting to study the different reader responses to those scenes.

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Monday, February 03, 2014

The Historical Present as Affectation

Sheila and I were discussing the use of the historical present by both interviewers and interviewees as we listened to another author discussing his book.  It has become singularly irritating, so it was reassuring to discover this piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education.   It's such an affectation, yet seems to have been adopted by just about everyone. When Dickens uses it in a character to emphasize the way the character felt at an event in the past, e.g.

If the funeral had been yesterday, I could not recollect it better. The very air of the best parlour, when I went in at the door, the bright condition of the fire, the shining of the wine in the decanters, the patterns of the glasses and plates, the faint sweet smell of cake, the odour of Miss Murdstone’s dress, and our black clothes. Mr. Chillip is in the room, and comes to speak to me
'And how is Master David?' he says, kindly.

cannot tell him very well. I give him my hand, which he holds in his. (David Copperfield Chapter IX)

it works.  When discussing a non-fiction book about events that took place two hundred years ago, it doesn't.

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Back on Murder (A Roland March Mystery Book #1) by J. Mark Bertrand | LibraryThing

Back on Murder (A Roland March Mystery Book #1) by J. Mark Bertrand | LibraryThing:

***Caution: Contains a Naughty Word***

Roland March, treated as an invisible by the rest of the homicide squad, discovers a key piece of evidence, that someone, presumably a woman, had been tied to the bed where Octavio Morales had been shot.. He’s anathema to the rest of the department for reasons unknown but having to do with a personal tragedy in his life, and he has been assigned to the “Car Squad” which tricks persons with outstanding warrants into thinking they might have won a car so they show up only to be arrested. It’s not considered to be glamorous duty. But because of his find, the Lt. assigned him back on the murder squad. In the meantime, Charlotte, his wife, an attorney in a premier legal firm, is on drugs to help her sleep, and wants Roland to get their garage apartment renter out for throwing irresponsible parties. And romance? Forget it.

March wants nothing more than to redeem himself in the eyes of the Homicide Squad, and things begin to look up until he tries to make a connection between the disappearance of a local girl and the girl missing from the murder scene of Morales. 

For some reason this book is billed as a Christian mystery and comes from a publisher traditionally known for those kinds of books, whatever the hell they might be. It does have a couple of church member characters but they seemed quite real and flawed to me, and March certainly doesn’t have majestic epiphanies. Then again, perhaps the Christian threshold is so low that all it takes is the absence of “fuck.”

Just a good, solid detective story. I’ll definitely read more from the author despite the label.

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Saturday, February 01, 2014

Penance by David Housewright | LibraryThing

Penance by David Housewright | LibraryThing:

Holland Taylor, ex-homicide cop finds himself the suspect in the case of the death of John Brown, the man who killed his wife and daughter in a DUI car accident. Brown was killed just a few months after his release from prison after serving most of a four-year sentence, so naturally Taylor becomes a suspect.
He's sucked into the investigation by his former partner, Anne Scalesi, now a lieutenant in the St. Paul Homicide unit and he’s thrown into the midst of the campaign of C.C. Munro who might become the first female governor of Minnesota.  As the dead bodies pile up and connections appear, Taylor has some serious navigating to do through the swamp.  

It has cynicism, a nifty plot, and humor. Can’t ask for more than that.
P.S.  He has a pet rabbit.
An excellent P.I. story. I will definitely read more.

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