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Friday, February 27, 2015

At All Costs: How a Crippled Ship and Two American Merchant Mariners Turned the Tide of World War II by Sam Moses | LibraryThing

Malta is an archipelago of seven small islands between Sicily, the boot of Italy, and Africa.  As such it held a strategic place during WW II, and despite heavy pressure from the Italians and Germans, withstood nearly incessant bombing.  But to do so required food and fuel necessitating many convoys which had to run the gauntlet of German bombers based in Italy.

Getting the required tankers and other freighters often involved extensive and complicated negotiations between Roosevelt and Churchill. Their efforts were often hindered by Admiral King, who insisted on certain American prerogatives regarding crewing the loaned ships, the profit-oriented motives of people like the CEO of Texaco who sold oil to anyone, including surreptitiously to the Germans, and the idiocy of the American ambassador to Egypt whose lackadaisical efforts at secrecy made his information about British operations almost immediately available to the Germans.

Conditions on Malta were frightful, often bordering on starvation.  AvGas was in terribly short supply for the fighters which were often decimated by German bombs even before they could get off the ground. Churchill, rightly, was adamant the islands be held at all costs so the convoys continued escorted by fleets of naval vessels, but at frightful cost.

A massive operation, called “Pedestal”, comprised of more than 50 ships including several aircraft carriers and battleships, was sent in an attempt to relieve the island and deliver airplanes, fuel and food. The AvGas was shipped in five gallon containers that had cork seals that leaked making the holds floating bombs. The idea was to make loading the gas into the planes much faster. Everything was a bit jury-rigged.  Spitfires on the ancient carrier “Furious” could just barely make it off the deck, so to save weight their guns were load with cigarettes, intended also as a morale booster for the islanders should the planes make it through.  Multiple security leaks meant the Germans and Italians knew all about the convoy.  

The Italians had several opportunities to finish off the convoy, an event that might have altered the course of the war.  The Germans had refused to deliver as much oil as they had promised so the Italian Navy was always trying to conserve what they had.  They were also exceedingly cautious and Mussolini overruled one of his admirals who wanted to send their cruisers after the British and American ships.  They fell for a Maltese trap, however, that broadcast, in the open, that British Liberator bombers were on the way and Mussolini ordered them back home missing an opportunity to perhaps change the course of the war.

A couple of weird Italian contraptions bear mention. They had invented a bizarre form of mine. Dubbed the “Moto-Bombay” (sp? - audiobook) it was dropped by parachute.  When it hit the water, a motor would engage sending the mine in successively large circles for a diameter of about 15 kilometers. They were easily avoided since the parachutes were quite visible from afar.  Another gizmo was to take a Flying Buffalo aircraft, load it to the wingtips with fuel and bombs and then after take-off, the pilot would jump out into the sea and the plane would be guided by remote control, hopefully into an aircraft carrier.  Didn’t work, the prototype exploding against an North African mountain.

The author has interviewed numerous survivors of the bombing raids and some of their stories are truly heart-rending. Even after sixty years, their eyes fill with tears as they recall comrades who could not be saved or the horrible trauma of watching people, badly burned, struggle in the water after being torpedoed.   Excellently read audiobook by Michael Pritchard, one of my favorites.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Blood from a Stone: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery by Donna Leon | LibraryThing

Donna Leon's books are more than just police procedurals books that take place in Venice.  They always, in my experience, deal with an issue confronting Italy and there's always a sub-current of corruption.  In this book, she tackles the difficult subject of street peddlers, quasi-immigrants from Africa who buy knock-off bags cheap and then resell them to tourists.

Two American tourists, both physicians, see an immigrant, ostensibly from Sierra Leone, assassinated in the square. The case, as you might suspect, revolves around the sale of "blood" diamonds. The characters, now familiar after having read at least 10 in the series, are used by Leon as springboards to focus on an issue in addition to the ubiquitous Italian corruption.

The Leon books will not please readers who prefer chases, gun shots, and action.  If you like characterization, fine writing, and intriguing stories, I recommend this series highly.  Well read by David Colacci although he will never replace Anna Fields, aka Kate Fleming.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Sherwood, Ltd.

Firstly, this is not my kind of book.  Described by some as Chick-Lit-Noir, I never thought I’d find myself reading Chick-Lit, but I promised someone I would read it. I have no idea how many stars to give this book, so it will remain star-less.  The review will have to suffice.

Camilla Randall is certainly down on her luck. Recently arrived in San Francisco in search of a job, her belongings in NY have been stolen from storage by a crooked doorman after her apartment was foreclosed on, she has no money, a perverted Englishman interrupted her dumpster diving while looking for bottles to recycle for a bottle of milk, a coyote has been chewing on her good shoes, and to top things off she discovered the footless body of the local sex toy emporium, “Lance,” where she had hoped to get a job.  

Getting an offer of an advance and publication of her new Miss Manners book, Camilla manages to get to England where nothing is as it was supposed to be and events just seem to get worse. For a while I suspected the book to be an anti-publisher screed, but I have probably over analyzed.  She’s ensconced in an old factory with several anti-social reprobates.  She has no money and can’t find a place to sleep so she beds down behind some cardboard walls in the factory.  When invited to sleep with Rosalee and Colin at their secret rendezvous cottage, Colin attacks her in the middle of the night as Rosalee is “in that time of the month” and he doesn’t want to waste the little “blue pills.”

The plot then descends into the more improbable, mixing in a bunch of characters I never really got a sense for, and Camilla often comes across as truly clueless. Nevertheless, the writing is fine and the book does have momentum, so I guess I would have to say that I often kept reading just to see what madcap adventure evolved next, although the perpetrator was a bit obvious by the last third of the book. There are some mildly amusing quips about publishing and Robin Hood. If you are looking for a very light read that would remind you of the silly movies of the fifties, it might be just the book for you.

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Friday, February 20, 2015

Round 2 in the saga of the PC Scammers

Round 2 in the saga of the PC Scammers:
I was delighted to get another call from the PC Scammers this morning. (Round 1 a couple weeks ago was interrupted by a call from my daughter I had to take.) Now, remember, I never lie to these people and drop hints all over the place, e.g., "I'm loading XP into my virtual box, etc., which, if they had any sense or really worked for Microsoft, would be a dead giveaway that I knew they were frauds. So I kept this guy going for a while and while we were loading the communications software they use - this was a new site-- (NEVER let them do this unless you are running a virtual machine), I asked him where he was located. He said Walnut Creek CA. I said great, my sister works there (true, Claudia does) and then I asked whether he took BART or a bus to work. At that point, after several queries to respond to my question, which he clearly did not understand, he said he had just moved there and turned me over to his supervisor. Now, this is where I made my mistake (assuming I wanted to keep him on the phone as long as possible.) The supervisor gave me an actual address in Walnut Creek (which I wish I had recorded,) so I kept asking him about BART, an important line of which ends in Walnut Creek. I've been there. When it was clear he had no clue about what BART was and I said anyone who worked in Walnut Creek would know about BART, he hung up. Bummer. Well, I await the next jerk.

"Our goal was to enhance the experience for users;"

An now for the euphemism of the day: Lenovo: "Our goal was to enhance the experience for users; we recognize that the software did not meet that goal and have acted quickly and decisively."  Lenovo had added a program called Superfish to each of its computers that it sold.  The software " was designed to show targeted ads by analyzing images of products that a user might see on the web and then presenting "identical and similar product offers that may have lower prices."  It also produced multiple pop-up ads (they insist it wasn't malware). "And this week, several independent experts reported that Superfish works by substituting its own security key for the encryption certificates that many websites use to protect users' information. "This means that anyone affected by this adware cannot trust any secure connections they make," researcher Marc Rogers wrote on his blog.
What's worse, experts said, is that Superfish appears to re-use the same encryption certificate for every computer, which means a hacker who cracked the Superfish key could have broad access to a variety of online transactions."

What a wonderful enhancement.  Lesson of the day.  If you buy a new computer, before you do anything else, run decrapifier ( and eliminate every piece of pre-installed software.  Better yet, buy a PC without an OS and install Linux.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Education of a Wandering Man

Several years ago I helped a dear old friend (he died a day after his  102nd birthday  in 2009) edit his memoirs.  He was not new to writing.  In his younger years he had produced an interesting series of essays about his love for the farm he had purchased and the horses he rode called River Hill Soliloquy.  It was published by the University of Illinois Press.  After his death I had it reissued as an ebook.  The book had a local following.  The book I helped to edit years later called Montana Montage was a collection of stories from his very early days as a trail hand in Montana. It had considerable historical interest.

The last item that we worked on,  however, Diary of a Journeyman, despite my best efforts became a litany, a virtual list, of the many friends he had had during his years as the editorial director for a large printing and publishing firm in Mt. Morris, Illinois that produced fraternal organization magazines.  He was afraid of leaving anyone out regardless of their importance.  Clarence, like L'Amour was self-educated and never had much formal education.  He went on to become a wealthy benefactor of the local community college and its library of which I was the director.  I helped him self-publish Diary of a Journeyman and Montana Montage, but by that time, he had outlived most of the people in Diary so the very limited initial market had dwindled even more. 

So it is with L'Amour's book.  Far from the action-packed westerns that built a large following (I'm but a lukewarm fan as I find much of his writing pedestrian), this book borders on being merely a catalog of the books he has read over the years with assorted comments.  The writing, in its short cadences with abrupt transitions reminded me so much of Clarence's final product it was eerie, the only difference being that the subjects were books rather than persons. It's very superficial and of only limited interest.  I fear I must admit to skimming it quite quickly.

That Daniel J. Boostin, one of my favorite cultural historians -- his trilogy The Americans, which I read in the late seventies, is enthralling history and brilliantly written -- speaks more to his friendship with L'Amour than the book's content.

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Keeper of Lost Causes

This is the first in a series of "Department Q" Danish police procedurals. Carl Mørck, is a deputy detective superintendent who been is relegated to the basement in an office where it is deemed he'll be no trouble. And at first he wants nothing more than to put his feet up and do nothing. When he learns the department was getting a windfall by creating this department of "lost causes" he uses that knowledge to his advantage to get an assistant and nice digs.  Carl has a history of his own.  He was involved in a shootout that killed one of his partners and paralyzed the other.

Assad, his assistant, a Muslim  and another cast-off, seems to be always one step ahead. He’s a delightful character. They are tasked with investigating the disappearance, ostensibly a drowning, of a prominent political leader.  This was the part I found totally implausible:  a woman kept in a chamber for five years in which the atmospheric pressure is being gradually increased.  She is fed through an airlock and tries to retain her sanity.  The story that gradually unfolds concerns an intricate plot to get revenge for something that had happened years before..

It took me a while to get into this book, and I must say it was only the quirkiness of the main characters that kept me going. Perhaps it was the structure I found annoying, but the book became more intriguing as it progressed.  I’ll try another in the series, but we’ll just have to see.

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Friday, February 13, 2015

Archie in the Crosshairs (The Nero Wolfe Mysteries) by Robert Goldsborough | LibraryThing

I have always loved Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe series, so, of course, it was a tragedy when he died and the series came to an end. Trying to emulate a writer must be a very difficult task, one taken up by several different writers for Robert Parker, but only one so far for Rex Stout: Robert Goldsborough. They are pretty good. Not perfect, mind you, but they do, in spots, capture the master.

Rex Stout had a formula that worked very well. Nero reluctantly takes on a client, usually after Archie's nagged him enough because the bank balance is low. Then it's Archie's job to collect information and relay it verbatim to Nero who then summons all the participants to his brownstone, usually with Inspector Cramer in attendance, whereupon he solves the case. Stout had the formula down to perfection. It wasn't so much the plots that garnered such a devoted following but rather the wordplay of the characters. Goldsborough has captured that pretty well.

Archie is the ostensible target in this novel. Two shots have been fired at Archie as he enters the brownstone. He and Wolfe assume it's someone out for revenge especially after the phone calls. A man Wolfe helped put away years before has vowed to kill Archie in revenge. Saul and Fred are enlisted to help dig through the cases in attempt to find the culprit. In the midst of this, Cordelia Hutchinson, a railroad millionairess, wants Wolfe to find who is blackmailing her about an affair she had in Florence that threatens her upcoming nuptials. Since the Wolfe's bank account has suffered mostly withdrawals Archie is badgering Wolfe to take the case.... Then the two cases begin to cross.

A little slow in starting, once I got into it, I felt comfortably back in the world of Nero Wolfe and couldn't put it down.

My thanks to NetGalley for an advance copy in return for my unbiased review.

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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Dead Before Morning (Rafferty and Llewellyn Police Procedural Series, #1) by Geraldine Evans | LibraryThing

Recently promoted DI Rafferty and his overly-educated sergeant Llewellyn (shades of Lewis) are sent out to a local mental hospital where a young woman, her face smashed into an unrecognizable pulp, has been found on the grounds.

Billed as a detective cozy mystery, I would probably classify it more as a police procedural.  The ending was perhaps too “deus ex machina”, as I’m always a bit suspicious of the sudden illumination to the detective of who did it and why.

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Friday, February 06, 2015

Tularosa: A Kevin Kerney Novel (Kevin Kerney Novels) by Michael McGarrity | LibraryThing

(Audiobook) A highly improbable plot involving an Kevin Kierney, an invalided sheriff's lieutenant.  He is asked by his former partner to locate his son who has disappeared.  The search leads  Kierney to the White Sands military range  and treks through the mountains, into Mexico, and a pile of artifacts worth millions from some old Civil War stuff.

The book has the classic plot:  the wounded hero who becomes drawn into action because it’s the proper thing to do.  Add the good-looking and competent girl who becomes romantically involved and a bunch of bad guys.  There you have it.  It feels sometimes like a Craig Johnson wanna-be but perhaps that was only because both were so ably read by George Guidall.  The first half of the book is better than the second.  

The landscape rendition is the best part of the book.  It’s the first in a series that shows promise so I’ll probably read the second.

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Sunday, February 01, 2015

Mystery Writers of America Presents The Prosecution Rests: New Stories about Courtrooms, Criminals, and the Law by Inc. Mystery Writers of America | LibraryThing

For whatever reason, I am not usually a fan of short fiction.  This collection of legal-related short fiction is an exception.   A nice mix of police procedurals, courtroom drama, and legal ethical conundra with interesting twists.

I learned something interesting in a James Grippando story called “Death, Cheated.”  A viatical settlement is when someone with a substantial life insurance policy who learns s/he is terminally ill, can sell that policy to another person or group of investors for less than the face value of the policy but more than its cash value.  The investors can reap a substantial return on their investment when the principal dies.  In the story a woman asks Jack Swyteck to help defend her from a lawsuit of a group of investors.  She had been diagnosed with ALS having an anticipated life span of only 2-3 years and sold her life insurance policy for a considerable sum only to discover she had lead poisoning instead which mimics ALS so she wasn’t going to die after all. The ending is somewhat predictable, but a good story.  The tables are also turned in “Knife Fight” which has a nice little twist at the end.  And “The Flashlight Game” which an engineer father who files constant pro se lawsuits and then gets arrested for murder is fun.

One nice thing about collections of different writers is that new authors are often discovered and so it is here.

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