Wednesday, April 18, 2018

'361' by Donald E. Westlake

Finished Tu 4/17/18

I picked this up at the Prairie Archives Book Store on Th 3/15/18. It was in one of the bins by the front door and only cost a quarter- worth every hard boiled penny of it!

I'm not sure what the title refers to. It's not a police code, but this is what is written before the novel begins-

".361 (Destruction of life, violent death. Killing".- Roget's Thesaurus of words and phrases

Willard 'Bill' Kelly
Ray Kelly
Bill Kelly

Eddie Kapp

Story line-

Ray Kelly is just twenty-three and is being mustered out of the Air Force after being stationed in Germany. His father, Willard Kelly picks him up from the bus station in NYC where they stay for a few days. While driving back home in Binghamton, NY, his father is shot and killed while driving, and ray is badly injured in the accident. He loses his left eye and one ankle is disfigured.

Ray learns that during Prohibition (the novel is set about 1960) his father was a lawyer for the Mob. Ray and his brother, Bill Kelly, seek revenge and try to locate the mobster that was responsible for the hit.

Eddie Kapp is being released from prison after a twenty year sentence. He is planning a take-over to become the main mafioso on the scene. On the day he is released, Ray and Bill are outside the prison and save Kapp from a hit.

They go with Kapp and later learn that Kapp is Ray's biological father. Kapp wants Ray to become his 'son and right-hand man'.

All the heads of the mob assemble at an upstate lodge in Lake George, NY to decide how they will divide up the mob world.

Ray learns that Kapp staged Bill's murder to look like a suicide. Ray doesn't want any part of the life, and he kills Kapp.  He grabs Kapp and another mobster at their hotel. He tells them what and why he is killing Kapp and lets the other guy live so that he can tell rest of the mob. Later, the mobsters pay him $500 (with a note "No Hard Feelings- LG"; he gets it that 'LG' stands for Lake George) for the hit and tell him that they won't bother him.

The novel ends as Ray is recounting his story to a journalist, Arnold Beeworthy, and ready to begin his new life.

The book only took me a day and a half to read. It's terse and tense and the epitome of 'tough talkin', no nonsense hard-guy'. JUST THE FACTS.

I loved it and Westlake has so many different tones. Not at all like Westlake's,  Dortmunder series, but he's so versatile that I like all of his writing styles. Anything by Westlake is fine by me.



Thursday, April 12, 2018

KEEP QUIET by Lisa Scottoline

Finished We 4/11/18

I picked this hardback up at The Prairie Archives on Th 3/15/18 for two bucks.

An easy and enjoyable read and this author would be great for the book club. I'm sure that many of the members are familiar with Scottoline.

Set in the Delaware Valley- probably near Philadelphia, PA; Upscale suburban community.

Ryan Buckman- son, high school junior, basketball star, on the fast-track to a bright collegiate future.

Pam Buckman- mother and local judge; she's up for a federal appointment. An interesting section of the novel dealt with the extensive background checks that are involved when one is selected to be a federal judge. Not only her, but friends, family, and neighbors. You must have a spotless record. Clearly it's easier to become president.

Jake Buckman- father and CEO of Gardenia Investments. Before he started his own company he had been out of work for many months and this had a detrimental effect on his entire outlook. Instead of 'captain of the ship', he saw himself more of a 'stowaway'. The experience was a confidence killer.

The setup to the novel is that Jake has been spending too much time getting his new company going, and he's not very involved in Ryan's life. Pam suggests that he pick up Ryan from the movies and share some 'bonding time'. On that evening Jake lets Ryan drive part of the way home even though he knows that his son's permit is no good after 11pm. On a desolate road they hit and kill a teenage jogger. This girl goes to Ryan's high school. With just a moment to decide what to do, Jake decides that since the girl is dead, it would be foolish to toss away his son's bright future. They decide to clam up. "I've got this".

The irony is that their bonding time becomes a cover-up. "It's not the crime, it's the cover-up that gets ya every time".

Checking the Pennsylvania law Jake learns that they both could face jail time.

Pam is having an affair and it's later revealed that this man actually killed the girl and placed her on the road.  And, he also killed the man that was blackmailing the Buckman's.

This was  a real page-turner and I plan to get more by this author.
Scottoline is a native of the Philadelphia area and writes a column with her adult daughter.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt

Finished Mo 4/9/18

The reason that I ordered this paperback from Amazon was I saw a podcast with Greg Iles and he said the Donna Tartt was his favorite Mississippi writer. After finishing book, I ordered another by Tartt.

Hampden College, Vermont (fictional college and city)

The plot-line revolves around six friends that are attending college and majoring in a special program studying classical Greek- philology, anthropology, and sociology.

John Richard Paypen- the protagonist, He's the 'outsider' because he doesn't have any money or social standing. He's from a small town in California and his father runs a gas station...."We're in oil".

Charles and Camilla Macaulay- twins that may or may not be sexually involved, but they are smart and intuitive.

Francis Abernathy- He is from a very wealthy family. The family told him that his grandmother was his mother, but his sister is actually his mother. He and his real mother were raised at fancy schools and treated almost as siblings. His family owns a huge mansion that the friends use that's not too far from the college.

Henry Winter- Very smart and ominous fellow- super intelligent and wily (possibly evil). He's the brains of the outfit.

Edmund 'Bunny' Corcoran- 'The loose canon'. He is killed (pushed off a ravine on the local college hiking path) because he threatens to expose the group for the murder of the farmer.

Professor Julian Morrow- He's running a special Greek program at Hampden. He pretty much is not controlled by the administration whatsoever.

The five friends (without Rich or Bunny) recreate a Dionysian orgy/ religious observance and a local farmer is killed. The actual details of the murder and how it occurred is never really addressed.

The whole book is a 'cover-up' of this crime and Bunny is killed because he might expose the group.

Bunny, Francis, Charles, and Richard are heavy drinkers. And this adds to the possible leaking of the facts of their notorious adventures.

 The plot from wikipedia-

"As the story opens, Richard leaves the (fictitious) small town of Plano, California, where he is generally unhappy, for (the fictitious) Hampden College in Vermont. His disdain for his background establishes a contrast—aestheticism and literary beauty, as opposed to harsh reality—that continues throughout the novel. He misleads others about his background, replacing his mediocre working-class childhood with a fabricated, glamorous one of boarding schools, wealth, failed actors, and parents who own an oil well.

In Vermont, Richard tries to continue his study of Ancient Greek, only to be denied admittance to the course, as Classics professor Julian Morrow limits his enrollment to a tiny hand-picked coterie. Richard becomes obsessed with the group, observing them around campus and noting what he considers a cold attitude toward the world around them and an obsession with studies that he admires. Eventually, he manages to ingratiate himself with the group by helping to solve a Greek grammar problem. Soon after, armed with advice from the group on how to impress Morrow, Richard meets with him and is finally admitted to the Classics tutorial.

The group includes fraternal twins Charles and Camilla Macaulay, who are charming but secretive, as well as Francis Abernathy, whose secluded country home becomes a sanctuary for the group. (Francis reappears, in a sentence or two, in Tartt's later novel, The Goldfinch.) Two students become the central focus: linguistic genius Henry Winter, an intellectual with a passion for the Pali canon, Homer, and Plato; and back-slapping Bunny Corcoran, a bigoted jokester more comfortable reading Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu novels.

The pair's friendship, which Richard finds odd, becomes more mystifying when Bunny announces that he and Henry will spend winter break together in Rome, Italy—although Henry appears to barely tolerate Bunny, and Bunny cannot afford such a lavish holiday himself. In fact, Henry is footing the bill for the trip. To avoid revealing his fabricated past, Richard takes a low-paying job on campus and spends winter break, the coldest in a generation, in an unheated warehouse. He nearly dies from hypothermia and pneumonia, but is rescued and taken to the hospital by Henry, who has returned early from Italy.

After winter break, Richard sees the relationship between the others and Bunny becoming even more strained. Ultimately, he learns the truth from Henry and Francis: during a Bacchanal (from which both Richard and Bunny were excluded), Henry inadvertently killed a local farmer who lived near Francis's country estate; Richard questions Henry pertaining to the nature of their Bacchanal, which he understands to be a sex ritual, and Henry confirms this but refuses to elaborate. Bunny, suspicious for some time, uncovered the truth about the group's accident during the trip to Italy by reading Henry's diary, and has been blackmailing the group since. The group, led by Henry, now view Bunny as a danger, and Bunny's penchant for playing on his friends' fears and insecurities does little to assuage their concern.

No longer able to meet Bunny's demands, and fearing that he will report them, the group resolves to kill Bunny. Henry forms several plots, one of which is finally put into motion after a drunken Bunny tells Richard of the killing. The group confronts Bunny while he is hiking, and Henry pushes him into a ravine to his death.

The rest of the novel follows the group's collapse, the psychological strains of remorse borne by the members, and their efforts to maintain secrecy as investigators and other students inquire into Bunny's disappearance. (The other students include loquacious drug user Judy Poovey, a reader of "those paranoia books by Philip K. Dick".) They attempt to act natural, joining the search parties combing over the campus looking for Bunny.

Charles develops a drinking problem and becomes increasingly abusive towards his sister Camilla. Francis confirms to Richard that the twins are having sexual relations, at the same time admitting he has also slept with Charles on a number of occasions that Charles is in the mood. Francis himself begins to suffer panic attacks. Morrow discovers a pleading letter sent to him by Bunny, imploring him to help: "You're the only one who can." He never reports the crime, instead leaving the faculty. This action creates consequences for the main characters (though mainly just Richard, the only one without an inheritance at his disposal). Left without a teacher, they have little options for the coming academic year and will be unable to complete their majors, forced to change up their plans, though this is hardly the most troublesome thing on their minds.

As the group splinters, the members must deal with things in isolation. Henry begins living and likely sleeping with Camilla, which drives Charles further into alcoholism. Henry, deeply upset by Morrow's departure, sees it as an act of cowardice and hypocrisy. When Charles is arrested in a drunk driving incident with Henry's car, Henry fears Charles will let something slip to the police. The climax comes when Charles, jealous of Henry and now a full-blown alcoholic, barges into Camilla and Henry's hotel room and tries to kill Henry with Francis' Beretta. In the struggle, Henry gets hold of the gun; the others pile on him, and Charles ends up shooting Richard in the abdomen. The innkeeper, hearing the commotion and gunshot, forces his way into the room. Before anything else can happen, Henry calmly kisses Camilla farewell and shoots himself fatally. Apparently, Henry, wishing to uphold the principles he feels Morrow, whom he "loved more than anyone," has betrayed, covers for Charles, his suicide leading the police to conclude that Henry shot Richard.

With Henry's death, the group disintegrates. Francis attempts suicide and, though homosexual, is forced by his rich grandfather to marry a woman he despises; Camilla, taking care of her grandmother, becomes increasingly isolated; Charles runs away from rehab with a married woman and no longer speaks to Camilla; and Richard, after recovering from his wounds, becomes a lonely academic with an unrequited love for Camilla. He sees Henry's death as having cut the cord that bound them, setting them all adrift. The book ends with Richard recounting a strange dream where he meets Henry in a tall atrium, unable to say all he feels about what has happened. Finally, he settles on asking, "Are you happy here?" Henry replies, "Not particularly. But you're not very happy where you are, either," and walks away."

This was a slow read, but I loved all of it.

Monday, April 2, 2018

HOWLING AT THE MOON by Walter Yetnikoff with David Ritz

Finished 4/1/18- Easter Sunday

I bought this for two bucks at The Prairie Archives on Th 3/15/18.

The 2004 biography of Walter Yetnikoff who ran CBS records- late 70's to early 90's.  He guided the careers of Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Earth, Wind & Fire, Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Springsteen, Barbra Streisand, "Weird Al" Yankovic, Gloria Estefan, and a host of other well-known artists. And, a major abuser of drugs, sex, and alcohol. The excesses are the main focus of the book.
-David Ritz specializes in Entertainment Biographies- he's written dozens!

Born 1933; raised in Brooklyn, Russian/ Jewish background. Columbia Law School and Law Review. No background in music, but he really knew 'contracts'.
Instrumental in blending CBS Records with Sony. He made the companies multi-millions and he made millions.

Personal friends with Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, and Bruce Springsteen. Jackson is weirder than he appears, Jagger is smarter, and Springsteen is more authentic.

When he finally hit rehab, it took and he became 'a believer' in the program. So much so, that it seems like he developed another addiction.  A Catholic priest, Monsignor Vincent E. Puma, had helped him recover from his addictions to alcohol and drugs.

Married early and had two sons. Cheated on his wife and she died of lung cancer. In the end, they were still friends, yet his behavior was indefensible by any standard. 

An interesting read, and about what you would expect. I'm a sucker for anything about the music industry and all of the lurid excesses.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

PARIS TROUT by Pete Dexter

Finished Sa 3/31/18

I ordered this from Amazon after seeing the Nick Nolte movie, MULHOLLAND FALLS. The ultra-violence intrigued me, and surprised to learn that the author, Pete Dexter, also was responsible for DEADWOOD.

And, his back-story as a journalist and how he became a fiction writer is wild.

From his page at wikipedia-

"Pete Dexter began writing fiction after a life-changing 1981 incident in which a mob of locals armed with baseball bats beat him severely. The perpetrators were upset by a recent column about a murder involving drug deal-gone-wrong. The brother of the homicide victim was a bartender at a local bar in the Schuylkill neighborhood. Dexter went to the bar to talk to him after the family had called the newspaper to complain. Dexter was roughed up at that meeting and later returned with a friend heavyweight, prizefighter Randall "Tex" Cobb. In the ensuing fight outside the bar in the street, Cobb's arm was broken and Dexter was hospitalized with several injuries; including a broken back, pelvis, brain damage and dental devastation. Cobb's injuries cost him a shot at WBA heavyweight champion Mike Weaver."

This is where I read the term, 'dental devastation'.


From wikipedia-

"The Plot-
In a small Georgia town in the 1950's, Paris Trout, a bigoted store owner, kills a young black man's younger sister and wounds his mother when a car deal between them goes wrong."

Paris Trout might be one of the most 'villainous villain' I have ever read. He's a toxic blend of violence and racism.

Novel begins when Rosie Sayers is bit by a fox that might be rabid. She's buying bullets for her mother's lover. She was on the way to Trout's store when she is bit. Hanna Trout takes her to the doctor where she refuses treatment- a big needle in the stomach, and is driven back to her home.

Trout arranges a car loan for a young black man. A lumber truck rams the car on the way home and the black man brings the car back and says that because he signed up for insurance he won't pay, and it's Trout's problem.  "I git my money"!!!

Trout goes to the black's house with his enforcer, Buster Devonne,and they shoot and kill Rosie Sayer and wounds Mary McNutt. Trout feels that he's done nothing wrong- this is his business, and if he doesn't take a firm stand, his business will flounder.

The town and the authorities are sympathetic to Trout and he pays off everyone in sight. His case goes all the way to the Georgia supreme court, but he his sent to prison for several months. Ward Townes was the prosecutor. On the way, he kidnaps the car but shows up at the jail with his cop driver. He pays more cash, and gets off.

Hanna Trout, his wife, throws him out of their house and tries to free herself from Paris, but it becomes almost impossible. Evil is hard to delete.

In the end, Paris Trout stages a bloody shootout at the court house. He shoots and kills his mother who is suffering from dementia, he shoots and kills his wife's divorce lawyer, Carl Bonner (the youngest Eagle Scout in Georgia history), and he shoots and kills his criminal lawyer, Harry Seagraves (he was having an affair with Trout's wife).

The town feels that Paris Trout's estate owes the town because he murdered two of the town's most prominent citizens. There are several large and impenetrable safes in his store. They must send for specialists to blow the locks and in the safes are jars of Trout's urine. He leaves a note saying that in the event of his death, this is proof that he was being poisoned by his wife.

This was a great read and the character of Trout is truly one of a kind.

I'm going to watch the film on YouTube this morning, Easter Sunday- 4/1/18. The film is not carried by Netflix and it costs a hundred bucks on Amazon.

The movie was faithful to the novel except at the end. Hanna is in the room when Paris kills his mother and Seagraves, but he doesn't shoot Carl Bonner- he's not even there. And, the whole subplot about the beards for the civil war celebration/ town stockade is deleted. Nothing about the safes with the bottles of urine which I thought was a very nice touch.
The film was directed by Jake and Maggie  Gyllenhaal's father, Stephen.

Friday, March 30, 2018

BORDERLINERS by Peter Hoeg

Finished (with it!) Th 3/29/18

This is one of my old trade paperbacks, and I'd never read it. I had pulled it from one of the shelves downstairs, and then I heard a podcast with Greg Iles and he said that one of his favorite characters in all of literature was one from SMILLA'S SENSE OF SNOW.

I remember that novel was made into a film and it was a kind of murder/ mystery set in Denmark about a character who uses her extreme knowledge of snow to solve the crime- more of less.

A difficult and laborious read. I did a painful two hundred pages with little or no understanding, and then skimmed to the end.

It's set in a Danish orphanage/ private school that is part of some kind of a social experiment.

The title might mean that in this experiment of  'social Darwinism' some of the participants will succeed, some will fail, and some will be 'borderliners'.

Parts of it are somewhat interesting, but, overall, not worth the effort.

A strange subplot or perspective of the author is his infatuation with Time. He writes about the first town in the fourteenth century to have a public clock. He says that no one was aware of Time in the sense of 'what time is it'? But, because of the intricacy of the clock/ machine, it was appreciated more as a representation of the precise nature of  God's handiwork.

All kinds of descriptions of 'the shape of time' and other strange observations. But what this has to do with the action within the novel is unclear- at least to me.

From Amazon-

"Strange things are happening at Biehl's Academy when this elite school opens its doors to a group of orphans and reform-school rejects, kids at the end of the system's tether. But the school is run by a peculiar set of rules by which every minute is regimented and controlled. The children soon suspect that they are guinea pigs in a bizarre social experiment, and that their only hope of escape is to break through a dangerous threshold of time and space. Peter Høeg's "brilliant" and dystopian Borderliners is a "uniquely philosophical thriller" (Boston Sunday Globe) and a haunting story of childhood travail and hope."

From Wikipedia-

"Peter is a student at Biehl's after spending all of his life in children's homes and reform schools. He is a borderline case, along with Katarina, whose parents both died in the past year, and August, who is severely disturbed after killing his abusive parents. Although allowed no social interaction, the children conspire to conduct their own experiment to discover what plan is being carried out at Biehl's. Høeg touches on some of the same themes as in his acclaimed Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow - neglected children, scientific experiments, and technology - but Borderliners is not a thriller and may not appeal to the same audience. It is instead a fascinating intellectual puzzle that explores the themes of social control, child assessment, family, and the concept of time.

The book is also somewhat autobiographical, as it reflects Høeg's own schooldays at a Copenhagen private school."

Saturday, March 24, 2018

THE BURNING GIRL by Claire Messud

Finished Fr 3/23/18- The March, 2018 selection for the Contemporary Book Club

Royston, MA is a fictional city, but it's located near Haverhill, which is very much real. The location is about 35 miles north of Boston, near the New Hampshire border and 17 miles east of the Atlantic coast.

The two friends; Cassie Burnes and Julia (Ju-Ju) Robinson (maybe Robertson?)

Cassie's father was killed by a drunk driver when Cassie was very young. Clarke Burnes was working a second job in Boston and was driving home in bad weather and his car was struck.

Beverly Burnes works as a nurse practitioner. She treats people that are dying; home hospice worker. No extended family or network and a somewhat mysterious past. You can't even be sure that Clarke was real, let alone all of the details of her life which she chooses to share.

Cassie says things to Bev that Bev promises never to bring up again, but she does. Is this some kind of evil intent, or is it just that Bev truly doesn't understand how important this confidence is to Cassie. THIS RIFT MATTERS MORE AS CASSIE GETS OLDER AND BEV'S ROMANTIC LIFE CHANGES.

Ju's father is a dentist. He works from an office behind their large Victorian home. Ju's mother, Carole, is a local reporter/ journalist for the newspaper.

Rudy- Alcoholic caretaker; alone except for his German Sheppard, Bessie

Peter- First Julia's boyfriend, but Cassie picks him up. This happened in middle school. Julia was always attracted to him and they become close when Cassie disappears. In high school they have a short sexual relationship, but decide that they are better as friends.

Delia Mosel- 'The Evil Morsel'; When Cassie and Julia drift apart this girl becomes friends with Cassie. She brings out the worse in Cassie.

Dr. Anders Shute is a doctor who becomes involved with Bev. She has been alone since she lost Clarke, and Cassie is happy that she has found someone, but was always suspicious about Shute's motives.

Bev is Christian and Shute makes her even more rigid in her beliefs, and this has a really big adverse effect on Cassie.

This is the doctor that treated Cassie when she was bitten by a dog when Julia and Cassie worked for a vet as a summer job when they first went to high school.

Notes from the author's reflections on the book at Amazon-

"FIRST BEST FRIEND-  A type of union that prefigures romantic love. Falls away you see more of what seperates you than what brings you togehter.

Every adventure, for good or for worse, becomes better with your friend.

Major Theme-

Human intimacy and how much we know each other.
How much we 'make up'to cover what we don't know

The Dilemma of The Book-

In a mature or 'real' relationship, the person you love reflects back an accurate reflection of who you are or who you can be. It becomes difficult if the sense of yourself that comes back is not what you would wish."

Notes about author's background-

Claire Messud; Greenwich, CT (1966), novelist and creative writing professor. Grew up in the United States, Australia, and Canada, returning to the US as a teenager; mother Canadian and father is from French Algeria. Studied at Yale and Cambridge. Messud is married to book critic (The New Yorker/ The Guardian), James Wood

Nice Insight Into Being Female
“Sometimes I felt that growing up and being a girl was about learning to be afraid. Not paranoid, exactly, but always alert and aware, like checking out the exits in the movie theatre or the fire escape in a hotel. You came to know, in a way you hadn't as a kid, that the body you inhabited was vulnerable, imperfectly fortified.”