Sunday, November 19, 2017

DOG EAT DOG by Edward Bunker

DOG EAT DOG   by Edward Bunker

From the library on Hoopla, and finished Su 11/19/17

A couple of weeks ago I heard an interview on Marc Maron's WTF with Willem Dafoe and they were talking about the film where Dafoe played Mad Dog McCain and Nicholas Cage played Troy Cameron. Dafoe mentioned that it was taken from a great novel by Edward Bunker. First, I checked Netflix and learned that the movie was available for streaming, and I watched it that morning. And then I checked the library and saw that the book was on Hoopla.

1) Troy Cameron- Born into wealth and privilege in Beverly Hills. Father was an abusive urologist and abused Troy's mother. Father attacked mother and Troy shot him three times in the back. Father lived, but Troy began his career in the juvenile court system.

2) Charles 'Diesel' Carson- While in the system gained 80 lbs of muscle and got the nickname 'Diesel' for his strength, although it might have been 'for playing football without a helmet'.

3) Gerald 'Mad Dog' McCain- Just a couple of days before Troy's release he was goaded into a fight by a black thug, and Mad Dog cut the guy with a shiv, nearly killing him.  Mad Dog knew that if Troy retaliated, he would lose any chance of freedom. Troy never forgets this, although McCain is completely unhinged and addicted to whatever he can lay his hands on. However, near the end of the novel, Troy and Diesel agree that McCain's gotta go.


The book is essentially about three friends who met and grew up in California's child criminal courts system. When they are released as adults and subject to the recent, 'three strikes and you're out' mandate, they decided that they will commit crimes against criminals because these individuals can't call in the police. They rip off a drug dealer and successfully take a large score, but they are involved with a kidnapping that goes awry. They accidentally kill the man who is supposed to pay the ransom when he is unexpectedly present on the evening of the crime. Troy and Diesel murder Mad Dog because he is far too unstable and they get taken down when they are targeted by store security in a harmless visit to a local grocery store. Diesel's handgun is accidentally displayed in the store, and Diesel is killed in a gun fight in the parking lot, and Troy is captured. While in the prison hospital Troy is given a handgun and a pipe wrench by a prisoner who is a friend and Troy manages to escape. He hijacks a car with an elderly black couple, the Reverend Charles and Charlene Wilson, and manages to travel down the California coast where the car is stopped by police. In the ensuing gun fight, Charles and Charlene are killed and Troy is wounded and captured. All is lost and Troy is back in the system, and this time- on death row.

Much of the novel is different from the film and I'm curious as to why they just didn't 'do the book' because it's so much better. In any event, I loved the book, and I'd wholeheartedly recommend both the novel and the film to anyone interested in hardboiled criminal fiction.

the author's page at wikipedia-

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Bunker

Thursday, November 16, 2017

THE POET by Michael Connelly

This is an old paperback that I first completed on Mo 2/24/03 over a long three day weekend. This time through, I finished it Tu 11/14/17. When I finished ROGUE LAWYER I was searching through the stacks for a copy of THE LINCOLN LAWYER. I thought that it was written by Grisham and surprised to learn that it was a Connelly novel. I couldn't find it, or any of the Mickey Haller series, but this one was worth a second look.

Reporter, John McEvoy is a twin and his brother is a police detective. The detective is murdered and the scene was arranged to appear like a suicide. John joins the investigation and determines that there is a serial killer of police detectives on the loose.  Cops commit suicide and there is a connection to children in their past. McEvoy uses the internet and finds the connection between these half dozen murders disguised as suicide and realizes that it's the work of a serial killer. They called the killer in this investigation, The Poet, because this murderer leaves sections of poetry by Edgar Allen Poe at the scene.

The FBI's Behavioral Science Unit (Rachel's outfit) determines that the killer seems to be motivated by a molestation that happened when he was a child. The Poet is aided by an online organization of paedophiles.

Many years ago a Florida detective was sexually abusing children. He discarded William Gladden because he got too old. Gladden went on a life-long killing spree against detectives because of this this man.  Gladden takes pictures of young children and sells them on the internet. This is the man that is thought to be The Poet for most of the novel.

Rachel Walling's father was also a detective and he was abusing her, and when John learned of this he was convinced that she was the killer.

THE TWIST-

John falls in love with the FBI investigator Rachel Walling. Near the end of the book John feels that she might be The Poet. However, it's not her, but another FBI agent, Backus. 

A fantastic book and I'd read anything and everything by Michael Connelly. And, he's a cut above John Grisham, but Grisham's work is still important part of the genre of legal thrillers.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

THE ATOMIC WEIGHT OF LOVE by Elizabeth J. Church

November selection for the Contemporary Book Club, 2017. Finished Fr 11/10/17; a hardback edition that I got on Amazon- We 8/30/17

Meridian's family might be related to Scottish Super-Hero, William Wallace. Mel Gibson's character in BRAVEHEART.


An interesting and captivating love story that spans the fifties to the seventies from the point of view of an educated woman trapped in a very limited marriage; somewhat a blueprint to the rise of feminism.

Meridian Wallace
Alden Whetstone
Clay- Vietnam vet, geologist

From Amazon-

"In her sweeping debut novel, Elizabeth J. Church takes us from the World War II years in Chicago to the vast sun-parched canyons of New Mexico in the 1970s as we follow the journey of a driven, spirited young woman, Meridian Wallace, whose scientific ambitions are subverted by the expectations of her era.

In 1941, at seventeen years old, Meridian begins her ornithology studies at the University of Chicago. She is soon drawn to Alden Whetstone, a brilliant, complicated physics professor who opens her eyes to the fundamentals and poetry of his field, the beauty of motion, space and time, the delicate balance of force and energy that allows a bird to fly.

Entranced and in love, Meridian defers her own career path and follows Alden west to Los Alamos, where he is engaged in a secret government project (later known to be the atomic bomb). In married life, though, she feels lost and left behind. She channels her academic ambitions into studying a particular family of crows, whose free life and companionship are the very things that seem beyond her reach. There in her canyons, years later at the dawn of the 1970s, with counterculture youth filling the streets and protests against the war rupturing college campuses across the country, Meridian meets Clay, a young geologist and veteran of the Vietnam War, and together they seek ways to mend what the world has broken.

Exquisitely capturing the claustrophobic eras of 1940s and 1950s America, The Atomic Weight of Love also examines the changing roles of women during the decades that followed. And in Meridian Wallace we find an unforgettable heroine whose metamorphosis shows how the women’s movement opened up the world for a whole generation."

From Amazon-

"An Amazon Best Book of May 2016: The Atomic Weight of Love sounded like a quiet book to me, but the process of transformation from caterpillar to butterfly is a quiet thing, too, and that’s what this story reminds me of. It’s a fascinating account of Meridian Wallace, a science-minded woman who falls in love with a brilliant man working on big things—in this case, the atomic bomb. She puts her dreams on hold in service to his, sure that it’s only temporary and in these years meets other women who have done the same. Suddenly, it seems as if she has just faded into the background of her own life. Then the catalyst--a young man, both hippie and Vietnam veteran, who introduces her to many things, freedoms born of the era, and there is indecision. Ultimately Meridian reclaims herself, takes her identities over all those years and patches them together into a new and meaningful life. Woven throughout are interesting facts about human-like bird behavior and historical anecdotes, so while Meridian’s story--a reflection of the changing role of women between the 1940’s and 1970’s--is the centerpiece, there are many other treasures along the way. --Seira Wilson"


I really loved this novel and although it's a romance, it is in no way a Harlequin Romance! And, I was pleased to see that the author did not cast Meridian's husband, Alden as a villain. He was as much trapped by society's expectations as she was.

Link to excellent review-

http://expendablemudge.blogspot.com/2016/09/the-atomic-weight-of-love-novel-for.html

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

ROGUE LAWYER by John Grisham

This was a hardback that Janny loaned to me and I finished the book on Tuesday, 11/7/17. This was also the day that I got the finishing touches on my right sleeve tattoo at Black Moon.

The whole premise of this novel seems to have been lifted from Michael Connelly's, THE LINCOLN LAWYER. Both books concern a dishonest or unprincipled attorney who plies his trade on the fringes of the legal community. Both books are great reads, but Connelly is clearly a better writer. And, Grisham's novel feels as if he's stitched together several short stories or novellas, and there's a lot of loose ends at the conclusion. Maybe he's intentionally creating openings for a possible series on the character of Sebastian Rudd.

The plot of the novel from wikipedia-


"Sebastian Rudd is a street lawyer, but not your typical street lawyer. His office is a black customized bulletproof van, complete with Wi-Fi, a bar, a small fridge, and fine leather chairs. He has no firm, no partners, and only one employee: his heavily armed driver, named 'Partner', who used to be his client, and who also happens to be his bodyguard, law clerk, confidant, and golf caddie. Sebastian drinks small-batch bourbon and carries a gun. His beautiful ex-wife, Judith, is a lawyer too, and she left him for another woman while still they were married. He only gets to see his son, Starcher, for 36 hours per month and his ex-wife wants to stop all visits. He defends people other lawyers won't go near: a drug-addled, tattooed kid, Gardy Baker, rumored to be in a satanic cult who is accused of murdering two girls; a vicious crime lord, Link Scanlon, on death row who escaped before his eyes; a homeowner, Doug Renfro, arrested for shooting at a SWAT team that mistakenly invaded his house, and killed his wife and dogs; a Mixed martial arts fighter, Tadeo Zapate, who killed a referee after losing a fight. In between these adventures, he's contacted by a serial kidnapper and killer, Arch Swanger, who's involved in human trafficking, and knows the whereabouts of the assistant chief of police's missing daughter."

Basically, the novel is a collection of five subplots-

The relationship between Sebastian, Judith, and their son, Starcher. Although he loves the boy, he hates his name every time it's mentioned.

Gardy Baker- a goth kid railroaded by an entire town for the murder and rape of two young girls. The cops go for him and ignore the real killer, an ex-boyfriend of the girls' mother.

A retired home owner, Doug Renfro, whose house is targeted by a swat team. They think he and his wife are major drug traffickers, but it's really the young man next door. He's stealing the old couples wifi. The surprising fact of this story is that although Mr. Renfro is attacked in the middle of the night, without warning, the police are absolved of any wrong doing because they 'are merely doing their jobs'. The fact that they murder Mr. Renfro's wife in the process is just an unfortunate accident.
      However, I did wonder if one part of this subplot is true. When this fiasco goes to trial the jury foreman asks the judge why the police are not on trial instead of Mr. Renfro, then the trial seems to be dismissed. Would this really happen? If the law says that the police cannot be held responsible wouldn't the jury be forced to enforce that law?

Tadeo Zapate- a mixed martial arts fighter who loses a fight by a questionable decision, and lashes out and kills the ref. Tadeo is sponsored by Rudd and although Sebastian does all he can for this obviously guilty man, Zapate idiotically  feels that he can convince the jury that he was temporarily insane as he struck the ref twenty-two times with vicious punches to the head (and all of this was caught on video).

Arch Swanger- a sociopath who is possibly a serial killer and human trafficker. A police official's pregnant daughter is kidnapped by human traffickers and Swanger seems to know where she is being held and gives this information to Rudd. This might be the most interesting story, yet it doesn't seem to be fully resolved at the end of the book.

This book is an easy read and very entertaining, but that's about all you could say. I think Michael Connelly is the better writer and I have a novel by David Baldacci that I'm going to read and and see how he compares as a best selling author of legal thrillers.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

NOAH'S COMPASS by Anne Tyler

This is a hardback that Janny loaned to me. Tyler wrote this in 2009, so she was 68. While it doesn't rate as one of her best novels, it is certainly a fine novel. Written by an unknown, it would have been a literary sensation!

Finished on Sa 11/4/17 in one three hour marathon session on the living room couch after an early afternoon workout at Planet Fitness.

Plot summary from wikipedia-

"On the surface, Liam Pennywell leads an ordered, decent life. Once widowed and once divorced, with three grown-up daughters, he has just been dismissed from his teaching job and, for lack of funds, has moved to a smaller apartment on the outskirts of Baltimore. Toying with the idea of retiring altogether rather than going job hunting at his age, Pennywell is assaulted by a burglar on the very first night he stays at his new place. When he wakes up in hospital with a bandaged head, he cannot remember a thing about the attack.

The loss of memory disturbs him more than the crime itself. In a neurologist's waiting room he observes 38-year-old Eunice accompanying an ageing entrepreneur to his doctor's appointment and finds out that she is working for him as a "rememberer" or, as she herself puts it later, the old man's "external hard drive." Intrigued by this occupation, Pennywell contrives a chance encounter with her, and eventually they strike up a relationship with each other.

Complications in their love affair arise when his youngest daughter, 17-year-old Kitty, decides to move in with him, obviously because she expects to be enjoying more freedom than if she stayed with her mother; and when his middle daughter Louise makes a habit of dumping his four-year-old grandson Jonah at Pennywell's apartment for him to babysit. On top of that, Eunice turns out to be a married woman who, after Pennywell has found out, still does not want to let go of him.

In the end the police arrest the burglar—a juvenile delinquent whose mother has the cheek to ask Pennywell to serve as a character witness at her son's forthcoming trial. By then, Pennywell has made up with his eldest daughter Xanthe, who was bearing an old grudge against her father, has got rid of Eunice, and has got settled in at his new apartment. Also, he has started working as a zayde (Jewish word for 'grandfather') for Jewish preschool children."

PLOT NOTES;

Liam Pennywell is a fifth grade teacher who has recently been 'downsized' and has moved to a cheaper apartment in the Lutherville/Timonium area of suburban Baltimore. The first night in the new place he is viciously attacked, bitten on the hand, and knocked unconscious. He awakes in the hospital and can't remember anything about the incident.

The novel is about how he adjusts to the attack, and as a result of his quest to find out what happened, he gains new insight and acceptance of his whole life.

Kitty- Liam's youngest daughter by ex-wife Barbara. Kittys' boyfriend is Damian. Barbara still has feelings for Liam, although she has clearly moved on in her life. At the end of the novel Kitty leaves Barbara's home and lives with Liam for her final year of high school.

Bundy- Liam's Afro-American friend at St. Dyfrig where they both work, and Bundy is a PE teacher at the school. Although Liam has a degree in philosophy he has been a middle school teacher for all of his professional life. His major problem is that he has never lived up to anything close to his full potential- he always settles for less.

Xanthe- (pronounced- "Zan- thee") Liam's daughter and only child by Millie, his first wife. She is mad at Liam for most of the novel because she thinks that Damian, Kitty's boyfriend, is the one who attacked Liam.

Louise- Liam's oldest daugher by Barbara. She is married to Dougall, who is a blue collar worker, and they have a four year old son, Jonah. They are 'born again Christians'.

Mr. Ishmael Cope- an extremely rich developer, COPE DEVELOPMENT, who is having memory problems. He has hired a 'rememberer', Eunice Dunstead. This woman becomes the object of Liam's desire, and Eunice loves him even more.

Liam is 61 and Eunice is 38.

The major twist in the novel occurs when Liam learns that Eunice is married. Because his father left his mother when Liam was a boy, Liam has great respect for the institution of marriage. But, you could also say that because he is suffering from extremely low self-esteem, he uses his view of the sanctity of marriage as an excuse to not pursue Eunice, the love of his life. THIS IS PROBABLY THE MAJOR THEME OF THE NOVEL.

Norman- he is Eunice's husband. He works in the field biology at Johns Hopkins hospital.

Millie- Liam's first wife. This was an unhappy marriage and Millie was continually depressed and she finally takes her life- sleeping pills. Liam probably shares some responsibility for Millie's condition because he could not fully commit to the relationship. He most likely felt that he was unworthy of a loving relationship and as a result, was distant from his wife.


Julia- she is Liam's older sister. She is distant and aloof. She's a lawyer and pretty hard-nosed.

Lamont Edward Twill, 24-  He is the man who attacked Liam on his first day at his new apartment. This man's mother goes to Liam's apartment (The Twill's live in the same complex) and asks Liam to be a character witness at Edward's trial. She feels that Twill showed remorse because he didn't steal anything from Liam's apartment. Liam doesn't buy it and believes that the reason Edward fled was because Liam screamed and his neighbors heard his cry for help.

Bard and Esther Jo- These are Liam's father and stepmother. Esther Jo was the office sex-pot and Bard left Liam's mother for this woman. When Liam talks about this with his father late in the novel, Bard tells him that he was so afraid that he would die without attaining any real happiness. BARD BELIEVES THAT YOU MUST TAKE A RISK FOR HAPPINESS WHILE LIAM REMAINS PASSIVE, HIDING BEHIND HIS BELIEFS.

Last line of the book-

"He could almost convince himself that he'd never been wounded at all"

You could write an entire critique about the novel from that final line and also the title of the book.

An explanation of the title from wikipedia-

"The novel takes its title from a discussion Pennywell has with his grandson about whether Noah was steering his ark, or just bobbing up and down in the flood. "Noah didn't need to figure out directions, because the whole world was underwater and so it made no difference," he tells Jonah. “There wasn't anywhere to go. He was just trying to stay afloat."

I love everything by Anne Tyler and the more I think about this book, the more I love it.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

THE RED PRESIDENT by Martin Gross

Refinished Sa 11/3/17  This was one of my ancient paperbacks that I originally finished "Sunday evening, 3/22/98". The tone of the novel is pretty much one long hysterical shriek...."The Russians are coming!...The Russians are coming"! It's a literal distillation of Reagan Republican feeling about 'The Evil Empire'. I wasn't all that surprised to learn that Martin Gross....now know as 'Martin L. Gross' became a noted figure within the Tea Party Movement. At one point, he was also the editor of Book Digest. This is his first novel and later he concentrated on non-fiction, and many felt that he played a bit wild and loose with the truth to score his political points.

He claimed about his audience- "“I am their hero. I always know what people need and why, because I’m Mr. Joe Sixpack with a good brain.”

From The New York Times-

"Martin L. Gross, a writer whose books criticizing government spending and taxation became best sellers in the 1990s and were embraced more recently by supporters of the Tea Party, died on Aug. 21, 2013 in Ocala, Fla. He was 88."


The plotline was copied from Kirkus Review-


THE RED PRESIDENT is about a... "secret Marxist-Leninist who ascends to the Oval Office. Oval Red is the code word for the Soviet masterplan to subvert a Democratic presidential candidate and maneuver him into the White House. Targeted by the Kremlin is charismatic young US Senator Jed Hankins, whose public ultraliberal, idealistic policies are hammered into private pro-Sovietism by his aide, Bill Fenton, a KGB plant. Riding on a strong wave, Hankins wins the Democrats' nod for Vice President, then succeeds to the President-elect spot when on election night the original nominee dies of a heart attack just before being swept into office. Meanwhile, a wily ex-CIA operative, John Davidson, and an active agent, Sam Withers, catch on to the Soviets' plot. After inauguration, Hankins begins a blanket appeasement policy, including significant dismantling of the US armed forces, a move that shocks most of Congress and the US public. Realizing that Hankins' days in power are limited, and tiring of his growing reluctance to do their bidding, the Kremlin speeds things along by confronting Hankins with nuclear blackmail: capitulation, or annihilation. Hankins refuses and is shot dead by Fenton. With minutes to spare before Soviet missiles fly, agents Withers and Davidson, aided by a defecting KGB agent, persuade top officials of Hankins' treason; a new President is quickly sworn in who eyeballs the Soviets to a stalemate".

This was a long book, but the plot was weirdly captivating. In this era of Trumpism I think that the president and his team clearly see the Russians as heroes. Communism is certainly dead, but what took it's place in the Soviet Union is flat-out, hands-off, unregulated Capitalism. What sensible people would recognize as,'Gangsterism', yet this has a definite appeal to the Trump folks.

Monday, October 30, 2017

AFTER SILENCE Jonathan Carroll

This is one of my ancient trade paperbacks that I first read and finished Su 1/16/00. The flyleaf reads: "Read in one day. Off tomorrow. Feel like I'm coming down with cold/flu. Nice read. Bought yesterday- main branch, 50 cents".

However, I refinished the book on Su 10/29/17, and I really, really loved it! I guess the tip off should have been that the first time through, I read it in one day. This time it took two, but I finished in one three hour stretch on the living room couch yesterday.

"Jonathan Samuel Carroll (born January 26, 1949) is an American fiction writer primarily known for novels that may be labelled...
MAGIC REALISM...
SLIPSTREAM...
CONTEMPORARY FANTASY".

The Plot-

Max Fischer
Lily and Lincoln Aaron

The book is kind of a simple story that goes completely off the rails, not once- but twice.

Max is a successful cartoonist, single and OK with this, and one day at an art exhibition (some of his work is featured) he meets the woman, and her ten year old son, that fulfill all of his romantic dreams. The three of them are so perfectly matched that their worlds change from black and white to Technicolor the moment that they meet. Months later, Max learns a truth that brings it all down.

Lily is a monster. She had kidnapped Lincoln when he was just a small baby. And, this family never forgot and never gave up hope that someday their missing child would come back home.

SECOND IMPLOSION-

The novel skips to the future. Lincoln is now seventeen and he's turned into a surly punk (FUCK DANCE, LET'S FUCK; tee shirt) and it seems that all the excellent parenting of Max and Lily has been worthless.

Lincoln learns that he's not Lily's son and returns to his birth family to wreak havoc. Max follows, but is too late to stop the violence.

TWIST-
Lincoln's real birth parents are not the people that Lily claimed in the first place. The family that Lincoln visits has a son that was kidnapped, but this boy was reunited with his parents. Lincoln burns down their house and beats up the boy anyway.

TIME TWIST-
On the way from the fire and violence, Max meets Lincoln on the road and in a scene of road-rage madness, Lincoln shoots at Max. This same scene occurred many years before when Max first visited that family that he thought Lily had robbed of their child. 

This is a link to Goodreads that has a list of quotes from the author. He has many books, and I plan to read more. I don't think that AFTER SILENCE is even his best work.

https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/23704.Jonathan_Carroll