Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Heard: "Cocktail Waitress" by James M. Caine

Heard: Cocktail Waitress by James M. Caine, 2012, Overdrive.com.

A work of love by Charles Ardai.  Ardai has a nice afterword about how he first picked up a Cain novel when he was a 18-year-old college freshman.  He read that book and every other Cain book he could find.  As an adult Ardai heard about an unpublished novel and kept asking people.  Max Allan Collins told him about the unpublished Cocktail Waitress and Ardai found the novel in Cain's papers at the LOC.

I got way too carried away with plot rundown.  Skip the rest if you like.

Joan Medford is narrating her story into a tape recorder.  She was only 21 [or about that age] when her abusive drunk of a husband is killed driving drunk.  Joan's husband was unable to hold a job and left her and her toddler son with a mortgage, unpaid and turned off utilities, and no money in the bank.  Joan is forced to let her rotten sister-in-law care for her son.  Joan left home when she was a teen and has no job skills.

Joan is under suspicion by a cop who investigated her husband's car wreck.  That cop's partner gives Joan a line on a cocktail waitress job. Cop introduces Joan to restaurant owner and Joan's memory and her big breasts land her the job.  Joan and co-worker Liz wear skimpy outfits and no bras.  Liz does some part-time prostitution and cocktail waitresses of the time (set in the 1960s) are considered by many people to be prostitutes anyway.

Joan meets a rich guy who tips BIG.  Joan meets a handsome young guy with no dough.  Joan needs to support her son.  The rich guy's daily tips get the house's water, electric and phone turned back on.  Rich guy says, "Come to my house.  I have a beneficial task for you."  Joan is picked up by Rich Guy's chaffeur, driven to Rich Guy house, given a check for $50,000, and driven off.  That's weird.  But, Joan takes the money and buys off her home and buys the house across the street as a rental.

Rich Guy is super hot for Joan and goo-goo eyes for her.  Rich Guy is old and repulsive to Joan but she plays him along.  Rich Guy has angina and his doctor says, "No sex or you'll die."  Joan figures, "That could work" and they are pre-engaged.

Joan also chats with Handsome Young Guy.  Handsome Young Guy takes Joan to the Wigwam Club Restaurant with it's chaise lounge booths hidden by curtains and served by prostitute "waitresses".  Joan is hot and very bothered by Handsome Rich Guy but runs out in her shirt, raincoat and bare skin when she thinks of the money she would throw away by not staying with Rich Guy.

Anyway.  Joan and Rich Guy marry.  Rich Guy's heart won't stop him from pawing on Joan.  Joan thinks, "Eww, yuck!" but says, "Darling, your heart!  I don't want a dead husband!".  Rich Guy is frustrated.  Rich Guy sees new doctor who prescribes treatment that would allow sex.  Joan says, "Your new doctor is a quack!"  Rich Guy screws a "masseuse" and says, "Ha! Told you!"  Joan says, "It's  not the same.  You love me so much your emotions will drive your heart to seize!  Screw hookers and you'll live.  I can face this if you can, dear."

Rich Guy dies anyway.  Suspicious cop thinks Joan did it.  Suspicious cop finds evidence of poisoning.  Handsome Young Guy and Joan shag.  Handsome Young Guy kills himself after Joan skips out in the morning.  Handsome Young Guy had poison at his pad and takes the (dead)fall for Rich Guy's death. Joan inherits the house and a ton of money.

Comments:
1.  Joan tells the story.  I trusted her at first.  Then the coincidences pile on.  There is a better chance she is a total liar and killed all three men. Men trusted her, including the cop, but all those men were struck by her beauty and sex appeal.  According to Joan all sorts of men were hitting on her.  Her attorney.  Her dead husband's doctor.  The police. The cocktail bar customers. 
2.  Is Joan telling us, "I'm so lovely.  Men want me.  Women hate me.  But, I'm just an innocent girl struggling to feed and care for her son.  Cry for me."
3. Cain wrote this in 1975 shortly before he died.  Cain kept fiddling and changing things around.  Cain did not mark which draft was the latest and greatest and Ardai did his best to put together the final product as he thought Cain would.

4. Gratuitous Thalidomide.
5.  Ardai's afterword has a nice talk about Cain's lasting impact even though he was considered a literary loser at the time.  A junk writer who sold sex and violence.
6.  I've emailed Ardai a couple times to say thanks for Hard Case Crime.

Picked: "Burnt Offering" by Richard and Frances Lockridge

Picked: Burnt Offering by Richard and Francis Lockridge, 1955, LOC Cat no.55-6310.

I read the upcoming FFB theme of books written in the 1950s.  At first I used the fancy way of looking for a book and ran a library report on publication dates for fiction items.  That didn't work very well.  There was a Nevil Shute book I had not yet read but I did not want to read that one. So, I wondered the Mystery section looking for old stuff.

I'm surprised I did not weed this one.  Past circ' stats are iffy for individual items.  Reports cannot easily be run and keeping track of each item would balloon the database.  From what I can see this last went out in 2009. I don't know anything about the Lockridge's and don't feel like looking them up.  They did write a lot of books and the main character in Burnt Offering seems to be a series character.

Captain M.L. Heimrich of the New York State Police is visiting his niece and her husband in the Town of Van Brunt, NY along the Hudson River.  Heimrich attends a town council meeting with his niece and her husband because the Lockridge's want to set things up by showing the conflict between Phipps, the town supervisor, and Town residents regarding several issues including zoning, name changes, and other issues.  The narration says Hiemrich is tagging along as his family is there to hear about the proposed zoning changes.

Anyway.  A fire alarm cancels the meeting and everyone drives down to the firehouse because the firehouse is on fire.  The next morning Phipps is found burned up in the remains of the fire.  How did he get there?  Was it an accident?  No, this is a murder mystery and Phipps was shot.

Heimrich is already in town and is assigned the investigation.  His main partner, Sergeant Forniss, comes to town and they start investigating. The novel is sort-of a cozy police procedural.  Heimrich starts trying to figure out where Phipps went after the fire to figure who killed Phipps and dumped him in the smoldering remains and covered him with gasoline in a try to hide the killing.

Heimrich interviews the already introduced suspects.  A lawyer, the town librarian, the rich matron van Brunt and her son, people angry over real estate and class issues.  Van Brunt is split among old money, newer money with multi-acre lots, and the poor people in shacks on The Flats.

Heimrich finds the killer after a couple false leads, a burglary, a second shooting, a threatened child, a kidnapping, an arson, and a fire rescue.  A nice mix of action and cerebral work.

Comments:
1.  Heimrich often closes his eyes during interviews and just listens.
2.  Heimrich has a tactic of turnign away questions by saying, "Now, Mr. [name}..."
3. Some of the pacing was nice with a mix of short sentences mixed with longer description.
4. Map of town included.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Done: "Kwik Krimes" edited by Otto Penzler

Done: Kwik Krimes by Otto Penzler, 2013, 9781612183008.

Flash fiction collection.  Some stories are better than others.  Some stories are so-so  Some authors need more practice in writing short form because the stories feel like they are longer forms that were cut down to size.  I prefer the ones that feel like a complete story in themselves.  I may want to know more about the characters or aftermath but I enjoy the stories as they stand by themselves.  Like a good anecdote told by a friend or relative - there's no need to flesh it out.

About half the authors were working for an O. Henry twist.  81 stories.  Some authors are online flash fiction people.  Some authors are short story people.  Some authors are novelists. With 81 stories I cannot easily skim back through and pick favorites.  But, I'll try.

Comments:
1.  Charles Ardai has two stories with one under his Aleas alias. 
2.  Patricia Abbott's.
3.  Wigwam Club!  Hah!  I've been listening to James M. Cain's Cocktail Waitress and the main character goes to the Wigwam Club.  I knew I'd read that before.  The setting is in Ardai's story.
4.  Raymond Benson had a good one with modern turn on Hansel and Gretel, Baba Yaga, and Red Riding Hood.
5. Joe Clifford's dumb-ass, junkie mob son killing a guy trying to help him.
6.  Crider's.
7.  Sean Doolittle's tale about former grifters going back to theivery after dropping their daughter off at her first year of college.
8.  Brendan DuBois's pro thief in a small town casing an armored car robbery.
9.  Warren C. Easley with young girl figuring out her mother's boyfriend killed the girl's grandfather.
10.  Christa Faust's with a woman who has men pay to beat her up. 
11.  Matthew C. Funk's about a 12-year-old killer gangbanger.
12.  Chris Grandebstein's cop drama where the characters are dogs in a park.
13.  John Kenyon's story told in reverse time about an arsonist who falls fall a burn victim he responsible for.
14.  Chaarles McLeod's with a man telling a story where thugs forced him to pistol whip his father.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Listened: "Evil in All its Disguises" by Hilary Davidson

Listened: Evil in All It's Disguises by Hilary Davidson, 2013, Overdrive download.

I did not really enjoy this novel.  I did not like the main character.  I did not like the narration.  The narrator is skilled but that skill brought out characterization's that made me dislike the characters even more.  The narrator's voices and accents were over the top for me.  Nothing wrong with dislikable characters but they did not have anything else to interest me.  I did finish the novel. Anyhoo.

Travel writer Lily goes on travel junket to Acapulco, Mexico.  Lily gets trapped in hotel owned by ex-fiance, Martin,and run by ex-fiance's former right-hand man, Gavin.  Gavin is using Lily to get revenge on Martin.

Lily's pal Skye goes missing.  Lily is worried for Skye.  Lily is angry that Skye dated Martin after Lily's broken engagement.  The hotel is suspicious and has no other guests but travel writers.  Skye was doing an investigative report on the hotel's company.  Davidson does not give us a body until half-way through the book but introduces plenty of suspects and business intrigue. 

Lily asks questions.  Lily gets stonewalled.  Lily calls Martin.  Lily held captive.  Martin arrives and kills Gavin.  Gavin said he never killed Skye.  Lily returns to NYC and discovers that fellow travel writer (well, marketing lady) did the murder.

Comments:
1.  Lily is a bitch.  What business is it of her's whether the ex-boyfriend - that she loathes - is dating her work friend?  "None" is the answer.  She steals her Skye's passport and rifles through Skye's bag.  It's hard to justify taking someone's property - as important as a passport when overseas - as getting even.  That made me dislike Lily even more.
2.  Narrator was getting on my nerves until I realized it was the character.  Narrator just gave her more personality.
3.  Another comment on enjoyable characters (search previous posts if you like).  I need something to keep me going.  I need something to keep me involved.  A nasty, vile character can keep me interested.  Lily just annoyed me. 
4.  I did like Gavin the sociopath.  Mainly because Davidson brought out how he is weird, how his behavior seems to be a copy, a simulation, of appropriate social behavior.  Gavin lacks in sincerity and his actions are inappropriate to the occasion.
5.  The thing is, I think Davidson does good writing.  I think her pacing and plotting were good.  But, this was not for me.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Quit: "Queen of the Air" by Dean Jensen

Quit: Queen of the Air: a true love of story and tragedy at the circus by Dean Jensen, 2013, 9780307986566.

History and biography of famed circus trapeze artist, Lillian Leitzel.  I stopped reading because the author was recreating conversations and thoughts of long dead people.  Those recreations in chapter one really annoyed me.

Jensen had many, many interviews and conversations with people and relatives.  The recreations in Chapter One are from conversations remembered between Lillian's brother and mother, Alfred and Nellie.  Jensen is clear in his notes that Alfred and "was not a direct witness to the events described, but learned of them through Nellie."  Yeah, maybe Alfred heard everything from his mom but his memory is still third hand.  That makes the book fourth hand.  I think Jensen should have skipped the recreations and gone with straight history.

Maybe I am being too picky. But, I'm done.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Done: "Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane" by Kelly Harms

Done: The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane by Kelly Harms, 2013, 9781250011381.

Committee book.  Chick book.  Feel good book.  Cooking book.  Romance book.  Humorous bits book.  I enjoyed it.

Janine Brown #1's great aunt Midge enters her in to a house sweepstakes.  Janine #1 is a self-imposed shut-in.  Janine has developed severe stranger anxiety and can barely speak to people.  She breaks out in hives when around new people.  She has been this way since her fiance Ned died.  88-year-old Midge puts her house on the market (was it Cedar Falls or somewhere else in Iowa?), they pack up their belongings and drive to the new home in Maine.

Janine Brown #2 entered the sweepstakes on her own and is so damn sure to win she cracks her violent, deadbeat boyfriend over the head with a coffee mug to stop him from yanking her hair and interfering with the live television announcement.  Janine #2 drives boyfriend's car to the bus stations and starts over to Maine.

Well, Janine #1 is the rightful winner.  Janine #2 heard her name on TV and drove right off.  Janine #2 can be impulsive.  Janine #1 and #2 meet.  #2, called Nean, is upset she is so damn wrong.  Nean starts staying in the huge seaside house after Aunt Midge takes pity on penniless Nean and Nean tells tall tale of being wanted by the cops.

Things happen.  Janine is in her early thirties and after Ned's death has spent several years shutting herself in her small apartment and constantly cooking new and obscure dishes.  Janine eats her dinner and throws the rest out.  Janine loves the massive new kitchen and the many and varied appliances.

Nean loves living in a real house and not having to depend on a convenient boyfriend to have a roof over her head.  Nean is a former foster kid with no money and has class issues.  She starts learning to bake.  Nean and Janine start to talk.  Janine begins coming out of her shell and Nean starts to relax.

Things happen.  Nean is hot for the gardner.  Janine is hot for guy who grows produce for the local shelter.  Midge is hot for everyone.  Not a lot of conflict.  Romantic tension and worry.  Many cooking scenes.  Wine.  One dead great aunt. One of those fancy-schamncy endless pools that generate a current you can swim against.  Everyone lives happily ever after.

 Comments:
1.  I wish I had one of those fancy-schmancy pools.  I remember when I first read about those several years ago.  Even if I had the money I'd no place to fit it though.  I think the overall height made it too big for basement.  I'd be stroking my arms up out of the water and hitting the floor struts above me.  Never mind the splashing.  Stupid house.
2.  Not much made of Maine except for some seafood and lobster.
3.  Humor. 
4.  Some sex.
5.  Foolish overreactions driven by pride and fear.
6.  The talk about baking bread did motivate me to try out our breadmaker.  Something I'd been intending to do and never got to until yesterday.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Heard: "The Bomb" by Steve Sheinkin

Heard: The Bomb: the race to build - and steal - the world's most dangerous weapon by Steve Sheinkin, 2012, from Overdrive.com.

Wife brought the print version home to Boy #1 and it looked interesting.  I was trolling for audiobooks, saw this, and took it. A Newbery Honor book in 2013.

A neat telling of building the first atomic bombs.  Especially interesting because Sheinkin folds in the Soviet espionage operation that stole most of the working designs by having two moles inside the Manhattan Project.  Sheinkin also covers the British commando raid on the heavy water plant in Telemark raid in Norway.

Neatly told.  Some comments I recall from listening.

Comments:
1.  The Telemark raid was originally a British operation.  Norwegian resistance fighters were trained in England and dropped in the Norwegian mountains.  The scouted out a landing site and the plant in preparation for the English commandos.  The English flew in by glider and both gliders crashed.  The soldiers who survived the crash landing were captured, tortured and murdered by the Gestapo.  With the commando operation scrubbed the Norwegians were tasked with the job and succeeded.
2.  Oppenheimer was a genius.  An absent minded professor.  He would focus on a physics problem and tune everything and everyone else out.
3.  Oppenheimer was anti-nuclear escalation after the war. Heck, he was anti-escalation after the first bomb went off.  His disclosure brought him grief and he was railroaded into losing his top secret clearance.
4.  The Soviets were amazingly effective in their spy operation.  maybe part of that was luck in finding a couple guys willing to spy.  But, the Manhattan Project was so freaking huge and with so many scientists that the odds were more in their favor.  The two spies were sympathetic not just because they were sorta-Commies but because they felt the Russians were getting screwed by the Allies while taking all the casualties.
5.  The effectiveness of the spy operation makes the 1950s Red Scare more understandable.  Talk about secret commies had been going on for decades but here were a couple guys who take top secret material and handed it over.
6.  I wonder what other secrets came out of the Soviet archives once the government fell apart.
7.  Sheinkin slightly covered the German efforts to build a nuke.
8.  Some stories about Paul Tibbets and the Enola Gay.  Eyewitness accounts of the two bombings.
9.  It's still amazing that WWII fire bombings killed more people than the nuke bombs did.
10. Civilians always get it in the neck.
11. Civilians always get it in the neck.
12. Civilians always get it in the neck.