Saturday, December 29, 2018

#13 Year-end wrap-up: Read Something Good in 2019

#13           Year-end wrap-up: Read Something Good in 2019

So the dark, cold days of December being a reason to drink apple cider and bourbon, eggnog with bourbon and pretty much anything else with bourbon is also a reason to Read, Read , Read.So what's been in front of my eyes since late summer? Several new books from a favorite author William Shaw are worthy of your reading time. "Sympathy for the Devil" is the fourth Breen & Tozer police procedural in a series that places these two police officers in Swingin'London of the mid-1960s, the times of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. It's 1969 and Brian Jones body is mysteriously found in his swimming pool and a prostitute, Julie Teenager, is found horribly murdered in her apartment elevator shaft. Cathal "Paddy" Breen is working the second case while his girlfriend, Helen Tozer, is in her ninth month of pregnancy and very frustrated that she can't be out doing police investigation, especially in the first case.The story captures the times most vividly as drugs, rock 'n roll lead to fame, money and sordid living.

A second book in a second series that Shaw has going is also a winner. "Salt Lane" is the first in series that presents Detective Sergeant Alex Cupidi transferred for cause from the Metropolitan Police in London to the southern coast near Kent. She was introduced in "The Birdwatcher" which is excellent but really comes into her own in this book. Her teen daughter is still not in love with rural England and Alex's strong-willed mother has moved down to help out. A drowning of a foreign man in a slurry tank is deemed a murder that sends Cupidi and her rookie constable Jill Ferriter into illegal, migrant laborers working in orchards and farms. A second murder resurrects some of Cupidi's past mistakes and liaisons to offer her help.

Another series that I enjoyed these past months are the three books by LA author Joe Ide that introduce and develop Isaiah Quintabe, a 26 year old black man living and working in East Long Beach. The three books--IQ, Righteous and Wrecked- are a unit as IQ works as a private detective in his community accepting ugly sweaters, live chickens, whatever his neighbors can pay to solve petty and big crimes and losses. IQ works by observing what others miss and by logically thinking through the facts and conjecture. He lost his older brother in a traffic accident and as the three novels develop, he investigates this as a murder while he gains a partner, Dodson, and a female friend. This is a series not to be missed by lovers of Sherlock Holmes and Watson..

Two standalone novels that I enjoyed are "The Dark Lake" by Sarah Bailey and "The Bomb Maker" by Thomas Perry. Bailey's debut is set in the Australian Outback about 4 hours from Sydney in a well-established agricultural community, Smithson. A body is discovered in a lake near the high school where a popular drama teacher debuted a play based on Romeo & Juliet.The body is the teacher, Rosalind Ryan, who was a very glamorous and successful student at the high school 10 years before.And investigating the murder is Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock, who was a classmate and admirer of Ryans back in the day. Suspects are plentiful both from the past and the present as DS Woodstock works through a very uncomfortable case.

Perry's "The Bomb Maker" is a stunner as an un-named  man creates incredibly complicated  mixes of chemicals to build huge bombs and plants them around Los Angeles. His first effort kills 7 of 14 members of the police bomb squad and he has many other locations, ways to hide, control and detonate bombs in the valley. Complicating his work is his unexplained alliance with an un-named terrorist cell that wants to attack LA. Combatting this is a free-lance investigator  who is brought back by the LAPD to manage the bomb squad and forms more than a working alliance with a young woman who is on the squad. Characterization may suffer somewhat but if one wants very high octane adventure and massive information on making and dismantling bombs that can take down square miles, this is the book. Happy New Year! and Happy Reading.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

#12 A Summer's Reading

#12 A Summer's Reading

One of the great rewards of retirement is plenty of time for reading, especially when and where one wants to read. It's been kind of toasty this June through August in northern Colorado so the afternoons are a great place, after morning chores and 2 hours of  racquetball to settle in for some serious reading. This is the pattern which sets up well for a half-hour-no more, no less-resting of the eyes, nap. So what's been good?

In non-fiction, seriously read upstairs in the living room, I've enjoyed Ali: A Life, a mammoth recording of Muhammed Ali/ Cassius Marcellus Clay, jr.'s life from his ancestors to birth in 1942,  through schooling in Louisville KY to the 1960 Rome Olympics, and professional career that should have ended in 1971 but went for 61 professional fights until a 1981 loss and a 1984 diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease and death in 2016. Eig researched Ali thoroughly talking to over 400 people around the Champion, and his book reads very smoothly covering the years and events of the Civil Rights era, the Vietnam war, Black Power movement and Elijah Muhammed and the Nation of Islam in Chicago,etc. But Ali was tough on women, his wives and many hangers on. That was a part of him that was less than successful.

Two books by Simon Winchester, a Brit now living in the US, were also very entertaining and challenging. The Surgeon of Crowthorne (also published as The Professor and the Madman) is the story of  Dr. W C Minor, a surgeon in the US Army during the Civil War, who after leaving service a broken man, travels to London and murders a man, is sentenced to an insane asylum neighboring Windsor Castle and the Queen for life. End of story? No, his story in England crosses that of an Oxford professor who was instrumental in the creation of the multi-volume, multi-year project, the collection, verification and publishing of the Oxford English Dictionary. Their lives crossed as Minor contributed the largest collection of words and sources to the dictionary and he and Professor Murray became friends.

The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World, his latest book, presents the fascinating tale of how life has been impacted by accuracy and precision. Beginning with the early years of the Industrial Revolution in 1776, Winchester introduces the leaky steam boiler and driven piston of Watts steam engine as being hopelessly inefficient. Another Englishman, Henry Wilkinson, modified his cannon-boring equipment to drill the first precision piston engine that really began the revolution. Winchester follows with the parallel histories of the establishment of the Rolls Royce Silver Phantom and Ford Model T as two sides of precision engineering and manufacturing diverging as to cost and comfort.Winchester also explores the development of GPS, smart phones, jet engine blades, the Hubble Space Telescope, the LIGO gravity wave apparatus and the future to humanity of Precision. This is very interesting stuff.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

#11 Some New Old Books- May 2018

What's not to like when a reader discovers a new author who has been writing, maybe somewhat under the radar, for decades but deserves better. Four such authors that I have been reading the past 8 months are Brad Smith, a Canadian, and American authors Fred Zackel and Willy Vlautin. Smith, from the Great Lakes region of Ontario has had a considerable career as an author following stints as a railroad signal man, a rancher, carpenter, roofer- all honorable jobs that fill in when the writing is slow. His first three books showed great development in skill as his debut "One-Eyed Jacks" introduced a washed up boxer returning to the 1950s Toronto area. Tommy Cochrane wants to try to buy back his family's rural farm by fighting one, last match against a ranked heavyweight.Gals, gangsters, gamblers, Brylcream are everywhere as this easy plot smoothly unwinds.

Smith's second novel "All Hat" is a step up in smooth but entertaining plotting as 40 year old Ray Doaks returns to his small Ontario town after a two year jolt in prison for assaulting Sonny, the wealthy, thug son of an industrial billionaire who raped Ray's sister. Ray wants to be a roofer in his town but his path keeps crossing Sonny's who is trying to buy up all the farmland to build a racetrack-resort. Various race track figures are integral in a plot to steal a thoroughbred and race it in a super-grudge match. Smith's third novel, "Busted Flush" is a caper-fantasy as Dock Bass, a carpenter-realtor decides to chuck his profession and cheating wife to move to a ramshackle farmhouse in Gettysburg PA inherited from a previously unknown relative. His renovation project breaks through a wall to reveal a treasure trove of Civil War photography, previously unknown recording equipment, and maybe even the voice of A. Lincoln. Unscrupulous antique dealers and collectors test Dock's resolve to keep and use these priceless items.

Fred Zackel, something of a mystery man in the noir, crime writing field, is still productive after a stellar kickoff in 1978 with "Cocaine and Blue Eyes"."Fred Zackel's first novel reminds me of the young Dashiell Hammett's work, not because it is an imitation, but because it is not.  It is a powerful and original book made from the lives and language of the people who live in San Francisco today." -- Mystery novelist Ross Macdonald, author of SLEEPING BEAUTY and THE UNDERGROUND MAN.   Now, that's a pretty hard and heavy endorsement to live up to.But Zackel does as he introduces Michael Brennan, a private eye based in San Francisco who is hired for $1,000 to find the title girl who lives on a boat in the harbor but has gone missing. Brennan's search takes him from mid-winter cold and damp of the harbor into the mansions of the SF elite as a family saga leads into corruption and murder. 

His second novel "Cinderella After Midnight" is equally noir, compelling and maybe even a bit better written as Brennen gets a straight-forward case to find a missing 15 year old girl who her mother suspects may have run from SF to LA to meet up with or been kidnapped by her ex-husband in a custody battle. But after visiting LA-- Brennan's casing and breaking into the father's condo occupies 5 pages and is masterful writing-- and deciding this is not where the girl is, Brennan spends the next 4 days in the depths of SF's Tenderloin, various corporate offices and the presence of a US Senator being lied to, blackmailed,shot at, and dynamited in search of this girl. Zackel has numerous newer novels to his name, but the two I have on my book stack for future reading are another SF novel, "Tough Town, Cold City" and a Las Vegas novel, "Johnny Casino."

The final author in today's review is not Unknown, but maybe is less widely known than he should be. Willy Vlautin has had 20 successful years as songwriter and vocalist with the Oregon-based band Richmond Fontaine and five published novels, 2 of which have been made into movies- The Motel Life and Lean on Pete. Vlautin's latest book, "Don't Skip Out on Me" is especially poignant. Horace Hooper, half Paiute, half Irish, lives with the Reeses in rural Nevada, helping Mr. Reese with his sheep ranch up in the mountains, but he wants more. Horace wants to be a boxer which the novel recounts as he moves from Golden Gloves matches in Arizona to training and working in Tucson to his professional career fighting in Mexico. The writing is beautiful and as a successful author can do, the reader becomes very connected to this young man and his struggle. ENJOY!