Thursday, March 23, 2017

Blind to Sin by, Dave White

What ever happened to a good old silent alarm?

Jackson Donne has spent the year since the events of An Empty Hell in prison. Being a former cop, a PI, and the scapegoat for a political assassination, nearly everyone in prison is gunning for Donne, but he has protection from Matt Herrick's father, Kenneth. Counter to Donne's wishes, the pair are released from prison, but the terms of their release include performing a heist on the Federal Reserve. Soon Matt Herrick is drawn into the pair's orbit and finds himself trapped in an explosive web of lies and family history.

With this novel, Dave White shows himself a true student of the genre. The heist theme is straight out of Donald Westlake, to whom White pays tribute by naming each part of the book after a different Parker novel.

Raymond Chandler once wrote about the private eye "down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid." But modern authors are turning Chandler's famous sentence on its head. Ray Banks put his PI, Cal Innes, through so much physical punishment that he was a cripple in Beast of Burden. Dave White seems to be putting Chandler's maxim to the test by putting Donne through so much emotional punishment to see if the mean streets can tarnish the man and turn him mean.

The history of the genre only informs and enriches the story. The actions of the characters are original (sometimes surprising) and White's characters feel lived-in. One criticism I have is multiple characters' reactions to events are described by an icy feeling in their chest or something stewing in their bowels. Also, more than one character counted to 10 or 20 before reacting in order to slow their heart rate and not be impulsive. I don't know how often this happened in the novel, but it happened a number of times in a short number of chapters that it felt repetitive and stuck out.

As always, White's books are enjoyable page-turners with actual depth. This one comes recommended.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by, Jennifer Graham

Paradise doesn't just get lost in Neptune. It gets razed to the ground.

Spring break and college students descend on Neptune, transforming the beaches and boardwalks into a frenzied, week-long rave. When a girl disappears from a party, Veronica Mars is called in to investigate. The house the girl vanished from belongs to a man with serious criminal ties, and soon Veronica is plunged into a dangerous underworld of drugs and organized crime. When a major break in the investigation has a shocking connection to Veronica's past, the case hits closer to home than she ever imagined.

Writing a tie-in novel to a popular TV show or movie is a tricky tightrope to walk. The author must both serve the source material, capturing the nuance of the screen character, and the casual audience who many not be familiar with the show. Graham and Thomas do a good job with The Thousand Dollar Tan Line. Veronica's sarcastic sense of humor and the banter with her father are hallmarks of the television show and are both rendered well here. There are many cameos from almost everyone in the show, and only one or two seem gimmicky. For non-fans, the mystery itself is compelling and twisty. The "shocking connection to Veronica's past" mentioned above will resonate with fans of the show and movie, but it explained well enough that even fresh eyes will empathize with Veronica.

The novel is well plotted and the characters have depth, but there are moments that are a bit over-written. This doesn't detract from the overall enjoyability of the book. I will read the second book in the series at some point.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Song of the Week: Red Solo Cup

This week is St. Patrick's Day. I wonder how many red Solo cups are going to be sold around college campuses this week.

Friday, March 10, 2017

MST3K Friday: The Thing That Couldn't Die

I watched this movie last week. Not too bad.

"The king's men approacheth."
"You're all evil and I hope you all have snacks."

Monday, March 6, 2017

Song of the Week: Evil Is As Evil Does

I first heard this song on SiriusXM's BB King's Bluesville station. Apocalypse Blues Revue is a band consisting of the former drummer and guitarist from Godsmack (Shannon Larkin and Tony Rombola), plus a bassist and frontman. While writing for Godsmack's 2010 album, Larkin and Rombola were burned out by hard rock and took to jamming in their South Florida rehearsal spot. During one impromptu session, the drummer laid down a slow, simmering groove, and another side of the guitar player reared its head. "I couldn't believe it," smiles Shannon. "I didn't even know he was into blues or could play the way he does. My reaction was immediate. We had to officially start a blues band.”

The self-titled debut album is a mix of grinding blues, traditional shuffle, and others. At certain times, I could detect the influence of Jim Morrison and The Doors in the vocals. Overall, it's a solid debut, but there are definitely two songs that stand above the rest. This week's song "Evil Is As Evil Does" is one of those songs, and the first of theirs I heard.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

John Quincy Adams by, Paul C. Nagel

John Quincy Adams was in many ways the first resume president. He was the United States's minister to four countries (the Netherlands, Prussia, Russia, the United Kingdom), United States Senator from Massachusetts, and Secretary of State before becoming President. After his single term in office, he is famously the only former President to become a member of the House, serving nine terms and seventeen years until his death in 1848. Many people those days, and historians these days, consider him a failure as a President and a curmudgeonly figure, but the outpouring of national grief after his death was surpassed only by Abraham Lincoln's in the 19th Century.

With John Adams as his father and someone as remarkable as Abigail as his mother, Adams was compelled to make something of himself at an early age. He traveled across the ocean to Europe twice before the age of 20, and even traveled from St. Petersburg back to Paris alone at age 14. He became a giant in the political arena, but all he wanted was literary acclaim. JQA loved books, frequently wrote poetry, and constantly lamented to his diary about the lack of time to read and write.

The book is full of great details that I never knew before (or had forgotten). John Quincy Adams served in the House, Senate, and as President, but he was almost a member of the Supreme Court. In 1811, James Madison nominated him for a vacancy on The Court. His approval was almost assured by the Senate, but Adams was serving as ambassador to Russia at the time and declined citing his wife's pregnancy and the hard travel they would have to face to return to Washington. Adams did confide to his brother and his diary that he felt he was too partisan to be an impartial judge, so his wife's pregnancy was simply a convenient cover story. Since he remained an ambassador, he was available to negotiate the treaty that ended the War of 1812 (much like his father negotiating the end of the Revolutionary War)

As Secretary of State, Adams was responsible for writing and promoting what became known as the Monroe Doctrine. He put in place the agreements that established the border between the US and Canada and the annexation of Florida from Spain. He is arguably the most important foreign policy figure in American history.

But he really won the hearts of Americans as a congressman. He was instrumental in directing funds that established the Smithsonian and was one of the most vocal opponents to slavery. Do yourself a favor and watch Anthony Hopkins's portrayal of JQA during the Amsitad case from the 1997 movie.

One of the things that most struck me about this book was how Abigail Adams was presented. In every other book I've read about the founding or the Adams family, she is shown to be a smart, feisty, remarkable woman. It this book, she comes across as an overbearing, hectoring woman constantly fretting about people falling into moral decay. Perhaps it is because most other stories are told through John's eyes, but this one is through the eyes of her son.

Nagel's biography balances JQA's private and public life to provide the reader a good idea of what he was like. There were several points that Nagel constantly repeated (JQA's want of a literary career, his frustrated relationship with his mother) that became grating after a while. However, it didn't detract much from the overall book.

If you're interested in American history, this book is a worthwhile read.