Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Evil That Men Do, by Dave White

Dave White’s second novel starts shortly after his superb debut When One Man Dies. New Jersey P.I. Jackson Donne, recently stripped of his license, finds himself working a dead-end night security job at a storage facility in Piscataway. Donne, estranged from his family for years, gets an unexpected visit from his sister, Susan Carter. She tells him their mother is suffering from Alzheimer’s and claims their grandfather, Joe Tenant, killed a man in 1938. As Donne begins his investigation, the restaurant owned by Susan’s husband is bombed and, as befits a noir novel, the stories eventually intertwine.

As with his previous novel and numerous stories, White’s prose is stripped down and pitch-perfect. It is nearly impossible to find a clunky sentence or a bit of hooptedoodle. The parallel narrative of Joe Tenant in 1938 and Jackson Donne in present day is a nice twist on the genre. You can see the family traits passed down from grandfather to grandson. Tenant is tenacious in tracking down those who promised to do his family harm. Donne, always a tenacious investigator, starts off as resistant to the pull of family only to end up reconciling with his family and becoming stronger for it.

As always, White likes to put Donne through the emotional wringer. Since this novel is written in third person, White also takes the opportunity to put a few of his characters through a physical wringer too. His brutal descriptions of a character’s imprisonment and torture fit nicely with other 21st century novels.

The book is definitely a page-turner. I picked up my copy on its release date and tore through the first 80 some odd pages in my first sitting. Though I will say, this novel didn’t resonate with me as long as Dave’s first. Maybe my anticipation of another Donne novel built things up too much. Maybe the shift from first to third person didn’t get me connected as closely with Donne. I don’t know. This is still a great book and I recommend it to everyone.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Shield: Season Four

The fourth season of The Shield is probably my least favorite. Anthony Anderson gives a great performance as Antwon Mitchell, but my point is if he’s such a major player in the drug trade, how come we never heard of him before? Much has been made of Glenn Close’s stint as Monica Rowling, the new captain, but her performance left me cold and her character seemed underdeveloped (unheard of on The Shield).

Season Four starts with the Strike Team on separate assignments. Vic and Ronnie are still in The Barn overseeing a custom cars sting, Lem is now working for the Youth Authority, and Shane is working vice with a new partner. While the other three are content in doing their jobs, Shane acts the part of a dime store Vic Mackey. He tries to play the drug dealers the same way Vic did, but he either is too cocky or doesn’t have the intelligence for it. He ends up getting in deep with Antwon Mitchell and his former Strike Team compatriots have to, reluctantly, bail him out of trouble.

Claudette and Dutch are pretty much out of the loop for a good portion of the season due to Claudette’s not playing ball with the DA. Rowling starts some sweeping anti-drug initiatives that bring her head-to-head with Mitchell and David Aceveda, now a city councilman. Aceveda, meanwhile, is still dealing with the effects of his rape, but overcomes most of them by the season’s end.

At the end of the season, the Money Train is all but buried, Rowling is deemed a failure and shipped off to another post, Antwon Mitchell is in jail, and it appears the Strike Team is back in business. The final scene of this season sets up season five perfectly. The Team is in a bar celebrating their recent success and it appears that even the rift between Shane and Lem has been healed. But in walks an Internal Affairs cop who sits at the opposite end of the bar and keeps an eye on the proceedings.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

When One Man Dies by, Dave White

“I've killed three men in my life. One the police know about, two that I've kept to myself.”

From the killer opening line, When One Man Dies is off to the races. Dave White’s first novel-length Jackson Donne adventure follows up on the already solid series of short stories he’s published over the past several years. White brings back some old familiar faces (Gerry Figuroa, Bill Martin) and introduces some new characters along the way.

New Jersey PI Jackson Donne is about to go back to college when his friend, the aging actor Gerry Figuroa (first seen in “More Sinned Against”) is killed in a hit-and-run. At the same time, he’s starting to investigate an adultery and divorce case: supposedly his last before returning to school. As with any good noir, the two seemly distinct cases are actually related. I’m not going to say much about the plot except that it follows the framework of the genre while putting a new twist on it.

One of the great things about White’s writing is how he has imbued Donne with a big heart. That’s one of the keys to the success of the Donne stories. We care about Donne and Donne cares about his clients. A lot of the predecessors in the genre are the typical white knight who comes in and does the right thing, but sometimes it feels like they’re doing it because it is “the right thing” and not because they actually care about their clients. And while lots of modern authors inflict physical punishment on their characters, White inflicts a lot of emotional punishment. Just when we think Donne can’t take any more, White rips Donne’s heart clear out of his chest and stomps on it with a size 13 boot covered in dog crap. (You can probably tell the scene I’m talking about if you’ve read the book).

It is not necessary to read the Jackson Donne short stories first, but it helps fill in a lot of back story that gives the book an added punch.

I can’t recommend When One Man Dies strongly enough.

Go out and buy your copy today.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Shield: Season Three

Flush from their successful heist of the Armenian Money Train, the Strike Team decides to play things by the book. The Money Train score is safely tucked away for when the heat dies down and they plan to no longer make deals that keep local gangs on the street. During the course of the season, we find out that not only did the Armenians sent their enforcer Margos out to kill those responsible for the heist, but the Treasury Department had marked $50,000 of the money in an effort to track the Armenians’ network.

This season is all about bringing our characters together while pulling the Team apart. Vic, Ronnie, and Lem are content to do their jobs and fly under the radar until retirement, confident in the fact that their money will still be there. Shane remains impulsive and threatens to get the team into trouble on more than one occasion.

Dutch is tasked with solving Margos’s murders and the Money Train Heist. Aceveda is the first to learn of the Treasury’s marked money, and they both bear down on their suspects. For the Strike Team, Shane becomes involved with a woman, Mara, who feels Vic doesn’t treat Shane with a proper respect. The tension between Shane and Tavon comes to a head in a brutal fist fight in Shane’s apartment. It was brutal and jaw dropping and a million other adjectives. The writers really went for the jugular with the Shane/Tavon sequence and its aftermath.

Season Three also features Dutch getting deeper into the profiling gig, but it also backfires on him. One of the cases assigned to him this season is that of the “cuddler rapist”. He is a man who sexually assaults senior citizens, then lies in bed cuddling with them afterwards. It escalates over the course of a couple episodes to murder. During an interrogation session, the cuddler rapist gets under Dutch’s skin while talking about the feeling he gets when killing another human being. Later that night, Dutch is kept awake by a stray cat in the back yard. He eventually goes outside and strangles the cat to death while staring into its eyes.

A discussion of Season Three won’t be complete without mentioning one of the most shocking storylines in the history of primetime TV: David Aceveda’s rape. Since I wasn’t watching these as first runs, I knew this was going to happen. But it didn’t diminish the shock and graphicness of the scene in any way. Benito Martinez deserves all the props in the world for playing such a powerful scene. As with all things Shield, we see how the rape changed Aceveda and his efforts to find himself again over the remainder of this season and into the next.

The Third Season ends with Lem, the obvious conscience of the group, taking all the Money Train money he can find and burning it. He saw how the money was tearing them apart and felt the only way to save them was to get rid of all the money. The conflict between the hot-headed Shane and Lem had been simmering since the first season comes to a boil in the closing episode. While Vic and Ronnie see what Lem did, Shane can’t get over the fact that their ill-gotten money is gone. The season ends with the members of the Strike Team going their separate ways without the hope of reunification.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sunday in the City

I spent Sunday afternoon in New York with my friend Jim and his college buddy Karl. We started off down in Chelsea. Karl wanted to see Chelsea Market and I knew exactly where that was (I used to work right across the street). We wandered around inside for a bit then grabbed a couple sandwiches at Amy's Bread, one of the places I used to frequent. The Turkey, Tomato, and Basil sandwich was awesome.

After that, we went to Chelsea Brewery. Jim and I got The Sampler: six small glasses of each of their brews. We both agreed that their lightest and darkest were the best. The Porter Authority (the darkest one) tasted like a lot of other stouts, but it was actually quite light. A couple of their beers are a bit bitter for my taste, but I recommend getting The Sampler if you happen to be in the neighborhood.

Back on the A subway to MoMA. There was the requisite dumb modern art there. (A wire bent into a trapezoid leaning against a blank wall? Brilliant!) But there were also some great works there from Warhol, Pollack, Monet, Picaso, etc. The top floor was a Dali exhibit. They had some of his famous paintings as well as some film work he had done. They had the psychoanalysis sequence of Hitchcock's Spellbound and a clip of a collaboration of his with Walt Disney (samples here and here).

Then it was on to Bobby Flay's Bar Americain for dinner. I had the Shrimp-Tomatillo appetizer, the filet mignon as the entree (we split cauliflower & goat cheese gratin and asparagus for our sides), and the warm strawberry cake for dessert. BEST. STEAK. EVER. There was some kind of delicious spice rub on the steak and the sauce was kind of a dijon/horseradish blend. Highly recommended.

Good food. Good times. Lots of money spent. I'll be eating mac & cheese for the rest of the month.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Shield: Season Two

The first season of The Shield established all the characters, their motivations, and their relationships with each other. With this framework in place, season two allows them to run wild in the fictional LA district known as Farmington. After pissing off lots of people in Season One, Vic’s wife leaves him, a drug lord targets him, and then they get word of an Armenian Money Train. The score to end all scores. The second half of the season deals with the planning and execution of the Money Train Heist, another event that has repercussions for seasons to come.

The beginning of the season sees Vic’s alliance with local drug gangs attacked by a Mexican dealer named Armadillo. Armadillo begins his offensive by poisoning the cocaine supply and eventually murdering Vic’s dealer Tio. Vic, of course, finds out who is behind the assault and takes revenge by burning the Armadillo’s face on a stove after they bust into his house. Turnabout is fair play as later in the season, Armadillo does the same thing to Ronnie.

The other storylines of the season involve Dutch trying to become a police profiler, but failing while being blinded by a woman who he sees as a victim. Julien struggles with his sexuality, joins a sexual reorientation group, and marries a single mother he meets on the job. There’s also a new addition to the Strike Team in a black cop named Tavon, who brings out the deep seeded racism in Shane.

The core four of the Strike Team succeed in bringing down the Armenian Money Train in the season finale, but instead of celebrating their victory, we’re left with a haunting parting shot. The four are in what looks like an empty swimming pool with their loot on a folding table in front of them. After the initial smiles and happiness, a look of shock comes over their faces. The feeling of “what have we done” looms over the scene as it fades to black and the credits roll on the second season.

Not content with simply telling a compelling story, the writers of The Shield used season two to tackle some big issues: political infighting, citizen rage at inept government, domestic mayhem, porous U.S. borders, and anti-Arab profiling.

This was a great season, showing off the great acting and intricate storytelling of The Shield’s writers. This is probably the point where I started becoming a fan and couldn’t wait to see the next episode. Since I wasn’t watching them on the first run, the next episode was just a DVD away instead of a whole week.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

RIP: Tony Snow

I just heard that Tony Snow has died at age 53. I always enjoyed him on Fox News Sunday and found myself watching it less and less after he left. It's still one of the best Sunday programs on TV, but it certainly is missing something with his absence.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Shield: Season One

Like everyone else, I’d heard all the great things said about The Shield (well written, great cast, Chiklis is awesome), but had never checked it out. Before the season 6 premiere, a lot of my friends started talking about it, including those who I didn’t know watched it. So I decided to give it a shot. It took me a while to get hooked on the show, but now that I’m a fan, I’m all the way in. I finished watching all six seasons in less than a year, and am currently anticipating the premiere of the seventh and final season set for September 2nd. The next couple Mondays will be a collection of my thoughts on each season of the show. Some of them I haven’t seen in a while, so my recollections may be a bit murky.

The majority of the show revolves around Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) and his Strike Team. Mackey is “a different kind of cop”. He generally enforces the law, but sees fit to break it when it benefits him or his team. The early seasons show the charismatic Mackey as almost a villain, but he progresses on a character arc through the years that shows he may yet have redemption. In most instances where Mackey does “bad” things, there is always the cop behind it working for the greater good. For example, he lets a certain group of drug dealers continue to operate as long as they don’t sell to kids or kill people. Of course, he and the gang get a cut of the action to supplement their meager city pensions after retirement.

The first season starts off with a bang. We get introduced to the main characters. Mackey and the Strike Team: Shane Vendrell, Curtis Lemansky, Ronnie Gardocki, and new member Terry Crowley; their fellow cops the politically aspiring Captain David Aceveda, ethical but cynical Detective Claudette Wyms, her partner “Dutch” Wagenbach, and Officer Danny Sofer and her rookie partner Officer Julien Lowe. We learn that Crowley was actually placed on the Strike Team by Aceveda and the Justice Department to report on Mackey’s activities (as he was already suspected of being dirty). During the course of the episode, Mackey finds out what Crowley is up to and decides to take matters into his own hands. The final scene has the Strike Team clearing a house during a drug raid. Mackey, Vendrell, and Crowley are upstairs (apart from the other team members) and Mackey shoots Crowley point-blank in the face.

With this shocking of an ending, I had to see what happened in episode two. Crowley, of course, dies and there is initial suspicion on Mackey, but he manages to quell it and the Crowley murder seems forgotten. As anyone who has watched the show knows, it comes up again and again to bite our heroes in the ass.

I enjoyed the first two episodes, but wasn’t immediately drawn in as I thought I would be. I continued to watch the first season, but didn’t quite consider myself a fan of the show. The riots during the last two episodes of the first season did get me hooked on the show. My appreciation for it grew and became almost a downright obsession with the fantastic season five.