Book Review: Waco’s Debt

Book Review: Waco’s Debt by J.T. Edson

This book is part of the “Floating Outfit” series, about a particularly illustrious group of cowboys who work for the OD Connected ranch in Texas.   As the title suggests, the star of this volume is Waco, one of the youngest members of the crew.  Waco’s foster father and brothers are murdered, and he returns to the ranch where he grew up to track down the killers and protect his foster sister Mary Anne, who has returned from education in the East.

Waco's Debt

This is a Western of the old school, morally unambiguous.  The good people are good, the bad people are despicable, and soft city folk need some real rough living if they want to amount to anything.  There’s a sidebar romance with one of Mary Anne’s friends being wooed by a greenhorn that Waco takes under his wing.

It’s a quick read, with plenty of action and a side trip to Chicago, where Waco runs into some old friends.  Waco was eventually spun off into his own series of books, and became a U.S, Marshal.  If you like your Westerns fast-paced and reasonably clean, this is a fun book.  Trigger warning, though, for some off-screen domestic abuse by the villain.

Book Review: Dead But Still Ticking

Book Review: Dead But Still Ticking by David M. Selcer

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Ticking

Warren Barchrist III may have won a big case in the last volume, but his name is still strongly associated with being sued by the Securities & Exchange Commission.  So his law business hasn’t really picked up, and he’s considering closing up.  Until, that is, he receives a five million dollar cashier’s check from elegant gay lawyer Robert Steinglass, with a promise to explain later.  Before that can happen, Steinglass dies under suspicious circumstances.

In addition to his now deceased client, Warren soon finds himself hired by the dead man’s husband because the law firm he belonged to has un-personed him and is supposedly hiding the will.  And a toxic client wants to hire the Buckeye Barrister for involvement in drug smuggling.  How do a Ukrainian widow and Somali terrorists fit it?  After being poisoned himself, Warren is determined to get to the bottom of this.

Warren proves to be a talkative narrator, full of fun facts he wants to share with the reader.  (For example, Columbus, Ohio has the second-largest Somali community in the United States, after Minneapolis.)  Since I do the same thing when I talk, I can empathize, but it could weary some readers, especially if they read many of the same facts in the previous books.    His gluttony and self-preoccupation are weaknesses that come back to bite him more than once in the story.

If you have not done so already, do not read the back cover or the official Goodreads description, as it gives away a huge plot twist.  There is some fat-shaming in the book,  aimed at the main character.  I noticed several spellchecker typos, the bane of small press and independent publishing.

Overall, it’s a fun read I’d recommend to fans of mysteries with lawyers as the main characters, and Ohio residents.

Book Review: Dark Harbors

Book Review: Dark Harbors by J.K. Dark

I received this book as a  Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Dark Harbors

Jack Cross used to be a rock star, the leader of the band Dark Cross, kings of the “pirate rock” trend.   But that was a while back, before drugs and the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle brought the band to a crashing fall, and Jack bottomed out.   Now he ekes out a living as a charter boat captain, sailing the Dark Cross out of Florida for tourists.  It’s something to do between the nightmares.

Jack’s latest cruise seems pleasant enough; he and a couple of old buddies are taking some Doctors Without Borders volunteers around the Caribbean to relax and help folks.    But there are bad signs, including reports that modern-day pirates are lurking in these warm waters.   Not everyone is going to be returning from this voyage….

The good first.  J.K. Dark clearly loves sailing, and has done some research on the Caribbean.  Some bits are nicely creepy, and the fact that Jack often has difficulty telling nightmare from reality for a few moments helps set the foreboding tone.

The not so good:  The frame of the story is that Jack Cross is telling it in first person to an Alcoholics Anonymous-like group as they’re something of a captive audience. ( Which may or may not mean he survives the voyage.)   But about two-thirds of the way in, there are suddenly third-person chapters that reveal the inner thoughts of characters Jack hasn’t met yet, and who he never gets the chance to get that information from. I can understand why the author does it, the information is necessary to understand what’s really going on.  But it breaks the frame and the narrative flow, and this is one book that might be better served by the reader being as much in the dark as Jack.

Warnings:  Trigger warning for rape late in the book.  Also, practitioners of Haitian Vodou might be displeased by its presentation in this story, even if it eschews the voodoo doll and evil magic stereotypes.

The book is self-published, I am told, and could have used a stronger editor.  I cannot recommend it unless you are really into crossing Jimmy Buffett atmosphere with a near horror taste.

Book Review: Beneath the Bleak New Moon

Beneath the Bleak New Moon by Debra Purdy Kong

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Beneath the Bleak New Moon

Casey Holland is a security officer for a small transit company in Vancouver, British Columbia.   She’s working the night shift during a new moon, and dealing with obnoxious twin sisters who flout the bus rules.  Suddenly, she and the bus passengers witness a hit and run accident caused by illegal street racers.  Casey tries to save the victim, but it’s too late.

As a result, Casey meets Danielle Carpenter, a rookie reporter with a burning grudge against Roadkill, the local gang of street racers.  She believes one of them killed her brother, and is taking dangerous chances to track them down.  She drags the unwilling Casey (who would much rather leave this to her police contacts) into the investigation.

More hit and runs happen, but these are no accidents–has Roadkill developed a taste for blood as well as their need for speed?  And do the twins know too much about the gang for their own good?

This is the third Casey Holland mystery; references are made to her having gotten too personally involved in previous cases (one was her father’s death.)  She’s apparently mostly learned her lesson on that score, so Danielle is brought in to be the reckless one.  Casey coordinates with the police whenever possible, given her quasi-authority status.

There’s a subplot involving Casey’s ex-husband and her current boyfriend, and very glancing looks at her foster daughter who may be getting a love life of her own.

This story is a bit closer to noir than to cozy, the conclusion is more the product of elimination of suspects than it is of clever reasoning.  Many of the characters come off as unlikable, but  we are seeing them through Casey’s eyes and she’s kind of judgmental.

This book should be enjoyable for those who want some, but not too much, grit in their mystery stories.  Also, those who wonder what happens to unlucky pedestrians in those Fast and Furious movies.  Check it out at your library, or there’s a special ebook offer at touchwoodeditions.com .

Book Review: Hen of the Baskervilles

Book Review: Hen of the Baskervilles by Donna Andrews

Disclaimer:  I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.  Also, this review is of an Advance Reading Copy, and there may be small changes in the final text.

Hen of the Baskervilles

Meg Langslow is a blacksmith in the Virginia city of Caerphilly, although she isn’t doing any smithing in this particular volume.  It seems that (as in real life) the Virginia State Fair has run into severe financial trouble, and various communities and counties have decided to put on their own fairs, in an effort to become the new must-see event.  Caerphilly’s entry into this competition is the “Un-Fair”, which is basically a jumped-up county fair, notable for being in two counties–the midway is in adjacent Clay County, which is causing some jurisdiction friction between city police and county sheriff’s office.

Thanks to her superior organizing skills and having an extensive network of useful relatives and friends, Meg has been drafted into being assistant director of the fair.  Which would be stressful enough without a rash of theft and vandalism just before the fair is set to open.   The title comes from a garbled memory of one theft’s victims, and it’s mentioned a couple of times how much of a stretch it is.

Things get even dicier when the boyfriend of one of the fair’s most hated exhibitors turns up murdered.  With clashing law enforcement  stomping about, more missing animals and a slew of suspects, can Meg figure out what’s really going on before the fair is closed down for good?

The Meg Langslow mystery series has birds in the title of each book, previous cases aren’t much referred to, except that by now Meg has an extensive list of defense attorneys in case anyone she knows is arrested.  As someone who’s been to many county fairs, I found the setting charming and reasonably authentic.  The characters were also pretty enjoyable, especially the person everyone thought would be murdered.  The mystery worked well, and had a plausible solution.

Based on this volume, I would read other Meg Langslow books, but I might want to check them out from the library as the recent ones are only available in expensive hardbacks.

Book Review: Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right

Book Review: Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right by Claire Conner

Disclaimer:  I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Flag

This is an autobiography of Claire Conner, daughter of Stillwell J. Conner, one of the first members of the John Birch Society and one of its most fierce advocates.  In it, she shares the history of her family’s involvement with the notorious right-wing organization, and her personal journey from loyal but naive supporter of her parents’ cause through skepticism and eventually to rejection.

The John Birch Society, for those who may be unfamiliar, was founded in the 1950s by candy entrepreneur Robert Welch to fight the overwhelming menace of the  international Communist conspiracy.  It was named after a former missionary murdered by the Chinese Communists under murky circumstances, and stood against all forms of Communism and what its members believed to be Communist fronts.  The UN?  Communist plot.  Ending racial segregation?  Communist plot.  Being anti-Communist but not in the same way as the John Birch Society?   Communist plot.

This is a sad story in many ways.  According to Ms. Conner’s account, her parents’ fanaticism blinded them to the damage they were doing to their family relationships.  It also blinded them to the flaws in those they allied with, be it Holocaust deniers, violent criminals or just political opportunists.   She recalls several instances of people being stuffed down her father’s memory hole rather than have him admit he was ever wrong about them.

The Conners also seemed never to notice that the dire predictions of a Communist takeover in four, five years tops, never came true, never came close to coming true.   The JBS never admitted that previous predictions were wrong, just kept doomsaying to keep the troops in line and the money flowing.

A particularly telling story is that Ms. Conner’s parents, despite finding thousands of dollars each year to spend on the Society’s cause, told her that they could not spare one penny for her college education and she would have to pay for it on her own.  Then when she won a generous scholarship, forced her to turn it down as they had already picked a more expensive college for her to go to.  She reports that her father exploded with rage when asked why, if Claire had to pay for her own education, she couldn’t choose her own school.

Ms. Conner also discusses her involvement with the pro-life movement, originally stemming from her personal experience and her religious convictions, and how it was co-opted by political opportunists who didn’t actually care about the children, just about enraging their donor base into giving more money.

The book also discusses how parts of the JBS ethos are still alive and well in today’s Tea Party and other right-wing groups.  The John Birch Society itself may be a tiny shell of what it once was, but rabid hatred of big government , racism and a fear of the Left still linger.

There are many footnotes, and a complete index, but no illustrations.

I highly recommend this book to history buffs, those curious about right-wing politics, and those interested in biography.

 

Book Review: Blind Dates and Broken Hearts: The Tragic Loves of Matthew Murdock

Book Review: Blind Dates and Broken Hearts: The Tragic Loves of Matthew Murdock by Ryan K. Lindsay

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Blind

Matthew Murdock is the Marvel Comics character known as Daredevil, a blind lawyer blessed with a “radar sense” that allows him to sense his surroundings which he uses to fight crime.  Since his creation in 1964, Daredevil has gone through several love interests, most of the relationships having ended badly.  In large part this is because of the Marvel formula of soap opera plotting ensuring that there must always be more drama coming, that no major character can ever stay happy.

This volume touches upon that, but is more interested in what it says about Matt Murdock and his relationships in-story.  There are sections on the five most important love interests in the Daredevil comics, from overly clingy Karen Page through dangerous Elektra to sensible Milla Donovan.  A couple of other girlfriends get a brief mention.  Each gets a look at her personality, their plot function and what their relationship with Daredevil tells us about him.

This is more an extended essay in a double-spaced pamphlet than a book.  There are a few illustrations and a couple of footnotes but no table of contents , bibliography or index.  I spotted a couple of spellchecker-passed typos.  On the good side, it really felt like the author had taken the time to reread the entire Daredevil series.

If you are a huge Daredevil fan or the kind of person who loves analyzing superheroes’ love lives, then Blind Dates and Broken Hearts is for you.  I really cannot recommend it to the layperson, as it assumes familiarity with the material.

Book Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora

Book Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

Disclaimer:  I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Lies

Locke Lamora is a con artist and thief living in the city of Camorr, a sort of fantasy version of Venice strongly influenced by Dickens and Machiavelli, and probably named after the Camorra, a real-life Italian organized crime group.  Orphaned…presumably…at a young age, Locke learned thieving early on, and took to it well.  He has his own gang, the Gentleman Bastards, and they are secretly far more successful than they’ve been letting on to Capa Barsavi, the local crimelord.

The Gentleman Bastards are in the middle of a really big scam when their plans collide with other plotters, one of whom is willing to do the unthinkable in order to achieve their goal.  Tragedy ensues, and Locke must scheme faster and meaner than ever before if he is to survive, let alone come out ahead.

This book doesn’t have any likable characters, though a few are somewhat sympathetic or act for a cause greater than themselves.  Locke’s one virtue is loyalty to his very small group of friends.  He also has a bottom line he won’t cross, which makes the person who will the villain of the story.  He and his compatriots are quite clever, however, which makes this a good caper story.

Trigger Warning: Torture is practiced by several characters, including Locke.

Due to much of the plotline being dependent on twists, it’s hard to be specific without being spoilery.   I did feel that one section towards the beginning was a bit padded.  We see a twist, then the reveal that it’s a con game, and then flash back to a long sequence of Locke and his gang preparing for this trick.   It didn’t establish much that wasn’t covered elsewhere in the book, and could have been cut, allowing the reader to figure out how it was done.

This is the first of seven planned books about Locke Lamora.  The second, Red Seas Under Red Skies, is already available, and the third, The Republic of Thieves, is scheduled for release in October.   (This giveaway was presumably to create buzz for that.)

The lack of characters I want to continue reading about really hurt the book in my opinion.  Others may find Locke more lovable.

Book Review: Conquering the Chaos

Book Review: Conquering the Chaos by Ravi Venkatesan

Disclaimer:  I received this book from the publisher in a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Chaos

This book is subtitled “win in India, win everywhere” and part of its message is that a multinational company that learns how to compete in India will be able to export that information to the global market.  To be a bit more clear, this book is not about offshoring (moving your night customer service to India, say) or how Indian business people succeed in their own country.  It’s aimed at executives whose multinational wants to do big business in India.

Mr. Venkatesan has experience in the field, having served as Chairman of both Cummins India and Microsoft India.   He also interviewed a number of other executives, successful and not so successful, about their experiences in India.

I have to say I really like the cover, with its sunny colors.  Overall, I’d say that the Harvard Business Review Press did a good job on the presentation, and since I don’t usually notice such things, that’s actual praise.

The book itself is a little dry and heavy on the business jargon; this is not a book for the layperson.  (As it happens, I’m taking courses in Business Management, so the jargon is fresh in my mind.)  Adjusting for that, the examples are interesting, both in the success stories and some of the failures.

The book covers a wide variety of subjects related to doing business in India, from making the right choice for country manager, through building an organization structure that works in the culture, to dealing with the endemic corruption and volatility of an emerging nation.

A fair amount of what the author suggests for success is obvious in hindsight–but in that position I would have had to figure it out by trial and error.  The lessons this book has are most relevant to the India market, but can be adapted to any emerging nation.  Even strictly local businessfolk should be able to find something they can apply to their situation.

There are notes and a good index at the back.  In addition to executives who may be headed off to India or other emerging markets, I would recommend this book to business students looking for something a little different to read and possibly cite.

 

Book Review: Spur #30 Boise Belle

Book Review: Spur #30 Boise Belle by Dirk Fletcher

Spur

I’m not sure what this type of book is called in the marketing department, so I’m going to borrow a phrase from the pulps and call it “spicy Western.”   This is a subgenre of the Western, usually in long-running paperback series, in which a tough Western hero fights outlaws and other baddies, pausing every few chapters for fairly explicit sex scenes.  It’s plot with porn, rather than porn with plot.

And what is that plot, you ask?  Spur McCoy is a Secret Service agent who has come to the Idaho Territory to investigate threats against the governor, who is running for re-election.  He’s not sure if a rash of vigilante killings is related to this or not.  Spur’s slightly distracted by the governor’s lusty and barely legal daughter, and a pretty widow (whose husband was killed by the vigilantes in a mistaken attack.)  There’s also polygamous Mormons in the mix.

The local law enforcement has been lax in dealing with the vigilantes as they save the cost of a trial, but as Spur notes, once you let one bunch of people take the law into their own hands, other people want to get into the act.  More killings indicate there’s a new vigilante in town, with a very different agenda.

This isn’t a mystery; the readers are let in on what’s going on well before Spur figures it out.  Still, it’s a bit more complex plot than many of this subgenre have.

Sadly, the paperbacks are overpriced new; check garage sales and suchlike if you think this is the sort of thing you’d be interested in.

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