Book Review: Hunting Season: Immigration and Murder in an All-American Town

Book Review: Hunting Season: Immigration and Murder in an All-American Town by Mirta Ojito

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

Hunting Season

In 2008, an Ecuadorian immigrant, Marcelo Lucero, was murdered by a group of teenagers in Patchouge,  New York.  They had been looking for “Mexicans” to beat up in that suburb of New York City.  This shocking crime made headlines, and exposed a lot of raw nerves about immigration issues in America.

Mirta Ojito is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, and briefly talks about her own experience as a Cuban refugee.

Much of the book is taken up by short biographies of the people involved in the case one way or another, from the victim to the killers to the mayor of Patchouge.  (None of the people convicted of the murder consented to be interviewed for the book, and only two of their parents, so some biographies are very short.)

There’s a look at the various circumstances that combined to make the incident happen:  demographic shifts, a changed pattern of immigration that brought unassimilated migrants straight to suburbia instead of the inner city, racism, economic woes, portrayal in the media of immigrants as “invaders”, small town boredom, and a poisonous political atmosphere.

The mayor of Patchouge, Paul Pontieri, comes off pretty well.   He was late realizing that there was a problem with anti-immigrant violence in his town, but actually had plans for dealing with it just before the killing took place.  The tragedy accelerated those plans.

By comparison,  Steve Levy, county executive of Suffolk County, comes off pretty badly.   He campaigned on fairly heavy anti-immigration policies, even co-founding a group called Mayors and Executives for Immigration Reform that seeks local ordinances to restrict undocumented immigrants further than they already are.  But he never specifically called for violence.

As well as the effect on Patchouge of immigration issues and the murder, the book looks at the effect these have had on Lucero’s home town of  Gualaceo.  The money sent home by migrants has allowed the town to become prosperous again after years of economic depression, but at the cost of its hardest-working and most ambitious citizens

As the book points out, this was neither the first or last time an immigrant was killed by Americans for the sin of not being “one of us”, but perhaps we can learn lessons here to lessen future violence, and find new ways of incorporating immigrants into our society.

Recommended for true crime readers, and those interested in immigration issues.  Check it out at your library.

Book Review: Angel of Darkness

Book Review: Angel of Darkness by Charles de Lint

Back in the early 1990s, Charles de Lint decided to publish some darker fantasy/horror books under the name Samuel M. Key, as some of the fans weren’t thrilled by him going in a horror direction.  By the 21st Century, it was decided Mr. de Lint’s reputation was such that it could handle the strain of these books being officially added to his main list.

Angel of Darkness

Chad Baker is a recording genius.  He’s also quite mad, and has decided to create the perfect sound…of pain.  To this end, he’s been secretly torturing and killing people, and tonight he’s got the final piece.   He mixes the music and it all goes horribly right.

Ex-cop Jack Keller has been looking for a young runaway, and has finally tracked her to Chad Baker’s door.  It is far, far too late and he catches a glimpse of an angel, beautiful and terrifying.

Soon, people begin dying in horrific ways, many of them the police officers who inspected the Baker crime scene.  The barriers between worlds have been pierced, and a vengeful angel lurks in the liminal place between sleep and death.

The alternate dimension that looks like post-apocalyptic Ottawa if the end of civilization was caused by a hate plague is effectively creepy at first,  but wears thin fast.  It veers into “trying too hard” territory.  I do like that people eventually start thinking logically about how to deal with a threat that only attacks in your sleep (or so they thought) and that these measures turn out to be the exact opposite of useful because of the true nature of the threat.

Trigger warning for rape, torture, and various kinds of abuse.   Several of the characters are quick to use obscene language, and there are some squicky sex scenes.

I don’t think this is one of Mr. de Lint’s better works; mostly for completists.

Book Review: Kiss Your Elbow

Book Review: Kiss Your Elbow by Alan Handley

Before Harlequin became the go-to publisher for romance paperbacks, it published other genres as well, primarily trashy crime novels with steamy bits.  As part of the publisher’s 60th anniversary, it’s reprinting some of these early works, including the one being reviewed here.

Kiss Your Elbow

Tim Briscoe is an actor in late 1940s New York City, trying to break into a big-time role so he can finally make it on Broadway or even into the movies.  (Some of the characters speculate that the new television  world will be a good source of income once it’s got the bugs worked out.)   But he’s not having a lot of luck.  And by the end of the first chapter,  his luck gets worse when he finds his agent dead, with a paperwork spindle through her heart.

The police call it an accident, but Tim removed a vital piece of evidence from the scene, and when a second lethal “accident” occurs, he realizes he’d better find out the truth before he takes a permanent role as a corpse!

Mr. Handley was himself a stage actor and director before moving into television, so his picture of the theatrical world seems at least superficially accurate.  Everyone drinks like a fish (except the alcoholic, who drinks more) and most of them smoke like chimneys as well.  There’s backbiting and backstage politics, and too many actors for too few parts.

I should have seen the ending coming, but was distracted for several chapters by one of the characters having too slick of an alibi at one point.  And I’m not even sure the author planned it that way.  Oh, and despite this being before Harlequin was big on romance, there’s a romantic subplot as well.

Warning:  There are some ugly Forties attitudes at work, which I can’t describe in any detail due to them tying directly to spoilers.  I’m not even going to put them in the tags for safety.  Just be warned that many readers will find certain things distasteful.

Recommended to old-fashioned trashy paperback fans, Harlequin readers, and those who love stories with greasepaint.

Book Review: Splatterlands

Book Review: Splatterlands edited by Anthony Rivera and Sharon Lawson

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

Splatterlands

According to Wikipedia, “splatterpunk” was a movement in horror writing between roughly 1985 and 1995,  distinguished by its graphic and often gory descriptions of violence and attempts to create “hyperintensive” horror with no limits.  Supernatural elements are neither necessary or forbidden.  It seems to have been subsumed by newer trends in horror fiction, but never entirely died out.

Splatterlands is an anthology of thirteen short stories that try to recapture the feel of the splatterpunk movement.   As such, it is filled with sex, violence, sexual violence, crude language and a fascination with body fluids.  I’m going to come right out and issue a Trigger Warning for rape, torture, abuse and suicide.

For example, the first story, “Heirloom” by Michael Laimo, is about a woman who inherits a phallic symbol.  The main action of the story involves an explicitly described act of semi-consensual sexual violence.  If that immediately triggers your “do not want” instinct, then this volume is not for you.

Some stories that stood out include “Violence for Fun and Profit” by Gregory L. Norris, about the origin of a hired assassin/serial killer that’s frighteningly topical; “Housesitting” by Ray Garton (the only reprint), a relatively  understated tale of a housesitter who snoops and finds out things she’d rather not about her neighbors; “The Defiled” by Christine Morgan, about a band of Viking raiders who meet a karmic fate; and “The Devil Rides Shotgun” by Eric del Carlo, in which a police officer makes a demonic pact to track down a serial killer.

One story that really didn’t work for me was “Empty” by A.A. Garrison.  It’s about a woman in a post-apocalyptic world seeking medical assistance for her husband.  It turns out to be metafictional humor, (and I did like the protest sign that said “Too Many Adverbs”), but really came across as trying too hard.

Recommended for horror fans with strong stomachs, especially those who were fans of the original splatterpunk movement.  Probably not suitable for anyone else, despite the high quality of some of the stories.

Movie Review: Kill Devil

Movie Review: Kill Devil (2004)

A teenager wakes up on a deserted beach, sometime in autumn.  He doesn’t remember who he is or how he got there, but the blanket he was under indicates he wasn’t on that beach by accident.  He’s wearing a strange metal wristband with the name “Shougo” on it, so that’s what people call him.

Kill Devil

Shougo soon meets other amnesiac teens, some reasonably friendly, and others lethally unfriendly, especially “the scythe man.”  Shougo and the others stumble around the island looking for the reason they’re there, and someplace safe.

Then about fifteen minutes in, we’re told exactly what is happening, not in dialogue, but a straight-up voice-over.  It seems that Japanese scientists have isolated the “murder gene” that causes some people to flip out and casually kill others.  Sixteen teenagers who carry the gene were brought to this island, and had their memories wiped as part of an experiment code-named “Kill the Devil.”  (We never learn the precise goal of the experiment.)

This 2004 Japanese film is transparently following in the footsteps of Battle Royale with the young people being coerced into killing each other for the benefit/entertainment of adults.  It’s not nearly as good; the amnesia gimmick means that we learn little to nothing about any given character before they die, and most of them do.

There’s also a samurai sword duel in the middle of the movie that has nothing to do with anything else.

If you liked Battle Royale or The Hunger Games, but thought there was too much plot and character development, this might suit your needs.  The US DVD release comes with a trailer and alternate ending; don’t watch either before the main feature as the trailer spoils one of the few actual surprises, and the alternate ending won’t make sense at all (not that it does much anyway) without seeing the rest of the movie first.

In addition to R-level violence, there’s some side-on male nudity.

After this point, I will be discussing SPOILERS for Kill Devil.

SPOILERS!

It’s a bit difficult to say what the theme of the movie is, beyond “grownups suck.”  Perhaps the futility of trying to overcome your genetic destiny; or a warning against being so invested in a certain outcome of your scientific research that you rig the experiment until you get the outcome you want.

The ending of the film is a downer, with all the teenagers dead, and most of the adults getting away with their actions.  And then there’s a stinger at the end of the credits that’s foreshadowed in one line in the rest of the movie, involving a character we’ve never seen before and leaves you asking “why?”  Perhaps it was meant to be a sequel hook.

The alternate ending is just like the regular ending except that the last teen killed suddenly rises, goes into a dance routine, and then several of the other teen characters join him for a big dance number.  Then the others vanish, the last teen lies down dead, and fade to black.  (Same stinger after the credits.)  Given that several members of the cast were members of the Diamond*Dogs dance troupe, this may have been the original intended ending.

Both the ending credits and the trailer show a still of what is apparently a scene deleted in the US release in which two of the characters do a rap.    I am mildly grateful that this was not included.  The trailer also gives away the stinger.

END SPOILERS

Again, not particularly recommended, unless perhaps you are a fan of the Diamond*Dogs dance troupe, or one of the actors in the cast list.

Manga Review: Vinland Saga Book One

Manga Review: Vinland Saga Book One by Makoto Yukimura

It is the Eleventh Century C.E., and Europe trembles in fear of the raiders from the north, who we would call Vikings.  This is the story of one such Viking, the youth Thorfinn Thorssen.

Vinland Saga

This thick volume opens with a battle in the Frankish Kingdoms (later France) as Askeladd’s band of mercenaries offer their services to Lord Jabbath.  Among the raiders is Thorfinn, who is far deadlier than any beardless boy has a right to be.   But Thorfinn serves Askeladd for one reason only, to someday be allowed to kill his father’s murderer in a fair duel.

We then flash back to Thorfinn’s childhood in Iceland, and how it was that his father, the mighty Thors,  was treacherously slain.   But we also learn of old Erik and his tales of a land beyond the sea, without slavery or war.   This “Vinland” remains a place that Thorfinn cannot bring himself to search for until he has had his vengeance, reckless of the cost.

The art is excellent, and the creator has done his research (no horned helmets here!)   On the other hand, he does take some liberties with history (this will become more apparent in later volumes.)    This is an exciting tale of vengeance and violence, although it should be acknowledged that most of the people in the story just aren’t good people.  The one truly heroic person in this volume is the reluctant warrior Thors,  who believes that a true warrior should not need a blade to lead a good life.

Note:  While there is no rape in this volume, given the subject matter, I would not be surprised if it came up later in the series.  As is, there’s plenty of blood spilled and heads flying off;  it’s rated 16+, and I’d advise parents to stick to that.

I recommend this volume to fans of Viking tales and lovers of violent action stories.

Comic Book Review: ‘Tain’t the Meat…It’s the Humanity!

Comic Book Review: ‘Tain’t the Meat…It’s the Humanity! art by Jack Davis

EC Comics was for a short time a brilliant publisher of crime, SF and especially horror comics in the early 1950s.  One of the things that made them so great was having some of the best artists working in the field at the time.  This book collects several stories artistically rendered by Jack Davis, particularly from the Tales From the Crypt series.

'Tain't the Meat, It's the Humanity

Mr. Davis had a great line in rotting corpses, feral rats and ugly-natured humans.  This is a black and white reprint, which allows his use of strong blacks to be shown to advantage.  (He went on to a long, successful career in other comics areas after horror comics were gutted by the Comics Code.)

EC’s horror titles were notorious for their twist endings, and horrible puns.  The title story is no exception, being about a World War Two-era butcher who gets tempted by the money of the black market.  Other standouts include “The Trophy!” about a hunter who only kills animals for bragging rights (two versions, one done originally for a 3-D comic!), “Gas-tly Prospects!’ about a murdered prospector that won’t stay buried, and “Lower Berth” with (at the time) the most unexpected twist of all.

There’s also some biographical material about Mr. Davis, whose life was thankfully nothing like the stories he illustrated.

This is classic stuff, and highly recommended for teenagers and up.  (Some scenes may be a little intense for preteens.)

Book Review: Murder by Sunlight

Book Review: Murder by Sunlight by Barbara Graham

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

Murder by Sunlight

It’s coming up on the Fourth of July in tiny Park County in Tennessee, and Sheriff Tony Abernathy must deal with not just the heat and increased traffic, but a sudden wave of crime.  Someone is going around assaulting people in an attempt to find “Bob”, a man is found impaled on a tree, and a woman is murdered–by sunlight!  Good thing the sheriff’s wife Theo runs the local quilting shop, where she can catch the gossip while a charity quilt is being made.

This is part of the “Quilted Mystery” series, none of which I have read before.   Amusingly, the fact that several high-profile murders have occurred around one small town is acknowledged, and may be causing political problems for the sheriff.

The story reflects the business of a sheriff’s department, with many issues popping up, some connected to the main plotline, others mostly irrelevant.  I found most of the characters likable, or at least believable–as often happens in murder mysteries, the central victim has a personality that leads you to question why she wasn’t murdered before this.

I really liked that volunteerism leads to at least one character having as happy an ending to their part in the story as is possible under the circumstances.  And crafty people may enjoy putting together a quilt pattern that’s slowly revealed through the book.

It’s a good fast read and a fun mystery.  Thrifty readers may want to check to see if there’s paperback editions of the earlier books, or consult the library, as the hardback is $25.95 new.

Book Review: USA Noir

Book Review: USA Noir edited by Johnny Temple

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.  This was an Advanced Reading Copy, and small changes may be made in the final product.

USA Noir

“Noir”, here, is short for noir fiction, a form of hard-boiled crime fiction by analogy with the cinematic film noir.  Noir fiction tends to focus on the seedier side of life, filled with petty criminals, people driven to extremes by circumstance, and bittersweet at best resolutions.  Akashic Books has been putting out anthologies of noir short stories grouped by location since 2004, and this is a “best of” collection.

The stories are grouped by themes such as “True Grit” and “Under the Influence”, and range across the continental United States.  (Yes, that includes the Twin Cities.)  Most are contemporary (one has Google Maps as a plot point) but there are a couple of period pieces set in the 1940s and Fifties.

Some standout stories include: “Animal Rescue” by Dennis Lehane (a man finds an abandoned puppy, and decides to keep it),  “Run Kiss Daddy” by Joyce Carol Oates (a man does not want to upset his new family), “Mastermind” by Reed Farrell Coleman (a dumb crook comes up with the perfect crime), “Loot” by Julie Smith (various people try to cash in on Hurricane Katrina), “Helper” by Joseph Bruchac (revenge comes looking for Indian Charlie, but he’s no pushover) and “Feeding Frenzy” by Tim Broderick (in comic book format, a Wall Street firm has lost a big contract, and the employees search for someone to blame.)

Thirty-seven stories in total, 500+ pages of entertainment.   There’s also a list of the other stories in the volumes these were reprinted from, and a list of awards the series has garnered.

If the genre is not warning enough, I should mention that sordid violence is common in these stories, and some may be triggery.

Overall, the stories are of good quality, and represent an excellent cross-section of today’s noir writers.    It’s good value for money.

Update:  “Animal Rescue” was turned into the 2014 movie “The Drop” starring Tom Hardy; here’s the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iy_ogNiryZ8

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.

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