Friday, October 29, 2021

64. Dead Low Tide by John D. MacDonald

Dead Low Tide is the penultimate book in the list of non-Travis McGree JDM's recommended by the still missed Al Gorman.  I found them all in Vancouver many years ago and have been slowly working my way through them. I'm trying to take my time now that I am near the end, but felt vaguely dissatisfied after Holy Fire and needed some good hard-boiled manliness.  Dead Low Tide reads quickly and mostly enjoyably as all JDM books, but unfortunately was possibly one of the weakest so far.  It had several forced situations to drive the plotline that were real groaners and had a lot of excessive JDM moralizing.  I can't tell what he hates worse, greasy spoons or pornography, both of which got a multi-paragraph haranguing.

The narrator is Andy McClintock, office man for a Florida developer in the middle of building an ambitious suburb on a key.  His boss is a strong, bullheaded self-made man who has been giving McClintock the run-around about a promised promotion to do actual on-site work.  The boss's somewhat scrawny but also sexually alluring (of course) wife comes to McClintock and asks him to snoop around and try and find out what is wrong with her husband, as he has been suddenly distant.  McClintock refuses but does decide to confront his boss about the promised promotion. Instead of stalling, the boss gives it to him and reveals a weird fatalism in doing so.  Soon after, he commits suicide by shooting himself in the neck with McClintock's spear gun (that he finds later stolen from his garage).

So of course this leads to McClintock being accused of the murder (also having been spotted hanging out with the wife plus the new contract).  It looked promising but we had several of JDM's weird asides about love and female sexuality.  McClintock lives in a humble rented cabin and his neighbour is an attractive, huskily healthy midwestern divorcee.  They respect and like each other, had a brief fling, but decided mutually to keep things in the friend zone. There is a very abrupt "plot twist" that felt unfair to the reader (which I've never experienced with JDM before) that sort of makes their relationship a major plot line.  The bad guy turns out to be none of the characters established in the beginning, so there is no mystery for the reader to solve, though it appears to be set up as if there is.  And there is a very unrealistic escape that allows McClintock to be the hero even though that all doesn't really make sense.  It is somewhat redeemed by an incredible climax where he literally fishes the badguy off a boat.  That was fun, but leading up to it I was pretty disappointed.

SPOILER ALERT (for my own future reference):  The healthy midwestern girl gets murdered about halfway through the book, giving McClintock his revenge drive.  He realizes that he loved her after all, that she was the one under his nose all this time and now she is dead.  He does the detective work (and the details here are well done) to find the killer who is a wandering psychopath.  The cops catch him and to get him to confess suddenly reveal that McClintock's love interest is not dead after all.  They faked it the entire time to draw the killer out!  It's weak on several levels, because it implies the fat, narrow-minded police chief actually wanted McClintock's meddling, which just didn't ring true given all their previous interactions.  It also feels like a forced way to make a satisfying love triangle.  Then the psycho escapes and manages to evade a vast dragnet, double back and of course catch McClintock and his new love in a vulnerable position, which does lead the incredible fishing revenge moment (which I will paste as an image below).

JDM would not have been a fan of PornHub

I feel like he does a disservice to what is now a touchstone of American culture


Monday, October 25, 2021

63. Holy Fire by Bruce Sterling

I've never read a Bruce Sterling book, which is sort of a big omission since I am of the cyberpunk generation.  Neuromancer blew my mind at 15.  Found this in the free shelf on Waverly and thought it would be a good opportunity to rectify that omission. I don't really know how I feel about this book.  It's not bad, but I didn't really get the point of it.  It doesn't follow the typical narrative structure of a novel, which is not a bad thing at all.  There just wasn't enough in it for me to really get caught up in the storyline and the main character.  That being said, there were several neat ideas and moments that gave me things to ponder in an enjoyable sci-fi way.  

It takes place at the end of the 21st century, about a hundred years from the 1990s when it was written.  The idea is that medical advancements have gotten humanity to be almost immortal. The world is run by the polity who maintains health and order.  The idea is that the old people stay in control and the world cannot really evolve culturally anymore.  It's a post-scarcity society but the young people all feel trapped and limited.  I didn't really feel convinced by this.  The protagonist is Mia an old civil servant who has always played it safe.  She gets a radical new treatment that makes her young again and then decides to break free, flees to europe and joins various culture and fashion groups and does somewhat wild things.

So you learn about the dissatisfaction of the youth from her meetings with said youth, but you don't really get to see it.  Mia's rebelliousness is also inconsistent.  Part of it is that you don't know how much of her behaviour is because of the treatment and how much is just her.  That is okay but none of it really amounted to anything. There is a lot of discussion about art.  She becomes a hit fashion model, then tries to be a photographer.  There is also a side story of a virtual castle that is bequeathed to her by an old boyfriend that doesn't really go anywhere.  Now that I think about it, it feels like this book was more a collection of ideas and semi-stories that never got held together fully. I wonder which is the Bruce Sterling I should read?

Note to self: be wary of books with review blurbs using the words "haunting", "lyrical" and "triumph".

Friday, October 15, 2021

62. Perry Mason Solves the Case of the Nervous Accomplice by Erle Stanley Gardner

When I was a kid, the Perry Mason TV show seemed to be on fairly regularily.  I didn't love it but would watch it on the general principle at the time to watch whatever was on TV whereever I was given the opportunity since we did not have a TV at home.  I remember vaguely being able to follow the plot and the legal twists that came up. This is the first time I have read one of the books and two things stood out me and surprised me somewhat.  

First, Perry Mason seems completely without morals and his legal ethics seem super questionable.  In this book, he gets his client to hail the same taxi she took the night before (where the driver recognized her which would put her at the scene of the murder) which investigator Paul Drake tracked via radio and then take the exact same trip at the same cost but with a new outfit and a friend to later use that to make the taxi driver look unreliable on the stand.  That can't be allowed, can it?  And the crazy thing is at that time, Mason himself wasn't convinced that his client was innocent.  It surprised me to see such a cynical take on legal procedure from the early 50s but I guess lawyers have been gaming the system since they were released on the world.

Second, Hamilton Burger, the prosecuting attorney and I guess regular foil for Mason is comically stupid and always and obviously two steps behind.  Every objection he makes he uses the same phrase "objected to as incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial." Ultimately, Perry Mason does perform some clever tricks to expose the truth, but he is just so clearly superior to the opposition that it seems to steal any tension from the story.  Maybe that was intended.  

There was a dry patch before the trial started where I started to lose interest, but the initials set-up was enjoyable with some depressing sexual politics of the time thrown in. He is hired by a wife who knows her husband is having an affair. Instead of busting him, she wants Mason to help her with a scheme to turn the mistress from fantasy escape lover to annoying dependent, while she plays the positive one. It's actually probably a good strategy but depends on the woman accepting that she loves her husband or wants to keep the marriage no matter what. The ending was somewhat fun too and the solution to the murder more or less solid, though with some sketchy ballistics.  I found this in a box on my street and there was another one so I'll read that at some point.  It is unlikely I will make this series staple reading but glad to have finally been exposed to it.

On a sad note, in order to read this book I had to turn the pages, which separate them from the glue to the binding.  It always pains me and I'll try everything to give a book a chance to get another read, but this may be one paperback whose life has come to an end.

Monday, October 11, 2021

61. Wilt: Just Like Any Other 7-Foot Black Millionaire Who Lives Next Door by Wilt Chamberlain and David Shaw

Somebody has been slowly dropping off a large collection of 60s and 70s hardback non-fiction biography and autobiography books in the St-Viateur free shelf these last couple of weeks.  It's mostly Canadian and British political figures (you know you are getting old when you feel a teeny but quickly suppressed inkling to read a Joe Clark biography) so I was quite excited to stumble upon Wilt's autobiography.  I've educated myself on the hoops of the 60s and 70s with some recent sports journalism reads, so I was psyched to find an actual primary source on the subject.

A lot of this book is Wilt, coherently and convincingly, arguing against the consistent criticisms he faced throughout his career.  When you are exposed to the absolute insanity of his career stats (he led the leg in at least one of scoring, rebound or assists each of his 14 seasons) that go beyond his most famous exploits (10,000 women, 100 point-game), it does seem to suggest that people sort of had it out for him.  The two biggest critiques of him were: 1) that he wasn't actually that skilled or worked hard, just really big and 2) that he couldn't win when it counted.  Both are bullshit. There was a lot of tension and drama around Wilt and the other big men.  He and Russell went at it as did he and Kareem.  His supporting of Nixon is really an excellent example of a smart person being blinded by his wealth and privilege (comparably to some of these anti-vaxxer players today) and is for me Wilt's second biggest actual flaw.  

The biggest flaw is that, at least the way he tells it here, he is a little bit boring.  He seems like a really cool, intelligent life winner who isn't actually all that interesting, though probably a lot of fun to hang out with.  In some ways, he is kind of a superman who kind of transcends race and class at the time (relatively speaking).  He is certainly very outspoken about racism which he recognizes and calls out fairly frequently in the NBA and NCAA, but he seems to have mostly avoided actual ill effects by dint of his innate physical superiority and coolness.  So he doesn't play it safe, but somehow it all comes off very rational and even-keeled.  He goes through all his seasons and the playoff endings in some detail, which while interesting for a hoops nerd like me also makes the book unthrilling.

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

60. Vintage Murder by Ngaio Marsh

Discovered this, plus another Ngaio Marsh and two Perry Masons in boxes of free stuff just down the street from me!  They were already beat up and then got some water damage from a light rain that had happened over night and that only freed me up to not have to worry about taking care of them.  My love for paperbacks started this way, back in the naive and carefree days when we did not think of them as collectibles but something cheap and portable.  It's nice to have a book every now and then that you can just throw in your bag and stuff in a pocket and not worry about keeping it in pristine condition.  After hearing how Eric from Paperback Warrior got a severe and weird lung infection, possibly from sitting amongst moldy books, I left these outside for a few days and took care to fan the pages and blow as much dust and whatever from them.

The book itself was another solid murder mystery from Marsh.  What made this one stand out was the nice (but sad because it was shattered by the murder) portrayal of the traveling theater company as well as the great look at New Zealand, Marsh's homeland.  Inspector Alleyn is supposed to be on vacation but of course gets mixed up in a murder. On the boat to New Zealand, he falls in with a theatre company. There is a minor kerfluffle on the train when the co-owner is almost kicked off the viewing platform.  His fate is sealed for good later when an elaborate birthday surprise for his wife and lead actress goes horribly wrong.  He had intended to lower a giant bottle of champagne, but somebody removed the counterweight and it smashed his head in. Bonus points for the Fontana photo cover which actually shows this (right down to the jeroboam larger-size champagne bottle).

Marsh is just a great writer.  I enjoyed this book more for the interactions and rich characters, especially the interesting insider writer writing as outsider visitor to New Zealand, than the mystery itself.  The Maori doctor is really great.  I almost wish he had a series of his own.  Fun read.