Monday, March 31, 2014

A Great New Protagonist from George Pelecanos


Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

The Cut introduces Spero Lucas, a new protagonist from George Pelecanos, the creator of such venerable characters as Derek Strange and Nick Stefanos. And as much as I've enjoyed those other characters, I can't wait to read more books featuring this one.

Spero Lucas is in his late twenties, an ex-Marine recently returned home to Washington, D.C. from the war in Iraq. He grew up in a racially mixed household where his Greek-American parents adopted three of their four children. He's devoted to the memory of his late father, who was clearly the strongest influence in his life; he visits his mother regularly and is close to his brother, Leo, a school teacher. His relations with his other two siblings are strained.

Like many other young people who spent much of their twenties in the military service, Spero is anxious to make up for lost time, and he has an eye for attractive women, even though he still may have some things to learn about relating to them. He remains fit and strong and is an avid cyclist and kayaker.

Lucas has no desire to be confined to an office and prefers working for himself. He's now an investigator, working principally for a defense attorney, but he takes on the occasional job recovering stolen property. His cut is forty-percent of whatever he recovers, which makes him a bargain relative to the legendary Travis McGee who always took fifty percent.

As the book opens, an imprisoned drug dealer hires Spero to recover three marijuana shipments that have been stolen from the D.C. crew that he runs from his cell. The crew cleverly Fed-Exes the dope to addresses where then know that the occupants will be away for the day. They then track the shipments on their smart phones and swoop in to pick them off the porches minutes after Fed Ex drops them off.

However, someone's managed to beat the crew to three deliveries within a matter of weeks, and the drug lord wants the thieves tracked down and the dope recovered. Lucas has no moral qualms about people who smoke weed--he smokes the occasional joint himself--and so takes the job. Given the value of the shipments involved, it could mean a huge payday for him.

Naturally, Lucas is now plunged into a world of seedy, amoral drug dealers, and before long, what seemed like a relatively simple investigation has become a complicated and very dangerous morass. A number of innocent parties get caught in the crossfire, and there's a very real chance that Spero's first major case may also be his last.

As usual, Pelecanos is at his best describing the D.C. environs that he knows and loves so well. There are, as always, a large number of musical references, most of them even more obscure than usual. (Or perhaps it just seems so to this reader who doesn't listen to much reggae. Happily, though, I am up to speed on The Hold Steady.) The dialogue is pitch perfect; the characters are all well-developed and the story carries you right along. I've been a huge fan of Pelecanos for years and, as I suggested above, I'm really looking forward to reading more of Spero Lucas.

Getting the Led Out

Led Zeppelin: Visual DocumentaryLed Zeppelin: Visual Documentary by Paul Kendall
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"JIMMY PAGE" the first page essentially shouts as it launches into the guitarist's history without any introduction for the overall book.

Fine. I think we can guess where a book called Led Zeppelin: A Visual Documentary is going. A quick flip through shows that it is set up first to give musician-by-musician background. At this point, a diehard Zeppelin fan will notice that often-neglected bassist, John Paul Jones, does not actually come last this time around! No, each of the band members are "introduced" in the order in which they joined. Fan-books like this have not always been created with great intelligence, but rather blind elation, a sort of groupie's verve. While this book has a love for the Led, it is comforting to know a little thought went into it.

However, when it comes to '70s rock/heavy metal, I've found you can never juice it with enough of the grey matter. Spinal Tap is hilarious for a reason. And so with that in mind, let's continue on into the book. After the band member section, we find Kendall has tossed in, in scrapbook style, a bunch of pictures, none of which come with captions. Most of them are of the band, so no problem there. But there are quite a few pictures of Led Zeppelin's entourage, other musicians, shots of tour guidebooks, ticket stubs, fanzine covers, posters, and buttons, none of which come with an explanation. So what's a fan to do? The answer's this way -->

Laid out between the pictures is a diary-style timeline of the band's history from it's inception to late 1980, when drummer John Bonham died and Led Zeppelin closed up shop (well, at least for a good long while, but that's another story.) The almost daily entries give a synopsis of the band's activities at the time. Sometimes it's no more than:

January 1970
Bristol, Colston Hall

But often the entries are fuller:

December 1975
After completing the album, the group went back to Jersey to continue their tax exile as close to home as possible.
John Bonham, John Paul Jones and Robert Plant return home to spend Christmas with their family, while Jimmy Page flies to New York to mix the soundtrack for the film. [The Song Remains the Same]

Also included are band member quotes along with the timeline's happenings, which will be of immense interest to rabid fans. Occasionally within the timeline can be found information that clears up what the pictures pertain to, but good luck matching them up.

Perhaps the thing that will interest fans the most and make them seek out this little gem is that it was published in '82, less than two years after the band's break up when rumors were rife of them finding another drummer or possibly forming a "super group" with another legendary band also on the rocks. We now know the course Page, Plant and Jones took post-Zeppelin, but it's fun to see the turmoil that was brewing at the time.

A Graveyard For Words

The Word Museum: The Most Remarkable English Words Ever ForgottenThe Word Museum: The Most Remarkable English Words Ever Forgotten by Jeffrey Kacirk
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Glory of glories! A book about dead words! HUZZAH!

Some English words are no longer used. Jeffrey Kacirk poured through old dictionaries and found some gems. Let's go already!!! --->>>

Roozles: Wretchedness of mind; the "miserables".

Quanked: Overpowered by fatigue.

Spermologer: A picker-up of trivia, of current news; a gossip-monger; what we today would call a columnist.

Beblubbered: Swollen.

Puke-stocking: "Wilt thou rob this…puke-stocking [knave]?" 1 Henry IV Here, puke-stocking probably means dark-coloured, perhaps equivalent to puce. That it describes the material of the stocking or hose is less likely.

A few of the words have died, but been reborn…or maybe I mean reincarnated. Have a look...

Spooning: Spooning, in rowing, is dipping the oars so little in the water as merely to skim the surface.

All sorts: A slang term designating the drippings of glasses in saloons, collected and sold at half-price to drinkers who are not overly particular.

Some words could use a more detailed or clearer definition:

Special-bastard: A child born of parents before marriage, the parties afterwards intermarrying.

Spoops: At Harvard College, a weak, silly fellow, or one who is disliked on account of his foolish actions is called spoops, or spoopsy.

Biggening: Uprising of women. SEE Crying-cheese.

All righty…

Crying-cheese: Cheese given to neighbors and visitors on the occasion of the birth of a child.

…and that helped clear up biggening how?

Whereas some words mean just what you suspect (E.G. Egg-wife-trott: An easy jog, such a speed as farmers' wives carry their eggs to the market.), others do NOT (E.G. Babyshed: Deceived by childish tales. [I was sure it meant a place where babies were kept.]

The Word Museum is…scrumtrulescent! A must-read for wordies!

Rating Note: This is a ridiculous 5 stars. This book is not perfect. It's not even great. But it's just right for me, because I like words.

Here's a crusty old video I just re-uploaded for this review. It's of me reading and reenacting some of the words within this book.