Monday, April 7, 2014

Another Great Jimmy Veeder Fiasco

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Five out of five stars

Anthony Award winner Johnny Shaw returns to the Imperial Valley (“as far south and as far east as you could go in California”), for another Jimmy Veeder Fiasco. Shaw introduced Jimmy in 2010's Dove Season, and it's great to have him back.

The Imperial Valley is hard desert country full of tough, resilient people. It's a difficult place in which to try to eke out a living, but having returned home and taken over the family farm, Jimmy is determined to make a go of it, to provide for his family and to be as good a father as he can for his young son.

The biggest stumbling block in the path of Jimmy's road to solid citizenship is his long-time best friend, Bobby Maves. Bobby is recently single again, partying harder then ever, and all too often calling Jimmy in the middle of the night, luring him out of his home and away from his responsibilities, to go on another "Mavescapade." These adventures always involve a great deal of drinking, more than the occasional bar fight, and assorted general mischief such as "borrowing" a police car for a joyride. The hilarious opening chapter, which details the development of one such evening, is worth the price of the book all by itself.

As the story opens, Jimmy and Bobby are roused from a night of debauchery by the news that Bobby's sixteen-year-old daughter, Julie, has gone missing. Bobby barely knows the girl; he and Julie's mother, Becky, had a brief fling, and Bobby didn't know until a good deal later that he even had a daughter. Now that Julie is missing, though, Becky reaches out to Bobby for help and Bobby, in turn, reaches out to his best friend.

Bobby's idea of looking for his daughter seems to consist of creating the maximum amount of mayhem and seeing what shakes out. Julie has fallen in with a very bad crowd, and Bobby's basic plan is to beat the crap out of everyone she hung with until he finds out where she is. Jimmy tries to moderate Bobby's violent streak and take a more sensible approach to the search, but that ain't gonna happen.

Throughout the book, Jimmy is torn between his responsibilities to his own family and those he owes to Bobby, who has been his best friend since grade school, and a major theme of the novel involves the ties and the sometimes competing obligations that a person has to his family and to his friends. Being the best friend of a man like Bobby Maves is no picnic at times, and Jimmy is forced to make some impossibly hard choices.

As the search for Julie continues, both the violence and the hilarity escalate. There are some pretty serious villains in this book and some truly disturbing developments. But Shaw has a gift for walking a very fine line between humor and the genuinely darker side of life, and the result is a story that is often hilariously funny while at the same time extremely scary and often very touching.

In addition to being the author of three great novels, Shaw is also the editor of Blood & Tacos and the creator of another fantastic character, Chingon, "The World's Deadliest Mexican." It's clear that he knows the Imperial Valley and its people very well and that he has a deep affection for both. He's also a very talented writer who has created here a violent, bloody, drunken, rollicking adventure. Jimmy Veeder is a great character, and while I don't think I'd like to have Bobby Maves for a best friend myself, I'm eagerly looking forward to Jimmy's next fiasco. 

Rating Records

The Billboard Book of Top 40 AlbumsThe Billboard Book of Top 40 Albums by Joel Whitburn
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Get me some stats, stat! Quantifying and qualifying, I did it to everything. I used to give my own 5-star ratings to the albums I'd buy. Hell, I even rated my own music, the stuff I'd play and record on my boombox! But then you must be wondering, why didn't I become a statistician? Damn good question, but we're getting off track...

My love for numbers and rankings drove me to buy The Billboard Book of Top 40 Albums, a book that lists the charting achievements of popular music acts. You get the group or artist name and a little background such as when they formed or were born as well as where. Then comes a list of their albums and the date they entered the Billboard top 40, alongside that is the album's peak position and then the number of weeks it stayed in the top 40. If the album sold enough units to attain gold or platinum status it's given a designation symbol beside the title. As a bonus, in the back of the book you also get a bunch of record holder lists like Top 100 Artists of the Rock Era, Top 25 Artists by Decade, Albums of Longevity, etc.

It wasn't just about the numbers (I'm not a complete spazz!). You could learn a thing or two of use from this book if you really tried. For instance, the group Ram Jam was an "East Coast rock quartet led by Bill Bartlett (lead guitarist of The Lemon Pipers). Member Howie Blauvelt played bass in Billy Joel's group The Hassles." As of 1977, Ram Jam has put out one album which charted for four weeks and made it as high as #34. So there you are! Now go forth with this new information and become the life of the party!

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Are You The Murderer?

The ABC Murders (Hercule Poirot, #13)The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Agatha Christie is such a crafty devil that midway through a novel she might have you believing that YOU are the murderer!

Indeed, The ABC Murders uses slight-of-hand most deftly. Again, I was thrown off the scent of the real killer and was ready to blame others. I feel a bit foolish when she dangles bait in front of me, and although I guess it for what it is, I take it anyway. And yet, if ever it felt good to be played the fool, it's while reading a cracking good mystery.

Ah, but never fear, Hercule Poirot is here! Christie may make him out to be the retired old sleuth past his prime, but she's used that line on us before and we know the little man with the peculiar accent and fantastic mustaches won't let us down! In this story, he is put on his guard by the personal nature of the murderer's actions. He is not quite as flippant as he can be, in fact, he seems downright disconcerted at times. It makes for a nice change in the character.

After sampling a few shorter Poirot stories, it felt liberating to read something that stretched and breathed a bit more. While the shorts feel like wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am, this makes you feel like you've been wined and dined. Christie even gets all psychological on this one! Not only in how she delves into the minds of the suspects, but the 1st person/3rd person narration switches made The ABC Murders seem that much more cerebral! Seriously, she may not go down as the most clever author of all time, but I like that she tried these sorts of techniques.

Rating: A 4 star book that gets an extra star for captivating me almost from start to finish!