Monday, June 15, 2015

Another Very Engaging Tale from Jack Lynch

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

Somehow I managed to miss Jack Lunch's series of crime novels featuring San Francisco P.I. Peter Bragg when they were first published some thirty years ago, and so I'm especially grateful to the folks at Brash Books for discovering and re-releasing these titles.

Pieces of Death is the third book in the series, following The Dead Never Forget and The Missing and The Dead. In this case, a friend that Bragg knows from a local newspaper asks him to serve as a bodyguard for a guy named Buddy Polaski, who's flying into San Francisco International Airport from New York that afternoon. The friend is a little vague as to why Polaski might need someone to protect him and so Bragg takes his .45 along just in case.

A lot of good that does him. He meets Polaski; they have a quick drink and then go to the baggage carousel to pick up Polaski's luggage. As Polaski grabs his suitcase, two guys race up and pump him full of lead. There's not much that Bragg can do; understandably, pandemonium ensues in the baggage claim area and Bragg doesn't dare return fire for fear of hitting an innocent bystander. He chases after the hit men, but they jump into a waiting car and make their escape.

Why would the men have targeted Polaski and what would they have wanted? There's nothing in his luggage that would suggest a reason for his murder. With his dying breath, the man leaves Bragg with a cryptic message but he expires before Bragg can figure out what in the hell the guy was trying to say.

Bragg's client, Harry Shank, is equally cryptic. He and the departed Mr. Polaski were working some sort of a deal and Harry won't trust Bragg with the details. But Polaski was supposed to be bringing something very important for the consummation of their deal and it wasn't in his luggage. Harry wants Bragg to stay on the job, decipher the message that Polaski was trying to give him, and recover the missing items.

Bragg agrees and sets off on an investigation that very vaguely suggests overtones of The Maltese Falcon. It turns out that there are a lot of other players in this drama, including someone's very sexy wife who has designs on Bragg, and a younger, more innocent, woman who has something of the same idea. Naturally, Bragg can't trust any of these people and the story takes any number of unexpected twists and turns.

The result is another very enjoyable tale from an author who has since died but who nonetheless deserves a wider audience. Peter Bragg is a great protagonist: tough, smart and witty, and this is a book that will appeal to large numbers of crime fiction fans.

Hellishly Good

Paradise LostParadise Lost by John Milton
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Who but a blind man could so vividly write of the darkness of Hell?

Paradise Lost is fire and passion. It is the pinnacle and the bottomless pit. It is the struggle for all that is good. It is the struggle within the evil of all evils.

In the mid-1600s John Milton, aging and gone blind, dictated his most famous work, Paradise Lost, an epic poem that harkens back to Homer and Virgil. It not only tells the so very well-known story of Adam and Eve, it also describes the downfall of Satan in dramatic fashion. The empathy shown for this most famous of fallen angels is, for me, one of the most outstanding sections of this early work of English literature.

Epic is a laughably overused word these days. However, the depiction of Mammon and Beelzebub marshaling their demonic minions for the coming war is the stuff of ancient epics.


Tolkien and Lewis most definitely borrowed heavily from these passages of Milton's when penning their own epics.

The language has aged. Some of this is archaic and occasionally difficult to understand. But stick with it and you shall be rewarded.

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666 Silliness

The Satanic BibleThe Satanic Bible by Anton Szandor LaVey
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Why did I buy The Satanic Bible way back when I was a teenager? Well, it's like this...

Rock music has always been seen by some as a source of evil and there's a history of musicians who supposedly sold their souls to the devil.


There were rock & roll "gods" like my hero Jimmy Page, who it is rumored followed occultist Aleister Crowley. As a guitar playing teen I idolized them and wanted to be them to the point of buying a book like this. I wondered, was there magic within? Would the devil make me a rock god, too? Or just getting me laid would be cool...

I expected sex, blood, magic, horror, demons, and more sex and way more magic.


Then I read it and what I got was more like...

(Just to the left of the clock I believe is George Bush #2 and that's pretty satanic in and of itself.)

Honestly, this book is just not as exciting as I'd hoped. I'm sure it would scandalize a churchy type, but it didn't do much for me.

It didn't start well. Right up front you learn that Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan, was a carny. A carny who gets his panties in a bunch because he sees men being pious hypocrites, so he shaves himself bald and starts a cult, no sir, that is not a good start to a new religion.

There's a foreword by a journalist, who describes meeting and getting to know LaVey. I thought this was a nice touch. It showed a more human side to the story. I'm one of those people that believe journalists should be unbiased, people who you can rely on to give you the facts, just the facts. But then you learn this particular journalist became a high priest in the Church of Satan, and well, that kind of crushed his unbiased credibility.

Moving on to LaVey's theories and ideas, we see some ridiculousness and some common sense. On the one hand, I very much doubt LaVey would want to live in the world of chaos that his vision would create. "Do whatever you want" sounds fun, and certainly some people do need to lighten up, but when you live in a world of chaos (I spent sometime living in a house run by anarchist punks, so I got a taste of what that'd be like) you learn the value of a few basic societal rules. LaVey's militant eye-for-an-eye-and-then-some (Meaning he believes you strike down those who offend you with even greater force) outlook coupled with a world of chaos would've put LaVey himself in harm's way very quickly.

The first half of the book expounds upon his theories. This section is much more relaxed than I expected. He speaks off the cuff, using slang and humor. It's an interesting approach to the writing of a religious text. Definitely a relief from the stuffy Holy Bible. By the way, any Satanists reading this can relax. Yes, I'm bagging on your boy a bit here, but I also think Christians are ridiculous, too. I'm one of those people who has faith in themselves, that they will do the right thing. So far I'm doing all right. Haven't murdered any one yet!

Later The Satanic Bible gets into the whole "spell casting" thing, the reason I bought the damned book in the first place. Much is made of sex, blood essence, speaking accursed names aloud and none of it was as cool as I'd hoped. I did like that LaVey calls out the people who sacrifice animals as cowards for not having the balls to draw their own blood for these rituals.

The last half of the book is a very short, quick read. There's barely more than a dozen lines on some of the last hundred or so pages. Sometimes it's just a title page or one simple sentence and blank space on the back side. This was done for aesthetics and it's a big waste of paper. The book would be a lot smaller otherwise.

All in all, I think Christians get their panties in a bunch over nothing much here. And as LaVey says, they need Satan. It's the Yin and Yang. God, Jesus and the other goodie goodies have to have a counter point. The good guys need the bad guys.

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