Monday, September 4, 2017

Last Days

Last DaysLast Days by Brian Evenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Former undercover cop Kline is at rock bottom, depressed and missing a hand, when a religious sect forcibly drafts him into service, ferreting out the killer of their leader. But is the leader really dead? And what sacrifices will Kline have to make to finally learn the truth?

This was one powerful little book. I devoured it in one sitting while waiting for car repairs, wondering how the rest of the patrons weren't shaken up by the events within.

It starts simply enough. Kline is at rock bottom when the phone calls start and eventually will look upon rock bottom with great fondness as he bores through the earths crust into greater depths of blood, fanaticism, and severed body parts.

When the tale begins, Kline is minus a hand courtesy of a gentleman with a meat cleaver on his last undercover job. The calls start and a certain religious sect who equate amputations with salvation make him an offer he can't refuse.

Kline skate the edge of sanity throughout most of the tale and goes through a large succession of meat grinders. The book has a creepy paranoid feel throughout. The simple put powerful style reminds me of Richard Stark in some ways, clipped and brutal.

As Kline descends into a haze of carnage and chaos, you have to wonder that even if he does survive, would he be better off dead? The Brotherhood of Mutilation makes for a great foil, probably because the idea isn't that far-fetched.

In The Last Days, Brian Evenson uses the tried and true hard-boiled PI template to tell one hell of a horror story. Four out of five stars.

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Much less rapey than Casino Royale!

Live and Let Die (James Bond, #2)Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It might have been For Your Eyes Only...


...or more likely Octopussy...


...but I want to say Live and Let Die...


...may have been the first James Bond movie I ever saw. Regardless, it stands as one of my first recollections of the thrilling spy and his over-the-top escapades.

I LOVED these movies as a kid. As an adult my fervor wore away, but remnants of that love never left me and eventually I became intrigued enough to check out the novels out of a curiosity to see how true the movies were to the books. Also, it just so happened that as a kid I spent some time down in Florida, where part of this novel takes place, thus upping the intrigue slightly.

In this, the second installment in the series, British spy James Bond is sent to America. After taking a beating from operatives of SMERSH, a Soviet counterintelligence agency of Fleming's making, Bond is set on a bit of revenge. Does that make him, a white Brit, the ideal spy to infiltrate the black organized crime scene? Perhaps not, but woohoo, let's go along for the ride anyhow!

There's plenty of action in Live and Let Die, but there's also a little social commentary and local color. Fleming did some research on this and that and he wants to show you what he learned. That's how this book reads at times. I like detail and setting a scene, just don't go Moby Dick on me. This is far too short to come near that, but it edges towards it at times.

The movie differs from the book in a few ways. It's been a while, but if I recall correctly the focus is on drugs over pirate treasure, and it's set at times in New Orleans, not Florida. The blaxploitation is still there though!

Ah, racism. It's hard to talk about this book without mentioning it. The constant use of the word negro alone is cringe-worthy. There are very few portrayals of positive, black community role models. Many are depicted as still being under the spell of Caribbean voodoo.


However, this is a spy thriller, not a political commentary. The "bad guy" and his henchmen are black, so they're going to be portrayed negatively. It seems some have mistaken the racial overtones within this book to be blatant racism. For instance, the chapter title "Nigger Heaven" is a reference to a pro-black and pro-Harlem renaissance novel of the same name. If you didn't know that, you would indeed form a low opinion of Fleming...unless you're a white supremacist. But I don't see hatred here by Fleming. Some of his characters may reflect prejudiced attitudes, but others do not. M, the pinnacle of intelligence herein, sees blacks as coming into their own and rediscovering their own attributes after throwing off the yoke of oppression. Anyhow, that's enough of that. I'm a middle aged white guy and so I'm apparently predisposed to turn a blind eye to racism against minorities. However, that's not me. I stand for equality right down the line. Anyway, back to the book...

When comparing the movies to the books, it's tough on the books (at least what I've read so far). The movies are designed to squeeze every bit of excitement they can out of the story. Here, the books are a little more leisurely when it comes to the action. Perhaps Fleming was remembering his own experiences working for and with intelligence agencies during the war. It was no doubt not half as exciting as it's portrayed in the movies.

In summary, this is not essential reading unless you're a diehard for spy books. If anything approaching un-sanitized racial discussion triggers you, I'd steer clear too. But hey, those who prefer their hero not rape anyone, take heart! Live and Let Die is much less rapey than Casino Royale!

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Sir Harry Hotspur Of Humblethwaite

Sir Harry Hotspur Of HumblethwaiteSir Harry Hotspur Of Humblethwaite by Anthony Trollope
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you've read every Austen book and finished off Gaskell as well, if you've watched up all of Downton Abbey and polished off Upstairs, Downstairs too, and yet you still want more uptight British aristocracy drama from the Victorian/Edwardian era, Sir Harry Hotspur Of Humblethwaite by Anthony Trollope is just what you're looking for!

This book is all about the social mores of the times, mid 19th century rural England. Watching these characters act and live by these intricate and sometimes convoluted rules of behavior can be frustrating for the modern reader. In this respect, Trollope excels himself, exceeding all expectation for a trying read indeed!

If you've read Sense and Sensibility, the plot of Sir Harry Hotspur Of Humblethwaite will feel very similar to that of the Marianne Dashwood storyline. The good girl wants the bad boy and there's nothing that can be said by her rational, thoughtful friends to dissuade her, because they are rational and thoughtful, thus too cold to understand true love. Kids will be kids, as the saying goes. You can lead a girl to Colonel Brandon, but she'll drink up Willoughby until she bursts!

None of the above truly mars this novel. What makes this a less-than-stellar read is the author's fourth wall breaking and use of exposition in place of storytelling: Dear reader, let me tell you about the feelings of these characters rather than showing you. Again, different eras, differing tastes. I'm not saying Trollope couldn't do it, but he didn't...for the most part. Don't get me wrong, there are some quality dramatic scenes that play out in a satisfying way, which save the book from being an utter drudge read.

However, this was not a pleasure. It was mostly mechanical and dull in many places, while the ending is rushed and melodramatic. I could still recommend this to those who REALLY go in for the Austen/Downton kind of thing, but only them.

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