Thursday, January 31, 2019

Review: The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy: The Shocking Inside Story

The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy: The Shocking Inside Story The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy: The Shocking Inside Story by Ann Rule
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like half the planet, my wife and I watched the Ted Bundy series on Netflix. For some reason, I decided I wanted more so I picked this up. Even though I scared the shit out of myself as a kid watching 20/20, Unsolved Mystery, and Dateline, true crime books aren't normally my thing. This one was an easy, compelling read.

I find it fascinating that Ann Rule knew Ted Bundy and was writing a book about the Washington killings at the same time. Anyway, this book serves up a lot more information than the Netflix documentary series. It works a lot of gruesome details into the mix as well as eyewitness statements and elaborates on a lot of the points the documentary glosses over. It also mentions things that the documentary completely ignored, like some attacks Bundy perpetrated before the killing spree ever started, or the Idaho murders he confessed to.

The documentary is slanted a bit to make Ted Bundy look highly intelligent. In the book, it's pretty apparent that while he was smart, luck and the negligence of people around him were big factors to his getting away with things for so long. You know, maybe keep your eye on the accused murderer who has already escaped once? Or keep an eye on the hacksaws in your jail?

Ann Rule's perceptions of Ted Bundy effectively highlight his chameleon like abilities to snowball people and blend in anywhere. The details of the murders show what a cold blooded bastard he was. He's not a folk hero or a heart throb, people! Ted Bundy's trial is a damn circus. Yeah, we all know the mother fucker was guilty but it was a damn circus. It was like letting Charlie defend himself on an episode of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia.

While I won't say I actually enjoyed it, The Stranger Beside Me was a gripping true crime book.
Four out of five stars.

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Sunday, January 27, 2019

Review: The Topless Tulip Caper

The Topless Tulip Caper The Topless Tulip Caper by Lawrence Block
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a stripper hires Leo Haig to find out who killed her fish, Chip Harrison finds himself at a strip club when another of the dancers is killed. Are the killings linked? Can Leo Haig find out who is behind them before Chip Harrison winds up in the soup?

The Topless Tulip Caper is from Lawrence Block's earlier, hornier period. I learned about it from his books about writing years ago and it has been under the back seat of my car for at least a couple years. Fortunately, I needed a book in a hurry and I was able to rescue it and read the first half in the waiting room while my wife was at her eye doctor appointment.

Leon Haig and Chip Harrison are Lawrence Block's homage to Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, only Haig is into fish instead of orchids and Chip is a walking hard-on who sells their adventures to Gold Medal.

Chip is Leo's leg man and in this adventure, makes numerous visits to a strip club. Tulip Willing's fish die and her roommate and fellow dancer, Cherry Bounce, meets the reaper as well. Chip employs the classic GOYAKOD method: Get Off Your Ass and Knock On Doors. There's some humor, some smut, and lots of entertainment.

Even in the bygone age of 1975, Lawrence Block was a master of misdirection, more than capable of pulling the wool over my eyes 40+ years later. My wife and I were sitting in the living room and I said "I have no idea who killed this stripper's fish." I thought I had an inkling but had my theory shot down when that person didn't get invited to Leo Haig's big reveal party.

While it is by no means my favorite Lawrence Block book, The Topless Tulip Caper certainly made passing the time in the doctor's office go by faster and the rest was a great way to kill a couple hours on a gloomy Sunday afternoon. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Friday, January 25, 2019

Review: The Prey of Gods

The Prey of Gods The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a near future South Africa, an ancient goddess launches a plan to regain her lost glory by any means necessary...

The Prey of Gods isn't one of those books that is easy to sum up. My little teaser is the bare bones but it's a lot more than that. Told in five more or less parallel threads, it is a story about identity at the heart. Sure, it has awesome things like free-willed robots, goddesses, and a cross-dressing senator with some golden pipes, but it's about identity at its core.

This book gripped me from the first page. It's future South African setting leaped to life. I had no trouble believing in the characters or the world. Muzi struggles with his impending manhood ritual and his feeling for his best friend, Elkin. Nomvula struggles with her mother, a nearly catatonic woman who rarely speaks. Wallace Stoker struggles with his future in the government and his other identity, a golden-voiced diva named Felicity Lyons. And Riya Natrajan, pop idol, struggles with her secret past and secret illness. Oh, and there's the murderous goddess, awakened AI robots, a drug called godsend, and all those pesky dik-diks running amock. You know, run of the mill stuff like that...

The Prey of the Gods is one of those loaded books, like a baked potato with every imaginable topping in existence thrown on it - great concepts, interesting characters, and stellar writing. The pace is great and the twists kept me rapt. It was the best sf/fantasy novel I've read in a long time. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Friday, January 18, 2019

Review: Black Mountain

Black Mountain Black Mountain by Laird Barron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When two mutilated bodies of local criminals are found, signs point to a hired killer called The Croatoan. But the Croatoan has been dead for years, right? That's what Isaiah Coleridge wants to find out...

Laird Barron jumped nearly to the top of my favorite authors list in 2017. When this popped up on Netgalley, I had to read it.

Black Mountain continues the story of Isaiah Coleridge, part Maori former hitman trying to leave the killing behind. As Coleridge plays sleuth, his violent nature stares him in the face again and again. In this volume, Coleridge tries to find the perpetrator of two murders and winds up with much more on his hands.

Laird Barron's writing is as great as ever, part Chandler, part Thompson, part Ellroy, and even some Roger Zelazny in the mix, equally adept at poetic descriptions and stark violence. I had no idea who the killer was for most of the book. I was too busy trying to piece things together along with Isaiah and Lionel.

For part of the book, I thought Isaiah was a little too capable and the book meandered a bit. Then the rug got yanked out from under me and I wolfed down what was left in one long ass-numbing sitting. The Croatoan wound up being far more interesting than your run of the mill serial killers. The book flirted with cosmic horror a bit at times. Maybe the Children of Old Leech will be mentioned in the next one?

While I love his brand of horror, sometimes you just want to see bad guys get got. Laird Barron delivers the goods here. Four out of five stars.

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

A Time to Scatter Stones

A Time to Scatter Stones: A Matthew Scudder NovellaA Time to Scatter Stones: A Matthew Scudder Novella by Lawrence Block
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When a friend of his wife's comes to them with a problem involving an abusive man, Matt Scudder is on the case. But how can an old man stop a man he's never seen and whose name he doesn't know?

I've been a Lawrence Block fan since I read Grifter's Game and the Matthew Scudder series is one of my favorite series of any genre so when Mr. Block hit me up, this book shot to the top of my stack. When your favorite living crime author hands you a book, you read the damn thing!

One of the best features of the Matthew Scudder series is that Matt ages in real time. In this book, he's been sober 35 years and living comfortably with Elaine, who has joined a support group for former prostitutes. One of her friends needs help quitting the game but one of her old clients won't take No for an answer...

I'm happy to say Lawrence Block (and Matthew Scudder, for that matter) hasn't missed a beat since his last outing. This novella saw me through an oil change and tire rotation and I was actually disappointed that I had to drive home to finish it. Scudder fans of old will approve of how Matt gets things done. It was like running into some old friends and immediately picking up where you left off.

A Time to Scatter Stones was a great chance to catch up with one of my favorite characters and favorite authors. Four out of five stars.

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Review: Self Help: Life Lessons from the Bizarre Wrestling Career of Al Snow

Self Help: Life Lessons from the Bizarre Wrestling Career of Al Snow Self Help: Life Lessons from the Bizarre Wrestling Career of Al Snow by Al Snow
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Self Help: Life Lessons from the Bizarre Wrestling Career of Al Snow is the biography of wrestler Al Snow.

I've been an Al Snow fan for a long time. After learning about him through the various Apter mags, I was thrilled to see him come to the WWF, even though he floundered with the Avatar and Leif Cassidy gimmicks. When he made his resurgence with the Head gimmick, I was all in. In my mind, he could have easily worn one of the top belts in his prime. Anyway, I saw this book on Netgalley and had to give it a shot.

As I've mentioned many times before, the litmus test of any wrestling book is how quickly it gets to the wrestling related stuff. Al was already looking for a place to train by the 2% mark so I knew this one would be gold.

Al was consumed with the desire to become a wrestler at the ripe old age of 14 and couldn't see any other way to go. In an age where there's a wrestling school within 100 miles of most major cities, Al's struggle to break in was fascinating. The shit-kicking he took from Ole and Gene Anderson was touched upon in a few interviews I've watched but Al goes into more detail here. Al's one of the last guys to come up during the territory days so he delivers a lot of insight here.

Once he was finally trained, there's about a decade of paying his dues, driving hundreds of miles to wrestle in front of small crowds for no money, opening his own wrestling school and fighting in tough man contests for extra money. Once he was given bigger opportunities, well... Al's pretty candid about the things he did wrong in his earlier days in Smokey Mountain Wrestling, ECW, and the WWF, acknowledging things he should have done differently without a lot of bitterness. Post-WWE, Al talks about indepentdent gigs, both with or without midget wrestlers, and working backstage at TNA/Impact, an even bigger headache than I was picturing.

Al's a funny guy and his humor does a lot to underscore some of his points. I've watched more than my share of wrestling documentaries and interviews but quite a bit of the material in here was new to me. The extent of Al's injuries were news to me, as was his time in Japan. The TNA stuff was kind of heart breaking but it seems like Al was served quite a few figurative shit sandwiches backstage at ECW, WWE, and TNA. Possibly a few literal ones but that wasn't mentioned.

About the only gripe I can think of with the book is that I wanted more on certain topics., like working in Mexico or Japan. Honestly, though, it's a top tier wrestling book no matter how you slice it.

Funny, informative, and sometimes brutally honest, Self Help is a gripping account of the 35 year career of Al Snow. 4.5 out of 5 Styrofoam heads.

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Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Review: Fog Warning

Fog Warning Fog Warning by Edward Lorn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After running over a girl years earlier, Brent Cummings is a pill-addicted doctor in a small town hospital. After seeing a dead body in a park on his walk home, Brent calls the cops, only to wind up in jail on drug charges when the cops show up and the girl is gone. Did Brent actually see a corpse or was it the drugs? And if he did see a corpse, what happened to it?

My wife bought me a few books for Christmas and this was one of them since I have some gaps in my Edward Lorn back catalog. It filled me with holiday cheer as I scarfed it down on New Year's Day.

I know Ed had a problem with pills at some point and I suspect some of what happened in here stems from that. Brent Cummings is on the run from his past, coasting from day to day in an Oxy fog, when he finds a body in the park and winds up in the clink. A friend bails him out of jail and soon the fun really begins...

Fog Warning is a novella but I think it's the perfect length for this tale. There's never really a lull, never an opportune time for the reader to set it down and go take a leak. Once I tipped to what was going on, it was a race to get to the end.

It reminded me of an episode of Tales from the Darkside (my mom got me the complete series on DVD for Christmas) or Tales from the Crypt (still waiting on someone to buy me the complete series on DVD). Lorn could have taken the predictable route but chose to drive across a few lawns instead on the way to the conclusion.

Fog Warning is a fun horror novella from a fun author. Four out of five Oxycontins.

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