Monday, July 21, 2014

Review: AN APRIL SHROUD by Reginald Hill

An April Shroud (Dalziel & Pascoe, #4)An April Shroud by Reginald Hill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Andy Dalziel, the older, louder, fatter, and cruder member of one of crime fiction's oddest couples, is pretty much on his own for most of this fourth installment in the series, and that's not a bad thing. With his more cerebral and often annoying younger partner off on his honeymoon with his equally annoying spouse, Dalziel finds himself on holiday and at loose ends. When he stumbles across a curiously aquatic funeral procession, Dalziel quickly finds himself drying himself and his rain-soaked belongings in an English country house with an assemblage of incessantly bickering oddballs who seem strangely unaffected by the recent death of one of their own.

Like the other books in the series that I've read up to now, the plot is a little slow and plodding, and it doesn't pack much of an emotional charge. Also, the book was originally published in 1975 and a couple of the characters are seriously dated.

What makes the book (and the series) entertaining is the character of Dalziel himself: acerbic, outspoken, cynical, boorish, drunk a fair amount of the time, and generally not giving a rat's hindquarters about what anyone thinks of him. It's worth a read just to chuckle over his observations on the cast of characters around him and on life in general. I want to party with this guy sometime.

Recommended.


View all my reviews

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Review: N0S4A2, by Joe Hill

NOS4A2NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A great horror novel needs a great villain, and Charlie Manx is one of the greatest: creepy, nearly invincible, with a seductive reasonableness in his alleged motive for doing the horrible things he does. It's all for the sake of the children. Right? RIGHT?

Brrr...

Everybody knows by now that Joe Hill is the son of mega-best-selling horror novelist Stephen King. It's true that Hill uses some of the techniques his old man made famous, most notably the use of cultural icons to tether the fantastic and bizarre plot to the real world (let me just say, you may never hear Christmas music the same way again, and if you hated it before, you'll be terrified by it after this).

All that said, Joe Hill has his own strong, tough, idiosyncratic voice and a real feel for character that makes you ache for the damaged people pitted against the powerful Manx. There were several times in this book when I heard myself whispering, "Oh, no, no, no..." But in a good way.

Pity, fear, and eventual katharsis. You can't ask for more.

Highly recommended.




View all my reviews

Review: JERICHO'S RAZOR, by Casey Doran

Jericho's RazorJericho's Razor by Casey Doran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Okay, full disclosure time. Casey Doran and I both have the same publisher, Polis Books. But I've never met the man, and in any case, whoever the publisher may be, I don't review books I don't actually like, because I don't finish books I don't like. And I liked this book. A lot.

The idea of an author who's horrified to find out that a killer is using idea from his novels has been done before (IIRC, it's the original premise of the show "Castle"). But Casey Doran puts a new twist on it: Jericho Sands is not only a best selling crime novelist, he's the son of a pair of notorious serial killers who admits that, to some extent, he trades on that notoriety to sell books. But apparently that's attracted a vicious killer whose first victim is decapitated with a chainsaw in Jericho's garage.

That's how the book starts, and the pace never lets up after that. There are a couple of moments where the thread my disbelief is suspended from got a little frayed (there's one point early on, for example, at which Jericho would have certainly been locked up and is inexplicably allowed to go free). But the book moves so fast, and Jericho's narrative voice is so compelling, that I couldn't help but keep reading. This is a great debut and I look forward to the next book in the series. Recommended.


View all my reviews

Look, How Wrong Can You Be?

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

The office was cramped and cluttered, with dusty posters of old TV personalities on the wall: Edward R. Murrow, Howard K. Smith, Walter Cronkite. The single window behind the desk was half open, letting in the noise from the street below.
“So, you wanna be on the network news talk shows,” the man behind the desk said.
He was a big man with a florid, jowly face and a cigar stuck in one corner of his mouth. He had his suit coat off, and his short sleeves were rolled up. The name plate on his desk read, “Mort Nuttman, Talent Agent.”
“Yes, sir,” I said. “See, I’ve been writing this political column for years, and I think I know a lot about the subject. I was wondering if maybe I could be one of those high-paid TV pundits.”
Nuttman grunted. He opened the folder of columns I’d brought and scanned through them. After a moment, he set it down. He looked at me, up and down, for a long moment, without speaking. “The question is,” Nuttman said finally, “how wrong can you be?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Look,” he said, “You wanna make the big money as a guest pundit on the big shows — “This Week,” “Fox and Friends,” “Situation Room” — you gotta show that you can be completely wrong. Not just once, but over and over. Look at the heavy hitters — Bill Kristol, Dick Morris, The Cheneys, Palin, even John McCain. You know what they have in common?”
“They were all wrong?”
“You bet they were!”
“I don’t know if I can be like those guys,” I said. “I’m kind of center-left.”
He rolled his eyes. “Dear Lord,” he moaned. “Not a liberal.”

“That’s a problem?”

He shook his head. “Liberals are hard to work with, pal. They show up with facts, and figures, and” he made air quotes with his fingers and put a sneer in his voice, “reee-search.”
“Facts are bad?” I said.
“Facts make people change the channel,” he said. “I don’t need another Alan Colmes on my client roster.”
“Who?”
“Exactly. Now, if you were an actual liberal, you’d be dead in the water.”
“What about Rachel Maddow?”
He waved a hand dismissively “One show. One network. Plus, she’s a looker. The big money’s in being able to do a lot of shows, and it’s easier to do that if you’re a far-right wacko. More entertaining. We can work around the ‘center-left’ thing, like we did with James Carville and Bill Maher. But you’ve got to be willing to do what it takes to grab people. Now, yell!”
“What?”
“C’mon, yell! See if you can drown me out.”
I was confused. “Yell what?”
He handed me a piece of paper. “This script’ll do.” He began talking in a calm, measured voice. “One thing that makes the current border crisis more complicated is the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which was signed by President George W. Bush…”
I looked down at the paper and began to read at the top of my lungs. “WHEN IS OBAMA GOING TO STOP BLAMING BUSH FOR EVERYTHING?!” I hollered, doing my best to shout Nuttman down. “A COUNTRY THAT CAN’T PROTECT ITS BORDERS IS NO COUNTRY AT ALL! AAAAAAH!”
I stopped and looked up. He was nodding.
“OK,” he said, “good projection, just the right edge of barely controlled rage. We might have something here. But you still need to have been wrong a lot.” He sat back down. “So,” he said. “Were you in favor of the Iraq War? Do you still think it was a good idea?”
“Oh, God, no,” I said. “It was a debacle that should never have happened.”
Nuttman grimaced. “How about Romney? Were you predicting he’d score a landslide win over Obama as late as Nov. 6, 2012?”
“What are you, nuts?”
He pressed on. “Did you predict that Obamacare enrollment numbers weren’t going to reach predicted levels?”
“Nope.”
He sighed. “Sorry, pal. You just don’t have what it takes.”
“Let me get this straight,” I said. “The people who have been consistently wrong about everything get to pull down fat salaries on TV? That doesn’t make any sense.”
“What do you think this is, kid? News? This is infotainment. No one likes people who are right. Audiences like people who agree with them. Loudly.”
“Even if they’re wrong?”
“Especially if they’re wrong. People who know they’re wrong want someone to tell them they’re right, so they never have to admit it.”
I shook my head. “I hate to say it,” I said, “but you’re right.”
“Don’t let it get around,” he said.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Hot New Fad For the Right Wing Asshole On The Go

This is, I guess what you'd call the "Director's Cut" of this week's column,  since I can't say "asshole" in the paper. Even though it's exactly the right word).

Imagine, if you will: You’re driving along the road, minding your own business, when you pull up behind one of those great big pickups that would be very useful hauling feed and seed or towing a horse trailer, but which is way too clean and unscratched to have ever seen an actual farm.
As you prepare to pass this wheeled behemoth, your car is suddenly enveloped in a cloud of choking black smoke that causes you to weave dangerously. As you fight your way clear of the blinding cloud, you see the truck pulling off and faintly hear the derisive laughter of its occupants.
Congratulations. You’ve just encountered some Good Americans who are patriotically protesting against Obama’s fascist nanny state by engaging in a practice they call “Rolling Coal.”
Are you the kind of “conservative” who thinks that the first question that needs to be answered when analyzing a political position is, “Will this annoy liberals?”
Are you the type of person who, if the First Lady comes out in favor of something like, say, healthy meals and exercise, immediately starts howling that your rights are being violated worse than those of Jews in the Holocaust and declare your intention to stuff as much junk as possible into your face because that’ll show them, by golly?
Are you the type of person who’s decided to shop every week at Hobby Lobby, even though you’ve never shopped there before and you don’t actually have any hobbies, but you want to show those danged feminazis that you’re not taking any of their guff?
In short, are you a typical right wing asshole?
Well, you could always run for a Republican congressional seat. But if that seems like too much trouble and/or expense, then maybe Rolling Coal is for you.
Get yourself a big ol’ truck, go to an Internet site like Dieselhub.com or one of those magazines aimed at truck aficionados, and order you some “smoke switches,” “aggressive tuners and modules,” and “special injectors” which will, and I quote, “trick your engine into thinking it needs more fuel.”
This will allow you to blow out a huge cloud of black smoke on command when you encounter, say, a Prius or other hybrid. (You can even get a sticker along with your gear that says “Prius Repellent.”)
But don’t stop there. You can also use your new gizmos to smoke people with liberal bumper stickers. Or bicyclists. Be sure to use your smartphone to record your hilarious encounters with those enemies of all that is free and good about America.
Then you can join the Coal Rollers on YouTube, where your fellow freedom fighters have posted videos of their blows against The Man, a category which includes the aforementioned Prius drivers, liberal bumper sticker displayers, and cyclists, as well as cops and pretty girls walking by the side of the road (because nothing gets a woman hotter than having acrid toxic gases blown in her face by a truck the size of small aircraft carrier).
Of course, you knew that once a few brave souls began spewing The Black Cloud of Liberty in everyone’s face, Obama’s Islamocommiefascist Iron Fist of Doom was going to come down to crush it the way the Chinese crushed the flowers of freedom in Tiananmen Square.
The jackbooted thugs of the EPA have issued one of their fatwas, saying, “It is a violation of the Clean Air Act to manufacture, sell, or install a part for a motor vehicle that bypasses, defeats, or renders inoperative any emission control device.”
Translated into American, that means that after-market devices intended to increase fuel consumption and belch clouds of pollution into people’s faces are regarded as illegal by Obama’s EPA. This is how freedom dies, my friends.
If there’s one silver lining for the right, it’s that the Republicans in the House finally may have found the grounds for bringing the Articles of Impeachment they’ve been feverishly fantasizing about for so long. I mean, to heck with requiring some sort of “high crime or misdemeanor” as grounds to impeach. You just do NOT mess with a man’s truck.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Is Hillary Clinton a Replicant? Some Say Yes, Some Say No...

You know, if I was to tell you in these pages that a Republican politician was contesting his loss in a primary election on the grounds that his victorious opponent was, in fact, dead and being impersonated by a synthetic body double, you’d probably roll your eyes and go “he’s gone too far this time. That doesn’t even work as satire.” 

Well, maybe it doesn’t, but it’s actually true. In Oklahoma’s 3d District, Timothy Ray Murray, whose website [now taken down] describes him as a “human, born in Oklahoma,” got himself roundly shellacked in the primary by the incumbent, Rep Frank Lucas, with Murray taking a mere 5.2% of the vote to Lucas’ 82.8%. You’d think this would be a knockout blow to Murray’s campaign “to help bring House leadership back to traditional values.” But wait, Murray says, not so fast. “It is widely known,” Murray asserts in a press release addressed to “News Person”, that “Rep. Frank D. Lucas is no longer alive and has been displayed [sic] by a look alike.” Poor Frank met his end, it seems, on a “white stage” in Southern Ukraine, where he and “a few other Oklahoma and other States’ Congressional Members” were executed by hanging at the hands of (of course) The World Court. This rendered Lucas ineligible to serve on account of being, as noted above, dead.  

This is not the sort of thing a “traditional values” guy like Murray is going to take lying down. “I will NEVER,” he promises, “use Artificial Intelligence look alike [sic] to voice what The Representative’s Office is not doing nor own a robot look alike.” Well, I know I’m reassured. 

In truth, Timothy Ray Murray may have done a huge favor for the Raving Nutter Wing of the Republican Party (aka “the base”). Now that birtherism has been thoroughly discredited except in the heads of a few sad dead-enders and the grifters who prey on them, maybe the GOP can embrace “make the Democratic candidate prove she’s not a replicant” as their pet lunacy for the next couple of years. 

It can start, as such madness often does, on the Internet. A few well-placed posts on a few fringe cites claiming that, say, Hillary Clinton’s “fall in the shower” in December 2012 was actually fatal and that she’s been replaced by a vat-grown flesh-droid with the personalities of Saul Alinsky, Huey P. Newton, and Bill Ayers (preserved on floppy disk by Steve Jobs in 1995) downloaded into its blank consciousness. Gradually, the idea will percolate upwards to the slightly less nutty environs of the right-wing blogosphere, like National Review Online, where someone will observe “of course, Hillary Clinton could just dispel the rumors by providing a DNA sample.” 

After that, it’ll snowball. Fox News will soon be running show after show, with the usual endless parade of outrage-mongers looking into the camera with brows furrowed and demanding “Where’s the DNA?” 



Finally, Clinton will make the mistake of knuckling under and actually providing a sample. Then the blood, so to speak, will really be in the water. Overnight a few dozen self-appointed DNA experts will flood the Internet, insisting that the test is a fake, because, I don’t know, the streaks on the test card are the wrong shade of gray on their computer monitors or something. Nothing will do to prove Clinton’s humanity, the GOP will say, but full genome sequencing. “I’m not saying that Mrs. Clinton is really a replicant,” they’ll say piously, “but I’d like to see the sequencing of all of her chromosomal DNA as well as DNA contained in the mitochondria.” It won’t matter that that’s something that none of them will have never heard of before the brouhaha. Angry Tea Partiers (as if there are any other kind) will show up at Town Hall meetings with an American flag in one hand and a bag of disreputable looking goo in the other, raging at insufficiently crazy public officials:  "I have a DNA sample here that says I’m human! Why are you people ignoring the chromosomal DNA!?” before they drown out the response by singing “God Bless America.” Finally, Clinton will grit her teeth and undergo the procedure—the results of which will also be denounced as fake by “DNA experts” who failed high school chemistry. And the beat will go on…

Too crazy, you say? Could never happen, you say? I would have said that about birtherism, until it described pretty much the same arc I’ve laid out above. If there’s one thing researching this column has taught me, it’s that there is literally no theory too outlandish for wingnuts and their captive media to promote from fringe to mainstream and no evidence that they’ll accept to refute it. It could happen here…

Dusty Rhoades lives, writes, and practices law in Carthage.