Sunday, February 27, 2011

In My Dark Dream by J.F. Freedman

 Dark Dream FreedmanI had read JF Freedman before and remembered I had really loved his style. Fallen Idols was an especially good mystery and tautly put together. Another I really enjoyed was 2001’s Above The Law, a legal thriller and sequel to 1999’s, The Disappearance featuring contrary former D.A. Luke Garrison. Garrison lives in the woods, kind of hiding out from a past failure in a previous life where he sent men to the gas chamber on a regular basis. He rides a Harley, wears an ear ring and has obviously left the button down,rising star of the D.A.s office persona behind. With Freedman’s gripping prose style and Garrison an engaging and fun hero, I was looking forward to many stories in a new series. But, his next book, 2002’s Above The LAW fREEDMANBird Eye View was a stand alone. It was very good and a little more light-hearted than the two Luke Garrison novels but then I heard nothing from Freedman for two years until Fallen idols. I think that’s why I lost track of him, he seems to go two years and more between novels.

But, I was very glad I remembered him enough to pick up In My Dark Dreams. From the opening chapter he grabs you and sets such a dark, eerie mood that you are already guessing, examining and analyzing the psyche of the characters to guess who done it, and you don’t even know what’s been done yet. What’s almost as impressive is the novel is written in the first person and that person is a female. Not many male authors can pull off the female voice for an entire novel convincingly.But J.F. Freedman does.

Public Defender Jessica Thompson is a lady with a past, but not the usual past. Jessica is the daughter of an alcoholic mother who accidentally shoots her when she is like 14 or 15 and is sneaking back into the house one night. Jessica never goes home after recovering, finishing high school-at a different school-and living with an old friend of her mothers. She never sees her mother again, and though she is very young, she doesn’t really form a bond with her surrogate mother. On graduation, she moves out, gets a little flop house apartment with a string of hippy type nihilistic kids and works odd jobs. Waitressing,  cashier, and finally nude model for an art class. hey, the money is great and it IS art. This goes on until one day on her twentieth birthday, she drops into  Santa Monica City College on a whim. Eight years later, after drifting into it, she graduates law school and goes to work for the L.A. Public Defender. It’s now six years later, and Jessica is dating a classical musician and contemplating marriage and children and training to run her first marathon. She is out for a training run, around midnight, in the Brentwood area of L.A. when almost surreally she meets Lt. Luis Cordova who is on a stake out . There is a serial killer on the lose and he takes his victims during the full moon. He takes his third victim that night.

Jessica, being a rather junior member of the Public Defenders office picks up a client on what looks like an open and shut case and a pretty minor crime compared to serial killers and murder trials. Roberto Salazar. One night Roberto is helping a friend with a delivery of T.V.’s when the friends truck breaks down. Roberto meets the friend and transfers the load to his truck and goes to deliver them while the friend waits for a tow truck. Along the way Roberto pulls in to a mini mart to use the restroom and gets pulled over by a cop, probably because he is Chicano, no matter the accusation of a rolling stop and a flickering tail light. Any excuse will do when it is a Chicano in west L.A. at three a.m.. It turns out that the T.V.’s have been stolen from a warehouse in Long Beach and Roberto lands in jail. But Roberto is no gang banger vato. He is a pillar of hard, honest work in his poor side of town and well thought of by everyone. Never been arrested, He is happily married with children. He is a lay minister  in a store front church and a devoted youth counselor. He also owns a gardening/land scape business servicing the rich in west L.A. and he also owns an old box truck that he uses to make extra money as a mover or delivery man from time to time. But, he was caught with a load of stolen goods, and he is a minority in Los Angles.

One of Roberto’s customers is the very wealthy, Amada Burgess, Los Angles royalty. Amada comes forward, and uncharacteristically vouches for Roberto’s good name and with that confidence, Jessica wins an acquittal at trial. Mean while, The Full Moon killers is still out there, even though he missed a month along the way.

A few months go by when when early one morning Roberto is sitting in his truck, waiting to start work at 7 a.m sharp. He is reading the paper and drinking some McDonalds coffee when he is approached by Lt. Cordova. Roberto, now leery of any contact with the police, figures he is being harassed but lets the police search his truck. They find nothing because Roberto of course has done nothing, but just as they are about to let him go on his way, Cordova finds incriminating evidence under the floor mat of Roberto’s truck. the Full Moon Killer has taken another female vitim and it is only a couple of blocks from where Roberto was sitting in his truck. He is booked as The Full Moon Killer and the evidence is mighty powerful.

Can Jessica have been wrong? Could Amanda’s faith have been misplaced. You’ll find out when you are seduced by this mystery/legal thriller with twists and turns to satisfy the most jaded reader.

Freedman’s prose are tighter than a good alibi, and engrossing as you could want. The characters are well written and he seems to have the ability to get inside of the head of not only Layers and cops, women and Chicanos, but the wealthy with secrets of their own. He paints this tale on a back-drop of the prejudice that covers L.A. like the smog it’s famous for and the detail in the court room is not only realistic but well researched. I can only hope he starts turning out more than one book every two or three years, and I wouldn’t mind seeing Jessica again, or even Luke Garrison and his Harley.

The Dirt Lowdown

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Finder by Colin Harrison

 

The Finder by Colin Harrison was an enjoyable read. Harrison is a compelling story teller who drives a relentless pace with quirky, slightly over the top charaThe Findercters and just as slightly over the top scenes.

Like most of his thrillers, the novel is set in New York City which lends itself well to the “slightly over the top" parts. Harrison has been called “The Noir Poet” of New York, and though his work has a lot in common with the noir/hard-boiled genre I would define them more as an “Urban Thriller”; an age old genre I just now made up.

The two main characters of the story are Jin Li a beautiful, sexy Chinese girl who runs a boring company called CorpServe that provides cleaning services for a number of New York High-Rise corporations. They also provide “secure” paper shredding services. CorpServe is owned by Jin Li’s chauvinistic Chinese brother in China who behind the fa├žade of his boring businesses is stealing said paper from certain American Financial movers and shakers. He uses this “forgotten paper” in a world of computers to gather inside information for his dirty rotten Chinese henchmen-business partners to make billions on the stock markets of America and Asia.

Jin Li has recently broken off a relationship with her American lover, Ray Grant. Ray is a bit mysterious but Harrison seems to loose interest or his way in maintaining this sham of mystery. Ray is a NYFD fireman who was trapped under the twin towers on 9/11. he is left physically scarred and mentally wrecked so he runs off to exotic countries and drinks beer on warm beaches until he meets up with a Humanitarian Group that chases natural disasters and digs out the survivors. Ray has called recess on his ‘haunted journey to rescue people’ to come back to NY to be with his father who is a retired NY detective and battling the last stages of cancer.

Throw in some bad guy “Masters of the Universe” wall street types and their dirty rotten billionaires, want to be billionaires, their corporate minions, and their corporations. Mix with some detestable semi mob connected and wanna be mob connected characters, a gone to pot-and Drambuie, obese check cashing queen who never leaves her bed and one small time lawyer who’s only purpose seems to  be to setup two unimportant sentences-one at the start and one at the end of the story-and provide a fifteen minute quicky with Ray so he has a place to park his pickup truck so the bad guys can find him and pick him up….yeah, he lost me there, too. I tend not to like 'throw away' characters and subscribe to the Eric Jerome Dickey school of "Every Character Has Their Purpose-No Extras".

The story opens at the end of an office cleaning shift for CorpServe and Jin Li at one of the corporations. Good Pharma, a bio tech that is about to release an IPO behind the strength of two or three major (read marketable) drugs and products. Problem is that someone in Asia has found out that the product pushing the price into the stratosphere has some problems in testing. Jin Li and her crew of illegal Mexican laborers have been selectively sending their trash to Shanghai where her brothers communist turned uber capitalist partners have started selling and selling cheap, endangering the IPO and the mega bucks the investors stand to make. Jin Li, being the international industrial spy master who is so careful maintaining her cover that she breaks it off with Ray because she is so in love with him and pillow talk being what it is, doesn’t want to risk her secret getting out. So what does she do? She goes for an after work, early in the wee hours of the morning, car ride with her cliched Mexican workers with their cliched accents, in there “rattling, uninsured fifteen year old car with expired Georgia plates”. they drive to the beach in Brooklyn to smoke a little dope and drink a little cheap wine. And get murdered in a particularly gross and over the top way. While “MeezaJin” is out taking a pee in the weeds a couple of guys show up in a sewage truck, lock the two Mexican girls in the car as salsa music blares from a cassette deck, break the sun roof and pump raw sewage into the car, drowning the girls. Not a particularly good way to end a shift of dusting the desks of Wall Streets movers and shakers. Jin Li, of course escapes thanks to her small Asian bladder and the cheap wine. Of course, she knows immediately that the “shitty” treatment was meant for her. So, she goes into hiding.

Her inside trading, superior-to-all-things-American-or-female brother comes to America to see what happened to his sister, and of course his front/company. Although through the entire book he shows nothing like concern or respect or sibling love for his sister, he inexplicably will go to the ends of the earth to find her. Enter Ray Grant. who is kidnapped from the throw away lawyers house after a pleasant fifteen minute roll in the sheets, and before she can cook his breakfast. And the race is on.

Like I said, the characters are cliched, over the top and a lot of the scenes are a bit sensational and off beat so much as to challenge believability. But Harrison makes it work through an engaging story and pace. The story is told in a narrative style, almost tongue-in cheek way, that reminded me of “The Prince of Thieves” by Chuck Hogan without the gravity. Its voice is very cynical with heavy use of irony in the introduction phase and then switches to the third person as we meet the characters. He gets a bit wordy at times, spending pages exploring ‘why’ a character is the way he is and what the characters motivations are. He does this until you almost, but not quite, want to start looking for quotation marks so you can get back to the great dialog. But, this kind of annoyed me in this style in places. At one point towards the climax of the story, he spends about three or four pages describing a tree nursery, what it means to the billionaire who is meeting a shady wall Street fixer there, to manipulate a a few stock markets so as to drive up the price of Good Pharmas stock, so he can sell it and get his hundred million back. He waxes poetic about the variety of trees, what walking in this place meant to him as a child. How it is a secret from all his ex wives, how he likes to watch the gardeners care for the trees and so on until you want to go get a chain saw and cut the damn trees down so he’ll continue the story. Then he gets on with it by instituting the plot to manipulate “the lift” on the stock. He throws out terms and financial strategies, techno jargon that only Wall Street types could possibly understand and you need a PhD in economics to appreciate. He spent about a paragraph and a half on this, potentially interesting and involving subject which is really the heart of the whole plot, after spending three pages on trees and a nursery that no one has ever heard of? And back them up against each other....

Nevertheless, he makes it work through the pace and compelling plot as a whole. I had read two other Colin Harrison novels,The Havana Room and After Burn which, in my opinion were much better done even if they did employ some elements of the over the top situations and plot elements. This seems to be Colin Harrisons stock in trade, and there are far wore stocks to have. I’ll read more of his work.

The Dirty Lowdown

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Dirty Lowdown for February

After participating with the Veterans Administration in a demonstration of US Military one up man ship ie: That the Chinese do not have a monopoly on Chinese fire drills. On the 14th of December I was to have spinal surgery on my lower back, but on the morning of the surgery, after being thoroughly medicated the night before and treated to a “gourmet meal” consisting of fare deemed not suitable for our people in either theater of war, the surgeon canceled because of personal reasons reported to be a tornado in the small Oregon town he lives in. I knew this was bogus because Oregon doesn’t have tornados…err, well they usually don’t. They shuffled me out to a civilian hospital who took one look at my reports, films and MRI’s and promptly sent me back to the VA with a note saying, Ha! The VA figured they might as well not waste the medications they had pumped me full of and went ahead with the scheduled surgery “lite” and did a little exploring that, really, fixed nothing but did leave me with one more zipper. Then, they sent me home where I promptly got the flu.

All of that is in explanation for my silence here for the past 6 weeks. I would have shut up for longer but in a moment of weakness I announced on Facebook Friday that I was going out for a “tequila night” and since the cat is out of the bag, I figured it was time to blog.

Fun stuff on the agenda first up, February is 011710_immortallifeblackfaceswarmthofothercomboirBlack History Month. You shouldn’t need an excuse to read these since Black History is very much a part of American History, but nonetheless, it’s a good time to get some great books. Barnes & Noble has a great sale.

Staying with the Book Theme, great news from Simon & Schuster’ Scribner division, Chuck Hogan, the author of “Prince of Thieves” which was turned into the block buster movie, “The Town” starring Ben Affleck, has announced the release of “The Devils in Exile” in Trade Paper Back. “Neal Maven comes home from his tour in Iraq to nothing—no job, no friends, no future. Then he meets Brad Royce, a fellow vet, charismatic and confident, with the lifestyle and the one woman Neal has always wanted: Devils in Exile Danielle Vetti, Maven's high-school dream girl. Royce offers Maven a spot on his team of vets who intercept major drug deals, take the dirty money, and destroy the product—an adrenaline-charged, get-rich scheme with a clear moral imperative. But is it too good to be true? With two psychotic hit men out for retaliation, a relentless DEA agent closing in, and more questions than answers about Royce, Maven suddenly finds he's in too deep—and the truth may be his worst enemy.  Hogan so impressed me with “The Prince of Thieves” that I voted it one of the best novels of the decade, and “Devils” looks to be just as enthralling a read.

Now, on to the music scene.

A Night In Monte Carlo

I have a weakness for bass guitar, and Marcus Miller is my bass guitarist of choice when it comes to Jazz, and Classical interpretations. “A Night In Monte Carlo” has Marcus, along with Roy Hargrove and Raul Midon leading the Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra in a live concert that will have music fans and bassists everywhere listening over and over again. There is a Miller composition on here called Blast that is superb! And then he fills in with Brasilian samba, Miles to Jimmy Dorsey all interpreted with great intelligence. Buy this album now.

A few last items close to my heart. February is ignore Sarah Palin month. Don’t mention her name, don’t blog about her (I just did, but never mind) and don’t cause yourself to have to double your Blood Pressure meds because of the inane things that come out her mouth, off her Facebook page or through Twitter. There is also a “Flush Rush” campaign going on on Facebook that is indeed a noble cause. Now if we can come up with something similar to shut Glenn Becks mouth, we’ll be in luck.

That’s the Dirty Lowdown for February

The Dirty Lowdown for February

After participating with the Veterans Administration in a demonstration of US Military one up man ship ie: That the Chinese do not have a monopoly on Chinese fire drills. On the 14th of December I was to have spinal surgery on my lower back, but on the morning of the surgery, after being thoroughly medicated the night before and treated to a “gourmet meal” consisting of fare deemed not suitable for our people in either theater of war, the surgeon canceled because of personal reasons reported to be a tornado in the small Oregon town he lives in. I knew this was bogus because Oregon doesn’t have tornados…err, well they usually don’t. They shuffled me out to a civilian hospital who took one look at my reports, films and MRI’s and promptly sent me back to the VA with a note saying, Ha! The VA figured they might as well not waste the medications they had pumped me full of and went ahead with the scheduled surgery “lite” and did a little exploring that, really, fixed nothing but did leave me with one more zipper. Then, they sent me home where I promptly got the flu.

All of that is in explanation for my silence here for the past 6 weeks. I would have shut up for longer but in a moment of weakness I announced on Facebook Friday that I was going out for a “tequila night” and since the cat is out of the bag, I figured it was time to blog.

Fun stuff on the agenda first up, February is 011710_immortallifeblackfaceswarmthofothercomboirBlack History Month. You shouldn’t need an excuse to read these since Black History is very much a part of American History, but nonetheless, it’s a good time to get some great books. Barnes & Noble has a great sale.

Staying with the Book Theme, great news from Simon & Schuster’ Scribner division, Chuck Hogan, the author of “Prince of Thieves” which was turned into the block buster movie, “The Town” starring Ben Affleck, has announced the release of “The Devils in Exile” in Trade Paper Back. “Neal Maven comes home from his tour in Iraq to nothing—no job, no friends, no future. Then he meets Brad Royce, a fellow vet, charismatic and confident, with the lifestyle and the one woman Neal has always wanted: Devils in Exile Danielle Vetti, Maven's high-school dream girl. Royce offers Maven a spot on his team of vets who intercept major drug deals, take the dirty money, and destroy the product—an adrenaline-charged, get-rich scheme with a clear moral imperative. But is it too good to be true? With two psychotic hit men out for retaliation, a relentless DEA agent closing in, and more questions than answers about Royce, Maven suddenly finds he's in too deep—and the truth may be his worst enemy.  Hogan so impressed me with “The Prince of Thieves” that I voted it one of the best novels of the decade, and “Devils” looks to be just as enthralling a read.

Now, on to the music scene.

A Night In Monte Carlo

I have a weakness for bass guitar, and Marcus Miller is my bass guitarist of choice when it comes to Jazz, and Classical interpretations. “A Night In Monte Carlo” has Marcus, along with Roy Hargrove and Raul Midon leading the Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra in a live concert that will have music fans and bassists everywhere listening over and over again. There is a Miller composition on here called Blast that is superb! And then he fills in with Brasilian samba, Miles to Jimmy Dorsey all interpreted with great intelligence. Buy this album now.

A few last items close to my heart. February is ignore Sarah Palin month. Don’t mention her name, don’t blog about her (I just did, but never mind) and don’t cause yourself to have to double your Blood Pressure meds because of the inane things that come out her mouth, off her Facebook page or through Twitter. There is also a “Flush Rush” campaign going on on Facebook that is indeed a noble cause. Now if we can come up with something similar to shut Glenn Becks mouth, we’ll be in luck.

That’s the Dirty Lowdown for February