Thursday, June 12, 2008

New blog address

If anyone should happen to be coming over from The Rap Sheet, or anyone else that picks up the story, my new blog address is:

This was done in order to keep everything under one roof.

If anyone is interested in moving their blog over to the MBS digs (still a work in progress) drop me a line and let me know.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman - review

What the Dead Know will by the end of the year be recognized as one of the top novels of the year.


In many ways What the Dead Know is a tour-de-force of story telling whose only serviceable comparison is the tapestry of bullshit, truth & wonder that Verbal Kint weaves in the movie The Usual Suspects. To extend the comparison just one step further if the central question of the movie was ‘Who is Keyser Soze’? Then the central question of What the Dead Know is ‘Who is Heather Bethany’? It’s exactly this question that Lippman will answer for us over the course of 384 masterfully controlled and written pages.


The story is crafted in such a way so that it leap-frogs back and forth in time. This serves two purposes and executes both beautifully. First it allows Lippman to pick and choose which bits of information to give us and when to give them to us. The bits of information quickly become a potent mix of hints and red-herrings that will form a literary bread crumb trail. Second, and perhaps more importantly it will allow for a careful dissection and examination of the events and the relationships surrounding them. Read More


All of my reviews can be found here


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

From the front lines of Charm City

A scene from the set of the fifth season of The Wire,now currently filming around town OR real life.

There are only 42 Homicide detectives in Baltimore. 42. That's it. So far for the year 2007 there have been 101 murders. In addition to being woefully understaffed and over worked Homicide detectives are required to work one week every month on cold cases, of which there are 1065 from the past nine years.

The Homicide departments closure rate for the year so far is 23.4 percent. The national closure rate, according to the FBI, is 62 percent.

All of this information is especially relevant after the announcement last week that Homicide detectives are going to have to start walking the beat.

When David Simon wrote Homicide ---- years ago he painted a bleak and sober picture. Things have gotten worse and now this. Ridiculous.

There were 20 murders in the month of April. Four have been solved. On April 7th Brent Flanagan was beaten and stabbed. His body was dismembered and stashed in a house. Then the house was set on fire to cover it up.

State Delegate Jill Carter wrote recently “Bullets in Baltimore are as urgent a crisis as bombs in Baghdad."

"Baltimore or Baghdad: Which is the greater American tragedy?” Carter’s letter asks. “As of March 19, 2007, violence has claimed the lives of 47 Americans in Baghdad since the start of the year. During the same period, violence claimed 61 lives in Baltimore, Maryland — most due to gunshot wounds. Thousands marched this past weekend to end the loss of life in Baghdad. By contrast, the cry of outrage in Baltimore has barely risen to the level of a whisper.”

That last line is important and sad because it reflects how used to murder the people of Baltimore have become.

Only in the bureaucratic nightmare as portrayed so accurately in The Wire can something like the following happen:

Joseph Ensey died in November 2006 due to complications from a 1991 shooting. Ensey’s death was ruled a homicide by the Medical Examiner’s Office on April 20. The man police say is responsible for Ensey’s killing, Gamel Brown, 42, of Baltimore, cannot be tried for the homicide because he already pleaded guilty in the early 1990s to a handgun violation in connection with Ensey’s shooting, police said.


April 2: Darrell Smith, 21, of Baltimore, shooting

April 8: Eric Zuraski, 39, address unknown, stabbing

April 9: John Daughtry, 25, of Baltimore, shooting

April 11: Tavon Campbell, 20, of Baltimore, shooting

April 12: Brent Flanagan, 16, of Baltimore, stabbing *

April 18: Johnnie James, 25, of Baltimore, shooting

April 18: Kevin Randall, 45, of Baltimore, shooting

April 19: Christopher Wayman, 23, of Baltimore, shooting *

April 20: Joseph Ensey, 45, of Woodlawn, shooting *

April 22: Van Johnson, 29, of Baltimore, shooting

April 22: Damon Dubose, 23, of Baltimore, shooting

April 26: Ernest Buchanan, 18, of Reisterstown, stabbing *

April 27: Dewitt Smith, 25, of Baltimore, shooting

April 29: Ronald Daniels, 29, of Baltimore, shooting

April 29: Victim’s family not notified, 36, address unknown, shooting

April 29: Azerwoine Walker, 30, of Baltimore, shooting

April 29: Leroy Sanders, 22, of Baltimore, shooting

April 30: Deshaun White, 31, address unknown, shooting

April 30: Adult male victim unidentified, shooting

April 30: Eric Queen, 24, of Baltimore, shooting

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Blood of Paradise by David Corbett - review

With an assured hand David Corbett has been quietly crafting some of the best novels of the last 5 years.

Corbett is better then anyone else at using a simple premise or crime as a platform to spin epic stories of the human experience writ large against a vast canvass. From personal interaction with one another; to interactions with ourselves; to interactions with our own ghosts and demons; to interactions with faith, god and fate; to interactions with the socio/politico machines of our own creation. The beating heart at the center of Blood of Paradise may be a dark one but it’s a real one that we, at times, can recognize as our own. Read More

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Locus has now confirmed that SF writer Michael Bishop's son, Jamie Bishop was among the victims yesterday  He taught German at the school and examples of his work can be seen at his site. 

I've read Bishop's novels over the years and his introductions to other works.  I was very shocked to hear about his son.  I've never met the Bishop's but it still felt close to home to walk over to my book shelf and realize that this man's son was killed yesterday.

A man should never have to bury his child.  My heart and thoughts are with you Michael

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Cast of Shadows by Kevin Guilfoile - review

Cast of Shadows takes a small handful of issues, cloning and stem cell research chief among them, and crafts a tale that that launches from a simple premise and becomes a multifaceted discussion that is at times moral, scientific and religious. The premise and its exploration prove to be an effective evaluation of these difficult issues without any real political or religious bias.

The story is told over 20+ years, during which we get to watch these characters grow, change and age. Every character is complexly rendered producing very real, very sympathetic people.

“In spite of his dedication to work, he had raised the kind of young woman a teenaged Davis Moore would have admired, would have befriended, would have pursued with all his energy and charm. More important, he had the raised the kind of young woman who would have seen through teenaged Davis Moore’s unflappable, swaggering bullshit.”
Cast of Shadows is divided into two parts. The first part will cover a little over a decade and focuses on Dr. Moore’s twin obsessions of finding his daughters killer and keeping up with Justin’s growth and progress. Justin’s face will very slowly start to come into focus as he grows into the man who killed Moore’s daughter. By the end of this first part nothing will be the same and everyone’s lives will be affected.

Read more

Ice by Vladimir Sorokin - review

The terse, clipped prose moves the story along at a fast pace. The first part of Ice follows three characters through their lives as they are awakened and after the awakening has taken place. They are plucked from all walks of life and economic backgrounds. Not only do we get to witness first hand the at times brutal awakenings but we also get a nice cross section of Russian life. The second part of the novel threats us to a lengthy first person account of how one member of this group was awakened. The Nazi’s took her from her village as a young teenager. Upon arrival in Germany she was kept aside at a camp because of her physical features then awakened. Her heart proves to be older then her body and she quickly become part of the upper echelon of the secret group. Her personal history will act as a history lesson of the group for not only us but also the three recently awakened characters from the first part. We will learn about its origins and its relationship with the Tunguska event, its methods and its ultimate goals.

From the moment we witness the first awakening in the opening moments, and especially as we learn more about them, we are forced to wonder if they are a menacing group or are they our superiors. Will their success be a benevolent act for a humanity that was never supposed to be? Will the destruction of the world, as we know it be a mercy killing for a patient that has been dead for a long time, even if they just didn’t know it? Will the final act be one of selfless love or ultimate selfishness? These are not easy questions to ask and no clear answers are provided.

Read More

Monday, April 09, 2007

Re-reads & A Case of Weird Synchronicity

When Paper Trails was published a couple of months ago I decided that I was going to re-read Paris Trout. It had been a long time since I read it; in fact it had been a long time since I read any Dexter. He's such a low key guy, damn near invisible in fact, that I have a tendency to forget about him sometimes.

I'm happy to say that Paris Trout has not lost any of its dark power over the years. I had forgotten portions of the book and mis-remembered others so it was a fresh experience for me again.

The language is stark and impressive with some scenes being so hard to watch unfold and yet so utterly compelling. I felt, at times, like a rubbernecker gawking at a car accident on the side of the road.

The characterizations are so deeply detailed that the ending of the book becomes so tragic on every level. It’s the rare book that just leaves you gasping for air as if you'd been punched in the gut.

Lest I forget why I started reading Paris Trout in the first place it should be said that Paper Trails is just brilliant. I've been reading it in little bits to try and make last as long as possible

Plus they both are PT books.


I also spent some time reading The Last Good Kiss by James Crumly again. Without a doubt it blew my hair back when I first read it but does it still hold up and should it be considered a classic? Interestingly the answer is yes and no.

Pro-classic opinion

On one hand it is a classic because by the time Crumly came out the hard-boiled, noir, PI genre was stale, predictable and reductive. Ultimately pandering to its lowest common denominator. So its influence can never be taken away and for that it will always be a classic.

Crumly has a vivid writing style that is both masculine and sentimental. His exploration of the underside of the American psyche/experience in the post-Vietnam era was sober and refreshing. It also brought the genre kicking and screaming into the present and out of the domain of fedoras and dames. This was a brutal modern western in every sense of the word.

He presents the post conflict solider as a tragic teary-eyed figure floating adrift, lost as he finds himself out of his element now that he isn't in the jungle with his brothers. The government created them as warriors to fit their needs and then forever cast them aside. To live with that they have turned to drugs and alcohol and sex. Think the first Rambo movie, but without the descent into cartoonishness.

An interesting question though needs to be asked. Is Crumly a writer of his time, specifically that of post-Vietnam era America? I think it will be interesting to see what future novels of his will bring to the table in post 9-11 America. Will they continue to be relevant or will they be unable to move forward by mining the same vein. Only time will tell.

Afterthought: Crumly shows a willingness to poke fun at the genre in later books, just witness the first part of The Mexican Tree Duck. From the planned execution of a jukebox to the repossession of tropical fish from a biker gang using a Sherman Tank and the assistance of two fat brothers. Must be read to be believed.

Dissenting opinion

One could say that Crumly's characters are pompous blowhards. That they have a total inability to adapt to the real world. Crumly’s answer to a reductive genre was a reductive response, all of his characters fit into the parameters of 'If its the bad guy then kill it; if it has a hole then fuck it; if it can be cut into a line then snort it and if can be rolled then smoke it.'

It seems readily apparent that only those with penis's can really understand these characters and their plight of trying to cope in the real world. Only those who fought in Nam are worthy of consideration and development into a character with a third dimension. Dames are still dames even if you don't use the word.

Crumly's world is not only reductive but it’s overly simplistic as well.


After playing devils advocate with myself I've come to the conclusion that it is a book worthy of being called a classic but maybe when considering some other aspects of it that it’s better to call it a flawed classic. But then aren't most classic books flawed in some way?


Now I called this post Re-reads & A Case of Weird Synchronicity for a reason. I'm reading a book now called Ice by Vladimir Sorokin. In it a woman is violated by a wine bottle. In Paris Trout a woman is violated with a glass water bottle.

What the hell kind of stars have to align for someone to read two books in a short period of time where women are treated this way. In Paris Trout the scene was effective in making the character of Paris loathed by the reader because we were made so uncomfortable while it was happening. So far in Ice I can’t see that there was a point to the scene.