Blog Posts by Uncle Will

Posted by Uncle Will on 12/23/13
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The following are the top 5 books I read this year:
 
#5 - Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen
Hopefully, the start of a new Florida series book by one of the masters of the witty mystery.
 
#4 - Wisp of a Thing by Alex Bledsoe
Sequel to The Hum and the Shiver does not disappoint.
 
#3 - NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
Stephen King's son's imagination and writing style pick up where his old man's left off.
 
#2 - The Fire Witness by Lars Kepler
Third book in series by Scandinavian couple featuring Sweden's modern day version of Sherlock Holmes - Investigator Joona Linna.
 
#1 - Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
New York Times best selling mystery author's first stand-alone novel about loss and redemption.
 
Posted by Uncle Will on 11/29/13
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Enjoying dark comedy or gallows humor (as it was originally referred to) is an acquired taste. It is said that when the condemned man climbed to the top of the gallows, where the noose was placed around his neck, he was asked if he had any last words--he quickly responded:  "...Look at all this rotted wood. I don't think it's safe up here..."
 
Violet & Daisy is a dark comedy. It has been placed in the "Action" genre in the stacks, but this is misleading. Sure, there are a couple of shoot-'em-up scenes; however, they play mostly for comic effect. The gunplay just enhances the absurd world that our two heroines exist in.  
 
Violet is played by Alexis Bledel, who grew up starring in "Gilmore Girls" for seven years on TV. She is the brains and brawn of a pair of professional hit-men. Daisy is the younger, less experienced partner, who is played by Academy Award-nominated actress, Saoirse Ronan. Together, the two are hired by Danny Trejo to take out sad sack Michael, who has such a strong death wish that he double-downs on his likelihood to die.
 
Michael is played by James Gandolfini, the actor who died last June at the age of 51. Michael is trying desperately to atone for his bad behavior as a widowed father, and ameliorate his teenage daughter's resentment. His wife, (her mother), passed away years back and Michael failed in his fatherly responsibilities...or at least failed in his daughter's eyes.   
 
Violet & Daisy are motivated by high fashion and a lack of conscience. The contracts they fulfill buy them pretty clothes. The secret to their success seems to be that they never have to have any contact with their victims. Who knows what would happen if they ever had to make eye contact or worse yet, speak to their victims before "poppin'em."  Maybe a movie might be made about that!       
dark comedy
Posted by Uncle Will on 10/24/13
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In 1955 my hero was Davy Crockett. Back then I even thought I knew the words to the Disney TV theme "The Ballad Of Davy Crockett" by Bill Hayes. My version went something like this:  "...Born on a mountain top in Tennessee, greatest state in the land of the free. Killed him a 'bar' when he was only three. Ran around the woods in his coonskin BVDs!..."  Hey, I was only five years old. The days of the coonskin craze have long passed.  So, imagine my delight when I found  Bob Thompson's new biography Born On A Mountaintop: On The Road With Davy Crockett And The Ghosts Of The Wild Frontier in our Marketplace.
 
Bob Thompson, former feature writer for the Washington Post, has an easy-going writing style. Thompson explores the many myths and magic of the Davy Crockett lore. Reading this book is like watching a bloodhound tracking a scent...no stone is left unturned.
 
One chapter outlines why Walt Disney chose Fess Parker to star in his TV studio's project after viewing a scene from the 1954 film Them. There is discussion about why it took so long for John Wayne to complete his 1960 film The Alamo. And of course there is the comparison between Wayne's interpretation of Davy Crockett and Billy Bob Thornton's, as viewed in his 2004 release of The Alamo.
 
In a lot of ways Davy Crockett helped perpetrate many of the popular myths about his life. One notion that is still controversial today is how he died at the Alamo. If he was alive today, he most likely could add "spin doctor" to his resume.
Posted by Uncle Will on 09/27/13
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The recent film World War Z brought zombies to the big screen.  But, the novel Zombie, Illinois shows that zombies have hit locally.  Author  Scott Kenemore is carving out a small niche for himself in the ever-growing zombie genre. His two previous books were: Zombie, Ohio:  A Tale of the Undead and Zombies Vs. Nazis: A Lost History of the Walking Dead.  Although this book is entitled Zombie, Illinois, it could have easily instead be called Zombie, Chicago.
 
The story takes places entirely in Chicago, on the night that zombies literally hit the beach.  It is told in alternating first-person narratives from the perspective of the three main characters: Ben Bennington, Pastor Leopold Mack and Maria Ramirez. Ben is a reporter for "Brain's Chicago Business." He's a lonely, out of shape, middle-age hack that is always on the hunt for that one big scoop that will launch his stagnant career.  Pastor Mack heads the congregation of "The Church of Heaven's God in Christ Lord Jesus." Though the church's name is more than a mouthful, Mack has the undying respect of his flock and some deep-hidden skeletons stashed in his closet. Maria's closet also contains some dark secrets, but what you see is mostly what you get.  She is the drummer for a female Chicago-based rock band that is moderately popular.  Can she help it that her old man is a former wife-beater and child-abuser who has transformed himself into a prominent city alderman?
 
The plot is simplistic: Zombies arrive and begin to eat their way through the city while the graveyards expel tons of reinforcements. The corrupt city leaders choose sides and try to use this apocalyptic catastrophe to position themselves into power. Our three reluctant heroes join forces and for selfish reasons try to save themselves and their city.
 

From chapter to chapter it becomes obvious that Kenemore cannot be a Chicago native. His jaded view of our city seems to rise at times to comic proportions. Poetic license forces one to give him credit where credit may or may not be due, although the many references to Chicago landmarks and neighborhoods, on the most part, remain accurate. The narrative style makes it refreshingly different for a zombie novel.  I will not spoil the story by disclosing whether the zombies are fast-moving or operate in slow-motion.  Sorry, you'll have to read the book.

 
Posted by Uncle Will on 08/26/13
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This is not only the 3rd installment in the "Joona Linna Mystery" series by the married, Swedish, literary couple, Lars Kepler -- it just might be the best.
 
Joona Linna is Sweden's version of Sherlock Holmes. He's fiercely independent, caring, headstrong, "never wrong" and always gets his man (or woman). This was evident in their premier novel, The Hypnotist. These characteristics were further supported in the sequel, The Nightmare. Joona is not only a brilliant investigator, he is a formidable martial artist who's trim, tenacious, and tragic. 
 
Almost 20 years ago, Joona sent his wife and young daughter away to protect them from evil-doers that were seeking revenge.  Joona has had no contact with either and longs for his lost loves. He has a soft spot when children are involved in his investigations. 
 
The Fire Witness is loaded with soft spots. A double-murder is committed at a home for wayward girls. The prime suspect, Vicki, only a child herself, flees the crime scene and while on the run, is suspected of kidnapping another younger child...a boy who is briefly left unattended in a parked car. It is not Joona's case, since he is on suspension for previous traitorous conduct. Joona is able to position himself as an "observer" where he proceeds to get emotionally involved in the hunt for Vicky.
 
Joona also proceeds to get into more trouble with his superiors by not following the conditions of his suspension. He enrolls the aid of a local "medium" who thinks she has seen the true killer. Her visions are discounted immediately by the unimaginative police investigators assigned to the homicide/kidnapping, but not by Joona, who never discounts anything.  
 
There are a load of suspects that are not discounted by Joona. In between his continuing search for his wife and daughter and that of Vicky and the boy hostage, Joona juggles his schedule for his suspension hearing and his ongoing romance with a fellow policewoman.
 
Lars Kepler in reality is Alexander Ahndoril and his wife Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril. They create magic together and have a long, successful career in their future, and one doesn't have to be a seer to know that...just an avid mystery reader. 
 
 
   
Posted by Uncle Will on 08/01/13
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Many think that Spencer Tracy, who starred in "Boy's Town," was the first to coin the phrase: "...There's no such thing as a bad boy..."
Then there's some that credit Tarzan with saying: "...There's no such thing as a bad monkey..."
According to a Bahamian voodoo witch known as the Dragon Queen in Carl Hiaasen's new novel Bad Monkey, who is convinced that the Capuchin monkey she craves to acquire is really a human boy -- there's no such thing as either.
 
One of the most delightful things about Carl Hiaasen's books is that you almost don't have to read further than the cast of kooky characters on the book jacket to be thoroughly entertained. In this latest book, Andrew Yancy is a suspended Miami police detective whose suspension was for molesting his former girlfriend's surgeon husband, in public, with a vacuum cleaner. Yes, there was "Film at 11." Yancy has been forced to accept the position of "Chief of the Monroe County Roach Patrol" -- which is better known as the county's restaurant health inspector. His ex-girlfriend, now the ex-wife of a prominent surgeon, has recaptured the magic she once had over 10 years ago with one of her former AP English high school students. This is the very same student that she was arrested, among other things, for contributing to his delinquency.
 
Yancy just wants to be a cop again. He also wants his backyard view returned; an illegally tall housing unit has been constructed right next door to his home by an over-zealous housing developer. To complicate matters, Yancy is asked to store evidence in his deep-freezer. This evidence is a human arm. It's found floating, hooked to a deep-sea fishing rod that's reeled in by an unsuspecting tourist. This arm might or might not have been detached in a boating accident or by malicious behavior. Yancy's police chief refuses to acknowledge either hypothesis. He just wants the arm to disappear.  He has higher political visions that do not include a grisly murder or freak accident in his county.
 
As bodies start to pile up, Yancy and his kinky new girlfriend, a Miami coroner, travel to the Bahamas where clues are likely to be found in the case of the missing arm. Once in the Bahamas, we find a poor islander, Neville, who has been foreclosed by another overly zealous condo developer (this one being a serial killer). Neville is the not-so-proud owner of the monkey, Tom, who starred in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie with Johnny Depp. Tom comes from a long-line of famous show-biz monkeys. Unfortunately, Tom does not perform well in front of an audience. The belief is that Tom has never grown out of his adolescence stage. He likes to bite and fling feces when in public. The Dragon Queen seems to overlook Tom's bounty of bad behaviors in her quest to possess this "baby boy."   
 
Will Neville ever reclaim his modest beach home and his pet monkey who is now addicted to pipe smoking? 
Will Yancy solve this case and retain his gold shield -- along with his desire to eat again in a public restaurant?
Will true love, between the convicted child-molester/former-teacher and her once sexy-star-student (who has since gone to seed), overcome all boundaries, restrictions, and federal warrants?
Will Yancy ever again be able to sit in his backyard and watch the sun set slowly on the sea?
Will Tom and Johnny Depp, together again, ever get to skip rocks off the water?

To get the answers to these questions and more, one will have to read this book.

I'll never tell.
It's a case of monkey-see/monkey-no-speak!
Posted by Uncle Will on 06/27/13
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It is no surprise that Stephen King is a master at writing short stories and novellas. His latest work, Joyland, is a coming-of-age suspense story about a college student, Devin Jones, who is hired at a privately owned, seasonal amusement park in North Carolina for the summer.
 
Devin Jones is naive, unexperienced (in most worldly matters), and hopelessly in love with a girl who does not share his same feelings. Devin has to make some hard decisions and chooses to be apart from his beloved Wendy Keegan for their summer break.
 
Devin is hired at Joyland as a general go-fer. His big claim to fame is how well he wears the "fur" which is the hound costume that all the greenies must take turns donning to delight the younger amusement park crowd. Devin rents a room from a local lady who helps him make the adjustment to the carny life. Joyland has a cast of characters that only Stephen King can create.  
Devin quickly makes fast friends with two other college students and the three become inseparable. They learn that there was a young girl murdered at Joyland years ago and that the park is supposedly haunted by her ghost. Devin also befriends a dying boy, his beautiful mother and their cute Facebook-worthy dog, Milo, the Jack Russell terrier. 
 
Needless to say, Devin grows up big-time that summer and even has a hand in solving a murder mystery that predates this 1973 storyline. At less than 300 pages and soft-covered, this book should be atop one's list for a beach read this summer. 
 
Posted by Uncle Will on 05/29/13
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What do Michael Jordan, Ryne Sandberg, Lebron James, Devin Hester, Don Mattingly, David Beckham, and John Sandford's newest Prey series book all have in common? The number 23!
 
Silken Prey is the 23rd novel in this long-standing mystery series. And it is a doozy. Davenport might have met his match in the form of a ruthlessly rich female politician who has the moral standards of Cleopatra. Her name is Taryn Grant and she wants to be the next senator from the great state of Minnesota. Taryn and her security team - comprised of a couple of ex-Black Ops assassins, make formidable foes for Davenport. They devise a pathological scheme to defraud the incumbent senator - hoping to turn the election polls in their favor. Nothing can hurt a campaign more than the accusation that ones opponent is a child pornographer. Taryn's team will stop at nothing to win the senate seat. Multiple murders is an occupational hazard. 
 
There is nothing haphazard to Davenport's investigation. He is well aware that the arena the governor asks him to enter could be a career-breaker. He knows that politics is a dirty game and up until now, Davenport has only dressed for the games and sat on the sidelines. This time around he is put into the line-up and it's winner take all. 
 
Davenport groupies will not be disappointed. He flirts with both danger and femme fatales effortlessly. He even gets to the Mall of America a couple of times to make sure that he is dressed appropriately.
Mystery, Suspense
Posted by Uncle Will on 05/01/13
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This November marks the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination and the cold-blooded killing of Dallas patrolman, J. D. Tippit. What better way to remember it than a new suspense novel by Pulitzer Prize winning author Stephen Hunter? This is the eighth book in the Marine sniper Bob Lee Swagger series. Bob the Nailer is back and this time he is solving the crime of the century, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963.
 
Swagger is asked to investigate the death of journalist Jean Marquez's husband, James Aptapton, who was a well-known "gun guy." Just as Swagger begins to unfold the facts, he becomes the target of an international hit man. Swagger immediately goes from prey to hunter. The book is written in two narratives. One is the voice of Swagger and the other is Hugh Meachum, the CIA agent that manipulated Lee Harvey Oswald. 
 
Although this new novel can stand alone, readers should check out Hunter's previous novels in this series:   
Point of Impact (1993)  adapted to film in "Shooter" (2007) starring Mark Wahlberg
Black Light (1996)
Time to Hunt (1998)
The 47th Samurai (2007)
Night of Thunder (2008)
I, Sniper (2009)
Dead Zero (2010)
 
Anyone who has read Stephen Hunter knows his reputation as a respected author of historic fiction. This book does not disappoint.
Posted by Uncle Will on 03/25/13
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Extra! Extra! Read all about it...three Paul Doiron reviews in one!
During our last snowstorm I was trying to find a new mystery author that I hadn't read. I stumbled upon Bad Little Falls which is the 3rd book in the Mike Bowditch series.  
 
Bowditch is a young rookie game warden in upstate Maine.  He has a troubled past, a new ex-girlfriend, a severe loner complex, and a very large-sized chip on his shoulder. In his relatively short law enforcement career he has managed to get himself exiled to the most remote county in Maine.
 
I didn't have a choice (because of availability) and read the trilogy out of order...knowing full well that this was a major no-no in the "Official Guide to Mystery Readers'" handbook. I'm glad I did.  In retrospect, I learned that by book three, Doiron had smoothed out the sharp edges on his main character, Bowditch, making him a little more likeable. 
 
Hooked on the cold, vast setting of northeastern Maine and the remarkable characters, I then read the second book in this series: Trespasser, which involved a mysterious missing murdered female, who was a car accident victim, and several similar past crimes.  Bowditch, who again has the misfortune of occupying the right space at the wrong time, becomes entrenched in a multiple-murder investigation where he is considered one of the primary suspects. 
 
Consuming these 2 books lead me to the inevitable: reading Doiron's first award-winning novel: The Poacher's Son. In this story, Bowditch's estranged father, Jack, was on the run for multiple-murders.  Against direct orders, and all reason, son Mike sets out to prove his father's innocence. In all three books there are the reoccurring themes of man-against-nature and bitter cold vs. bitter people. Can a damaged man ever find peace within himself?   
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