The Night Detectives by Jon Talton read by Jim Meskimen (A David Mapstone Mystery)

Interesting detective novel about an ex-Mexican ex-sheriff and his deputy-historian. A little bloody but lots of clean writing, and a sharpening style.

Good lines.

Cartwright was spry and walked fast… he led me around a lush Palo Verdi tree.  It reminded me of the way trenches had been constructed on the Western Front in WW 1; They zigzagged so that an emery soldier couldn’t stand above the trench and take out an entire company with his rifle. We were on the verge of the 100 year mark of that cataclysm that changed the world, but few Americans paid any attention to the past…. The Sheriff’s a good man in a shitty situation.

It was a 48 star flag, the way it would have looked after Arizona was admitted to the Union in 1912. Beside it were highly detailed US  geologic survey maps of the area. The map fiend in me wanted to study them.

The place was surprisingly free of dust and noticeably cooler than the outside but I could feel myself only a few internal degrees from heat exhaustion. I tried to be convivial, in an end of the world way, complementing his bunker.

Objects of My Affection by Jill Smolinski read by Xe Sands

A divorced, unemployed home organizer with a drug-addict son is hired to empty out the hoarded contents of an aging artist. Uncluttering the house is accompanied by a series of decisions about why and why not something is or is not valuable. An interesting and entertaining study of people and their insensibilities.

Out of Order by Bonnie MacDougal read by Barbara Rosenblat

Campbell Smith wants only to lie behind the S of Mrs Douglas Alexander, soon to be Senator from the great state of Delaware, a place where Washingtonians go to hide. But a woman who is hiding does not make a good political wife, and Campbell soon takes to gardening and disappointment. Alas. A good but over-plotted story.

Discretion by Allison Leotta read by Tavia Gilbert

Discretion is the name of a D.C. Escort Service, so exclusive that it doesn’t advertise on Back Page or Eros. The most expensive and popular “provider” at Discretion is “Sasha” who is rated “9s” and ’10s’ in the Appearance and Performance categories on Trick Adviser— an on line Ratings service for Escorts. Sasha gives D.C. ‘hobbyists’ the chance to ‘date’ the kind of Sports Illustrated centerfold they’d never be able to do if they were’nt paying $5000 for the privilege. When Sasha is thrown off the balcony of a Congressman’s ‘hideaway’, the Madame is subpoenaed to hand over ten years worth of very private information about her girls and her clients. Anna, a Sex Crimes Prosecutor, works side by side with Samantha, a beautiful FBI agent, to find the killer. A serious, somber, feminized view of a D.C. criminal investigation.

The Accident by Linwood Barclay read by Peter Berkrot

A bouquet of accidents pop up at the beginning of the story: a cab crash in Manhattan, a car crash in Darien, Connecticut, an overdose in Mitford…For the rest of this story, the notion of accident is under erasure.  What after all is an accident? Is the housing crisis an accident? Is the use of sub-paar Chinese building materials substituted for the good American stuff an accident?

Everywhere in the background is the restless problematic of wives and husbands struggling to maintain their position in a post-pastural not quite upper suburban middle class. .. An accidental class, in an accidental economy.

As in other Linwood Barclay tales the wife is either dead, missing or dissimulating: here the dead wife has been found inexplicably drunk behind the wheel of a crashed SUV. Husband and daughter are gobsmacked. Who was she if she was an alcoholic?

Who was his wife? Who were her friends? Their husbands? Their neighbors? Doubt turns all things ordinary into mysteries, even in Connecticut.

A House Divided by Mike Lawson read by Joe Barrett

Again, we have Washington with its burials and its laudations betrayals become elegy — where the ones praising the dead are also their executioners.

A Roman tradition carried brightly on by moral gamesmen, whose empires are supported by three rhetorical questions:

  • Is it ethical for men in power, men entrusted by their countrymen with that power, to go outside the law if the situation demands it?
  • Is it reasonable to expect the average citizen to understand what needs to be done?
  • Is it logical to expect self-serving politicians to act on what needs to be done?

Moreover, there was no way that 16 divergent and competing intelligence agencies, “agencies staffed by bureaucrats who protected their rice-bowls more fiercely than any tigress ever protected a cub, would give up their authority, their autonomy, or their budgets for the sake of ‘cooperation'”. The spineless reports of fat blue ribbon commissions are produced for citizens only.

For gentlemen spies, political heirs of the original gentleman spy, Bill Donovan, positioned in between bureaucrats assigned to defend an agency’s dwindling budget, and ‘managers’ who, in line with current American management practices, did not really understand what they managed and hence had no idea what their technical or human instruments were overseeing, security overrides legality.

House Justice by Mike Lawson read by Joe Barrett

Mike Lawson is very very good. He is even better read by Joe Barrett.

De Marco is a ‘bagman’ with a law degree, who even passed the Virginia Bar but never practiced law, whose happy aunt or godmother got him a job working for the fat, charming, lecherous, Speaker of the House whom he hates, respects, and obeys. De Marco has an office in the sub-basement of the capital, a lineage in the sub-basement of the Mob, and a salary that is off the books of the politician who employs him; he is a “left-hand man” (see Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga) who leaves no fingerprints.

In House Justice, he investigates the leak of classified information leading to the death of a CIA agent in Iran. And he knows where to go to get his information.

In any prison movie ever made there’s a guy called a scrounger. The scrounger can get you anything you want:

De Marco figured all the good prison scroungers had been New York hotel concierges, before they got sent up the river. You want tickets to a show? No sweat. Seats behind homeplate at Yankee Stadium? Piece of cake. A girl? Well, I don’t know nothin’ about no girls, pal, but for fifty bucks I’ll bet a blonde named Tiffany comes knockin on your door at 10:00.

Tony, the concierge, gives de Marco lots of information. Later, Tony gets motivated to give up his information to a less diplomatic thug who pushes him behind a dumpster…
.

..so he was eye level with a line of graffitti that read: Jesus Loves You. Tony’s first thought was: if he loves me so much why is there a gun stuck in my back? But his next thought was that he hadn’t been to confession in years…

See, this is street smart, thug-happy, punchy, yes, punchy dialogue that moves plot… , typically a Washingtonian plot involving some kind of treachery by the bad guys in government, which, given the political sympathies of the author, are typically Republicans.

In Lawson-land, when Democrats are tainted by naughtiness (House Secrets), they are dosed with a predictable erotomania.

The party spin is sentimental, near-sighted and dopey.  In House Rules, perfectly innocent men and boys of the Muslim faith are forced into terrorist-like acts by American social prejudice, unjust racial profiling, and bent Republican Congressmen. Acha. Coming installments will no doubt re-stage evil, bumbling Republicans in villainous acts of wiretapping, election-fixing, and Floridian Arithmetic.

Wait for it.

Escape by Robert Tanenbaum read by Mel Foster

On the sidewalk outside of The Kitchennette on West Broadway, the old men are debating the apologetics of New York Liberals bending over to receive  Islamic sensitivity training.

One famous lawyer takes out the day’s NYTIMES,  which reports that: “The Islamic Society of America is complaining that television shows portray Moslems as ‘the bad guys’. …”

“Oh, please…” moans the former US attorney for the Southern District of New York: “It’s not like we’re at war with Blonde Swedish Catholics. I haven’t noticed any Episcopelian Icelanders becoming suicide bombers and charging into any synagogues….”

“They claim to be Islamic to a man and they are terrorists therefore they are Islamic terrorists….

“Bullshit!”, exclaimed Saul Silverstein, an ex-Marine who survived Io Jima, and then made a fortune in women’s apparel. “Six months after a bunch of terrorists who claim to be acting in the name of Islam murdered a few thousand people in the World Trade Center, Columbia University held a one day in service training center for more than 100 NYC high school teachers… its like we’re apologizing because some of their fellow Moslems declared war on us…. ”

This is The Sons of Liberty Breakfast Club and Girl Watching  Society, which meets to haggle over the politics, the rumours, the news … and of course.. the pretty girls walking past, with and without summer dresses.   This is as good as Paris in the 1920s, except that the intellectuals are lawyers, not artists,   they’re chewing  peach pancakes, not brioches… and they’re probably not smoking.

 

The Copper Beech by Maeve Binchy read by Barbara Caruso

A Bruegellian world of busy little people working very hard and magical children repeating absolutely useless gestures: marvellous Maeve Binchy.

Eddie’s dressmaker mother is surrounded by patterns and perpetually draped in some nearly finished garment as she sews and listens to the radio. “Let’s just agree that he didn’t keep his part of the bargain, he didn’t look after his wife and son, he doesn’t deserve our interest.” It is said that his father left in a spectacularly noisy manner: “there was nearly as much noise as the night Ted Barton was thrown out” and “it will be another case of Ted Barton, with the suitcase flung down the case after him”.

For his tenth birthday Eddie gets a game of blo football “because his mother had heard from the Dunns in the shop that it was what every child wanted this year and she had paid it off over 5 weeks”. Eddie plays it on the floor of his bedroom because the table downstairs is needed for the sewing machine, even though he “secretly thought it was silly and tiring,and that there was too much spit trying to blow a paper ball through paper tubes, it got chewy and soggy.” Eddie wonders about his father.

“That night Eddie wrote a letter to his father. He told about the day and the pressed flowers…he told his father that there was a big wedding in the next town, and that his mother had been asked to do not only the bride’s dress but the two bridesmaids and the mother and the aunt of the bride as well….And that his mother said it came just in the nick of time because something needed to be done to the roof and there wasn’t enough money to pay for it. Then he read that last bit again and wondered would his father would think it was a complaint… He didn’t want to annoy him now that he had just found him. With a jolt Eddie realized that he hadn’t found his father. He was only making it up…. He crossed out the bit about the roof costing money and left in the good news about the wedding dresses… He thought that maybe his father might be in England. Wouldn’t it be marvellous if he met him by accident over there in a good job with prospects?…

Eddie writes his father often that year: about Bernard Shaw, who just died, and who his teacher told him was a great writer but had been a bit against the church, and asks him why someone would be against the church.

His father didn’t answer of course because the letters were never sent. There was no where to send them to.

A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block read by Tom Stechschulte

“Don’t make any major changes in the first year” … they say at AA. Matt Scudder has five or six weeks not to decide what he’s going to do about Jan, a girl he sees Saturday night and Sunday morning …

“Some people say not to make any major changes for the first five years… or even ten,” Jim, a fellow AA member, tells him.

After a meeting at St. Claire’s Hospital they walk home and Jim says:

“Something Buddha said as it happens: it is your dissatisfaction with what is that is the source of all your unhappiness..”

I said: “Buddha said that?”

“So I’m told, though I have to admit I wasn’t there to hear him. You seem surprised.”

“Well,” I said, “I never thought he had that much depth to him.”

“Buddha.”

“That’s what everybody calls him, and what he calls himself as far as that goes. Big guy. Must stand 6′ 6 . Shaves his head. Belly out to here. He’s a regular at the midnight meeting at the Moravian Church but he turns up other places as well. I think he’s a former outlaw biker and my guess is he’s done time but…”

The look on his face stopped me.

He said: “the Buddha. Sitting under the Bodhi tree, waiting for enlightenment.”

“Listen, it was a natural mistake. The only Buddha I know works at the Moravian Church.”

Making amends is step 8 of the 12 step program, and Jack Ellery is making amends when he ends up dead. His gay, persnickety, over-responsible sponsor has Jack’s list of amendees. He tells Matt Scudder that maybe he should “look into” whether somebody on the list is a killer. Matt Scudder does.

Dry, sidewalk humor full of alcohol and hotel rooms and pre-digital middle aged uncoupled city men. But also, that wry twist of fate that takes Order and Organization and runs over it.

This time, the Order is the Big Book and its steps: specifically step 8. How rules make themselves flesh, and how that flesh moves it’s rules around life and institutes life in their image.