Sunday, July 30, 2017

June/July reading

Some new ones, some I had already started, including my own anthology.

Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles Presents LAst Resort Edited by Matt Coyle, Mary Marks and Patricia Smiley
At long last I'm published! Yep, this is the anthology you've been hearing so much about. It's a terrific collection of sixteen short stories focusing on:

Los Angeles, the sun-kissed city of high hopes and second chances, where everyone seems to be from somewhere else. A siren call to dreamers, misfit, mystics and freaks, lost souls and purveyors of sin. They roll in on their last tank of gas, their suitcases bulging with secrets of pasts better forgotten. They stay for a few days, a month, a year, a lifetime. The determined and the desperate, careening and colliding toward trouble...and their last resort.

Many of the stories (mine included) have protagonists who have come to L.A. to find Hollywood stardom. Some stories are of revenge, some of escape. Murder, carjacking, embezzlement, scams, theft, you name it, the people in these stories live it.

Characters abound. Method actors, hired killers, self-appointed avenging angels, spoiled rich brats, felons, doctors, maids, schemers and beautiful dreamers, and so many more who have migrated to Los Angeles for the riches it promises.

From Hollywood to Westwood, from the San Fernando Valley to Silver Lake, from Highland Park to Hancock Park, from Highway 5 to the 405, these stories and the people who inhabit them run the gamut of Los Angeles transplants desperate to make good in the City of Angels.

The anthology features an introduction by best-selling author Michael Connelly as well as absolutely stunning cover art. I'm just in love with it.

I'm also going to be a jerk and quote from my own story, "Crime Drama/Do Not Cross":

I was pretending to flip through my file on him when the door swung open. When it did, I quickly closed the file and waved the wallet that held my official PI license and my not-so-official National Private Investigators badge (thirty-nine dollars on Amazon). I also made a point of shrugging my jacket so he cold get an eyeful of my sort of realish-looking sidearm (actually a starters gun that only fires paper caps, twenty-five bucks on eBay).

The Book of Mormon: The Complete Book and Lyrics of the Broadway Musical by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez & Matt Stone
Considering I've been a South Park fan from Day 1, it's crazy that I just now finally saw The Book of Mormon recently (twice). I absolute loved it, so of course as soon as I got home I went and ordered a bunch of BOM stuff, including the book, which was a quick and achingly funny read.

A group of young Mormon men have just completed their missionary training and are being paired off to go out and spread the good word. Elder Price is the high-achieving prince among these young men, but while the others are assigned to beautiful locations like France, Japan and Norway, Price is shocked when he's stuck with the sloppy, under-achieving Elder Cunningham, and as if that isn't bad enough, their destination is Uganda.

When they arrive in Africa, they find that the natives are too caught up in the misery of their day-to-day lives (which includes war, famine and AIDS) to be bothered with their message. Price and Cunningham initially don't have any more success than the group of missionaries who preceded them (led by the closeted Elder McKinley) and an overwhelmed Price gives up the fight and bolts.

This leaves Cunningham to his own devices, and his tendency to stretch the truth leads him to preach a version of the Book of Mormon that he makes up as he goes along to hold the Ugandans attention. It doesn't help that he hasn't actually read the thing ("It's just so boring!") but as he weaves his accommodating but reality-challenged tale of Joseph Smith, the villagers start to sign on. By the time Elder Price - scared back into service by his "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream" (a truly insane musical number) - returns to the fold, Cunningham has persuaded the non-believers to agree to be baptized.

This unexpected boon attracts the attention of the Mormon Mission President, who decides to witness this miracle for himself. When he arrives, the villagers surprise the Mormons with a performance of the story of Joseph Smith, only not the version in the book - it's the warped version they've learned from Cunningham. And it's delightfully, incredibly offensive.

The critically acclaimed and Tony-winning show is both a love letter to Broadway musicals (no surprise if you've seen South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut), a hysterical look at the sweet naiveté of trust and faith, and also at the power of it as well. For as much as BOM pokes fun at the Mormon faith, it does so without any semblance of a mean streak, something rare in this day and age. This is a show created by people who not only know the artform inside and out, but have a great deal of love and respect for it, and surprisingly for people of faith as well. Just with a lot of dirty words.

ELDER PRICE: NOTHING like The Lion King - I think that movie took a LOT of artistic license.

Go Down Hard by Craig Faustus Buck
I'd started this book some time ago but it fell by the wayside when I got distracted by my UCLA classes. 

Nob Brown is in a bad place when we meet him. His career with the LAPD ended prematurely, then his wife divorced him. He's currently working - or more accurately, trying to work - as a writer, and is struggling financially. 

Gloria Lopes, a friend (and sometime friend with benefits) since his police academy days, gifts him with access to an old case file. It's the twenty-year-old cold case of murdered rock star Lana Strain, who Nob idolized as a teen. With the anniversary of Lana's death approaching, Nob attempts to finally unravel the mystery of her shooting, hoping he can work the story into an assignment that might lead to the type of movie or book deal that could elevate his career and solve his money problems.

Buck is an amazingly gifted writer and I had the pleasure of being on a writers panel with him in June. Go Down Hard is a great mystery and great reading. The follow-up, Go Down Screaming, will actually feature Gloria as the main character. Per Buck, when he started writing it, he realized he was tired of living in Nob's head and wanted to focus on Gloria.

"You got balls, Mr. Nob Brown," he says as I take my seat. "We'll see if you get to keep them."

The Walk by Lee Goldberg
Lee Goldberg is a fixture at writers conferences and is always a kick. He has great stories about working in the entertainment industry and one is about a time he met with a producer to discuss the possibility of making The Walk into a film. He was prepared for the idea that he would be asked to make some changes. What he wasn't prepared for was that the producer would want to change the main character from a male television executive to "six midwestern cheerleaders". And that was the end of that conversation. Recently Goldberg announced that a film version of The Walk is back on, I'm assuming with Martin Slack intact.

Slack is visiting the downtown Los Angeles set of one of his TV shows when The Big One - a catastrophic earthquake - hits. Southern California is decimated, but that doesn't stop him from embarking on a harrowing trek to get home to his wife in a gated community in Calabasas, a good 30+ miles away.

While the humor isn't as pronounced as I've come to expect from Goldberg (his pitch of a TV show called "Frankencop" in My Gun Has Bullets is still one of the funniest things I've ever read), Slack's is a fascinating journey and Goldberg throws in an unexpected twist at the end that ties into the executive's determination to continue his journey despite the aftershocks and devastation in his path.

Once again, Marty had little choice but to go under the unstable span, passing the piles of cars, concrete, and rebar that had come down in the quake. A man's unscratched arm stuck straight out from amidst the rubble, coated with a fine layer of dust, a cell phone still clutched in his hand. For a moment, Marty thought about taking it and trying to place another call to his wife, but he couldn't bring himself to do it.

Private Vegas by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
I actually had the audiobook version of this, read beautifully by Jay Snyder.

This is part of Patterson's "Private" series, and despite the title, takes place mostly in Los Angeles. The Vegas connection exists in the form of Lester Olsen, a former gambler who now runs a business in which he trains beautiful young women to land rich, older husbands, then murder them for their fortunes.

Long before Olsen crosses his path, Jack Morgan, owner of Private, a Los Angeles investigation firm, has other fish to fry. His Lamborghini has been torched in front of his Malibu mansion, one of his investigators has been falsely accused of murder, and his twin brother is trying to undermine his business. There's also the lingering ache of a former girlfriend who had been murdered in his home, and a pair of foreign thugs who are drugging and raping local women while avoiding arrest via diplomatic immunity.

There's a lot going on, but it's all brought together expertly. The only gripe I have is when one of Morgan's female investigator goes undercover to bust Olsen, who figures her out and engineers her death. The miraculous recovery was a bit of a stretch IMO. It's something that's just a pet peeve of mine in film, TV and books.

Terrible shape was an understatement. Adrianna had been drugged, probably raped, maybe by both men, and Khezir Mazul had stroked her throat with a serrated blade. She would have a scar across her neck for as long as she lived.

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