The Green Ripper

This was the second reread of 2011 and I have a feeling that I’ll do a few more. I made a visit to the Brown Elephant in Oak Park and walked out with this paperback along with ones by Alistair Maclean (Athabasca) and Len Deighton (SS-GB). These are books that I only marginally enjoyed as a kid, but my tastes have changed considerably since then and I’m expecting to get a little more enjoyment out of them this time around now that I’m all growed up.

I’m off to a great start because the The Green Ripper was a heckuva lot better than I remember.


The most distinct memory I have of this book was this feeling: There’s a gun and dead body on the front cover, but the only action is a gunfight that takes place in the second-to-last chapter.

That encapsulates what a little idiot I was. What was I expecting? Did I just want a 300 page shootout? What I got was a short but intense shootout at the end that took place over about a chapter (of a total of 15 chapters). I vividly recall McGee referring to the day of carnage and revenge as his “John Wayne day.” As a kid, I loved John Wayne movies so that made the book worthwhile back then.

This time, I didn’t struggle through the buildup like I did as a kid. I relished MacDonald’s McGee, who is a classic, hardcore, private investigator living on a houseboat called The Busted Flush in South Florida. McGee’s cohort is his buddy and resident genius Meyer, who hangs around to talk sense into McGee and occasionally provide some comic relief. This is the kind of classic crime novel that I love and I’ll be reading all of the Travis McGee novels. However, I don’t know if I’ll be reading them order. I’ve read a few and I don’t seem to recall it being that important to read them in order. I’ll have to do a little research on that.

Finally, as I do with many of the crime novels, I like to pick out a thought or a rant by the main character that embodies their take on the world. Here are McGee’s thoughts on a middle-aged guy (Herm) whom McGee thought died from over exherting himself:

… In the meanwhile, poor Herm had succumbed to the age of the jock. The mystique of pushing yourself past your limits. The age of shin splints, sprung knees, and new hernias. An office-softened body in its middle years needs a long, long time to come around. Until a man can walk seven miles in two hours without blowing like a porpoise, without sweating gallons, without bumping his heart past 120, it is asinine to start jogging. Except for a few dreadful lapses which have not really gone on too long, I have stayed in shape all my life. Being in shape means knowing your body, how it feels, how it responds to this and to that, and when to stop. You develop a sixth sense about when to stop. It is not mysticism. It is brute labor, boring and demanding. Violent exercise is for children and knowledgeable jocks. Not for insurance adjustors and sales managers. They do not need to be in the shape they want to be, and could not sustain it if they could get there. Walking briskly no less than six hours a week will do it for them. The McGee System for earnest office people. I can push myself considerably further because I sense when I’m getting too close to the place where something is going to pop, rip, or split.

Ah, the soliloquy of the crime noire hero. It’s a thing of beauty. I’m glad to welcome back Travis McGee after about 30 years. I’m looking forward to more.


Up Periscope

This book is a throwback to my younger days. I read it maybe as a 6th grader, I think. I seem to remember living on Windsor place and talking about it with a childhood friend. I read it then, and this time, specifically because I loved Deathwatch by the same author.

It’s a war story about a Navy diver who must steal some Japanese secret codes from an island in the Pacific during WWII. A submarine named the Shark is responsible for getting him to the island and back to Pearl Harbor. Most of the action takes place on the submarine except for a few chapters on the island. This book actually held it’s own after 30 plus years better than Deathwatch did. It’s a good story that was also made into a movie.

There is one scene that has stuck in my head for those 30 years I’ve been away from this book. It occurs near the end after the Shark successfully sinks a Japanese aircraft carrier and then has to try and outsmart a bunch of Japanese destroyers seeking revenge. The Shark is forced to stay under water at an unhealthy depth for an extended period of time while being attacked from above. White’s description of how difficult it is to be without fresh air for such a long time has always stayed with me. Here are some samples:

On the deck itself was an inch-deep slime of oil and sweat and vomit and water, a filthy, greasy, nasty-smelling gunk through which he had to wade.

A little later:

By midnight the air in the boat was so foul that each light seemed to be shining in a grayish fog. Breathing was hard, each man gasping rapidly. Faces were becoming faintly blue. No one smoked for there wasn’t enough oxygen in the air to sustain a flame.

I was really struck by this as a kid, for some reason. I’ve always wanted to see the movie to see how they portrayed this part of the story. It’s on iTunes so maybe I’ll grab it someday.



I needed some sci-fi. Just felt like it, I guess. I read this book about 15 years ago as one of my earliest forays into the genre, and I loved it. So I bought it again the other day with some Border’s bucks. The cover of the paperback reprint that I read refers to this book as “Science Fiction’s Supreme Masterpiece.” I gotta tell you, that’s an understatement.

I’m not very knowledgeable about sci-fi and the one or two books a year I read in this arena don’t give me much of insight into it. All I can do is tell you that I felt like I held a masterpiece in my hands as I was reading it. It was distinct.

I didn’t get that feeling with The Lord of the Rings or Foundation, both of which I consider in roughly the same genre. Dune just feels cooler, deeper, and more interesting. It’s tough to put my finger on it. It’s sci-fi without a bunch of really fast spaceships. It’s fantasy without a complicated mix of monster-like beings. It’s a different world with a history so detailed that you have to consult a glossary to understand some key points, yet this doesn’t impinge on it’s approachability.

The tale itself is not so groundbreaking. It’s about vengeance. The Atreides family finds itself stuck in some interplanetary politics, leading to their demise. The formula: father killed, mom and noble son left for dead on the planet that was their fiefdom (Arrakis), disenfranchised indigenous peoples team up with nobility to try and overthrow evil occupants.

So yeah, somewhat standard story, maybe even in 1965 when it was published. But that doesn’t detract from it’s coolness. Here why it’s cool:

There is an underlying theme of conservation. The story takes place on a desert planet where people wear special suits to capture bodily fluids for recycling so they don’t waste any moisture. The indigenous people, the Fremen, have a minimalistic approach to life:

The Fremen were supreme in that quality the ancients called “spannungsbogen” – which is, the self-imposed delay between desire for a thing and the act of reaching out to grasp that thing.
— From “The Wisdom of Muad’Dib” by the Princess Irulan

The idea permeates the book. Evil is big, fat, and excessive; good is thin, conservative, and wily. Not sure how far ahead of his time Herbert was in discussing this.

The reader gets a big payoff from a little bit of work. The preceding quote is indicative of how the reader gets a lot of history and background information – each chapter begins with a quote from a sacred text. Additionally, Herbert will use terms that are simply not defined within the standard text, assuming that the reader will consult the glossary if needed. But it’s easy and doesn’t ever seem laborious, adding to the genius of it all.

We learn about the force, before there was the force. I couldn’t help but wonder how much George Lucas was influenced by the Bene Gesserit, an “ancient school of mental and physical training established primarily for female students after the Butlerian Jihad destroyed the so-called “thinking machines” and robots.” Which also makes me wonder how much James Cameron was influenced by the Butlerian Jihad when he conceived the Terminator series.

The desert landscape makes for an original, off-world experience. You have space, the ocean, and forests that are often depicted in sci-fi and fantasy settings, but when has a desert been so re-imagined? I can’t think of any, but help me out. Add to that the idea of sandworms roaming underneath the desert sand…attracted to surface disturbances…that can be ridden by hooking onto their back. That’s just a sampling of the imagination that went into this. I was blown away at times.

Dune is part of what was originally conceived as a trilogy by Herbert, but I think it eventually expanded into six books with even more offshoots by others (I’ll read at least the original trilogy over the next few years). There was a movie and a mini-series made of it, but I haven’t see either (I may put them on the list). Oh yeah, did I mention that Iron Maiden paid homage to it on Piece of Mind with a track called To Tame a Land (great tune).

I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to proclaim that if you read only one sci-fi book in your life, make it Dune. But hey, that’s coming from someone who’s only reading about one or two per year in the genre, so take it with a grain of salt my friends.


Powerhouse Five

I mentioned this book a few months ago after reading a piece of teen fiction called The Hoopster. It was shortly after reading that book that I ordered this one from Abe Books (it’s out of print). This book has a lot of nostalgic value because it’s the first book of fiction I remember reading.

I said that it’s the first book I remember reading, not necessarily the first book I read. They could be the same, of course, I just don’t trust my memory. But suffice it to say, this book certainly had a big impact on my lifelong interest in reading. I’ve thought about it a lot during the last three decades of reading. And strangely, the name of one of the main characters, Studs Magruder, has been stuck in my skull forever. That’s about the only major detail I recalled from the book.

I didn’t remember any other characters, I didn’t remember much of the plot, and I didn’t remember any of the scenery. I just remembered that it was about an outsider hired to coach an industrial league basketball team. And upon finishing this second reading, NONE of it came flooding back.

I thought I would say, “Yeah, I remember that.” But I didn’t, which I’m taking as a sign of old age, and that’s okay.

The item I did remember, Studs Magruder, has been inaccurately recalled by me for the last three decades. I knew he was a villain, but I thought he was just a troublemaker on the same team. That was someone else, Studs was on an opposing team. He was the best player in the league on the best team – a dirty player who eventually gets his comeuppance on the last few pages.

And what an abrupt ending! It did not feel like a short story after I returned it to the Wilson Vance library (which I do remember, so it had to be 4th, 5th, or 6th grade that I read it). All in all, a great walk down memory name.


The Secret Adversary

Pure nostalgia baby! I read this book for leisure when I was in high school (or maybe even before). It was the first Agatha Christie for me and remains the only one I’ve ever completed. Which I don’t understand because I loved it and I love the mystery/thriller genre. Why I haven’t read more of Christie’s books is somewhat of a mystery itself. Upon the second reading, it did not disappoint.

I should note another item; this is the first free, public domain electronic book I’ve read on my Kindle. I just went to Feedbooks and did some searching and eventually arrived at the Agatha Christie page. As soon as I saw this I grabbed it because this book has been stuck in the back of my mind for a few years now. It has always remained a memorable book for me for some reason, but I can’t recall why. I’ve entertained thoughts of purchasing it for years but just never pulled the trigger. Now that burden is lifted.

Most people think of detective Hercule Poirot when they hear Agatha Christie. But he’s not in this novel. This book features Tommy (Beresford) and Tuppence (Prudence Cowley), two “young adventurers” who meet up one day in London after not seeing each other for awhile. In no time, they get up to date on each other and decide to start their own little detective agency. This leads to all sorts of intrigue and danger.

It feels a little like young adult literature. Or maybe it’s just kind of old-fashioned (written in 1922). Or maybe I just don’t have any idea what Christie’s writing style is like. It’s very upbeat and although there is danger and death, I never really got to the edge of my seat. But then again, I’ve read it before, albeit about 30 years ago. Here’s a passage that I found kind of humorous, it occurs when Tommy is captured; he’s trying to figure out what to do if he’s able to lure his captor into his cell:

Therefore, why not wait in ambush for Conrad behind the door, and when he entered bring down a chair, or one of the decrepit pictures, smartly on to his head. One would, of course, be careful not to hit too hard. And then—and then, simply walk out! If he met anyone on the way down, well—Tommy brightened at the thought of an encounter with his fists. Such an affair was infinitely more in his line than the verbal encounter of this afternoon.

The detective novel certainly has changed over the last 90 years huh?

Another technique Christie uses in this book is the big reveal. You know, when the smart detective goes through the deductive process they used to arrive at the solution. I’m not used to this because I don’t read that many classic mysteries. I read a lot of crime fiction, which I think is how I would classify Grafton or Burke. I don’t feel like Grafton ever uses the big reveal.

I will read The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Christie’s other public domain book in the US. Maybe I’ll do that this year or next, so I’ll get a better feel for her writing.



I’m jamming through some serious fiction on this long weekend, so I was forced to reload in a book store in downtown Ventura, CA. It was a huge used book store called Bank of Books. Awesome. As I was wandering through the store I saw a book that brought back a flood of memories from my early reading days. It was this one, Deathwatch, by Robb White.

I read it so long ago that I didn’t have an ounce of recollection for even the major details. I think it might have been 5th or 6th grade when I read it. My memory was clear about one thing though; I loved it back then.

Today, even after the second reading, it did not disappoint. It’s a straightforward action thriller about a college-aged kid who’s trying to make enough money to pay for his next year in college. He does so by being a week-long, hired guide for a high-powered businessman who wants to kill a bighorn for his game room.

Well, the businessman, Madec, accidentally shoots an old prospector who he mistakes for a bighorn and tries to cover it up. Ben, the kid, won’t have anything to do with that so a disagreement ensues. So what does Madec do? He manufactures some evidence against Ben, strips him down, and sends him off into the dessert to die.

The rest is just vintage, somewhat brainless, action. Which goes down very easily for me next to the pool, but I understand that some aren’t ready for something this straightforward so I put the with reservations in. In a relative sense, I didn’t like this book today as much as I did back then. Back then, it was so different and so much more intense than what I was reading at the time. I was just a kid in awe and went on to read a few of his other books (Up Periscope was one that I definitely remember).

But, this book certainly stands the test of time. I wasn’t bored this time around at all. I think this book works well for adults or kids. All in all, a very cool experience for me personally.


The Elements of Style

This is a reference book and I read it from cover to cover, as if it were a novel. The average person may think I’m nuts. Unfortunately, they’re right. The worst of it is, this is probably the third or fourth time I’ve owned this book, but only the first time I’ve cracked it open. I’m embarrassed, but hopefully you won’t make fun of me, to my face at least.

Ah, Strunk and White, as it’s usually referred to. I bought it in college (one). It was given to my whole department in 1998 by the CFO of a company I was working for (two). Additionally, I think I purchased it one other time when I was in the mood to better myself (three). All of those were sold, tossed, or given away.

I identified the need to rehash some basic grammar and stylistic items about a month ago. My sister was looking through one of these blog posts and noticed that I used the word less when I should have used the word fewer. This blew me away because I had no idea what she was talking about. She tried to make me feel better, like any loving sister. She said that she noticed Wal-Mart had made the same error some time ago on a sign to their express lane. That did not console me. I went out shortly thereafter and bought the book again (four).

You may ask, why did you read a reference book from cover to cover? Well, now I’ve at least rehashed a litany of rules, principles, and approaches that good writers use. Hopefully, I’m better equipped to recognize when I’ve committed some error or stylistic gaffe. For example, now I know when I use the word aggravate, I should be sure I don’t mean irritate. Or if I use the word partially, I should be sure I don’t mean partly. Plus, there are some gems like this:

The colon has more effect than the comma, less power to separate than the semicolon, and more formality than the dash.

You can’t deny the beauty in that statement. I didn’t consider these things before today.

Hey, I’m a quant jock trying to make it in a blogosphere filled with lit majors and lawyers. I need some help, and Strunk and White is there for me.