Thursday, April 20, 2017

Exorcizamus te, omnis immunde spiritus.

So, in a moment I've been kind of dreading for a while now, particularly since Abracadaver was published in 2014, and Goldzilla has been announced yet not released, I did finish Laura Resnick's most recent Esther Diamond novel.

Picking up right after the ending of The Misfortune Cookie, we start at the end of Chinese New Year with John Chen, the funeral home worker dragging an exhausted Max, Lucky, and Esther back to the mortuary where a recently prepared corpse has just tried to walk out. While this might have lead into a rehash of the zombies in Unsympathetic Magic, it instead focuses on Lopez's partner Quinn, and his oppression by a very old demon. (How old? It speaks pre-Christ Aramaic.)

Given the indie film Esther was working on previously has folded production, Esther is quite pleased that Crime & Punishment: The Dirty Thirty wants her to reprise her role as Jilly C-Note, the bisexual hooker. Also gives her an excuse to sent the show's star, Nolan, to shadow Lopez and Quinn to figure out what the demon is plotting.

While th ebook features much of the same increasingly bizarre situations that make the series so much fun to read, there's a really large fight between Lopez and Esther that's really hard to make it through.

And eventually, we get resolution, sort of rushed, but satisfying none the less.

Unlike other books in the series, this one is not particularly focused on one Manhattan neighborhood. Instead, we're much more focused on the interpersonal relationships of the characters and how the supernatural tends to affect those relationships.

I hope Goldzilla eventually sees release, since I'd really hate to see the series end here.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome!

Once, again, I find myself tracking down origin materials for a musical I've recently seen. In this case, I saw Cabaret earlier this month, so I started reading Christopher Isherwood's The Berlin Stories, which formed the basis for the play and later movie I Am a Camera, which in turn became Cabaret.  Since I don't run a theater blog, and I leave the movie reviews for my brother Chuck over at The Other Ebert .... (And I'm not sure when or if I'm going to read the source of the musical I saw in New York. Tolstoy might be a bit much.)

The Berlin Stories is actually two novels, The Last of Mr. Norris and Goodbye to Berlin, with the former being written in 1935 and the latter in 1939. Both concern the author narrating a fictionalized account of his life in Weimar Republic Berlin. By the end of Goodbye, Der Furher has taken power and is about to become a dictator.Both portray a wonderful vision of the era, even if the author left out a bunch of personal things going on in his own life at the time that were (according to Armistead Maupin's introduction) later revealed more in depth in Isherwood's Christopher and His Kind, which will likely be reserved in the very near future. As it is, tantalizing hints lie in the prose, but written is such vagaries as to get around the censors of the era.

The Last of Mr. Norris concerns our narrator (William Bradshaw, which would be Mr. Isherwood's middle names) as he crosses into German by train, sharing a compartment with the title character, a rather effeminate business man whom the narrator assumes is smuggling silk from Paris into Berlin.

Mr. Norris and Bradshaw become friends over time, with Bradshaw getting involved with the German Communists by proxy. Mr. Norris has issues with his hired help, and also appears to be paying a woman of negotiable virtue (and a friend when not otherwise employed) to dominate him. Over time, we see Norris, who does works for the Communists, get Bradshaw involved with Herr Kuno Pregnitz for a trip to Switzerland to make monetary arrangements which would benefit Mr. Norris. Pregnitz is an older man with a collection of physique magazines and a love of books written for younger men. (It's rather implied that Kuno's gay and has an interest in Bradshaw, but given the time of the writing, nothing is ever spoken aloud.) In Switzerland, Herr Pregnitz meets with Van Hoorn and son, not knowing they're Norris contacts. Kuno flirts shamelessly with the son, who in turn befriends Bradshaw, eventually unleashing his Nazi sympathies to the young British narrator. (Having the benefit of reading this nearly a century later, I can say it's quite disturbing how much the young Dutchman believes the crap.) As it turns out, what's been going on is that Van Hoorn Sr. is with the French Secret Service and trying to use Herr Pregnitz government contacts to get better information than Norris can provide.

Which leads to a confrontation with Norris, who in turn leaves town before either the Police or the Communists or his former employee can get him.  We hear bits from him over a few moths, as the reichstag burns while he is in South America.

Then we start into Goodbye to Berlin, which is narrated by a man named Christopher Isherwood. (Or Herr Isseyvoo, as his landlady Frl. Schroeder  calls him.) It takes the form of a diary (or journal really; nothing is dated and the stories really don't have a particular narrative order to them), discussing Isherwood's various dealings with people in Berlin. This section is where we meet the now famous Sally Bowles, a singer with rather...um...loose standards of morality. (It's kind of funny, she's only in the book for about 30 pages, but she's one of the most memorable parts.) We meet the tenants sharing his boarding house with him, including the prostitute Frl. Kost (who winds up with a Japanese sugar daddy towards the end) and Frl. Mayr, the singing Nazi. We wend our way through him teaching English to students, some poorer than others, and at one point join him in a small attic where he's living with a 5 person family. We meet the Landaurs, a Jewish family who's fate doesn't seem that pleasant by the end. (The patriarch suffers a "heart attack" under the eyes of the Nazis.) We watch as Weimar falls and the Reich rises.

Honestly, it's the end that gets to be the most memorable, as Isherwood talks about the folks watching the atrocities start and throwing up their hands, but not doing anything to stop them.

One of the more striking bits of all of this is discussions on how everyone wound up where they are in the narrative, While this would have been Depression era, the post War era with its Inflation is almost another character in the narrative. It's hard not to feel like you are there in some sections, whether freezing in Otto's parent's kitchen, or listening as the old maids argue over small things in the living room.

Quite frankly, I kind of wish they'd have used either one or both of these for the German perspective in my high school lit class's WWII section rather than the rather horrid novel we read instead.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Hard Hearted Hannah

So, since there was a gap between my last finished book and the arrival of my reserves at the library, I had to choose something off the shelf to get me through. Wound up choosing John Berendt's 90's potboiler, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, of which I think I've owned 3 copies at different points. (Kind of like Jewel's Pieces of You album.)

It's been several years since I slipped away from things to go walk historic Savannah with John's narration of the eccentric folks within and the murder that eventually engulfs the entire town. We start with the author, a New York Magazine writer/editor, going on a trip south and eventually moving part time to Savannah, GA.

Within the confines of the city, he meets folks ranging from Emma Kelly (nicknamed by Johnny Mercer as "The Lady of 6,000 Songs") to The Lady Chablis, the Grand Empress of Savannah. Eventually, as he starts moving through the rarefied straights Upper Crust Savannah, he meets Jim Williams, an antiques dealer who lives in Mercer House on one of Savannah's historic squares.

Halfway through the book, Williams gets arrested for Murder, having shot the male hustler sort of in his employ.

The second half of the book concerns the four trials of Mr. Williams and the various personalities involved in said trials. One of whom, Minerva, the Vodou priestess from nearby Beaufort, SC, who gives the book its title. (The graveyard being the Garden, and midnight being the meridian between good magic and evil magic.)

Eventually, Williams gets acquitted, after about 8 years of trials and a change of venue. Then dies of pneumonia quite suddenly in about the same position he would have been in had his hustler friends actually succeeded in shooting him. (Minerva swears and the author sort of agrees that Danny, the dead boy, was angry with Williams and this was his final revenge.)

The book is very entertaining, even as is portrays just about every side to every charcater the author encounters. We hear about Mr. Odem, who's convicetd of forging checks, but charms everyone anyway, Chablis's meltdown at the Black Cotillion, Lee Adler, who is not well liked for his restoration projects downtown, although a thread of anti-semitism exists there as well.

If I had to critisize the book for any one thing in particular, it's that it take half the book before it stops being profile pieces on the people of Savannah and moves into the murder phase, which is also about the only time the narrative has any real sense of linear time.

Like I said, it's a fun read, deserving to be read at a leisurely pace while sipping something mildly alcoholic.