Friday, November 13, 2015

Ideas Like Bullets -- Bullets from Another Gun Reviews

I began blogging, albeit the history since I began such an exercise of actually committing said process has been spotty, for a number of reasons.  Shameless self promotion by talking about a variety of things was definitely high on the list, as I remember. I also truly wanted an avenue to share ideas that I would have that I would likely never have time to write, to actually offer them to other people.  Opening up my soul and doling out pieces of my private life was not originally on the agenda, but due to events in the last year of my life, that has been added and I have to say it has worked out well for me so far.  Not sure it’s made for interesting reading for you all, however many single digits of readers ‘all’ refers to, but it has proven a good outlet for me.  But amongst all that, there was another reason to strike off into the vast wasteland...or maybe wasted vastland is a better term…of blogging.

Talking about what I read.  Book Reviews.

I read. A lot. Probably one hundred times the amount deemed healthy by any organization that might even pretend to be able to gauge the healthy results and dangerous side effects of such an act.  Not only do I read voraciously, I also enjoy talking about what I have consumed from the page, be it a paper page or a digitally reproduced one.  So, when blogging became something I did, reviews were part and parcel of that.

Turns out, they still are.

Periodically, probably about once a month or so, this space will be filled with Bullets From Another’s Gun: Reviews by Tommy Hancock. And although this will largely be focused on books, there will periodically be salient or savage thoughts on such things as comics, DVDs, TV shows, and the like.  But, yes, to force variety on you from my very own corner of existence, welcome to the return of Bullets from Another’s Gun, with two reviews as follows.

BULLETS FROM ANOTHER’S GUN: REVIEWS BY TOMMY HANCOCK

Monsters: Evil Beings, Mythical Beasts, and All Manner of Imaginary Terrors by David D. Gilmore

University of Pennsylvania Press

2003

I am a reader.  I am also a writer.  Being both, it falls to me the glorious and wondrous privilege of reading both fiction and nonfiction works.  Not that being an author is a requirement to do either, but it definitely makes me better at that craft.  Which is why from time to time I review books that aren’t full of fictional over the top heroes and dastardly villains.  Every once in a blue moon, which is a nonfiction fact type occurrence by the way, I will find myself telling tales on a nonfiction tome I have read. 

Monsters: Evil Beings, Mythical Beasts, and All Manner of Imaginary Terrors is a book that holds much promise from just reading the back cover copy and gendering at the table of contents.  It is laid out as a comprehensive study of the belief in Monsters around the world, how we as a race develop our concepts of the monstrous and why we do so.  Most notably, the book holds itself out to be a cursory look at monsters from around the globe, giving readers a peek under the beds and into the shadows of multiple societies and letting us get up close and personal with what scares everyone from Native Americans to Aborigines in Australia and tribes I’ve never heard of in Africa and Antarctica.

On that note, this book succeeds rather well.  From the Wendigo to bunyips, from were-sharks to an ogre named Flaming Teeth, Gilmore lays out a monsterography that definitely got my idea wheels to spinning.  So many works like this one tend to stay safe, to only focus on the monsters that we recognize, the creatures that are at least on the periphery of what we know.  In Monsters,  Gilmore goes beyond the easy and delves into the dark corners of various societies and really pulls the ghoulies and ghosties out for the readers to enjoy and experience.

Where this book loses a few steps, for me, at least, is in its real intent.  Packaged to be something that fans of monsters or even creators like me who are interested in fodder for stories would want to read, Monsters is actually more textbook than anything. It also is a chance for the author to share his thesis on a very specific topic.  This book is not about monsters, but rather about WHY there are monsters.  To that end, Gilmore cites multiple studies, from psychologists and psychiatrists, including Freud, Jung, and others, to an endless array of anthropologists and even archaeologists to show not only why humanity needs to create monsters, but how there seems to a whole host of universal themes that link many of the stories and legends around the world together.

Now, there is nothing wrong with a book that does the above. As a matter of fact, I found some of the facts and studies presented to be interesting.  The issue, however, is that this volume couldn’t make up its mind what it wanted to be.  On one hand, it was a well written sort of thumbnail encyclopedia of monsters and scary creatures.  Then, with just a sentence of transition, it became not only an intense study of the origins of such belief, but an overbearing top-heavy-with-citation-and-references term paper.  When it made that transition, it was more cumbersome text book than anything.  And, as for some reason is the wont for such works, the author only spends two paragraphs on the last page actually outlining his theory, and not doing it very well I might add.

THREE OUT OF SIX BULLETS- (For those new to my reviews, I use a six bullet scale, not five stars.  Yeah, it’s mostly to keep with the ‘Gun’ motif, but books with 1-2 bullets sorta stink, 3 is average, read it if you want, 4 is just slightly above that, and 5-6 are pretty much should and have to reads.) If you’re wanting to learn about creatures you’ve never heard of, then this is the book for you. If you truly want to know about why we need to create monsters, this is the book for you.  Its biggest drawback is that it does a horrible job of balancing and blending these two intentional directions it attempts to go.

BULLETS FROM ANOTHER’S GUN: REVIEWS BY TOMMY HANCOCK

No Game for a Dame: A Maggie Sullivan Mystery Book 1 by M. Ruth Myers

Tuesday House

2011

It is absolutely no secret that my first love is not only mysteries, but mysteries featuring investigators, usually of the Private type.  It is also, with a little digging of a deductive sort, not hard to determine that I am a particular fan of book series, giving me a chance to see the characters I love show up again and again. So, to trip across anything that purports to be the first in a series about a Private Eye is going to get my attention.

No Game for A Dame not only got my attention, but this book kept it and me on the edge of our respective seats.

Set in Depression Era Dayton, Ohio, No Game for a Dame introduces private investigator Maggie Sullivan.  The daughter of a deceased policemen, Maggie has hung her shingle and handles the cases that private citizens don’t necessarily want the police involved in.  At least, that’s what she’s handling when this book starts.  Hired by the owner of an office supplies distributor to investigate his nephew to determine if he’s in any sort of trouble or perhaps causing trouble for the business, Maggie finds herself in the midst of a mystery that involves or at least borders on including every crime you can imagine.  Extortion, burglary, and, of course, murder.

When a thug who bursts into Maggie’s office winds up dead not long after, she is of course considered a suspect.  Getting at least out of that enough to carry on with her job, Maggie becomes bound and determined to figure out what is going on, as all the loose ends in this tale come together as clear as mud for her.  And she’ll find out the truth, she’s sure of that.  Even though it’ll probably kill her.

No Game for a Dame may simply be the best Private Detective book I have read in a really long time.  Maggie Sullivan nails every prerequisite a strong PI character should have and definitely falls into the hard boiled arena when she needs to.  Having said that, she is not in any way just Phillip Marlowe in a skirt.  M. Ruth Myers makes sure that Maggie is all woman at the same time she is giving Spade and Spenser a run for their money.  And she doesn’t do it in clichéd ways, either.  Maggie Sullivan is a fully rounded character, one who shuffles her thoughts about all aspects of her life, from interacting with the girls in the boarding house she lives in to dealing with the two over protective policemen who act as her surrogate fathers, with the danger that gets thrown at her like bullets.

Another fantastic aspect of this novel is the cast that Maggie comes into contact with.  Not only is the supporting cast that I feel we will see in later novels (and yes, there are more) strong, but all of the characters in this book stand out as well crafted and very much real.  Combine that with the way that Myers makes Depression era Dayton very much a part of the story and No Game for a Dame works in every single way.

SIX OUT OF SIX BULLETS- No Game for a Dame is fully loaded as truly a fantastic PI novel and hits every mark it aims at.