Saturday, February 27, 2016

Book Reviews: The Resort, The Sixth Family, Something from the Nightside

The Resort
by Bentley Little
I continually attempt to write shorter reviews because of time constraints. This book happens to be a perfect test case upon which to try a more pithy style. Bentley Little is a horror writer who uses the Southwest, most frequently Arizona, the same way that Stephen King uses Maine. It's Little's home turf and primary fictional setting. It's what he knows. He brings it to life. Bentley Little does not possess the same talent for characterization as Stephen King does. That's not a knock against Little. Few popular writers have that sort of knack. Little is a fast food horror writer. I don't mean that in any sort of pejorative way. You know what you're going to get with Little. Usually a family or group of people in the Southwest run into some sort of supernatural or extraterrestrial event and are lucky to escape unscathed. Little also has a strong penchant for the perverse. Little often produces easy reading that can manage to make the great outdoors look dangerous. Little's description of the empty deserts, deserted highways and big box stores of the Southwest can give a reader the chills, that is when Little is on his game. An example of Little being on his game would be The Store, his horror parody of big box stores such as Wal-Mart, Target, Sam's Club and Best Buy. Unfortunately I didn't really think as highly of the book The Resort, which reads initially like a homage to Stephen King's The Shining (there's a psychically sensitive little boy and even a reference to room 217 IIRC) but very quickly degenerates into shock for the sake of shock. I don't think my tolerance for gore has decreased with age. The Shining is a masterpiece. It also had some graphic violence and sex. The Resort has more graphic sex and violence than The Shining but has less of a story to tell. Where The Shining used clues and hints throughout to ratchet up the sense of foreboding while giving the reader increasingly detailed sneak peeks at The Overlook hotel history, The Resort just throws weird gross sex and violence at the reader while not bringing together any themes until the very end where Little hits you over the head with the proverbial kitchen sink. I just couldn't get into the story because so much of it didn't make sense. After a while I was looking ahead to see how many pages were left before the end. I got far enough into the book that I felt obligated to finish it. 

A California man named Lowell Thurman, his wife and their three sons decide to vacation for a week at a fancy out of the way Arizona hotel, The Reata. Lowell's primary reason for doing this is to avoid his 20th high school reunion. Lowell is a college graduate with econ/business training. But currently he has plateaued out as a grocery store middle management supervisor. His work pays the bills, but Lowell's not happy he has a job instead of a career. His job can find him working with accounting spreadsheets and figuring profit margins or occasionally working a register during a busy time. Lowell is happy to be out of California and away from all his high school "friends". The family has trouble even finding The Reata and things go downhill from there. Someone steals their room and also steals some of the wife's clothing. There are raucous parties in restaurants and in rooms that are supposedly unoccupied. Dionysian gardeners leer at female guests. Someone urgently warns them to get out but won't tell them why. Something is in the pool. Their car breaks down and somehow neither AAA nor hotel management can get it fixed. The events coordinator wants to sign up Lowell for various sports activities and won't take no for an answer. Hotel employees suddenly become rude and bellicose with no warning. And throughout all of this the Thurmans and some of the other everyday guests find themselves inexplicably not wanting to leave The Reata. Ever. The concept wasn't bad but I didn't like the execution. Because most of the characters are flat you don't feel a sense of danger or loss when bad things happen. I was never captivated by any character. The gleeful exploration of body functions added little. There were just too many disjointed occurrences to make this a worthwhile read for me. It also ran longer than it should. As always, YMMV.




The Sixth Family
by Adrian Humphreys and Lee Lamothe
Although some assumptions behind the premise of this book proved to be incorrect and more recent events have made some information contained within woefully dated, this was still a very good read for organized crime buffs. For those who aren't the book is written in an easy to understand style, not quite conversational but definitely informational. What we know as the American Mafia was not only transported from various Italian criminal traditions but also changed and altered by conflict and cooperation with other racial and ethnic groups in the United States as well as by the contrasting social conditions between the United States and Italy. The virtual freeze on immigration to the US between 1924 and 1965 was also an important catalyst in Americanizing the mob and pushing it to develop along more practical business lines. Although they did not, as rumored, exterminate all of the old school mob leaders derisively known as "Mustache Petes", 1930s mob leaders such as Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky and Frank Costello were key architects in building a nationwide syndicate that ran on interests and loyalties defined by profit rather than bloodlines. They also endorsed a "five family" system in New York City which has endured to this day. But not everyone was as avant-garde as Luciano. Some people still believed in restricting mob membership to Sicilians and limiting intimate business relationships to members of their blood family or exceedingly close friends. Mob boss Joseph Bonanno, founder of the NYC family which bears his name, was younger than Luciano but far more traditional. He continued to work closely with Italian mobsters, Sicilians preferred. Bonanno sent men to Montreal where he claimed hegemony. The Montreal Mob was divided into Sicilian and non-Sicilian factions, although both technically owed allegiance to the Bonanno Family. Over time, the Montreal Sicilian group, headed by at first Nicholas Rizzuto and later by his son Vito, became more powerful. This group took over all of Montreal and several other areas in Canada. The Rizzutos were very clannish and took pains to hide their true strength from both their enemies and their supposed New York friends. The Montreal group had worldwide business interests and blood relations working on at least four continents. Gradually they became far wealthier and more powerful than their New York "bosses" though they pretended otherwise to avoid law enforcement interest. Sicilians linked to Montreal were involved in the murder of recalcitrant Bonanno Family captains and most infamously the self-proclaimed Bonanno boss (and their former patron) Carmine Galante.
This book is a very interesting look at the sprawling businesses and rivalries of the Montreal leadership and top hierarchy. Most of the the top people were related to each other by blood, by marriage or occasionally by both vectors (apparently first cousins are legitimate romantic/sexual interests in some circles) which made it difficult for law enforcement or other criminal rivals to penetrate the Montreal group. This book also examines the problems which immigrant Sicilian Mafiosi caused for their American and Canadian counterparts. Not only did the Sicilians have a well deserved reputation for violence, more importantly there were regular disputes and debates about organizational structure. Could a Sicilian mobster be a leader in an American group if he was still a member of a Sicilian Family? Could an American tell a Sicilian what to do? If a Sicilian arrived in North America and opened up a business or racket that competed with a preexisting one, who could sit in judgment? Would a violent reaction from a North American start an international conflict? As mentioned this book will be mostly of interest to organized crime aficionados. The Montreal Mafia had rivalries and partnerships with various other criminal groups, most notably the Hells Angels. If you are curious about organized crime outside of America this would be a good read. After this book was published, Vito Rizzuto, the Montreal boss, was sentenced to ten years in an American prison. Evidently either there was long suppressed rancor in the Family or outsiders saw their chance. In a relatively short period of time Vito's brother-in-law, close friend, son and father (the former boss) were all murdered. After his release Vito led a campaign of retribution but soon after died from lung cancer.




Something from the Nightside
by Simon Green
If you like private eye stories, swoon for detective stories with a hint of the macabre and magical, enjoy stories where the hero is not necessarily a "good" guy in the classic square jawed Dudley DoRight mode, relish dry sardonic British humor or just appreciate tales where the protagonist has a secret heritage that may make him extremely powerful or extremely vulnerable then you might want to check out this Jim Butcher approved first book in Simon Green's Nightside series.

The Nightside is a sort of twin pocket dimension linked to London. As the name implies it's the shadow to London's light. It's probably bigger than London. Time and space do not work the same way in the Nightside as they do in the regular world. "It's always night in the Nightside. It's always three o'clock in the morning, and the dawn never comes. People are always coming and going, drawn by needs that dare not speak their names, searching for pleasures and services unforgivable in the sane daylight world. You can buy or sell anything in the Nightside, and no one asks questions. No one cares. There's a nightclub where you can pay to see a fallen angel forever burning...

The Nightside is also the former home of one John Taylor. His father abandoned him once he discovered that John's mother, whom John knows little or nothing about, wasn't human. John grew up rough in the Nightside, making both enemies and friends. He probably made more enemies. When things got too dangerous, John split for London, saving both his life and sanity. Now he makes a living as a private detective. John's primary talent, besides a smart mouth, is that he's able to find anyone or anything in any plane of existence, whether that person or thing wants to be found or not. So you probably have a secret weakness or lust. John can find that. The way thru a minefield? John can find that too. The exact sequence of events to cause the Apocalypse? Give him time he can probably find that. Even so, John Taylor is between jobs and dodging bill collectors when an attractive wealthy woman named Joanna Barrett walks into his office and demands that he find her missing daughter, Cathy. There's just one problem. Joanna has good reason to believe that Cathy has somehow gone to the Nightside, the one place John swore he'd never visit again. There's a lot of bad blood waiting for John in the Nightside. Even some of his former friends like Shotgun Suzy or Razor Eddie might not be thrilled to see John again. But John needs the money, and he's not usually the type to turn down a lady in distress. But God help anyone who's trying to play him. You wouldn't like John when he gets upset. 

This is a short book that is just over 200 pages. There are a few hints about John's heritage and why some people are deferential to him while others would like to kill him on sight. There's some comedy. This was a fun introduction to a good series. The cliches are there but they work.


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