Saturday, September 17, 2011

Book Reviews-Mob Killer, The Store, The Devil You Know, Lion's Blood

Mob Killer
by Anthony DeStefano
Charles Carneglia, who is imprisoned for life, was a killer for the Gambino Crime Family, most specifically the Gotti faction. He was directly involved in at least five murders committed under the Family aegis. He was well known throughout the NY underworld for his "enhanced interrogation" skills and for making bodies disappear.
Although I'm not sure it was the author's intent, he simultaneously strips off any glamour from the criminal lifestyle and almost makes you feel sorry for Carneglia, who despite spending his entire adult life toiling away in the NY underworld, never progresses financially. He lacks wealth and respect. No yachts, fat bankrolls, long cigars or harem of busty blondes for Carneglia. 
A delusion persists among some Mob enthusiasts as well as some deluded Mafia members and associates that the Mafia is somehow different than the so-called "street" gangs –more majestic in its goals, possessed of a sort of Dark Side of the Force grandeur that we reluctantly recognize even as we condemn it.


If Carneglia resembled any fictional gangster it wasn't Michael Corleone so much as it was O-Dog. The hot-headed Carneglia committed three murders during unauthorized street brawls or armed robberies. When he wasn't murdering people or disposing of bodies for other gangsters, the subliterate Carneglia was usually drunk. He would boast about killings or crimes he had committed. He was routinely watched and monitored by worried Family associates, who had standing orders to make sure the crazed thug didn't get into a fight and kill someone important, talk too much, or implicate anyone higher up in the Family hierarchy. 
This book destroys the myth that the Mob doesn't kill police officers or other law enforcement officials. Carneglia murdered Albert Gelb, a NY court officer, who saw Carneglia carrying guns and attempted to arrest him. 
Carneglia could not earn or save money. Outside of occasional involvement in drug rackets and extortion of adult video stores/dance clubs he didn't make much money for himself or others. He was despised and yet feared by other Family members wary of his quick temper and skill with a knife. 
Carneglia gradually fell out of favor with Family leaders, who gave him less work over the years. His financial desperation led him to riskier crimes (such as armored car robbery) and involved him with numerous people who could (and ultimately did) testify to his involvement in various acts of mayhem. This book shows that being a criminal is stupid.  Many criminals described were killed or locked away for decades. If you are bound and determined to be a criminal, try to commit illegal acts by yourself or with only one other person. Committing murder in front of witnesses is bound to come back on you and not in a good way. And keep your mouth shut. When five different people sit in court and tell how the jury they saw you kill someone or that you told them how you killed people, you really only have yourself to blame.
Carneglia was no Mafia mastermind. He was just a murderous guy with a bad temper. Mob Killer also examined the life of John Gotti Jr. who triumphantly used a defense (I quit the Mafia) that Carneglia was unable to utilize successfully. There is a question that the book elides but is worth discussing. Many people who testified against Carneglia and received light sentences and/or placement in the Witness Protection Program were either wealthier criminals than he was or more disturbingly had murdered just as many or more people. It doesn't seem right that a killer who looks weird or lacks money (Carneglia was guilty on both counts) gets the book thrown at him while a wealthier or better looking thug (John Gotti Jr.?) manages to elude justice. But that's the world we live in. So it goes.
The Store
By Bentley Little
Like fellow horror authors Stephen King and Richard Laymon, Bentley Little is able to find and depict horror in everyday events. He also throws in some satirical jabs at some American ideals or institutions.
The Store attacks the growing ubiquity of the box store (Target or ESPECIALLY Wal-Mart) as an evil thing sucking the life out of local commerce. That is often how those stores are described by local competitors, union or environmental activists and municipal officials. 

In this book Little asks you to imagine that all those things are true, not just in a financial or moral sense but in a literal supernatural sense. Bill Davis is a local Arizona manager who signs on to join The Store as a good career move. Davis and his wife are social climbing materialists. And he's raising his daughters to be the same way.  Davis finds that The Store's leadership has rather extreme and even immoral ideas about getting low prices, how to defeat the competition and what an employee's loyalty to The Store requires.

The more he learns about The Store, the more Davis feels trapped. He tries and fails to quit and then also tries and fails to prevent his teenage daughters from working at The Store. Davis discovers that corruption pays well but the cost is more than he or his family can afford. Bill Davis is not a typical hero and makes plenty of mistakes. Even after some of the more serious ones though Bill is still in there plugging away, trying to find a solution to the mess he's in. 

Note, somewhat unlike King but definitely like Laymon, Little has a penchant for using kinky sex as a method of shocking and disturbing the reader. If this bothers you (he's nowhere near as explicit as Laymon though) be forewarned. If you don't like Wal-Mart, aren't overly fond of yuppies and like to see just how far someone can push a theme this could be the book for you.

The Devil You Know
By Mike Carey 
Recently there has been an explosion of horror/fantasy/mystery novels set in the UK, primarily in London. Neil Gaiman is probably the most successful author to work this genre but there are several others who do so. Mike Carey is a prime example. The Devil You Know was his debut novel and was a worthwhile entry into this field. 
This book asks us to imagine that in our world’s very near future things like zombies, ghosts, werewolves and demons either suddenly become real or are discovered to have been real all along. After a few religious controversies about the end of the world and so forth and so on, most people settle down to accept these things as real, somewhat normal and just part of life in the new millennium. 

One group of people who have known all along that there are things that go bump in the night are the real psychics and mediums in the world. Felix Castor is such a man. He’s been able to perceive things from the Other Side since he was a boy. As a man he makes a living as an exorcist. He uses music (like Tolkien’s writings, in this story songs have power) to place spirits at rest or eject more maleficent spirits from people they’re possessing. 

But there have been a few problems with his work of late. Castor tried to exorcise the devil Asmodeus from his friend Rafi and found that instead of ejecting the devilish presence he actually bound it with Rafi permanently. And Asmodeus, although trapped in human form and locked away in an insane asylum has some very unpleasant plans for Earth in general and Castor in particular. Depressed by his failure, Castor intends to get out of the exorcism business for good right after he solves a simple case of a museum haunting. 

Obviously this “simple case” turns out to be anything but and Castor ends up fighting for his life and soul from various baddies (werewolves, succubi, gangsters, etc.) who would like to take one or both of them from him. This was a fun book, probably a little longer than it needed to be. It’s very descriptive of London and surrounding areas and can make the reader feel as if he or she is right there. This book has a sizable amount of sardonic British humor. It combines the detective novel, light fantasy, adventure and a touch of horror for a solid read.

Lion’s Blood
By Steven Barnes
(Disclosure-Barnes is a huge influence on my writing style and world view. I used to post on his blog quite a bit and listen to his podcasts frequently.)
You should read this book. That’s probably the most succinct and honest thing I can say about this book. Barnes has written a LOT, on his own, with his wife, the author Tananarive Due, and with the authors Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven among others. Lion’s Blood is probably the best Barnes’ story I’ve read and that’s saying something. It ties together a number of themes and interests that are seen in many of Barnes’ other works-including but not limited to why and how our world came to be, martial arts, love between men and women, and the ultimate shared humanity (for good or bad) among all cultures.

Barnes shows his skills by using the most unlikely of story settings to display these themes. For you see Lion’s Blood is a story about slavery in the New World. It is an incredibly brutal story about slavery in the New World-one complete with all the horrors that institution entailed-the ripping apart of families, the rape of women, the breaking of human beings into little more than farm animals, the stripping away of pride, language, culture and religion and the replacement of those things with false mental images designed to produce abasement, racial self-hatred, and depression for centuries after the initial enslavement.
The twist however is that Lion’s Blood is an alternate history novel. In this timeline, Socrates did not accept his death sentence but fled to Egypt. Later Egypt and Carthage defeat Rome. Bilal becomes more important in Islam. These and other events have the impact of slowing down European development and speeding up the development of Egypt, Ethiopia and West Africa.

As a result one April morning in 1863, Aidan O’Dere, an eleven year old Irish boy has his village raided by Viking slave traders, The Vikings are armed with guns, and swiftly and easily kill the male warriors who try to defend the village, as the Irish only have spears and halberds. One of the men killed is Aidan’s father, who dies before his eyes. The Vikings sell their Irish captives to African slavers. Aidan, his mother, sister and several other Irish are transported across the Atlantic Ocean to the nation we know as America but in this timeline is known as Bilalistan and is divided among various feuding African nations, as well as the Aztecs, Chinese, Vikings, and First Nations. 

Aidan is sold to a powerful African noble, Wakil Abu Ali. Ali, despite having a reputation of being marginally kinder to his slaves than most owners, finds white inferiority self-evident and very much believes in and accepts the institution of slavery. Wakil Abu Ali has a son, Kai, who is about Aidan’s age. The two will become rivals, and enemies and perhaps friends-to the extent that a slave can be a friend with someone who owns him. But Aidan has no intention of remaining a slave. War is in the air. Aidan swears to find his missing sister or die trying. It will take a seven nation army to stop him. And Kai has his own moral, physical and spiritual challenges to deal with... 

Again, I can’t think of anything else to say here than please read this book. It is imo the best book Barnes has ever written and by far the best of those reviewed here today. Check it out.
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