Friday Reviews: Sky Blues by Vicki Hendricks

Sky Blues by Vicki HendricksSky Blues

Vicki Hendricks

Ever wonder why someone would jump out of a perfectly good airplane? It’s the rush. That’s what wildlife vet Destiny Donne learns when a handsome skydiver walks into her office asking for help with a lion cub he’s not supposed to have. His name is Tom and he smooth-talks his way into her bed and lures her into the world of skydiving. Yet Desi, as she’s called, finds herself played against Tom’s estranged wife Swan. Soon, Tom is talking murder. Desi must kill, Tom tells her, or be killed.

Hendricks likes to reverse the traditional noir with women playing the seduced and men as the homme fatale. But where Miami Purity and Iguana Love had women stumbling into situations not of their making, and Voluntary Madness had a female protag sliding down the rabbit hole after a man hell-bent on hitting the bottom, Des strikes me as a bit too intelligent for falling for Tom, who is an obvious con man from the get-go. Yes, he oozes masculine sex out every pore, but his story about the lion cub being kept “for a guy” should have meant a phone call to the police.

But the main feature of this story is the sky diving. It’s one of Hendricks’s interests, and that shines through in this. In some ways, Des exists less to provide her with a channel for her talents in noir than she does to convey what it’s like for humans to literally fly.

Friday Reviews: Voluntary Madness by Vicki Hendricks

Voluntary Madness

Vicki Hendricks

Vicki Hendricks is known for her “reverse noir,” populated by women who should know better getting involved with “homme fatales.” This time out, young Juliette is living in Key West, Florida, with her boyfriend Punch, who is writing a novel. They are living off her father’s estate for a year at the end of which they will kill themselves. Punch has chosen Key West because it was Hemingway’s home for a time. Only Voluntary Madness seems to be more Kerouac than Hemingway.

And yet as their final day approaches, Juliette senses their year of Bohemian living is all wrong. They go from posing as a blind man and his wife (with the world’s smallest guide dog, a pug) and Juliette flashing tourists to get a reaction to robbing restaurants. All this is material for Punch’s novel. Yet during this time, Juliette meets a lesbian witch named Isis, who falls for her. Isis a a calm port for Juliette, and yet she cannot convince herself to leave Punch even when Punch seems hell bent on killing himself.

This is probably the most atypical of Hendricks’ books. It has the Florida setting, but it seems less noir than an homage to On the Road. There is that total hedonistic mission Punch and Juliette have where even their deaths are intended to be an act of rebellion. And yet, unlike Sal Paradise, Juliette realizes there’s something else. It’s a long, hard journey to that point.

Wednesday Reviews: Iguana Love by Vicki Hendricks

Iguana Love

Vicki Hendricks

Vicki Hendricks is often compared to James M. Cain. In here stories, it’s the woman who is led astray sexually or romantically into a dark and dangerous world while the man plays the seducer. Of course, Hendricks’ world is much more violent.

And interesting. Iguana Love, however, differs from Miami Purity in that it’s more an erotic tale than a crime fiction story. In fact, the crime fiction takes up only the back quarter of the story. Ramona Romano, a woman whose mother probably got naming tips from the father of Ed McBain’s Meyer Meyer, is bored with her marriage. She is bored with her body. She craves adventure. She craves sex. She craves making herself into a muscled goddess. Ramona dumps her husband Gary and begins hanging out with a pair of divers, Charlie and Enzo. Both want Ramona, and she takes them, along with a few of the other divers in her rescue class. Meanwhile, she decides to bulk up with steroids as she begins body building. This is a woman who wants to take control. Eventually, she settles on Enzo, but discovers that his way to make money is by running drugs from the Bahamas to Miami, using his diving skills to discreetly retrieve product.

As I said, the book is more erotic than criminal. Three fourths of the book concerns Ramona’s physical and sexual experimentation, as well as her goal to become a rescue diver. The last fourth is almost a short story unto itself with Ramona willingly trapped in her relationship with Enzo. This being noir, at least in name, it does not end well. For the characters, that is. For the reader, the ending is bizarrely ambiguous.

Thursday Reviews: The Hidden Reality By Brian Greene, Skeleton Crew By Stephen King, Miami Purity By Vicki Hendricks

The Hidden Reality

Brian Greene

I actually got this book from the library after I saw Greene appear on The Big Bang Theory. Naturally, Sheldon Cooper made fun of him. I’d venture to say Greene is far smarter than Sheldon since he not only understands string theory, but he can make some aspects of it understandable to the layman. In other words, Greene has social skills.

That’s good because there were some concepts of this book that made me zone out. It’s a hazard the non-physicist must risk if he or she is to delve into such complex concepts as multiverses. What’s a multiverse?

Well, what we call the universe – all that there is – is not quite all that there is. There are, if string theory ever manages to wed relativity and quantum mechanics, parallel universes. Greene posits nine different theories of how this might be true. Which one is the right one? Greene suggests that all of them could be true, that one type of multiverse doesn’t preclude the existence of another.

It’s complex, and many of the theories are simply beyond the reach of anyone without at least a rudimentary grasp of advanced mathematics. But Greene keeps going, explaining how sometimes ego or shortsightedness gets in the way of solving the riddles of the universe, and how long it takes to move from one breakthrough in physics to the next. Newton and Einstein never intended their theories to be the end-all, be-all of how the universe works. And it becomes clear that, while we know vastly more now than we knew even ten years ago, we are decades from coming up with a single theory of everything. Even then, there will be a lot of work to do.

Skeleton Crew

Stephen King

Stephen King’s second collection contains one of his classic novellas, The Mist, recently made into a movie. The Mist is particularly creepy because you don’t really see the monsters until it’s too late. But Skeleton Crew is more than just filler to justify putting The Mist into a Stephen King book. There are some hits and misses. “Here There Be Tygers” reads like it was written by a kid. The two Milkman stories fell rather flat as murderous milk man Spike Milligan spent more time throwing me out of the story than drawing me in. Set in the Pittsburgh area, the Milkman stories gave me the impression they were material that didn’t make it into Christine.

But there are a lot of hits, too. “The Jaunt” is classic pulp science fiction with a Twilight Zone twist. “The Raft,” your basic monster tale with four horny teenagers, has an unusual monster and a very dark ending. What impressed me was that “The Raft” was a lost story. The magazine that published the original went out of business, and King had lost the manuscript. The version here is recreated from memory, though at the time of the book’s original publication, King still has not found the original. “Gramma” was truly scary, and along with “The Monkey,” shows some of King’s unease with some aspects of his childhood. The collection ends, however, with a non-horror story called “The Reach,” which takes us up to the final day of the oldest resident of Goat Island, Maine, a woman who has never left the island since the day she was born and only does so when the Reach – the channel between the island and the coast of Maine – freezes completely over. It’s less a tragedy than a snapshot of a part of Maine most people don’t think about. It’s this isolated culture that also gives rise to King’s later novel, The Colorado Kid. Over all, I prefer King’s earlier short story collection, Night Shift, to this one, but Skeleton Crew does show King with a higher level of skill (with a coupleĀ  of exceptions) than Night Shift. There was something raw about those stories. But if you can read these collections interchangeably, and the intro to the collection contains one of King’s snarkiest retorts to unsolicited advice from non-writers that every writer has to endure.

Plus, you’ll finally get to read “Survivor Type,” probably King’s most bizarre non-supernatural story, and find out why, good as it is, it was unpublishable until he did this collection. You’ll never hear the McDonald’s jingle the same way again.

Miami Purity

Vicki Hendricks

Sherri, formerly known as Cherry, has drunk and slept her way through life, most recently in a mutually abusive relationship with Hank. Unfortunately, one of their fights resulted in Hank going to his eternal reward, prompting Sherry to change careers. She leaves the stripper pole behind for the exciting world of dry cleaning, wandering into Miami Purity Cleaners in Miami. There she meets Payne Mahoney, the handsome manager of the store. She also meets Brenda, Payne’s mother and quite possibly Mrs. Wolowitz’ evil twin. Brenda is a control freak who doesn’t like anyone getting close to her son, and yet that’s exactly what Sherry does with Payne. So when Brenda shows up drunk at the store one evening and gets into a shoving match with Sherry, well… Life gets easier for Payne.

Or does it? They decide to pretend Brenda drowned, which is easy enough to fake. Sherry moves in with Payne, and everything is hunky dory. For a while. Sherry is not exactly innocent, but Brenda, she eventually learns, was a monster. And then there’s her son, Payne, who becomes more and more remote and secretive over time, alternately blaming Sherry for Brenda’s death and pleading with her not to leave. With author Hendricks writing Sherry in the role of a James M. Cain protag, you know it’s going to come to a violent end. But how?