Saturday, August 28, 2010

Oh, the Horror!
The Dead Janitors Club: Pathetically True Tales of a Crime Scene Cleanup King
By Jeff Klima  341pp $15.99 non-fiction Trade paperback Sourcebooks
Crime scene cleaners aren't the sexy CSIs portrayed on TV.  CSCs are the people who show up after the the body (or what's left of it) has been removed, detectives have left, and the evidence had been bagged, tagged and photographed. Their job is to remove blood stains, brain matter, bodily waste and the putrid decomp that occur after death, from wherever that death occurs. You definitely did not hear about this employment opportunity at career day.  It's not a glamour gig, but it pays well, which was all the author cared about when he heard about an opportunity for a CSC job.  Our hero is a student at Cal-State Fullerton and working a soul-crushing retail job when he hears about the opportunity. He's immediately interested and after a wait of a few weeks Klima is called to his first death scene. He's had no training. When he arrives his boss/partner (a sheriff who's moonlighting) hands him a crate with some special cleansers and brushes, a uv flashlight (the better to see bloodstains with) and a tyvek suit. Welcome to the funhouse.
At the first scene they need to scrape blood, brain and skull matter off the walls of a house where a woman shot herself.  Its amazing what a mess a little old lady with a shot gun can make. Klima and his partner get to work and just as they were finishing up they spot some unfinished business splattered on the stucco ceiling. Klima reaches up and begins to scrape, when "I felt the gentle, cold splat of something soft connect with the naked orb of my eye." Oh, the horror. Klima is shaken up, but not shaken enough to quit. The money is too good, even with his idiot partner doing everything wrong. 
A pond of blood, the circumference of a throw rug, lay on the smooth linoleum of the kitchen floor as though someone had dropped the world's largest red egg onto it. And in the center, comprising its yolk, was a piled up large crimson mass with a jellylike consistency....which I speculated was a brain...
Klima hangs in there, going into scenes that are by turns violent (the dead prisoner), poignant (the old lady who was so alone she died and disolved into the floor) and horrific (the quintuple suicide that was discovered after three weeks). Throughout the story, Klima's kick-ass style and gallows humor makes the horror less horrible.
At some point the business expands to cleaning up hoarder homes for the county. If you've seen those homes on the A&E show Hoarders: Buried Alive, you know the kind of cleanup involved. The only upside is the chance of finding a hoard of cash.
All this goes on against a background of the author pursuing his dream of becoming a frat boy and pledging a fraternity. Although these scenes provide a fuller portrait of his life at the time , the work is center stage.
Klima's formidable talent turns what could be a creepy voyeuristic tale into a fast-paced, rip-roaring yarn. You will laugh out loud, you will groan out loud, but you won't want to put it down.

Friday, August 27, 2010

I Know, Therefore I Am
Memory by Donald E. Westlake
HardCaseCrime 368 pp. $7.99

This is not your average hard-boiled mystery. There is no crime per se, no detective punching out bad guys and chasing down clues, no gorgeous dame with an inconvenient husband batting her eyelashes. And yet the mystery here is as noir as it gets.
Memory (Hard Case Crime)Before we're introduced to the protagonist, Paul Cole, he's been beaten nearly to death by a jealous husband who caught him en flagrante.  When he wakes up he's in the hospital, and he has no idea who he is, where he's from or where to go next.  Released from the hospital and intimidated by the local cops, he decides to skip town and try to track down his former life. 
As he accumulates bits and pieces of information regarding his identity, Cole faces a tragic obstacle of his own memory, which no longer works as it should. He wakes up every morning to a series of notes explaining himself to himself, a la Memento.  The picture that starts to emerge of his life before is at odds with who he seems to be now, but of course, he wants want anyone in his shoes would want, for everything to get back to normal as soon as possible. But if he isn't the man he used to be, who is he?
You'll be thinking about this long after you've finished, and wondering about the nature of identity.
Donald E. Westlake, who died in 2008 ,was an award winning crime writer who wrote under several aliases because he was so prolific. Memory is his last book.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

James Ellroy: Haunted by his mother's ghost | From the Observer | The Observer

James Ellroy: Haunted by his mother's ghost From the Observer The Observer
I've long been a fan of the UK Guardian's literary reporting. Click on the headline for an astonishingly well-written profile of crime writer James Ellroy, the reigning king of noir, whose latest, Blood's a Rover is out this month.