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Tue 05 Jul 2022 02:34:03 AM UTC

Clayton Lindemuth - Master of rural (and a little rebel) noir
Rural noir is big these days, but I've been distracted for a while.  My last major binge was after (re)discovering Robert McCammon about a year back.  One the best, if not prolific, horror writers, he disturbed me a time or three more than just about any writer.  I had lost interest some years back after he drifted a bit from "pure horror", at least in my view.  And not having found the time in a while to see if he had gone back, the Matthew Corbett series was almost up its current stopping point when I discovered it.  I hope it continues.  As I do Clayton Lindemuth's Baer Creighton abooks.  And the others, some related to Baer and some not.  But all good so far. 

You probably figure if I'm a horror fan whatever Clayton is writing is pretty horrific.  Well, I like other stuff.  SF before everything went to pot, if that idiom is still in use enough to mean anything to anyone under sixty.  That was about the time of Star Wars, which was shortly followed by the resurrection of Star Trek, and as the serious SF audience (Asimov/Heinlein/Niven) as well as the fantasy sector (Conan, etc) has polluted the actual SF with an influx of socio-political perversions that have pretty well ruined.  Notice that I use the term SF.  Well there's a reason, and this is not the time or place. 

Back to my new obsession.  I don't remember how I discovered Lindemuth.  Probably a book title grabbed my attention and once I checked it out I was hooked.  Probably most of he really good things happen that way.  To this day I remember being in the back seat of a friend's 1972 Gran Torino.  Gorgeous car, his had the 351 Cleveland and would...  never mind.  Four of us on the way to a concert in Memphis.  Seems like we were over there at least once a month, at the Mid-South Coliseum.  Anyway, my friend was one of the first to get the Uriah Heep 8-track, a live recording from 1973, which put the band on the map, where it remains today.  Never anywhere near famous like various others, but the best rarely are.  They still tour constantly, on every continent, with legions of fans from several generations.  But there you are.  In any case my friend plugged the tape in and after the preliminary noise and the introduction they opened with "Sunrise".  One of a handful of songs that occupy some special place.  Deep Purple's "Burn" is another.  Anyway, I was hooked.  We all were.  Before the next week was out most of us had a copy in our cars.  The local stores sold out pretty quick, and I had to drive to Jonesboro to get mine. 

So a while back I found myself reading, luckily, the first book in the series, "My Brother's Destroyer".  Might as well get on with it.  Baer Creigton has to be experienced.  I'll give the basic plot, maybe some commentary, maybe spoiler, maybe not.  We'll see. 

Here we go:
My Brother's Destroyer (2013) - I had to research the publication dates.  I had long ago gotten behind on my reading, and only got back to it last year.  Being involuntarily retired by a heart attack (not so much the routine bypass surgery and what would have been, in a sane world, at most a few weeks of convalescence.  But we don't live in a sane world, and Clayton's novels don't see, at all far-fetched.  In fact, all the ones I have read so far are about things that are happening around us, and most of the population is either blissfully ignorant or studiously avoiding thinking about it. "Pretty Like an Ugly Girl", which we'll get to later, is a prime example.  My own experience could such a story.  The doctors at St. Bernards Hospital in Jonesboro, Arkansas (I'm just doin' this 'cause I'm stickin their name, and that of a couple other hospitals, in as many places as I can so people see them.  The real villain was Arkansas Continued Care Hospital of Jonesboro, Arkansas, which is something known as a 'Long Term Acute Care Hospital' - got a nice acronym of course, LTACH. The medical industry likes acronyms as much as the military it seems.  Saint Barnyards, as we affectionately call it (Really we do.  Alight already, it isn't affectionate, not even a little) let a ventilator malfunction and just like that no oxygen for fourteen minutes.  Heart stopped at some point (just repaired at a cost to Blue Cross of over a quarter-mil) for almost that long.  Obviously I should've been a goner, and someone apparently assumed I was.  Told my NOK, but by the time they got back to the hospital I was functioning again.  Physically at least.  Told'em I's gonna be a veggie.  Shipped me over to the infamous Arkansas Continued Care Hospital of Jonesboro, Arkansas.  Dump of an old hospital, wasn't much count when it was open, and had been shut down for years.  Thing is, these here LTACHs, they got ways of gettin' more money, special laws and all, but they have to have an average patient stay of at least 25 days.  Average, you see, so they roll this supposed veggie in there, they can let'em lay there long as they can, pad the stats.  And of course billing the insurance companies, or Medicare in most cases, but they kept milkin' Blue Cross in my case.  Never even checked me to see if my brain was damaged.  Better if I didn't wake up at all, for a long time.  Pretty soon though, my two siblings got suspicious.  Know a thang of two 'bout medicine, they do.  Tole the doc he better get my eyes open and do some tests.  He delayed as long as he could, but backed off the drugs.  Woke up.  Said where am I and what am I doin' here and when am I gettin' out. Uh-oh. Took another three weeks (money rollin' in all the time) afore they got me vertical.  Walker.  Made it to the door and into a waiting car.  Recovery pretty fast after that, except for the memory loss and neuro-wackiness.  Still gotta use a cane, can't balance.  Still can't sleep more than a couple of hours a night, bizarre dreams all the while.  Better off awake. Ya'see, they didn't just pump barbs, the easy and relatively safe way to do it.  Nah, this Josef Mengele wannabe was havin'em shootin' in stuff for schizos, anti-psychotics, stuff for bipolar disorders and a bunch of other stuff.  Ain't good even for people what really got problems, and them cocktails messed up my brain something good.  Maybe they wanted to be sure I was non-functional. Find out one of these days. 

But not exactly Clayton's cup of tea.  More like Robin Cook>I reckon. No, Baer Creighton> is unique in a literary universe of seemingly endless variety.  Start with a poor North Carolina family, two brothers estranged at an early age.  One brother tries to kill the other by electrocuting him, but Baer not only survives but is gifted/afflicted by becoming able to tell when someone is lying - their eyes turn red (the bigger the lie the redder) and he feels an electric shock.  Comes in handy though.  Baer makes moonshine, the best in the region.  Keeps to himself mostly, living in the sticks with his beloved dog.  One day someone steals the dog, uses it in a dogfight, throws his dying best friend back near his home.  They done messed with the wrong man. 

Dog fightin' bad enough.  Only the most depraved human beings would participate in it.  I know some people who confessed to attending one, accompanying someone else who was going, perhaps didn't know what was going on.  Idunno, probably a couple of people at most.  But it is about as evil as a man (or woman, but it's mostly men) can be.  He'll get revenge, and horrible as it is you can't disapprove. 

I bin writin' kinda the way Baer talks.  He's a hick, born and raised.  But he hates evil, even just people lying and taking advantage of others, but especially the kind he finds when he goes after the men who killed his beloved dog.  And he isn't dumb, at all.  And by the end the man who just wanted to be left alone becomes, whether he likes it or not, an avenging angel wreaking awful judgment on a variety of evildoers.  And as spectacular as the evil, and the retribution, is it gets better. 

Alright, thereyago.  As for the evildoers in my own life, there's a description here. Gettin' late, and I got some retribution of my own to get on with. 'cause what I didn't mention was, they took a couple of year out of my life.  And don't get me started on the finacial impact.  We'll let the lawyers handle it, should be fun. 

The Mundane Work of Vengeance (2018) - The author says that a sequel was not planned, but he responded to reader interest with this.  It begins after the massacre at the end, which was attended by a couple of FBI agents who were uninjured but are not pursuing Baer to arrest him for the mass murder.  With a few buckets of gold coins (Baer's pretty smart and does the math in his head - the several hundred pounds of gold coins he had stashed in an old tree near this still is worth a few million, so he totes them along) and the widow of his (destroyed) brother and her daughter (which is actually Baer's, although he didn't know it until just now) he, the widow and their daughter flee.  Couple of local cops as hostages, one of whom just happened to be a serial killer emulating Buffalo Bill from "The Silence of the Lambs" and his current victim is left locked in the torture chamber while Baer abducts him.  It doesn't matter who you are, whether you're wearin a badge, man or woman, you're gonna end up at room temperature pretty quick.  As his daughter tells one of the FBI agents who's about to get it "Two things you need to know about Baer Creighton," Mae says. "He doesn't lie. And he knows every single time you do."  Like a good Clint Eastwood flick, plenty of baddies gittin theirs, and the reluctant avenger carries his burden philosophically. 

Pretty Like an Ugly Girl (2018) - This probably gonna be the worst, in terms of depicting, about as graphically as one can with words, pure unadulterated evil.  The climax is disturbing no matter how thorougly that justice is administered.  Baer, with his daughter by the widow of the brother he killed earlier, only she was still his brother's wife when he made the daughter, ya get all that? - are now in Arizona.  They split up for Baer to have some quiet time camping in the sticks.  With Stinky Joe, the dog he rescued from the dog abusers who killed his dog.  Joe tries to keep him straight with his opinion on whatever he happens to be doing at the moment, and mostly succceeds. But some human traffickers hauling a load of teenaged Mexicans has a flat tire on the highway near his camp.  One of the kids tries to escape, one of the traffickers shoots him as he runs near Baer's camp, Stinky runs out to see, gets shot too.  Baer sees what's goin on, but goes to find Stinky first, and the scumbags finish their work and escape.  Stinky's all right, just nicked him.  Baer figures it ain't his fight.  Except one of the other kids in the truck givin'em some trouble, they decide to bring her back to where they killed the first one, gonna kill her too.  Baer catches'em this time.  Kills the dirtbag, saves the girl.  Only he figgers it's a boy, as the first one was.  Pretty like an ugly girl.  He discovers the truth soon enough.  But meanwhile the traffickers have delivered the remainder of the cargo, including the girl's younger sister, to their final destination.  A crime family - literally, a cattle rancher/meat seller/restaurateur/nightclub/brothel operation run by him and his sons - has a very profitable operation by selling young girls to the most depraved men able to pay for even the ultimate evil pleasure.  Literally the ultimate.  Use your imagination, or read it.  Unfortunately, they are also paranoid wacko preppers (yeah, there's a handful of those, but they're about as abundant as white supremacists) and they put him out of action for the finale.  That's up to Nat Cinder, another of Clayton's colorful characters who has a series of his own.  A corrupt FBI agent (is there another kind these days?) throws a monkey wrench into the works, ironically being the contact for a guilt-ridden family member who wants out. The retribution is satisfying, a feel-good story as they say, but you realize with sadness that even if it happens occasionally it doesn't happen nearly often enough.  Epstein was disposed of when he became a problem, and the minions and the customers remain unexposed.

Like John D. MacDonald Clayton knows a awful lot about the way things work.  A few months ago an operation much like the one described was busted in Salt Lake City (the location of the operation in this story) but there was no mention of the gory details described here.  Those don't get exposed.  Like Epstein, too much money and too many powerful people to keep it hidden.  Of course, Travis McGee only had to deal with murderous fraudsters and an occasional sociopath.  What fifty years of decay does to a society that was already being eaten away since the earliest days of the previous century. 

So there it is.  Next one, well I wanna ask Clayton sometime, if he ever read the Big Red series by Jim Kjelgaard.  He seems to like dogs.  The Big Red books were for younger readers.  I was quite young when I read them, a lot younger that most young readers.  Which can cause problems, like reading Atlas Shrugged when you're eleven or so. 

The Outlaw Stinky Joe (2019) - "Pretty" ends with Baer and Stinky Joe separated.  Left to fend for himself, he ends up being take in, briefly, by a four-hundred-pound trailer park prostitute.  The corrupt owner (laundering drug money and generally a low-life) doesn't allow animals an altercation ensues when he discovers him.  On the road again, but now being trailed by the crooks because the big woman had been asked to hide a USB stick with incriminating evidence, and told the crooks who came looking for it that she had attached it to the dog's collar and good luck.  So they're after Joe, who gets into more altercations, in Flagstaff, cameras all over the place and people getting dead around him, so the law is after him too.  Luckily Baer sees him on the news and goes after him.  Most of the story involves Joe surviving in the city and in the wild, and the crooks killing off various people, in addition to each other.  And when Baer goes looking for him, he has to off an LE type or two cause they just won't stop.  Encountering Nat Cinder at an opportune time helps.  The large woman is Shirley Lyle, and the experience pushes her to the limit of tolerance for bullshit, and she's now prepared to go on a rampage with her new friend, a Ukrainian stripper.  I haven't read any of the 'Shirley F'N Lyle' yet.  There are three so far.  What I've seen of Shirley so far, I'm not sure I want to.  But I will. 'night kiddos.  Fri 08 Jul 2022 03:35:57 AM UTC : 1657251357

Blunt Force Kindness (2020) - Some flashbacks to Baer's formative years, including his meeting with an old German immigrant (WWII era) who taught him how to make his legendary shine.  This time, equipped with a new identity and a new Jeep, courtesy of Nat (who has some connections) but a near-wreck on an icy road in Colorado does wreck the Jeeps tranny, and he and the girls are stuck.  A lawman, dying from cancer with weeks to live, gives him a tow and helps him get repaired.  But he wants something, something Baer ain't willing to do.  More nasty people doin nasty things to each other, for money, or revenge, or sometimes just plain meanness. 

The Men I Sent Forward (2020) - "Pretty" was bad, no ways about it.  A while back Baer entered the world of metaphysicalphilosopyicalness, or something like that.  All due to picking up a beautiful physics professor from Chicago U.  A physics professor who ran out of gas in a snowstorm.  Sounds about right.  He and Tat (Tathiana) and Corazon, the Mexican girls he rescued from the human traffickers a while back (that would be while searching for his dog Stinky) are traveling together in Colorado.  Tat is eighteen, so at whatever point she and Baer (old enough to be her father at least) become involved, is's OK.  Little sister Corazon three years younger.  Abused in the brothel back in Salt Lake, she naturally wants to.... well let's just say and and Tat get into a habit of looking up the local pedophiles in whatever place they end up.  Use Corazon as bait.  Tat uses her Glock, Corazon prefers a knife.  It is close work.  Only problem is, leaving a trail of dead men (as Captain Terrell in The Outlaw Josey Wales said: Not a hard man to track. Leaves dead men wherever he goes." Soon the Federal Baby Incinerators (apparently without the Armed Torch Force this time, after all in ain't Waco) is on their trail.  Of course they want Baer too, for killin' a few of their comrades.  But gotta get these kids that's killin' pedos first.  So they use a pedo to bait them.  They get away, but the pedo is also the operator of another trafficking operation.  This one in body parts.  Owns a funeral home, got connections with some mechanics to make people's cars have accidents (kill younger people instead of waiting for them to die, better parts) so they have a supply of bodies to part out.  Pretty good.  Anyone who incorporates an old Cat D6 with a pony motor starter into the plot will keep me interested.  A sad note. There used to be a joke about Bonanza.  They said if Hoss acquired a love interest she would be dead before it was over.  Kinda not in the plan.  Hard to pick a best, or even a top three, but this one probably would be in it. 

Destroyer (2021) - So here we are at the end, for now.  Sure there'll be more.  Baer is out there.  Him and Tat (you may wonder what happened to the kid sister - remember what I said 'bout Hoss' girlfriends.  Not a continuing character.) are in Pennsylvnia.  How they git there?  Well, he from North Carolina.  Now he and Tat (she's settling into the role of the avenging angel's sidekick/lover/whatever.  Which is to say she'll kill you 'bout as quick as he will.)  Not quite, but you don't wanna threaten her.  Or him.  From the North Carolina backwoods probably ain't much different from the Pennsylvania sticks where they are now.  Seems an upstart politician, promisin' to not be crooked as a sackful of snakes, about to do in the three-term congresscritter.  Ain't got a lot of money, but his sister is educated in marketing, helps him out.  Well, you know how that works.  He ends up dead.  Suicide, donchaknow?  Typed note.  Now the rep (whois family seems backwoodsy, just with a kid who made it in politics) is OK.  Connections in the government, with some help from a reporterette for sale to the highest bidder, took care of it all.  Until Baer and Tat show up.  The baddies are purty despicable all right.  So of course they end up dead.  Baer and Tat do some soul-searching during and after.  Baer's mental workins get pretty weird at times.  Can't wait for the next one.  Couple of Nat Cinder entries I haven't read yet keep me happy. 

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