Pharaohs and Kings:A Biblical Quest,
David M. Rohl         Rohl is a young Egyptologist who argues from archeological and textual studies for a change in the currently accepted time frame of the Third Intermediate Interval in Egyptian history. His "New Chronology" has significant implications for the current conventional dating of Jewish history and the fact that there are VERY serious current problems with archeological verification of the Old Testament as history. For example, he says that by the currently accepted chronology there is NO archeological evidence whatsoever for the relatively great opulence of the period of Solomon! This is a "popularization" of the technical studies of Rohl (to lead to the PhD, he says), and is told in a sometimes breathless confiding style, by a pretty good story teller who rambles at times, could have organized his material better, and who has compiled a truly pathetic index! One must read carefully, because significant confusion may arise because of several different time referencing systems. There is the familiar BC or BCE time frame (which the author does not propose to change!) There is the "old chronology", accepted generally and based on an Egyptian chronology. There is a "Biblical" chronology, and there is the "new chronology" based on the author's arguments. There is a series of periods known as the various Iron and Bronze Ages that will shift in the BCE frame depending on the chronology accepted! The author flips happily back and forth - confusingly sometimes - among these various time referencing systems as he adduces data to shrink Egyptian history by about 350 years. Given the shrinkage, the "new chronology" argues a new dating (in the BCE frame) of the various Bronze and Iron ages, so that many of the very serious problems with archeological dating of Israel's history - in the Biblical time frame - seem to vanish. In addition, it leads the author to (among other things) what he believes is in fact the identity of Saul and that of the pharaoh who was in power at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. The book, although very readable, is somewhat verbose, in need of more editing, and dense with information, tables, marginal notes, speculation, and WONDERFUL pictures. There is also a lot of "it might therefore be possible...", and "doesn't it seem probable that..." type of phrases, and the author has lavish praise and defense of at least some of the beliefs of Immanuel Velikovsky! Hmmm.... The book badly needs a good summary of the arguments and a vast revision of the disgraceful index. But it is VERY interesting in many places; annoying at times, but interesting - and persuasive! I'll look for the sure-to-come counterarguments, but he has currently convinced me!  Rohl,D.M.;Pharaohs and Kings

The Prince and the Pilgrim;
Mary Stewart         A light, pleasant, pretty much uneventful fleshing out of a brief medieval tale cited by Malory in Le Morte d' Arthur, and inserted here by  Stewart into the much earlier world of Camelot. The Prince is Alisander le Orphelin, here called Alexander, the son of Boudwin of Cornwall, who was murdered by King Mark, his brother. Alexander was raised by his mother Anna, away from Cornwall. The Pilgrim is beautiful Alice la Beale, daughter of Duke Ansirus the Pilgrim (sic). Stewart follows Malory's tale about Alisander, and invents a background for Alice, and combines them in a leisurely recounting of the growing up of these two, and their lives before meeting. In fact, they meet only sixty pages (out of 292) before the end of the book. This reader was left with the vague feeling that the book is not worth Stewart's effort. It contributes nothing to the Arthurian world, and might well have been left as Malory's two and a half page version of the tale (although I must admit that Stewart's background for Alice is the most interesting part of the tale). In what may be the most interesting part of the book, Stewart reprints Malory's version and also some interesting notes about the research and background pertaining to HER version.  Stewart,M; The Prince and the Pilgrim

Nevada Barr         Another murder mystery story about the interesting Park Ranger Anna Pigeon. This one certainly has a very different and contrived locale for murder - in the midst of a major forest fire! Anna is serving as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) with firefighters involved in a large scale fire, when the fire blows out into a firestorm. Anna and the crew she is with are trapped by the fire, but most of the group survive in their emergency single-person shelters. When the fire has burned past them, they find one of the group stabbed to death in his shelter. Weather and tree falls make it  impossible for base camp to extricate the group for some time, so they must stay on the mountain. Anna is also a security officer, and she works on trying to solve the strange murder. She has remote help from her FBI friend, Frederick Stanton, who flys to the scene when he hears that Anna is trapped. The murder can be considered Federal, so he works the problem too, and communicates with Anna by radio. The author must have had some experience in a fire-line "stick" camp - the details are compelling; and the account of surviving in the midst of a major burn is realistic and gripping. The mystery is NOT as gripping. Again, as in others in this good series, much of the interest in the book is in the very interesting character of Anna. I liked the story, but I flat-out do not believe that the survivors would have had to hike some distance to a location where their hand-held radios would reach the base camp. The minute the fire blew out - or before - and certainly soon after - there would have been aircraft nearby trying desperately to contact anyone on the ground! Those pilots are GOOD.  Barr,N.;Firestorm

the POET;
Michael Connelly         I am almost uncritically admiring of the gripping, interesting, suspenseful, and surprising murder-thriller mysteries written by Connelly. This is another, and if it had not been authored by Connelly, I might well not have read it. It involves serial murders, and I decided a while ago to give up on these - but Connelly couldn't be skipped!. In this one, Connelly shifts from a policeman to a journalist as protagonist in this first person narrative, and his real life background as a police beat journalist helps make this a good yarn. The narrator is Jack McEvoy, a Denver newspaper journalist specializing in murder stories, and twin brother to Sean McEvoy, a detective. Sean is involved with the gruesome murder of a child, and one night is found in his car, an apparent suicide. Jack is devastated, and unbelieving. He begins to look into suicides of police officers, and also into the death of his brother. Several pieces of evidence indicate that in fact his brother was probably murdered, and his check of other cases begins to indicate that a serial killer has been methodically killing detectives - and leaving hints!. He alerts authorities, the FBI gets involved, and he gets involved with the FBI - especially a female agent. It is a novel of steadily increasing suspense, detailed police procedures, and stunning plot twists. A villain in the story is hooked into the Internet via a Bulletin Board that in essence is a chat room for criminals! That was also the situation in another recent serial- killer novel:Watch Me, by A.J. Holt - also about a serial killer! Both serial killers and the Internet are "in" things it seems in current detective stories.  Connelly,M.; the POET

Inside Talk Radio:America's Voice or Just Hot Air;
Peter Laufer         Laufer is an author and a broadcaster - both  talk show host and  "journalist" in the latter category. He started in radio in the early 70's and was (relatively) recently fired from WRC in Washington, DC. He still acts as a "host" on talk radio from time to time. He is fascinated by the power wielded by talk show hosts, and it is clear that he is somewhat addicted to that power. At the same time, he is appalled by talk radio, and has a negative opinion of this strange entertainment and of most of the people who host and produce it. He also has some unpleasant observations about the broadcast industry (but remember he was fired from WRC), and he recounts with revulsion the "money is the ONLY thing" attitude of the new management that took over WRC. The book is a series of looks at the industry and the people. It is interesting in many spots, and distressing and scary in others; but is essentially a series of spots - sort of sound bites! It is not well organized, and is redundant. I suspect it was written in "bites". It continually explores the question of the fascination of the genre, and the question of whether one is dealing with journalism or entertainment-with no answers.. It is an insider's view, and he notes that, in the name of entertainment and ratings, outright lies are commonplace and deliberate. He also notes and deplores the rapidly spreading hate-mongering in the business. With FEW exceptions, talk radio seems to him to be intellectual pornography. His list of predictions is sickening.  Laufer,P.;Inside Talk Radio

Vittoria Cottage;
D.E. Stevenson       This is the first of a trilogy written a few years after the end of WWII by Dorothy Emily Stevenson - a prolific novelist. It is of a 1930-1940 genre that I find hard to put my finger on. It is, I think, a Romance - I use the qualifier because many of Stevenson's stories ARE Romances (in the current sense), but these are a tad different. It contains nice, decent, ordinary people, is concerned with love, loyalty, courage, and values, has gentle quiet humor, is told in a deceptively simple style, and leaves the empathic reader with a very good feeling. Such stories are, for me, a version of "chicken soup for the soul". But then I am a sentimental old man, who is easily filled with nostalgia for the type of culture and values in this series of stories laid first in England, then in the Scottish border country. I re-read these from time to time; at the moment I am in a very stressful situation, and so I reached back for something to help soothe my spirits. And of course Stevenson did! If you read such stories, try this set of stories. Music in the Hills,Shoulder the Sky.  Stevenson,D.E.;Vittoria Cottage

Stephen L. Carter       I read parts of, and skimmed the rest of this interesting, and ultimately unsatisfying discussion of the somewhat elusive idea of integrity. The author, an attorney, provides a three-component definition of integrity in action, and then proceeds to examine integrity in a variety of situations - journalism, law (somewhat), politics, marriage, etc. He also discusses why honesty is not integrity, and some of the impact of "modern" ideas about lying on his idea of integrity. I have no problem with his definition. The problem is that I think he seems no further ahead than the major philosophers who have - in essence - examined (usually unsatisfactorily) the crucial part of his definition. You see, what enters in an absolutely crucial way is the idea of right and wrong. And the author has no better idea of that than anyone else. His examples resonate positively with the reader; but it is clear that he depends on the reader KNOWING right from wrong, and good from evil. Then he has to face the problem that there are people who believe his right is wrong, and his wrong is right -- and that in terms of his definition it would appear there can actually be an integrity of evil! He strongly denies this, and argues against it (with some difficulty), and it seems to me that ultimately he ends up back with Augustine and Thomas Aquinas -- G-d is the arbiter!  Carter,S.L.;(integrity)

Black Light;
Stephen Hunter       This is the third book in a trilogy; the first two were Point of Impact, and Dirty White Boys. I read the first (see a previous note) and enjoyed it a great deal as a nicely worked out, shoot-em-up, macho tale about Bob "The Nailer" - a Viet-Nam sniper home from the wars. I skipped the second, after reading the jacket and flipping through a bit of it, as an unpleasant story about a bunch of criminals. This one involves Bob Lee Swagger again. Bob is approached by a young man who wants to write a book about Bob's father - a State Policeman killed in line of duty in a shoot-out forty years before. Bob wants no part of it until he looks at a collection of papers and effects related to his father - stuff he never wanted to examine. He finds a startling thing in the evidence report, and realizes that his father was not killed in the shoot out - he was killed by a sniper. The tale alternates in time, from the present, as Bob, and Russ - the proposed author - start to look back into the events around the death of Bob's father, and the time in 1955 when Bob's father was headed for his fateful night. Gradually it becomes clear that there was an elaborate, carefully planned, and expensive plot to kill Bob's father, and Bob & Russ set out to track down those responsible. Their efforts are noted, and moves are made to stop them. There is the obligatory shoot-out in which Bob, single handedly, efficiently and violently kills off ten heavily armed professional killers who set an ambush for him, and another face-off in which Bob himself is the target of a sniper - the one who killed his father in fact! The story is certainly reminiscent of Point of Impact, but I like it better. Bob is more real in this one, the plot is more intriguing, and it is again a well worked out and well told thriller; slightly reminiscent of some of the work of Stewart Woods.  Hunter,S.;Black Light

White Smoke;
Andrew Greely       I thoroughly enjoyed this latest by Father Greely. It is his version of the NEXT Papal Convocation for the selection of a new Pope. White smoke, of course, is the traditional signal that a new Pope has in fact been chosen. Greely takes us through the realistic political goings on, both public and private. Bishop "Blackie" Ryan is present with his Cardinal, Sean Cronin, from Chicago, and a male New York Times reporter and a female CNN reporter are covering the event. The latter two (Irish background of course) were once married and divorced - but are still married according to the Church. The story is of the Church events, and the passionate sexy love story of the two media people. The story is told in chapters narrated by the various characters, and although I do not like that format, it works well here. Father Greely deftly communicates his strong feelings about what he sees as the terrible administrative and organizational confusion of the Church, and its inadequacy in understanding its members! The book is really a fictionalized polemic about what he sees as the sociological mistakes of the Church, and is very well done. It is also a good story. There are two very interesting addenda that deal with Greely's viewpoints. He is careful to point out that his criticisms are sociological - not theological. And in his essay on why Catholics remain Catholic, he tells a truly delightful little story.   Greely,A.;White Smoke

Final Jeopardy
;Linda Fairstein       A very interesting and good first novel of a particular genre: an inside view of a crime-related specialty, with an intermixture of procedural details of the specialty and the solution of a murder mystery. The latter can also involve its own police procedural. An excellent current series of this type is that written by Robert Tanenbaum about a Manhattan District Attorney, Butch Karp. The current novel is also centered in the Manhattan DA's office; the first person narrator is Alexandra Cooper, a wealthy, unmarried, Assistant DA in charge of the Sex Crimes Unit. She loaned her Martha's Vinyard house to a friend, a movie star, and the star was killed at the site. The story concerns the investigation of that crime, and the various threads that tie the narrator and others, including her lover, to the case. As the investigation proceeds, we follow Alex through her daily detailed business of prosecuting sex offenders and working with the police to solve the murder of her friend. Alex has a set of close friends inside the office, outside the office, and in the police department. These are close supportive teams, very like those in the structure of Tanenbaum's world of Butch Karp. And like Tanenbaum, Fairstein brings to the story intimate first-hand knowledge. She is currently the real Assistant DA in charge of the real Manhattan Sex Crimes Unit!  Could this could be somewhat autobiographical? If it is, then Fairstein is someone that it would be a pleasure to meet, because her alter-ego, Alex Cooper, is a delight. The story telling suggests a first attempt, but it is a good yarn.  Fairstein,L.;Final Jeopardy

Ambrose Bierce:Alone in Bad Company;
Roy Morris, Jr.       A very interesting, extremely readable, even-handed biography of the one-of-a- kind, mordant Bierce. Even if the reader is not familiar with Bierce, she will find it worthwhile to read this account of that misanthropic writer and the interesting life he led. The author takes great pains to narrate the details of the various worlds in which Bierce lived, and the result is a fascinating journey through history with Bierce. He fought with demonstrated courage on the Union side in the Civil War, and was formally recognized, commended, and promoted. It is almost unbelievable that he fought bravely through major killing campaigns - including Shiloh and Chickamagua - for years without injury, but he did, and the author (a Civil War historian) is brilliant in describing the associated history of that war. He finally did receive a wound, and that ultimately led to his leaving the army. His years in San Franscisco are deftly interwoven with accounts of the milieu of the time, and his years with Hearst are covered well. His writings are analyzed well, and the author notes the various episodes in Bierce's life that may have helped create them. His relationship to and comparison with Crane and Twain are interestingly evaluated. The unsolved mystery of his final disappearance is discussed in detail, and the various "solutions" are derided by the author, who provides his own! This is a nice piece of work as well as a good biography. The title is from Bierce's sardonic "Devil's Dictionary", where the definition is "ALONE, adj. In bad company". And I cannot quit this book note without noting Bierce's famous, and perhaps shortest-ever book review: "The covers of this book are too far apart."  Morris,Jr.,R.;Ambrose Bierce

The Dead of Winter;
Paula Gosling       Readers of these notes will know that I ALMOST always try 100 pages of a book before quitting. I tried 100 pages of this, and decided to quit; nothing caught my interest. But Chapter 12 didn't end till page 103, and the last sentence intrigued me, so I started Chapter 13 - and finished the book. I almost had the feeling that someone else took up the writing! The first five or six pages of Chapter 13 are a delight as the synthetic Native American shaman, "Old Fishguts", carries out some hokey magical spirit incantations. Then the story begins to move along, the characters become more interesting, etc. Mind you, it is not that great a murder mystery; it is just that the change seemed to me to be remarkable, and that is the only reason that I write this note! The scene is Blackwater Bay in Michigan, in the winter. A body is spotted under the ice by an ice fisherman. The characters center around Jessica Gibbons, a local high school teacher, and the five boarders (also teachers) that live in her house. There is also a local savvy policeman and an assortment of local characters - for color. The story involves hip topics such as the mafia, witness protection, and drugs. I do not plan to read any others in this series, but I certainly enjoyed "Old Fishguts"! Gosling,P.;The Dead of Winter

Breaking the News:How the Media Undermine American Democracy;
James Fallows       Fallows is a journalist of 20 years, Washington Editor of The Atlantic Monthly, author of 2 other non-fiction books (one of which won a National Book Award), and weekly commentator on National Public Radio. Good background for this fascinating, persuasive, revealing book. I found that his comments, analysis, and criticisms of contemporary journalists and their milieu explain a lot of the vague feelings that have churned around in me as I watch and think about the news media. Mind you, I do not watch television - at all - so my views are restricted; but what he says clarifies greatly what I have perceived dimly. "Journalism" - whatever it is - is of course not a profession: there are no formal rules, and few (and changeable) ethics. Fallows points this out for example in his discussions of the journalist-talk-show frenzy, and the public speaking circus. He has little sympathy for the journalists who feel that they should not have to reveal the sponsors who pay them huge honoraria for speeches; he is particularly irritated at Steve and Cokie Roberts!. He notes that journalism has increasingly become entertainment, that big name "news" people (Bigfeet!) in the TV medium are essentially entertainers; and that names in the print media become - knowingly - entertainers on TV in order to increase their public recognition! He carefully outlines the mind set that generates "news" that is, almost always, only politically oriented, and the reasons that, almost always, underlying real issues are ignored. He observes that the media present an unvaryingly despairing picture of the world and society. He notes how journalists are subtly influenced by "access" to politicians. And he indicates clearly the danger to democracy. It is fascinating to see that almost invariably "the people" have entirely different ideas about what they want to hear than do the journalists. As I said - a persuasive account. He ends up with comments about activities - in small newspapers - to change the concept. The movement, public journalism, is not without problems, but it sounds better to me than what is going on today! The book seems to me to be somewhat poorly, and occasionally irritatingly, organized, but I read it with keen morbid interest - and some depression.  Fallows,J.; Breaking the News  LATER NOTE: In August 1996, Fallows was appointed the editor of U.S. News and World Report and fired Steve Roberts! Roberts complained there was nothing wrong with taking fees for lecturing. Exactly the myopia that Fellows complains about in this book. An article in the Post suggests that Fellows might have a hard time convincing readers that issue-oriented journalism is of interest. Could be.

Nicholas Christopher       A VERY strange novel of fantasy, written by a very well recognized poet. It is told in the first person by Leo, a photographer, who meets beautiful, strange, aloof and mysterious Veronica - and her pick-pocket brother - and has his life changed completely. Veronica's father was a world famous conjurer. He spent time in the orient and learned how to execute time travels in the "fourth dimension." He used this power in his stage shows, and during one show, via treachery on the part of his assistant, he is locked back in time. Veronica and her brother are attempting to retrieve him from time past, and Leo - who it seems can be made to travel in time also - is to be a key player. This is a surreal novel, full of dark seemingly inexplicable events, foreboding, fantasy, evil, and magic. I like fantasy, but this one didn't hit the spot.  Christopher,N.;Veronica

The Frog;
John Hawkes       Two VERY strange novels in a row! I am not sure what this one is. It is the first person narrative of a Frenchman, who tells us of his childhood (circa WWI) on the estate of a young count; an estate on which his father was a farmer. He tells us of his fascination with frogs, and of swallowing a frog. The frog's name is Armand. Armand causes the child pain, and his parents do not know what is wrong with him, and of course he will not reveal Armand! We follow him, and Armand, from the estate to an insane asylum, to a house of prostitution, back to the insane asylum. The story is strange, vulgar at times, erotic, and hypnotic. The narrator's madness is very persuasive - the reader may well come to believe in Armand - if she finishes the book!  Hawkes,J.;The Frog

Remember Me,
Irene Jan Burke       This appears to be the fourth mystery starring southern California newspaper reporter Irene Kelly, who is married to a homicide detective. In this one, various members of the local power structure commit suicide, resign from office, get killed, etc. These events seem to be correlated with having received messages from a homeless drunk who was once an instructor of Kelly's. The drunk, not recognized by Kelly in a chance meeting on the street, was attempting to rehabilitate himself, and is found dead; homicide appears probable. The story is of Kelly's investigation into the past of her ex-instructor, and of her attempts to determine the mystery surrounding the power structure. The latter, it appears is tangled up with real estate development in the past. The story is passable, but not a grabber. I think that I have recently read another one in which past real-estate misdeeds project violence into the present.  Burke,J.;Remember Me,Irene

Insects Through the Seasons;
Waldbrauer,Gilbert       Waldbrauer is a retired entomologist, who writes here of the fascinating insect world, which has occupied him for many years. He writes well, and he is anxious to have you enjoy, appreciate, and be astounded by his little buggy friends. He is also an out- doors type, and provides almost lyrical descriptions of the various seasons. There is a LOT of material about the sex life of insects. I guess I had never thought of the matter, but Waldbrauer certainly covers it thoroughly and enthusiastically! Once past that, there is a vast amount of other information that this reader found interesting and remarkable - to say the least. It is mind boggling how beautifully Nature has used evolution to construct astoundingly complicated ecological structures. I cannot remember another book that made me so keenly aware of the complexities in the world around us. The nature lover will thoroughly enjoy this - despite the 70 pages of complicated insect erotism!  Waldbrauer,G.;Insects Through the Seasons

The Time Before History: A Million Years of Human Impact;
Colin Tudge       Tudge calls himself a biologist; by which he means that he studied biology in college. He is, and has been for years, a science writer. In this book he presents a picture of the world before mankind, and then the world after mankind appeared. Despite what I gather is a lot of writing experience on the part of the author, this seems to me to be an uneven book, and I am not sure of the intended audience. Parts of the book are very interesting, parts are technically stupifying, and the index - which needs to be GREAT in such books - has been slighted. Tudge (like Leaky and others) is persuaded that the extinctions of the large beasts in the world are due to mankind. The evidence, although circumstantial and statistical, is persuasive. He also believes that there were many more than two "exoduses" from Africa (the largest number currently in vogue), and proposes a theory that there were many departures and introgressions. When one examines the arguments for the one or two diasporas, it seems blindingly obvious that both theories are wrong, and that the idea proposed by Tudge is correct. I came to this conclusion immediately, before reading Tudge's argument, and I am not a biologist! He has some penetrating insights into the overwhelming role of agriculture in transforming the world, and those comments are easily the most interesting in the book. He also tries to argue that we should conserve animal species, and has no better luck at a viable argument than do Leakey and Lewin in their book (on somewhat the same theme, but a far better book):The Sixth Extinction[see a previous note].  Tudge,C.;The Time Before History

McNally's Puzzle;
Lawrence Sanders       Sanders is a prolific novelist specializing in mysteries and crime. He is a GOOD story teller. Six novels ago he started a series starring Archie McNally, private and unofficial investigator for his father's law firm in Palm Beach. The first two or so of this series are very intriguing and delightful reading, but the style and situations do not change, and now they seem to be only potboilers that must not take Sanders much more than a month to write. This is another. The characters, the actions, the description, all are now automatic and stale. The coy archness of Archy is increasing and seems grating rather than amusing, and in this one there is no great mystery. Read the first one or two, then go to Sanders' OTHER novels - there are some really good ones. Or perhaps I'm simply becoming jaded!  Sanders,L.;McNally's Puzzle

Ancient Shores;
Jack McDevitt       An engrossing science fiction tale that is an intriguing view of our society. Tom Lasker is plowing his North Dakota farm when he finds something sticking from the ground. He excavates deeply, and finds to his amazement a brand new sailboat - a ketch. After a bit it becomes clear the craft displays a technology that cannot be duplicated on earth, and it seems likely that it was present on the earth 10,000 years ago. Max Collingwood, a broker of antique aircraft, and the owner of a P-38, believes that there must be another artifact - a base from which the boat set sail on an ancient sea that once covered Tom's farm. With the aid of sub-surface radar, a geologic exploration team finds a large underground sphere - located on an Indian reservation. It turns out the sphere is a doorway to other worlds. The story explores the effect of that discovery on the people who made the discovery, the Indians who own the land where the sphere is located, the politicians in Washington, the businesses that see futures doomed if the advanced technology can be acquired, a variety of ordinary and some unusual people, the bureaucracies, etc. All aspects of our culture are affected, and the results are presented in a fascinating tale. Of course, finally, the government decides it will take over the site by force - another Wounded Knee operation looms. I must confess I did not foresee the way the author resolves the potential lose-lose confrontation. The book has some weaknesses, including a little too much leaping around among minor characters, although that idea IS used to some effect; and the unexpected ending is certainly contrived and a bit shaky -- but effective. But it IS a very enjoyable tale in which there are occasionally aspects reminiscent of Arthur Clarke's wonderful Rendezvous With Rama. I felt that this science fiction story was one that people who skip science fiction might enjoy reading, so I gave it to my wife - a non-science- fiction reader - as an experiment. She was entranced! "A wonderful story," she said enthusiastically. SO - even if you do not read science fiction - give this one a try. Bet you get hooked.  McDevitt,J.;Ancient Shores

Gods and Generals: A Novel of the Civil War;
Jeff Shaara       Jeff Shaara is the son of Michael Sharra who, 20 or so years ago, wrote that magnificent novel about the definitive Civil War battle at Gettysburg: Killer Angels. The current book has been called a preqel to the latter, and it is, in two ways. It acquaints us intimately with three of the main protagonists in Michael Scharra's book: Lee, Chamberlain, and Hancock, in the times just before and then during the Civil War; and in addition, tells us of Longstreet, Sherman, Stuart and more "peripheral" characters. There are 55 chapters; each is headed with the name of an individual, and the chapter describes the individual and his actions. This is a choppy mode of story telling, but the reader gets used to it. We follow the main characters before the war, then before, during, and after each of the battles of Lee's Army of Virginia campaigns. I was not predisposed to like this book, but it grew on me greatly as I read. It is a good one. There are elements of Sharra's style that I find grating, and I feel that he wasn't able to adequately portray the complex people he had to deal with. They are not quite three dimensional - and that seems especially true of Chamberlain. The story is also skewed to the South; there is a lot more interesting detail about the Confederate activities and the Confederate heros. Of course the Virginia campaigns WERE dominated by the Confederates. Nevertheless, the book is well worth reading. It ends the day before Gettysburg; and when you finish, go back and read his dad's book again.  Shaara,J.;Gods and Generals

The Demon-Haunted World:Science as a Candle in the Dark;
Carl Sagan       Sagan is, of course, one of the more prolific, talented, and dedicated writers in support of science. This book is a series of 25 essays on science and its significance in the world. It covers far too much territory to deal with here adequately. Basically he discusses many of the non-scientific and irrational beliefs in the world, possible reasons for these beliefs, and invokes a scientific skepticism about them. I was intrigued by his observations that many of the strange beliefs of today are, in essence, an extension of the time-old belief in demons (hence the title)! He discusses the nature of science and the difficulties in teaching and popularizing science, and is struck - and bewildered somewhat - by the seeming lack of interest in the latter. Pseudo-science and anti-science are examined, with illustrations. It is a very interesting, provocative book that will be read and approved of by scientists and science enthusiasts, and will be totally ignored by others. It is, in a sense, preaching to the choir, and will make not a speck of difference in all the problems he mentions! (yes, I AM cynical). But this book should be read by all thinking persons; it is a good one. I think that he has made a mistake in statistics on p.215 when he attributes surprise to Eisenhauer about a statistical "fact"; and the discussions are sketchy in places and occasionally disjointed - but he DID have to cover a lot of material. Good read. ADDED NOTE:Dec,1996 - Carl Sagan has died. A great loss indeed.  Sagan,C.;The Demon-Haunted World

Lieberman's Law;
Stuart Kaminsky       Kaminsky continues to write superb stories - police stories - about Abe Lieberman, an aging, somewhat ailing, Chicago detective, and his Irish sidekick, much younger Bill Hanrahan; and of course about their personal lives. This one revolves about racial and ethnic hatred. A group of Arab student vandals break into and desecrate a number of synagogues, one of which is the one Lieberman attends; a priceless Torah is stolen from the latter. The thief is murdered, along with two of his companions, and the whole affair begins to escalate. Jewish militants, Arab vandals, and local neo-Nazi skinheads weave their hate through a complicated but well laid out story. A side-bar involves extortion by several Korean thugs, and I think, may be setting up the next story. Kaminsky does a great job in dealing with a nasty subject - hatred - and yet weaving a story that is in fact encouraging and hopeful instead of simply depressing. A neat trick indeed. And of course, the reader again enters the life of the protagonist and his partner, and meets old friends as they adjust to the changing world around them. By all means read the Lieberman series; and start at the beginning. Each stands alone - but there is a cumulative effect to the series.  Kaminsky,S.;Lieberman's Law

A Blessed Death;
Carroll Lachnit       One mystery novel ago Lachnit created Hannah Barlow, an ex-cop, now attorney in California. In this story she is working for a law firm that has as a client the South Coast Roman Catholic Diocese, and she gets involved with the disappearance of a pedophile priest and a young boy. She is warned not to. The Diocese is attempting to keep the matter quiet. She ignores the warning, and begins to investigate. The matter gets increasingly complicated. The young boy was an example of a miracle supposedly wrought through the efforts of praying to a woman, a prostitute, who was a member of a Catholic cult, and who was murdered ten years before. The cult is attempting to have the woman beatified and sanctified, and the priest (not a cult member) who has vanished with the boy has been gathering the evidence for the process. Hannah is a lapsed Catholic, and has an estranged brother, a priest who is now a Monsignor and on whom she calls for help. Gradually it appears that the vanished priest may have taken the boy to save his life; that in fact the cult was attempting to kill him; and Hannah finds that she is in danger. The story is a fascinating, suspenseful unraveling of a complicated mystery that invokes and then embellishes some dark, difficult problems in the Church. Interestingly enough, the one-page prologue suggested to me a key fact that led me, when partly into the story, to anticipate one of the deeply concealed plot bits!  Lachnit;L.;A Blessed Death

Killer Pancakes;
Diane Mott Davidson       Readers of these notes will know that I do not include here all the books I read. I have no difficulty choosing which to include; I may not be consistent, but I have had no trouble - till now! I have changed my mind twice on this. Davidson has created (in five novels) a genre which is described - fittingly - by a reviewer as: "A cross between Mary Higgins Clark and Betty Crocker." The novels are first person narratives of a woman who is a good cook and professional caterer, and an amateur detective. This one at least is thus a combination of descriptions about cooking - complete with recipes - and a story of amateur detecting. This is not the first novel in which recipes are presented (e.g. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe), but it is certainly the most cooking-oriented one I have read. I do NOT plan to read any more (although this is not a bad yarn)....But, I WILL covertly page through the others and check the recipes. The one in this book on Shrimp Risotto with Portobello Mushrooms sold me! Oh yes: the title is a recipe - has nothing to do with the story.  Davidson,D.M.;Killer Pancakes

White Flame;
James Grady       Grady, who wrote the blockbuster Six Days of the Condor years ago, has not lost his touch. This is a well written police procedural that tells of a three person team that must prevent the assassination of the charismatic black billionaire and social activist, Faron Sears, and also find which of his associates is behind the proposed assassination. The team is headed by  veteran FBI agent Dalton Coles, and includes young, black, special agent Sallie Pickett, and veteran DC homicide detective Nick Sherman - a man with a drinking problem. Because Coles was the man who got Sears out of jail years before, Sears allows the team to become part of his entourage without telling his associates. The story follows the potential assassin as he serially murders people (in very nasty scenes) across the country on his way to Washington, and the efforts of the team to locate and stop the assassin, and also to find the inside person. Also, Coles gets romantically involved with Sears' female companion, and Pickett with Sears. It is a well told, gritty, complicated police story and partly political thriller that has some knowing observations of parts of the Department of Justice. I take away points because of the serial murders - I skip books that I know have such a scenario - and because of the very nasty killings that seem to be de rigueur with the serial killer concept.  Grady,J.;White Flame

Vanishing Point;
Morris West       West is still a master storyteller. In this suspenseful, interesting, and different novel he explores the lives of two men. The first person narrator is Carl Strassberger, rich and only son of the president of a large banking company. Carl is an artist, living in southern France, with no interest in banking. Carl's only sister is married to a brilliant banker, Larry Lucas, who has just consummated a banking coup for the Strassberger house, and who has vanished abruptly. Carl is called home to help and to try to find Larry, whose vanishing must be kept secret to avoid any panic about the house of Strassberger. Larry, it turns out, suffers from bipolar disorder - he is a manic depressive. He has also planned this disappearance with great care. The family is concerned that he is headed into depression, and wants Carl to find him before he commits suicide. The story is of Carl's quest, his success in finding Larry, and the result of that success. It is a story of one world of the rich, and a story of emotions, intrigue, money, madness, love, and the terrible stresses that can deform people.It is carefully structured, well told, with surprising turns, and guaranteed to keep the reader in suspense. West at his best.  West,M.;Vanishing Point

Last Orders;
Graham Swift       A fascinating, different tour de force that took a while to get into, but then kept me spellbound. It is the story of the day of the disposition of the ashes of butcher and meat market owner, Jack Arthur Dodds, by his friends from WWII days: Ray, Vinny, and Vic; and his adopted son, Vince. Jack's "last orders" were to have his ashes scattered from the pier at Margate (the locale is England). The structure of the book is that of having each of the short chapters narrated by one of the characters in the book. Most are by the four men carrying the ashes, but there are others by Amy, Jack's wife, and Mandy, Vince's wife. The narrations deal with the lives of the speakers, and flicker back and forth in time from the WWII days to the present (roundabout) journey to Margate. There are times that I felt I was watching scenes lighted by a strobe light. The structure makes the going difficult at first as one attempts to keep track of the people and their relationships, but that gradually disappears. We learn of the lives and interactions of the characters in a peel-the-layers-from-an-onion progression. Hopes, loves, tragedies, secrets - all unfold gradually, and at times surprisingly. The people become ones we know, suffer with, experience anguish with, and feel we can understand. It is a touchingly real novel; one that I was very glad I read, and I think different from any other I can remember.  Swift,G.;Last Orders

Good Sons;
K.C. Constantine       What a relief! When Constantine wrote his last police procedural laid in the western Pennsylvania town of Rocksburg, he wrote of the departure of Mario Balzac as Chief of Police. I thought it was the end of the great series. Turns out a whole new series is starting in Rockford - I think. In this one, Detective Sergeant Ruggiero (Rugs) Carlucci, a protoge of Balzac's, is the main character. He is acting as Chief, and interested in the vacant job - and the mayor seems inclined to think of that as a possibility. In the meantime, he has to live with his impossible mother - who needs a full-time minder - and he has to investigate the rape and murder of an older woman, mother of a local businessman. The story is that of Carlucci's investigation, in which he works with a young State policeman new to homicide investigations. Again Constantine's ear for dialog is true, his characters are fascinating, the small town sociology is well portrayed, the police procedural structure  is real-sounding and attention holding -- in short it is a great yarn. The dark side of the last several novels is absent, so it is thoroughly enjoyable. And not least: we get to keep track of Mario; Rugs visits him regularly for advice. The Rocksburg stories are far more than just police procedurals, and this one would be a good place to start.  Constantine,K.C.;Good Sons

A Day For Dying;
Dorothy Simpson       An interesting experience. I picked up the book because I remembered these British Inspector Luke Thanet detective stories as good ones. I found this one remarkably uninteresting! It is a detailed police procedural involving a drowning that may be murder, and the procedure is almost entirely interviewing people. There are glimpses of Thanet's personal life - including a trip to a chiropractor - but otherwise there is simply one interview after another, with nothing much to hold one's attention. I must go back and see if my taste has changed or whether this one is an exception.  Simpson,D.;A Day For Dying

Up Jumps the Devil;
Margaret Maron       Three novels ago Maron (a GOOD story teller) started a new murder-mystery series starring attorney Deborah Knott who lives in Dobbs, in Colleton Co., in North Carolina. The first novel won FOUR major mystery novel awards! Knott is a very interesting and likeable creation. She is an attorney, a judge, the daughter of a farmer and bootlegger who spent a term in prison (for being on the wrong side of the IRS), she is the youngest child of twelve and has a bunch of brothers, she is immersed in the family culture and the North Carolina culture, was a rebellious teen-ager, was once married, and is a pretty smart character -- in some ways; not quite so in others. The stories are populated with interesting characters, and present a fascinating mixture of four worlds: the changing world of rural North Carolina, the courtroom world in which Knott is immersed as a judge, the world of family ties, and Knott's personal world. Mixed through these worlds is a murder, in this case of Mr. Jap, an old timer and property owner. Much of the turmoil in the story centers on the possibility of lucrative land sales to developers, and the impact on the farmers who own lots of land. I cannot do justice here to the skill with which the author weaves together the several worlds in which Deborah Knott lives; and how skillfully she gives a sharp picture of the very real changes taking place in rural North Carolina, and the stresses and problems caused by those changes. One can start with this book, and if you find it as engrossing as I did, you will certainly go to the others. In that case, read them in sequence. It may be that not everyone will enjoy immersion in rural North Carolina; but I find these are very different murder mystery stories, and very well done indeed. I can even forgive the author for having a character (who should know better) state that the first Ford Thunderbird was produced in 1952! [It was actually 1955 - and mine still runs great!]  Maron,M.;Up Jumps the Devil

ed. Mary K. Lefkowitz & Guy MacLean Rogers       This is mostly a specialist's book, but it will interest anyone who is seriously interested in examining the movement known as "Afro-Centrism". The latter, which started about 70 years ago and got new energy in the sixties and the eighties, is one that insists the European culture and knowledge attributed to the Greeks really came from Egypt, that Egyptians were black and therefore black Africans were really the source of our knowledge and culture, and that racist white historians of culture have carefully concealed the fact. Lefkowitz, a feisty white Jewish historian with impeccable credentials, decided that basically the whole concept was aimed at teaching myth as history, and as an historian, took umbrage at that and set out to try to point out what she sees as the bad research and poor scholarship that underlie the whole movement. She was then viciously attacked by the "believers" as a white Jewish racist! Here she is dealing with a major contributor to the literature.The Afro-Centrist school was thrilled when Martin Bernal published, in 1987, a book Black Athena;The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization:The Fabrication of Ancient Greece. Volume II was published in 1991. Bernal is a brilliant, learned, white man. He can read Greek and Egyptian hieroglyphics and (he says) other ancient languages. He is a political scientist, and a student of Chinese culture, but as Lefkowitz says: "...he seems at home in the chronological and geographical complexities of the ancient Mediterranean." The Afro-Centrist school was enthralled! A white scholar agreed with them! A large literature has developed on the subject. Historians take exception to much of what Bernal proposes as fact. Afro-Centrists make ad hominum attacks on those historians as white and or Jewish racists. Bernal defends his points. It is a vigorously boiling pot. The current volume is a set of essays by scholars who have the background to examine in detail the brilliant tour-de-force that Bernal executed. The writers are old, young, black, white, male, female etc. Their one thing in common is that they take exception to many - or most - of Bernals methods, analyses, and conclusions. It is very similar to the situation that developed years ago around an interesting book by Immanuel Velikovsky: a book that came from years of research by Velikovsky into myths and legends, and which argued for a tremendous solar-system catastrophe. The book was so complicated, and the references so extensive, that in order to try to refute it (and it was wrong), one would have to devote as much time and effort to the problem as Velikovsky, and be as learned as he. Ultimately the theory was refuted. The same is true here, and the current criticism approach -- split up the critical task -- is the only one that can examine the whole ten year creation of Bernal. Some of the essays are so technical as to be completely unreadable: the one on language is at the head of that list! The rest vary in readability, but the sum of the essays is overwhelming: most of Bernal's work and conclusions are seriously flawed, and most of his arguments are untenable. [His arguments that historians seriously slighted the Middle East are correct (although irrelevant) -- but that seems not to have been a racist conspiracy!] He is a brilliant amateur who has made serious mistakes in his analysis of data, failed to present much data, and has made unjustified leaps to sweeping statements. These essays will be dismissed by the true believers as more racist attacks on the concept of Afro-Centrism, but they are not. Perhaps this debate can get professional historians back on the track, and make them willing to examine and take a position on "teaching myth as history." NOTE: Sorry about the length of this! It is a subject that interests me very much!  Lefkowitz,M.K.,Rogers,G.M. ed;BLACK ATHENA Revisited

Vanishing Diaspora:
The Jews in Europe Since 1945;Bernard Wasserstein       This is a history of the European Jews and the Jewish communities in Europe since WWII. Wasserstein uses the word Diaspora to mean Jews outside of Israel - a modern version or extension of the original meaning: Jews outside of Palestine. It is a very sad, depressing story. The opening words are: "The Jews are vanishing from Europe....", and the closing words are: "Slowly but surely, they are fading away. Soon nothing will be left save a disembodied memory." In between is a relentless account of the terrible problems encountered by the European Jews AFTER WWII. Victims of politics, and of virulent anti-semitism on the part of people, governments, and the Roman Catholic Church, and split by internal dissension, the Jewish communities faltered and began to disappear. The process is continuing. I found the book terribly saddening, and I found myself with a great deal of anger as I read. It is a dense history, and slow going, and I think not of general interest. I was surprised at the history, and at the current situation. It is NOT a fun book.  Wasserstein,B,;Vanishing Diaspora

The Rosewood Casket;
Sharyn McCrumb       This is the latest (fourth I think) in McCrumb's Appalachia novels, which once were tabbed as a "ballad" series -- a descriptor not in evidence on this jacket, but still an apt one. This, like the others, is a story of complex emotions, complex people, history, the changing world of Appalachia - especially the disappearance of farms, unexpected plot developments, and tragedy, with a strong streak of supernatural woven through it. Again the scene is the mountain region in eastern Tennessee -- the locale of her earlier novels in this series. An old mountain farmer has fallen into a coma. His sons - a disparate lot - are notified, and return to the homestead to find their father is not expected to live. A letter left by the father asks that his sons bury him in a casket made from rosewood lumber stacked in the barn. They set out to build it. As this takes place, there swirls around it a supernaturally flavored mystery of the death of a small child years before, and there is a current situation in which a neighbor of the old man is to be dispossessed because he failed to pay taxes and a real estate developer has bought the land. These situations are only marginally tied together, and there is a good deal of flipping back and forth between characters and events -- and even time. Thus the story is somewhat jerky, and one also gets the feeling that there is excess material - especially in long sections about the history of the area - and Daniel Boone. Still, I found it to be a powerful story. McCrumb can really startle the reader with sudden unexpected actions on the part of her characters, and some of her dark side appears again in this book. Lots of ballad elements indeed.  McCrumb,S.;The Rosewood Casket

Frederick Forsythe       A dandy suspense thriller by a master of the art. It is 1999, and Russia - on the edge of anarchy - is about to have an election. The probable winner of the presidency is Igor Komarov. Komarov wrote a secret manifesto, and a copy was stolen and passed to the British. It reveals that what Komarov proposes will make Hitler look like a nice guy! The West can do nothing; but British ex-spy chief, Sir Nigel Irvine, decides to mount an unsanctioned, but well-heeled operation, to foil the election of Komarov. He wants Jason Monk to run it. Monk is ex-CIA, an expert in running secret agents, and now running a charter boat in the Caribbean; and he wants nothing to do with Irvine's plan. But Komarov's chief of security is Col. Anatoli Grishin who tortured and killed four of Monk's agents -- agents who had been betrayed by Aldrich Ames (it will be recalled that Ames is a real person, a CIA employee who almost completely wrecked the CIA's Russian operations); and Monk takes on the job in order to get Grishin. The story is in two parts. The first part recounts the past history of Monk, his agents, and the betrayals by Ames. It also recounts the theft and verification of the "Black Manifesto" of Komorav, and ends as Monk ends preparations to take on the job of changing Russian history. Part 2 is the story of the slick, complicated operation in Russia. One must pay attention to the dates that head up the various sections, because the story flips back and forth in time; but it is a first class, nail-biting, stay-up-late, yarn. The reader watches in dismay as the CIA bumbles along unaware of the devastation being wrought by Ames. Some suspension of belief is required in Part 2, but it's easy; and the final resolution of the Russian political situation is an interesting one. Not to be missed.  Forsythe,F.;Icon

Executive Orders;
Tom Clancy       If you like Clancy, you'll love this one. It is another nearly 900 page vintage Clancy, crackerjack, political-technical-military thriller. I think this is almost as good as was Hunt for Red October. Jack Ryan, once of the CIA and former National Security Advisor, is now the brand new President of the United States. He got there (in the last story) because he was a newly sworn-in Vice President when the President and most of Congress were killed when a Japanese airliner was crashed into the Capitol. He is no politician. We watch him undertake the job of trying to re-establish government. The job is complicated by such minor difficulties as claims that in fact he was NOT the VP when the president was killed; by a political problem with China; a political and military problem with India; a plan by an Iranian strongman to assimilate Iraq and then Saudi Arabia, and in the meantime make terrorist strikes at the USA including: a kidnapping of one of Ryan's kids, an assassination attempt on Ryan, and spreading of the deadly Ebola virus in the United States. The climax is another Gulf War. In the story we see a bright, competent, honest man struggling to do his best for the country with the aid of his strong and successful wife and dedicated friends. Of course the author has his own views of what is good for the country, and he weaves them around Jack Ryan; I must say that most of them resonate with me. I'd vote for Ryan! Clancy remains verbose, and there is at least one sidebar narrative that is superfluous, but he is a good story teller and has put this complicated mish-mash together well. The style is episodic - flipping from scene to scene -- but when you get used to it,  it can be effective and exciting. The middle east war is very lucidly presented. I enjoyed the story.  Clancy,T.;Executive Orders

An Echo of Heaven;
Kenzaburo Oe       The jacket describes Oe as a Japanese "...revolutionary who has moved the Japanese novel out of a stagnant position into postwar world literature." His achievements have been rewarded with a Nobel Prize for Literature. This is an interesting, somewhat unusual novel, which is beautifully translated from the Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani. In the first person narrative the author, as himself, tells of a Japanese woman, Marie Kutaki, who dies of cancer on a large farm in Mexico where she has become almost a saint to the laborers and their families. We first meet Marie in Japan. She is divorced, and raising two handicapped children. The author has a handicapped child, and because of that the author and his wife and child, and Marie and her children, find their lives entwined. Marie's two children commit suicide, and Marie tries to find some sort of peace and a meaning for her life. The story is of Marie's erratic journey toward that goal, which she ultimately finds as a "mother" in Mexico. Somehow the book comes across more placid than I would have expected. It is, after all, about some very strong emotions, and yet these seemed to me to be muted. Somehow, there is too low a level of stress. There may also be a problem in appreciation of the culture involved. As a result, I found it very interesting but not gripping.  Oe,K;An Echo of Heaven

 NOTE: I have decided that I will no longer continue invoking preliminary negative judgments about prizewinning novels or authors. I was burned some years ago, but in the last year or so I have discovered that may have been a fluke.So I shall give rein to my prejudices -- at least for a while. It is really HARD to give up cherished and well nourished prejudices!

In Search of the Old Ones:Exploring the Anasazi World of the Southwest;
David Roberts       The Southwest deserts captured me years ago; and the tantalizing unknowns about the shadowy Anasazi and the other "Old Ones", the Hohokam further south, have intrigued me for a long time. And here comes Roberts with a wonderful book about both subjects! I found it pure delight. Roberts has been a mountain climber, rock climber, adventurer, college instructor, solo explorer of the back country... and is currently a prolific and successful author who has become [spiritually I think]] enthralled by the Anasazi. The latter occupied the area around the southern part of Four Corners, and in my time used to be called "Cliff Dwellers".  By 1300 AD, for reasons that are still being debated, they left abruptly, and seemingly vanished (a good case can be made that their descendants are today living in pueblos). In this passionate, lyrical book, Roberts tells of his growing obsession with that people, and of his many forays into wild desert canyon country in search of early sites. He mixes in history and archaeology, observations about present Indian cultures in the area, comments on the Park Service, discussions of responsible and irresponsible archaeology, and analyses of irresponsible museums; and he discusses canards still being promulgated about the discoverer of Cliff Palace, and the first one to systematically explore and excavate Anasazi dwellings: David Wetherill. He tells of his "induction" into the "outdoor museum": an invention of Fred Blackburn, an experienced Anasazi buff and one of the most knowledgeable people in the country about obscure Anasazi sites. Blackburn believes that one should leave artifacts in place -- don't haul them off to a museum! He carefully screens people to see if they feel the same way; if so, THEN he reveals the myriad of discoveries that he and others have made. The artifacts are all partially concealed, and all have notes (by Blackburn) asking that they remain undisturbed. Forty some years ago I too was addicted to exploring alone in the desert (can't believe it now!), and had a slightly similar kind of experience; and I left a note too! I hope the mining claim in that isolated rock cairn in the desert is still there. How I'd like to go back and see. Wonderful book; and although I usually don't envy people, I do envy Roberts his desert experiences; although there were times I found his solo adventures to be hair raising! Of course I'm a lot older now....  Roberts,D.;In Search of the Old Ones

Silicon Snake Oil:Second Thoughts on the Information Highway;
Clifford Stoll       Stoll is an astronomer. He is also an experienced computer and Internet expert: the guy who wrote a fascinating book:The Cuckoo's Egg, which relates his tracking down of an Internet "cracker" -- one who was breaking into the University computer system via the Internet. He has written this book as a warning, and the message is that most of what is being touted as a wonderful technical world change to be wrought as the Electronic Revolution with the aid of computers is snake oil --to put it politely: overblown claims that are in fact already beginning to appear to be incorrect. He discusses a wide variety of things including the negative impact on libraries, the unsubstantiated hype about teaching children via computers, the trash-laden Internet, and the vast confusion that equates data with information, information with knowledge, and knowledge with learning. He comments on data bases, the concept of virtual communities, e-mail, and a host of other things. The style is irritating -- many two or three sentence paragraphs, which are sometimes not related to preceding or following ones. One has the feeling that continuity suffers, and it really does seem to hop around. The content is really quite interesting however, and certainly agrees with what I have been feeling for some time. In a sense, the message is encapsulated in his observation that in 1939, David Sarnoff, CEO of RCA at the time, wrote "It is probable that television drama of high caliber and produced by first rate artists will materially raise the level of dramatic taste of the nation." Stoll notes the TV wasteland of today. He feels the information highway will probably lead to another wasteland, and judging from the Internet - he may be right! By the way, he is NOT saying that computers are not useful; he is decrying the inflated claims surrounding them. I found it a very sobering as well as an interesting book. NOTE: See the following note on somewhat the same subject.  Stoll,C.;Silicon Snake Oil

Minutes of the Lead Pencil Club:Pulling the Plug on the Electronic Revolution;
Bill Henderson, ed.       The feeble minded Ned Lud, historians tell us, destroyed his employer's stocking frames. 30 years later, in 1811, when workmen started rioting and demolishing textile machinery in an attempt to stop the Industrial Revolution, they became known as Luddites -- a term used pejoratively, and implying "mistaken" opposition to technical "progress." There is another set of such objectors growing. They object to technical "advances" that they see as alienating people and reducing personal interactions, and propose to stop using them. They are not trying to stem the "Information Revolution", they are proposing to pretty much opt out! Some of them have formed (slightly tongue- in-cheek) "The Lead Pencil Club" - with the argument (not a bad one as they present it) that one should write letters and such with a lead pencil rather than a word processor! They cleverly refer to themselves as "Leadites."  Some of their feelings are like those of Clifford Stoll [see the preceding note] who contributed an essay and may be a member of the club. The book is a collection of small essays on the subject, plus quotations from "members", plus a few cartoons. The essays are uneven in quality as are the quotations and excerpts. They are from true-believers and some resonate with me - in general, but not all. My favorite cartoon is on the very last page, and shows a giant illuminated billboard over buildings on a NY street corner. The billboard says:

                            BILL GATES WEALTH                              12940012738.56                     Your family's contribution: 128.19                        The Bill Gate's Wealth Clock

On a personal note: maybe I shall apply for membership in the Club (free). As my computer scientist son has noted wryly, I would seem to be of membership quality: "Dad", he said (in essence), "You don't have Cable television in the house and YOU don't even watch local TV; you don't have an ATM card or a VCR or a cellular phone or a pager or even an answering machine; you still have a LP turntable and one of your phones is still rotary dial; your NEW car is 11 years old and your other one is 41; you've lived in the same house for 38 years and been married to Mom for 52 years; you're back working at the same place you started 48 years ago; you use an obsolete, sick, 386-33 computer and a SLOW modem - and DOS. Surely you must be the right stuff!" He's right of course, (except about the modem; it's not all THAT slow)- although I was a tad shaken to hear his analysis; so in keeping with the ideals of the club I certainly will hang up on voice mail, other persons' call-waiting interrupts of my calls, answering machines etc.. I WON'T get a fax machine or a pager or an answering machine. I WILL however keep my "obsolete" computer (and I already have another NEWER obsolete one, a 486, in case this one quits) because it simply makes my life vastly easier in several areas; but I have discovered that is as far as I need or want to go. No bells, whistles, CDROM, desk-top publishing, or surfing the Internet. I WILL keep e- mail (if CapAccess maintains it) because it is sometimes nice to have. Otherwise I am a Leadite at heart, it seems! I note that some of the members admit to using typewriters -- so perhaps doctrinal purity is not required for membership.  Henderson,B.;Minutes of the Lead Pencil Club

These High Hills;
Jan Karon       The third in Karon's series about the small North Carolina village of Mitford (At Home in Mitford, A Light in the Window), and I liked this one more than the second (see earlier note). I think this one also has more depth than the others. Father Tim, the 63 year old Episcopal Priest, is happily married, but finding that considerable adjustment is needed for this new state. Dooley, the boy he took in, and who is now living with the priest and his wife, the author Cynthia, is away at school. The nursing home that is being built with money from 90 year old Miss Sadie is nearing completion. There is essentially no plot to these novels, they are a series of vignettes which the author puts together (sometimes unevenly) to give pictures of the characters and snapshots of what she thinks is small-town life -- all with the aim of being "heartwarming." This story recounts Father Tim's involvement with the various inhabitants of Mitford, and with some of the fringe-of-society inhabitants of "the Creek" -- the latter badly in need of prayer. There are growing-up problems with Dooley, the appearance of the mother who abandoned Dooley, encounters with a 13 year old victim of child abuse, and a number of other emotionally-trying events. There are perhaps too many things in the pot, but it is an interesting stew, one ingredient of which is the truly wonderful private prayer of Father Tim's, his grandmother's prayer:"Lord, let me be a blessing to someone today." The first book was almost pure sugar; this is not so much so. The characters are well done and continue to be engaging as well as nice (it would add some if the reader were to be already acquainted with them). The author carefully creates threads for future stories, but the reader is not left hanging. Good yarn if you enjoy this type of "feel good" tale; it is not for everyone I suspect. I note that in a LONG list of acknowledgements, "Miss Read" heads the list. Appropriate. In fact, Bette was slightly surprised to realize the scene was the USA; her vague recollection from an earlier one was that the village was in England!  Karon,J.;These High Hills;Viking;NY;1996;PS3561.A678T48

      NOTE: I have decided, for several reasons, that I will add to these notes some technical details about the books, viz. Publisher, City, Date and the ISBN or other numbers. One reason is that I discovered an off-beat bookseller-by-mail who will SOMETIMES accept and PAY for short notes on books! Although they haven't bought any of mine to date, they require these data; and it is easiest to simply add them when I have the book in hand. Hope springs eternal. LFD

Shooting the Boh:A Woman's Voyage Down the Wildest River in Borneo;
Tracy Johnston       This was recommended by Karen, a kin-spirit reader, and it is one worth recommending. This is a well written, well told, first person, true story of a significant personal experience. Part of the experience was adventure and danger, the rest was personal insight during what was, in a sense, a rite of passage. The author is an editor and writer and adventurer. She tells of a rapids-running trip in Borneo, a trip arranged by an adventure-travel company that was considering using the Boh run as one of their series. It turned out that there were no charts of the river and no information at all about the nature of the water run; it was easily "Class VI" (off scale) as it turned out. The local Dayaks had covered a small part of the river, and issued dire warnings about attempting it. In fact, when the party set off, one Dayak chanted a prayer for the about-to-be-dead white people! Johnston's account of the adventure - a harrowing ordeal - is gripping, and her account of her own insights is striking. To add to other physical discomforts, she found that she was undergoing menopause! She tells of the party, 3 guides and 9 tourists - the latter were not the usual run of tourists - the hardships and dangers and how the individuals dealt with them, the fear and the delight that affected them, and the bonds that cemented most of them. She also includes some of the early history of explorations in Borneo, and some of her other adventures. I'm not sure that it is totally "enjoyable" - the discomforts may get to many readers - but it is absolutely fascinating; and it led me to a decision - I WILL NEVER join a trip to shoot the Boh; although we have one female friend (an editor, writer, and adventurer, like Johnston) who certainly would.  Johnston,T.;Shooting the Boh;Vintage Books;NY;1992;ISBN 0-679-74010-4(PB)

Miss Manners Rescues Civilization:From Sexual Harassment, Frivolous Lawsuits, Dissing and Other Lapses in Civility;
Judith Martin       Judith Martin, whose nom de plume as a columnist is Miss Manners, is the current reincarnation of Emily Post. This ponderous book is nearly 500 pages of Miss Manners' essays, as well as column extracts and reader-replies, on the subject of etiquette. As she puts it: etiquette is a particular set of rules used to express underlying principles known as manners. She identifies three subdivisions: regulative etiquette, symbolic etiquette, and ritual etiquette. She notes that etiquette exists everywhere, and has existed at all times - because it expresses the non-legal rules by which a society functions. These subjects and others are expanded and elaborated with humor and examples, and many of the current problems with the vanishing of civility are shown to be a lack of understanding of and respect for etiquette. This is not a book for rapid reading, nor is it as well organized as it might be; and I think that it suffers here and there from some diffuseness. It seems repetitive, in the sense that certain complaints keep reappearing for re-discussion. It also requires, at least it did for me, reading in increments; the sum is too much for one gulp, and it is also almost impossible to cover in this short note. However, if you can stick with it, (my wife could not) it is a very worth-while analysis of the imperative role that the subject plays in our world, and offers valid insights into the subject. She notes that the "express your feelings regardless.." and "the cause is worth more than people's feelings" schools are responsible for much of the current incivility, and shows how they violate etiquette. The book is filled with ghastly but true examples from plain tackiness to overwhelming rudeness, and Miss Manners' discussion of them and her attempts to find ways of coping. The latter are not always convincing. This reader is left with the impression that Miss Manners may be preaching to the choir, and with the fear that perhaps manners and civility really ARE doomed. It is interesting as well as infuriating, funny, and distressing in places. Both Judith Martin and I belong to a particular social club in Washington, and I think it is her presence that has led to what I see as a greatly increased emphasis in the club on in-house manners! Lets hope her book works on a wider scale. Incidentally, I heard her discuss this book, and she is a truly excellent speaker; she also notes that it appears people are demanding a return to civility -- and that there really is hope! Should you ever have the opportunity to hear her talk -- take it. Martin,J.;Miss Manners Rescues Civilization;Crown Publishers;NY;1996;IBSN:0-517-70164-2

Into the Wild;
Jon Krakauer       In 1992, young Christopher Johnson McCandless was found dead of cold and starvation near Mt. Mckinley in Alaska; he had hiked alone into the wild four months before. Krakauer notes that there were puzzling circumstances about the death, and that Outside magazine asked him to look into it. The results were an article in the magazine and this recent book, which is the story of Chris McCandless, the odyssey that led to his death, and a suggestion about his cause of death. I found this an impressive, well written account of a strange, brilliant, self-absorbed young man and his interesting, complex family - then residents of nearby Virginia. Chris was an outstanding student in college, a good musician, a solo traveler, and in essence a loner who became alienated from his accomplished and well to do parents (especially his father), and who rejected many of what he saw as society's mindless conventions; he refused induction in Phi Beta Kappa because he thought honors irrelevant. After college, he gave away money he had inherited, took to the road, and never again communicated with his frantic parents. His journey took him, mostly as a hobo, about parts of the South and West, then to Alaska, where he planned to stay for a while in the wild; and where he died. Krakauer has detailed the life and the travels and the death of McCandless in a slightly dark- shaded, utterly compelling story. He discusses Chris's troubles with his father. He attempts to understand the young man, and is aided in this because, as he tells in a fascinating sidebar, there are many similarities between McCandless's wilderness trek, and a hair-raising, mountain-climbing adventure that he, Krakauer, indulged in as a young man. He can identify with Chris; and I suspect that is what led to Krakauer's obsession with the story. It is an emotion-involving book, and the emotions can be strong. I found the account of the 80 year old man who met Chris in the Anza-Borrego area of California, and wanted finally to adopt him as a grandson, to be heartbreaking. Chris was a prepossessing young man who had people's love or liking, but who held aloof from them and ended up wounding many. Although I felt sad for him, I found I didn't particularly like Chris; but I was fascinated by his story. I was not at all sure that I wanted to read this book, which was strongly recommended by friends of Chris's parents, but I gave it a try, and they were right. Krakauer has told it the story well, with compassion, understanding (as much as is possible with such an enigmatic subject), and drama. Very good book indeed.  Krakauer,J.;Into the Wild;Villard Books;NY;1996;ISBN 0-679-42850-X

Corporation Man;
Anthony Jay          This is a book that is well written and very interesting, and I think, may be read with pleasure by anyone. It was written 25 years ago by an ex BBC manager who formed a management consulting firm. I dug it out of the attic for my son who works for AT&T and is confused about its management policies (in that he is not alone -- even Wall Street is baffled!). When he returned it, I decided to skim through again. It stands the test of time, and I decided it would be a good excuse to comment briefly again on management, The Corporation as Jay knew and describes it has changed in the last 5 years, so some of the observations about corporate cultures and "religion" seem somewhat quaint. However, the things that motivate and de-motivate people don't change, and the basic structure and problems of large organizations remain the same -- so it is not surprising that Jay's penetrating insights are just as valid today as 25 years ago. I feel this is one of the best and revealing books written about organizational structure and management. Jay believes -- quite correctly in my opinion -- that the basic organizational unit is the "ten group," which he believes is atavistic. It was originally the hunting group. Most of us have been part of a "ten group," and if you have, Jay's directions for deciding whether you really HAVE been part of one will, I guarantee, make you an instant believer! I can't outline the book here, I simply note that for ANYONE interested in organization and management this book is required reading. I spent many years managing groups in one large organization; from a section head (4 people), through a Branch Head position (15 people), a Superintendent (150 people), and Associate Director (700 people); and Jay's observations were right-on at all levels. Of course the organization did not know of, or really believe in a lot of what Jay notes, and that caused ME no end of difficulty. In fact it was part of the reason that I retired early! Jay's equating of tribes and kingdoms to facets of the Corporation seems valid to a point, then he extrapolates and gets a little shaky. However, I can think of no book that would be more helpful than this to a young person about to embark on a management track -- if she takes it seriously! NOTE: It was not till I wrote this that I realized (to my surprise) that I had carefully set up a long, pleasant, luncheon date, three days ago, with five other people who had been part of a "ten group" of mine 30-40 years ago, and that the luncheon conversation often covered the other non-present members of that old group. Ten groups are real;the relationships are long lasting. Read Jay - it is fascinating.  Jay,A.;Corporation Man;Random House;NY;1971;ISBN: 0-394-47253-5

The Flying Tigers;
John Toland (PB)       This small book (not really a specialists book) is 33 years old. It is an enthusiastic account of the American Volunteer Group (AVG), US military pilots who resigned from the armed services to fly combat missions as fighter pilots in obsolete (almost) P-40 aircraft. The war was the Chinese-Japanese conflict; the locale was Burma; the time was mid 1941 - before Pearl Harbor; the leader, who conceived the group, was Claire Chennault. Convinced that the Japanese invasion of China was just the start of Japanese aggression, he convinced Roosevelt that the US should provide volunteer "mercenaries" who could help the Chinese and also learn about Japanese combat tactics. The Group became immortalized as "The Flying Tigers." It was in existence for only seven months, then it became part of the US military, ultimately becoming the 14 Air Force. I was making someone a gift of a photo of three P-40s in formation (AVG markings) overwritten with the autographs of the three AVG group commanders, when I realized I had forgot some details of the groups, so I retrieved the book to look them up. I re-read it of course, and decided that is would be quite readable for a non- specialist; and that I would write this note on the chance that some reader (who probably is of a much later vintage than the AVG) might be enticed to read this brief account of that very interesting visionary and man of action, Claire Chennault; and of the daring and competent young men who were the "Tigers," and of the truly remarkable destruction that they wrought on Japanese bombers and fighters in a relatively short time. They actually devastated the Mitsibushi A6M2-Type-O fighter (the ZERO) while flying aircraft that were far slower and less maneuverable (although better armored and with better guns). As I recall, that situation did not occur again until Lt. Cdr. John Thach invented his "weave" and pitted his group's Navy F4Fs (Mod4) against the ZERO in the war at sea. Both Chennault and Thach found ways (different ones) to take advantage of the relative strengths of their planes and pilots, and to avoid the strength that maneuverability gave the ZERO. In both cases, the relative Japanese losses became so great that it seems the ZERO pilots finally appeared to try to avoid combat with US fighters. I guess that Chennault and Thach have pretty much passed from memory. A shame; but at least they are secure in history.  Toland,J.;The Flying Tigers;Dell;NY;1963;ISBN: 0-440-92621-1

32 Cadillacs;
Joe Gores       Gores spent twelve years as a private detective in San Francisco. Most of that time was with an agency known as David Kikkert & Associates (DKA) whose basic business was repossessing cars. He has used that background - and real cases (modified for story telling) - over the past 24 years in occasional yarns about an imaginary DKA agency (this time Daniel Kearny & Associates). This is one of that set [he has written FAR MORE than just these yarns however]. Besides the story, which is fun, I found two especially interesting things in the book. One is the dedication, which is the funniest, most delightful one that I have encountered. The other, somewhat touching, is in the acknowledgements: to "...the real guys and gals of the once-real DKA...", [then the names of seven other people]  "... and the Me I was then." It was a "ten group" of his! To use two very apt words on the back jacket: the book is a "rollicking" "romp" through the worlds of gypsies and repomen. We watch Romany experts executing scams, swindles, and thievery. One is an audaciously clever con that relieves Cadillac dealers in the San Francisco area of 31 brand-new, very expensive Cadillacs in one day. The DKA agency is hired by the bank to get them back. The non-stop action moves back and forth between the gypsies and a variety of scams - for which the Cadillacs were stolen, and Kearny's operatives who are busy tracing down the cars and repossessing them and crossing paths with some of the other scams. Two of the operatives get romantically involved with the gypsies, and get involved with another Cadillac - the 32nd one; a pink, big-tail-finned, 1958 convertible (sigh). The latter is involved with the King of the Gypsies -- who is pretending to be ill and running his own scam. The book is a lot of non-stop zany fun; and according to Gores something like it really happened! I thoroughly enjoyed it.  NOTE: O.K.;I gotta reveal the dedication. It reads: "This book is for My beloved Dori Who helped me snatch a Cadillac from Mafia hitman Jimmy "The Weasel" Fratianni on our first date." If a reader knows of a more delightfully funny appropriate one - please let me know!  32 Cadillacs;Joe Gores;Mysterious Press;NY;1992;ISBN: 0-89296-298-4

Judith Van Gleason       A while back I read Nevada Barr's Firestorm (see note above) which revolved around a major forest fire. A major fire is at the center of this too -- a trend perhaps? This is the latest of Van Gleason's first person novels starring Neil Hamel, a female attorney in Albuquerque, NM. Hamel is an interesting, complex, cigarette smoking, young woman who has a Latino lover - named only as "Kid" - and has just bought an adobe house. A major fire in the area killed nine firefighters (the Hotshots of the title), and the parents of one of the female victims approaches Hamel to institute a lawsuit claiming negligence on the part of the Park Service. The Service is indicating that the firefighters were at fault, and the parents want to prove that wrong. The story is of Hamel's attempt to unravel the true story. In the course of it, she is on the mountain where the fire was and gets caught in - and barely escapes from - another fire that turns out to be arson, and which kills a Park Service official. Most of the interesting people that she deals with are potential suspects. The characterization is good, and the story is interesting, although the resolution of the arson question is slightly out of left field. The protagonist is complicated and likeable. Her involvement with "Kid" seems strange and slightly jarring to me, but then who am I to second guess young women of today. It's a good, well told story;better than Barr's.  Gleason,J.V.;Hotshots;HarperCollins;NY;1996;ISBN 0-06-017512-5;242pp.

Did Monkeys Invent the Monkey Wrench?:Hardware Stores and Hardware Stories;
Vince Staten       The book is exactly what the subtitle says. Staten's father ran a hardware store for many years, and he worked in his dad's store; so he in fact knows hardware. He wants to tell you about hardware: how and when things were invented, and by whom; and about hardware stores - the small ones, not the Home Depot type of place; and about the history of tools and the cost of tools; and going into business as a hardware owner -- and a lot more. It is a partly a nostalgic delight in the old fashioned hardware store - of which there still remain quite a few it seems. He injects humor that is sometimes delightful, and forced at other times; the terrible title is an example of the latter. The book is very pleasant to read; it is also interesting and often informative. Be careful, however; it may be that not all the material he presents is correct. His information on the term "ten penny nails" for example, seems to be wrong with respect to British monetary terms - or else there is an archaic English usage that I am not familiar with! There are other places where the information supplied is, in fact not informative. But, all in all, it is a book that I think most males would find to be fun. I am prejudiced in favor, of course, because my father sold some hardware in his small-town store, and I worked in the store. I suspect that most women will not find it of interest; hardware is, I think, predominantly a male sort of thing.  Staten,V.;Did Monkeys Invent the Monkey Wrench?;Simon&Schuster;NY;ISBN: 0-684-80132-9

Unraveling Piltdown:The Science Fraud of the Century and its Solution;
John Evangelist Walsh       Two years before WWI erupted in Europe, an English antiquarian, amateur geologist, and fossil hunter, Charles Dawson, found, in an English gravel pit, skull fragments that he brought to the attention of his friend, Arthur Woodward, head of geology at the National History Museum in London. That was the start of a paleontology excavation project that lasted till Dawson's death in 1916, and which uncovered more skull fragments, a jawbone, teeth, and a strange bone artifact. These were claimed to belong to an early pre-hominid, and this supposed proto-human became known as the Piltdown Man. The finders were Dawson and Woodward, aided at times by Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a geologist and paleontologist whom the reader may know as the almost heretical [by Rome's standards at the time] Jesuit priest who has written some penetrating studies in Christian and natural philosophy. [He was forbidden to teach, and the Jesuits would not permit his impressive philosophical works on Christianity to be published until after his death] The Piltdown man was a sensation that called for some radical changes in the conventional evolutionary ladder of the time; the evolutionists were surprised and delighted - although there were some disagreements. As it happened, the whole thing was a complete fraud; but that was not discovered till 1953, when the Piltdown material was absolutely proven to be archaeological fakes. Since then there has been MUCH material written about the subject, and many speculations and arguments about the unknown perpetrator of the fraud, and why the fakes were not recognized as such earlier. Walsh, a researcher of great experience, skill, and reputation, has written an account of the whole thing in this book designed to prove "Dawson did it." Many others have felt the same, but I suspect that this book may put an end to the continuing speculation. Dawson really did do it. At least, this reader is convinced! The book is a well written, well researched, well documented history of the start and the development of the fraud; a meticulous examination of and exonoration of four people (including Arthur Conan Doyle!) frequently accused as possible perpetrators; and the detailed presentation of a truly impressive case for Dawson as the guilty party. It is a fascinating detective story as well as an almost scholarly work, and Walsh tells it all very well.  Walsh,J.E.;Unraveling Piltdown;Random House;NY;1996;ISBN: 0-679-44444-0

West 47th;
Gerald A. Browne       This strikes me as somewhat unusual. It is a mixture of what seems to me to be almost fantasy as well as adventure, and the exploration of a specialized area - that of the gem business on West 47th st in New York. The gem biz has occupied the center of other yarns of Browne's (who has quite a number to his credit). In this one, the protagonist is Mitch Laughton, an expert in jewelry and gems, whose business is recovering stolen goods. The story centers about one major theft, and the efforts of Laughton to locate the stolen jewelry. The story deals with the details of the stolen jewelry markets, the thieves, the fences, the criminals, the police etc. Laughton eventually recovers almost all the jewels - but two emeralds are missing. These turn out to be worth 25 million bucks. A Mob fence decides that Laughton is holding out -- and sets out to "persuade" Laughton and his wife, Maddie, to give them up. The preceding sounds like a straight forward gem-heist, gem-recovery yarn; and it is. The difference is Maddie. She is a gorgeous, lustful, expert player of stringed instruments. She is also worth about 300 million bucks -- and she is blind. Mitch, of course, does not wish to live on his wife's money (he even has her on a monthly "allowance" limit for gifts that she gives him). So we spend some of the time in the world of the ultra-rich -- and a lovely fantasy world it is. We ride around with Mitch and Maddie on a top-of-the-line Harley, get involved with them in a fantasy shoot-out in the country, and spend time in bed with them. Somehow, the fantasy bits with the unusual wealthy wife seem to me to detract from the story. O.K for the beach.  Browne,G.A.;West 47th;Warner Books;NY;1996;ISBN: 0-446-51662-7

The Making of a Detective;
Harvey Rachlin       Rachlin has written a REAL police procedural. It stars New York Police Department (NYPD) Detective David Carbone - a REAL detective. It is the story of Carbone's life beginning with his acceptance as a rookie detective through his transformation into an experienced, effective, very successful homicide detective. The author wanted to write such a book; the NYPD agreed, and a detective organization suggested Carbone as the person. Rachlin - who had written a similar book about four NYPD street cops - spent time in 1992 with Carbone and the squad he worked in, and talked extensively with Carbone and others about the earlier times when Carbone was learning the ropes. This is a well written, engrossing book that gives a revealing and fascinating picture of a bright, aggressive, personable officer in the worst crime district in NY. It also paints a vivid picture of the district and its inhabitants, and of many of the sometimes horrible crimes that happen there. The skills, training, instincts, and procedures of a detective are well described, and neatly integrated into the yarn. An impressive story about an impressive young detective. Some years ago there was a somewhat similar, but really very different, grittier book called Homicide:A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon. It is a truly gripping story about a squad of Baltimore detectives. If you like Rachlin's book be sure to read Simon's book. They are both great, and vastly different. Rachlin's, while true to facts, seems far more bland than Simon's - no warts on the detectives in this one. I suspect strongly that Simon's is the more balanced, realistic one. Rachlin,H.;The Making of a Detective;W.W. Norton;NY;1995;ISBN: 0-393-03797-5

The Hollow-Eyed Angel;
Janwillem van de Wetering       Quite some years ago, de Wetering (a prolific author) created several police characters operating in Amsterdam: detectives Henk Grijpstra and Rinus de Gier, and the head of the bureau, the commissaris. Around them he has constructed a dozen very good police-procedural, mystery, detective stories that are a strange enticing mixture of quirky character studies, social commentary, off-beat humor, and esoteric philosophy. They are all highly recommended. This is the thirteenth, and the commissaris is very close to retirement - the last page is, in fact, his first day of retirement. He is approached by a former part-time Dutch policeman whose uncle has been found dead and mutilated in New York's Central Park. The NY police believe the death was accidental, and animals caused the mutilation. The man's nephew does not, and he asks the commissaris to look into the matter. The commissaris, and later de Gier, end up in New York, looking into the death, while Grijpstra works part of the problem - and others - back in Amsterdam. The efforts lead to an unusual solution. A very good tale, like the others in the series. You need not be a follower of this series to enjoy the book. Your enjoyment will be augmented, however, if you already know the stories; the characters become old but not predictable friends. These are different detective stories, and may not be for everyone; but do give the series a try. The stories are somewhat an acquired taste; and like with caviar, acquiring the taste is worth it.  Wetering,J.v.d.;The Hollow-Eyed Angel;Soho Press;NY;1996;ISBN: 1-56947-056-1

The Wilding of America:How Greed and Violence are Eroding Our Nations Character;
Charles Derber       I have not read any other books by Derber, who is a professor of sociology and director of a graduate program in social economy and social justice. "Wilding," a term that usually is applied to gratuitous teen-age violence, he defines more broadly as self-centered and self-aggrandizing behavior that harms others. He notes that there is expressive wilding which is indulging in destructive impulses for sheer personal satisfaction (acting out, in another profession's jargon), There is also instrumental wilding - wilding for money, career advancement, or other personal gain. There is a broad spectrum of wilding, he notes, that is perfectly legal. There are forms (like lying and cheating) that are discouraged, but others that are actually encouraged -- like the "single minded pursuit of wealth ... cultivated by some of the country's leading corporations and financial institutions." He has, in the book, much dislike for the latter two groups. They are included in a long discussion of "economic wilding," which he sees in place as a top-down "money at all cost" philosophy in the country. He sees the country's social fabric being rent by an insistence on a perverted (in his opinion) "free market economy" and "individualism" concepts. He feels that most of the current social problems stem from Ronald Reagan and his push to make the rich richer; he has no use for the Republican approach -- which he sees as supremely destructive. These are SOME of the strongly held opinions and prejudices that Derber has - remember, he is a professor of "social justice." . He feels that there must be social rights as well as political rights, and he thinks that it will be necessary for the private sector (individuals and corporations) to take on more responsibility for these matters, and holds out hope for this. He cites a variety of cases of criminal wilding, and stirs them into a diatribe against economic wilding, which is what he sees as the real problem. The book seems to me to be somewhat confused in places, but I must confess to feeling that much of what he says is right - it agrees with MY prejudices! It should be noted however - and he does - that materialistic greed and individualism-at-all-cost is NOT new as a philosophy and mode of action in this country. There are cycles; and we are in the latest - and possibly worst - cycle. I was struck by the fact that essentially he and Miss Manners (see above) are arguing the same thing: we need a "civil" society, and the way to get that is for individuals to become civil - and kind - toward others! Something has to change -- our society indeed seems to be in trouble.  Derber,C.;The Wilding of America;St.Martin's Press;NY;1996;ISBN:0-312-14069-X

Fall From Glory:The Men Who Sank the U.S. Navy
;Gregory L. Vista       I worked for the Navy as a civilian for a total of 34 years, and as I write this, I have been persuaded to come out of retirement to once again work as a government employee for that organization - albeit only part time this time around. I always felt that the Navy was an organization of competence and dedication, and that the officers and men were of high caliber and great integrity. I was proud to be associated with it. I was impressed by what I understood to be the Navy's rule: the Commanding Officer is responsible - period. According to this book, the Navy is no longer as I thought it to be. The book is an utterly damning indictment. Vastica is the reporter who broke the Tailhook scandal. That is included here, but it is only one piece of the dark fabric of the current Navy. Vastica methodically demonstrates, and meticulously documents, the ambition, greed, and self-serving actions that in the preceding note would be called "wilding." And again, as the book discussed in preceding note argues that Reagan was responsible for the "economic wilding" that is currently savaging American society. Vastica argues in this book that Reagan was also responsible for the "wilding" that has corrupted the Navy. In fact - it may be that the latter indeed follows from the first. The appointment of John Lehman Jr. as Reagan's Secretary of the Navy started the whole process that is narrated here in an attention-holding history. The book proposes failure and incompetence at all flag levels (admirals), ambition, cover-ups, sexism, favoritism, abrogation of responsibility, part of a revolting story. It is is suggested that recent events indicate decay has spread to the scandal-rocked Naval Academy. And indeed, recently one of the professors -- no longer teaching there -- went public with his observation that midshipmen are simply learning patterns of rot that come down from the top. The book is morbidly fascinating, and I found the Navy leadership portrayed in it to be disgusting. Given that the officers-to-be are learning at the Academy, it seems likely that the "culture" won't change. Really depressing.  Vista,G.L.;Fall From Glory;Simon & Schuster;NY;1995;ISBN: 0-684-81150-2

The Unsinkable Fleet:The Politics of U.S. Navy Expansion in World War II;
Joel A.a Davidson       A specialist's (or generalist's!) book, which I note here only so that I will have a record of it.  AFTERTHOUGHT: actually, if by any chance a reader is interested in the U.S. Navy, she find this a very interesting, informative, and surprising book that is well written and documented. It occurs to me that there are SOME resemblances between the Navy attitudes in this book and those in Fall From Glory;(see preceding note)  Davidson,J.A.;The Unsinkable Fleet;Naval Inst.Press;Annapolis;1996; ISBN:1-55750-156-4

To The Hilt
;Dick Francis       What can I say? -- it is another of the great yarns that one expects from Francis. Yes, of course there is a horse involved, but it has a relatively minor role. The first person narrator is Alexander Kinloch, grandson of an earl, but otherwise a long-haired, quietly successful artist who lives and paints (in acrylics) in isolation in a decrepit little house on a Scottish mountainside. The house is owned by his uncle, the current Earl; it has no phone - among other things. His mother has to send him a post card to tell him that his stepfather had a heart attack. He decides to go to London, but before he can, he is beset by four thugs who accuse him of hiding something, and beat him up. He escapes, and makes his way to London. He finds his stepfather is in deep depression as well as ill with heart problems. His brewery is on the edge of bankruptcy because a trusted friend embezzled a vast amount of money, and vanished. He asks Alexander to help, and gives him unlimited power of attorney. He also asks him to hide a horse - one that will be entered in a race sponsored by the brewery. This is the start of a good, exciting yarn that involves hiding two very old antique pieces, hiding the horse - with the aid of his wife whom he left, conflict with his step-father's daughter who hates him, efforts to get the brewery back on a good financial footing, and the unraveling of the plot to embezzle the brewery's funds. He has help from an expert and engaging character -- Chris Young -- a private detective. As outstanding as ever (I note this Francis's 37th novel - and they are ALL great reads!). Afficionadas (and afficionados) will know that most of Francis's stories are essentially the same, although the details are very different. This book follows the pattern, which is obviously a successful one both fictionally and financially! For some reason I found this one to be particularly satisfying.  NOTE:In this book the first person narrator is an artist. About halfway through the book, in an activity that is only a sidebar to the plot but (I think) important to the story, he sets out to paint a very unusual portrait. His efforts, as presented by Francis, I found to be the most convincing and effective description of artistic inspiration and execution that I can remember reading. Recent calamitous events in my life seem to have markedly increased my empathy for many emotionally-stirring things, and that may be what is going on here. Regardless: I was greatly impressed.  Francis,D.;To The Hilt;G.P. Putnam's Sons;NY;1996;ISBN: 0-399-14185-5

The Sea Hunters;
Clive Cussler & Craig Dirgo       I think this is the first non-fiction (sort of) book that Cussler has written. His others are novels about his fictional alter-ego, Dirk Pitt. In this he writes about himself and the exploits of the National Underwater & Marine Agency (NUMA) Foundation. The latter is an organization that Cussler put together (and funds) to sponsor and carry out searches for marine wrecks. In this book he tells of the last moments of ten sunken ships (and one locomotive) that he and an assortment of merry compadres set out to find, and then of the efforts to locate the wrecks. When I wrote "sort of" in the first line above it was because all of the accounts of the end of the sunken objects are basically historical fiction - imaginary reconstruction of historical events. Cussler says he is "dramatizing" the accounts. Several things struck me about this book. One is that Cussler's aim is only to LOCATE the wrecks, and if you look for fascinating accounts of underwater exploration you will not find them here. The second is that Cussler goes to some great length to make you understand that he marches to a different drummer, that it is Cussler and the rest of the world, that he is basically a non-conformist Free Spirit (an enfant terrible I think), and that he is an Adventurer. The Introduction, in which he discusses his very interesting life, is revealing; and various episodes in his wreck-hunting adventures expand on the revelations. I was also surprised to learn that an old friend (Harold Edgerton, now deceased), who was interested in underwater exploration, was, at least for a while, associated with NUMA. I found the book far less interesting than I expected, and I am not sure I know why. I guess the "fiction" was far too obviously imaginative, and the "reality" was relatively uninteresting. Also, Cussler comes across to me as pretentious, and someone less interesting than his adventurous life would suggest. And I haven't the faintest idea what Dirgo had to do with writing the book!  Cussler,C.& Dirgo,C.;The Sea Hunters;Simon & Schuster;NY;1996; ISBN:0-684-83027-2

How to Murder the Man of Your Dreams;
Dorothy Cannell       Cannell is an award winning mystery writer who has been writing stories placed in an English village and starring a housewife named Ellie Haskell. The breathless jacket blurbs from other novelists include words like: "wicked fun, sly, sheer magic, lovely lunacy, witty dialogue......etc.". I presume those phrases apply to the other books, because I couldn't make it past the obligatory page 100 in this one -- and I got there reluctantly. I presume this style and the characterization appeal to many - but not to me. The style is self-conciously arch, the humor is forced, the characters are satires, and the heroine seems to border on being a dolt. Otherwise.......  Cannell,D.;How to Murder the Man of Your Dreams;Bantam;NY;1995;ISBN: 0-553-07494-6

Killing Critics;
Carol O'Connell       The third in O'Connell's remarkably different and beautifully crafted police - detective stories about gorgeous Kathy Mallory: NYPD detective, adopted daughter of deceased NYPD Louis Markowitz, still partly feral child of the streets, sociopath, hardcase, and one of the most original and strikingly different detectives you will ever meet. I found this to be a powerful and emotional story as well as an engrossing detective story of the "old crimes studied anew" genre. A run-of-the-mill artist is quietly murdered with an ice pick at an art gallery opening. However, the location, and an anonymous letter, link the affair to an much earlier, gory double murder; one which Louis Markowitz had investigated, and which had been squashed by orders from high-up after a confession was offered. As Mallory follows the current case, the older murders begin to seem significant, and Mallory ruthlessly pursues an investigation that the police department doesn't want. The story, which is constructed around the world of art, artists, and critics, is an intricate interplay of detective work, emotional involvements, love, hate, vengeance, tenderness and sorrow; and it has a startling ending indeed. It is the most impressive of O'Connell's three works, the bloodiest, and I think, the most unforgettable; one in which we learn (maybe) some more bits about Mallory. Do not miss the chance to meet Mallory if you do not know her; you can read this one first, but if you haven't met her, then I suggest you start with the first one:Mallory's Oracle. You can then read the second:The Man Who Cast Two Shadows, which is very good but not QUITE as striking as either the first or this latest one. If read this one first, then I guarantee that you will seek out the other two!  O'Connell,C.;Killing Critics;G.P. Putnam's Sons;NY;1996;ISBN: 0-399-14168-5

INCREDULOUS NOTE: The Sunday Washington Post (Dec 8, 1996) book section was crowded with articles by writers, critics, etc. listing "best books I have read", "books I will give as presents", "books everyone should read", etc. There are hundreds of books listed, and I have read NONE of them! It boggles my mind. I shall have to start reading more -- I guess. Or different!

Impact:The Threat of Comets & Asteroids;
Gerrit L. Verschuur       Scary. Vershhuur has been (may still be) a radio astronomer, and is a popularizer of astronomy. Here he examines the spectrum of possibilities associated with past, present, and future impacts of asteroids and or comets on the earth. He concludes, and I think correctly, that such an impact will one day obliterate humanity and most of the rest of the creatures on the earth. The only question is when. I was surprised to find that ocean strikes would be FAR more catastrophic than land strikes. Of course there is an implied condition: that humanity do nothing to stave off such a collision. The reader should be warned (and the author casually does so) that some of the material is currently under intense debate and and a lot may be considered contentious. That is especially true of suggestions that such impacts probably caused significant flooding about 7500 years ago -- the Flood, perhaps. It seems certain that in fact impacts have made major changes in the earth's population  -- it is generally accepted that an impact caused the obliteration of the dinosaurs for example. The book is a fascinating (although sometimes gee-whiz), lucid discussion of the subject, and can be understood by the average informed reader. It is one to make the reader feel somewhat depressed, however, because it notes casually that this is an intensely hostile galaxy we live in, and that in fact we are lucky to be here - and that won't last! Can we have any say about whether we survive or not? Well, we can, but we probably won't do anything. Oh well... The author does a good job of commenting on the evidence of past strikes, speculating on past strikes, discussing the current problem of scanning the skies for "bullets" that might be dangerous, and indicating what possibilities there are for protecting ourselves. There is an intriguing speculation about why we find that mankind seemingly originated in central Africa. There are some mis-informed speculations about Atlantis, a fair number of mispellings that were passed by SpellCheck (e.g.loose for lose), some typos (e.g. kelvins for Kelvin), and a really lousy index. Have editors vanished? Have publishers no shame? And from Oxford University Press, no less!!!  Verschuur,G.L.;Impact;Oxford Univ. Press;NY;1996;ISBN: 0-19-510105-7

The Monkey's Fist;
William D. Pease       In Playing the Dozens (a great yarn) we met detective Eddie Nickles. He is now retired from the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police after 20 or so years of service. He is living quietly, and a little strapped for cash, in the old family house on the Severn in Annapolis. A stranger offers him a large amount of money to find a man whose picture was taken at an ATM machine when he tried to use a card issued to a woman who was a victim in a double murder in the District. Eddie takes the job, finds the man, and two thugs show up at his house to kill him. By luck he manages to kill one, and is badly wounded. When he recuperates, he sets out to find out what is going on, and who set him up. What he doesn't know is that he is bumbling into a very dangerous web of complicated intelligence and financial secrecy. There is a super-super-secret US intelligence group, operating under cover of a legitimate and very successful international trading organization. The group has secret ties with an organization in Russia and the two groups are mutually helpful to each other. The two people murdered in D.C. were members of the U.S. group. While Nickles gradually works his way to an awareness of and contact with both the U.S and Russian players, the players begin to realize that there is a complicated set of betrayals and double-crosses, and it is not clear who is controlling what or whom - who are the good persons and who the bad. Eddie, with the help of his DC detective friend and a couple of people who owe him favors, is determined to plow his way into the situation that nearly killed him and his daughter. He wants to get even. It is a dandy story of the lone-expert-takes-on-secret- organization-and-triumphs type. You have probably read many versions of it before. This is a good version. Some considerable suspension of belief is required here and there, but it is worth while if you like this sort of yarn; and the snide comments about D.C. are right on!  Pease,W.D.;The Monkey's Fist;Penguin Books;NY;1996;ISBN: 0-670-85129-9

The Fallen Man;
Tony Hillerman       The latest in Hillerman's stories laid in the Navajo Nation and involving now Lieutenant (acting) Jim Chee, Navajo policeman, and (now-retired) Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn. Climbers find, on Ship Rock mountain, the skeleton of a man who had fallen to his death. The police can't identify the body, but Leaphorn thinks it might be a white man who vanished (on his watch) 11 years earlier. He suggests that to Chee, and that leads to positive identification. The man who disappeared had just inherited property that is rich in minerals, and which is of great interest to a mining consortium that would have been able to mine the property except that the man's wife, who inherited from him, refused to allow it. The mining group hires Leaphorn to look privately into the circumstances of the man's death; the circumstances were unusual because it seems very unlikely the man would have been on the mountain alone. Chee is officially involved, and even more so when one of the few people who had seen the missing man at the time of his disappearance is wounded by a sniper intent on killing him. Perhaps the fall was not accidental. Hillerman spins the yarn while mixing in the problems Chee is having with his fiance, and a parallel problem of apprehending cattle rustlers. Complicated plotting as usual, and Leaphorn makes a Solomon type (Solomonic?) decision about justice at the end. This story is mainly centered in the white man's world, and there is less Indian culture invoked here than in most of his other Navajo stories.  Hillerman,T.;The Fallen Man;Harper Collins;NY;1996;ISBN: 0-06-017773-X

Prayers for the Dead;
Faye Kellerman       The latest novel starring Rena Lazarus (now Decker) and (now Lt.) Peter Decker of the LAPD. This story is, like the last one, primarily a police procedural. However, in this one, Rena, Decker's wife, plays a role; in the last, she did not; and Decker's old partner, Marge, reappears. These later stories, although good, seem more procedural (lots of interviewing and questioning) and less interesting to me than the earlier ones. I shall have to go back and re-read one or two to see if it is only that my tastes have changed. In this one a very famous and wealthy cardiac surgeon is brutally murdered, and the story is of the investigation into the murder. Decker is directing the investigation, in which a lot of effort is devoted to the doctor's dysfunctional family. Among the latter, and the mainstay of the family, is a Catholic priest who was a close friend of Rena's dead first husband, and one for whom Rena has great emotional ties. That causes Decker a procedural problem (and perhaps an emotional one) - he should not investigate a case if his wife is close to a suspect. As the investigation proceeds, it is revealed that the dead surgeon was also involved in a very lucrative development of an anti-rejection drug, and had a secret life as a member of a biker group! Two other murders occur -- seemingly related to peculiarities in data on testing-results for the anti-rejection drug. It is a good story, well plotted, with unexpected twists, and a good read. I enjoyed meeting again the interesting characters that revolve around Decker, and I was glad to see Rena appear again and to learn a little more about her earlier days. However, the story is not one to run to the library to get. You can wait till you find it on the shelf.  Kellerman,F.;Prayers for the Dead;William Morrow & Co.;NY;1996;ISBN: 0-688-14367-9

Lewis Carroll:
A Biography;Morton N. Cohen       Whew! This 577 page book took me a long while to get through. Cohen is a retired academic with vast numbers of erudite works to his credit, and a thirty year interest in Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a.k.a Lewis Carroll. You will find here, in vast detail, everything (almost) that is known about, guessed about, speculated about, and rumored about that extraordinarly endowed, complex, and often enigmatic man. The book is very re-entrant. I decided that the author chose that mode because of the very large number of major activities of, and influences on Charles Dodgson. So there is a steady oscillation in time. We visit one time period when Charles (as Cohen calls him) is busy creating mathematical works of great insight. Later we re-visit the same period to hear about puzzles he created; then back for his photographic activities, etc. We don't meet his father till about half way through the book! It is not always easy going, and there are repetitions. In addition, note the large amount of speculation. Some of it seems reasonable; some seems to have little real foundation. Dodgson will always be the subject of speculation - a lot of it. I feel that Cohen has pretty much got it right about a great deal of what probably motivated Charles in his obsessive concern with little girls; a concern that will cause the modern reader to wince while reading about it, and yet one that never seems to have had acknowledged (at that time) impropriety -- even when he was busy photographing his little female friends in the nude! The book is a fascinating story of a highly productive, complex man who had many different facets - and was a genius. The "almost" qualifier above is because of a fascinating discovery in 1996 (after the book). In 1863 something happened that caused the LIddell family to essentially cut off contact with Dodgson. It will be remembered that it was young Alice Liddell for whom Charles wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The concensus of speculation has always been that Charles expressed more than friendship concerning Alice, and that Alice's mother was appalled - and dumped him. Cohen goes further, and speculates that Charles wanted to marry 11 year old Alice - when she became of age [which was 12 in England at that time]! However, in 1996, Karoline Leach, in rummaging through the family records, found a piece of paper that suggests strongly that the problem was Charles' interest in Ina, the 14 year old sister of Alice, and tall and mature for her age. We shall never know many things about the strange personal wonderland that Charles inhabited, but this somewhat formidable book is a fascinating picture of his life in it. Unfortunately, there are gaps in the index.  Cohen,M.N.;Lewis Carroll;Knopf;NY;1995;ISBN: 0-679-42298-6

Marion Zimmer Bradley       Bradley has written about twenty or so novels, mostly in the genre of science fiction fantasy, and edited a lot of collections of short stories of the sword-and- sorcery type; the latter usually involve females. In fact most of her works do. This is no exception. The protagonist is Winter Musgrave, an aggressive and successful securities trader who has lost most of her memory. Although she doesn't know it, she is also being haunted by an "elemental" - a demonic-behaving astral entity as presented here. The story is of her trying to find her memory and dump the spook-type thing. The yarn assumes the validity of witchcraft, magic, poltergeists, astral planes, and other such things (I think Bradley is a believer). I did not find it all that good a yarn - and the man who caused all the trouble, and whom Winter gets at the end, seems to me to be one she should have walked off and left! She has written stories that I enjoyed a lot more than I did this one.  Bradley,M.Z.;Witchlight;TOR;NY;1996;ISBN: 0-312-86104-4

I Was Amelia Earhart;
Jane Mendelsohn       This is a small sized (pocket book size), brief novel - 145 pages. Yet I can't say that I read it through; I skimmed through the second half of it. For some reason I found it uncomfortable to read. It is a narrative by and about a dead Amelia Earhart, who knows "she" is dead, but has gradually remembered life and wonders if life is more real than death! The book alternates between first and third person (indicating some corporal ambiguity I suppose), which adds to the certain degree of bewilderment engendered in the reader by the story itself. The shade of Amelia narrates her last flight - the one on which she vanished after missing Howland Island in the Pacific. There are, however, a variety of flashbacks to earlier days, including her childhood. In the narrative, she and Noonan - her navigator - gradually run out of fuel and end up dropping toward the water. Were they killed? Amelia's shade doesn't say. Instead "she" recounts a situation where the plane is on the ground on an uninhabited atoll, and goes into detail about life on a desert island. Toward the end, they take off again (presumably) and end up on another island (perhaps); and the book ends. The shade is a bit confused in memory - as "she" mentions at the beginning - and the reader is somewhat confused too. Sort of a partial stream of conciousness and wordy introspection by a somewhat vaguely constituted shade. Different. The acknowledgements, by the shade, of Earhart's carelessness, which undoubtedly led to her real disappearance in 1937, seem to be correct as best as I can recall. Strange book.  Mendelsohn,J.;I Was Amelia Earhart;Knopf;NY;1996;ISBN: 0-679-45054-8

Children of the Mind;
Orson Scott Card       This is the conclusion to the interesting saga of Ender Wiggin, which started with the wonderful Ender's Game. This last book is not one that can be read with much satisfaction by someone unfamiliar with the other three books. It is a reasonable - and happy - ending to the saga, which is, throughout, a complicated and quirky telling of an interesting set of worlds and cultures, and one that revolves around some very interesting moral problems -- including genocide. I shall not try to outline the book or the series here. This is simply to note the end of the road for those who know the series. The author has, at the end, several pages of discussion about "center" and "edge" cultures, and why he centered a lot of the current book's philosophy around the culture of Japan. I can't really follow him - and I have doubts about what seems to be a vague and simplistic construction. The dedicated reader of the series will find the author's personal addendum a novelty, if not much help in understanding the book!  Card,O.S.;Children of the Mind;TOR;NY;1996;ISBN: 0-312-85395-5

The Odyssey;
Homer; W.H.D. Rouse, trans.       There is a new translation of this epic poem and classic adventure tale (1001?; it is by Robert Fagles, and is, surprisingly, a best seller. I am unable to obtain it at the moment, and decided that while waiting I would go back to Rouse's 1937 translation to refresh my memory -- I have not read the Odyssey for about 30 years! Not surprisingly, it still holds up - as it has for 3000 years! I decided to note it here in case a reader of these notes, who has not tried Homer, might be nudged to read of the adventures of Odysseus - or Ulysses, to use the Latinized version. Do give it a try. This translation of Rouse's is, I believe, a very good one to start with. I have always felt that his "colloquial prose" approach was a good one. For any reader of Homer's great yarn, there is a wonderful companion piece that may be hard to find, but is worth the effort. It is: Ulysses Found:A Modern Adventure of Discovery in the Mediterranean, by Ernle [Dusgabe Selby] Bradford. The copy I have is a 1967, defectively-printed, paperback edition; there may be others. Bradford sailed the Med for ten years in small craft, and diligently searched out what he feels are the ports that Ulysses encountered. Of course the subject of the the reality and location of these ports has been discussed ever since Homer wrote! The forward to Bradford's book - by a noted scholar - carefully avoids saying what the scholar seems to believe: that Bradford is all wet; the yarn is totally imaginary, and not based on real locations! I think Bradford is right, however. [If the reader is at all interested in the Mediterranean and the Greek Islands, then be sure to read some of the other works of Bradford - a good writer, who has actually - he believes - during WWII heard the Sirens that tempted Odysseus]  I must say I had lots of fun adventuring again with Odysseus, and sailing again with Bradford. Vicarious adventure at its classical best.  Homer;Rouse,W.H.D:trans;The Odyssey

The Liars' Club;
Mary Karr       This was handed to me by a friend with whom I have occasional *significant* differences of opinions about books. When he told me it was a memoir about a girl growing up in backwoods Texas under very distressing family conditions, my heart sank. I told him I couldn't read grim-realism stuff anymore. He said there was grim stuff all right, but the story was a great one of "overcoming." I took it home reluctantly, and started it even more reluctantly, grimly determined to tough out 100 pages. To my great astonishment, he was absolutely right. The author, Mary [Marlene], in prose beautifully adjusted to the tale, and with great pacing, describes growing up (starting 35 years ago) with her slightly older sister, in Texas, and briefly in Colorado. Her daddy was a hard working, union supporting, bar-frequenting, oil-rig worker, who had frequent brawls. He would take her to a local bar where he met with friends - the Liars' Club, as the author secretly named the group. Her mother was an alcoholic New York artist with a somewhat hidden past, but with a (gradually discovered) penchant for marrying. The memoir - re-entrant in places - opens on the night that her mother went berserk, and was carted off to a local psychiatric ward for an extended stay. Sounds awful, right? Well it is, by any standards of MY childhood at least, so I found it truly remarkable that it didn't repulse me despite graphic language, scenes that caused me to wince, and some scenes that were emotionally hard to read through. Instead, I found it a fascinating, readable, heart-wrenching, empathic account of how love and courage really work -with gradually unfolding surprises for the reader - and the author. The author really loved her father and her mother and her sister despite the periods when she hated them, and that love brilliantly illuminates what might otherwise have been a dark narrative. Indeed, persons in this memoir had their own brand of courage - and love - and lies. They form the real Liars' Club. This is a touching story of complicated emotions, and the reader comes to know, appreciate and almost understand the unforgettable players in this real drama. To my amazement, I found that I finally LIKED her parents; her mother is still living. I certainly liked the author, who has other books to her credit. She gives us only some glimpses of her later life (which involved some drug and alcohol abuse it appears). She has had a lot of psychotherapy I gather, and I suspect this book is, in a way, an extension of that. Regardless, I found it an gripping piece of work. The jacket photo of the author was a bit off-putting for me before and after reading the book. Before: it confirmed my suspicion that I did not really want to read the book. After: I could not fit the picture with the woman whose striking voice I had just finished listening to! Let me strike a cautionary note however: my wife, who read this at my urging, did not like it at all, and said she regretted wasting her time on it. That is the only time that she has ever made the latter statement about a book! She saw nothing redeeming in a grim book with vulgar, disturbing languge. So there.....  Karr,M.;The Liars' Club;Viking;NY;1995;ISBN: 0-670-85053-5

The Codicil;
Tom Topor       I think this is the first novel of an experienced journalist, screenwriter and playwright. It is a an engrossing mystery-thriller. The first person narrator is Adam Bruno, a street-smart attorney who is an expert investigator. He is hired by a law firm to find a beneficiary named by a wealthy client, Matthew Marshall, shortly before his death, in a codicil to his will. The codicil states that the Marshall, while serving in Viet Nam, impregnated a Viet Namese woman, and the codicil leaves half his estate to the child. Bruno's job is to find the heir (or heiress) - and Marshall's wife and children are not anxious that the child be found. It is exactly the kind of yarn I like: the key event happened years ago, so the protagonist has to painstakingly go back through the years via records and acquaintances, to try to unravel the life of Marshall in the Viet Nam era. It appears that someone is trying to put the kibosh on the hunt - a witness is killed, and one vanishes. Careful detective work, gradual unraveling of the time-shrouded details, suspense, likeable people -- neat story.  Topor,T.;The Codicil;Hyperion;NY;1995;ISBN: 0-7868-6153-3

Demons Five, Exorcists Nothing:A Fable
;William Peter Blatty       Although, in my opinion, Blatty's first book, Which Way to Mecca, Jack?, is his most delightful, the Exorcist, for which he also wrote the screenplay, is probably his best known. The current small 180 page book is a presumably humorous send-up of Hollywood producers, directors and authors; and, appropriately, it concerns the struggles of a director with a screenplay, The Satanist, which will indeed involve exorcism! The director, Jason Hazzard, has had a series of flops, so he is out of work. His current fame is that he is married to movie star Sprightly God, a nice character who is sort of a clone of "Boopsie" in Doonsbury. Sprightly was once married to movie mogul, blind Arthur Zelig, and Zelig (who lost his sight when Sprightly left him) has decided to thoroughly demolish Hazzard. He entices Hazzard into making The Satanist under unusual conditions that will ensure that the film is a colossal disaster, and he arranges that Hazzard will be seen as the one completely responsible for the fiasco. The book is the story of the trials and tribulations of Hazzard and the movie. It is zany; sort of a slightly surreal, off-the-wall satire of Hollywood, with Dave Barry touches. But gradually the reader begins to wonder if perhaps, instead of being exaggeratedly funny, some basic version of this kind of stuff really happened to Blatty, and if this is his way of getting even (hence the "presumably" above)! Fun to read. Stick with it past part 2 - the stream of conciousness on a psychiatrist's couch. That is important, and pay attention to it, but is a bit off-putting. Enjoyed it, but still like his first one best! Don't miss the epilogue in this one.  Blatty,W.P.;Demons Five, Exorcists Nothing;Donald I. Fine;NY;1996;ISBN: 1-55611-501-6

The Zero Hour;
Joseph Finder         The high tech of Tom Clancy in the basic thriller story of Forsythe's The Day of the Jackal. Super shadowy terrorist is hired by a billionaire to wreck a couple of computer systems in the USA. One of the latter is the one that controls all electronic funds transfers; and its loss will wreck the US economy. Via an NSA intercept, the FBI learns there is a terrorist plot afoot, and starts to try to find the terrorist. The story alternates between the stealthy ruthless terrorist, and the painstaking FBI attempt to identify and find him. Lots of high-tech, insider stuff. You have read the basic story many times before this, but this is a good one of the kind.  Finder,J.;The Zero Hour;William Morrow;NY;1996;ISBN: 0-688-14450-0

Dance For the Dead;
Thomas Perry         I thought Sleeping Dogs was the last Perry novel, but it seems I was wrong. He wrote a later one called Vanishing Act - I missed it. In it he created another of his remarkably different, wrong-side-of-the-law protagonists that the reader comes to like and root for! She is Jane Whitfield, of Seneca Indian heritage, whose job is arranging for fugitives, who are in danger of being killed, to vanish - and she is very good at her job. In this book she appears again, and is involved with two: an eight year old who is in danger of being killed for a trust fund, and a woman who served time for defrauding a S&L, and who is being hunted by someone who wants money she may have squirreled away. As Jane tries to protect the child - and find out who is trying to kill him - she encounters and helps the woman who is being hunted. Gradually it appears that one person, with vast resources and man-hunting experience, is involved in both cases, and may be smarter and more experienced than Jane - who is very good at the business. It is an exciting, tense, cat-and-mouse game, and finally Jane becomes the target too. Jane is a somewhat unbelievable creation - like all the rest of Perry's "heros" - but that doesnt matter a bit - the reader will like her, even though she does not believe in taking prisoners!  Perry deftly takes the reader through the fascinating basics in the arcane worlds of establishing and using false identies, evading skilled pursuers, and tracking down and finding people, as Jane flees from, and then homes in on the villain. The ending is one of the satisfactory Perry ones. Great yarn. If the reader does not know this story teller and his quite different thrillers, she will enjoy getting to know Perry's works.  Perry,T.;Dance for the Dead;Random House;NY;1996;ISBN: 0-679-44911-6

Don't Call It Night;
Amos Oz; translated by Nicholas de Lange         Oz is a prolific Israeli writer who writes in Hebrew. This novel, originally titled Al Tagidi Laila,and here translated into English, presents an engrossing tale of two people in a small desert town in Israel, about six years ago. No'a is a 45 year old teacher. Theo is a 60 year old city planner and architect. They are longtime lovers, and the relationship is undergoing some considerable strain. One of No'a's pupils kills himself, while on drugs it seems, and the boy's father offers to set up a rehabilitation center in the town - if No'a will be in charge of the project. Theo does not think this is a good idea. The story follows the project, the involvement of the two characters, and the effect on their relationship and their love. The story is folded into superb detailed descriptions of the small town and its inhabitants and attitudes, and presents penetrating and sensitive descriptions of emotions. The style is roughly one of alternate first-person commentary by the two principals, with occasional third-person narrative. There are no punctuation marks to set off the discourse. There are significant pages of stream-of-conciousness, and these pages are unrelieved by paragraphing. The paragraphing is haphazard at other places, and the use of commas is inconsistant. These stylistic pecadillos require a bit of getting used to. Regardless: it is a lovely, compassionate, almost lyrical novel about two very likeable people in a fascinating and changing small world that is Israel in a microcosm.  Oz,A.;Don't Call It Night;Harcourt Brace;NY;1995;ISBN: 0-15-100152-9