The Ragman's Memory; Archer Mayor
Mayor's police-procedural series is laid in Brattleboro, Vermont, and stars police lieutenant Joe Gunther. This one has a riveting beginning. A girl finds a chickadee's nest containing a hank of hair with some attached scalp. Although it is winter, a search is undertaken, and bits of bone and a capped tooth are found. Painstaking work leads to the identification of the decedent - a young girl who had left home. A vagrant is found dead - of rabies (in New England, in the winter!), and a woman is strangled in a nursing home. It all seems related to big-money land deals in the town. The story didn't hook me. The start was great, and the detective work in finding the identity was procedurally interesting, but the tale seemed to bog down in complicated concerns about financial scams and corruption; I think a lot of the complication was deemed necessary to generate a surprise ending. In addition, the motive and actions of the killer seemed far fetched. I was not taken with it.
Mayor,A.;The Ragman's Memory;Warner;NY;1996;ISBN 0-89296-636-X
Wizard:The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla / Biography of a Genius:
Marc J. Seifer
A strange book, about a strange man, by one who seems to me to be a strangely
qualified writer. It is a laudatory, non-objective biography of the famous
eccentric Serbian scientist and electrical engineer, written by a man who
has authored, or co- authored 21 articles about Tesla in the past 20 years
- almost all for the engineer's admirers in the "Tesla Society". The author
is a professional graphologist, a palm reader, has a doctorate of some
sort from the "Saybrook Institute", seems to believe in extrasensory perception,
is a believer in psychoanalysis and in "psychohistory", and teaches psychology
at a couple of community colleges. The book is a positively biased account
of Tesla from birth to death, with vast details of his many inventions
(some great, some speculative, some wacky), his complicated dealings in
the financial world, his increasingly weird approach to life and science,
and the ways the author feels (correctly in many cases) that Tesla was
cheated out of money and credit. The author hardly ever mentions Marconi
without using the word "pirate"! There are sections devoted to a psychoanalytical
evaluation of the man. Occasionally, startlingly, the author slips off
his blinders and there appear a few irritated comments about Tesla's attitudes,
thoughts and actions; but those are very few. There are imaginary conversations
for which there is no basis except "psychohistorical" construction. There
is a lot of "isn't it possible that...", "it would not be surprising if....",
etc.. I found the book very entertaining and certainly imaginative, although
the vast details about Tesla's patents, inventions, and dealings with rich
and important backers get to be confusing, and mind numbing. DO NOT accept
all the material in this book as factual, despite many references, many
notes, and a terrible index. There are many things that I think are true,
and there are things I think are fanciful, things that I see as opinions,
things I know are wrong, and things that are simply made up. The author
frequently extrapolates wildly and incorrectly to suggest Tesla produced
phenomena that were not recognized till years later, e.g. laser action;
and he seriously details a "possible" government conspiracy to conceal
a secret particle beam weapon that Tesla said he invented. If you are interested
in that very interesting and tragic man, Tesla - probably a certified genius,
and ultimately a truly certifiable eccentric if not a nut - be sure to
also read a few of the other biographies available.
The Power of One; Bryce Courtenay
(PB) The location is South
Africa. The time is the beginning of WWII. The hero is a precocious, five
year old, white, English boy who lives on a farm with his mother and grandfather,
and has a black Zulu nanny. He speaks English, Afrikaans, and three native
African languages. His mother has a nervous breakdown, so he is sent off
to a boarding school, in which most of the boys - older than he - are Boers
and hate the English. He is cruelly hurt and humiliated by the boys and
the staff. They call him pisskop, an Afrikaans vulgarism that later, in
defiance, he keeps as PK or Peekay, as he tells everyone. His mother and
grandfather move to another location, Nanny is dismissed, and Peekay is
put on a train for the long journey to his new home - and his odyssey begins.
This is the first person, wonderful, exciting, magical story of Peekay,
as he grows and develops from 5 to 18. On that first train ride he meets
a boxer, and sees him fight, and decides that he will become the welterweight
champion of the world. In his new village he meets "Doc": Professor Von
Vollensteen, a German music teacher, collector of cacti, and a substitute
father. When war breaks out, Doc is confined to prison as an enemy alien;
but Peekay can visit him at will. In the prison, Peekay begins to learn
to box, and an old-time Colored prisoner entices Peekay and Doc into a
smuggling operation to help the cruelly treated blacks - and enrich the
convict of course. The black prisoners decide that Peekay is responsible
for the good things that are appearing, and he becomes the "Tadpole Angel",
about whom legends begin to develop. The blacks come to believe he is really
a Zulu warrior in disguise, their champion, who fights (via boxing) and
defeats the hated Boers. He develops a deep hatred for the racial cruelties
and brutality that he sees almost everywhere. We follow, in detail, his
continuing development as a boxer, his attendance (on scholarship) at a
posh school in Johannesburg, his deep friendship with a young rich Jewish
student at the school, his increasing, almost mystical involvement with
the People - the blacks in the country - and finally his job in the copper
mines in order to get money to attend Oxford. The latter piece of the story
is in some contrast to the earlier part, although that might be simply
that the young man has passed from his schooldays into the world of adults.
And although, as modern jargon has it, there is closure, the violent end
seems a bit sudden. Nit-picking; it is a perceptive, touching, thrilling
tale of various rites of passage for a bright, lonely, loving, and likeable
young man - but also one willing to even a score. Superb tale. I actually
read it twice - and I have not done THAT for many years.
NOTES: The story has some similarity to the book China Boy, by Gus Lee - also a great one. If you like this - try Lee. I am not sure - same with Lee's book - whether this is primarily for males. Bette, who liked it a lot, says not, but I would be very interested in more observations on this point from any female reader of these notes. I was tickled to find that in the mining community, Peekay is invited to a meal of rabbit, prepared by a Russian who barely speaks English, and who notes that the rabbits were easy to find and shoot - you listened for them to say "meow"! In the anthracite mining community where I grew up, that story, which was first told to me by an Irish uncle, a mine worker, cast the poor-English-speaking rabbit hunter and preparer as a "Hunky" - which usually meant Hungarian, Polish, Lithuanian, or Russian. I guess it is a standard joke among English speaking miners!
Courtenay,B.;The Power of One;Ballantine;NY;1989;ISBN 0-345-35992-5
Death of a Sunday Writer; Eric Wright
A pleasant, light weight, mystery novel introducing Lucy Trimble Brenner, Private Detective. Wright has written about ten good novels starring Canadian police detective Charlie Salter, and has shifted gears completely in this new one - presumably the first in a series, also laid in Canada. Lucy is a middle aged librarian who has left her husband, finally realizing that he had made her completely dependent on him; that he is a control freak. She is working part-time, and running a bread-and-breakfast place in Longborough, Ontario, when she is informed that a distant relative, a compulsive gambler, has left her his estate - which, it appears, consists of a few hundred dollars and a marginal (at best) detective agency in Toronto. She goes to Toronto to wind up the estate, and decides to function as a detective - she will keep the agency. This despite all advice to the contrary from her new Chinese landlord, from another private detective, and everyone else she meets. After all, she HAS read zillions of detective stories, and she really knows how to use a library; and she thinks that her cousin might have been murdered, despite the police and autopsy findings! The story is about Lucy's activities in the private eye biz with the help of new friends - and it is an interesting, somewhat different story about a smart, determined woman; and her library research expertise DOES come in handy! There are neat throw away lines, interesting characterizations, and off-beat solutions to interesting problems. Thoroughly enjoyable beach read. NOTE: I was charmed that the book is dedicated to the staff of a public library!
Wright,E.;Death of a Sunday Writer;Foul Play Press;Woodstock;1996;ISBN 0-88150-377-0
Prisons of Light: Black Holes; Kitty Ferguson
Only if you are REALLY interested in the subject, and have some familiarity
with physics. Ferguson is a science popularizer, and attempts to give here
what she thinks is a layperson-understandable picture of the state of knowledge
of black holes and cosmology, circa 1995. The book is a good low-level
discussion of the subject, but I am not sure of the audience. It is not
the layperson. I could skip over a lot of the attempts to explain physics;
many wouldn't be able to. I learned quite a bit - but had to read carefully,
and profited by already knowing the physics. She gets a bit kittenish at
the end! Not quite a specialists book, but I think not for the average
reader despite what the author implies. I note it here because there are
several readers of these notes who might enjoy it!
Ferguson;K.;Prisons of Light;Cambridge U. Press;Cambridge;1996;ISBN 0-521-49518-0
Bloodhounds; Peter Lovesey
Several prizewinning detective novels back, Lovesey created a great addition to detective stories when he invented Peter Diamond, The Last Detective. Diamond, back in the police, is now head of the Murder Squad in Bath, in England. The current story - a police procedural - involves a series of riddles that involve first the theft of a super-valuable stamp, then murders. The crimes are announced ahead of time in public rhymes. They seem to revolve around a group called the "Bloodhounds" - essentially a book club made up of people who are besotted with crime and detective stories. This is one of the most delightful stories that a detective story reader will encounter. It has wonderful banter about detective stories, their authors, and the types of stories, including the locked-room genre. Then Diamond is presented with a genuine locked-room murder mystery, right out of the fifties. The title is more than just the name of the book group; it is an apt description of the police, who carry out dogged and fascinating detection on the way to finding the killer - or killers. The story has layer after layer of problems, and elegant solutions that turn out to be wrong. The reader has the sense of ricocheting, with Diamond, off a series of persuasive, air- tight conclusions at right angles to the original direction. It has wonderful situations, delightful repartee, and good characters. It DOES have some faint reminder of John Dickson Carr - and that is a big plus. I have not read such an enjoyable detective story for a long time. Lovesey, a prolific writer, is master of the art.
Lovsey,P.;Bloodhounds;Warner Books;NY;1996;ISBN 0-89296-645-9
Family Values; K.C. Constantine
The new setting for Mario Balzic, former chief of police in Rocksburg, Pennsylvania. Mario is retired - forced out because he was non-political - and is approached by the Deputy Attorney General (DAG) of Pennsylvania who wants to hire him as an investigator. An old, complicated, murder case has been re-opened because the convicted murderer has petitioned for a re-hearing. Balzic's home life is strained because he is now home all the time - to his wife's distress - so he decides to take the job. He refuses to read all the testimony; rather he sets out to interview the key players in the case. The small town police chief, in whose venue the murders occurred, and whose son is the convicted murderer, is on the verge of death, so Mario interviews his wife. He interviews the police chief's former deputy, now in prison, the convicted man, and another witness. The story is a typical Constantine one, although it does begin a bit strangely. It is basically a police procedural, involving life in a small western Pennsylvania town, with authentic people, good dialog, and perceptive insights into relationships - especially between Mario and Ruth, his wife. It is a gritty, perhaps even distressing story, dealing with a vicious, sadistic police chief, although there is hope at the more upbeat ending. I presume (hope) that the series will continue, with Mario continuing as an investigator for the DAG - who comes across as a good guy.
Constantine,K.C.; Family Values;Warner Books;NY;1997;ISBN 0-89296-545-2
Hitler's U-Boat War:The Hunters 1939-1942; Clair
Blaire This $40, 809 page
behemoth, is the first of TWO volumes on the subject, and it is a specialist's
book. Clair intersperses very interesting strategic pictures and analyses
with VAST details of every decision made by the head of the German submarine
service, every U-boat sailing, every U-boat skipper, every medal awarded,
every torpedo fired, every depth-charge dropped, every damage incident,
every sinking, every rescue, and everything else that might bear on the
subject. The word "encyclopedic" could have been coined for this book.
I DID NOT read all the action accounts. I did read quite a few, and the
ones I read are great. I did read the general political and strategic pictures
and the analyses. Among the most interesting of the latter is his detailed
picture of the warped, even deliberate misunderstanding of both British
military officers and, later (including 1996), British historians, concerning
United States and Canadian decisions and actions in the Atlantic. When
combined with the demonstrable utter stupidity of the British military,
the picture - justified - is an unflattering one of those British professionals.
He also carefully documents the information that led him to the realization
that the legendary crippling of the Allied war effort by the legendary
devastation of shipping wrought by the U-boats in the Atlantic is in fact
mostly myth - a myth that is repeated even today! I was struck by the statistics
he cites to justify this conclusion. There are also impressive statistics
and ship lists at the end. I am impressed by the book, but I have two concerns.
There are very few notes or references to notes on any primary sources.
He promises a "bibliography" in volume 2 - but I find it hard to believe
that will suffice. Second: the General index is an absolute disaster. It
is primarily a personal name index it seems. One can look in vain for almost
any other important items, e.g.:radar, explosives, ASW, ENIGMA, etc. These
are well discussed - it is just that they don't exist in the index. He
should NEVER have trusted the task to his wife and his brother-in-law;
the result is big-time disgraceful in such a book! I have a minor puzzlement:
he describes the fusing devices on torpedoes as "pistols." I have no memory
of encountering that term before - and I have read a lot about submarines.
Blair,C.;Hitler's U-Boat War;Random House;NY;1996;ISBN 0-394-58839-8
Chromosome 6;Robin Cook
Robin Cook is an MD who has apparently been writing a lot of successful novels, many of which appear to have been made into movies. I have read none of his other novels, but I gather that they are all bio-techno flavored, and in the suspense- thriller category. This one is. It's also in the science fiction category! A molecular biologist has developed a procedure for altering bonobo apes [in fact, chimpanzees] by altering the genetic material in an ape ovum. Genetic immunological marker material is replaced with human material, and apes are bred to match the human donor insofar as the immune system is concerned. A bio-company has established a research facility in Africa, and for a large amount of money, will generate a bred-to-order ape whose organs can be harvested to provide cross-species transplants that will not be rejected. The whole thing is carried out in secret - it is highly profitable, but unethical. However, a Mafia big-wig who had a liver transplant is killed, and the body is stolen from the morgue so that an autopsy will not reveal the unusual properties of the animal liver. The body is found a second time, and autopsied. We meet two medical examiners and their NYPD detective friend - who, I gather, have appeared in other novels - and follow their painstaking unraveling of the mystery of the dead Mafia type and his strange liver. We also follow events in Africa where the molecular biologist who started all this, and two women friends, become concerned about developing evidence that they may have inadvertently added human characteristics to the apes and may have actually created a race of proto-humans, who are being killed for organs. Neat story. You can skip over the biological nomenclature. Good semi-techno thriller.
NOTE: I just heard that the Scots who brought us Dolly, the sheep clone, have produced - via a new process - lambs that contain human genes that manufacture blood chemicals, which can be used for humans. The start?
Cook,R.;Chromosome 6;G.P. Putnam's Sons;NY;1997;ISBN 0-399-14207-X
The Third Twin;Ken Follett
Two in a row; I guess genetics is the in-thing now in novels! Follett wrote this bio-thriller in 1996, before Dolly, the sheep, was produced as a clone, but it it revolves around human male clones who were produced as a result of genetic experimentation begun by the military and followed up secretly in the civilian world. The bio-company is owned by three powerful men, and just as they are proposing a deal to sell the company to a large European corporation for a lot of money, a female genetic researcher, working for one of the trio and interested in research on twins, finds two of the clones - believing them to be twins. She falls in love with one of the "twins" - the other is in jail - then the one she loves is identified as a rapist by an eyewitness. Gradually it appears that there are THREE identical men. This starts her on a search of medical records, and she finds that there were actually eight! The men who own the bio-company are determined to stop her - she could wreck the deal. The story is of her detective work in unraveling the mystery, and of the attempts to stop her. She is a good, strong character, and the story is a good thriller, characteristic of Follett, who now seems to have entered the high-tech world.
Follett,K,;The Third Twin;Crown;NY;1996;ISBN 0-517-70296-7
Weighed in the Balance;Anne Perry
Perry has two Victorian mystery series going. One involves Inspector Pitt and his wife Charlotte and one, of which this book is the latest, stars private detective William Monk, nurse Hestor Latterly, and attorney Oliver Rathbone. Monk is a dour, memory-challenged guy who has occasional flashbacks that penetrate his amnesia. Hestor is a feisty, smart, irritating private nurse. Rathbone is a well known barrister, good in court. Sir Oliver agrees to represent Countess Zorah Rostova, defendant in a slander suit, and fairly notorious (bordering on a feminist!) in London society. She is from a small European country whose ruler, Prince Frederick, had abdicated years before to marry an unsuitable woman - Princess Gisela. Frederick has just died after an accident, and Zorah has stated that Gisela murdered him. That is the slanderous statement. The story is of the attempts by Monk and Latterly to prove that Gisela actually did murder her husband - in an interesting variant of the locked-room mystery. There is a relevant, interesting, side-bar story involving Hestor and her patient, an upperclass young man who is paralyzed. However, as always, the main story of Perry's is about the society and its mores, as well as the politics, the bigotry, and the inter and intra class conventions of the times. I found the portions in which Monk moves through various emigré groups and English society groups, and learns about opinions, concerns, and actions of those groups, were not all that exciting or even interesting - although they are of importance to the author. I do not find the characters in this series as congenial as those in the Inspector Pitt series (although they are far more complex), but the stories are generally good. This one has problems. The first third of the book is interesting, the middle sags, and near the end, in a somewhat dull trial, it abruptly becomes very interesting and dramatic. The real structural problem (insofar as the mystery is concerned) is that the solution to the murder hinges on one obscure piece of specialized information, and there is no chain of evidence to untangle - so Monk spends most of his time on a wild goose chase; but the reader learns about class!
Perry,A.;Weighed in the Balance;Ballantine;NY;1996;ISBN 0-449-91078-4
Invention by Design:How Engineers Get From Thought to Thing;Henry Petroski
A description of engineering thinking and action with case histories that
range from paper clips to skyscrapers, with intermediate stops at pencils,
zippers,aluminum cans, facsimile machines, aircraft, water supplies and
bridges. The casual reader will find much of interest, and some material
that is more than she wants to know on the subject. The latter can be skipped
over. Petroski does a pretty good job of getting across how engineers work,
and, in some sections, how they interact and are influenced by the social
and political conditions surrounding projects like bridge building and
sanitary water supplies. If the reader is interested in the subject - and
it is an interesting one - she should be sure to look at some of the other
books on the same subject. Petroski lists them. One wonders exactly why
he wrote this book - many books on his reading list cover (generally) the
Petroski;H.;Invention by Design;Harvard U. Press;Cambridge;1996; ISBN 0-674-46367-6
Fathers' Club; Jon Katz
This is the latest in a good and different mystery series starring Kit Deleeuw, the Suburban Detective. He lives in a New Jersey town with his wife and two children. His wife is working for a degree in psychology. He is an ex-Wall Streeter who, although innocent, lost his job in a big fraud scandal, and is now working as a private detective - while trying to be a house father. His business has picked up, and it is getting harder to keep things stable at home. His thirteen year old son is becoming a seriously rebellious kid, and a great source of worry. A divorced woman in the town - one he knows - hires him to determine why her ex-husband has suddenly stopped communicating - they are on friendly terms. Kit finds the ex - dead, and the woman wants him to look into it. Her husband was a member of a support group called simply "The Fathers' Club", and Kit sets out to join it, without revealing he is a private investigator. He wants to learn more about the members, but in fact he DOES have problems to discuss with the group! Then the woman who hired him is murdered, and Kit works both killings. Interwoven in the story are cogent, sometimes unsettling observations about suburban life, modern life, the problems of parents, and the problems of children. It is a pretty powerful story about the latter things, and about a man who has almost no friends with whom he can share his deep feelings. Each stories in this series has a different perspective, and Katz is doing a remarkable job of characterization. Don't miss the series - but start with the first to enjoy it most..
Katz,J.:Fathers' Club;Doubleday;NY;1996;ISBN 0-385-47921-2
Stone Angel; Carol O'Connell
This is the fourth in the slightly uneven, very different mystery, detective, character-study series that O'Connell is writing around Kathy Mallory, by far the most interesting, off-beat, new fictional detective: police detective, computer genius, thief, former child of the streets, and nearly, or perhaps actually a sociopath. The series consists of:Mallory's Oracle, The Man Who Cast Two Shadows, Killing Critics, and this one. If you do not know this series, then begin at the beginning rather than read this one cold; and run do not walk to the nearest place that you can get the first one. Mallory has returned to the Mississippi town in Louisiana where she lived as a child until the murder of her mother. Her mission is retribution. In the hour after she gets off the train, the town "idiot" has his wrists broken, a man is murdered, a police officer has a heart attack, and Mallory is in jail - although she had nothing to do with any of these things. Charles Butler, hopelessly in love with Mallory, traces her, and comes to the Louisiana town. The story involves the unravelling of the years-ago crime that caused Mallory to run away as a child. In this one Charles is, I think, the predominant character (Mallory is almost ephemeral), and reveals himself as a remarkably astute detective - although Mallory is ahead of him in all conclusions. There is a local, older, hard-nosed woman who plays an important role. There is a slightly eerie - almost Gothic - air to some of the events that involve stoning people to death! It is an episodic, sometimes cryptic and vague, somewhat dark study of crime, punishment, love, hate, and the madness of crowds. There are some heart touching scenes. It left this reader wrung out, and very impressed with what O'Connell has been doing. Kathy is a remarkable creation, and O'Connell is careful to keep her just reader-acceptable as a fascinating character - she is NOT your friendly, likeable young woman, but I find her (and the stories about her and her well-drawn friends) irresistible. You may too. Try.
NOTE: Bette thought it was a good story but didn't enjoy it. Suffered too much with Mallory as a child!
O'Connell,C,;Stone Angel;G.P. Putnam's Sons;NY;1997;ISBN 0-399-14234-7
In A Heartbeat; Eric Stone
Stone is an attorney, a former federal prosecutor in Washington, DC, and a first-time novelist who has written a police-procedural detective story laid in DC. He should have stuck to lawyering. This is an amateurishly written, stereotypical, serial- killer chase story, with italicized thoughts of the unrevealed killer, vicious killings, gratuitous sex scenes, and a hero who chases women - but he DOES love his cute little daughter; it may be dawning on the reader that I did not like this book. Actually, I read a hundred pages, decided that it was everything I didn't like, so I quit. I leafed through the rest of the book and read the predictable ending - didn't help. The publisher is an obscure one - a vanity press? It was encouraging though -- I realized that I could certainly write a much better story! Maybe I will.......
Stone,E.;In A Heartbeat;Presidio Press;Novato;1996;ISBN 0-89141-590-4
Trunk Music; Michael Connelly
The latest story about Harry (Hieronomous) Bosch, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) homicide detective. He is back on the Hollywood force, head of a squad of three detectives that catch the murder of a young woman. The crime seems to have some sort of mob connections extending into Las Vegas, and Harry has to visit there. He again encounters Eleanor Wish, former FBI agent whom Harry sent to jail, and with whom he had a love affair; and finds that he is still carrying a torch. The crime begins to have puzzling aspects. Harry gets in trouble with the Department - Internal Affairs opens an investigation - and he has to solve the case to clear himself. It is an unauthorized activity, and he is helped by his two partners - and the Lieutenant of Detectives! The latter is a good new character in the series. The story is - typically of others in the series - involved, with a number of misleading lines of deduction, and leaks that cause problems for Harry and his friends. The author gives a pretty accurate picture of the way things function in the LAPD, judging from some books I have read about the department. Less engrossing than some of the others in the series - but I enjoyed it.
Connelly,M.;Trunk Music;Little, Brown & Co.;Boston;1997;ISBN 0-316-15244-7
Dead Season:A Story of Murder and Revenge on the Philippine Island
of Negros; Alan Berlow
A remarkable non-fictional book by an excellent writer. Berlow spent a great deal of time in the Philippines, some on the island of Negros, and has written here of several killings, circa 1988, in the town of Himamaylan on Negros. Five of these were in a single massacre. The other three were probably related to the massacre. This non- linear tale is an almost Gothic story of murder (maybe) and revenge (maybe). The author describes the victims and the probable perpetrators, and examines the cases in great detail. He is not able to come to definitive conclusions - but it doesn't matter; because in the course of this true tale, he presents a beautifully drawn, brilliantly described, detailed picture of the culture and sociology of both Negros and the Philippines in general, the view of the culture and politics before and after the fall of Marcos, and cogent observations about Spanish and United States colonialism. He discusses in detail the major disruptive forces at work in this tribal society that he feels has no unifying government or nationalistic tradition: the military, the Communists (the New People's Army), the rich landowners, and the Catholic Church. His descriptive writing is spectacular, and the story is spellbinding - even though the reader is inundated (certainly initially) by a LOT of names. The view he presents of the Negros society is appalling, but he indicates it is similar to the society in general. I found it almost unbelievable; I presume an indication of my deplorable lack of current knowledge about the area. The societal structure is essentially what it was 100 years or more ago - except that conditions have degenerated drastically. Unfortunately, he presents a picture that he feels can offer no hope of change in the conditions, and he suggests, convincingly, that things will get much worse, and that there will continue to be no democracy in that country in the forseeable future. There will continue to be elections - but there will still be no democracy. This book is surely the most engrossing, readable, informative presentations of the intractable Philippine problem that you will encounter. Great read - NOT fun.
Berlow,A.;Dead Season;Random House;NY;1996;ISBN 0-679-42664-7
The Butter Did It; Phyllis Richman
Richman is the (good) restaurant critic for the Washington Post, and this is described as her "...eagerly awaited fiction debut...". I haven't the faintest idea who was awaiting it - certainly not I. I picked it up only because it has been the subject of comments in the DC book and newspaper world, and it IS local, and I WAS curious. I read the first 100 pages (not the best), and skimmed through the rest (better). It is not nearly as bad as I anticipated, fun in some spots, and it might well be delightful to some mystery lovers. She does end up with an interesting denouement and the required incorrect first solution and an unoriginal final solution to the murder mystery. The first person female narrator, Chas, is - surprise - a restaurant critic, once married to a first class chef who discovered he was gay; they are now good friends. Another renowned chef, once her lover, now her friend (hmm...) is found dead of an apparent heart attack seemingly incurred while entertaining a woman. However, Chas knows a reason why he absolutely would not be entertaining a woman on that particular night, and decides it must be murder. She persuades the police to have the Medical Examiner do a detailed toxicology study (in Washington, DC, a fantasy element), and sure enough, the man was poisoned. We go with Chas through reminiscences about her past life, her visits to restaurants, through a lot of meals and food, through her newspaper experiences, problems with her current lover, attempts on her life, detecting, etc.. It is a murder mystery serving as a framework for views of the world of chefs, restaurants, and food, and the characters never quite came alive - though Chas is interesting. There are places where the book is interesting, then it becomes fairly banal, etc..I wouldn't rush out to get it, but if someone hands it to you at the beach - read it.
Richman,P.;The Butter Did It;HarperCollins;NY;1996;ISBN 0-06-018370-5
The Dealings of Daniel Kesserich:A study of the Mass Insanity at
Smithville; Fritz Leiber
Leiber wrote this little story in the thirties, lost it in the fifties, and died in 1992. His estate seems to have discovered it in 1997. I suspect that Leiber had decided not to publish it. Leiber was, of course, a very famous writer of Fantasy, and fantasy-flavored Science Fiction (SF). This is in the latter category. The story is narrated by George Kramer. He has come to Smithville, California, to visit his two old friends: John Ellis and Daniel Kesserach. Ellis's wife had recently died after eating a poison-sprayed orange. Kramer finds a very strange atmosphere in the town, finds his friends have disappeared, is led to an orange grove by pieces of sandstone that appear sequentially in his path out of thin air, and sees Kesserach's house blow up. The grave of Ellis's wife is dug up - and the coffin is empty. The whole thing has the atmosphere (and style) of Lovecroft with shades of H.G. Wells. It turns out that Kesserach has discovered time travel - and that is the basis for all the eerie goings-on. This is Leiber before he developed into a good fantasy and SF writer. He was right not to publish it.
Leiber,F.;The Dealings of Daniel Kesserich;Tom Doherty, Ass.;NY;1997; ISBN 0-
The Witch Doctors:Making Sense of the Management Gurus; John Micklethwait
& Adrian Wooldridge
If you, or someone you know, are interested in the subject of management
or management theory, this is REQUIRED reading. I spent a LOT of time in
managerial positions; theories of management interested me then, and I
have maintained an interest in the subject. Some readers of these notes
will find it as fascinating as I did. The authors are editorial staff employees
of the HIGHLY respected British journal: The Economist. One is its business
editor, the other is its management correspondent. Both have written extensively,
and the book shows it. They explore and evaluate theories of management,
and the gurus who have developed - and are developing - the theories. The
discuss the practitioners, results, fads, etc. The writing is stylish,
literate, witty (a few bad puns for titles however), and eminently readable.
It is also an incisive review and analysis of current management. In addition,
they do a nice job of analyzing the business situation(s) and potential
in the Orient, including a fascinating view of the management strengths
and weaknesses of the Chinese and Japanese. I was pleased to see that MY
guru - Peter Drucker - is about the only theorist who comes off with continually
high marks for prescience, analysis, and content - with a few missteps
of course! The spectrum of gurus ranges from people like Drucker, through
an array of stars to outright charlatans. The authors try to pick valid
bits from the various theories, but in the long run the subject truly seems
to be mostly an art - not a science. Witchcraft perhaps? I was vastly impressed,
amused and informed - and occasionally depressed - by this superb book.
The depression came from examples of stupid corporate application of buzz
concepts without an understanding of the real problems, with subsequent
suffering on the part of employees and stockholders. That was (is) the
situation at AT&T. Although the authors don't use that as an example
- it is one I have been observing intensely (second hand).
Micklethwait,J.& Wooldridge.A.;The Witch Doctors;Random House;NY;1996; ISBN 0-8129- 2833-4
Crichton has written a suspense novel about an in-flight incident on a commercial airliner, made by Norton Aircraft, and inbound to California from China. It killed four people and injured scores. It was a Chinese airline, and the incident was not initially noticed by the media. A Norton investigation team is headed by K.C.(Casey) Singleton, a vice president concerned with quality control. After landing, the Chinese flight crew quickly left the severely damaged plane before they could be questioned. Also, the flight recorder malfunctioned. Still, the problem must be solved in a week, because Norton's CEO is trying to make a big sale to the Chinese, the deal is to be finalized in a week, and it will be wrecked if the aircraft is thought to be defective. The story recounts (day by day) Casey's efforts while frantically trying to solve the problem. Her efforts are being sabotaged by some top Norton brass - but she doesn't realize it at first. She has to work the problem, fend off a determined young TV reporter, avoid getting caught in a nasty internal power struggle etc. A gradually developing parallel story involves the efforts, by the TV reporter, to expose flaws in the aircraft. This is surrounded by techno-jargon, with copies of telegrams, memoranda, printed computer chip readouts, and other soul-gripping bits of authenticity. I quickly got the feeling that I had been this way before. I cannot recall the titles, but I have read at least three relatively recent techno-thrillers of the aircraft-disaster type. This one is told by a very good story teller, and is a neat piece that skillfully builds suspense to a slightly abrupt, dynamic, and satisfactory ending; and you can skip over most of the techno stuff. However, in case you don't want to, the Norton management has given Casey a new assistant to whom she has to explain a lot of the jargon - so you'll know it too! Good story, but it seems like a "I can do it too" variation on a familiar theme. Not sure why Crichton wanted to do it. Save for the beach - but NOT for an airplane flight.
Crichton,M;Airframe;Alfred A. Knopf;NY;1996;ISBN 0-679-44648-6
Sicken and So Die; Simon Brett
Brett has written about two dozen British crime-mystery novels. About 16 of them star Charles Paris, a run down, middle aged, third rate actor, who keeps encountering murders. I have noted none of them here. Some novels back the became less interesting, and I quit reading them. I tried this one to see if things had improved. I don't think so. Charles' drinking has progressed to alcoholism (my diagnosis) - a situation with which I am uncomfortable, and Charles remains a character with whom I can't develop much empathy. In this one he is cast as Sir Toby, in a production of Twelfth Night (whence the title). A friend is cast as Aguecheek, the character whom Toby plays off. Charles is pleased with the opportunity, but the director comes down with an intestinal disorder, and the new director has a VASTLY different idea of how Shakespeare should be presented. Charles is appalled at the interpretation of both the play and his role in it. The author constructs an interesting picture of the development of the director's concept, the gradual acceptance of the concept by the cast - except for Charles, who sees it as a perversion of the Bard's work. Then his friend comes down with a stomach problem, an actress dies, and Charles believes all the problems were caused by poison. There is a final presentation of the play, and Charles is actually caught up in the concept; then someone attempts to poison him. The emphasis in the book is on the character of Charles, and on the transformation of the play. It has some shrewd insights into the world of British theater and local festivals, and some witty lines, but it is not all that much of a mystery. It is typical of the stories in this series, and (I think) a beach read. However, if you do not know the series, give it a try. A lot of people are fonder of the character and the stories than I am.
Brett,S.;Sicken and So Die;Scribner;NY;1995;ISBN 0-684-82459-0
McNally's Gamble; Lawrence Sanders
I was pleasantly surprised. The last one I read in the McNally's ----- series I found stale, forced, and trite. I decided the old storyteller had lost it. A friend did not feel the same way about it, so I picked up this new one to see if perhaps I had just read the last one on a bad day. The answer is: perhaps; because this one is the pleasant, occasionally clever, no-brainer, beach-read type characteristic of the earlier ones - as I think I remember them. The first brief chapter made me feel I was going to like it a lot more than I did the last one, and I certainly did. Archy McNally's father is the attorney for a wealthy widow who is being talked into investing a half million in a Fabergé egg by a new-in-the-Miami-area, smooth, financial consultant she met at a party. Archy is given the job of checking the advisor and the potential deal; it seems probable it is a scam. Archy does so. He meets the woman, her children - who are appalled that she is going to spend "their" inheritance, an off-beat daughter-in-law, the con-man and his "enforcer", an antique dealer, and others. The antique dealer is murdered. Archy wends his casual way through the scenes trying to solve the problem, and spending bed time with various available young women. There is almost no mystery to the story, but it is a good yarn. It is still not clear whether my feelings about the last one were due to a bad day for me or a bad day for Sanders, or both. I shall actually go back to the last one to see. I'll bet it was HIS fault.
Sanders,L.;McNally's Gamble;G.P. Putnam's Sons;NY;1997;ISBN 0-399-14248-7
Lethal Genes;Linda Grant
One never knows...This one I thought would be skimmed - and omitted from these notes. I almost did not bring it home at all - the thought of THREE genetics oriented mystery novels in a month was a bit much. However the jacket noted that the protagonist, Catherine Taylor, is another of the "...remarkable crop of women investigators created by women...", and is in the business of being a private investigator for high tech problems in the commercial world. Intriguing. I took it; and I liked it very much. It is an interesting, different, mystery-crime story, that is readable and understandable despite its genetic background, and has good characterization. The first person narrator, MS Taylor, has a three-person investigative agency at work, and a trying 15 year old niece at home. The agency is asked to investigate break-ins and vandalism at a basic research laboratory that specializes in genetic research on plants - mostly corn. There seems to be no sense to the activities - which continue - but the situation begins to seem ominous to Taylor - who also has trying situations at home and in her love life. One person in the lab dies - MAYBE not naturally - and another dies - DEFINITELY not naturally. The story is well told, and engrossing, and the heroine is one worth knowing. This appears to be a series by an experienced crime novelist; I shall look for others in the set. I probably won't read any more genetics mysteries for a while, however; I'm close to an OD on DNA. Bette liked the yarn.
Grant,L.;Lethal Genes;Scribner;NY;1996;ISBN 0-684-82653-4
A Spy For All Seasons:My Life In The CIA; Duane R. Clarridge
with Digby Diehl An interesting
book that should be read with continual awareness that Clarridge's collaboratively-written
story of the CIA and his work is NOT an unbiased account. It is significantly
self serving. Despite this, the book presents an informative look at the
CIA, its organization and problems, and gives an interesting look at some
of the activities of a highly successful, well respected, and decorated
spy and manager of spy activities. He ended up in the Iran-Contra controversy,
was indicted, then pardoned. Scathing observations about Congress are frequently
on target; his feelings about the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) are negative,
and probably mostly right. He also has comments about the military - not
all good. In addition the CIA management and bureaucracy were often drags.
In fact, Clarridge became (although he denies it) what is known in the
trade as a "cowboy" - a wild riding member of the Directorate of Operations
(DO) - the clandestine spies; so it is not surprising that he found lots
of problems from headquarters, Congress, and others of a more conservative
bent. He did a lot of outstanding work, and the reader will get a
good feeling for that. Not the least of the accomplishments was the establishment
of an effective CIA group for countering terrorism. I found it interesting
that there is almost no discussion of the interaction of the CIA and the
FBI, organizations that hate each other and quarrel all the time - to the
detriment of the country. At least that was the case a few years ago, and
was certainly the case when Clarridge was operating. There is almost no
discussion of the CIA and drug running. He liked and respected Ted Shackley
- a scary DO manager whom more objective reporters found to be a poor operator
who was promoted and rewarded because he told his bosses what they wanted
to hear. He thinks Noriega - whom he likes (I think) - got a poor deal.
There are other uninhibited and irreverent views of people and policies;
sort of fun. Just DO NOT accept the material as gospel. A fair amount of
it is, I think, correct, a large part is, I think, distorted - certainly
at variance with other views of the same material.
NOTE:I was struck by a comment about staffing his new organization for counter terrorism. He needed high-tech scientists and engineers, and had authority to get them from the Agency's Directorate of Science and Technology (DS&T). He didn't know who were the best people, so he simply had to request seven or eight good people. He thinks - and he is absolutely right - that DS&T (of which I once knew something) gleefully dumped on him the seven people that they most wanted to get rid of. What he found was that these people were highly creative and imaginative and aggressive; exactly what he needed. They were a "ten group", and tremendously innovative; he describes them as "jewels". And OF COURSE they had been troublesome to the managers at DS&T. Such people are ALWAYS troublesome in bureaucratic R&D organizations, where managing them is an interesting challenge indeed; one mostly failed, in fact.
Clarridge,D.R.;A Spy For All Seasons;Scribner;NY;1997;ISBN 0-684-80068-3
Stones from the River; Ursula Hegi
I was undecided whether to note this novel. The reason is emotional ambivalence about it. I was fascinated, enthralled, and at times very distressed by it. The author, an experienced one, lived (it says on the jacket) the first eighteen years of her life in Germany (but certainly not during the period described). She has written a gripping and powerful story of life in a German village from 1915 to 1952 - through two wars and the rot of the Nazis. With a brilliant stroke that makes the book remarkable, the third person story is told from the point of view of Trudi Montag who is a Zwerg, a dwarf (achrondoplastic, I gather), whose father runs the lending library in the town, and whose mother goes mad. Trudi, intimately a part of the village, is also, in a significant sense, removed from it because of her "difference", and is thus an ideal character through whom the society is viewed. But Trudi is not just a vantage point; she is the village story teller, and some believe her a witch - a good, live, bright hard flame in a misshapen body, and one who takes on life on her terms - even though she has some difficult times; a different, beautifully portrayed character whom the reader will actually identify with, enjoy with, suffer with, cry with, triumph with, and never forget. The moment when Trudi meets a carnival performer who is another female dwarf - and realizes to her utter astonishment and delight that there are OTHERS like her, is heart wrenching - and warming. There is no great plot, just a steady chronological portrayal of life in the village over the years, and a portrayal of Trudi's intense life in it. It is not an entertaining book; it is a serious look at the grass-roots people and society in Germany. My problem is that the description of the pre-Hitler to post-WWII invasive Nazi cancer, and its aftermath, was very emotionally trying for me. I could read only a few pages at a time in many places. The developing anti-Semitism, the efforts by Trudi and friends to help Jewish friends and refugees, the cruelty of the SS -- all hard going, and stirred much anger in me. Perhaps it is just my generation - or my current emotional status - or both. The other thing is an irritating awareness that the book has somehow made an unwanted SLIGHT dent in my dislike for the Germans, a dislike that originated in that WWII period. I still do not like them despite the fact that my father's family emigrated from Germany; but this book also gives a stark picture of the devastated society, and the devastated families in that losing country, and an affirmative look at (maybe) a determined courageous few who fought the system to the best of their ability. It is an impressive, fascinating work by a first class writer, and has a very strong emotional impact - not always comfortable; and has ultimately some level of justice, peace and hope. The reader will discover that the stones from the river are both real and symbolic.
NOTE: Bette found the book very powerful but very depressing.
Hegi,U.;Stones from the River;Simon & Schuster;NY;1994;ISBN 0-684-84477-X
Seeing a Large Cat; Elizabeth Peters
This is the latest in Peters' Victorian adventure-mystery stories about Egyptologists Amanda Peabody and her husband Walter Emerson, and their children: their son "Ramses", their adopted daughter, Nefret, and David, the might-as-well-be-adopted grandson of their Egyptian factotum. It is about 1903, in Egypt, and they are led to a tomb that contains a mummy - but not an ancient one! It is the missing wife of an unpleasant acquaintance who has an unpleasant daughter; the missing wife had run off with another man. It appears the other man killed her, and now wishes to kill the deceased's husband. The story revolves around some archaeological excavation, and the attempts to apprehend the murderer. The story moves right along, but is not all that much of a mystery. What counts is characterization, which has taken a very different and interesting turn in this book. Ramses, David, and Nefret are suddenly grown up - late teens - and most of the book is really about them. Peters has a problem: how to present their points of view and feelings while maintaining the first-person narration by Amanda. She resolves it, awkwardly, by adding lengthy, italicized, third person narrative insertions. The young characters are suddenly quite interesting, and of course Peabody and Emerson are true to form. Good story in a series that may be taking a new direction - if Peters can figure out how to do it.
Peters,E.;Seeing a Large Cat;Warner Books;NY;1997;ISBN 0-446-51834-4
The Bum's Rush; G.M. Ford
I'm enchanted by the author's name - two American cars! It is almost as good as that of the Japanese who is named Toyota Honda [really]. At any rate, when I saw the name I remembered that his first novel was Who The Hell Is Wanda Fucha, a so-so detective story, which was mainly of interest because of the motley crew of drunks the private eye used as helpers. This story is a far better one, and the crew of drunken bums is still operating. Leo Waterman, a Seattle private eye, ends up with three problems: finding Ralph - one of the crew of drunks, finding a librarian who has embezzled $200,000, and finding the pieces in a puzzle that involves a female street person. The latter, whom Leo and his crew rescue while looking for Ralph, claims to be the mother of a young, successful musician who died from an overdose of heroin (supposedly self administered), and whose mother has been declared legally dead. Waterman realizes that if the claim is true, the woman stands to inherit a lot of money. The three cases, and the crew of drunks, are neatly woven into an interesting private eye story that I enjoyed. As I said: MUCH better than Wanda Fucha.
Ford,G.M.;The Bum's Rush;Walker & Co.;NY;1997;ISBN 0-8027-3299-2
Where Wizards Stay Up Late:The Origins of the Internet;Katie Hafner
and Matthew Lyon This will
appeal to only a few readers of these notes, but I want to ensure that
they are aware of this fascinating book. It is a limpid, well told, engrossing,
technically exciting story of the people, the visions, the work, and the
beliefs that ultimately produced the present Internet. Not since Kidder's
great book: The Soul of a New Machine, about the development of a new computer,
have I read such a wonderful description of both the processes involved
in the production of new technology, and the nature of the quirky people
who carry them out. The beginning - in 1969 - was the concept of the ARPANET,
a network conceived by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), and
designed primarily to link computers at various universities so data could
be exchanged electronically. The lucid story begins there, and follows
through the trials, tribulations, and successes of the concept, the changes
in mission, the development of networks of networks, the final dissolution
of the ARPANET - mainly by incorporating it into a larger government network
that had developed, and the growth of the Internet. The authors note the
intriguing fact that the ARPANET was, for a long time, a beautiful system
with essentially no customers - the universities found little need to have
their computers communicate with each other! What DID develop - unexpectedly
- was e-mail; and after a few years, for a few years, most of the communications
on the ARPANET were e-mail messages! The ARPANET's life from start to finish
was 20 years - but its effect will go on forever I suspect. This story
is a well written, coherent narrative with excellent and understandable
explanations - and a good index. However, one should be cautious about
describing this as history - a great deal of it comes from oral interviews,
always a source to be viewed with caution. In fact, some of this may be
modern myth! I personally found it interesting that AT&T spent four
years arguing that the concept of information packets would not work, and
even if it did it would be of no use. After it did work, when offered the
ARPANET - AT&T refused to take it. Perhaps on a par with its early
decision not to get into cellular phone communication - after inventing
it! The management-alert reader (especially one who reads these notes)
will notice that the key Bolt, Baranek and Newman (BB&N) group that
developed the key concepts, hardware, and software of the ARPANET system,
numbered 11 people - a "ten" group; and that they functioned exactly as
a first-rate classical ten group! It will also be noted that there were
NO women involved in the early days (seventies) at ARPA, BB&N, or the
NOTE: Although it is not mentioned here, it interesting that the phenomenal growth of the Internet has crowded internodal lines to the extent that the universities currently have trouble with computers interchanging data; to the point that there is under construction a new, separate, dedicated net for such exchange! The ghost of ARPANET appears!
Hafner,K.,& Lyon,M.;Where Wizards Stay Up Late;
The Club Dumas; Arturo Pérez-Reverte,
translated by Sonia Soto
A brooding, erudite, Gothic, hypnotic story of suspense, intrigue, danger
and mystery revolving around two rare writings. One is a portion of the
manuscript for Alexander Dumas's novel The Three Musketeers. The other
is the very rare: Book of the Nine Doors to the Kingdom of Darkness, a
piece of Satanist writing that presumably gives directions for summoning
the Devil. Lucos Corso is the protagonist; a man who hunts down rare books
for collectors and dealers. He is a 45 year old, amoral, not too likeable,
well read expert on incunabula of all sorts. He comes into possession of
the Dumas manuscript chapter with the task of determining its authenticity.
He is handed a copy of The Book of the Nine Doors by its owner, who tells
him it is a forgery, and commissions him to find which of the other two
copies in the world is the real one. We follow Corso through Europe and
the rare book world as he gradually realizes that he is being set up in
some way that he doesn't understand, by forces that he can't identify.
It seems he is being involved in a plot from Dumas's novel! The book contains
an amazing display of erudition in the field of rare books, the life and
writings of Alexander Dumas, French history, motion picture classics, and
the world of ancient books about the Devil. One might suspect that the
story was generated to provide a learned exposition of these matters. However,
it is also a dandy story whose style and atmosphere are very reminiscent
of some of Umberto Eco - whose name appears in the book! The narrative
occasionally switches from first to third person, and the gimmick used
to explain that is not great. The yarn is fascinating, albeit somewhat
intellectually intimidating, but it does have a somewhat unsatisfactory,
very contrived denouement (with a gimmick from one of Agatha Christie's
very early yarns!) for part of the mystery. Soto's translation from the
Spanish is everything one could wish - an impressive accomplishment.
NOTE: I am also impressed by the author, who is described as a professional television journalist and the author of two previous books. What impresses me most is the vast knowledge the man has of books and rare books. Surely he is a serious collector.
Pérez-Reverte,A.;The Club Dumas;Harcourt Brace;NY.1996;ISBN 0-15-100182-0
The Clinic; Jonathan Kellerman
The latest of Kellerman's psychological mysteries, laid in Los Angeles, starring Alex Delaware, consulting psychologist, and his police detective friend, Milo Sturgess. Milo is assigned a dormant, three month old homicide case that involved the stabbing-slashing of a female psychology professor. The victim, a vigorous champion of abused women, had become a personality via a best-seller book on pop psychology regarding male-female relationships. Milo thinks Alex could be helpful, gets him assigned as an official police consultant - with badge, no less - and the hunt is underway. Once again, the reader is led into the depths of some severe psychological disturbances and some unpleasant events as Alex untangles the threads of the case, and digs into the history of the victim and a number of her past and present friends and acquaintances. It is an interesting, complicated, somewhat dark, and somewhat far- fetched detective story - like the others in the series. Good story telling - as always.
Kellerman,J.;The Clinic;Bantam;NY;1997;ISBN 0-553-08922-6
The Bootlegger's Daughter; Margaret Maron
In an earlier set of notes I noted one of the books in a mystery series that Maron is writing about the activities of very impressive character, Deborah Knott, a lawyer in rural North Carolina. This five year old book is the first in the series; one for which Maron won a prize - and she deserved it. It is a first class evocation of character and environment in North Carolina rural society, and an interesting mystery to boot. This is of the old-unsolved-crime-revisited genre, and I am a real sucker for those! Deborah is asked by her niece to look into the killing of the niece's mother when the niece was 18 months old. She doesn't really want to take the time - she is campaigning to be elected a judge - but it IS a family matter, so she does. As Knott begins to unravel some of the threads, she finds long concealed family secrets, and ultimately encounters a threat to her person and her aspirations to judgeship. It is a nicely plotted, well written, somewhat unusual story about interesting people and the rural culture in which they live. I just encountered a paper-back version of the book, bought it, and decided to note it here in hopes of enticing others to start with this dandy series by reading this first one.
Maron,M.;The Bootlegger's Daughter;Warner;NY;1992; no ISBN
Smoke and Mirrors:Violence,Television, and Other American Cultures:
This was an interesting - somewhat disturbing - reading experience. The
author is a well known TV and book critic, and a recovering alcoholic -
something the reader might want to be aware of as she evaluates the author's
perceptions of past TV shows. The book is different and interesting, although
somewhat irritating; but it was the experience of trying to read it that
disturbed me. Currently my vision has deteriorated to the point where I
realize what it means to be visually impaired! Reading the printed page
is hard and slow going. What I discovered is that I was unable to read
this book in my normal way, and as a result I could not digest it or comprehend
it as a whole! It is a very dense, opinionated, clever set of lengthy ruminations
on our culture, with emphasis on television, books, and the media. It has
incisive, pithy, and often unorthodox viewpoints, and a host of clever
phrases - usually put-downs. It also has a very irritating style: tremendously
LONG sentences for example, and vast compilations of names. To make a point
he may invoke the titles of thirty television shows - and list them all
in one paragraph. Time after time after time; page after page after page...
And he uses semi-colons far more than I! He has watched every television
show and MTV item ever produced, and has an opinion about each. He knows
every star and bit player - and has opinions about them too. He has lengthy
opinions about "them": the Philistines who don't know good TV, good newspapers,
or good news, and are also the money moguls who have the power to kill
the good stuff - and do. It is a passionate, somewhat self-conscious production
with some very interesting parts. He LIKES television, and praises its
attempts to bring about a more peaceful society (really!). He has wonderful
pages about violence in our culture - starting with the Greeks and running
through the fairy tales. Neat stuff, although I must say that much about
specific TV shows was lost on me - I have not watched television for 27
years. Since in my new, different-paced mode of reading, I could not come
away with an impression of the whole, I can't summarize! Sorry. For
that, you will have to read it yourself. You will certainly like some of
it. The long discussion of Ed Sullivan is wonderful - and perceptive. Some
bons mots are priceless. In noting the ubiquitous presence of violence
in literature he observes:"The Bible is a how-to manual on abusive sex
and crazy violence in a sun-stunned, goat-munched desert." There is, unfortunately,
no index. Or, maybe fortunately; it would have been a LONG one!
Leonard,J.;Smoke and Mirrors;The New Press;NY;1997;ISBN 1-56584-226-X
The Island of the Colorblind and Cyclid Island;Oliver Sacks
A fascinating book. Sacks, a neurologist, writes popularizations of neurology
without "writing down" to the reader. Here he combines his enthusiasm about
islands, his love of plants and neurology with stories of visits to four
Pacific Islands; two in the Carolines and two in the Marianas. The title
relates to Pingelap, where about 5% of the population suffer from total
color blindness (achromatopsia). Achromatopes see only shades of gray.
They have no active retinal "cones", hence also suffer from a lack of visual
acuity, and because they depend on the low-light-level-sensitive retinal
"rods" for vision, they are blinded by light - they see best at very low
light levels. Sacks, an acquaintance who is an achromatope, and another
who is an ophthalmologist, studied sufferers on that island, and also on
another (larger) island in the group, Pohnpei. At another time, on Guam,
he looked at the VERY strange neurological disease that afflicts many of
the inhabitants, and still defies understanding after forty years of study.
The fourth island was Rota - where he was simply interested in cyclids
- a tree form that appears to be a palm - but isn't. What you get in this
disjointed book (connected by cyclids if at all) is a look at Sacks' brilliant
inquiring mind, his interests, his background, and his views of islands,
people, cultures, botany, medicine, and intellectual puzzles - and his
description of getting stoned (once) on kava- a singularly unprepossessing
South Pacific liquid with a surprising neural impact (NOT the stuff currently
available in herbal shops!). It is interesting that only in the introduction
will the reader discover that on one trip there was a whole documentary
film crew along! There are wonderful notes ( Marie Stopes was a botanist
and a paleobotanist!), a good bibliography of journal articles and books,
and a pretty good index. Wonderful.
NOTE: I was startled to find this book yanking me back to the South Pacific. I have read a lot of books about the Pacific islands - but none affected me as this one did. It was a tremendous surprise to re-experience forgotten events and emotions related to a long ago period when I stayed alone for some time on a tiny island in a South Pacific atoll. The impetus was a comment on the surprisingly bright phosphorescent luminosity of lagoon water when it is disturbed. That triggered a vivid recollection that I had completely forgot, and with that, a rush of other memories appeared - some may even be real! The mind is truly a strange device; especially an aging mind!
Sacks,O.;The Island of the Colorblind;Knopf;NY;1997;ISBN 0-676-97035-4
Killer Market; Margaret Maron
The market is a vast furniture market. The place is High Point, North Carolina (NC) - center of the NC furniture world. The first person narrator is Judge Deborah Knott, protagonist in the good series that Maron has been writing. The story is - relatively - poor! I read it with growing disappointment - although the last half IS better than the first. I just bought a personal copy of the first story in the series (see The Bootlegger's Daughter above) because it is so good, and I have waxed lyrical about at least one other in the series - then this comes along! It is a run of the mill yarn with a boring first half. Maron seems to have ginned it up because of a new-found interest in the North Carolina furniture and designer world. The reader is exposed to gobs of furniture arcana, lovingly prolix expositions of furniture dealers' jargon, and not much of what has made the others in this series so good. Deborah Knott is away from home - and she is pretty much at sea, and so is Maron. It may be that "home" was getting too confining for the adventures of Knott, but this ain't the way to go. If you decide to read this, and do not know the series, then know that this is a very poor example of what Maron can do. Try others. I wrote the note about the first in the set in order to entice people into trying this series. So it is only fair that I issue a warning about this one. Sigh.....
Maron, M.;Killer Market;Warner Books;NY;1997;ISBN 0-89296-654-8
The President's Daughter;Jack Higgins
The President is the U.S. President, his unacknowledged daughter is the result of a one-time liaison in Viet Nam with a French countess, and of course Higgins is the famous and prolific author of good suspense-thrillers. The daughter is kidnapped by "Judas" a mysterious, powerful Jew who directs a net-work of Jewish fanatics (the alias is from a character in the Hebrew Bible, not the New Testament). The daughter will be executed unless the President gives approval for a series of U.S. strikes against Muslim terrorists. "Judas" has agents in many places - enough to preclude the use of intelligence agencies in the U.S. or Great Britain. When the daughter is kidnapped, Judas arranges an elaborate maneuver to also capture Sean Dillon - ex IRA-enforcer, and now an employee of Brigadier Ferguson. The latter runs a special covert group reporting to the British Prime Minister. Dillon is chosen to carry the message to the President. Not too swift an idea, because the President then charges Ferguson, Dillon, and London Police officer Hannah Bernstein to find his daughter, and that is enough to spell doom for "Judas". This is standard Higgins fare. The diligent few good guys (and gal) track down the bad guys with zingy, along-the-way episodes of adventure and violence. At the end, Dillon and a U.S. agent take on six combat-experienced soldiers - and win, of course. The experienced Higgins reader will find this true to type. Good story telling, but almost a formulaic structure.
NOTE: The picture of Higgins on the back cover makes him look like a slimmer Robert Parker, or like Tom Clancy - black leather jacket, tinted glasses, etc. The look is the in-thing for male writers of thrillers?
Higgins,J.;The President's Daughter;GP Putnam's Sons;NY;1997;ISBN 0-390-14239-8
Rueful Death;Susan Wittig Albert
The latest in a series about attorney China Bayles who runs an herb shop in a college town in Texas. The gimmick is herbs - all the titles are herb connected, and the chapter headers are erudite and/or obscure quotations about herbs. I have read at least one other in the series, and found it ho-hum. This one is considerably more interesting - although still a beach read. Albert dispatches China to a rich monastery that houses two disparate groups of nuns in a power struggle to see which group ends up in charge. The future nature of the place - currently a place of quiet and meditation - hinges on the outcome of the struggle. China is asked to look into several cases of arson and poison-pen letters, and a couple of cases of murder develop. A few interesting characters, and an enjoyable light read; and some VERY interesting information about garlic!
Albert,S.W.;Rueful Death;Berkley Publishing;NY;1996;ISBN 0-425-15469-6
Out to Canaan; Jan Karon
This is the latest in Karon's series about life in the small imaginary
southern town of Mitford [perhaps named by Karon after Victorian writer
Mary Russel Mitford]. The central character is Father Timothy, the 64 year
old Episcopal priest who has married late in life. This is simply a continuation
of the story, and all the familiar characters appear and deal with various
crises in personal lives and in the political life of the town. The priest
must, for example, face into his approaching retirement, and the town into
an election. The book, like the others in the series, is a sort of "chicken
soup for the soul." Good people have good things happen to them - with
the help of prayer and serendipity. The style is very episodic; the story
is told in brief action segments that change somewhat abruptly, but it
manages to keep the reader's attention. I found it charming to read, and
enjoyed it. I have developed a real liking for the characters.
Karon,J.;Out to Canaan;Penguin Group;NY;1997;ISBN 0-670-87485-X
Serpent's Tooth; Faye Kellerman
For 11 years the author has written one novel a year (with one year excepted) about Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Detective Peter Drecker and his wife Rina and his several families. This, the latest, is a pretty good yarn; better than the last two, but not as good as the earlier ones. It's a detailed police procedural that centers on a massacre in a restaurant, in which 13 people were killed, scores were injured, and the perpetrator committed suicide - seemingly. Drecker is in charge. As the seemingly clear-cut crime is studied closely, it becomes far more complicated than first assumed. Drecker questions a woman whose parents were killed in the massacre, and who got a LOT of money because of their deaths, and finds himself accused of sexual harassment. Questioning of teen-aged children of wealthy parents leads to pressure on the LAPD - and Drecker - to curb the investigation. There is relatively little mystery, rather the story is of the slogging detective work - against obstacles - to bring the responsible parties to justice. Intermixed is the parallel story of Drecker's personal life; and into this book Kellerman brings, one way or another, ALL the characters involved with Drecker's life except those in the family into which he was born. His daughter (by his first marriage) and his old Viet Nam crippled friend are brought in to the story to help solve the case. I must say that the final explanation of the original massacre left me confused - it does NOT seem to square with the evidence painstakingly compiled by Drecker's team. Maybe it is my poor eyesight (soon to be improved!)
Kellerman,F.;Serpent's Tooth;William Morrow;NY;1997;ISBN 0-688-14368-7
Liberating the Gospels:Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes:Freeing
Jesus From 2,000 Years of Misunderstanding; John Shelby Spong
Episcopal Bishop Spong's book has one of the longest title plus subtitles
that I have seen, and provides a fascinating look at the Christian Bible
and part of its development. His thesis: the early New Testament writings
were by Jews (NOT gentiles) who invoked the midrashic traditions of Jewish
storytelling. They can only be understood by relating them to the literature
and traditions of the Jews, and by understanding the relationship between
the attitudes of the orthodox Jews after the destruction of the Temple,
and the attitudes of the Jewish cults and groups that felt Jesus was the
Christ who had shown the Jews a way to a Kingdom on earth. One HAS to look
at the writings through "Jewish eyes" to avoid the traditional gentile
interpretations. He observes that his mentor (for some of his efforts)
is a little known scholar, Michael D. Goulder, once an ordained Anglican
priest and now an atheist. Spong has not followed Goulder that far
- yet. The book will be controversial, and attacked by fundamentalists,
liberals, scholars, right wingers, left wingers, Democrats - and Republicans,
I suppose. Yet the book is not only very interesting, but very persuasive
in many places (if you accept his scholarship). I really do not have the
time - nor current inclination - to examine the details in comparison with
other scholarly views on the subject. For example, Spong does not believe
there was a "Q" document as the Burton Mack school proclaims [THAT I may
look into]. He believes the structure of Mark and Matthew indicates they
were written as Jewish-oriented lectionaries for the Jewish, proto-Christian
groups. The arguments are quite detailed. He also suggests that later gentile
writers and compilers gradually introduced an anti- semitism that runs
through the scriptures. He suggests - with interesting arguments - that
in fact Judas Iscariot may have been a gentile invention! Some of this
book is very persuasive. Some of it has a less well developed logic, some
is just sketched out, and some is just speculative. In many places the
argument is almost nit-picking. Some of it has a classic "conspiracy" flavor.
I found all of it fascinating. Spong outlines the concerns of Goulder and
the nature of his arguments, and it is interesting to watch Spong work
the same type problems and finally come, inevitably, to the Easter phenomenon,
and to a conclusion different (it would seem) from Goulder's; a conclusion
that, for Spong, seems to come down simply to faith. Which, somehow, seems
almost anticlimactic! I found this book extremely interesting and personally
helpful. Many will, I am positive, find it repulsive and infuriating. No
one will find it dull! I plan to read more of Spong's many books.
Spong,J.S.;Liberating the Gospels;Harper Collins;NY;1997;ISBN 0-06-067556-X
Organizing Genius:The Secrets of Creative Collaboration; Warren Bennis
and Patricia Ward Biederman
I was a tad bemused. The introduction is by someone I have never heard of. Nor have I heard of the co-author. The prime author - whose name I do not recognize - is a professor of Business Administration (always a reason for a manager's suspicion) in California (additional reason for suspicion), and he seems to have written a bunch of stuff about leadership. This book is (partially) about leadership, but is really concerned with a particular, interesting phenomenon that is here called a "Great Group" - a group organized, under a leader, to solve an important problem - a "great" problem. The Group is an extension of the "ten group" concept of Anthony Jay in the sense that the group may be larger - but the dynamics are the same. The players are generally of a different, higher caliber however. The authors present a half dozen case histories. They include the Manhattan Project, the Disney "Troupe", Clinton's 1992 campaign, The Skunk Works at Lockheed, the Xerox PARC computer group, and Black Mountain College. The histories are unevenly, and at times the focus is lost. For example, the Clinton story meanders into a coverage of the Clinton White House and the 1996 campaign. The Black Mountain College story, while interesting, does not seem to me to be a Great Group story despite the authors' attempts to make it one. There is some diffuseness in the other stories; and the phenomenon has been looked at elsewhere. Regardless: the concept is one that EVERY manager or organization concerned with creative work should be aware of and understand. For that, the 15 "take home lessons" in the last chapter are worth the price of the book - in fact you don't have to read the rest! In my fairly extensive experience those observations are absolutely correct. If your organization has a MAJOR problem to be solved - the 15 rules provide a blue print for solving it, except that it is HIGHLY unlikely that your organization will be able to follow the straightforward "directions!" I once - after two (3?) martinis - pontificated to captive luncheon guests on how to put an end to the current base of cocaine in the world. One would simply create (in the current usage) a covert Great Group with that goal as its secret task (with a concept I'm sure would work) - and I recall that my group criteria were almost exactly as indicated in this book! The authors point out the intimate and crucial relationship between the leader of such a group and the group itself, and that BOTH have to be the right stuff. They note the very interesting fact that all such groups have a naturally limited life - and why. This is an interesting book that could have been much better, but deserves to be read by anyone interested in organized creative problem solving. To experience a fascinating, world changing example, beautifully told, see Where Wizards Stay Up Late (note above).
Saturn Rukh;Robert L. Forward
It's the first new science fiction yarn that I have read in quite a while. It is "hard" science fiction, written by a physicist who has had a great deal of experience in various aspects of the space biz, and is a prolific writer of hard science fiction. Unfortunately, scientists writing science fiction usually try to crowd too much science - or possible science - into the story. That's the case here. The story is of a very risky trip to Saturn by a group who plan to stay in Saturn's atmosphere for some months while manufacturing a very exotic, helium-based, ultra high energy fuel that is the basis of all space flight. We follow their preparation for the trip, the trip to Saturn, taking up a position in the atmosphere, and an encounter with the "rukh" of the title. In Arabian Nights, the legendary flying creature encountered by Sinbad is known as a "Rok" - actually a poor transliteration of the Arabic; this crew knows the REAL name, and dubs the giant atmospheric creatures "Rukhs." They are sentient, multi-part, intelligent creatures, and one of them inadvertently snags the Saturn production module and space ship, wrecking the project timetable - as originally conceived - and raising doubt as to whether the humans will get back to Earth. The humans communicate with their intelligent platform, and ultimately get the Saturn fuel project to a successful ending. The concept of the Rukh creatures is imaginative and interesting, and the interactions with the humans is well told. The story is laden with technical detail however, including a very interesting series of technical operations designed to approach Saturn with a minimum use of fuel. Very cute idea - which most readers will probably skip through. Lots of other detail and jargon; more than needed I think. The space craft is also a hot-bed (no pun intended) of implied sex - to keep the reader's interest I suppose. Interesting parts, imaginative parts;but not a keeper.
Forward;R.L.;Saturn Rukh;Tom Doherty Ass.;NY;1997;ISBN 0-312-86321-7
Memory;Lois McMaster Bujold
Science fiction (SF) fans will know that Bujold has been writing a series starring Miles Vorkosigan, an upper-class young man who is a member of the nobility on Barrayara. He is a stunted, weak-boned Lieutenant in the military, with an alternate identity as Admiral Naismith - head of a mercenary group secretly employed by Barrayaran Security. The stories are uneven in quality, from good to fair, but always good reading. Some are almost straight space operas. This is one that I think is the best of the recent lot. It has an interesting plot, and a very impressive unfolding of the personality of Miles. The head of Security, Miles' boss and family friend, becomes irrational and has to be relieved. It appears that in fact the man was attacked by some sort of poison. The story revolves around the solution to the mystery, with sidebars on a a royal betrothal, the functioning of the society on Barrayara, and the maturing of Miles. I found it a very interesting story, and I must say that I like Miles very much better than I did before I read it - and I liked him then! Neat yarn.
Summer at the Lake;Andrew M. Greeley
Happy to see that Father Greely has shifted back to his familiar storytelling (soap-opera style) about an extended Irish clan in Chicago. This is a long (for the content) but good tale told in what is, for me, an irritating format. The telling is all in the first person, but the voice changes with each chapter, and the time frame alternates between the thirties, forties, fifties, and 1978. The latter is the present for the story. The three players are Leo Kelley, his good friend and priest, Patrick Keenan, and Jane Devlin, the girl he once planned to marry. They are all in their fifties in 1978, and Leo has returned to the Chicago area, with some hope of finally getting Jane. She is divorced, but getting an annulment. He is divorced - and never married in the eyes of the church. The story is of the restirring of the love of the two, an examination of a mystery that happened thirty years before and led to Leo departing the scene for a stint in Korea, and the efforts by Leo to resolve the mystery. There are lots of Greely's takes on the sexual fantasies of priests, lots of steamy love scenes, lots of observations on the "Irish", and snide remarks about the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, and its actions regarding Vatican2 after the death of Pope John. The mystery involved is a very good one it seems to me, and neatly tangled for Leo and the reader. I liked the story, even though it is too long and in an irritating style. Thank heavens Greely has dropped (even if it be only temporarily) his attempt at Irish colloquy replete with "Irishisms."
Greely,A.M.;Summer at the Lake;Tom Doherty;NY;1997;ISBN 0-312-86082-X
Virus X:Tracking the New Killer Plagues Out of the Present and Into
the Future; Frank Ryan
I have read a number of interesting books about emerging viruses, and this good one is the last I shall read for a long time. I am overdosed on viruses. Ryan writes well, and recounts engaging (if scary) histories of recent and past pandemics - their causes and spread, and discusses the very dedicated and very interesting and very courageous people who fought (and are fighting) the problems. There is little new here on these items if you are generally familiar with the subject, although you will probably gain a better understanding of the little bugs. What Ryan offers is another perception of the virulence of emerging viruses: that the viruses have a level of intelligence (carefully defined) that makes them an active player in the evolutionary cycle, and that their behavior is appropriately evolutionary. This he relates to the interesting phenomenon that many creatures are host to viruses that cause them no problem, but which are deadly to other identical or very similar species that acquire them. He notes, as part of the argument, that when mankind ventures into a significant alteration of the environment, lethal viruses are frequently loosed. It is not clear to me that the hypothesis has anything really useful to add to the picture, although it is engaging. However: the book is very clear, very informative (I learned several interesting things), interestingly speculative, and, overall, pretty scary. The horrendous rapid mutation of the RNA viruses like those of AIDS is frightening. If asteroids don't get you, viruses will!
Ryan,F,;Virus X;Little Brown;NY;1997;ISBN 0-316-76383-7
The Angel of Darkness;Caleb Carr
In The Alienist, Carr wrote about a team assembled in 1896 by Theodore Roosevelt in Victorian New York City (NYC) to solve a rash of murders. Now Carr has reassembled the team a year later, with the problem of finding a kidnapped child and bringing to justice the kidnapper, a woman who has serially murdered a number of children - including her own. The alienist [psychiatrist], Dr. Lazlo Kreizler, heads the team. Others are a journalist; a private detective; two Jewish police detectives at a time when there were almost no Jews on the NYC force; Kreizler's black, ex-con servant; and Stevie Taggert, a 13 year old street-smart boy rescued from the streets by Kreizler. The story is told by Taggert, writing twenty years later. The team again uses all the forensic techniques used today, including fingerprinting, forensic ballistics, psychological profiling, sketches of the killer made by an artist from witness descriptions, etc. In fact the whole procedural could have taken place today! The team identifies the perpetrator early. The rest of the book has to do with trying to bring her to justice and to retrieve the kidnapped child. There is an interesting courtroom portion in which Clarence Darrow defends the woman. The book is an interesting one, and the Victorian setting (the real reason for the book, I think) is enticing. The author has, however, a ploy that I found VERY irritating. He has Stevie use "what" for "that", and frequently for "who", in modifying phrases to produce: "...the book, what he found on the...", and "...the people what lined the streets...". I presume this is to show that Stevie - who otherwise seems to write impressive English - is a product of the "lower class." The result was jarring for me every time it happened. In addition, I found myself distracted by trying to find places where the author would forget to use the jarring pronoun. It finally dawned on me that the use of a word processor can assure that no such omissions will occur! I was irritated to the point that I ALMOST quit reading the book. Probably it is just a low irritability threshold on my part these days - but be warned!
Carr,C.;The Angel of Darkness;Random House;NY;1997;ISBN 0-679-43532-8
Mexican Hat;Michael McGarrity
Kevin Kearney, formerly a rancher and then chief of detectives in Santa Fe, is now retired on disability, and as we meet him in this novel he is working as a seasonal forest ranger in New Mexico, near the Arizona border. He investigates a report of poaching, and this begins a complicated story that involves Kearney and a state game and fish officer, Jim Stiles, with a poaching ring, a local militia movement, and the murder of a young Mexican who had come to the area with his grandfather. They also get involved with the decades-old estrangement of two local, wealthy ranchers, one of whom has a daughter who is the local assistant district attorney; and with an old crime that is associated with the two ranchers and the Mexicans. I thoroughly enjoyed this good story; the second in a series. The first was Tularosa, also a good one. If you have the choice, read Tularosa first, although you can read this one independently.
McGarrity,M.;Mexican Hat;W.W.Norton;NY;1997;ISBN 0-393-04063-1
Likely to Die;Linda Fairstein
Fairstein is the long-time, real-life head of the Sex Crimes Unit of the District Attorney's (DA) Office in Manhattan. This first-person novel is narrated by Alexandra Cooper, who is head of the Sex Crimes Unit of the DA's Office in Manhattan! Cooper first appeared in the excellent 1996 novel Final Jeopardy (see earlier note), so I really looked forward to reading this story. Unfortunately it is - essentially - just a steady recounting of the day to day operations of the unit in the DA's office. The framework is the attempt by Cooper, her friends, and cops to solve the murder of a famous female surgeon. The mystery is neither interesting nor very mysterious, and the details of the Sex Crimes Unit cases and their prosecution are not exactly what I was looking forward to. Best skipped - but DO try the first book.
Fairstein,L.;Likely to Die;Scribner;NY;1997;ISBN 0-684-81488-9
Deception on His Mind;Elizabeth George
Elizabeth George is an American who is writing an excellent mystery-detective- police procedural series about New Scotland Yard. This one features Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, away from London and her mentor, Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley. George posed a major challenge for herself: write a story about Pakastanis' life in modern England - and make it an interesting police story to boot. She has succeeded pretty well. This 600 page, complicated novel is a sympathetic portrayal of the Pakastanis, an indication of the racial problems besieging them and the Brits, an engaging portrayal of Sergeant Havers, and has an interesting cast of contributing, enigmatic characters (not all well developed). I don't think George has quite accomplished what she attempted regarding the Pakastani world. The story is a little erratic, a little murky in spots, has loose ends, and a LOT of characters - some of whom are almost stereotypes. Nevertheless, I found it an engrossing read. Havers' neighbor in London is a Pakastani man whose little daughter has befriended Barbara. The father and child leave for the Essex coast on "family business", and Barbara, who is on leave, follows when she sees a TV account of racial unrest there after the death of a Pakastani. The Detective Chief Inspector in the Essex village is a hard, ambitious, energetic, bigoted woman whom Havers knows. She accepts Havers' offer of help, and so begins Havers' involvement in murder, smuggling, the world of the Pakistanis, and prejudice. There is a very touching vignette involving the little Pakastani girl and her new stuffed giraffe: an episode of nasty bigotry and hurt directed against an innocent; redeemed unexpectedly by an act of human kindness. It is a gem of hope. The story is a good one, but it is too bad that a '55 turquoise Thunderbird, like mine, has to be driven by the main heavy; they should only be for good guys. Also, they didn't have leather upholstery - clearly a non-authentic restoration!
George,E.;Deception on His Mind;Bantam;NY;1997;ISBN 0-553-10234-6
The Dollmaker's Daughters; Abigail Padgett
Good mystery story in a series starring the interesting woman, Bo Bradley, an employee of the Children's Protective Service in San Diego. The child she gets involved with is 15 year old Janny Malcolm, whom she first finds in a catatonic state. Janny, when she recovers, is convinced that something is after her. Bo gets concerned, and starts to look into the child's background, and gets involved in a complicated pattern that involves old records, an old crime, and her boss! There is some flavor of supernormal, but it is a neat, attention holding story. Bo is someone you will enjoy meeting if you have not already done so.
Padgett,A.;The Dollmaker's Daughters;Warner Books;NY;1997;ISBN 0-89296-614-9
The Genesis Code;John Case
A jim-dandy, fast moving, suspense thriller, with mysterious deaths, detective work, chases, danger, and a cataclysmic secret. Joe Lassiter is head of a high-tech, investigative agency. His sister and her child are killed when their home is torched. The arsonist was trapped in the blaze, burned and hospitalized, then escaped from the police. Lassiter sets out to find him, and find out why his sister and her child were murdered. The chase is long, complicated and riveting. It appears there were other murders of women and their children by the same arsonist, and that a fanatical, ultra conservative religious cult is involved. Lassiter, with the help of his large, wide flung agency, begins to unravel layer after layer of the story, which ultimately revolves around a science fiction version of genetics. If you like thrillers, this one is first class. Far fetched - and the secret may become obvious to the reader long before Lassiter tumbles to it, but that doesn't matter. It is a guaranteed page turner that will hold you fast, and the last page is a designated grabber!
Case,J.;The Genesis Code;Ballantine;NY;1997;ISBN 0-449-91101-2
Star Bright:A Christmas Story;Andrew M.
Greeley Have you noticed
that in the last few years there has been a spate of small sized, thin
books about the magic of Christmas? The idea started a hundred years ago
with Henry van Dyke's inspirational: The Story of the Other Wise Man, but
the number seems to have increased recently. They are (following van Dyke)
sui generis "chicken soup for the soul" - warm, feel-good, sentimental
stories. I was somewhat startled to find that Father Greeley has now written
one. Young, red-headed, Irish, Catholic John Flanagan from Chicago, attending
Boston College, meets pious, Russian Orthodox artist, Tatiana Alekseevna
Shuskulya (Odessa), from Russia; she is attending Harvard. They start to
fall in love, and John invites her to go to his parents' Chicago home for
Christmas to meet his dysfunctional family. Tatiana captures the family,
and they ease their vitriolic interchanges - she is the bright star of
Christmas. It is typical of the small Christmas books, and also typical
of Greeley - in his Chicago Irish mode. It is a touching, charming, pleasant,
delightful 126 pages. Hope you encountered a bright star and had a good
Greeley,A.M.;Star Bright;Tom Doherty Ass.;1997;ISBN 0-312-86387-X
The Perfect Storm:A True Story of Men Against the Sea;Sebastian Junger
A gripping account of the unprecedented, vicious North Atlantic storm in
October 1991. "Perfect" is a meteorological term - not a value judgement!
It is like a number of "documentary" stories of great storms, but it a
good one in its own right. The author deals mainly with three situations
at sea: the loss of a fishing boat off the Grand Banks, the loss of a sailing
boat, and the crash of a rescue helicopter. The first occupies the most
attention, the last is the most hair raising. The story of the fishing
boat contains a great deal of fascinating information about the fishing
industry, as well as the fishermen and the lives they lead. The rescue
stories introduce the reader to a remarkable group of thoroughly trained
search and rescue personnel. The author does an excellent job of introducing
the (numerous) characters in these real dramas, telling us of their actions
en route to harm's way, and their struggle with the overpowering storm.
There were no survivors from the fishing boat, so the events there have
to be guessed at, and the author does it well. The tense in the story changes
in places, and the changes are appropriate. The individuals are portrayed
honestly and with compassion. The dangers are graphically portrayed: I
actually found myself sprouting goosebumps in the midst of the description
of helicopter rescues and crashes in 75 ft seas. I have been on the edge
of big storms: an Atlantic hurricane at sea (in a small destroyer escort),
and a South Pacific typhoon on land. I now realize they were relatively
calm events! This one was truly terrifying - and some of that comes across.
Nice piece of work.
Junger,S.;The Perfect Storm;W.W.Norton&Co.;NY;1997;ISBN 0-393-04016-X
Straight Man;Richard Russo
An impressive novel. An in-depth, compassionate, funny, witty, poignant, first person story of William Henry (Hank) Devereaux Jr., chairman of the English Department in a University in Pennsylvania, his wife, his family, his colleagues and their wives, and his parents. The University is going to "downsize", so the professors are apprehensive. Budgets have not been established. The union plans to take action. The English Department staff - most of them - believe that Hank has made a list of those to be fired from the department. He has not. One of his daughters has split up with her husband; his wife has to go to Philadelphia for a while; his philandering father, who left his wife and young son, returns to the wife he left; and Hank appears to have developed a severe prostate problem! We follow him through a series of personal trials and personal insights, and academic interactions and crises, and the notoriety he achieves when, in a moment of rage at the University's machinations, he threatens - on TV, at the campus pond that is home to ducks and geese - to kill geese until budgets are revealed! The characters are nicely developed, the portrait of Hank is beautifully accomplished, and insights into parenthood and parent-child relationships are deep.I was impressed and touched by this well constructed novel. I think that you will be touched - and grabbed - by the prologue, and the best is yet to come. Hank is a good - if a bit strange - guy, and I very much enjoyed making his acquaintance.
NOTE:To my surprise, Bette did not care for this, and quit it: "Nothing was going on".
Russo,R.;Straight Man;Random House;NY;1997;ISBN 0-679-43246-9
The Dead Horse Paint Company;Earl Emerson
The latest story starring Mac Fontana, Fire Chief in the town of Staircase, Washington, near Seattle. Firefighters from around the country are having a convention in Seattle, and a symposium is to be held on the subject of a past famous fire in the Dead Horse Paint Company store; a fire that killed firefighters who were co-workers of Fontana in the mid west city where he then worked. The unliked fire director of that fire, on the west coast for the symposium, is discovered burned to death in the trunk of a car in Fontana's district. It is murder. This restirs the matter of the old fire, and as firefighters from Fontana's old outfit revolve through the pages, Mac tries to unravel the killing, with flashbacks to the deadly fire. He has his troubles with the female mayor, with a man who wants his job, and with the woman he has been sleeping with. This story seems to me to be especially dark, and Fontana's luck seems all bad. It is a grim story, and for that reason I did not care for it. I have liked some of the others, especially the last one:Going Crazy in Public. The mood in this one seems darkly different.
Emerson,E.;The Dead Horse Paint Company;William Morrow&Co.;NY;1997;ISBN 0-688-13751-2
Cold Case;Linda Barnes
This is the 7th in a detective-mystery series starring Carlotta Carlyle, former cop, now private investigator (and part time cabby) in Boston. A client hands her a manuscript that purports to be a recent one from Thea Janis, an upper-crust Bostonian, who had published a best seller novel twenty four years ago at the age of 15, and then was found dead. The client feels it is genuine, and wants Carlotta to find the author. Thus begins a complicated story (too involved to outline here) and an involved investigation, with help from the police, into the events of 24 years before. Before the story is over, there is a kidnapping and another death. This strikes me as the best that I have read in the series. Carlotta is a good creation, and this is a good yarn.
Barnes,L.;Cold Case;Delacorte Press;NY;1997;ISBN 0-385-30614-8
Road Rage;Ruth Rendell
This is the latest of Rendell's British "Inspector Wexford" detective stories, and as always, Rendell tells a good police procedural. There is hardly any reason to note this one, and I shall not include any more in these notes - unless they are truly surprising. This is a tad different, and again involves a current British social problem (one not unique to the Brits however, and not the one you might guess from the title!). It is the proliferation of highways, and the increasing vigorous protests by the public, especially environmentalists. A highway is to be built near Kingsmarkham (Wexford's baliwick) and the protestors are out in force to prevent the despoiling of a forest. A terrorist group kidnaps five people and announces the hostages will be killed unless the highway is stopped. Wexford's wife is one of the hostages. The story is of course about finding the terrorists - and uncovering the real plot that led to the kidnapping. Interesting twists, although the ending seems not all that surprising.
Rendell,R.;Road Rage;Crown;NY;1997;ISBN 0-609-60056-7
Specimen Song;Peter Bowen
A very different, small (200p), mystery story of murder, adventure, and retribution. Very different locales, and very different characters. The base locale is small Toussaint, and hour or two, by car, north of Billings, Montana. The protagonist is 50 year old fiddler, carpenter, hunter, and adventurer, Gabriel DuPré. DuPré is part Métis Indian and part French Voyageur, and not a man to cross. He is in Washington, D.C., fiddling at a Smithsonian folk-life festival when a young Indian woman from Canada is murdered nearby. He is questioned and released. He is talked into making some recordings for the Smithsonian, and then into going along on a canoe trip into Canada with a Smithsonian representative and some Indian guides. That is the start of an adventure that involves him with serial murders of Cree Indians who have some connection with the Smithsonian. We follow DuPré through this, and watch his relationship with his sweetheart, Madelaine; his daughter; his stupendously rich friend, Bart; a shaman; and the D.C. police. I found it a good story with a somewhat different style - almost telegraphic in many spots. Despite this, and conversational word usage reminiscent of Cajun dialect in the Bayou country, I enjoyed it. Bowen - who has an interesting appearance and very interesting credentials - is a dandy story teller. I shall look at others in the series.
Bowen,P.;Specimen Song;St. Martin's Press;NY;1995;ISBN 0-312-11896-1
Jack Furness, a first rate mountain climber, is caught in an avalanche while illegally climbing a mountain that Nepal has declared out of bounds. He survives, and finds an intact hominid skull, which he hauls back to California for Dr. Stella Swift, a paleoanthropologist and his lover. The fossil is very unusual, not like any other. Swift and Jack decide it may be the skull of a Yeti, and an expedition is mounted to search for Yetis. The CIA secretly funds the expedition, in order to to send along, covertly, an agent to find and destroy a US reconnaissance satellite (a KH-11 it seems!) that has fallen in the area that the expedition is to search. The story is an adventure thriller. The expedition finally encounters Yeti, and the psychotic CIA agent tries to find and destroy the satellite, an act that will contaminate the area with radioactivity and kill all the Yeti. Lots of agonizing ice climbing and suffering. The story reminds me of a recent one about Neanderthals (see earlier note), and there was another, some years ago, about a satellite in the Himalayas. This is sort of an amalgam. Good beach read. Although the satellite technology is incorrect, the Pentagon office number of the National Reconnaissance Office IS correct! The title is of course the name of the "hairy man" in the Bible.
Kerr,P.;Esau;Henry Holt;NY;1997;ISBN 0-8050-5175-9
The Sunday Morning Macaroni Club;Steve Lopez
One of the more delightful yarns that I have read in the last several years,
at least. It has interesting off-beat characters, a jaundiced, detailed
view of ward and street politics, a good plot, and a wonderfully appropriate
end. The locale is Philadelphia. Aggressive Lisa Savitch, newly appointed
Assistant District Attorney (ADA), is assigned to get the goods on the
meager remnants of the political machine once controlled by Augie Sangiamino.
The remnants consist of five people: Augie, still called "Senator" because
he had once been one before being convicted of felony in padding his staff
payroll; Joey Tartaglione, his devoted bagman and driver; "Izzy" Weiner,
running in the upcoming election for the State Supreme Court; "Ham" Flaherty,
running for Congress; and Lou Canuso, Democratic City Committee Boss. They
meet each Sunday at Augie's house for a meal cooked by Augie, and the DA
calls it the Macaroni Club. The DA wants to get them. Lisa is to do it
- with the aid of legendary retired FBI agent Mike Muldoon. Savitch
is not thrilled by the job. She is more concerned about the deaths of some
children, possibly sickened by the effluents from an oil refinery owned
by Whitney Pritchard III. Gradually the two things come together, and turn
into bribery, white collar crime, murders etc..It starts when Pritchard
decides to buy some politicians, and offers to fund, illegally, the campaigns
of Izzy and Ham. Augie is overjoyed. He has been losing his influence because
he is short on funds, and Ham and Izzy are going to lose in the election
because of a lack of money. He gleefully accepts, and Joey sets up the
arrangements for illegal payoffs. Joey is completely devoted to the
aging Senator - but he has his own agendum. We switch between Savitch and
Muldoon and their targets Ham, Izzy, Augie, and Joey, in delightful story
telling. Wonderful, insightful portraits of Augie ,Joey, Savitch, and Muldoon,
and telling (and accurate) comments about crooked Pennsylvania politics
(the author spent twelve years working for the Philadelphia Inquirer).
There is a superb recounting of an old, expert pol's exercise of power.
Also, straight as I think I am, I was surprised to find a considerable
sympathy and empathy for both Augie and Joey - crooks though they are.
NOTE: Re: complete disclosure: I note that I grew up in eastern Pennsylvania. The crooked things described in this book seemed like old, familiar, nostalgic standard things [I felt at home when we moved to Prince George's county in Maryland]. And, in fact, for many years I watched at close hand the exercise of some of the kinds of power that Augie exercises. This MAY have influenced ny perception of the book. Nah.....
Lopez,S.;The Sunday Morning Macaroni Club;Harcourt Brace;NY;1997;ISBN 0-15-100264-9
Dickens' Fur Coat and Charlotte's Unanswered Letters: Rows and Romances
of England's Great Victorian Novelists; Daniel Pool
Booklovers will enjoy this fascinating account of authors, publishers,
booksellers, circulating libraries, magazines and newspapers of the Victorian
era in England. It's a picture of the literary, intellectual, economic,
and social worlds of the time; a delightful mixture of gossipy stories,
character insights, and history. This comes from the author's intent to
chronicle the development of the Victorian Novel - which started with Dickens
- from its beginning in the serial magazines, to its appearance as a single
volume. Novels were then published as three volumes - because of the circulating
rental libraries, which could rent out three volumes instead of one! Rental
libraries were all there were; there was only one small public library
(Manchester) in England! The development of magazines, the rise of the
tabloid press, the appearance of "sensational" novels, the changes in the
perception of and demands on the authors, are wonderfully woven into the
stories of authors like Dickens, Brontë, Thackery, Trollope etc.,
and their publishers; all presented against the economic and social backgrounds
of the time. The rapid publishing and taste changes that developed in the
last ten years of the 19th century, and signaled the end of the Victorian
Novel, are overcrowded into the last part of the book, but it is a great
read - and a delight - for any lover of books. It is also very informative.
I learned a large number of very interesting things; and I found a catch
in my throat when I read of Charlotte Brontë's death. Don't miss it.
Pool,D.;Dickens' Fur Coat and Charlotte's Unanswered Letters; Harper Collins;
A Letter of Mary; Laurie R. King
In the wonderful: The Beekeeper's Apprentice, King introduced us to the engaging Mary Russell, and intertwined Mary's life with that of Sherlock Holmes - retired. A Monstrous Regiment of Women continued the series, and this book is the third. Mary and Sherlock are married. Mary (a Jew) is a scholar of Hebrew and the Middle East, and she is visited by an old acquaintance who is an archaeologist digging in the Middle East. The woman brings a box which contains a manuscript that seems to have been written by Mary of Magdala, indicating that she was an acknowledged disciple of Jesus. She leaves the material with Mary and Sherlock, and goes to London, where she is killed by a car. Mary and Sherlock go to London, determine that she was in fact murdered, and return to find their home ransacked. The story follows their attempts to find the killers and the reason for the murder - and for the ransacking. The story starts with zip and mystery, and ultimately seems to end in a fizzle. Holmes is disappointed in the case at the end, and so was this reader. It is a pleasant, readable tale; just not all that grabbing.[Note the interesting syntax of the title]
King,L.R.;A Letter of Mary;St. Martin's Press;NY;1997;ISBN 0-312-14670-1
The Speed of Sound:Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution 1926-1930;
A detailed history of the unbelievably frenetic, turbulent transformation
of the movie industry from silent pictures to talkies. Most of it took
place in 1928 and 1929. It is quite readable, but it is slow going, contains
a LOT of information and names; and the author has a habit of telling a
story up to a point, then leaving the end till many pages later. We learn,
for example, of the making of Hell's Angels on pages 252 and 253, but never
hear what happened to it till page 352! The problem is that the story is
of a complex technical and sociological history, and the author has not
quite figured out how to organize it; the result is a somewhat diffuse
presentation at times. The crucial developments in recording, amplification,
and synchronization technologies are presented in detail, as is the role
of the key players such as the Warner brothers, William Fox, etc. The tremendous
impact on the directors and actors who worked in silent films is discussed.
I found this very informative, quite interesting, and occasionally surprising.
I lived through this period, and in fact remember the transformation -
the end of it at least; and I recognized the names of many of the key players.
So I found it particularly interesting, despite the choppy style and the
irritating invented verb: "to submarine." Younger readers might not
be as interested; good history, an excellent bibliography, and a good index.
Eyman,S.;The Speed of Sound;Simon & Schuster;NY;1997;ISBN 0-684-81162-6
The Dazzle of Day; Molly Gloss
Gloss is a writer of fantasy who deviated into reality to write the excellent: The Jump-Off Creek, a story of hardscrabble frontier homesteading (see earlier note). In this book she has produced a "hard" science fiction (SF) yarn, a frontier story in the future. It is doubly "hard": hard science, and bleak, realistic, hard conditions. The story is of the lives of individuals in a colonizing expedition that departed a relatively devastated earth for a distant planet that may be habitable for humans. The narrative is in sections titled - with two exceptions - by the name of an individual on whom that portion focuses. One exception is the first section: a first person narrative by a woman who has signed up to depart on the spacecraft DUSTY MILLER, which will carry the Quaker colonists. When the bulk of the tale begins, 175 years have passed since lift-off, and the craft is in orbit around the bleak planet which is being evaluated as a permanent habitat. The story involves mainly five people, generations away from those who set out from Earth. We see the society that has developed, learn the intense concerns, hopes, fears and joys of the individuals, and watch their interactions and relationships. The story is almost entirely about the latter. All of this in a very unusual pioneer situation that is - of course - not unusual for the characters. This is their world! In fact, they are not sure that living on a planet is all that great an idea after all! The concept is a familiar one in SF. What Gloss provides is an in-depth exposition of people in such a constrained society; the science is only peripheral. The final section is another first person narrative, presumably by a person who is in about the next generation, in a society that has been established on a planet. I presume it is the planet that was the first one encountered - the one the main story revolves around (sorry!), but there is a bit of ambiguity. Indeed, the planet in the last bit seems far more hospitable than it seems in the main part; but it finally dawned on me that could indeed be a difference in perceptions of a generation that called the planet "home", and one for which DUSTY MILLER was home. There is also a sense that the society, now off the ship, is invigorated. A complicated, interesting view of a different type of "homesteading." Not warm and fuzzy, but a good story.
NOTE: The jacket is striking. The background is totally black, with an Aztec (I think) representation of the sun, partially obscured, but with a planet in the center, and with small gray print. The impression is one of darkness - indeed, bleakness.
Gloss,M.;The Dazzle of Day;Tom Doherty;NY;1997;ISBN 0-312-86336-5
A Reporter's Life;Walter Cronkite
Near the end of this autobiography, Cronkite observes that "A career can be called a success if one can look back and say:'I made a difference.' I don't feel I can do that." I think he's right - on both counts. So what we have is simply a somewhat episodic and interesting view of his early days in journalism, as a reporter through WWII; accounts of TV reporting; tales of automobile racing and sailing; and a series of "famous events I have been involved with, and famous people I have known or been friends with." The latter is not very interesting, and Cronkite seems not to realize that the "famous" people certainly cultivated him for their own interests, because he was a very well known TV news man. There are also some shallow bits of philosophy on journalism, some vapid analyses of political situations, a fair amount of posturing, and a certain amount of self justification it seems. True, I only read about half the book and skimmed the rest, but that is how it struck me. It WAS interesting to read of his days before becoming a TV "bigfoot", and interesting to read his version of the demolition of CBS and its news division, and the replacement of news by entertainment; but, overall, I found it disappointing. Although I am not sure what I expected.
Cronkite,W.;A Reporter's Life;Knopf;NY;1996;ISBN 0-394-57879-1
Night of Broken Souls; Thomas F. Monteleone
A horror-thriller fantasy based on the idea that the evil of the Nazis is reappearing by way of reincarnation, and that a counterforce of semi-reincarnated Jews is appearing to stop the evil by marshalling the power of 6 million souls - those killed in the Holocaust. Individuals experience dreams in which they relive an earlier life (and death) as a Jew during the Holocaust; their torment is usually associated with Der Klein Engel - The Little Angel - a vicious SS officer. A rogue CIA agent becomes the reincarnation of Der Klein Engel, and goes around murdering people who are semi-reincarnated Jews. The story unfolds around a psychiatrist who encounters several of the people who are having these life disturbing, realistic "dreams", and ends up convening many of them (with the help of a bumbling FBI) in a final showdown against evil. The title is derived from that first wide spread, violent, Nazi outbreak against Jews (59 years ago this month of November, 1997): the infamous "Krystallnacht" - Night of the Broken Glass. The story is much better than the foregoing weird-sounding sketch might suggest, although it does have a lot of grim Holocaust scenes. It has strong overtones of Frost's 6 Messiahs and the supernaturally flavored novels by Coontz and King. If you like such fantasies: supernatural good contends with supernatural evil - this is for you.
Monteleone,T.F.;Night of Broken Souls;Warner Books;NY;1997;ISBN 0-446-52048-9
The Case Has Altered;Martha Grimes
I should have known better than to pick up this latest in Grime's extensive British series, named after pubs, and starring Scotland Yard Superintendent Richard Jury and his buddy, titled Melrose Plant. The (generally) mediocre stories mostly do not work for me, and the characters are archly eccentric, relatively uninteresting, two dimensional cut-outs. Perhaps - I thought hopefully - this will be different. It is: it is the worst of the lot! I read 100 pages in disbelief, then skimmed around. It got worse! The story is uninteresting; Jury, whose girlfriend is a suspect in two murders on the fens, runs around behaving in a completely unprofessional way, like a stubborn five year old (except in the last five pages); and Plant seems to be caught in some emotional problem - probably jealousy. Two courtroom scenes don't help at all. I ABSOLUTELY will not read any more by Grimes.
Grimes,M.;The Case Has Altered;Henry Holt;NY;1997;ISBN 0-8050-5620-3
Endangered Species; Nevada Barr
Authors (mystery writers at least) seem to be writing series. I thought of giving up on series, then realized that there might be little left (for me) to read! This book is one in a series that Barr, a former park ranger, is writing about Anna Pigeon, a park ranger. The series is generally good (albeit it a little uneven), Anna is an interesting character, and the locales are always interesting. This locale is the very interesting [real] Cumberland Island, located just off the southern end of the Georgia coast. Some the island is private, but most is Park Service property. Anna and a crew are on the island standing a fire watch. The job is rewarding monetarily - via overtime - but boring. Anna helps out with Loggerhead turtles to keep busy in off hours. A light-plane crash kills the somewhat shady pilot and one of the rangers - the man in charge of law enforcement. The plane was sabotaged. An official investigation, and an unofficial one by Anna, gradually open up a series of shady dealings and crimes, and Anna is hard put to bring it all to an end; but she does. In the process she suffers through an unusual fire with remarkable side effects! Meanwhile, the romance with her long distance lover, FBI agent Frederick Stanton, takes an interesting turn. As good as the others in the series. This is the second mystery I know of that is laid on Cumberland Island, an island that keeps appearing on my personal horizon. I will go there sometime - fate seems to be involved!
Barr;N.;Endangered Species;G.P.Putnam's Sons;1997;ISBN 0-399-14246-0
NOTE:Of the books above, 17 are non-fiction; 19 are fiction - NOT series; 33 ARE fictional series - almost 50% of the books!!! This seems excessive. I could note the first two books, say, in a series, then skip the rest unless a story was markedly good, different, or bad! Or perhaps I might just note the title and author and series. Perhaps readers of these notes would offer suggestions or opinions. Are you involved with series? Part of this series concentration comes from my increasing bias towards escape literature. I put most mystery-detective material in that category, which is becoming increasingly a series genre, it seems. Help!!!
Siberian Light; Robin White
This mystery-thriller features Gregori Nowek, honest mayor of a small Siberian town, intent on investigating three killings. One victim is a wealthy man who made a fortune from dealing with an American oil company venture in the Tunguska area. The other two are members of the mayor's militia - essentially his police - and he feels a responsibility for them. He is helped by an old friend, a gulag survivor. The world is not only the vast frozen world of Siberia, but the bleak agonizing world of post-Soviet Russia in transition to capitalism: mushrooming crime, thievery, bribery, corrupt politicians, KGB trained politicos, and gangs. The mayor's teen-aged daughter runs away, he encounters a woman dedicated to saving the Siberian tiger, and he comes up against a hard nosed bunch of Americans who, with oil as a front, are involved with a secret project reminiscent of the Russian past. Gradually the story picks up momentum and heads into a violent chase, a tumultuous and surprising climax, and the uncovering of the surprising secret. It is a bleak, disheartening, uncomfortable world which the author (who has lived in Siberia, it seems) has populated with some very interesting characters to produce a good and different thriller.
White,R.;Siberian Light;Delacorte Press;1997;ISBN 0-385-31688-7
War and Peas; Jill Churchill
Churchill's mystery series has atrocious puns as titles, and stars Jane Jeffrey. This is the first I have read. I almost didn't. The title almost killed it for me. Then the first few pages seemed like stilted writing, and I was puzzled that a seemingly experienced writer would project so. I decided I probably would not finish reading it; but a couple of clever throw away lines appeared, and I read on - to the end. The locale is a Chicago suburb. The heroine is a young woman raising three children, doing volunteer work, sleeping with a police lieutenant - and solving murder cases. The latter is with the help of a good friend, Shelley. In this one, two people associated with a local museum are killed, and Jane and Shelley work the problem. It is a light-weight story, but it is interestingly constructed, and the ending surprised this reader; possibly because the book is essentially a female one - I think. The main characters are smart and appealing, and the writing is clever in spots, witty, pithy, and wry. The reader is deftly led up a series of garden paths that DO NOT lead to the solution. I enjoyed the book, but shall read no more in this series - only because there are other books that I would prefer, and it IS another SERIES. Some readers of these notes will like the series, I think.
Churchill,J.;War and Peas;Avon Books;1997;ISBN 0-380-97323-5
The Murder of Edgar Allan Poe; George Egon Hatvary
This is an historical, period-piece, murder mystery, that is not all that
intriguing in any category. The story is told in the first person by Auguste
Dupin - the detective character created by Poe in The Murders in the Rue
Morgue. In this book Dupin is real: an old, close, look-alike friend of
Poe's. He goes to the United States when he hears of Poe's death and the
strange circumstances surrounding it. He and a physician illegally exhume
Poe's body, and find that, indeed, Poe was poisoned with arsenic. Dupin
is shot at, held captive, and pushed off a dock - among other things -
while he attempts to find out who killed Poe. He also falls in love with
the [real] woman whom Poe might have married, and she is a suspect! Poe
certainly did die under very strange circumstances [one current theory
is that he died of rabies!], and the current story fits right into the
historical circumstances and into other historical aspects of Poe's life.
The motive is plagiarism - something Poe was frequently guilty of, although
I believe the source material mentioned in this book is imaginary. The
villain is also imaginary, though cast as a friend of a real person. Somehow,
overall, it doesn't work very well for me - and I am a Poe aficionado!
Hatvary,G.E.;The Murder of Edgar Allan Poe;Carroll & Graf:NY;1997;ISBN 0-
The History of Money:From Sandstone to Cyberspace; Jack Weatherford
This stodgily titled book is one of the more interesting, engaging, delightful,
informative and surprising ones that you will encounter. I never would
have picked up the book - how dreary and specialized could you get - but
in a local electronic book forum I saw a note that really piqued my interest.
What I found was a remarkable story, told by an anthropologist, of the
invention of money, its role in altering civilization and societies, its
transformation over the years, and its current and changing role in our
lives. There are side excursions to wealth, banking, politics, economies,
credit, and the Wizard of Oz - as well as much more. It is told in a delightful,
even entertaining, style with wit and a tendency to sweeping conclusions.
The somewhat iconoclastic point of view of the anthropologist is delightful.
He casually argues that all of Greek Civilization arose because money had
been invented locally, that the Renaissance developed essentially because
of money, and that the importation, by Spain, of thousands of tons of gold
and hundreds of thousands of tons of silver from the New World, ruined
the economy and the nation! And of course, the entire story of Oz is an
allegory about money! It's full of things I had never known. You don't
have to buy all the interesting arguments to find it fascinating; somewhat
scary too - at least so I found it. One realizes how ephemeral the stability
of the commodity is, and how politicians from the Roman Empire to today
have ALWAYS been willing to debase currency for short term gains, and how
the results have ALWAYS been catastrophic; including Nixon's debasement
of the dollar!
Weatherford,J.;The History of Money;Crown;1997;ISBN 0-517-59980-5
Deadly Feasts:Tracking the Secrets of a Deadly New Plague; Richard Rhodes
I found here the forgotten reason behind my fascination for books like
this: detailed efforts of researchers to locate the cause of diseases.
When a boy, I was thrilled by the classic Microbe Hunters, by Paul De Kruif
- which I often re-read That set the pattern. That must be why I have been
reading so many books about viruses! I had almost forgot that early book,
until it was mentioned here. This book is another of Rhodes' fascinating,
sometimes controversial histories. This is about research associated with
strange and deadly infectious diseases currently designated as "prion"
diseases: Kuru, Creutzfeldt-Jakobs Disease, Mad Cow Disease, Scrapie, etc..
All are fatal brain diseases once thought to be caused by "slow viruses."
The recent Nobel Prize to Stanley Pruisner was for his work in the area,
and for postulating "prions" as the cause. However, it is likely that the
Nobel committee was premature. The disease is still mysterious. It is dangerous
indeed, but Rhodes MAY be overstating the very real and significant problem.
This book starts with remarkable Carlton Gajdusek (who was inspired by
de Kruif's book!), and his years of study of the Kuru disease in New Guinea.
The story is intertwined with studies of a disease in sheep: Scrapie; then
moves through time with the appearance of a general class of similar brain
diseases have much in common. We meet the indefatigable researchers,
and follow the threads of research. We also see the disgraceful, criminal
attitude of the government of Great Britain in the mad-cow disease coverup:
that British beef interests supercede public health. That attitude is in
this country too, as well as on the continent. The story is a cautionary
one at times, and may make the reader a vegetarian! It's told well, with
some of Rhodes' biases. He is unswervingly praising of Gajdusek, whose
prison term for sexual abuse of boys is mentioned only briefly at the end
[interesting, considering that Rhodes was an abused child]. He can't stand
Stanley Pruisner's driving ambition and appropriation of others' work.
Of course I share his biases! Gajdusek has been one of my heros for a long
time (as well as that wonderful, ideal, constructive bureaucrat, Joseph
Smadel, who made Gajdusek's early work possible). I was saddened last year
to hear of Gajdusek's jail sentence in the pedophilic abuse case, but realized
it didn't detract from his powerful research work. And from many accounts,
private and published, Pruisner really IS a reputation-mad jerk. So there.
You will probably enjoy this - up to the point where you realize the real
danger involved, and that the "business at all costs" attitude will probably
prevail. Witness Great Britain; and locals can note North Carolina's and
Virginia's approach to the Pfiesteria piscicida problem! The latter problem
is related to things in this book, in the sense that it is becoming clear
that animal wastes - including those from chickens - can be a major factor
in the brain diseases discussed here. Lets see:if asteroids or viruses
don't get you, prions will.
Rhodes,R.;Deadly Feasts;Simon & Schuster;NY;1997;ISBN 0-684-82360-8
Borderliners; Peter Hoeg
This different novel is by the author of the well received Smilla's Sense of Snow. It's a first person narrative by Peter, who recounts the story of his stay, as a young ward-of-the-state teenager, in an elite and special school in Denmark. The re- entrant story, mixing past and present, is told by Peter as an adult. He spent his early years in state institutions, and seemed to have been sent to the school to see if he could become part of the "normal" world. He meets an older girl, and a younger psychotic boy, and they gradually perceive that the very rigidly disciplined environment is part of a covert experiment on rehabilitating young "borderliners" of society. Peter is obsessed with time and the perception of time and the influence of that perception on people - including himself. That obsession is continually mixed with attempts by the three children to understand, and somehow escape from the strange school that seems, to the reader, to be vaguely sinister. It is a sometimes disturbing, occasionally strange and slightly surreal, but always fascinating psychological suspense story. It can also be occasionally fuzzy as the story gradually develops momentum and sweeps the reader to an interesting and reasonably satisfactory end. Not escape reading; but I am glad I read it. I would not have been aware of it except for an interesting note posted in a local, marginally active, on-line, book forum. The book is classified by Prince George's library system as science fiction, but that is incorrect. It is NOT science fiction - regardless of philosophies of time.
Hfeg,P.;Borderliners;Farrar,Strauss & Giraux;NY;1994;ISBN [none]
Apaches; Lorenzo Carcaterra
Part 1 (about 1/3) of this violent, brutal, riveting, slam-bang action novel introduces six ex-cops, retired on disability. Individual sections tell of their lives, their careers, and the wounding that forced them out. They are born cops, and desperately unhappy at being civilians. One, Boomer Frontieri, is asked by an old friend for help in finding his young daughter, who has been stolen. He and another of the group locate the child, whose brutal mistreatment is unpleasantly detailed. In the process, Boomer learns of a woman who is in the business of acquiring babies, killing them, and using the bodies in a cocaine transporting business. In Part 2, Boomer suggests the ex-cops form a renegade group to take on the large smuggling operation. They will be secretly aided by various law enforcement agencies; a semi-official vigilante group. The ex-cops see a chance to be back in action again and agree. They name themselves "Apaches." The story is of the deadly conflict between two sets of professionals - the vigilante Apaches - and the vicious cocaine traffickers. There is a lot of blood, cold blooded killing, and vengeance, leading to a violent climax. The drug types are MEAN mothers. It seems to me that a long time ago - when I used to go to the movies - there was a film called, I think, "The Professionals", in which a group of professional hard-cases with various skills, undertook a job in Mexico. This has some similarities, including the shoot-out at the end. The story resembles other stories, but it is a very good one on its own - assuming you like this sort of thing.
Carcaterra,L.;Apaches;Ballantine Books;NY;1997;ISBN 0-345-40101-8
NOTE: In 1995 Carcaterra wrote sleepers, which he says is a true story - part of an autobiography. It's a harsh story of four boys, friends, who were sent to a correctional institution where they were terribly brutalized by the guards,of their lives afterward, and a devastating revenge years later. A powerful, compelling book. NOT a beach read.
Sweepers:A Novel of Suspense; P.T. Deutermann
Ex navy captain Deutermann's novel centers around the Navy in Washington.
Rear Rear Admiral Sherman, newly selected, is the target for revenge. In
Viet Nam, he commanded a SWIFT boat and abandoned a Navy SEAL in action.
That SEAL, still listed as missing in action, later appeared and confronted
the young lieutenant, vowing future vengeance. He is now working to wreck
Sherman's career. The Admiral gets involved with the Virginia police because
of the mysterious death of his lover, and the Navy assigns attorney Commander
Karen Lawrence, and experienced, ex-Marine investigator Wolfgang ("Train")
von Rensel, to the case. It appears that, as Sherman claims, there really
is a shadowy vengeful entity, the MIA SEAL; and it appears that he works
for the CIA as a "sweeper" - a killer. It appears that there are factions
in the Navy that don't want the Viet Nam episode to be uncovered, that
the SEAL is also targeting the investigators, etc.. The story is well written,
has a neat plot, but flounders in places. The author creates smart, empathic,
CDR. Karen Lawrence, then has her act stupidly time after time when she
knows her life is in danger. He creates smart, interesting, enormously
strong, martial-arts expert, Train, and has him out-thought, out-maneuvered,
and overpowered everytime he encounters the SEAL (saving Karen's life doesn't
count in this analysis); and he introduces an engaging Doberman with great
promise, and the well trained dog has no impact on the story (except, again,
in the life saving bit). The Pentagon cover-up conspiracy seems to cover
up a squib, not a bomb. The "sweeper," who wins all the rounds, always
remains remote - even when present; like Darth Vader! The potential is
great, the first half is great, but the second half doesn't work for me.
The title is plural because, to every one's surprise, there is more than
one "sweeper" involved!
Deutermann;P.T.;Sweepers;St. Martin's Press;NY;1997;ISBN 0-312-15669-3
Snow in August; Pete Hamill
Hamill says this enchanting novel is part memory, part invention. It is 1947 in Brooklyn. Michael Devlin, an imaginative, intelligent, 11 year old boy whose father was killed in WWII, lives with his wonderful Irish mother, Kate. In a blinding snowstorm he encounters Rabbi Judah Hirsh, a refugee from Prague, who needs help from a goy (non- Jew) because it is Shabbos (the Sabbath), and he is forbidden any labor - e.g. to turn on lights in the decaying synagogue! Thus starts this intense, poignant, exquisitely told, magical story of Michael's transition from childhood into a world of good and evil. He and the Rabbi become involved with each other's world, and with bigoted toughs in the neighborhood. Michael becomes Hirsh's Shabbos goy, and learns Yiddish while teaching the Rabbi English and trying to explain America. Hirsh tells Michael history, legends, and beliefs of the Jews, and the story of his life. Michael teaches the Rabbi about baseball, and the two become supporters of Jackie Robinson, who at that time had just broken the color barrier in the major leagues. The bigots desecrate the synagogue, hurt Michael, beat up the Rabbi, and maul Michael's mother. So Michael, in a cold Irish rage, invokes the magic of the Kaballah and the help of God's secret name, and duplicates the legendary magic of Rabbi Loew, in Prague, in the 16th century - and achieves retribution, and more. This is a fantasy that is achingly real in places - and was a roller coaster of emotional involvement for this reader: delight, surprise, anger, joy, grim satisfaction.... There was a large lump in my throat as the last page unfolded. Wonderful.
Hamill,P.;Snow in August;Little Brown & Co.;Boston;1997;ISBN 0-316-34094-4
Eternity Road; Jack McDevitt
If you are a Science Fiction (SF) fan you have often read the equivalent of this story. A post-Apocalyptic society, 2000 years in the future, has forgot all the technology that was developed before a virulent plague nearly wiped out humanity. All the crumbling buildings and roads (built by the Roadbuilders) are mysteries. However, there is a legend about a place, Haven, where information might be stored, and a stalwart group sets out to find it - retracing the steps of an earlier group that MAY have found it. The author has the common problem of deciding what technology to keep in the society - and in this story he does not do a very reasonable or consistent job. The reader has the usual delight in feeling smugly superior to the adventurers - she knows what all the puzzling signs mean, and what the strange talking machines are talking about. A pleasant insignificant story - great for the beach. McDevitt wrote the delightful science fiction (SF) novel Ancient Shores - a much better story.
McDevitt,J.;Eternity Road;Harper Collins;NY;1997:ISBN 0-06-105208-6
Reliquary;Douglas Preston & Lincoln
This is an action, adventure, horror, science fiction sequel to the novel:The
Relic (you can read this first, however). The vast tunnels and passages
[real] below New York are inhabited by thousands of homeless people [real].
They are also inhabited - at deep levels - by a large group of Wrinklers
[not real], people who have been mutated by a virus. The Wrinklers are
killing the homeless - or anyone else they can get their hands (claws?)
on. Several people: two police officers, an FBI agent (with a flavor of
Sherlock Holmes), and a museum anthropologist try to put a stop to the
killings and to learn what is responsible for the whole affair. The story
has riots, decapitations, armed conflict, draining Central Park, possible
poisoning of all the oceans, and all sorts of other attention grabbing
episodes - never a dull moment! It is a good story of the slam-bang type.
Not for claustrophobes however; underground New York is pretty scary -
Preston,D.& Child;L.;Reliquary;Tom Doherty Ass.;NY;1997;ISBN 0-312-86095-1
The Family Tree; Sherri S. Tepper
Another of Tepper's science fiction stories involving a complex alien culture - with a unique twist. It's a semi post-Apocalyptic novel that alternates between the present and 3000 years in the future. In the present, cop Dora Henry is concerned with the deaths of a number of geneticists and with the proliferation of trees that seem to be somehow intelligent. The future, feudalistic society involves many different tribes of peoples, and an interesting set of them goes on a quest because of a prophecy that predicts the end of their civilization. They learn that an individual has gone back in time to exterminate many of the peoples, and they go back (to our present) to stop this - and meet Dora who is more involved in the problem than she realizes. The story is fascinating, with a few very funny bits, a lot of irritating cleverness at times (consider a place called: Fan-Kyu Cyndly, for example, Sheesh...!), some penetrating insights, and a bittersweet, contrived ending. There is also a sudden, startling change in perspective when the motley group arrives in the present. The story is FILLED with names and places - you just have to wade through them. It is well worth it: a good yarn, with a clever title. Compare and contrast this with Eternity Road (above).
Tepper,S.S.; The Family Tree;Avon Books;NY;1997;ISBN 0-380-97478-9
Los Alamos; Joseph Kanon
Civilian intelligence officer Michael Connolly is brought into 1945, super- secret Los Alamos to investigate the murder of a security officer. The local cops think it is a homosexual killing. Connolly is assisted by a local security officer and the Santa Fe police. He complicates the problem by falling in love with the wife of one of the scientists. Gradually he unravels inconsistencies in the murder explanation, and, with the help of the woman, uncovers a much larger problem. We see in this historical novel the world of Los Alamos - the environment, the people, the attitudes, the problems - and the doubts. This is a good mystery novel of mood, character, and history. It ends just after the TRINITY test of the first atomic bomb. It does not appear that Kanon was associated with the Manhattan Engineering District (known colloquially as the Manhattan Project), but the details are authentic (with only a few nits to pick), and the atmosphere is beautifully created. His historical characters, like Groves and Oppenheimer, are well presented (perhaps a little kinder picture of Groves than he deserves). I was interested to note that as an important part of the story, two people get a dose of radiation when an experiment "tickling the tail of the dragon" goes awry; one dies. In real life the same thing happened - but the individuals and the situation were not those of the story (I knew the real survivor). I thoroughly enjoyed the story, and vicariously revisiting an old stamping ground.
NOTE: The TRINITY test site is west of Almagordo, NM, on the military test range. It may be visited on only two days a year: the first Saturdays in October and April.
Kanon,J.; Los Alamos;Broadway Books;NY;1997;ISBN 0-553-06224-7
Ender's Game; Orson Scott Card
Recently, in an on-line book forum, there was a request for a suggestion for a science fiction (SF) book that would interest a 17 year old young male. Although it is NOT a juvenile book, this is the book that came to MY mind - and I suggested it. It is a book that is either loved or hated - strongly (there are sequels). The protagonist, in the culture of the future, is a highly gifted, precocious child, Andrew (Ender) Wiggin, whom we meet at age six. Ender is a Third child - almost a reject in a world primarily limited to two children in a family. He is also blazingly brilliant, and the best hope that Earth has to overcome the alien "buggers" in a certain future war-to- the-end. He is to be trained to be the battle commander of that final space battle - although he does not know that. The story follows Ender, whose life is controlled in detail during his rigorous war-game training to be a leader - his adult trainers have a hidden game plan. It is a story about both children and soldiering. There is a parallel story about his sister and brother, also ultra brilliant children, and their growing influence in the politics of Earth. I find it a VERY powerful and fascinating story: complicated, insightful, touching, and almost painful at times. I gather that some adults are distressed at the thoughts and feelings attributed here to children, but I think Card is correct. It is a relatively old book, which I just re-read, and decided to note here for the several SF fans who see these notes.
Card,O.S.; Ender's Game;Tom Doherty Ass.;NY;1991;ISBN 0-812-55070-6
Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman; Walter M. Miller
(SF) Three post-Apocalyptic
science fiction (SF) novels in two weeks! Do the SF writers know something
the rest of us don't? 40 years ago Miller wrote THE classic novel of this
type: A Canticle for Leibowitz, a three part, chillingly pessimistic novel
that startled and shocked some readers. As far as I know, he never wrote
anything else (not that he needed to). Then, after his death, appears this,
which I think was finished by someone else. It is not really a sequel,
although it is placed temporally (3246 AD) in the middle portion (Fiat
Lux) of the first book, and Benjamin, the Wandering Jew, appears. The locale
is again the southwest, from the Rio Grande to the Mississippi, north into
the plains. Civilization was pretty much destroyed by nuclear warfare and
a subsequent Luddite-type destruction of books and machinery, but another
is rising. The powerful religious hierarchy is that of the Catholic Church
in an almost medieval state - but it has two branches. The story is of
the branch in exile, the selection of a new Pope, his replacement by another
Pope, and the latter's decision to wage a crusade against the secular government
that bars him from New Rome - located along the Mississippi. The story
unfolds around Brother Blackfoot St. George, whom we meet in Leibowitz
Abbey and follow through a lengthy personal odyssey. The story is a complex,
imaginative and serious novel that is a fascinating, engrossing yarn, but
slow going. It is a lot more dense than the first book - there are LOTS
of threads and people. It is a daunting, dark, hypnotic read. The reader
has the usual (for this genre) distracting compulsion of trying to guess
the originals of the various place- names and other terms - the Pecos river
has become the Bay Ghost river for example!
Miller,W.M.;Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman;Bantam Books;NY;1997;
Dreaming of the Bones;Deborah Crombie
Crombie is an American who writes excellent British crime novels that are good police procedurals involving interesting problems and excellently portrayed characters. The protagonists in the series are Scotland Yard Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Sergeant Gemma Jones - each divorced. In this book they are lovers. Kincaid's ex-wife is compiling information for a biography of a female poet who committed suicide 5 years earlier, and comes to believe that in fact the woman was murdered. She calls Kincaid to ask him if he can help her determine the truth. Kincaid agrees, and this complicated story begins. It has ingredients I greatly like: library research, not one but two old crimes, interesting well developed characters, neat plot, and good, sensitive story telling. Easily the best story in the series - and one that you can read independently of the others without missing much.
Crombie,D.;Dreaming of the Bones;Scribner;NY;1997;ISBN 0-684-80141-8
The Mistress of Spices; Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
The author, born in India, lives in the US and is a poet. This is her first
novel - a hypnotic fantasy of mysticism and magic. Tilo is a "Mistress
of Spices" - a young woman who has been trained in the magic of spices,
has achieved immortality, and has been transported to southern California
as an aged woman to run a spice shop. She can read minds, at times sense
the future, and work magic. Her duty is only to help people; but at a distance.
She is not to touch people or become personally involved in their troubles,
or to become interested in a man - there is a SEVERE penalty for such things.
Of course, being who she is - she violates the rules. This sensuous poetic
story is a first person recounting of her past, her feelings, her temptations
and actions - and the consequences of those actions. It is another tale
of an immortal who chooses mortality, and it is an enchanting one.
Divakaruni,C.B.;The Mistress of Spices;Doubleday;NY;1997;ISBN 0-385-48327-X
Panther in the Basement; Amos Oz
Oz writes in Hebrew, and has a first class translator. His books are excellent. This small novel is a first person retrospective account of the life of 12 year old "Proffy", a Jewish boy living in Jerusalem during the last year of British control - before the state of Israel appeared. Proffy and two friends create a make-believe "underground", spurred on by the anti-British activity around them. Proffy meets with a gentle British policeman, who teaches Proffy English, while Proffy teaches him Hebrew and tells himself that he is obtaining useful information for the "underground." The story recounts Proffy's personal and family experiences in this tense world, and it is a gripping, fascinating, touching story. First class, vivid, expressive storytelling.
Oz,A.;Panther in the Basement;Harcourt Brace;NY;1997;ISBN 0-15-100287-8
Night Passage; Robert B. Parker
Probably the first in a new series. Jesse Stone's divorce aggravated his drinking, and he was fired from the Los Angeles Police Department where he was a homicide detective. Paradise, a small town near Boston, picks him as chief of police. He was in fact picked because the power in the town - the local banker - wanted a lush, who would be no trouble. The previous chief had discovered extensive money laundering, and was retired - with threats to make him hold his tongue. The banker also runs a local armed militia. Stone gradually uncovers a variety of problems in the town, ends up with a murder to solve, takes up with a local female attorney, and tries to forget his ex-wife. It is a good, well told story of a familiar type. The characterizations are good. It is a change from Parker's Spenser stories. It will be interesting to see if Parker keeps Jesse in a small town - if indeed this is the start of a new series.
Parker,R.B.;Night Passage;G.P. Putnam's Sons;NY;1997:ISBN 0-399-14304-1
10 Lb. Penalty:Dick Francis
Englishman Benedict Juliard is 17 years old, has his heart set on riding horses, and is happily riding for Sir Vivian Durridge who has a stable full of them. Ben's aloof father arranges to have Ben fired. He explains to Ben that Sir Vivian told him that Ben would never be more than an average jockey, so he decided to have Ben do something else: go to college, and help his father run for office. We follow Ben and his father through several campaigns to the final one - which is for the office of prime minister. There are attempts on the candidate's life. Ben proves to be a big help - he's people oriented, and very sharp. He goes through situations that call for increasing maturation, and he and his father gradually learn a lot about each other. The first person story is typical of Francis: familiar pattern but with an interesting - and different - environment, interesting people, interesting mystery, horses, and good story telling. But - I had a problem. Ben's father struck me as a real SOB of a politician who would, in fact, sacrifice anyone to win. That is NOT how Ben sees it; and a lot of the book is a description of Ben's growing fondness and admiration for his father who is described as having all sorts of admirable qualities. Ain't the way I felt. True it's Ben's story - and Francis's. But I AM a (sensitive) reader! So there.
Francis,D.;10 Lb. Penalty;G.P Putnam's Sons;NY;1997;ISBN 0-399-14302-5
The Great Wheel; Ian R. MacLeod
At the library, I glanced at the inside jacket cover and missed the fact that this was ANOTHER science fiction (SF) post-Apocalyptic novel! When I found out, I decided I'd skip it - an overdose - but I came down with a bad cold and cough, and couldn't get out. It finally was the only thing (new) left to read. So I read it; and I would not have missed it for the world. It strikes me as a vivid, very different version of this genre. It is a distant future on Earth - an earth that was devastated by climate and weather, along with meltdown of nuclear plants and some nuclear explosions. We see only two parts of this new society: EUROPE - a climate controlled, closed area serviced and controlled by "Halcyon", and THE ENDLESS CITY, inhabited by the BORDERERS, and extending along the North Coast of Africa through the Middle East, past the Black sea into what was once Russia. Europe is a land of comfort and plenty, with exotic, very advanced technology. All residents are specially treated with complex implants that (among other things) provide recombinant DNA that destroys viruses, cancer cells, etc. A side effect is that their eyes have silver irises. There is also a sort of a spooky, ultimate INTERNET into which individuals can tap. The Borderers (commonly called GOGS by the Europeans) live in crowded conditions, in what would today be called a "third world" country ( European tourists visit it). They cannot enter Europe except as workers for the Europeans - it will remind the reader of the US and Mexico, and migrant labor - of the future! For almost a century, the two groups have avoided direct skin contact - in order to prevent the transfer of pathogens from Europeans to Borderers. We watch this complex society through the eyes of a priest who has lost his faith: Father John, who is spending a year in the Endless City, essentially as a healing missionary - he runs a clinic for the people who have to depend on the Europeans for medicines and treatment. The story follows Father John through efforts in the Endless City, his love for a Borderer woman, his investigation into the role of a widely used narcotic plant in deaths from leukemia, and his visits to his parents in Europe - and his brother who has been in a coma for years. This is an elegantly written, engrossing, richly detailed, and sophisticated novel that is laid in the future, but involves situations and emotions that are very familiar. The author does not try to dazzle the reader with the stunning technology - he simply casually recounts how it is used in every day life, and the reader may not feel that all the things are explained - but it does not matter. I found it a stunning read. A meaningful title too.
MacLeod,I.R.;The Great Wheel;Harcourt Brace;NY;1997;ISBN 0-15-100293-2