Lou Drummeter's July 2004 Reviews

Volume 13
The reviews are presented in alphabetical order by title. The author index below takes you to each individual review.

AUTHORS
 Albom,M.; the five people you meet in heaven, 7
 Baldacci,D.; Split Second, 6
 Brown,D.; Angels and Demons, 1
 Christie,A.; Agatha Christie, 1
 Coulter,C.; Hemlock Bay, 3
 Earley,P.; The Big Secret, 6
 Gladwell,M.; The Tipping Point, 8
 Griffin,W.E.B.; Retreat, Hell, 5
 Grisham,J.; Bleachers, 2
 Haddon,M., the curious incident of the dog in the night-time, 7
 Kidder,T.; Mountains Beyond Mountains, 5
 Light,E.; Chain Thinking, 2
 Martell,Y.; Life of Pi, 4
 Moore,C.; Lamb, 3
 P.J.O'Rourke; Peace Kills, 5
 Sanford,J.; Hidden Prey, 3
 Seranella,B.; Unwilling Accomplice, 8
 Smith,A.M.; Tears of the Giraffe, 6
 Tan,A.; The Opposite of Fate, 8
 Truss,L.; Eats, Shoots & Leaves, 2

TITLES
Agatha Christie: An Autobiography, 1
Angels and Demons; Dan Brown, 1
Bleachers; John Grisham, 2
Chain Thinking; Elliot Light, 2
Eats, Shoots & Leaves; Lynne Truss, 2
Hemlock Bay; Catherine Coulter, 3
Hidden Prey, John Sanford, 3
Lamb; Christopher Moore, 3
Life of Pi; Yann Martell, 4
Mountains Beyond Mountains; Tracy Kidder, 5
Peace Kills; P.J. O'Rourke, 5
Retreat, Hell; W.E.B. Griffin, 5
Split Second; David Baldacci, 6
Tears of the Giraffe; Alexander McCall Smith, 6
The Big Secret; Pete Earley, 6
the curious incident of the dog in the night-time; Mark Haddon, 7
the five people you meet in heaven; Mitch Albom, 7
The Opposite of Fate; Amy Tan, 8
The Tipping Point; Malcomb Gladwell, 8
Unwilling Accomplice; Barbara Seranella, 8

The reviews

Agatha Christie: An Autobiography                                                          NonF
           Agatha Christie started to write this book in 1950, and finished it in 1965, and I was completely unaware of it till I found an old,  paperback copy on a local bookshelf. I picked it up to skim through it. I started with the photos, and found most of them to be bad amateur shots. So expecting the worst, I started to skim the book - and couldn’t. I got totally fascinated, and read it rather than skim it. The description of growing up as a girl in England, at the end of the 1800s, is utterly captivating, and the book continues with great accounts of being a female teenager in those bygone days. The ubiquitous concerns with finding the right man to marry are spelled out, and intrigued this reader. The account continues through her marriage, and divorce, and second marriage, and details her travels to the middle east, and her time in Iraq. There are fascinating accounts of her own feelings and fears, her lack of confidence, how she got to writing mysteries, and how a writer struggles to write. There are things lacking as the reader will see, and only the last quarter of the book is devoted to the period of her second marriage. There is no comment at all about her 10 day disappearance in 1926, and her later life is told in a somewhat jumbled fashion, and it can be a bit difficult to determine where she was at what time. Regardless, don’t miss it. I was intrigued to learn that she had deeded the rights and profits to her 1952 London play, The Mouse Trap, to her grandson Michael. The play was still running in the seventies, and Michael must have received a fortune! I have read a note that says the follow on part of the story is in her book: Come, Tell Us How You Live. I HAVE to read that.
  NOTE: There is a reasonable index at the end      
 Christie,A.; Agatha Christie; $?; 656pp; Ballantine Books; NY; 1977; ISBN 0-345-27646-9  
                             
Angels and Demons; Dan Brown                                                                        (pb)    
            In an introductory note the author states that this is a "prequel" to The Da Vinci Code, and tells of Robert Langdon's period in Rome a year before his visit to the Louvre. The author also thanks the reader for making the Da Vinci Code a smash hit! The current book is a science fiction fantasy in which Langdon and the reader are again involved with an ancient organization that seems to have resurfaced, and with a myriad of obscure symbols and secret codes. A brilliant scientist at the CERN nuclear facility in Switzerland is brutally murdered, and branded with the signature of the Illumaniti - an old organization that was formed from scientists who were opposed to the attitudes of the Catholic Church toward them and their science. The society later infiltrated the Masons. Langdon is called in by the head of the CERN group, and is there when the victim's daughter arrives. It turns out the murdered man is not only a great scientist, but also a Catholic priest. He and his scientifically brilliant daughter (adopted) have generated relatively large quantities of antimatter (stored in containers ( I told you it was a fantasy!), and one of the containers is missing. The victim was also convinced that he had generated a small "big bang" phenomenon, and that indeed there was a close relationship between God and science. It appears that the anti-religious Illumanati society has swiped the container, and hidden it in Vatican City, where it will explode after a period of time, and wipe out everything for miles - including the convention of Cardinals assembled to elect a new Pope. Langdon and Vittoria Vetra, the victim's daughter, try to unearth and follow clues that will help save the lives of four Cardinals who have been abducted, and will lead them to the hiding place of the explosive canister. It is gallop all the way, as science and religion compete again. There are several startling developments, and a lot of unbelievable activities, confusion here and there about Catholic definitions and nomenclature, and the ending seems to go on for a very long time. I liked The Da Vinci Code better! A good friend cannot believe that - he thinks this book is better by far. Sigh....  Note: There is a replay of the continuously running conspiracy theories that include the Masons as contemporary agents of the Illuminati. I think that is paranoia on the loose, but I simply don't have enough time to read all the stuff that has been written about the subject. I must say however, that it seems to me the obscure symbolism of the pyramid, the eye, and the Latin phrase above it, on US currency, is a tad hard to explain without invoking some Mason activity!
 Brown,D.; Angels and Demons;$4.39;572pp;Simon & Schuster;NY;2001; ISBN 0-671-02736-0


Bleachers; John Grisham
           Another of the “not a lawyer in sight” stories by Grisham. This small book is about four days in the relatively small town of Messina, where Neely Crenshaw had been a high school All-American quarterback for the Messina Spartans, an unbeatably great team coached by Eddie Drake. Drake, whom people loved and hated, has died, and Neely is back - for the first time - to attend Rake’s funeral, and to see if he can forgive Rake for an incident of years before. This is a gathering of “the old boys,” and the reader is exposed to different views of the coach, and the different characters who played for him. The book ends with Rake’s funeral, and Neely’s forgiveness.  This reader found the replay of the good old days relatively boring. Perhaps it is because I’m not a “look back” type, nor am I interested in sports. So take my somewhat negative attitude with care. The small town milieu is well done - I grew up in one. The book is obviously related to Grisham’s quarterback experience in a Mississippi high school, and note the dedication to get some feeling for the writing motivation.
 Grisham,J.; Bleachers; $19.95;163pp; Doubleday;NY; 2003; ISBN 0-385-51161-2

Chain Thinking: A Shep Harrington SmallTown Mystery; Elliot Light                        Series              
     An interesting book that surprised me, and interested me, and got me thinking. It is a mystery/detective story with a social message, and it is successful at both levels! Usually, I think, the polemic takes over at the expense of the story. Not here. It is well balanced, and well told. Shep Harrington, sometime lawyer, lives in Virginia, near DC. He spent three years in prison for a crime he did not commit. He was proved innocent and released, but he is still struggling with the psychological scars. He inherited (I presume in the preceding book) money and property, and does a little lawyering. He answers the door one morning, and finds an animal rights activist, who wants him to accept a young chimpanzee for a few days, a chimpanzee that she says is in danger. For a number of reasons he accepts, the woman drives away, and he is left with Kikora, the chimp. As the story proceeds, he finds that the chimp has been stolen, and that the woman from whom the chimp was taken was murdered, and the young activist who gave him the chimp is charged with the murder. The chimp was one of the animals to be used in an experiment involving an anti-obesity drug developed by a large local corporation. He finds himself becoming friendly with Kikora, who can use sign language! Harrington gradually discovers the significant mistreatment that the chimps are subject to, and becomes concerned about that problem as well as the problem of trying to find out who did the murder. There are very interesting sections about Harrington’s attempts to determine if chimps can have legal recourse, about attitudes toward animals, the similarities - and differences - with legal rights cases involving blacks, mentally impaired individuals, etc. This occurs as Harrington and his friends also try to find the killer. There are good representations of Harrington’s personal problems which enter into the story at times. It is a very well done story that took me quite a long time to read - despite its shortness! It can be disturbing in places.
 NOTE: My general impression of animal rights activists has been that they have nothing else to do except demonstrate for the ethical treatment of fire-ants, or some such thing. I shall have to rethink the whole thing.
 Light,E.; Chain Thinking;$19.95; 211pp; Bancroft Press; Baltimore; 2003; ISBN 1-890862-21-5          

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation; Lynne Truss     NF
           A charming, delightful book about what can be a very dull subject. It is a runaway best seller in Great Britain, and seems to be doing very well here too. The title is, as you probably know, from the fairly famous Panda joke. If you don’t know the joke, you will find it on the back cover. This is a book to browse through, and most any page taken at random is a delight. One can also learn a lot about punctuation in Great Britain. Much of it applies here too, but there are significant exceptions, so the reader should be careful. The writer is capable of funny and delightful remarks - but there are lapses in grammar that are not solely due to the difference between Great Britain and the USA.  I think that someone truly concerned about punctuation might better find one of the somewhat older explanative works on the market. This one is a book that calls for reading aloud to some long suffering friend or spouse. It is full of  clear (and some not so clear) examples, with some fascinating pieces that I had not previously encountered. Consider the vast difference in the following Biblical quotation(s): “Verily, I say unto thee, This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”  And “Verily I say unto thee this day, Thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”  She notes there was no punctuation in any of the ancient languages, so the commas were added later!
 Truss,L.; Eats, Shoots and Leaves;$17.50 ; 209pp; Penguin Group;NY; 2004; ISBN 1-592-40087-6

Hemlock Bay; Catherine Coulter                                                                      (series)
          This continues Coulter’s FBI series starring Dillon and Sherlock Savitch. This one has elements of the paranormal and the supernatural; not quite the usual fare. Dillon Savitch, at the start of the book, heads a team that finally locates Timmy and Tommy Tuttle who have been abducting children and killing and mutilating them. It is in a barn, and the Tuttles are herding their two latest victims into a black circle as “food for the Ghouls.” Savitch kills Tommy, and shoots Timmy in the arm - only to find that in fact she is Tammy. The barn doors fly open and two whirling entities seem to enter, Savitch shoots at one, and they disappear - the Ghouls? Tammy loses her arm, and vows to even things with Savitch. Tammy is a paranormal who can create illusions that shield her from being seen, and she escapes from custody. One of the stories
in this book is about the attempts to apprehend Tammy. Another story involves Savitch’s sister, Lily. He gets a call that says Lily tried to commit suicide by driving her car into a tree in Hemlock Bay, California. She had apparently tried once before to kill herself when her child was killed by a hit and run driver. She has been on medications for depression. As Dillon and Sherlock look into the matter they discover that in fact Lily’s husband, a psychiatrist, seems to have been altering her medications, and probably arranged for the brakes to fail on her car. The motive seems to be eight paintings that her famous artistic grandmother gave her - paintings that are worth a million apiece. A famous art authority, who is a friend of Dillon Savich discovers that four of the paintings have been stolen, and copies substituted. Lily’s life is suddenly in danger, and the art expert helps protect her. The two stories revolve about each other to reach the final chapter. I enjoyed the yarn, although not as much as some earlier ones.
 Coulter,C.; Hemlock Bay; $24.95; 375pp;G.P. Putnam’s Sons; NY; 2001; ISBN 0-399-14738-1

Hidden Prey, John Sanford                                                                                              Series
          The latest of his “prey” novels starring Lucas Davenport. Lucas is head of the Office of Regional Research at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension . His job is to look at interesting, different crimes - usually violent ones - and to make sure that the governor doesn’t get caught in some political damage because of any crime! He is married to Weather, a surgeon, and has an infant son, Sam, and an almost teenager, Letty. The crime that he looks at this time is described in the first chapter - the murder of a Russian seaman in Duluth. But then it appears that the seaman was in fact a one-time KGB agent. His father is a big oil man in Russia, and suddenly the Russian government wants fast action, and sends a representative  to “assist.” Turns out the representative is a female. The reader knows that the murderer is a teen age boy, who is being taught killing by his grandfather! They are part of a Russian undercover spy group that was sent to the USA years before, and which wants to function in support of Russian intelligence and  undercover action. The fascinating, complicated story follows Lucas and the Russian as they try to find the killer, and follows the young killer and the old Russian cell that is his family. It is a riveting yarn, well told, with keen looks at the various characters. It is Sanford at his best.        
 Sanford,J.; Hidden Prey; $?;342pp;G.P.Putnam’s Sons;NY;2004; ISBN 0-399-15180-X

Lamb: The Gospel According To Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal; Christopher Moore  
             This paperback I picked from the well stocked bookshelves in the bayside home of Karen and Paul, where we were house-sitting in Washington state. I picked it out of curiosity, and noted that the author had written other books such as Practical Demonkeeping, Bloodsucking Fiends, and The Lust LIzard of Melancholy Cove. Cheez... Certainly not a thing I would read. But I read the half page introductory Author's Blessing, and was struck by it. Then I read the three page Prologue, in which Levi bar Alphaeus, called Biff, is brought back to life, in modern times, by an Angel. And Biff punches the Angel in the mouth for waiting 2000 years! I was hooked. I read the book with delight. Biff, a childhood friend of Joshua, Jesus, who became the Christ, was returned to life to write of the 30 early years that are missing from the Christ's life in the Gospels. He is set up in a hotel, and guarded by the Angel Raziel while he works. He is essentially under house arrest, and many of the chapters begin with a brief account of his interactions with his guardian/prison-guard who is not the sharpest angel on the head of a pin. Those bits could have been omitted. The rest is spectacular story telling. The story projects the vernacular of the present into the past , and does it well, albeit the reader should be warned that there is occasional use (appropriately, I think) of what my wife calls  "dirty words." There are humorous bits (occasionally very low level humor!), very funny bits, very clever tongue-in-cheek bits, very sad bits, and unbelievably striking, descriptive bits. Note the paragraph describing the crowd and actions in Jerusalem at Passover. We watch Biff and Joshua as the two boys grow up as Jews, with Joshua learning to use his healing powers, and Biff trying to keep Joshua out of trouble. Despite the modern idiom, or probably because of it, through Moore's writing this reader saw, and got some appreciation of the world at that time, and the problems of the Jews at the time. After 100 brilliant pages, the two boys take off along the Silk Road to find the three Magi who had come to see Joshua when he was born: Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar. They find them, live with them for periods, and become knowledgeable about the tenets of Buddah and Hinduism, as well as Kung Fu (and Jewdo!!) Seventeen years (and 200 pages) later they return to Nazareth. In the last 100 pages or so, Joshua and Biff assemble other disciples, and the Passion of Jesus is played out. And there is an epilogue, which contains a surprise, and ends with a truly wonderful groaner piece of humor. I shall buy a copy.
 NOTE: There is nothing in this unusual book that seems to me to be sacrilegious in any way. And DO NOT miss the wonderful Author's Blessing or the delightful Afterword. This I found to be one of those books from which I wanted to read aloud bits to a listener; and did. My wife is very understanding.  
 Moore,C.; Lamb;$13.95(pb); 444pp;Harper Collins;NY;2002; ISBN 0-380-81381-5

Life of Pi; Yann Martell                                                                                               (pb)    
              Pi is Piscene Moliter Patel, born in India, named after a swimming pool, and, when we meet him, living alone in Canada. For the first third of the book Pi tells of growing up in a zoo; one founded and operated by his father. The section includes a remarkably lucid, pro-zoo discussion of the way animals simply adjust to zoos - in a territorial manner. Pi tells us of learning about animals, their territories, their social structures, and the status indicators in animal life - especially that of the big cats. The latter is of importance to the tale. He also tells of involving himself in three different religions as a boy: Hinduism, Christianity, and the Muslim faith. When Pi is sixteen, his father decides to move the family and the zoo to Canada, and all set sail on a Japanese freighter. The freighter suddenly sinks rapidly one night, and Pi is the sole human survivor. He and several animals end up in a well provisioned life raft. One of the animals is a 450 pound Bengal tiger. The story then recounts Pi's survival over many months at sea - with the tiger - until they end up drifting ashore in Mexico. The story is a somewhat ambiguous fantasy. It is informative, intriguing, sensual, mysterious, but does drag at times. As the story finishes, the reader is suddenly hit with the puzzling possibility that the story, just told in great detail to the reader and some Japanese investigators, might not have happened as told - there is an alternate version! The author tells Pi's story very well, and the reader is almost mesmerized by the circumscribed adventure yarn. It is unlike any other story I have read, and it is guaranteed to leave the reader thinking and wondering about the tale for quite a while.
  NOTE: In a note at the beginning the author implies that this story did in fact actually happen. I suspect this is another piece of fiction - especially as it is not clear which story might have been a true one! The book won a Prize - and in fact it sort of fulfills my intrinsic suspicion of such prizes, not quite one I would have expected to be the winner!
 Martel,Y.; Life of Pi;$14;319pp; Harcourt,Inc.; Orlando;2001; ISBN 0-15-602732-1

Mountains Beyond Mountains;Tracy Kidder
         Kidder is winner of a number of literary prizes, including the Pulitzer. He is a first class writer who specializes in detailed recounting of individuals involved in various activities in our culture. For example: He has dealt with school teaching, small towns, house construction, designing a computer, and life in a care facility. This time he tells us of a very unusual, almost unbelievable genius: 44 year old Dr. Paul Edward Farmer, a physician, an anthropologist, an epidemiologist, who has already changed the world, and is still at it. I’ll bet you have never met a man like Farmer. Kidder hadn’t. He met Farmer in Haiti in 1994, then saw him again five years later, spent much time with him over the next four years, observing, analyzing, and immersing himself in the culture that Farmer had created. He tells of Farmer’s childhood, his growing up in a bus and on a boat, his scholarship at Duke, and his MD, and Ph.D. in Anthropology, from Harvard. During this time he encountered a Haitian group sponsored by some nuns, and spent a little time with them. Enough time to entice him to visit Haiti, where he worked as a medical volunteer in a hospital in Port au Prince; a hospital that had, to his dismay, a non-Hatian staff.  He saw the problems that were scourging Haiti, and he got to see areas outside of cities; areas in the back country where there were no hospitals. A missionary, operating a small hospital upcountry, first took him to Cange - the place that would change his world. He entered Harvard, but skipped most of his lecture classes to spend time in Haiti, working to enlarge the clinic activities at Cange. He came, serendipitously, to the attention of Tom White, a millionaire contractor and philanthropist, who would come to play a close role in Farmer’s life, and provide lots of badly needed money over the years. The clinic at Cange was established and grew. It led Farmer to study AIDS and multi-drug-resistant TB. The book tells of Farmer’s involvement in studies in Haiti, Peru, Cuba, Russia and the World Health Organization. He and his best friends, Ophelia Dahl, Tom White, and Jim Kim have been working non stop. It is a detailed, fascinating study of a larger than life man, his philosophy, his works, and his co-workers. The man was awarded a McArthur genius award, which he dumped into his Haiti work. He has recently (not in the book) won a prestigious Heinz award (which went the same way), as well as others. Yet I’ll bet few of you have heard of him! Truly remarkable. Do not miss reading this book about a real, if totally unbelievable person, of whom Kidder has provided NO pictures! He is 44 years old - his Nobel prize is yet to come.
 NOTE: When you have finished the narrative, and find yourself stunned by the mind boggling, continuous activity of Farmer, look at Kidder’s compilation of the books and papers that Farmer has written in the last ten years. The list is mountainous.
 Kidder,T.; Mountains Beyond Mountains; $29.95; 317pp; Random House; NY; 2003; ISBN 0-375-50616-0

Peace Kills: America’s Fun New Imperialism;P.J. O’Rourke
          This is a collection of essays that O’Rourke has written from 1999 to mid 2003. A number are on-site reporting from Kosovo, Israel, 9/11New York, Egypt, Kuwait, and Iraq. The final one concerns his visit to Iwo Jima. There is a range of quality, and some disconnects that he has tried to string together. The article on Iraq could have been skipped. Elsewhere, there is often the clever, incisive O’Rourke irreverently hammering away at the stupidities of government, and those who run it. Not nearly as good - overall - as most of his others, I think, but with many bits of good reading.
 P.J.O’Rourke; Peace Kills; $23: 197pp; Atlantic Monthly Press; NY; 2004; ISBN 0-87113-919-7

Retreat, Hell; W.E.B. Griffin                                                                          (series )
            This is the latest (I think) of Griffin’s series about the Marine Corps in Korea. It covers about six days, just before McArthur’s unfortunate decision to advance to the Yalu. A decision that brought the Chinese into the war. The familiars are, here: General Pickering, the President’s man and friend of McArthur’s; Fleming’s son, Pick, a downed pilot who is to be rescued from enemy territory; Major Ken (Killer) McCoy; McCoy’s wife; Ernie Zimmerman; etc. The story basically circulates around the rescue of Pick, the insertion of squads into North Korea, the
stupidity and bad intelligence of McCarthur’s staff, and McCoy’s belief that the Chinese will enter the war. It is a very detailed, full blown accounting of all the many activities that occur in the six days. Each activity is set forth in detail, and there are many episodes that note, for the new reader, events of the past. It is a long book, typical of the series, but without nearly as much military action as some of the others in the series. Interesting, especially for the fans of the series, but earlier ones have been somewhat more gripping. There are also too many Ernies!
 Griffin,W.E.B.; Retreat,Hell!; $26,95; 496pp; G.P. Putnam’s Sons; NY; 2004; ISBN 0-399-15081-1
                                                                               

Split Second; David Baldacci    
        Another of the complicated, zippy thrillers that Baldacci is known for.  Sean King is an attorney, a former Secret Service agent who, eight years ago, took his eyes off  a political candidate he was guarding, and that split second the man was shot. King killed the assassin, but he was finished in the Service. Now several strange murders occur around him, and a beautiful woman from his past appears. Another agent, Michelle Maxwell, lets the man she was guarding out of her sight, and he vanished. So did her career with the Service. These three people get involved in a complicated situation, that seems to change with every chapter. I shall not try to abstract the story. Suffice it to say that It seemed to me to be based on a not very believable premise - a premise that appears full blown at the end. I enjoyed the story, was left feeling it didn’t all add up, and feeling that others of his have been better.
Baldacci; Split Second;$26.95;406pp; Warner Books;NY;2003; ISBN 0-446-53089-1

Tears of the Giraffe; Alexander McCall Smith                                                            Series  (pb)
            The second in the enchanting series about Mma Precious Ramotswe, proprietor of the only ladies’ detective agency in Botswana: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency! There are several tales woven through this recounting. Mma Ramotswe has agreed to marry Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, owner of the Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, and part of the time we follow Mr. Matekoni in activities that include adopting two orphans, brother and sister, and then trying to explain his actions to his fiancé. Mma Ramotswe accepts a case presented by an American woman to investigate the disappearance of her son more than a decade earlier, and a case presented by a man who believes his wife is being unfaithful. The three stories are entwined, and Mma Ramotswe invokes the help of her secretary, the talented typist Mma Makutsi, whom she promotes to assistant detective - as well as typist. Mma Makutski demonstrates a talent for both detective work and problem solving. Precious resolves the decade old case, and she and Mr. Matekoni accept that they will be the parents of the two orphans. Again a delightful, funny, and touching story with just enough unknown mixed in. I bet you will love it. And there is a neat, unexpected twist at the end.
 Smith,A.M.; Tears of the Giraffe; $11.95;227pp; Random House; NY;2002; ISBN 1-4000-3135-4

The Big Secret; Pete Earley  
               Good, thriller storytelling by a man who seems to know a great deal about Washington, DC, its organizations, its politics, and its players. Nick LeRue is Chief Investigator, Senate Judiciary Committee, and a former FBI agent. He is accosted by a woman, Melanie, who is the twin sister of Heather, a woman who had lived with LeRue five years before leaving him for another man. For a moment he thinks it is Heather, but it happens that Heather and Melanie are identical, mirror-image twins. Melanie is looking for help: Heather is missing and in trouble. Melanie explains that she and Heather communicate even at great distances by dreams and visions. LeRue is unbelieving, but finally gives up, and accompanies Melanie to Mississippi to trace Heather. It appears that Heather had started delving into the 45 year old lynching of a black man by a group of white men. I can’t really outline this complicated story, except to say that Heather is murdered, and Nick and Melanie set out to find out how a famous newspaper man, and a Senator, are involved. Finally, at the end, it becomes clear that Heather was killed to protect a Big secret that involves the intelligence world. This is a good yarn, and very informative about DC and what happens there. A number of real events are covered with different names, and sometimes fictionalized, and there may be more about DC than the reader will want to know - but it won’t impair a good read.
 NOTE: There are voice changes in the book. Most is written in the first person by LeRue, but there are third person inserts. I don’t care for this in storytelling, but it probably contributes to the tension in this yarn.
 Earley,P.; The Big Secret; $24.95; 302pp; Tom Doherty Ass.; NY; 2004; ISBN 0-765-30783-9

The curious incident of the dog in the night-time; Mark Haddon   
          A very unusual, powerful, striking, sometimes distressing, sometimes wryly amusing tale narrated in the first person by Christopher John Francis Boone, a 15 year old, who lives in England with his father. He has been told that his mother, who vanished one day, had died. The boy has a development disorder that has elements of autism and Asperger’s Disorder: He reads voraciously and never forgets a thing. His brain is that of a very superior mathematician and logician.  But he doesn’t relate to people. He has no understanding of personal relationships, or emotions. He can’t understand jokes. He cannot stand being touched. He wants his world organized and predictable. Then, one day, he finds the body of Wellington, a neighbor’s friendly poodle. The dog had been impaled on a garden pitchfork. Initially the authorities think that Christopher did it, and he has a ghastly time with the police until his father gets him away from them. He then decides that he will emulate Sherlock Holmes (the original “curious incident” of the dog in the night [The Adventure of the Silver Blaze]) , and determine who killed Wellington. All of this he will narrate in a book like the Sherlock Holmes stories. As this goes on, Christopher learns things about his father and his mother, and learns the latter is  alive and well in London. Suddenly afraid of his father, Christopher decides to run away and go to London, by himself. I found myself squirming at times, watching Christopher interact with the world. I found myself tearful at times, as my empathy got to me. Christopher’s parents are, in one sense, not likable, but it is clear that the anguish of dealing with their son is more than they can handle emotionally; a tragic situation. It was not an easy read for me. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything, and I shall never forget it.
 NOTE: Nowhere in the book (as far as I could see) does it ever give a name to the condition from which the narrator suffers. The book jacket states that the problem is autism - and also states that Haddon once worked with autistic children. As I understand it, there is a wide spectrum of “autistic” disorders, and the narrator might be described as suffering from a “higher order” autism. I think a somewhat better description might be some degree of what is called Asperger’s Disorder, a classification that has appeared in the last decade or so. There is no “test” for such things; diagnosis is made by an “expert”  very familiar with such difficulties. Our 12 year old granddaughter has an autistic friend - so I looked into the matter a bit. I’m no expert.
 Haddon,M; the curious incident of the dog in the night-time; $22.95;226pp; Doubleday;NY; 2002 IBSN 0-385-50945-6

the five people you meet in heaven; Mitch Albom  
         An unusual, episodic tale that flips back and forth in time and place as it follows Eddie, the 82 year old maintenance man for the rides at  Ruby Pier seaside amusement park. Eddie is a war veteran with a bad leg ( he was shot) and we meet him as an ordinary day of work begins, and as he is killed in an accident. The author tells us regularly how many hours or minutes Eddie has left, and describes his death as he attempts to save a little girl from a runaway car on a ride. Then we are with Eddie as he realizes that all his aches and pains are gone, and that he is again at an early version of the Pier, 75 years earlier. There was a sideshow then and Eddie is greeted by one of the freaks, the Blue Man, who says he has been waiting for Eddie. He explains Eddie is in heaven! And he explains that Eddie will meet five people in heaven - people who were in his life for a reason; and that Eddie did not know the reason at the time, but that was what Heaven is about: to understand his life on earth! Eddie learns why the Blue Man is one of the people he is to meet, and then as the Blue Man vanishes, Eddie sequentially meets the others: his army Captain when Eddie fought in the Philippines and was wounded, the original Ruby of Ruby’s pier, his wife Marguerite, in a young version, and finally a little Asian girl, Tala. In between there are flashes back to Eddie’s earlier life, and flashes back to the real world where Eddie is being mourned. It is an interesting illustration of the unknown factors in a person’s life. And I think it could have been told better - but then I do not  like sudden and frequent flashbacks.
 Albom,M.; the five people you meet in heaven;$21.95;322pp.[large type];Random House; NY; 2003

The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings;Amy Tan           
           This is required reading for fans of Amy Tan, and fascinating reading whether you are a fan or not. If you don’t know Tan’s books, I’ll bet this one will send you looking for them. This is, as the subtitle says, a book of first person musings, many of which have been printed elsewhere. The musings are of the very complicated life of Tan, complete with events, critiques, and philosophy. The things that have occurred in her life are truly mind-boggling, and some may disconcert the reader. Many are distressing. Others are fun. All are compelling. As Tan Fans (no joke intended) might expect, her family plays a large part, especially her mother. Much of the book is devoted to her mother, how Tan gradually found out most (?) of her mother’s history, and about how she and her mother interacted as their lives evolved. Those knowledgeable of Tan’s fiction will find that it has considerable resemblance to her real life as told in these musings. There are many bits about her writing career, her books, and her Hollywood involvement. There are also persistent concerns about the representation of Asians in the book world. It is, as might be expected, a disjointed book that can be picked up and put down without any problem. I believe the reader who starts this book will finish it. The last chapter will, I think, appear as a startling, but somehow fitting closing to the book. It did to me.
 Tan,A.; The Opposite of Fate;$24.95;399pp.;G.P.Putnam’s Sons;NY;2003; ISBN 0-399-15074-9  

The Tipping Point:How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference; Malcom Gladwell    NF  (pb                  
     A very interesting, well written, at times surprising. pop psychology book that is a an episodic, popular distillation of studies in psychology and sociology that relate to how individuals and groups react to a variety of social stimuli. The emphasis is on fads, and/or social epidemics as the author calls them, and a sizable number are analyzed; for example crime increase and drop in NYC, teen age smoking, Hush Puppy shoe sales, etc.. Gladwell indicates the types of personalities that contribute to the epidemics, and provides labels: Connectors, Mavens, Salesmen, and indicates several key principles that he also names: The Law of the Few, The Stickiness Factor, The Power of Context, for example. The latter principle, that of context, has as an eerie example the thirty year old work at Stanford, by Zimbardo, on the effect of a simulated prison environment on the development of hate and real cruelty on the part of the simulated guards toward their simulated prisoners. Eerie because as I read this on the West Coast, the TV was full of the cruelty shown by American soldiers toward prisoners in Iraq. Zimbardo's work showed that this can develop even in well adjusted individuals thrust into the role as guards. Scary. The book is very readable, and it is clear that much of what he identifies is at work in the epidemics he reviews, but here and there I felt there was a gap, or possibly not quite an adequate explanation. There is too much about children's TV, and it is sometimes a tad disconnected, but I found it interesting, and thought provoking. I shall  be looking at some things differently.
 NOTE: There are end note references (mostly secondary) and comments, and a good index, but this is not a scholarly work.  
 Gladwell;M.; The Tipping Point;$14.95;301pp;Little Brown & Co.;NY;2002; ISBN 0-316-34662-4

Unwilling Accomplice: A Munch Mancini Crime Novel; Barbara Seranella   (series)
          This is the first I have read in the series that tells of Miranda Mancini, known as Munch, and her adopted daughter, Asia. It is 1985, in Los Angeles. Munch is a recovering alcoholic and heroin addict who has been straight for eight and a half years. Asia is eight, her father was one of Munch’s lovers, who gave the child to Munch just before he and his wife were killed. Munch is a mechanic who works at a Brentwood Texaco station, and owns and drives a limousine that she rents to those in LA who need one. As the book starts she gets a call from Lisa, a sister of Asia’s father. Lisa has two children, Charlotte, 15, and Jill, 11, and had been part of a witness protection program. Munch and Asia meet Asia’s aunt and cousins, but shortly after that Charlotte vanishes. The novel follows Munch and Asia as Munch tries to find Charlotte with the aid of police friends - one of whom was her lover until they broke up over another woman. The plot gets complicated as Munch learns some of Charlotte’s problems, and hears of the Mouseman, who trains young children to rob houses! It is an unusual, convoluted, good, crime story, with real but unusual characters, and an emphasis on love and family. I was unsure whether I would like it. I did. Bette did not.
 NOTE: Barbara Seranella grew up in California, ran away when she was 14, joined a hippy commune, and rode with outlaw motorcycle gangs. Then she changed her life and became a mechanic!
 Seranella,B.; Unwilling Accomplice; $24;287pp; Scribners; NY; 2004; ISBN 0-7432-4558-X            
 
                                AUTHORS
 Albom,M.; the five people you meet in heaven, 7
 Baldacci,D.; Split Second, 6
 Brown,D.; Angels and Demons, 1
 Christie,A.; Agatha Christie, 1
 Coulter,C.; Hemlock Bay, 3

 Earley,P.; The Big Secret, 6
 Gladwell,M.; The Tipping Point, 8
 Griffin,W.E.B.; Retreat, Hell, 5
 Grisham,J.; Bleachers, 2
 Haddon,M.,the curious incident of the dog in the night-time, 7

 Kidder,T.; Mountains Beyond Mountains, 5
 Light,E.; Chain Thinking, 2
 Martell,Y.; Life of Pi, 4
 Moore,C.; Lamb, 3
 P.J.O’Rourke; Peace Kills, 5

 Sanford,J.; Hidden Prey, 3
 Seranella,B.; Unwilling Accomplice, 8
 Smith,A.M.; Tears of the Giraffe, 6
 Tan,A.; The Opposite of Fate, 8
 Truss,L.; Eats, Shoots & Leaves, 2



 TITLES

Agatha Christie: An Autobiography, 1
Angels and Demons; Dan Brown, 1
Bleachers; John Grisham, 2
Chain Thinking; Elliot Light, 2
Eats, Shoots & Leaves; Lynne Truss, 2

Hemlock Bay; Catherine Coulter, 3
Hidden Prey, John Sanford, 3
Lamb; Christopher Moore, 3
Life of Pi; Yann Martell, 4
Mountains Beyond Mountains; Tracy Kidder, 5

Peace Kills; P.J. O’Rourke, 5
Retreat, Hell; W.E.B. Griffin, 5
Split Second; David Baldacci, 6
Tears of the Giraffe; Alexander McCall Smith, 6
The Big Secret; Pete Earley, 6

the curious incident of the dog in the night-time; Mark Haddon, 7
the five people you meet in heaven; Mitch Albom, 7
The Opposite of Fate;Amy Tan, 8
The Tipping Point; Malcomb Gladwell, 8
Unwilling Accomplice; Barbara Seranella, 8