Dead to RightsJ.A. Jance
This is the latest in Jance's good new series that stars Sheriff Joanna Brady, an inexperienced lawperson elected to the job that her husband had held. The stories are police procedurals with a great many personal details about the protagonist and her emotions, and about her interactions with others. She is a widow, bringing up a daughter, and trying to do a good job as sheriff. In this story a veterinarian is murdered, and the suspect is a man whose wife had been accidently killed, some time before, by a car driven by the veterinarian. Brady does not believe the suspect is the murderer. The story follows the murder investigation, but veers into and out of other problems: a killing, the suicide of the killer, an accident involving illegal aliens, etc.. Paralleling this is the recounting of Brady's problems with her daughter, problems with her staff, concern with a friend's attempt to adopt a Chinese baby, beginning an involvement with a man, etc. It sounds like a mish- mash, but Jance has put together a good story with very appealing characters. The concept is not new of course, many procedurals strongly involve the personal life of the main character. This is another interesting variant. I think you will like Joanna. She's a strong lady who is gonna make a good Sheriff (already is good, actually).
Jance,J.A.;Dead to Rights;Avon;NY;1996;ISBN: 0-380-97494-4
The End of Science:Facing the Limits of
Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age;John Horgan
Any scientist, regardless of field, will find this a fascinating, thought-provoking book. Many will find it infuriating, or at least disagree strongly with some of the viewpoints. Some, like me, will be mostly in agreement. I believe that non-scientists who are really interested in science will also find it fascinating. Horgan is a science journalist who has had many interviews with world class scientists, and published the interviews. In this book, he covers many interviews or parts of interviews that deal with the title subject - which Horgan believes is coming to pass, or has already got here. The reader will note that the Science that concerns Horgan is "pure science" - in his definition, the quest for knowledge; NOT applied science (although that subject appears). He presents the feelings of a host of first class scientists (and philosophers) on the subject; and ranges casually through physics, cosmology, biology, neuroscience, chaos, complexity, philosophy and other subjects. There are a LOT of points of view - including the author's - and the reader (this one at least) might be hard put to recall which ones went with which scientist! The scientists don't all come off very well either, as presented. Certainly some are moderate flakes (except for Josephson, who is a REAL flake and wasn't interviewed) but I sense some bias - on the negative side - on the part of the author. Horgan also discusses, perceptively, what he calls "ironic science" and "intuitive science." Both he sees as theoretical twiddlings that are part of "post empirical" science. The first is "science" that is akin to literary criticism. The second is essentially aesthetic "science" - like superstring theory, which he notes cannot be made to reveal any prediction that can be tested! [Be aware, however, *that* conclusion is strongly disputed in a recent article in Physics Today] Horgan finds that more and more "scientists" seem to be engaging in such "post empirical" science, which of course he sees as not science at all (as it was, at least). Through the book, Horgan also considers the role of science in the world, and how that is already changing. A sobering, interesting series of provocative and contentious opinions on matters that may affect not only scientists but also ordinary citizens - and a book that will bring screams from many professionals!
Horgan,J.;The End of Science;Addison-Wesley;NY;1996;ISBN: 0-201-62679-9
Last Act in Palmyra;Lindsey Davis
Davis has written about a half dozen novels starring Marcus Didius Falco, an "informer" in ancient Rome in about 70AD. The closest thing to an informer these days would probably be a private eye. The stories are mysteries, narrated in the first person with liberal use of Britticisms, and are an interesting set of views of those ancient times as seen through the eyes of a street-smart, irreverent and interesting man, who is enamored of, and lover of a patrician beauty, Helena Justina. In this one, Falco combines the search for a young woman with a task from the Roman Emperor to scope out a foreign country. He and Helena end up travelling through Syria and nearby countries with a company of travelling actors. Early on, one of the company is murdered and Falco tries to determine which of the company is the killer. The last city they visit is Palmyra - where the loose details are all gathered in. An interesting, entertaining book, with good sketches of the Middle East lands and people of that time. The description of Petra (The Rose Red City...) was of particular interest to me.
Davis,L.;Last Act in Palmyra;Mysterious Press;NY;1994;No ISBN
An Island Out of Time:a memoir of
Smith Island in the Chesapeake;Tom Horton
Horton is an environmental writer for the Sun in Baltimore, and the author of four other books about the Bay area. About ten years ago he took a (reduced pay) job with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in order that he and his wife and two children could spend about three years living on Smith Island, and this is his wonderful evocation of the life, the culture, the people, and the serious problems of the island. The voice in the vignettes varies: often the first person, then words of the inhabitants, then excerpts from logs, then "made up" but presumably representative of comments by the locals, etc. Thus, it is a little choppy at times. It is organized pretty much by subject, and the vignettes get smaller and smaller as one nears the end. Regardless: it is a perceptive, empathic, clear-eyed, touching portrayal of a vanishing culture and people. The latter, in times of dire straits, go by the rule:"trust in God, and keep on crabbing." It is a fascinating picture of one of the many facets of that wonderful place: Chesapeake Bay. The writing is first class, and Horton does very well by the Island and its people. Don't miss it - especially if you're familiar with the Bay area.
Horton,T.;An Island Out of Time;W.W.Norton;NY;1996;ISBN 0-393-03938-2
Demi, whose name is new to me, is an author and illustrator who, the jacket says, has produced over a hundred books for children. This one is a 32 page illustrated version of one of the Firebird folktales. Dimi notes the version is Ransome's translation of Afanasiev's Russian tale; and it is a sheer delight. A young archer carries out increasingly difficult orders of the Tsar (including capturing the Firebird) with the aid of his horse of Magic and Power, and ends up getting the hand of Princess Vassilissa (no slouch in magic and power herself!) The book is **spectacularly** illustrated.A nine year old friend, to whom I sent a copy, wrote to say that the author "really liked gold"; and that is a fact. Gold is used lavishly indeed. My newest granddaughter (now aged five) is entranced; it is, at the moment, her favorite book. I gotta admit I like it a lot too!
Demi;The Firebird;Henry Holt;NY;1994;ISBN 0 8050 3244 4
Benjamin Franklin and His Enemies;Robert
The author is a professor of history who has written, among others, a book about the American Revolution. This book is a look at one of the Revolution's players, Ben Franklin, and his efforts, before the war, to have Pennsylvania taken over by the Crown rather than have it controlled by the Penn family; and his efforts in Paris during the war. It is a different picture of that remarkable man, painted in an interesting way - by watching him act and react to some lesser and some greater enemies. The latter included the Penns and John Adams. Franklin, always the champion of reason, "lost it" in his hatred for the Penn family, and got involved in almost irrational activities. There are also some glimpses of some of the problems related to financing the Revolution and maximizing French assistance. The book is interesting and even surprising, but is almost more book than this tiny bit of Franklin's history would seem to require. I confess to being quite surprised at the (somewhat unflattering) picture of John Adams presented here, and I learned some things about Franklin that I either did not know or remember. The author gives a good account of Franklin's painful conversion from great love to deep hate for England and its monarch. I was also struck again by the realization that British policy was controlled for centuries by arrogant, dim- witted peers. The country survived because of its military power, and it is interesting to note that many if not most of the military peers were just as dim-witted as their civilian counterparts. The military stupidity revealed itself in spades in WWI. Of course there were occasional major exceptions to the steady progression of dolts through the centuries, but they were rare.
Middlekauff,R.;Benjamin Franklin and His Enemies;Univ. of Cal. Press;Berkley; 1996;ISBN 0-520-20268-6
Primary Inversion;Catherine Asaro (PB)
This is a (hard) science fiction first novel, and a pretty good one. The future depicted here involves a conflict between two major far-flung space empires, those of the Skolians and the Traders; the latter controlled by the Aristos. The story is told in the first person by the female probable-heir to the Skolian domain, which is being ruled by her half brother and controlled via a vast computer-mind net operated by her half brother, her aunt, and her father. She, Sauscony Valdoria, is a bio-engineered, empathic telepath of the highest level, and in the military as a Jagernaut - the future equivalent of today's Top Gun fighter pilots. She was once a captive of the Aristos, who obtain sexual stimulation by torturing "providers" to experience - telepathically - their suffering. Sadism of the future! The experience warped her emotionally, and she has a deep hatred for the Aristos. She crosses paths with an Aristo who, to her utter amazement, she realizes is actually not one, although most people would accept him as one. He, it turns out, is the heir to the empire of the Traders despite the fact that he is NOT an Aristo, but something entirely different, a super empath and telepath like Sauscony. They fall in love, part, then get together again when she springs him from prison. In the meantime there is a dandy little war in which the Jagernauts participate. There is available a version of the equivalent of faster-than- light travel, so the characters go hopping around a lot. The author is a scientist, so there are a lot of details of zippy,high-tech stuff.The high- tech space opera has interesting people, situations, and emotions, but has a tepid and slightly strange ending.
Asaro,C.;Primary Inversion;TOR;NY;1995;ISBN 0-812-55023-4
Unlimited Access:An FBI Agent Inside the
Clinton White House;Gary Aldrich
I read the first hundred pages and flipped through the rest of this best seller. It is a first person account of Aldrich's experiences attempting to deal with personnel security in the White House, and finding the White House didn't want to bother, and wouldn't cooperate. Aldrich, accustomed to the "straight" operation run by Bush, was appalled at the casual anarchy and incompetence of the young staffers, and the arrogance and "we are above the rules" of the senior people, and the reluctance of FBI headquarters to do anything. He was disgusted (and in fact quit), and this book is a litany of his complaints. He certainly has no use for Hillary Clinton, her husband, people he sees as their friends, or anyone else associated with them. He, in fact, gets even at the end of the book by being superbly nasty in a very clever way - he gins up an imaginary, devastating background investigation report on the Clintons! As an old "don't get mad, get even" type, I really admire the ploy! He is probably right all the way; I simply got tired of the continual complaints, and after reading the papers for the past few months, nothing he could say about the Clinton staff would surprise me. Bette read it all the way through, and found it interesting.
Aldrich,G.;Unlimited Access;Regnary Pub;DC;ISBN 0-89526-454-4
The House on Bloodhound Lane;Virginia
Lanier is writing a series (this is the second book) starring Jo Beth Siddon who is a breeder and trainer of bloodhounds, serves as an official tracker for the local authorities, and holds training sessions for law- enforcement officers who need to learn how to use tracking dogs. The locale is Georgia. Jo Beth (never just Jo -- after all this IS Georgia) has a somewhat casual attitude towards the law, is confrontational with the male-dominated Georgia "bubba" world, and has an ex-spouse who is now out of prison and who represents a dangerous threat to her. The book recounts in detail the operation of Jo Beth's breeding and training facility, her personnel problems, her tracking experiences, etc. The key tracking task in this book is one of locating a man who was kidnapped. The protagonist is a strong interesting person, and parts of the book were interesting, but it didn't quite work for me. Not sure why. I got the feeling that the author was not quite sure what story she wanted to tell. My wife enjoyed it.
Lanier,V.;The House on Bloodhound Lane;Harper Collins;NY;1996;ISBN 0-06- 101088-X
Acqua Alta;Donna Leon
Leon is writing a mystery, police-procedural series laid in Venice and starring police comissario Guido Brunetti, whom the reader gets to know off- duty as well as on. I read the first one, Death at La Fenice, and thought it an overpraised story that moved slowly before becoming a fairly good yarn (see earlier note). I skipped others as they appeared, and I am not sure why I picked up this one. I am glad I did. This is a far better piece of writing and storytelling than the first. Leon weaves a good police story, striking characters, and an engaging and competent protagonist into a background of vivid pictures of Venice in the winter rainy season. One also gets a view of some of the current tides in Italian social problems. Brett Lynch, a female American expert on ancient Chinese artifacts, is severely beaten by two men who warn her not to meet with a local museum director. The attackers are driven off by her lover, the famous soprano, Flavia Petrelli. The reason for the beating gradually appears as Brunetti investigates. Some of the objects that Lynch had shipped to Venice from China were stolen, and imitations substituted before the objects were returned to the Chinese government. She was to see the museum director, to whom she had written about the substitutions. The director is killed. Someone is trying to conceal the substitutions. Gradually Brunetti works through the problem, and finds that a very wealthy - probably mafioso - local collector is probably behind the whole thing. There is an exciting, scary, violent climax. The author evokes a very interesting, slightly dark and heavy atmosphere for Venice that adds to the story. Good yarn.
Leon,D.;Acqua Alta;Harper Collins;NY;1996;ISBN: 0-06-018651-8
This is an adventure story with flavors of The Lost World(Doyle's version) and Jurassic Park, with the concept of The Burning Sky, and with a slight touch of science fiction (SF). It happens that there is a group of Neanderthals that has managed to survive into modern times. They dwell at high altitudes on a remote mountain in Asia. They have no language, but they do have the strong mental power of being able to see through the eyes of others (the SF part). A secret organization in the USA accidentally got hold of one of the tribe, so knows there are such "creatures". The Russians suspect that there are, and have people searching. The US group dispatches a famous paleontologist to find the tribe, and he vanishes. They send in two more, a man and a woman, onetime students of the missing man. They find him and the Neanderthals. They discover that there are two tribal groups - one is a peaceful group that does not kill, the other is a group of renegades cast out by the peaceful group. The renegades are killers. The book is the story of the expedition, encounters with the Neanderthals, conflict, a clash of values, major disturbance of a culture, and primitive war. Although light weight, it is a nicely-put-together, exciting, attention-holding adventure story that is well told and a dandy to read. The author *invents* an intriguing reason for the ultimate world dominance by Homo Sapiens Sapiens instead of Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis, and works it neatly into the yarn. This is not the only story that involves Neanderthals in the modern world, but it is probably the most interesting from a technical viewpoint and from an adventure viewpoint.
Darnton,J.;Neanderthal;Random House;NY;1996;ISBN: 0-679-44978-7
Hawk Moon;Ed Gorman
Gorman's new mystery series stars Robert Payne, a private investigator who was once an FBI profiler concerned with the psychology of killers. He is also a writer, and pilots an old biplane - an activity that enters the tale but has nothing to do with it! In this first person narrative, he is in Grand Rapids for a while, and gets involved in a situation that involves the killing and mutilation of two American Indian women. A young Indian man is accused of the murders. The man's wife, an officer in the police force, believes her husband (whom she loves, but from whom she is estranged) to be innocent, and asks Payne's help. Payne works the mystery to the end, and finds that there is an eery resemblance to similar murders in the distant past. The past murders are woven into the story by the periodic recounting of brief, third person parts of the old story. So one has two stories going simultaneously. It is a pretty good tale, but didn't seem to flow as smoothly as it might.
Gorman,E.;Hawk Moon;St Martins Press;NY;1996;ISBN 0-312-13980-2
The Codebreakers:The Comprehensive History
of Secret Communication from Ancient Times to the Internet;David Kahn
Kahn wrote this book in 1967, and has changed almost nothing in the original. The book is touted as "Revised and Updated". Revision is probably limited to error correction, and is invisible (except in the sub-title). The update consists of a somewhat sketchy chapter tacked on the end, without any references or notes, and giving the impression of a hurried add-on. This is a GREAT story of the world of cryptography and codes and related subjects; in fact I do not know of a better. If the reader wants to know anything (or everything) about the subject prior to 1967, it is here.However, if she wishes to know about the British breaking the German ENIGMA cipher (the basic reason for the "update") via the remarkable operation at Bletchly Park , there are FAR more comprehensive - and more interesting - books on the matter [see for example: Codebreakers, Hinsley & Stripp,eds]. Still, the add-on does flesh out, reasonably if skimpily, the latest material - including current civilian interest in crypto-security of electronic communication; so as an attempt to add to the "comprehensive" adjective in the title, I suppose it is OK. The first bit, "One Day of Magic", is one of the most riveting, suspenseful, exciting stories that I know of. Mind you, it is all history, I knew the details, and I had read it before, but I still found myself chewing my nails! I did not re-read this book, which was loaned to me as a "new book" by a friend who was unfamiliar with the first version. I did read, again, the first "Magic" part - and the book is worth locating if only to read that - and I skipped around a little elsewhere for good familiar stories before reading the new final chapter. It is, overall, a very well told, fascinating story of an intriguing subject, and the reader can easily skip (with no loss) the occasional stupifying details of how "code breakers" do their job. Kahn,D.;The Codebreakers;Scribner;NY;1996;ISBN: 0-684-83130-9
Irish Lace;Andrew M. Greeley
A first: a novel by Father Greeley (one of my favorite story tellers) that I could not read! The story involves Nuala McGrail (sometime psychic seer, singer and accountant) from Galway, and Dermot Coyne from Chicago. When last met by the reader, they were in Ireland, in a novel by Greeley called Irish Gold, which was really an attempt to deal with a possible history of Michael Collins. I did not care much for the story, but I did read it. By page 30 of this book I realized it was hopeless - for me, but I plowed through to page 100 - where I quit. I did not even bother skimming through the rest (although I did read the short NOTE at the end). The story seems to involve history again - the Civil War this time. I do not like the characters, I do not like the storytelling (lots of one sentence paragraphs it seems to me), and I am irritated tremendously by the continuous inverted quizzical sentences that presume to constitute an Irish "lilt", and which practically all the characters (including a policeman) use in what seems like page after page after page of unremittent nattering. NOTE: the author threatens to write a third in this unfortunate series, and gives its title. I am warned. I do hope that Greeley gives up this pseudo-history kick with Coyne & McGrail, and gets back to good story telling. I must note, however, that Bette enjoyed it very much!
Greeley,A.M.;Irish Lace;Tom Doherty Ass.;NY;1996;ISBN: 0-312-86234-2
Oblivion:The Mystery of West Point Cadet
Richard Cox;Harry J. Maihafer
An unusual and VERY interesting non-fiction book. It is a detailed account of the investigation into the mysterious sudden disappearance, from West Point, in 1950, of Cadet Richard C. Cox. Part I is a *very* detailed police procedural covering years of investigation by West Point, the police, the FBI, and the Army's CID, with repeat interviews, bum leads, and archival searches. No trace of Cox was found. Part II picks up another exhaustive investigation of the case. This one was started in 1985 by Marshall Jacobs, a retired history teacher, who became fascinated by the mystery. One visits the same territory as before, with added bits appearing as time goes on. The book's author is a retired Army officer, who spent some time at West Point, and was persuaded by Jacobs to write the story. He does a very good job, and weaves into the story a great deal about the Point and its culture, and the cadets. I was intrigued to realize that this relatively extraneous material is almost seamlessly inserted, and was read by me with interest. Even more interesting: the seemingly endless, and often repeated, re-entrant episodes of the investigation of dead ends never became tedious! I read the whole thing with fascination. Even though there are a few murky details left, it is a jim- dandy detective story! The ending, while satisfactory, is a tad abrupt and almost an anti-climax of sorts - given a conditioning from reading detective novels; but getting there I found to be enthralling. I am impressed by what the author has done, and how he did it.
Maihafer,H.J.;Oblivion;Brassey's Inc;Washington;1996;ISBN: 1-57488-043-8
The Battle for Christmas;Stephen
The preface is intriguing. Nissenbaum, an historian and a Jew, describes his early fascination with the Christian Christmas, and coming to learn all sorts of remarkable things about the development of Christmas, and Santa Claus, as we know them in the United States. The book - not as intriguing - is Nissenbaum's story of that development, and I found it a tad confusing in places, with some generalities that are probably correct but which seem based on slim evidence, some gaps, some contradictory-seeming statements, and some confusing organization. However, there is also a lot of interesting and even surprising information. The second half of the book is much better reading than the first half. Nissenbaum's thesis is, roughly: Christmas used to be a raucous bacchanal with extortion of presents from the upper classes by lower classes - NOT, as we think of it, a day of religious significance and celebration at home, with emphasis on children. The "battle" is between those two concepts. In fact, Christmas, as we know it, is an invented tradition - of relatively recent (19th century) invention. I note that although the author discusses the "Christmas Box" concept in England, he seems unaware of the fact that there is, today, a British holiday (the day after Christmas) called "Boxing Day", which I believe is derived from the tradition he mentions. He doesn't mention the great emphasis placed by the Germans in this country on "yards" or "gardens" around the base of the Christmas tree. Only if you are seriously interested in the (interesting) subject....
Nissenbaum;S.;The Battle for Christmas; Knopf;NY;1996;ISBN: 0-679-41223-9
Snow Wolf;Glenn Meade
In an "Author's Note" at the end of this novel, Meade indicates reasons for thinking that Joseph Stalin was assassinated in 1953, and lists the vague hints that suggest the CIA arranged it. The novel is his version of the possible assassination. Two agents, man and woman, infiltrate Russia to do the job. The background of the agents, the planning, the execution of the plan, the derailment of the plan, the search for the agents by the KGB, etc. are all told in what will seem to the reader to be a very familiar secret- agent thriller. If you like the genre: it is a good yarn, well told, and you have read a lot of very similar ones. Save for the beach.
Meade,G.;Snow Wolf;St. Martins Press;NY;1996;ISBN:0-312-14421-0
Going Crazy in Public;Earl Emerson
Emerson is a firefighter in Seattle. He also writes novels, and has two series going. This one stars a firefighter, Mac Fontana, a widower who lives with his young son, and who is the Fire Chief in a small town - Staircase - just outside of Takoma. The town's mayor (a politically sensitive, supporter-antagonist of Mac) is an interesting hard-nosed woman, Mo Costigan. In this story, there is an arsonist actively setting fires in Staircase, and an arsonist setting fires in Seattle. It is possible they are the same person. We follow Fontana and his quirky crew of volunteers as they trot breathlessly from fire to fire, and as Fontana attempts to discover the local arsonist. His life is complicated by an unpleasant reporter, and by the revelation of the presence of an ex-movie star who vanished from the public eye, and has been living incognito in Staircase with her young son who might be the arsonist. Fontana helps them out, and immediately local gossip and the tabloid press conclude that the star and Fontana are having an affair. It is an entertaining, mystery-type story about interesting (albeit some unusual) characters, in a small-town milieu, with fire-fighting action. I liked the story. The author has another series going, and the only one I have read in that series I did not like [Yellow Dog Party]. I'll stick with Fontana! I read one other in this series, and enjoyed it too. I'll be interested to see if the author can avoid getting trapped in a straight-jacket generated by the small town locale.
Emerson,E.;Going Crazy in Public;William Morrow;NY;1996;ISBN: 0-688-13750-4
Operation SOLO:The FBI's Man in
the Kremlin;John Barron
This is an amazing, spellbinding, true story. From 1958 to 1981, the FBI conducted Operation SOLO, in which they controlled three American agents who were completely trusted by, and friends with, Russian politicians at the highest levels: Morris Childs, Eva Childs (Morris's wife) and Jack Childs, Morris's brother. They had impeccable American Communist Party credentials. Morris was essentially the second man behind Gus Hall in the Party, and Jack was the courier who funneled millions of dollars from the Russians to the American Party - via the FBI! This is the fascinating story of the remarkable trio, and the remarkable information developed by it. It is also the story of a number of equally remarkable, atypical, FBI agents and supervisors who dedicated their careers to Operation SOLO, which was easily one of the tightest held secrets in the espionage business. Morris Childs could *think* like the Russians, so besides collecting what the State Department felt was priceless geopolitical intelligence, he could analyze how the Russians would interpret the information or misinformation they had about the US and China. Much information dealt with the Russian-Chinese split-up (Morris was also a trusted friend of the Chinese leadership), and much of the book is on that subject. It is a tad more than the reader really wants to know on the subject, and can be a bit slow going at times, but it is worth reading through to watch the functioning of these unusual but very real people, and their fears, frights, doubts, and accomplishments. It is also interesting to meet the very different and likeable FBI people, and watch the VERY unusual way in which this operation was managed by the FBI. The small dedicated FBI group essentially made up its own rules, and was allowed to do so, and to make independent decisions, by some un-named high level manager in the FBI headquarters! In fact, given the rules that the FBI functions under, it seems to me that it was the unusual high level protector who was really responsible for the operation's success. Fascinating story, with a good index. NOTE: Bette read the note above - and decided not to read the book. That will teach me to show her the notes AFTER she reads the books!
Barron,J.;Operation SOLO;Regnery;Washington;1996;ISBN: 0-89526-486-2
Murder at the National Gallery;Margaret
Mrs. Daniel has been writing a Washington DC based "Capital Crimes" series, in which this is the thirteenth novel. In this one, a highly respected, top-level member of the National Gallery's curator staff sets out to work an intricate scam dealing with his "discovery", in Italy, of a genuine lost painting by Carravaggio, and with the elaborate preparations for exhibiting the painting at the Gallery. We follow him as he executes it. Annabel Reed-Smith, a friend of the wife of the Vice President and a dealer in pre-Columbian artifacts, weaves through the story as someone working with art detectives and involved with the Carravaggio exhibit as the White House representative. There is a lot of back and forth action in various locales, involving detectives, gallery people, art experts and critics, art forgers, and mafioso in Italy and the USA. As usual, there are many of the Washington "insider" details about restaurants and buildings, but also a great deal about the world of art, both the legitimate world and the underground world of stolen and forged art. Although the pieces are not always put together smoothly, the story is a good tale, on a par with the author's other stories, and is a pleasant mystery for reading at the beach.
Truman,M.;Murder at the National Gallery;Random House;NY;1996;ISBN: 0-679- 43530-1
Spy Flights of the Cold War;Paul
This is a specialty book, but the second half might well be of interest to the more general reader. It is a British book reprinted here. Lashmar (a Brit who seems to have produced a BBC TV documentary on the subject) is primarily concerned with the use of reconnaissance aircraft by the USA and Britain (mostly) to gain electronic intelligence (ELINT) and collect photographic details of Russian and Chinese equipment, installations, and operations. It is concerned only with operations up to 1962. For that period it is encyclopedic - almost too much so for the first half of the book. The second half is less dense and better reading by far. There are lots of pictures, chapter notes, and an index. The latter is good, albeit a tad confused in places. For example, it seems to me that an aircraft (RB 57) is erroneously placed in this time frame via the index whose entries for that aircraft are wrong! The author also examines the business of reconnaissance as part of national foreign policy - approved or rogue; and comes to personal conclusions about the operations and the period that seem quite on-target to me. Any reader will be chilled by the realization that AF General Curtis Le May and his hatchet man, General Thomas Powers, apparently did their best to provoke the Soviets into attacking the USA in order to "...get World War Three concluded now.."); and that Le May felt that no Presidential authorization was needed for Strategic Air Command (SAC) to launch a nuclear strike if, in SAC's opinion alone, the Russians were about to attack! Lashman also very much wants his readers to recognize the tremendous dangers faced by the courageous crews who flew the missions. Some are still missing. The book ends with the development of the satellite photo-reconnaissance program, CORONA. Actually, as I recall, the users called it either the TK program (for TALENT-KEYHOLE, the classified code-name that the ultra covert National Reconnaissance Office supplied for the intelligence product), or the KH program - the satellites were the KH (KEYHOLE) series. He indicates KH was the identifier for the camera. That could be, although I think it referred to the general optical configuration of the satellite.
NOTE:It is certainly true that each of the KH satellites changed in number when the camera model or configuration was changed. The CORONA program (declassified in 1995) included models up to the the KH-4 system. "Big Bird" is said by some (non-participants in the program) to be the name applied to a supposed KH-9 version, which is thought to have been a wide-field system; I think someone's leg is being pulled about the name. Individuals outside the government also think that there was a KH-11, which they believe was a "real time" system - electronic images were transmitted to other satellites, then down to earth (e.g., see Popular Science, April 97)
PERSONAL NOTE: The existence and capabilities of the first generation of photographic reconnaissance satellites came as a great shock to me when I learned of them. I was a specialist in optics, working in the Department of Defense, with a Top Secret clearance, and I knew NOTHING of the program which employed optical technologies that were far beyond what I could ever have dreamed of, let alone knew of. I am not talking of the satellite part - I mean the optics that went into the satellite. The design and specs were totally beyond anything known to the ordinary world of optics specialists. It was the biggest surprise of my entire professional career. Lashmar,P.;Spy Flights of the Cold War;Nav.Inst.Press;Annapolis;1996;ISBN:1-55750-837-2
This is Berger's 20th novel, and the first of his that I have read, although I recognize the titles of some of his others. It is an enjoyable, well told, and a little different police procedural. It does not strive to be suspenseful, nor is it particularly violent or full of action. It is the very interesting story of a seen-it-all older detective - Nick Moody - and his police associates as they work on the problem of a double homicide: the murder of a woman and her child in their home. We watch Moody work the murders, follow him as he has a major problem with his long-time partner, and watch other officers weave in and out of the murder investigation and other crimes; "A policeman's life....". It is also the story of the adult victim's half- brother-in-law, a young man who is a drifter, who has trouble holding a job, and is a suspect in the murders. The tale weaves together the stories of the cop and the drifter, and this reader came to like each of them very much. The somewhat startling, upbeat ending is certainly different, and right. I'll look up other books by Berger. Berger,T.;Suspects;William Morrow;NY;1996;ISBN: 0-688-11925-5e
Land Girls;Angela Huth
During WWII, in England, the government formed the "Women's Land Army", which placed female volunteers on farms in England to replace men who were in the armed services. This gentle, bucolic, occasionally humorous, frequently touching comedy of manners is about three "Land Girls", and the year on a farm in Dorset in 1941-42 that cemented a life-long friendship. Stella is dreaming of Phillip who is in the Navy. Agatha has been attending Cambridge. Prudence is a hair-dresser, man crazy, and a round-heels. The farm is owned by the Lawrences, and their son Joe helps run it. Joe is physically disqualified from service and engaged to Janet, a local girl. Ratty is an elderly employee of the Lawrences. The story is simply about the development of the relationships of these engaging people, the details of hard work on the farm, adjustments of the girls to their new world and the farm people to them, and the daily living with war far away - yet near in many ways. It is a nicely told, entertaining and detailed story of friendship, courage, love and honor, against the background of war. It reminds me very much of the generation- earlier Angela Thirkel's wonderful evocations of wartime in rural England (eg..Growing Up). I liked this rewarding story very much - as did my wife - and not just because we are Anglophiles and of the WWII generation!
Huth,A.;Land Girls;St. Martin's Press;NY;1996;ISBN: 0-312-14296-X
Grave Designs;Michael A. Kahn (PB)
This paperback reprint of a 1988 book was a surprise in several ways - which is why I decided to note it here. I did not realize it was one in the series of non-courtroom mystery stories that the author has been writing about lawyer Rachael Gold. If I had known, I would not have picked it up, because the latest one I read turned me off the series [Grave Ambitions]. First I decided I would not try it, then noted that it was certainly an early one in the series, and since early ones were good, perhaps this would be good. And I found it really IS good! Then, as I read, I had a vague feeling that I had read it before. When I finished, I decided that I probably had read it, perhaps in 1988 -- but had forgot almost everything about it! I think it was then, for the first time, that I realized that indeed I probably forget a large number of average tales, many of them series ones. The impressive ones I seem to retain (I hope). Well, this is a good tale that involves many elements that I like, and it is told well - but I forgot it anyway! Maybe nine years did it. As to the story: Gold is retained by a law firm to find out what one of their senior partners - who never had a pet - buried in a pet cemetery; a burial for which he left a legally annoying trust. Before she can find out, the grave is dug up and the contents removed. Gold continues checking, and gradually determines that the partner had been running, as a hobby, a VERY strange secret operation that seems to have had origins in the past, in the Colonial age, and that in fact he left clues that would lead people to uncover the operation. Good story telling, nice detective work, interestingly different - and pretty outlandish - basic mystery, and witty writing. How sad that the author began injecting unpleasant - even nasty - material in the later stories. This is a good one. I may even remember it.
Kahn,M.A.;Grave Designs;Penguin;NY;1992; No ISBN
The Triggerman's Dance;T. Jefferson
Parker If you read to page
22 of this powerful, spellbinding thriller you will most probably read
all of it. It is the story of two men who loved the same woman, a woman
who was gunned down in a parking lot - by mistake. One is her fiancé,
an FBI agent, who identifies the man who arranged the killing and sets
out with his female partner to get evidence and revenge. The other is a
journalist, the victim's lover, whom the FBI agent knows of and draws into
the plan to get the murderer. The person responsible for the murder is
a legendary ex-FBI agent, who is wealthy and head of a large, successful,
private security organization. He and his daughter live in an almost-fortified
enclosure, and the plan is to have the journalist go undercover and infiltrate
the grounds and the operation by befriending the owner - in order to get
evidence. The story is of the darkness of revenge, of strong emotions like
love and hate and fear, and of tragedy - in the classical sense. The characters
are well portrayed and complex indeed. For instance: the ex-FBI murderer
is actually one with whom some readers may find considerably empathy at
times! It is a taut, suspenseful, gripping story, anguishing in places,
but with salvation and some hope at the end; NOT your run-of-the-mill thriller.
Impressive novel. Parker,T.J.;The Triggerman's Dance;Hyperion;NY;1996;ISBN:
The Queen's Man:A Medieval Mystery; Sharon K. Penman
The title lays it out. It is 1192 AD in England, and Justin de Quincy, bastard son of the Bishop of Chester, accepts, from a dying man, a letter to be delivered to the Queen of England - Eleanor of Acquitaine. He delivers it, becomes the Queen's man, and is charged by her to unravel the mystery of the killing of the letter bearer. The letter provided the first news that the missing Richard (Lionheart) is still alive - and Eleanor feels it is crucial to know who was aware of the fact that a message was being carried. The author, who has a number of historical novels to her credit, tries a mystery tale this time, and creates a good picture of the life of that medieval time, although, somehow, that world does not realistically engage the reader - at least not this one. I contrasted it with the similar world so vividly evoked in the reader's perception by Burgess's powerful:A Dead Man in Deptford. This tale is similar to a lot of other medieval adventure or mystery stories, so the reader will have the strong feeling of having been this way before. Given those things, it is a pleasant read. The characters are interesting and likeable, there are occasional unexpected twists, and indeed the mystery has more of a slightly different pitch at the end than this reader expected. I might note that Bette started it but decided not to read it - she said that, at the moment, the time was too long ago for her to get interested.
Penman,S.K.;The Queen's Man;Henry Holt;NY;1996;ISBN: 0-8050-3885-X
An interesting mystery-suspense story revolving around the seamy side of New York in 1871. A prostitute is found murdered in a warehouse. She is wearing clothes that belonged to the missing wife of a wealthy lawyer. The lawyer wants to find his wife, who left him, and hires a law firm to do so by finding out how the victim got the clothes. They in turn hire Harp to do the job. Harp is a man who has valuable contacts, usually people who owe him, everywhere - high and low - in the shady worlds of Victorian New York, and we follow him through almost every corner of the city as he visits all his contacts, trying to locate the missing woman, and to find out who murdered the prostitute and two others who might have provided leads to the killer. A subplot involves Harp's love for a young widow who doesnt know that Harp killed her husband in the Civil War! The story is a pretty good mystery, but I think the real purpose of the book is to take you on a very detailed tour of the down-to-earth world of New York of that time. The author did a *lot* of reading about the people and environment of that period in the city! As in another mystery laid in the same locale,The Alienist, the city sounds right, looks right, and smells right. It is the real "hero" of the story. Many of the characters, including Harp, a tough guy with a heart of gold, don't quite become three dimensional, and take second place to the city. Still, the story is a reasonably good. I enjoyed it. Christilian,J.D.;Scarlet Women;Penguin;NY;1996;ISBN: 1-55611-475-3
the Apprentice; Lewis Libby
A remarkable first novel. The story is laid in the far north mountains of Japan in 1903. The time is winter. The locale is a mountain inn. When the tale begins there is a blizzard underway - ultimately the snow buries the inn up to the roof. There are quite a few travellers stranded at the inn, and as the story opens, four more arrive - an unusual theatrical troupe, one of whom (Yukiko) is a young woman with whom the Apprentice is instantly smitten. He is an apprentice inn-keeper, a young man from a distant village, and inexperienced with women. The arrival of another traveller, who unexpectedly bolts back into the blizzard just after he gets into the inn, begins a series of events that constitute this unusual tale of suspense, which is also one of greed, violence, eroticism, and love. The storytelling centers on the thoughts, feelings, and actions of the young man. The milieu is alien to the reader; there is a brooding atmosphere, almost a dream quality about some of the scenes, and a current of mystery and some mysticism. The result is compelling. The author, who is not Japanese, has managed to create a vivid vignette of a tight little bit of northern Japan at the turn of the century when there were problems with China and Russia. The ending is ambiguous - just right for the tone of the tale. Very nice piece of work indeed. NOTES: The hard-back cover illustration is, I think, a striking one that is wonderfully appropriate to the story in conveying a sense of mystery and mood. I was a tad amused to find that the tenth word in the front-of-the-book Acknowledgements is misspelled and that, in the next sentence, the author thanks his wife for being a superb editor......
Libby,L.;the Apprentice;Graywolf Press;St. Paul;1996;ISBN: 1-55597-245-4
Chestnut Mare, Beware; Jody Jaffe
This is the second mystery novel told in the first person by red- headed, Jewish, Natalie Gold, from New Jersey, who is a fashion and feature reporter for a Charlotte SC, paper, and a horse owner who participates in horse shows. The first novel was the very good Horse of a Different Killer, which I thoroughly enjoyed. This is another very likeable, well-told mystery. Nattie, juggling assignments from her demanding editor and her own interests, starts to look into the accidental death of a woman who was thrown from a horse. The woman's mother feels it was really murder. Nattie's fellow employee, investigative reporter Henry Goode, is looking into death threats against a list of well-known people. They join forces, and spend a lot of time in the Virginia hunt area working the problems. It is a nicely paced story, with interesting characterization, funny perceptive side remarks; and a insider's depiction of the world of horses, riders - both wealthy and non wealthy, Virginia hunt territory and culture, and newspapers. The death-threat problem ends abruptly and limply insofar as the plot is concerned - it is a sidebar to the other unrelated mystery, but it allows the author to move her heroine through a variety of interesting experiences. Nattie is a complex, witty, perceptive, clear-eyed observer, and the story is a lot of fun. She comes from a remarkably dysfunctional family - her father is a real kook - and she had a lot unhappy growing-up experiences, but has survived them very well. I am growing fond of Ms Gold and her friends. According to the jacket, the author is, like her character, a newspaper woman who has been showing horses for many years - so the background should be authentic.There is nothing of the author's growing-up experiences!
Jaffe,J.;Chestnut Mare, Beware;Ballantine;NY;1996;ISBN: 0-449-90998-0
Northwest Epic:The Building of the Alaska
Colonel Heath Twichell Sr., father of the author, was involved in the construction, during WWII, of the 1500 mile gravel road that the GIs called the ALCAN highway. He decided to write a book about his experience. He did not finish it. His son, also an Army officer, decided to write the whole story of the construction in which his father played a part, and this is his dense history of the frantic, war-driven project. It is very interesting reading, but not always LIGHT reading. I skimmed over much of the detailed discussion of the several possible routes and the explorations associated with them. The story becomes more readable and interesting by about page 120, when construction gets underway. The author does a good job of portraying the almost unbelievable working conditions and construction problems, the ghastly logistics, the confused relations of the Army with the Public Roads Administration, the political problems, the varying degrees of stupid leadership and brilliant leadership, and the importance of the black engineer battalions. The latter were unwanted in battle, so they were shipped to Alaska. Their story needed to be told, and the author tells it well. The book is a complicated, detailed, interesting story of a truly remarkable engineering achievement - that perhaps never should have been started - and of the interesting men who carried it out. It should be noted that although it was the Army that hammered the road through, it was the Public Roads Administration that had the job of "finishing" it. One part of the Army effort was later investigated by Harry Truman's Senate Special Committee, which found that the Army - or rather Major General Brehon Sommeville - made a very poor (and costly) decision to open an oil field (the CANOL project) near the highway. That ultimately stopped Sommerville's Army advancement, and helped Truman's growing reputation for savvy investigation of government mismanagement. This is a solid, authoritative, scholarly book, with a good index, copious endnotes, and a good bibliography that includes primary sources.
Twichell,H.;Northwest Epic;St.Martins Press;NY;1992;ISBN: 0-312-07754-8
Cross Creek;Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
I found this wonderful old book on a shelf in the library of a church. It is a lovely 1942 publication of a 1933 book by an author best known for her prize winning novel: The Yearling. This edition is beautifully "decorated" by illustrator Edward Shenton. The book is autobiographical, and, in beautiful story telling, the author describes her life in a small, remote, Florida hamlet - in Yearling country. It is a touching account of the people, the locale, the environment, the interactions of the inhabitants, and the way of life in this small agricultural area that housed whites and blacks. The author loved the area, and her loving descriptions of the land, the marshes, the plants, the animals, the birds, the oscillation of the seasons, the orange groves, and all other parts of the partially wild surround are vivid and attention holding. Her descriptions of her neighbors, their problems, their joys and sorrows, and their philosophies are keen and understanding, and reveal much about the likeable author - a strong, determined, resilient woman. She loved cooking, and in an intriguing chapter discusses recipes for quite unusual main dishes - by northern tastes at least! It is a fascinating book. Much of it has to do with interactions between her and her "colored" friends and help, and the modern reader will be well aware that she is watching a Southern scene through the eyes of a white woman in the nineteen thirties. A compassionate, understanding white woman who liked, and was close friends with the "Negroes," but I think suspected that she could never fully understand them - nor they her. It is possible that some readers of these notes will not know of Rawlings. Believe me: it is worth learning of her, so do read this wonderful book; and then read The Yearling. Both are still in libraries. In fact, I was quite surprised to find that my local library has THIS edition of Cross Creek on the shelf! My wife finds it enthralling - she keeps reading aloud to me parts of the book - which of course I have already read! NOTE: To my great surprise I found - and bought - a lovely copy of this edition (a first) on sale in a small second-hand book store in Anacortes, WA. The owner proudly showed me a pristine copy of The Yearling (NOT a first edition). I asked him if it was for sale, he said "No"! Rawlings,M.K.;Cross Creek;Charles Scribner & Sons;NY;1942
Epidemic and Its Causes; James Gilligan,MD
Dr. Gilligan is a psychiatrist, a believer in psychoanalysis, and a man of impeccable credentials for the discussion of this subject. He has worked clinically with violent men for over 25 years. The book is an intensely interesting one, with notes, and a good index. It is the author's attempt to create a theory of violence, and he does so. In his opinion, violence is the result of "shame." That means (roughly) that the perpetrator feels he is markedly dependent on others and must conceal it, or that he feels totally insecure and can't tolerate "disrespect." He initially observes that child abuse seems to play a major role in violent offenders, then seems to drop the subject. There are other considerations too - I can't reproduce them all here. The author argues from personal examples, world history, and myth for the validity of his feeling of what leads to the feeling of shame. The causes he sees are poverty, stratification of society, our culture of "manhood", discrimination against women and blacks, legal punishment, poor prison conditions, and a host of similar things. I note that most of the references to studies that he cites to support his arguments are from the late sixties to the early eighties.The book is uneven in tone. He is calm and rational and persuasive in places, especially in the early pages. The logic is clear, the argument detailed. Then there are places where he becomes dogmatic, polemical, and almost shrill (borderline paranoid?) about his opinions. He despises the concept of punishing offenders, and despises the current prison system, which he sees as a punishing system that furthers the feelings of inadequacy and shame that brought the offenders there in the first place. Although he faintly agrees with the concept that there are indeed sociopaths who need to be "quarantined", he seems to try to argue from a series of case histories that these are rare. There is some strange sense of discontinuity. He sees the whole cultural economic system as fostering violence, and argues that it is to the advantage of the rich to maintain that system, and that in fact that is what they are doing. A conspiracy! He indicates that societal reform is the only way to prevent violence -- and provides absolutely no suggestions of how this might be done or even if it can be done. Worse - he believes that at least one thing that has happened - improving the lot of the poor - has only made things worse! I must note however, in fairness, that the man did not write the book to provide solutions. He is attempting to develop a THEORY. He is a passionate believer, and a good writer, and in fact his theory of the source of violence is somewhat persuasive (if a little diffuse), and his argument that the legal system is not capable of understanding or handling the situation seems to me to be right. But the book, although very interesting and worth reading, is not satisfactory to me, and also seems to me to imply that regardless of any theory, the problem is unsolvable, and will get worse, given the culture that we live in; a culture that cannot be changed - I fear. Gilligan,J.;Violence;G.P.Putnam;NY;1996;ISBN: 0-399-13979-6
The Ladies of Missalonghi;Colleen
I have read no other books by this author, but I had read this one. I do not know why I decided, several years ago, to read this ten year old ROMANCE - a genre that I generally avoid, except for the ones I bring home for Bette. I came across it again, and decided to re-read it. I again found it absolutely delightful, despite a feeling that the whole thing is probably a compilation of standard generic ROMANCE bits. It is also a fantasy, although that will escape the reader for a while. It is laid in turn-of-the-century Australia, in a town called Missalonghi. It is the story of Missy, an unprepossessing young woman who lives in genteel poverty with her mother and aunt. They are blood relatives of the socially prominent and financially well- off, greedy family that controls the town - but they don't share the family's wealth. Missy has only one friend, Una, a lively vivacious relative of another of her aunts, and presumably a woman with a suspect past. Una arrived suddenly in town, and the aunt NEVER mentions her. Una helps stir Missy to some degree of rebellion both against the wealthy part of the family and her own condition, and that ultimately brings her to propose marriage to a stranger who appears in town. With one possible exception, I suspect the story is formulaic, and it is generally a pretty simple one I suppose, but I thoroughly enjoyed it again, happy surprise ending and all.
McCullough,C.; The Ladies of Missalonghi;Avon;NY;1987;ISBN: 0-380-70458-7
The Bean Trees;Barbara Kingsolver
This was Kingsolver's first novel; I read it after reading Pigs in Heaven, which is a sequel. (I have re-arranged its position in these notes). In it we meet Taylor Greer, born in Kentucky, and off on her own in a beat-up Volkswagon "Bug". It breaks down in Oklahoma, in Cherokee country. After it is fixed, just before she leaves, she is GIVEN an Indian child, whose mother is dead, by the child's aunt. The child is bruised, and has probably been sexually abused, and does not talk. Taylor accepts the child, whom she believes to be about 18 months old, and whom she names "Turtle" - because of the child's tenacious grip on people and things - and the story is of her life with Turtle. Her car gives out in Tucson, so that is where they stay. Taylor gets a job in a car shop owned by Mattie, and she and Turtle move in to share a house with Lou Ann Ruiz, whose husband has left her and their baby. A physician who examines Turtle, finds Turtle was hurt more than appears - x- rays show she had compound fractures of the arms - and that she is in fact nearly three years old. Mattie is deeply involved in providing sanctuary for refugees from Guatemala and Ecuador, and Taylor meets two who are to play a key role in her life, and Turtle's. The story is about people, relationships, and love. Turtle, well loved, begins to learn to talk by learning the names of plants from a Burpee's catalog! The "bean trees" (as Turtle calls them) are in fact wisteria, and Kingsolver (via Taylor's perception) presents a wonderful metaphoric analogy between the situation in the novel and the role that rhizobia can play in fertilizing the wisteria plant. In truth, the whole book is warmly and touchingly perceptive. The characters are real, and the story draws the reader powerfully into their lives. And I learned for sure why rain "smells" in the desert - a truly striking phenomenon I first encountered about 50 years ago, and which I guessed at, but which no one ever explained to me!
Kingsolver,B.;The Bean Trees;Harper Collins;NY;1992;ISBN: 0-06-091554-4
Pigs in Heaven;Barbara Kingsolver
The Bean Trees marked the appearance of "Turtle" Greer,a Cherokee child who was abused as an infant, and was given away as a bruised and battered, untalking, two and a half year old by her drunken aunt to unmarried, white, Taylor Greer, at a truckstop. Taylor adopted the child. Turtle is now six, and talking, and as the story opens, she and her mother are visiting Hoover Dam. Turtle sees a young man fall into a deep hole in the spillway, and as she and her mother are driving away, she tells Taylor. They turn around, and have a very hard time convincing anyone that the child is telling the truth. When a rescue team finally pulls out the man, it is a TV spectacular, and Turtle and Taylor are on, coast to coast. Taylor tells the world that Turtle is Cherokee, and her adopted child. And the main story begins; because a female Cherokee attorney is watching the show, and knows that the adoption is illegal - by US law - and sets out to see that the child is returned to the Cherokee Nation - as the law requires. The story is structured around the attempts by Annawake Fourkiller to have the child returned to the Cherokees, and the attempts by Taylor Greer to keep her daughter. But the story is really about the key individuals: Turtle, Taylor, Taylor's mother - Alice, Taylor's lover - Jax, Annawake, and Cash Stillwater - Turtle's Cherokee "Pop Pop" (grandfather); and it is about the culture of the Cherokees; and it is about love, in its many ramifications, and the role of love and compassion in the development of life. It is beautifully told. There are several severely contrived coincidences (a character describes one as a "miracle"), but the characters are believable, and wonderfully developed. The story is heart- wrenching in spots, heart warming in many spots, funny in spots, wise in many spots, and keenly perceptive. It is a truly wonderful, bighearted, unforgettable novel with a satisfactory bitter-sweet ending. Kingsolver, whom I had not read before reading this, is a gifted storyteller. Oh yes: the pigs in heaven are the Pleiades; but Cherokees see six pigs, not seven sisters!
Kingsolver,B.;Pigs in Heaven;HarperCollins;NY;1993;ISBN: 0-06-016801-3
Fire in the Brain:Clinical Tales of Hallucination;Ronald
I bought this book in a neat second hand book store in Anacortes, on Fidalgo Island, in Puget Sound. I was familiar with the book - a good one - and couldn't pass up an inexpensive copy. Siegal is a Ph.D. psychologist who appears to be recognized as an authority on the subject of hallucination, and has written here a spell-binding account of some case histories of hallucinating people - including himself. He is a superb story teller - with a wry sense of humor. Both the style and the contents remind me vividly of Lindner's 1960-or-so book about psychoanalysis: The Fifty Minute Hour. I have had one startling visual hallucination produced by sleep deprivation, so the subject is particularly interesting to me. The cases discussed in this book vary widely. Some are drug induced; Siegal did a long series of studies with volunteer drug users (Psychonauts he calls them!) and has puffed a few tokes himself. Others relate to imaginary childhood companions, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, physical pain, etc. I found three of them distressing but fascinating. The others were just plain fascinating. I am slightly doubtful that one of the author's vividly described hallucinations ever really happened to HIM. It is practically a text-book account of the famous (or infamous) "hag" experience on awakening from sleep. However, it is spellbinding - no pun intended! If you like material related to the brain and perception - for example the tales of Oliver Sacks - be sure to delve into this. The brain continues to be more complicated than even the professionals can imagine. Siegal,R.K.;Fire in the Brain;Penguin;NY;1992;ISBN: 0-525-93408-1
The Jump-Off Creek;Molly Gloss
This eight year old book was recommended by a reader of these notes, but I could not locate a copy. Then I found a copy in the home of other readers - a home in which my wife and I were house-sitting. The time in the novel is a little more than a hundred years ago. The location is Oregon, in the Blue Mountains. Lydia Sanderson, a widow with no money, accustomed to hard work and intent on having her own farm, has purchased a neglected, dilapidated ranchplace along Jump-Off Creek, and as the story opens she arrives in the area. The story recounts nine months of Lydia's backbreaking efforts to upgrade her holdings, and her interactions with neighboring rancher Tim Whiteaker and his Indian partner, Blue. It also, in a parallel structure, recounts the doings of Tim and Blue in a developing feud with some local wolf- hunters. The author's intent is to portray the dogged courage and endurance of a solitary pioneer woman, and the nature of life in the area, and she does it wonderfully well. The tough environment and the daunting problems of the locale and the times are unfolded in terse, almost lyrical prose. It is a marvelous portrayal of spirited courage, determination, and dogged hard work under difficult, hard-scrabble conditions. The author has read many published and unpublished journals of pioneer women, and has distilled this story from them. The deftly portrayed three main characters, especially Lydia, are ones the reader comes to really know - and root for. For all the hardships, the story is an encouraging one not a grim one. It is a nice piece of work; one I never would have found on my own.
Gloss,M.;The Jump-Off Creek;Houghton Mifflin;Boston;1989;ISBN: 0-395-51086-4
False Accusations;Andrew Vachss
Although I read all of the books that Vachss writes, I rarely note them here. They are not for everyone. This one is a tad different. The protagonist is again Burke, the ex-con who operates on the wrong side of the law in his various cons and thefts, and who hates child molesters, whom he kills off at times. Here he is hired by an attorney to make absolutely sure that a young female client is telling the truth about being molested, sexually, as a child by an official of a fundamentalist-type religious group. Compared to others in the series, there is less violence in this book, a lot more philosophy and introspection, and a great deal about aspects of the false memory syndrome. One aspect of the latter is dealt with in clinical detail over a number of pages - psychological and physiological cues about recollections of past events. It is actually pretty interesting - technically. As always in these novels, the apparent situation is not exactly what either Burke or the reader expects. The problem of real vs imaginary recollections of childhood sexual abuse is very interestingly explored. Burke's very unusual friends are again involved, although not very deeply. In a passionate AFTERWORD, Vachss, who is an attorney specializing in representing mistreated children, discusses an organization that is carrying out research on the subject of abused children. In the novel, that group in Huston, and its director, are featured as part of the plot; they provide the clinical environment mentioned above. For the casual reader: these stories tend to be dark, grim, hard boiled, unpleasant in spots, and often feature vigilante justice. I like them, regardless.
Vachss,A,;False Accusations;Knopf;NY;1996;ISBN: 0-679-45109-9
Houseboat on the Seine:A Memoir;William
I had not planned to write a note about this book, which I did not like, and did not read all the way through. Wharton, an artist, has lived for years with his wife and family on a houseboat on the Seine, near Paris, and tells in this book of how the idea arose, and of his horrendous efforts to make it happen. I found it an unrelieved litany of the occurrence of EVERY single thing that could possibly go wrong with his proposed home, and of his unending, day after day, travails. Murphy's law in spades! I found it utterly depressing, and gave up. The guy had to be a nut, I decided. In a later bit that I looked at, it is explained that the ghastly experience changed his whole life in a positive way, and I am glad for him - nut though he is. BUT the vicarious reading experience showed no sign of changing ME for the better, so I quit, and decided to forget the thing. Why the note then? Because my wife read the book and found it delightful and charming entertainment! This is easily the greatest discrepancy (in book viewpoints at least) between us that I have encountered, so it is worth a note. The book by itself is not (I think....).
Wharton,W.;Houseboat on the Seine;Newmarket Prss;NY;ISBN: 1-55704-272-1
Children Just Like Me;Barnabus
and Anabel Kindersley
Karen and Paul, who have multiple young grandchildren who come to visit, had a copy of this and showed it to us. We immediately went to a bookstore and bought a copy to give to our newest granddaughter on her fifth birthday. It is a genuinely fascinating book, and I suspect that children - perhaps 5 to 15 - may find it as interesting - and educational - as adults will. The book, produced in association with the United Nations Children Fund, is an oversize, slick-paper volume that provides photographs and information about 36 children and their families and their environment. The children are from all parts of the world, large and small countries. Botswana is one. Years ago, when we lived in England, my wife got to know the bride-to-be of the Paramount Chief of Botswana, so that page was of particular interest. Each child has one or two pages. A two page spread may have about 20 color photos. The text describes briefly, but adequately, the child, the family, the locale, living conditions, play conditions, eating, schooling, and almost anything that the reader might be interested in - including how to pronounce the child's first name. There are also quotations from the child. I was taken this book. I hope Leah will be captured by it too.
Kindersley,B.&A.;Children Just Like Me;DK Publishing;NY;1995;ISBN: 0-7894- 0201-7
Hornet's Nest;Patricia Cornwell
When, in Cornwell's stories about Medical Examiner Kay Scarpa, an elusive serial killer became a key part of the stories, I quit reading her yarns. Wondering if the elusive killer was about to be caught, I picked up this book, only to discover that it was not about Dr. Scarpa. In this fast- cutting, episodic novel, Cornwell has written (well) a detailed, different, street-cop-procedural with lots of arcane technical and professional terminology , but with a few twists as well: there is the obligatory young reporter, Andy Brazil, but the cop who has to take him as a ride-along is Virginia West, an impressive Deputy Chief of Police (Investigations) in Charlotte, NC; and Judy Hammer, the Chief of Police, is another very impressive officer. In fact, the Police Department seems almost completely female controlled - an interesting but somewhat unbelievable situation. The story intersperses beat-cop action bits of time and crime on the street with personal vignettes of the three main characters (poignant in spots), and views of the political and PR problems of the police. Cornwell works at making the situation(s) and the characters different, and creates good scenes, several of good dark comedy. The Deputy Chief has what comes across as a reincarnated cat that is occasionally anthropomorphic, and the Almighty makes a brief guest appearance. There is one hilariously delightful courtroom scene. The author has created two strong, competent, high-level, female officers, and an interesting young reporter. It is a good yarn although only Judy Hammer,the Chief of Police, finally developed for me as a really believable character. The other two are very likeable and well developed, but not quite as convincing. The story has serial killing -- I had hoped to avoid such stories (which usually involve the reader with the twisted mind of the killer as HE (HE usually, but in this story an IT, a "sh'im") dispatches innocent victims in a gory fashion), but I read this anyway, and that part was not as I feared.
Cornwell,P.;Hornet's Nest;G.P.Putnam's;NY;1996;ISBN 0-399-14228-2
The Rainmaker;John Grisham
Sometime back I decided to quit reading "lawyer" stories - they were all written by lawyers, and starred lawyers who always won their cases via wonderful courtroom maneuvering. They all seemed the same. I put Grisham's works in that category. In a local on-line book forum, a reader posted favorable comments about this book; interesting enough to persuade me to read it. It is, in fact, an almost stereotypical "lawyer" story, although in this one we meet the first person narrator when he is still in law school, in Mississippi, where the story takes place. We then follow him as he loses a job that he had been offered, goes into a marginal - at best - practice with a strange "partner," takes on a giant insurance company and a firm of high- powered attorneys on behalf of a poor family whose son is dying of leukemia, and goes to trial with the case, and falls in love with a woman whose husband beats her. In the end, he "loses everything but his principles" (to quote the reviewer I mentioned) although he does get the woman in a somewhat jarring sidebar). It is good story telling, and a cracker-jack David vs Goliath contest (although the "the good guy wins in court" is VASTLY helped by the author simply providing the attorney with a judge who is actively on his side!). It is a dandy story, I'm glad I read it, - but I can't get past my prejudices. So I will still avoid lawyer stories!
Grisham,J.;The Rainmaker;Dell;NY;1995;ISBN 0-440-22165-X
Under the Black Flag:The Romance and
the Reality of Life Among the Pirates; David Cordingly
A nice piece of work that combines secondary source material from many detailed books written on the subject, with material from primary sources as well. Cordingly (an Englishman who has an interesting background in creating museum exhibits) tells us of the well known and lesser known pirates - including females, their misdeeds and cruelty, their pursuit, capture, and execution. Included is material about the romantic perception we have - generally - about pirates, and the role of literature and the movies in establishing this perception. There is even a fascinating discussion of the role of parrots in that world! There are discussions of the sea-going vessels of the time, the life of the sailor, and the activities of the Royal Navy. It is an interesting book that has some surprising facts, adequate notes, an adequate index, and several interesting appendices. One of the latter shows that the Royal Navy had only about twenty ships at sea during years around 1715; I was surprised. There is a reasonable and helpful glossary of nautical terms. In short: although there are more concentrated focused histories, if this subject is to your general interest you will not find a better summary of the actual and the imaginary world of pirates. I was surprised to find that a great deal of piracy is alive and well in the world today. I was not surprised to find that pirates haven't changed. Piracy is armed robbery at sea - still committed by ferocious, bloodthirsty thugs. LATER NOTE: The Washington Post OUTLOOK, June 22, 1997, has an interesting article on modern piracy. In 1996 there were 224 reported cases, many of them savage attacks. There is now an international organization designed to help deal with the growing problem.
Cordingly,D.;Under the Black Flag;Random House;NY;1995;ISBN 0-679-42560-8
A Little Yellow Dog;Walter Mosley
This is about the fifth novel-in-the-past that Mosley has written about Ezekial (Easy) Rawlins, a black, smart, street-smart, off-beat protagonist who gets involved in mysteries and emotional complications as he grows and develops over the years,and tells us of them in the first person. It is now 1963. Easy is off the streets. He is the head janitor at a junior high school in Watts, in Los Angeles, and taking care of two children at home. The story starts with Easy encountering, at the school, a teacher who leaves with him the dog of the title (who thoroughly hates Easy) and vanishes, leaving behind a dead husband too. The husband's brother also turns up dead. There are thefts from the school and other schools, and the cops are convinced that Easy is tied into all the crimes (he's not) - but can't nail him. Heroin smuggling enters the story, as well as organized crime. Mosley integrates all this into a tightly woven, nicely paced, narrative. Besides encountering a good mystery, the reader gets some views of the environment of blacks in the white culture of LA in the early sixties, and the social conditions and problems of the times. It a gripping, well told story, that left this white reader (who is the same age as Easy!) with the prickly uneasiness that he has experienced with other of the Rawlins' stories about a black man's survival in the world of whites; the author immerses the reader in Easy's consciousness. Readers familiar with Easy will be interested to know that "Mouse" - Easy's scary gangster friend - is killed in this story.
NOTE: Mosley has just published a small novel entitled Gone Fishin', which is narrated by Easy when he is a teenager, prior to WWII. It is a gritty story of a brief important period in Easy's formative years, when he returns with Mouse to the backwoods where Mouse grew up.
Mosley,W.;A Little Yellow Dog;W.W.Morton;NY;1996;ISBN 0-393-03924-2
Lord of Light;Roger Zelazny
This HUGO award winning book was written thirty years ago. I read it then, and bought a copy ten years later. I just re-read it, and decided I really should note it here. It is, I believe, the very best tale that Zelazny has ever told. The location is a planet that was colonized many generations ago by people from Earth who arrived in the spaceship "Star of India". Two castes have developed: the members of the ship's crew, with access to technology, and with the successful development of paranormal and mutant powers, have developed into the Gods, which are in fact modeled and named after the classical Hindu divinities. They control the technique of transferring a person's mind and individuality into another (artificially grown) body, and are thus essentially immortal. Other individuals, who meet the Gods' criteria, may be transferred into a new body and accepted into HEAVEN - the abode of the Gods - as demi-gods, potential Gods. The other caste has developed from the passengers, whose descendents are now the worshippers of the Gods. Things like machines, toilets, bicycles, eyeglasses etc. are forbidden - the introduction of such things is called Accelerationism, and is stamped out. Enter Sam - one of the "First", who, as one of the original crew, developed significant paranormal powers but did not become one of the pantheon of Gods. He decides to foster Accelerationism and break up the self- perpetuating rule of HEAVEN. The story is that of the strategy and tactics in battle(s) between Sam and his allies, and the Gods. In one epoch, Sam gradually introduces the ancient Earth religion of Buddhism by taking the part of Gautama Siddharta. It is a complicated, re-entrant story, involving several periods in Sam's lives (and deaths), and one needs to be careful in keeping track of the particular epoch involved. But it is a beautiful exercise in imagination and writing, and is, in fact, very thought provoking in a number of spots. It is one of my all-time favorites in the Science Fiction genre.
Zelazny,R.;Lord of Light;Avon;1976;NY;
The Bone Collector;Jeffery Deaver
Reading this fascinating, chilling, technical, suspenseful, repulsive, tricky and scary book was a remarkable emotional experience for me. First, I had no intention of reading it through after I discovered that it involved ghastly serial killings. However, I was interested in the VERY unique detective created by the author, and thought I'd read a bit about his modus operandi (as we crime buffs say). In addition, the book is FULL of of irritating, detailed minutiae about high-tech equipment and analysis of forensic evidence, and I was interested (in a negative way) to see how much of the stuff the author could cram into the first hundred pages before I got sick of it. I would CLEARLY stop at page 100. I couldn't. It was a roller coaster ride: I didn't really want to read the damned thing, and I could not stop! I truly stayed up past bedtime to finish it. I ended up half sorry that I had read it, somewhat angry that I had read it, and totally fascinated by the story - which is tricky to the very end. It will appeal - I think - to perhaps only a small number of suspense-story enthusiasts. It is certainly a very different police procedural, involving the third vastly unusual fictional detective that I have encountered in the last five years. He is a far better detective than Mycroft Holmes, who, it will be remembered, is the brother of Sherlock Holmes and is far better at inductive and deductive reasoning than Sherlock! And this author's detective, like Mycroft, never goes out (well, hardly ever). It is the detailed high-tech story of the tracking of an insane, fiendish, expert, police-baiting, New York serial killer by a top-priority task group headed by Lincoln Rhyme, a world famous criminalist and specialist in forensic evidence, now retired from his high level position in the NY police department. The basic plot and structure are thus like those in very many other novels, but it a very different tale. It also has some morbidly fascinating involvement with assisted suicide. Not pleasant, but remarkable indeed. I am happily sorry that I read it. Sheez....
Deaver,J.;The Bone Collector;Penguin;NY;1997;ISBN 0-670-86871-X
Corelli's Mandolin;Louis De Bernières
What to say about this concentrated, emotional, witty, heartbreaking, exciting, sometimes bitter, occasionally funny, beautifully written story of love, hope, courage and honor in a village on a Greek island, Cephallonia, during - and after - World War II? Antonio Corelli is a mandolin player who is also a Captain in the Italian army sent to occupy the island - along with Germans - after the Greeks were defeated by the Germans. He is billeted in the home of Dr. Iannis and his daughter, Pelagia. Pelagia is betrothed to a young man who went off to fight the war. The structure of the novel is not one I care for: there are 73 chapters, and the voices and tenses change. Some are first person, some are third person; but the structure works well when the reader gets used to it; it is somewhat jerky at the start. Through the voices we meet the various participants in this story - Greeks, Italians, Germans, and British. They (almost) all revolve around the village, and the story revolves around Pelagia's life and her two loves. The ending seems somewhat hasty, and is bitter-sweet. The history is absolutely authentic, and flat, harsh portrayals of the Germans, the British, and the Greek Communists are entirely correct. I started to write down some of the sarcastic and sardonic witticisms in the book, and some of the beautiful turns of phrase and incisive perceptions, and finally gave up; there are too many. It is a gem of writing. The last WWII novel that touched me so was A Bell For Adano, and that was a LONG time ago. It evokes strong emotions. I was again bitterly angry at the Germans whom I have thoroughly disliked (after hating) for many years. I thought I had forgot the WWII anger - but the (half)Irish have long memories it seems. The story is exactly as things were in many places in Europe at the time, but the wonderfully developed people in this place come to be very close to the reader; wait till you get to know Dr. Iannis. A beautifully written and developed story that I would never have read except for a another book lover who recommended it. Thanks Karen! NOTE:Bette was turned off by the structure and the first several chapters; she decided she did not want to read any further. It DOES call for some initial persistence.
De Bernières,L.;Corelli's Mandolin;Pantheon;NY;1994;ISBN 0-679-43644-8
Buffalo Soldiers;Tom Willard
This is the seventeenth book by Willard, who was a soldier, and I suspect a warrior. This novel is about Agustus Sharps, a soldier and definitely a warrior. Sharps was a black, 18 year old, dead-shot, illegal slave of a buffalo hunter, when, in 1869, he was saved from a stampede by two soldiers of the Tenth Cavalry, which consisted of Colored troops: Buffalo Soldiers. The name came from the Cheyenne, who thought the Colored troops' curly hair looked like buffalo fur. Sharps is talked into enlisting in the Tenth, and the rest of the book is about his life in the army, and later out of it. Willard wants the reader to know what the Colored troops were like, what life in the army was like for them and their families, and the discrimination they encountered in and out of the army. Willard also wants to get across some of the history of black troops in the army. He conscientiously accomplishes all these things. The result is an interesting book with what seems (despite the author's experience) a slightly amateurish feel, is somewhat polemic in spots, and provides snapshots of various periods in Sharp's life from 1869 to 1917 - a rather long period. However each of the episodes is interesting, often exciting, always informative, and sometimes distressing. Willard provides Sharps with an unusual, interesting, feisty wife and deftly uses her to illustrate the coping abilities of the Colored women married to the Buffalo Soldiers. A good book; worth reading. It is the first in a series to be known as The Black Saber Chronicles, which will tell of African-Americans in the military.
Willard,T.;Buffalo Soldiers;Tom Doherty Ass.;NY;1996;ISBN 0-312-86041-2
The Actual;Saul Bellows
A small size, 133 page, introspective, slightly erotic novella told (mainly) in the first person by Harry Trellman, a slightly-oriental-looking Jew living well in Chicago as a result (implied) of drug profits made in Burma. He has loved Amy for most of his life, through his one marriage and two of hers - the last of hers to a childhood friend of his who divorced Amy for adultery. The story is of a brief period when, via a very rich (and interesting) old man, Harry is reconnected with Amy who is about to have her last husband exhumed from her family's plot, and buried elsewhere; and the two re-examine their feelings. An interesting minor work.
Bellow,S.;The Actual;Viking;NY;ISBN 0-670-86075-1
Cafe Europa:Life After Communism;Slavenka
The author, a journalist and author of several books, was born in communist Croatia in 1949. This book is a series of essays that she wrote - and published, I presume - between 1992 and 1994. They vary somewhat in quality, but they end up presenting a fascinating picture of the communist life that was, the life that is now in the ex-communist countries, and thoughts and perceptions of an intelligent woman about the current Balkan problems and the rest of Europe. I was particularly struck by her discussion of the ghastly unsanitary condition of toilets in the ex-communist countries - no, I am not joking!. She has a theory about why the communist countries tolerated such conditions, but the thing that struck me was her observation that going democratic rather than communistic did NOT change the situation, and that we should think hard about that before concluding that democracy is going to change things quickly. It is VERY difficult to change old habits! There are angry bits, keenly perceptive bits, sad bits, and discouraging bits. She notes with dismay that Croatia is quietly rehabilitating the days and historical figures of Fascism. She has a truly revealing article: "People From the Three Borders", which discusses an area where, essentially, people consider themselves of three nationalities, and the problems that gives to them and to their nation when they are forced to state a single nationality; yet it is a useful, peace-enhancing situation that could be adapted elsewhere if not for nationalism. It is very interesting, if a bit uneven. I found it informative, and thought provoking. And I hope her marriage to a Swede works out; I got the feeling that their differences might some day prove too much.
Drakulic;S.;Cafe Europa;W.W Norton;NY;1997;ISBN 0-393-04012-7
A Firing Offense;David Ignatious
Ignatious is an overachiever judging by his credentials on the inside back jacket. He is a professional journalist, and currently a managing editor at the Washington Post. He has also written several novels, and in this dandy one he has written a first-person story told by a very good journalist moving towards the top of a major journalistic career. As Bureau Chief in Paris he comes across a story about corruption at high levels, and asks an acquaintance in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for help. He gets it - via an unusual informant - and produces a scoop. He becomes a hero in France - and at his paper; and he learns a few things about French intelligence. Later, back in the US, he is told by his CIA informant that a world famous journalist on his paper is in the pay of French Intelligence. Trying to chase this down, his contacts with the CIA increase, and he gradually gets expertly seduced by the CIA into actively helping them - and that is a firing offense for a journalist. This is a nicely structured, well written, engrossing story of a nice man and a good journalist, who does what he thinks is right, and which, in fact, may strike the reader as right. It is just that his profession will not - cannot - accept what he did. The story is also an interestingly complex one of international politics, international money, and international intelligence - combined with complex personal feelings and relationships. It grabs the reader, who will probably stay up late to finish it. I found the ending very emotionally satisfying - these days that is a BIG plus for me!
Ignatious,D; A Firing Offense;Random House;NY;1997;ISBN 0-679-44860-8
The Death of an Irish Sea Wolf;Bartholomew
The twelfth in the excellent Irish (Republic) police series that Gill is writing about Peter McGarr, head of the Garda's Murder Squad, and his family and colleagues. Each story is interestingly different, well told, and involves interesting characters and, often, pointed looks at Irish culture and politics. This one is concerned with current happenings precipitated by a WWII event. The scene is Clare Island - a fairly isolated, anti-government, anti- English enclave off the west coast of Ireland - a summer tourist attraction. Clement Ford and his blind wife, Breege, are pillars of the community, living in modest conditions. She, a local, helped pull him from the sea at the end of WWII; he is an Englishman, it seems. The locals also believe that he is the one responsible for the mysterious Clare Island Trust that provides all sorts of major financial help for both personal and business problems that arise in the area. He says he is not. For fifty years he has been very concerned to examine every ship that appears in the port -- he is clearly on the watch for someone out of his past. The book opens as his nemesis appears. An armed raiding party arrives and attacks. His wife is killed, a policeman is killed. Ford kills one of the attackers and escapes from the island, after leaving secret information about the fund and a hidden treasure trove, with a long- time friend and neighbor. The story is of the attempts by McGarr and his team to determine what happened and why, and to apprehend the members of the raiding party. They have little help from the islanders. McGarr's wife and 7 year old daughter play a role, and McGarr's interesting team is part of the action. Another well crafted, interesting story. As I have said elsewhere in a note on this series: if the reader is not familiar with this series, best she start at the beginning, although any one can be read independently of the others. There is a long-term development of characters and relationships that is worth becoming acquainted with. Gill,B.;The Death of an Irish Sea Wolf;W.Morrow;NY;1997;ISBN 0-688-14183-8
Billions and Billions:Thoughts on Life
and Death at the Brink of the Millenium;Carl Sagan
I skimmed a little and skipped a lot in this book, and read several chapters. It is a series of essays that involves a lot of popularization of science and covers a range of topics centering usually around the subject of the subtitle. I skipped the many that dealt with material that I know pretty well. He puts forth very well the ghastly problems that we have generated on this planet - environmentally - and is optimistic about solving them. His optimism seems to me to be on shaky grounds, and I have the faint feeling that even he recognized it. He has suggestions that are not new, and are not likely to be of much significance given the short-term political thinking of the country and the world. There are several essays that I found interesting; they are in the last section of the book. The most riveting however is the last - his discussion of his ultimately fatal illness. This book was published posthumously, and his wife's epilogue is emotionally touching and wonderful. Not Sagan at his best, but I decided to note it here because it seems to me that it would be worth while reading for laypersons interested in science and in the political problems associated with technology in our world. Sagan,C.;Billions and Billions;Random House;NY;1997;ISBN 0-679-41160-7
30 years ago McCaffrey wrote, for Analog, a short story that started the series (several series in fact) that are about the planet Pern, and involve fire breathing "dragons" and their riders. The planet was colonized from Earth, and the colonists discovered that an eccentric-orbiting red planet periodically approached Pern and for fifty years released into the atmosphere "threads" - an organism that voraciously consumed plant material. The dragons were biologically engineered from a local creature, and designed to kill the thread by flame. The period between the attacks is 250 years, and in this book it is 250 years after the first attack, and the second is imminent. The book involves the concern with rapidly failing and irreplaceable Earth technology, problems with the sociological structures on Pern, concerns about perpetuating knowledge for 250 years, and the construction of the equivalent of a gigantic permanent "peep" sight to alert people 250 years in the future that the red planet was again appearing in the sky, and that thread would fall. I found the book pedestrian and uninteresting - the first of the series to strike me that way - I am an aficionado of the series. It gives the impression that she HAD to write a book for the 30th anniversary, and threw this together. I skimmed through it, reading bits. It doesn't work for me. If you are a big fan of the Pern series, give it a try. Otherwise, skip it.
Blood and Honor;W.E.B. Griffin
Griffin (a pseudonym) is the prolific author of at least four different series, all about the same thing: young men in uniformed organizations. This, which is almost a semi-historical novel, is the second in a series that takes place during WWII in Argentina, and stars Cletus Frade, a U.S. marine fighter pilot who is the son of a wealthy Argentine military officer. He is also in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), wartime forerunner of the CIA. In the first book, Honor Bound, he and three companions arranged to sink a German submarine supply ship and a submarine in Argentine waters, with the help of some others including his father and a German military officer. In this one (1943) his father is killed by the Germans, and he ends up back in Argentina. He is there both to take care of his father's estate, and, with his original OSS crew, to prevent the Germans from putting another supply ship in operation. He finds his girlfriend pregnant, and the army planning a coup. The latter comes to pass, Clete is involved, and at the end, Peron takes over. If you like Griffin's yarns, you will like this one. It is a good story, told in exactly the same episodic style as is in every other story of his. In this one he has included a fair amount of accurate history of Argentina - and his irritation at the pro-Nazi Argentines appears. I enjoy Griffin; I enjoyed this.
Griffin,W.E.B;Blood and Honor;G.P. Putnam's;NY;1997;ISBN 0-399-14190-1
and Modern Media;Elaine Showalter
Professor Showalter is a Princeton academic, a conservative feminist, a writer of medical history, and qualifies as an authoritative writer on hysteria. She couldn't resist the cute title spelling however, and perpetrates an even cutesier one: "herstory", when she gets to a portion that notes most hysterics are female! Nevertheless, this is a very readable, interesting, 200 page discourse on the subject of individual and epidemic hysteria, and past and present hysterical epidemics. Current epidemics she discusses are: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Gulf War Syndrome, Multiple Personality Disorder, abduction by aliens, recovered memories, and Satanic ritual abuse. In the past she notes neurasthenia, McCarthyism, shell shock, Vietnam post traumatic stress, etc.. She also discusses the invention of hysteria, early theories, and the role of Freud in screwing up the concept of hysteria and setting a pattern for the alteration of memories by therapists! The role of media, feminists, charismatic personalities, and paranoia - individual and collective, are woven through the narrative. A very interesting and informative book. Let me note that she is NOT stating, for example, that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is not real. What she is noting is that it is NOT a disease, no one as died from it, and it shows every indication and sign of basic hysterical conversion that satisfies needs of the sufferers - most of them women. Similarly for many other such epidemics.
Showalter,E.;Hystories;Columbia U. Press;1997;ISBN 0-231-10458-8
Great Books:My Adventures with Homer, Rousseau,
Woolf, and Other Indestructible Writers of the Western World;David
I found this a remarkable, enjoyable reading experience; and slow going. I couldn't, and didn't want to read this at my usual high rate of speed. The author is a movie critic, who lives with his wife and children in New York city. He went to Columbia as an undergraduate, and read the books in the two famous Western Classics courses: Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilization. At age 48, a few years ago, he decided to return to Columbia and go through the courses again. This adventure book is an account of his experiences, thoughts, and actions during the year of concentrated reading - during which he still worked and had a family life. We hear almost nothing of his ordinary life however; the book is about the books, his reactions to them, his thoughts about them, the teaching of them in the courses, and how they relate to his life. He chooses quite a few of the classics to discuss and ruminate on, and he skips quite a few - for a good reason that he explains. He is a wonderful writer, an interesting thinker, and a perceptive observer. He shares a great deal of himself with the reader. For instance: he has a truly heart-wrenching account of his very successful mother and his relationship with her - and it is intimately related to altered perceptions engendered by a book. There are incisive comments about the current academic world, and what he sees as misguided leftists, feminists, and African-Americans who, he feels (correctly, I think) misunderstand and therefore attack the very idea of a "western canon" of literature. He provides interesting thoughts about current culture and politics. There were difficult parts for me. Hegel I once found totally unreadable, and his account of two of Hegel's works were just as impenetrable. Similarly with Kant and a number of others. But I read it all, and wouldn't have missed it for the world. The book will provide many hours of great pleasure for book lovers, whether they have read the great classics or not. He has wonderful turns of phrase, and very perceptive analyses. I will not go back and read or re-read the classics he mentions; I envy him his experience, but I ain't going to try to emulate it. I MAY try Virginia Woolf, a relative newcomer to the canon, and a writer he found to provide a great experience, and one he had not read, and one I have not read. But I don't promise it. I was intrigued by his obsession with the word (very appropriate for this subject): "hegemony", either as the noun or the adjective. He uses it something of the order of thirty times through the book. The appearances are not all noted in the good index.
Denby,D.;Great Books;Simon & Schuster;NY;1996;ISBN 0-684-80975-3
3001:The Final Odyssey;Arthur C.
This is the fourth (and presumably the last) of the science fiction Odyssey Series that started with 2001. If the reader is unfamiliar with the series, this one will not be of much interest. In fact, it is not of much interest even to one who has read the others - like me. It is a fairly insipid, unexciting attempt to bring some degree of closure to the series.In the great story:2001, the computer, HAL, in the exploratory space ship, Discovery, goes nuts and kills off members of the crew before Dave Bowman gains control. One member of the crew, Frank Poole, was lost in space. In this book, Poole is found in space a thousand years after he was lost, and is brought back to life. After spending half the book learning about life in a world 1000 years ahead of his time, he ends up making an unauthorized trip to the forbidden Jupiter satellite, Europa, (Jupiter is now a sun) where he finds (via mental communication) the personalities of his old buddy, Bowman, and HAL, the computer, entombed in a giant monolith as impersonal but sentient recordings, charged with keeping an eye on fairly stupid indigenous lagoon creatures, presumably generated as the hope for the future by the great alien minds that created the monolith. Somehow I had higher expectations for Bowman. To see him end up as a sort of impotent scratchy recording.... I found this an uninspired, disappointing book, in which Clarke grinds few personal axes. Clarke is one of the greatest writers of science fiction, and has written stories that are unforgettable classics; but he has also authored - or co- authored - some relative clunkers. This is one of the latter, I think.
Clarke,A.C.;The Final Odyssey;Ballantine;NY;1997;ISBN 0-345-31522-7
Both Ends of the Night;Marcia
The latest in the good detective series that stars Sharon McCone as a private eye. In this one, McCone's female former flight instructor asks for help when the instructor's live-in boyfriend vanishes, leaving behind his 12 year old son. Shortly after, the instructor is killed when some one tampers with her plane. McCone and her lover, Hy Ripinsky, set out to find the killer - for revenge. The story is of that investigation. Muller has just become a pilot in real life, so she enthusiastically brings lots of piloting stuff into the book - more than the non-flying reader needs, and which adds relatively little to the story. Otherwise It is a good, taut, attention-holding story. The somewhat complex characters in the series continue to develop in an interesting fashion. McCone is a good one. Muller,M.;Both Ends of the Night;Warner Books;NY;1997:ISBN 0-89296-622-X
Personal History;Katharine Graham
Those familiar with Washington, D.C., will know that Katharine Graham is the retired publisher of the Washington Post morning paper, and former head of the Washington Post Company, a conglomerate that includes Newsweek, cable companies, radio and TV stations, etc. This is her long (640pp.) autobiography; and it will be of great interest even to those unfamiliar with Washington, because this complex and interesting woman has written a fascinating account of her life of influence and power in the man's world that she entered into reluctantly. She was one of the children of very wealthy parents. Her mother was a beautiful, vivacious, brilliant, intellectual writer, activist, and traveller who had no time for her children, and who thoroughly crushed Katharine's self confidence and self esteem - a condition that affected her entire life, and some remains of which seem to be still in place even as she writes this book. Her father was rarely available in her childhood, although as Katharine grew older she became closer and closer to him. He bought the Washington Post. She became a journalist. She fell deeply in love with and married brilliant Phil Graham; and her father put Graham in charge of the newspaper, and ultimately gave it and its parent company to Katharine and Phil. She insists her husband helped her develop in many ways; but he also helped tear down her initiative and confidence, ran around, ultimately succumbed to depression and presumably manic-depression, and committed suicide almost in her presence. She stoutly defends her gifted and talented husband by touting all the great things that he accomplished (and he really did), and explains all his failings as deriving from mental illness. She seems to have loved him greatly; too bad he was such a - well, I won't use the word that comes to mind. She narrates her coming to grips with severe problems at the Post, her problems in making decisions, her friendships - with (it seems like) discreet affairs that she occasionally notes very obliquely - and her gradually increasing pleasure in both her abilities and in her high status in the world of powerful people. I liked Katharine Graham before I read this book - which I read slowly. I like her even more now. An impressive woman. Graham,C,;Personal History;Alfred Knopf;NY;1997;ISBN 0-394-58585-2
Wry Martinis;Christopher Buckley
I know - why would anyone pick up a book with such a title, especially since it is a collection of previously printed essays and other stuff, and the author is the son of William Buckley? The front inside jacket made me do it. It contains two glowing encomia by John Berendt and David Halberstam and I was persuaded to try it. Especially since Halberstam (whom I had never heard of) exclaims that Buckley (whom I had never read) is "...one of the funniest writers in America....". I really should know better by now. By page 50 I realized that Halberstam wouldn't recognize something funny if it bit him. Most of what I was reading was relatively boring, somewhat puerile, forced- humor material, with only a few amusing items, mostly put-on book reviews. It continued to page about page 80, where I noted with relief that I had only 20 more obligatory pages. Then, to my surprise, I found myself in the midst of a very interesting article about Tom Clancy, which was followed by several other good (and one not so good) articles about that author, and a sharp-edged book review of Clancy's Debt of Honor that is right on the money and drove Clancy nuts. He started sending nasty faxes to Buckley; and of course Buckley writes about that in another essay! The rest of the book contains an uneven collection of frequently good, fairly witty essays, some of which are excellent - i.e. they pleased me! The section called "Formative Years" has depressing accounts of his time at Yale (he enjoyed it - I didn't enjoy reading about it), but also a vivid essay about his not being drafted for the Viet Nam conflict, and his current thoughts about those who did NOT serve in S.E. Asia. He has a wonderful essay about his mother, and a delightful one about famous, 77 year old Eppie Lederer (yes you DO know her - as Ann Landers). My well-informed family was astounded to hear that I hadn't known who Eppie was!
Buckley,C.;Wry Martinis;Random House;NY;1997;ISBN 0-679-45233-8
Ashworth Hall;Anne Perry
This is Perry's latest Victorian police mystery starring Bow Street Police Superintendent Thomas Pitt and his aristocratic wife, Charlotte, who married below her station in marrying Pitt. It is a very interesting variation of the standard English murder mystery setting where the murder takes place in a large old country home during a week-end house party. The house in this case is Ashworth Hall, the home of Charlotte's sister and her husband. The five day "party" is actually a conference and negotiation activity involving Catholics and Protestants from Ireland, mediated by an Englishman. The intent is to solve the "Irish problem". Pitt is directed to attend, with his wife, to provide a discreet and undisclosed police presence because the English mediator has had death threats, and suffered an attempt on his life. The mediator is murdered in his bath tub, and one of the Irishmen is killed by a bomb (nothing much has changed in 107 years it seems!). Pitt, his wife, his wife's maid, and his reluctant police colleague who posed (resentfully) as Pitt's valet, work and solve the problem. Again, as in others in this good series, the mystery is somewhat interesting but Perry is more interested in the society, the sociology, and the mores of the time, and in this case in the "Irish problem". The bitter feelings and mythology and history of that problem are nicely exhibited - and the reader will realize that absolutely nothing in that conflict has changed from Victorian times. Depressing indeed.
Perry,A.;Ashworth Hall;Ballantine;NY;1997;ISBN 0-449-90844-5
Spineless Wonders:Strange Tales From the
Invertebrate World;Richard Conniff
Conniff is a natural-science writer who has compiled here discussions of
a number of the invertebrate creatures of the world; for instance: flys,
fleas, fire ants, leeches, worms, and slime eels, as well as other creatures
that most of us would prefer to avoid. His subject, he indicates, is inspired
by the idea of formication (yes - it's spelled correctly). He also
includes observations about some of the interesting - and often unusual
- people who are experts on these creatures and find them the most fascinating
things in the world. The book is funny, informative, interesting, and gross
in many places - be warned.
Conniff,R.;Spineless Wonders;Henry Holt;1996;ISBN 0-8050-4218-0
This is a pleasant, insignificant, science fiction (SF) story that takes place on a frontier planet, and is a space-based version of the activities in Vermont by Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain boys just before, and at the beginning, of the American Revolution. Although I have not read any other works by Drake, I gather that he is a history buff who uses history as a framework for stories of the future - as he does here. The introduction is a very interesting one - with what strikes me as shrewd observations about Allen. I almost didn't read the book after reading the introduction; why should I read American History in disguise? I started it, and read it all. It is not worth going out of the way to find, and SF lovers will find it pedestrian. I found it mildly entertaining. I note it here only because it the concept strikes me as a different SF one.
Drake,D.;Patriots;Tom Doherty Ass.;NY;1996;ISBN 0-312-86245-8
Jack & Jill;James Patterson
Several years ago the first book by psychologist Patterson,Along Came a Spider, was mentioned to me by a reader of these notes. It showed signs of a first novel, but it was a good detective-mystery story that I enjoyed. It introduced a black Washington DC homicide detective, Alex Cross, who holds a Ph.D. Degree in psychology. This is the latest in an ongoing series starring Cross. Two serial murderers are being sought. One kills children from a local school, the other - really a team, Jack and Jill - is executing celebrities and plans to end up killing the President of the United States. Jack and Jill keep informing the Secret Service of this intent, and keep leaving cute little notes at the murder scenes. Cross is involved with both cases. The school killings case is pretty much standard inner-city DC juvenile crime; the Jack and Jill case is vastly different. The latter has several layers of intrigue and a variety of clever misleading events. Jack and Jill are very smart, Washington-savvy killers. The voice in the story varies from third to first person; we alternate between the killers and Cross. It is a good yarn in the serial killer genre, which, unfortunately, seems to be the ONLY police genre these days. The author has also improved his writing compared to the first novel in the series. I take away points for serial killing, otherwise this would be a reasonably rated one - with some questions about why the two disparate stories are juxtaposed. Patterson,J.;Jack & Jill;Little,Brown;NY;1996;ISBN 0-316-69371-5
The Bear Went Over the Mountain;William
I picked it up because of the title. When I was a small child, my father used to recite to me the rhyme whose first line is the title of this book. I decided to read it because the only other book I had read by the prolific author was a dandy private eye yarn,The Game of Thirty. This is a startlingly different book. It is a sarcastic, sardonic fantasy jab at - mostly - the world of authors, publishers, and booksellers, with resulting reflections onto our society in general. For reasons you have to read the book to find out, an author buries the only copy of his manuscript for a novel in a suitcase in a hole in the ground in Maine, and it is dug up by a bear. The bear enters the world of mankind with the novel, passes himself off as an author, Hal Jam, and becomes a celebrity. His instinctive bear traits and limited language are interpreted by the people who meet him as positive - even profound - attributes. He gradually begins to figure out how to use people and society. The real author, in the meantime, gradually becomes more bear-like. I actually found the book to be somewhat uncomfortable to read, but I have decided not to try to analyze why! The tale has some similarity to a book whose title I cannot remember, but which starred a retarded gardener, Chance, whose simple statements about gardens were taken as profound metaphors, and who became famous. The Bear Went Over the Mountain;Doubleday;NY;1996;ISBN 0-385-48428-3