Going Nowhere Fast; Gar Anthony Haywood This easily ranks as one of the worst mystery stories that I have read. The author seems to have written three other novels, and won some sort of mystery writer's prize. Unbelievable. The two main characters, husband and wife, are cartoons; their son is both stupid and repulsive; and the plot and writing are puerile. The title is very apt. What baffles me is the jacket-set of short glowing recommendations by GOOD female mystery writers. Clearly they have not read it!
14 Peck Slip; Ed Dee Dee is a 20 year police officer who has taken up writing, and has written this police procedural. It is a good version of the genre, but nothing special. Interesting start, then straight police work on the case of an old murder of a corrupt policeman.
Translating LA: A Tour of the Rainbow City; Peter Theroux Peter Theroux makes his living as a translator (primarily from Arabic to English), and also writes books. In this one he takes the reader around greater Los Angeles with him by narrating a series of his explorations of the area, and his experiences during a ten year period. He also neatly mixes in a great deal of fascinating history of the area(s). It is a very interesting book. I was especially interested in his experience during a very large (but undamaging) earthquake, because I experienced the same quake farther south in San Diego. I think that one can enjoy this book even if Los Angeles is an unfamiliar place, but it will be really appreciated by a reader who is somewhat familiar with the general area. Worth reading.
The Initiate Brother; Sean Russell(PB) This is the first of a two volume tale of fantasy laid in an imaginary ancient oriental country. The second volume is Gatherer of Clouds. Both are large (500pp and 600pp). The country has the characteristics and approximate culture of early feudal Japan, but the geography of China. The two volumes are primarily the story of Lord Shonto, his adopted daughter Lady Nishima Fantisan Shonto, and an initiate Botahist monk, Shuyun (possessor of some startling abilities), played out on a stage of court intrigue and war, with an empire at risk. It is a good adventure yarn, with interesting characters, and some of the sort of obligatory oriental mysticism and hidden secrets required for such yarns. There is relatively little of the latter however. One must have a taste for this sort of broad- canvas epochal story; if you liked "Shogun" you will like these two stories. I enjoyed them very much.
The Collapse of Chaos; Jack Cohen, Ian Stewart Cohen is a biologist, and Stewart is a mathematician, and they are attempting to develop an unconventional viewpoint -- or two -- regarding the existence of complexity and simplicity in the world. Essentially they argue -- quite properly I think -- that the scientific approach known as reductionism, despite its great success in many areas, is not always applicable -- or informative. I have spent three weeks on this book, and I shall come back to it and spend a lot more. It is not an easy book, it is essentially scientific philosophy. It is very interesting, but one is left feeling that their fundamental arguments are somewhat elusive.I'll persist.
Dolly; Anita Brookner Brookner is not only a prolific British writer, she is also the winner of the prestigious Booker Prize (although not for this book). Since I avoid prize winners and their novels, it is surprising that I picked up this book. When you add to it that it involves essentially only women, is deeply introspective on the part of the first person narrator, that there is no plot, and that Dolly, another main character, is not a likeable woman -- the book seems uniquely designed to be something I would neither read nor enjoy. Why I picked it up I cannot remember -- but I am so glad I did. A reviewer quoted on the back of the jacket expresses my feeling exactly: "Anita Brookner works a spell on the reader..." This is a story of family, and relationships, and love. The author chose to have her main character tell her tale in the first person, and gets caught with the problem that her character is required to know things as a child that would be impossible for her to know. She simply ignores the problem! That makes it slightly awkward for the intent reader, but I was completely caught up in the really masterful and sensitive dilineation of the characters. I was caught in her spell! I found my eyes tearing in places! An emotional experience -- very impressive. Brookner deserves prizes.
Last Go Round: A Real Western; Ken Kesy with Ken Babbs I had not been aware of anything by Kesy since "One Flew Over the Cookoo's nest" so I picked up this. I found it to be a delightful, rollicking, touching yarn about three real rodeo performers, and a real rodeo. I suppose it is properly an historical novel. Kesy has lovingly created an imaginary account of the remarkable rodeo held in 1911, in Pendelton, Oregon, as the first Pendleton Round Up (the annual event continues to this day). It is told in the first person by one of three legendary riders in that rodeo, Jonathon E. Lee Spain, from Tennessee. We meet him as a 17 year old expert roper and rider, but a novice rodeo rider. He becomes friends with the two other, much older, experienced rodeo riders who became part of the legend: George Fletcher, a negro from Pendleton, and his friend Jackson Sundown, a Nez Perce Indian. The other real life characters include Buffalo Bill, wrestler Frank Gotch, the powerful Indian, Parson Montanic, and others. Spain, who is a natural, learns fast, and at the end of the events, the three are tied for first place. The winner will be decided by a "last go round." And the legend was born. It seems likely that most of the rodeo events really happened; how much of the rest of the book is true to fact is not known to me. And it does not matter a bit. It is a great yarn, and the icing on the cake is the set of 28 photographs that were located, chosen, and captioned by Ken Babbs. Delightful.
Now You See Her; Whitney Otto Strange book -- in my opinion. The central character, Kiki, is a woman of forty who finds that she is beginning to become invisible -- except to most other women. She is remarkably accepting of this. The story follows her in this [metaphorical] situation, and also explores a number of her friends, acquaintances, as well as her mother. Neither the passive Kiki nor any of the others seem particularly interesting, and this reader experienced no empathy with any of them. The most likeable and interesting person was Henry -- Kiki's boyfriend. Was that because I'm male? I don't know. At the end,in Paris, Kiki encounters the ghost of Kiki de Montparnasse -- one of Man Ray's lovers -- and learns that one cannot define one's life in terms of others. And she becomes visible again. As I said: strange.
That Year of Our War;Gloria Goldreich A beautifully told, very powerful and very moving account of the trials, triumphs, and tragedies of a Jewish family in Brooklyn during the year from D-Day in 1944 to VE day in 1945. The narrator is Sharon Grossberg, physician, who tells us of that year when she was 15. Her mother died on D-Day while her father was in Europe as a military physician. I know nothing of Ms. Goldreich; but if she did not firsthand live through that year then I am vastly impressed by her ability to invent such a story. I felt enriched when I finished. There were many pages that brought a lump to my throat -- the reader is expertly snared in the emotions of the girl, and the nostalgia factor is great for those of us who remember that time.
Tombstone Courage;J.A. Jance Jance has written a lot of mysteries starring a Southern detective named Beaumont; usually pretty good yarns. She seems to have started (one novel back) a new series starring a woman, Joanna Brady, in Arizona. In this book Brady, whose husband was sheriff, and killed in the line of duty, runs for sheriff, and wins. She is immediately caught up in the murder of an old rancher who was being sued by an adult daughter on charges of sexually molesting her as a child (that is one of the "in" things in detective stories these days). The story is an interesting one, the character of Brady is well drawn, and the problems she has with her young daughter are real. The ending is not quite right -- some things are unexplained; but it is a good story.
The Far Canyon; Elmer Kelton Kelton, whom I have not read before, seems to have authored scores of books about the west, and has received kudos for them. This is a good solid tale of the early west. It is the sequel to a book called Slaughter.I can see why Kelton is admired as a writer of the new type of westerns. A young Confederate veteran buffalo hunter, and his friend an Englishman, plus the Englishman's wife are intent on establishing a ranch. Circumstances preclude their settling in the area of southern Texas where the veteran grew up, so they strike out for a distant canyon that the two men had once visited. The story is crossed with the story of an Indian family. NOTE: Sometime later I read the first book, Slaughter, and it is a good yarn. In fact it does a very good job of recreating the days when the buffalo herds were being exterminated. A good view of both Indian and hunter.
You Who Know; Nicolas Freeling A long time ago Freeling created his French policeman, Henri Castang, and has been writing about him, his career, his love, and his detecting through a large number of interesting novels. This is the latest. Castang is still in Brussels where the French police sent him, ostensibly to work for France on legal drafts for the European Economic Community, but actually to get rid of him for reasons explained in earlier books. An Irish colleague and friend is murdered, and Castang is compelled to look into the matter -- for personal reasons; he has no official standing in the investigation. As always, the story is deliberately quirky, cryptic at times, introspective, concerned with the human estate and feelings, full of wide ranging literary references as well as streams of consciousness, and a good yarn. The ending doesn't work for me. It neatly resolves a number of legal and personal problems, but for someone as concerned about human nature as Freeling is, I think that he got this one wrong. He requires the major villain to act completely inappropriately! A good story in all other regards. The title is a good one, part of the phrase "You, who know, what a thing is love..." from an aria in "The Marriage of Figaro"; because much of the story revolves around love, and what a different thing it is to various people.
The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language;Steven Pinker Pincker is a very young, authoritative, arrogant, opiniated Professor of Cognitative Neuroscience (whatever that is) at MIT, and in this book he has written a fascinating, erudite, witty, entertaining and persuasive book that is probably controversial as well.It is a pleasure -- even if you disagree with him. The book is a very lucid explanation of, and development of the views of the famous linguist Noam Chomsky, with many added views, beliefs, and references of the author. There are many pages where the argument gets very technical, even though the author does a good job of trying to make it intelligible to the average reader. One can slide over these parts without losing too much. As the title suggests, Chomsky's and the author's point of view is that language is essentially hard-wired into the brain. Not a specific language mind you, but rather the intrinsic rules that underlie ALL languages! And if the circuitry is not exercised by about the age of six, the individual cannot develop language skills! The evidence is persuasive, but the author also does not generally give space to counterarguments. He does adduce some in order to torpedo them. I learned a great deal of fascinating material, much of it about the way children deal with language. As an example of the delightful information: 4 day old French babies recognize the difference between spoken French and Russian (yes it is possible to measure their interest!). The reason? Probably because French is what they, in utero, "hear" (perhaps only via vibrations) their mother speaking! Not always easy, but not to be missed.
The Plague Makers; Jeffrey A. Fisher Fisher is a pathologist with training in immunology, and currently a full time writer concerned with the future of medicine. He has written a very scary book about the misuse of antibiotics, and the subsequent appearance of virulent strains of drug-resistant bacteria. The book is a polemic, and should be read by everyone -- especially practicing MD's. He outlines what should be done about the future horrific probabilities, but it is not clear that the current resistant-strain problems can be overcome. The major problem is that in fact the availability and use of antibiotics in the third world is so pervasive, that the resistant strains developing there will be readily transported to this country -- regardless of what we do here. The book has some flaws, but it should be read. Fortunately, the subject seems to be becoming more widely known.
The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q & Christian Origins; Burton L. Mack A fascinating summary of old and recent biblical scholarship. The emphasis -- as the title says -- is on the "Q" source, a supposed writing about Jesus that was used as a source for the writers of the synoptic gospels in the New Testament. It is almost certain that there was indeed a source that preceded the gospels, and this book discusses the current feeling about the contents of that source. The Q (for the German 'Quelle': "source") document has been recreated by painstaking scholarship from the gospels. The author presents his translations of the earliest Q material (a "sayings gospel"), then the next added material (Q1), and the last, before the Gospels (Q3). He then marshals evidence and arguments from that source, and elsewhere, about the development of the followers of Jesus, from Jesus People to Congregations of Christ, then to Christians. The latter appeared after the Christian mythology had been developed and outlined in the Gospels. It is a fascinating account of what scholarship can tell us. I have no reason to question the author's analysis, but I am always a little troubled when only one side of a discussion is presented, and I have not read all the evidence. The facts, as adduced by the author, and his fellow scholars, are of course at variance with much of the traditional Christian belief in the history and events of the time. This must naturally make their conclusions controversial.
The Assassin in the Greenwood; P.C. Doherty Doherty [whose real name is Paul Harding] is an Oxford trained scholar, and specialist in medieval history, who lives in England and writes (under at least three pseudonyms) interesting, even delightful, mysteries laid in medieval England. He has created a series starring his invention: Hugh Corbett, chief clerk and high level espionage operator for Edward I in the fourteenth century. In this story, Doherty mixes an espionage yarn involving ciphers and Edward's struggles with Philip IV of France (the battle of Courtrai has not yet taken place), and the strange doings of an aged Robin Hood -- [Robin Hood has interested Doherty professionally for some time]. The latter constitutes the background for the murder mystery. The mystery is a little obvious, but the story is enjoyable istorical fiction.
A Plague of Angels;Sheri S. Tepper Tepper has here written another of her science fiction yarns set in another of her remarkable societal structures, and has mixed in elements of fantasy; so I would class it as a hybrid genre. The world is ours (the location is the southwest), but the society is Tepper's version of a post apocalyptic one, inhabited by remnants of mankind, left after major wars, and the departure of many of mankind into space. There are cities -- inhabited by gangs; farms; walled areas known as "Edges" which maintain high technology; a location "The Center of Power" (which houses a fusion reactor that runs unattended, and is unapproachable); various villages (full of archetypes), in each of which is a "Hero", a "Miser", an "Oracle", a "Fool" ... and an "Orphan", all of whom must play their parts, or be cast out into a world that has no room for them; monsters: giants, trolls, griffens; talking animals; and other goodies -- especially "angels" -- (the Tepper version): nuclear powered androids originally designed as soldiers!, and a final Armegeddon. This sounds like an unlikely mix, and to some extent it is. The story invokes routine fantasy elements, and limps in some places. Still,I liked it, I think because it is, to a large extent, a quest tale (and I am a sucker for those). The protagonists are "Orphan", typecast in an archetype village, and Abasio Cermit, a farm boy who seeks adventure in a city. "Orphan" ends up changing the world, as Tepper's wonderfully sketched women always do. Cermit is a help of course, but I'll bet she could have done it without him! Not with Tepper's best, but a pleasant and interesting read for me.
Justice Denied; Robert K, Tanenbaum A disappointing shock. I have read, with really great pleasure, the yarns written by Tanenbaum and/or his collaborator about two NY Assistant District Attorneys. The last one was a wonderful one: Material Witness . This one seems to me to be a real letdown. Perhaps because it was not really written by Tanenbaum! In the first four books there was no indication that Tanenbaum was not the sole author, but in this one it seems that his "partner and collaborator" was responsible for "the manuscript". Although that was also the acknowledgement in the previous book, this one seems very different. Certainly my impression is that the author of this yarn is NOT the same as that of the last, and at least SOME earlier ones. The storytelling is different. The characters (even the main ones) are washed out; the plot, and the action, are episodic. The friends of the two main characters are cruder, more detached, and nastier (except for Harry). It is almost a hack story, although pieces of it are good. I cannot get over my surprise! DO NOT READ THIS before you read earlier ones. Then read this one ONLY if you are interested in sketching out the subsequent history of the protagonists.
Operation Crossroads: The Atomic Tests at Bikini Atoll; Jonathon M. Weisgall Be aware this is not a dispassionate book of history. It is a polemic, written by an attorney who serves as legal counsel for the people of Bikini Atoll, and who is a prejudiced observer -- in spades. Nevertheless it is an interesting book. The thesis that the tests were basically the result of interservice infighting and politics (driven by the Navy), is probably correct. The argument that the tests were otherwise pointless, and yielded almost nothing of scientific value may well be correct (it is essentially true, however, that the GROSS miscalculation of the effects of radioactive contamination started realistic concerns about that subject, as well as concerns about the effects of radiation on humans). The argument that the Bikini natives were considered of absolutely no importance, and were shamefully treated, is certainly correct. Nevertheless, there is essentially no other side presented. Perhaps there is none. Or perhaps this is simply politically correct, historical deconstruction by an author who has much to gain from presenting his views as history. It is probably some of both. CROSSROADS was a few years before my involvement with testing, so I know almost nothing about it first-hand. However, my uneasiness with the views of the author are aggravated by the fact that of the very few things I do know of in the book, two of them are incorrect as presented! That includes the consistent spelling of Eniwetok as Enewetak! Perhaps the latter is how the "ancients" spelled it; it ain't the current one.
The Negev Project; Larry Witham This is one of the old-manuscripts-may-change-religious-beliefs type of religious yarns. I am a sucker for people chasing around the Middle East after pieces of ancient papyrus that may carry astounding revelations about Christianity, or whatever. Thus I was really surprised to find that this religious/adventure/suspense thriller did not work for me. I found it tedious. It is not well organized, and the story lines are many and somewhat confused.
Kolymsky Heights; Lionel Davidson Of the "thriller" genre. The director of a secret Russian biological research establishment hidden in Siberia, establishes secret contact with a colleague in England, and notes that he has secret information to pass on to the West, and requires that a specific individual be sent to retrieve it. The story is of that contact, the penetration of the secret establishment by the chosen individual, and the escape and chase. The protagonist is interesting but unreal ( which also describes the book!). He is a Native American super hero. The technical breakthrough(s) in the research establishment are essentially science fiction. Good yarn, but not very substantial
The Celestine Prophecy; James Redfield One of the more remarkable collections of reading-trash to come along. It is certainly fiction masquerading as a personal narrative, and is basically a pot pourri of "new age" fantasies. A mysterious document holds "insights" that will permit each of us to develop our internal selves until we master all the things the new agers believe in: healing, clairvoyance, magic, and even invisibility! I skipped through the final two thirds when it became clear that Redfield (an astrologer) was a fantasy hustler, who may well be trying to start a new paying cult. Oh yes -- he also does not tell a story well, and his syntax is startling at times.
Hangman's Root; Susan Wittig Albert The author is writing a series of mysteries with an herbal connection. Her character is called China Bayles, and the location is an imaginary Texas college town, Pecan Springs. Bayles is an attorney who gave up the fast lane for a shop that sells herbs. Nothing outstanding in the yarn. The herb gimmick is somewhat different however.
Wall of Brass; Robert Daley The author was once [very briefly, although that is not stated here] a deputy police commissioner in New York city. He has drawn on that experience to write here a good mystery/procedural novel. The new Police Commissioner of New York is found murdered on the street. The Chief of Detectives, once a friend and partner of the Commissioner, takes on the investigation, and begins to unravel an unexpected side of the deceased. There is also the question of who will be the next commissioner; the Chief of Detectives wants the job, but so do others. A very nice yarn, and a glimpse of politics in the New York PD.
Irish Gold; Andrew M. Greeley Father Greeley really cranks them out. In this one, laid in Ireland, we meet Dermot Coyne, a rich young man from Chicago, who is in Ireland trying to learn why his grandparents had to leave Ireland at the time of the Troubles. He meets a winsome Irish lass, who helps him in this mission. They find obstacles laid by mysterious groups who want him to quit prying, and help from mysterious groups who want him to keep on probing. Greeley is really writing a speculative history of the death of Michael Collins, and it is a very good recounting of the Collins period, and the events before and after Michael's death. For a novel, he overdoes the history (although I found it very worth while for a personal reason), and several books back he began writing most conversations between Irish characters in the repetitive, convoluted and quizzical sentences that he sees as real Irish dialogue. It is perhaps so in the rural parts of Ireland (although I cannot recall it so), but it seems exaggerated here, and is increasingly annoying to boot. Except for the interesting history, skip it.
A Prayer for Owen Meany; John Irving I avoided this book for 6 years, despite the urging of friends to read it. I know how good Irving is, but the jacket blurb turned me off. It describes a situation in which two 11 year old friends are playing baseball, when one hits the ball hard, and the ball kills the other's young mother. I was appalled at the idea of reading such a tragedy. Recently I met a friend in the library who was withdrawing a copy to read for the second time. I said I had not read it. He noted pointedly that there was one other copy on the shelf. I took it. And read it with misgivings. They were uncalled for; great story, and as usual -- different. The tragedy is essential to the story, but with marvelous skill the author ushers it into the story without traumatizing an empathic reader. The story is told in the first person, and that is a crucial part of the novel's effect. In one sense the story is a Christos parable crafted by a master of prose style and description. In another, it is simply a fascinating story of a very unusual boy/young man with some paranormal abilities. I was delighted.
The Hot Zone; Richard Preston In 1989, the Army carried out a major bio-hazard containment operation in a commercial animal building in Reston, Virginia. The building housed hundreds of monkeys, and a strain of the African Ebola virus -- a filovirus . The Ebola virus is a VERY infectious and dangerous virus. This is Preston's story of the virus, and the events in 1989. It is essentially the "Andromeda Strain" in real life in more than one way, including the ending. This is not the first such story of viruses -- several years ago there was a similar very good account of Lassa Fever -- and much of this book seems almost an echo of the other two -- one fiction and one real. If you have not read the others, you will be fascinated by this -- and you should be badly frightened as well. If you have read one or both, this will not be nearly as interesting. The author tends to overwrite, and the scenes are vigorously changed to keep up a sense of anxiety. But it is an interesting true tale, and another warning about the phenomenon of "emerging viruses" such as HIV.
All Our Yesterdays; Robert Parker Parker has interrupted his stories about Boston private eye, Spenser, to write a complex novel about three generations of Boston Irish. The grandfather leaves Ireland at the time of the Troubles. He was wanted by the British, and betrayed by a Boston woman with whom he was having an affair. He comes to Boston, and becomes a cop -- and encounters the woman again. His son also becomes a cop, is on the take, and a blackmailer. The grandson is a Harvard graduate, and not a cop, but gets involved with Boston politics, and the police. The family is interwoven with the family of the woman who betrayed the grandfather. The grandfather and father are deeply flawed individuals, but engender feelings of liking on the part of the reader. I found it to be a good story, with only a few problems in plot. Better than recent Spenser novels.
Skunk Works;Ben R. Rich and Leo Janos This is an account of the most interesting, unusual, innovative and world-changing aero-space organization: Lockheed's "Skunk Works", and the two men who headed it: the legendary founder "Kelly" Johnson, and his successor, Ben Rich. Even if you are aware of some of the accomplishments, e.g. the P80, the F104, the U2 , the SR-71, and the F117 -- the Stealth fighter, you will find this an interesting account. By FAR the most interesting part of the Skunk works was "Kelly" Johnson himself, and Rich gives a good picture of that remarkable engineer and manager. There is no doubt in my mind that the group was successful because of complete freedom from bureaucratic entanglements, and because of the way that Johnson had his group work. Johnson was almost independent from Lockheed, and took no directives from his customers -- either the CIA, or the U.S. Air Force. And his engineers were the best, had lots of freedom, had to interact, and were very close to the production line. It is my belief that the organization will no longer be nearly as effective -- because bureaucracy has taken over. The book is probably a requiem.Interesting however!
The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead; Frank J. Tipler One of the more remarkable things that I have encountered in a long time. It is a real "gas"! Tipler is a very well known theoretical physicist and cosmologist, with a large number of publications to his credit. He has written what seems to be a completely serious book that argues exactly what the title suggests: that theology is essentially a branch of physics, that there is a scientifically based God, and that the dead will in fact be resurrected -- as a requirement of physics! He insists the book is for the layperson, and that he has put all the complicated stuff in an appendix for scientists. Don't believe it. The book is difficult to read. Basically the argument depends on certain types of physics being true, certain definitions of life as well as of God, and the validity of some computer theories, especially those of Turing. Despite knowing some of that, I did not find it easy going -- although I must admit I was not intent on working hard at it. Tipler explains that he is an absolute atheist, and does not even believe his own theory here -- because there is no proof to date. One will have to wait to see if his theory is true! I half think this is a joke -- but Tipler seems audaciously, arrogantly persuaded that he is right. Maybe he's just a nut.
Stone Dancer; Murray Smith This is a dandy spy/suspense story that involves the SIS, the CIA, the KBG, Mossad, the Secret Service, the Mafia, NSA, and about anyone else the author could think of! It is not really believable, it has quite a few people, and embedded plots, and skips around rapidly in location with a sort of "meanwhile in Moscow..." approach. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I liked the characters, and I liked the action. Ultimately the various plots come to a head in an ingenious attack on the U.S. dollar -- and it is fun to get there.
Night Prey; John Sandford This is a "track-down-the- serial-killer" police procedural. There are two kinds: the reader does not get to meet and watch the killer; the reader does get to meet and watch the killer. This is in the latter category. Sandford is very good at spinning the yarn, and he has created some interesting characters -- on the side of the good guys; including a female detective, dying of cancer, who wants to nail the killer of women. The killer is vicious, and demented, and is unpleasant to read about in the alternate scenes. This is good -- of its kind -- and has some different twists; but I must say that there are quite a few like this these days. Serial killers are "in", it seems.
No Witnesses; Ridley Pearson This is a very engrossing police procedural. The owner of a successful chain of food markets gets faxed messages stating that people will die because of him -- and a child dies from eating a can of soup inoculated with a rare strain of cholera. The messages continue, more and different poisonings occur, and money is demanded -- payable through ATM outlets. A male detective sergeant, and a female police psychologist follow different but joint trails toward the killer. A major high-tech police hunt develops. Complex story, complex emotions, and a good thriller. This it turns out, is a sequel to his book aptly named Undercurrents, which I read somewhat later. It is better if one reads them in order, but not essential. The first one is also a dandy police procedural.
False Conception; Stephen Greenleaf Certainly a different private eye yarn. A San Francisco private detective is hired to first check out a proposed surrogate mother, then to find her after she is pregnant, and vanishes. The detective prowls around in the affairs of the prominent family that wants the child, and gradually a far more complicated set of problems arises. The detective's emotions are also involved, and the ending is unusual!
At Home in Mitford; Jan Karon One of the more charming feelgood books that has come along. If you like the books by Miss Read about English village life, you will love Karon's book about village life in the American town of Mitford. However, it may be that the book will be an overdose of sugar for some readers! The book centers about Father Tim, a bachelor Episcopal priest of about 60 years, some of his parishioners, others in the town, a boy named Dooley, and a dog named Barnabus. There is no evil in this town (with one tiny exception needed to accommodate the dog in the story!). It is an idyllic place -- and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit there. Karon seems to be engaged in writing a chronicle entitled "The Mitford Years", of which this volume is the first. I look forward to more.
The Witches' Hammer;Jane Stanton Hitchcock I picked this because of the title -- a casual translation of "Malleus Maleficarum", the title of the infamous handbook for witch-hunters, compiled about 1486 by two ambitious German monks, rabid Dominican overachievers. That handbook was the backbone of the Roman Catholic Church's Congregation of the Holy Office (the Inquisition) approach to dealing with witches in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and was also THE handbook for those eager witch-hunters outside of the Holy Office! The current book is another of the yarns that presume the existence of a secret right-wing collection of Catholic zealots who are secretly continuing the Inquisition (in its legendary form) in modern times. This is better than some of the others. It revolves around a grimoire, or book of black magic, and a young woman who tries to find out why her father's possession of the book led to his murder. This leads her to cross paths with the modern Inquisitors. O.K. as a thriller. The author has a not unjustified, female, jaundiced view of the Church (which was completely mosogynistic in the 15th century, and retains a lot of that attitude today), and presents an interpretation of the real reason for men's fear of witches. The latter is, I believe, right on.
Bad Apple; Anthony Bruno This really surprised me; I was expecting better. I read an earlier book, "Bad Blood", about Bruno's two semi-renegade FBI agents, Gibbons and Tozzi. I enjoyed the characters, and the action. This book is startlingly different. It is almost as though the author has taken a dislike to his characters, and to the wife of Gibbons! Both characters are portrayed as somewhat incompetent, fairly ineffective, and even somewhat stupid at times. Gibbon's wife, a college academic, comes across as either an hysteric, or somewhat feeble minded! I could hardly believe the difference in the stories. I did not like this book.
Witness to the Truth; Paul Lindsay This is a three year old book that I took from the library shelf by chance. It is, like the preceding one above, a novel about the FBI. The jacket says that the author of this one was - - at the time of writing -- an FBI field agent (20 years), and a former marine veteran of Vietnam. From the story it is clear that he loves the marines. He also loves the FBI, and hates what he thinks it has become: an bureaucracy controlled by "managers" with little field experience, and enmeshed in red tape. Interestingly enough, the preceding book above has exactly the same view of the FBI. This book pits a field agent, anxious to solve crimes, against his managers, who are anxious to be promoted, and who handicap the field agents at all turns. The hero sets up several rogue operations in the course of the book, and drafts, as helpers, other like- minded agents. I am a sucker for this type of story; I keep hoping always that good guys will win in the real world, and since they don't, I at least enjoy having it happen in fiction. This also has the "hunting team" or "small band of brothers" theme, which appeals greatly to me. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I hope that the behavior of the "managers" is a caricature - - but I'm not sure ....
Tainted Truth: The Manipulation of Fact in America; Cynthia Crossen Crossen is an editor and former reporter for the Wall Street Journal. She addresses the increase of corrupted information in corporate images, jury trials, public policy debates, medical studies, information polls, etc. It will most likely tell you little that you do not already know, or believe, or suspect, but it is an interesting book with lots of specific cases. There is a wonderful quotation from W.H. Auden at the beginning of Chapter One: "Thou shalt not sit/ With statisticians nor commit/ A social science". Perhaps the scariest part of the book is the straight forward picture of how research scientists and physicians have become captives of corporations, and how refereed journals essentially participate in the slanted research results. The author states flatly that EVERY published study carried out with funding from a drug company has produced results favorable to the sponsor. She feels that the media are also contributing to the problem. She is right. I was depressed when I finished the book.
Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension; Michio Kaku A remarkably lucid account of the status of research in what has become "The Grand Unified Theory of Everything" -- attempts by theorists to find the fundamental theory or theories of physics. Kaku, a front line worker in this sort of theoretical physics, sketches with wit, erudition, and great clarity, a popularized story of the work in theoretical physics that has culminated in the currently active field of "string" theory, and in the cosmological work that concerns itself with the possibility of multiple universes. I found it to be a big help in making clear to me what was going on in these fields: foreign to me. I was intrigued by his frank comments that the current theory is one that at present -- and for some time to come -- cannot be solved, and that there are no possible experiments that could help! It appears to me that the ONLY reason for the popularity of the heterotic superstring theory is its mathematical and philosophical beauty! I thoroughly enjoyed the book. The contrast with Frank Tipler's book (above) is remarkable.
Pictures of Perfection; Reginald Hill This book seems to me to be different from the other British police stories that Hill has written starring Chief Supt. Dalziel, and Inspector Pascoe. It seems pretentious for a start. It is "an account in five volumes"; each chapter is preceded by a quotation from the letters of Jane Austin, and there are lots of back and forth excursions from writings of a hundred years ago to present etc. In addition, it is somewhat confusing, both in plot, in time, and in characters. Finally,as a police case: nothing much happens -- as Dalziel announces at the end! Hill's very good stories have always been mysteries with much study of emotions and relationships. This is essentially ALL the latter. It did not work for me. Except that the very first quotation from Austen's letters is a real grabber!
The Intruders; Stephen Coonts About 10 years ago the Naval Institute Press (NIP), which publishes very good technical books about the Navy and Marines, published the second of the only two novels they had ever put out at that time. It was by Coonts, and it was called Flight of the Intruder. It was a paean to the Navy's A6 aircraft and the A6 "drivers". The A6 was an attack aircraft, a bomb carrier, and the novel followed a pilot, Jake Grafton, operating in the Viet Nam war. It was a great men-at-war story, and an intimate picture of the aircraft, the men, and the war. It was also, to the vast delight of the NIP, an absolute smash hit, and became a best seller.(Their only preceding novel had been "The Hunt for Red October" by Tom Clancy! Two for two*.) This is a delayed direct sequel to the first book by Coonts (he has written several other books about Grafton's later adventures). It is similar to the first book, but the time is now 1973, post- Viet Nam, and a period when Grafton is trying to decide whether to stay in the Navy. Again one flys with the attack pilot, on and off carriers, in and out of dangerous situations, and is exposed to the details of the operation of a carrier and the aircraft. Coonts was an A6 driver, loved it, and wants to tell everyone exactly how it was flying one. I have a friend, a quiet, soft- voiced, friendly, devout Mormon, who's idea of REALLY great fun was flying an attack aircraft, fully loaded with bombs and missiles, off a carrier to attack targets in Viet Nam. Coonts wants you to get some feeling for why people like him do such scary things, and he does a good job. Although he writes great detail about life aboard a carrier, I cannot recall that he ever mentioned one of the most striking facts that I recall about life below deck on an operating aircraft carrier: the night-and-day gigantic thumps of aircraft hitting the deck during recovery, and the tremendous roar-bang of catapult launches! *Coonts has written almost as many novels as Clancy, and is actually a better story teller than Clancy! Clancy's problem is editing.If you like Clancy, try Coonts. I find it intriguing that Coonts (a real warrier) has paralled Casey (a wanna-be warrier) in dealing with the rot in our society. In Under Siege, written five years ago, with Graftin on the ground, Coonts details an account of Washington under terrorist siege, and ends up with stalwart vigilantes lynching a large number of presumed drug dealers/users or looters, and getting away with it! Clancy has also enthusiastically recounted vigilante justice applied to similar hoodlums. Will we in fact have to bypass the Constitution to get our world back in hand? Scary thought.
Zaddik; David Rosenbaum (PB) This is a very good and exotic mystery/suspense story. The protagonist, Dov Taylor, is an alcoholic Jew [a rarity], an ex-policeman, who is hired by a Hasidic Rabbi to find a very large diamond that was to be part of his daughter's dowry, and which was stolen. The diamond has a long, violent history in the Jewish world, and at one time it was intimately involved with Taylor's great-great-grandfather in Poland. A mystical slip in time connects Taylor and his ancestor; a Nazi descendant of his ancestor's murderer is involved; and a cold-blooded killer, who survived Auschwitz, murders a number of people. Complex, exciting, with intimate pictures of orthodox and right- wing Judaism.(Zaddik is Hebrew for "a righteous man",a "saint" for Christians)
She Walks These Hills; Sharon McCrumb McCrumb writes several different types of stories; all good. This is the third of her Appalachia novels, laid in the mountains of Tennessee, on the edge of North Carolina. The first in this "ballad" series is If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy- O, the second is The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter. All three can be considered mystery novels, but they are far more than that. McCrumb is a lyrical storyteller who weaves complicated tales of love, fear, hate, and courage, with a dash of the supernatural. Her tales have dark sides, but they are gripping. This tale has less of the dark than the earlier two. The "She" in the title is the ghost of a young woman who was captured in North Carolina by the Shawnee Indians, and who escaped them in Ohio, and followed the rivers home -- to a sad end. The author mixes the ghost's story with : a young instructor who is obsessed by the story, an old escaped convict, the convict's family, a woman who is learning to be a police officer, and a young mountain woman with a new baby. The mixture works very well to produce an interesting, touching, revealing story of characters you will like. Several are those from the earlier two stories, but the three stories are completely "stand-alone."
Body Farm; Patricia Cornwell This is the fifth mystery novel that Cornwell has written about her very interesting creation: Kay Scarpetta, a forensic pathologist. These are good stories, with very real people, good action, and real emotions. They do contain a fair amount of grisly detailed discussion about cadavers, autopsies, and other unpleasant forensic matters. The establishment described by the title is one I skipped over hastily! When the series of novels began, Dr. Scarpetta worked as a coroner, but has now become a consultant to the FBI's Quantico unit. She and her associates are involved in the case of the murder of a young girl. It is a good yarn. If you like it, try the others.
Nevermore; William Hjortsberg I do not recall that I have read any earlier books by this author, although I recognize the names of two of his listed titles. This one, with the title from Poe's morbid raven's utterance, is an uncanny one -- in the formal sense of that word. It is also a strange one -- in the usual sense. It is a mystery story that includes murders, is laid in 1923, and has as its two major characters: Arthur Conan Doyle, and Harry Houdini [born Erik Weiss]; a minor character: the deceased Edgar Allen Poe; and a clairvoyant: Opal Crosby Fletcher -- invented by the author. Doyle is in the USA, and of course touting spiritualism and the supernatural. He meets Houdini, who is busy giving shows and debunking spiritualism. The reader may recall that Doyle was always convinced that Houdini actually had supernatural powers that he failed to recognise in himself. Murders that follow the pattern of those in Poe's tales occur -- and seem increasingly to threaten Houdini. Doyle finds that he is in contact with a living shade of Poe, who perceives Doyle as a ghost from the future! And via the strange clairvoyant, Houdini has his disbelief in the supernatural shaken -- as well as some MUCH more earthly experiences. I enjoyed the book, although the author comes down on the side of the supernormal, and although he essentially pushes the reader toward Doyle's concept of Houdini's abilities. It does not, however, seem to me to be put together as well as it could be, and it is vaguely unsatisfying.
An Imperfect Spy; Amanda Cross Amanda Cross (in real life, well-known Carolyn G. Heilbrun, Professor Emerita at Columbia) has written a series of mystery novels starring her erudite, witty, clever semi-feminist academic: Kate Fansler (a literary critic like her creator). This is the latest, and like the others it is as urbane, learned, and delightful as the protagonist. This is not a murder mystery however, and in fact is not really a mystery at all! One character has a hidden agendum that is not disclosed till the end, but otherwise it is a story about how several people bring about a revolution in a law school; a school whose professors are white males, and who want no part of females or people of color -- except as tokens. It is an interesting story, and the reader will find the law school an infuriating one -- the revolution is long overdue. Heilbrun is a strong champion of women's rights in real life, and this is essentially a set piece on the subject -- but it is a good one. If you have not experienced Amanda Cross, read this; and if you like it, read some of the earlier ones, and also find some of Heilbrun's essays, and her wonderful "Writing a Woman's Life". If you have met Kate Fansler, read this -- it is different.
Cranks and Shadows; K.C. Constantine
The mysterious Constantine (whose identity is not known), has here written
the last of his series of stories about Mario Balzic, blue collar chief
of police in Rocksburg, Pennsylvania; a fading small steel town near Pittsburgh.
He has written about a dozen stories, one every two years or so, and they
are very good and different stories. They are, I suppose, technically police
procedurals, but they are much more than that would suggest. If you do
not know this series, try some. In this one Balzic finally realizes the
fact that his attempts to stay out of politics were pointless. The book
is about the dawning of this realization, the workings of politics in a
small town, and the final triumph of the "bad guys" -- leading to Balzic's
retirement. It is not a mystery story as many of the series are. It is
a realistic (as are the others) depiction of the problems of people. It
is a good story, but this reader found it sad. First class wrap up of a
very good series. If you wish to read a more typical one of the series
try one called Joey's Case, written six years or so ago. The good guys
don't exactly triumph there either!