A Wild and Lonely Place; Marcia Muller The continuing saga of Sharon McCone, investigator in San Francisco. Muller has been changing and developing her character over the years, and continues to write very satisfactory yarns. This one takes McCone into the Caribbean to rescue a small child, as a sidebar to tracing the Diplobomber, someone who bombs embassies. Good story.
Earthborn; Book 5 of Homecoming;Orson Scott Card Card is one of the good storytellers of science fiction. It was he who wrote the impressive trilogy that started with the classic Ender's Game. This is the fifth and last book in his Homecoming saga. The series is a continuing story that spans two worlds and millions of years, although most of the action occurs over a time period of centuries. The first world is Harmony, populated by humans from Earth. It is under the direction and guidance of the Oversoul, a computer that is beginning to wear out. It is necessary that it be renovated by the Keeper of Earth; hence it is necessary to generate travel means, and choose people to populate the space ship for the very long trip. Stasis via freezing is necessary. The five books recount this beginning, transit, landing and what follows, from the perspective of the inhabitants of Harmony and the spaceship, and the Oversoul, in its interactions with special humans. The Earth they find has two sentient races: the Diggers -- genetically altered rats, the size of men; and Angels, genetically altered bats, also the size of men. In this final book, several hundred years after the preceding one, the female Starmaster who has spent most of the time in cryogenic sleep, and the Oversoul, located in the spaceship which is orbiting Earth, are still trying to locate the Keeper of Earth. The woman decides to spend some time on earth, and opens a school there to help foment the idea that the three races should exist peacefully. There is peace, because it was hammered out. Now, a charismatic young man is fomenting trouble -- inciting bigotry; he hates the Diggers. The final book is about this. Gradually the reader realizes that Card has created God in the form of the unseen, all- powerful, omnicient, Keeper of Earth. The message for Earth begins to sound much like parts of the Sermon on the Mount, and a key unbeliever is converted by a spectacular blinding vision while he is on the road -- shades of Paul! An interesting book, and an interesting series: The Memory of Earth; The Call of Earth; The Ships of Earth; Earthfall; and Earthborn.
The Ship Who Searched; Anne McCaffrey & Mercedes Lackey McCaffrey is one of the best of the romantic fantasy/sci fi storytellers. Some years ago she wrote a delightful story The Ship Who Sang, in which she introduced the concept of individuals whose brains are "wired" into space ships: "shell" persons. These were individuals who were severely crippled physically, and who chose to become an integral part of a ship -- usually a commercial ship. The ships were called Brain ships. Each ship carried, as a partner, an uncrippled human -- the ship's Brawn! Thus the ships became known as B&B ships. In this book she has returned for the third time to the idea, although now with a partner in the writing. I am not sure why she chose to collaborate. The story is of a precocious child, daughter of archaeologists, who picks up a neuro virus from her parents diggings, and becomes severely handicapped physically. She is offered the opportunity to become a "shell" person, and does so. She has a secret agendum: trace back the space faring civilization that left the virus. The book is essentially an old fashioned space opera, as Hepatia (named after the famous female librarian of the ancient Alexandria library) and her Brawn, roam the spaceways in a series of adventures, which culminates in a love story that totally changes the concept of "shell" persons. Light, pleasant, happy-ending story.
The Man Who Cast Two Shadows; Carol O'Connell This is the second remarkable story starring Kathleen Mallory, the gorgeous, green-eyed, blond, police woman -- computer genius, dead shot, hard case, and not completely socialized ex-child-of-the-streets. I am greatly impressed by this new writer of police stories; she has created a new type, and she is a great teller of stories. This one finds Mallory involved - as a police woman -with the murder of a young woman; and as a private investigator, with the problem of a family in which the wife feels threatened by objects flying around and moving - perhaps a poltergeist phenomenon caused by her young step-son. O'Connell has neatly combined the police-story genre with the private detective yarn. Of course it is not permitted that a police officer moonlight - - but Mallory never lets things like that stop her. The two main plots are unrelated, but the ingredients are designed to involve the two chief protagonists: Mallory, and Charles -- her "private investigations" partner. There are several sub-plots that are neatly folded in. The somewhat contrived ending is unusual, ironic, and agonizing for one of the protagonists. An engrossing piece of work in many ways, not the least of which is how the author carefully avoids souring the reader on Mallory -- a sociopath you come to admire, and ALMOST like.
Pigtown; William Caunitz Caunitz is an ex-policeman who writes good police procedurals. This is another. In this one we meet Detective Lieutenant Matthew Stewart, an honest cop, and the loyal honest members of his squad, who have as part of their patch the piece of Brooklyn known as Pigtown. The story begins with the investigation of a "hit" on a member of the Mafia. As it proceeds, the detectives are caught in a nasty situation, in which the corruption of fellow police causes major difficulties. The stalwart band overcomes all the difficulties, and ends up causing a number of very high level police officers to be arrested! It is a HIGHLY unrealistic story that I enjoyed very much indeed. It is sort of the David and Goliath story, with virtue winning out, and with a happy ending. Can't get better than that - - for me.
Summer of the Red Wolf; Morris L. West This was published in 1971. I re-read it at long intervals, because I find it to be a very powerful and satisfying story. It strikes some deep chord in me, and I think that I now know what that is. It may not strike others the same way; and I am not sure but what it is one that may only appeal to males. It is a deceptively simple story, told in the first person by a well-traveled writer who lives in Rome, finds himself sick of the world, and accepts the invitation of an old friend, a Scots physician, to spend some time at the latter's remote ancestral home in the outer Hebrides. There he meets Kathleen McNeil, with whom he falls in love; and Ruarri Matheson, the Red Wolf, amoral entrepreneur, smuggler, poacher, adventurer, visionary, and bastard. The story is simply one of love, brotherhood, masculine competition, and "the simple primitive adventure of being alive." The latter quote is from the author who found himself in the position of his protagonist, escaped for a while to the Outer Islands, and has written here, in "symbols and fiction," of his own experience. Morris uses the book to declaim various bits of philosophy, and there is considerable soul searching. I find it a very good tale.
The Caveman's Valentine;George Dawes Green A remarkable, brilliant first novel, and possibly the most unusual murder mystery that I have read! The "valentine" is a corpse, frozen, delivered at the entrance to a cave in the park; a cave wherein dwells the Caveman. He is a clinical paranoid (who *is* also schizophrenic *regardless* of the opinion attributed to a Dr.Jeffrey Newton in the Acknowledgement). He is Romulus Ledbetter: black, a Julliard-trained musician, pianist and composer, once a family man, and in the ranks of what our society now calls "homeless" -- a category into which Romulus refuses to admit he fits. After all, he has his cave, which includes a most unusual TV set! He also has (elsewhere) a loving family, which includes a daughter who is a police officer. He is waging a one-man attempt to alert the world to the terrible machinations of Cornelius Gould Stuyvesant, the evil (totally imaginary) genius who is responsible for society's ills, and who floods the world with X, Y, and Z rays. The corpse at his cave, the relationship between the corpse and one of Ledbetter's friends, and Ledbetter's own sense of justice, starts the Caveman on a quest -- to find the responsible villain. The quest is wild, intriguing, and unpredictible. It is funny, slyly humorous, sad, exciting, distressing, and heart- wrenching in spots. The author has written a wonderfully compassionate, compelling story in beautiful language (be aware that some may find the tale a little gritty here and there). The empathic reader will not soon forget Romulus and his utterly logical madness.
A Dead Man In Deptford; Anthony Burgess This is the last novel of that remarkable man, Anthony Burgess; scholar, novelist, autobiographer, playwright, translator, editor ... the master of elegant erudite prose. Burgess wrote his Oxford thesis on Christopher (Kit) Marlowe in 1940, he tells us in an afterward Author's Note, and decided that some day he would write a novel about that fascinating man. In 1993, 400 years after Marlowe's murder at Deptford, he did so. He chose as his narrator an acquaintance, and onetime (briefly) lover of Marlowe (a homosexual). There is a structural problem with this of course: the narrator cannot possibly know all the actions and conversations of his friend. Those, the narrator tells us (a number of times), are things he "supposes". So, in fact, we have an historical novel written by a friend of Marlowe's! As is frequently the case with Burgess, there is some while for the reader to adjust to the style; in this case to that of the narration and punctuation of a VERY literate Elizabethan actor. The style is an invented mixture of Elizabethan English and modern English. It has been 53 years since I drowsed through Kemp Malone's lectures on Elizabethan words, grammar, and syntax, so it was occasionally a struggle to follow along. If one does, she is really immersed in the excitement, squalor, crudities, cruelties, and politics of the time; politics dominated by the struggle between Protestant and Catholic Christianity in England. We follow Marlowe, beginning as a student at Cambridge (Corpus Christie), entering the Service (ultimately the English Secret [Intelligence] Service) of Sir Francis Walsingham as a courier and spy, through his Master of Arts degree, into his writing of plays (still an agent), and to his (most probable) murder. It is a fascinating, beautifully depicted picture of that enigmatic, creative man, and of the cruel times. Remember, those days were ones of dirt, squalor, bloody executions, filthy housing, little personal hygiene, and institutional (it seems) drunkeness -- and Burgess has captured them perfectly. He has also captured a complicated, brilliant, tortured, and surprisingly innocent man: Marlowe. I found one VERY irritating fillip: the narrator's repetitive use of a variety of possible names for characters. Thus, Kit keeps REPETIVELY introducing himself (using all the names) as "Marlin, Merlin, Marley, Morley, Marlowe"; or some sub-set of these surnames. There are other characters whose names are subject to various spellings, and we get each spelling -- EACH TIME! VERY irritating. It is certainly true that the surnames of commoners were changing in spelling through this period (thank you Dr, Malone!), but I cannot believe (or remember) that all the variants were presented each time the name was written or said. However, there are also some references that seemed to me to be to be anachronisms (like a reference to Gresham), until I checked one or two. OF COURSE Burgess was right! He was probably right about the use of names too! It is still irritating. Not an easy read; very worth it if you like the period or the man -- or Burgess.
The Good Daughter; Wendi Lee Ms Lee [also Mrs Beatty] is an associate editor, and the author of several Western novels (it says on the jacket). She seems also to have written several short stories about the female private investigator who is the lead in this mystery novel. I found the (short) novel to be a mediocre one. We meet Angela Matelli, part of a large Italian family in Boston, as she begins her career as a private investigator -- after eight years in the Marine Corps! She is hired by an ex- cop to check on his daughter's boyfriend. Later the cop is killed, she is almost killed, and she hired by the cop's daughter to investigate the ex-cop's death. It does not work very well for me; it was ho- hum as I read.
The Apocalypse Watch; Robert Ludlum This is Ludlum's 18th novel, most all of which have three word titles, of which the first word is "The". And all of which are essentially The Same Thing!. In this one, a large, secret, world-wide organization of German Nazis is dedicated to the goals of Hitler, including establishing the Fourth Reich, killing Jews, blacks, homosexuals (and to re-establishing Hitler!). They are opposed by a stalwart American intelligence (sort of) agent, a plucky and dedicated French woman, the head of the French Deuxieme Bureau, a CIA division head, and the head of the CIA. No one else can be trusted! You have read the essential story many times before; in fact, I vaguely recall that Ludlum's first yarn, The Scarletti Inheritance, had the same kind of villains. If you like the type of yarn, you will like this -- but I'll bet you go through it rapidly!
Galatea 2.2; Richard Powers This book has a clever title, and I found to be a mesmerising experience; another of Power's fascinating, exotic novels, written in scintillating (sometimes abstruse) language, and involving very interesting -- if strange -- people, and unusual, thought-provoking ideas. The first person narrator (Richard Powers if you please!) is a successful author, who has broken with his love of a decade, who is racked by difficulty in writing, and who has retreated for a year to the university where he had spent good years. He meets a brilliant, sardonic, misanthropic computer genius who inveigles him into a project to create a computer simulation that will, via the creation and training of neural networks, be able to take part in a limited form of Turing's test of artificial intelligence. That test involves a computer and a human being, each of whom is queried (by remote typewriter) about anything at all, by a person who must decide from the answers which replyer is the computer. Turing's argument was (essentially) that if the judge could not decide, then the computer was, in all essentials, intelligent [not necessarily sentient, however]. We follow the gradual structure and training of the computer program, along with an interspersed account of the author's intense love affair that has come to an end. The computer program can achieve great complexity because the University has a super-computing facility, which the two protagonists may use; so when they get to iteration H, it asks whether it is male or female, and what its name is! The author -- the one who is training the program -- replies that the program is female, and is named Helen. Gradually the author sees Helen as sentient; another Galatea has been created! And as with the original, Aphrodite, or at least her sphere of influence, plays a part. The novel has much musing about conciousness, learning, thinking, and the mind: fascinating insights into very complicated concepts. The language is striking, and there is a fair amount of passing technical commentary that might make it intimidating in spots for a non-technical reader. There is in the story much of the joy and anguish of life, and the reader comes to like the characters very much -- they are nice, humanly-flawed people. It is a little eery to find the fictional author telling of the writing of his various preceding novels -- which are in fact the preceding novels of the REAL Richard Powers! It is certain that the Pygmalian part is fiction; is any of the rest autobiographical? Very likely the bit in which the author mentions that he had been trained in physics; but I guess it doesn't matter. I enjoyed it very much indeed.
Resistance: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising;Israel Gutman On September 1, 1939 Hitler invaded Poland. In Warsaw, the existing Jewish quarter was turned into a ghetto, 400,000 Jews were jammed into it, and the ghetto was sealed in November, 1940. When the Germans began to implement die Endlsung,the "final solution" -- the extermination of Jews -- the inhabitants of the Ghetto were trapped in the walls, ripe for rounding up and deportation to the death camps, particularly Treblinka, 40 miles away. In July, 1942,the deportation began, and by September, only 50 to 60 thousand people remained. These were left by the Germans to move the assets of the Ghetto, and to provide materials and labor. The remainder of the Jews were to be removed, and the Ghetto demolished in January 1943. In the interval, the Jews in the Ghetto decided that they were to be exterminated, and in that case they would go down fighting.By the time the Germans appeared to round up the remaining Jews, they were met with opposition. That stopped the forced exodus for a few months, while the Germans tried to get the labor and materials situation in the Ghetto under control. In the meantime, bunkers were built, arms (pitifully few) were acquired, and the Jews prepared to fight. The Germans marched into the Ghetto on April 19, 1943 -- the eve of Passover, only to meet the Ghetto Uprising. The Germans had allocated four days to reduce the ghetto; it took them a month. The Jews fought against overwhelming odds, from bunker to bunker. And died. The Uprising has become legend; it ranks with Masada, and Thermopylae. This is the detailed story of the period from the invasion of Poland through the uprising. It is told by a man who is a legend too; if I read it right he is a survivor of the Ghetto, the Uprising, and three concentration camps. He has compiled it from the diaries and writings of survivors as well as those of the dead. Among the most astonishing of the latter is the material compiled by well known historian and public figure Emanuel Ringelblum who stayed in the Ghetto, and who arranged to compile detailed archives of the Ghetto and the events! They were buried in milk cans, and unearthed after the war. This book is uncomfortable, brutal, sickening, disouraging, fascinating and thrilling. I suspect that it was the Uprising that began what has become an Israeli slogan: "never again". And lest the modern reader feel that things have changed, consider the Bosnian Serbs, and ponder the phrase used in 1943 by Himmler's chief SS psychopath, General Friedrich Wilhelm Krger, about the removal of the Warsaw Jews:"ethnic purification;" -- or equivalently in the German :"ethnic cleansing". Those of us who stood against Hitler are appalled; the bastards live on.
Thin Air; Robert B. Parker The latest Spenser, Boston private eye, story. It is average for the course. A Boston detective, whom Spenser knows, finds his wife has vanished, and after getting shot, asks Spenser to find her. The woman has in fact been abducted by a former lover: a Latino, crazy, and the chief of a a sort of in- town fortified castle in the barrio of a nearby town. Hawk, Spenser's black sometime unofficial partner, is out of town, so Spenser borrows another helper, a Latino shooter from Los Angeles. He runs down the background of the missing woman, finds her location, then has to get her out. Good average series yarn. The jacket picture of Parker is startling; he has become a FAT man, with shades, and a dog!
Pandora's Clock; John J. Nance Nance is a man whose career and hobbies are in aviation -- he is a full time air line pilot among many other things. He is a good story teller. This one will seem somewhat familiar: airliner is in trouble; people aboard have a variety of personal problems that play against the on-board crisis. The new fillip is that the problem is the airliner is probably carrying a fantastically deadly virus, and no country will permit the plane to land. A subplot, but important to the plot, is that the CIA considers the situation an opportunity to carry out a shoot down, and blame a mid- east terrorist. Two slightly renegade CIA operatives decide to help the poor pilot on the aircraft. The pilot ends up the hero -- just like in all the similar stories you have read. OK as a suspense, action story, but not outstanding.
These Bones Were Made For Walking; Annette Meyers This is another mystery involving (gulp) Smith and Wetzon. That cutsie should be enough to turn off anyone, and it usually does me. I did read this one however, and found somewhat the same problems that I had with a few others in the series. Wetzon, female, is a former dancer who has become a partner in a head- hunting firm for Wall Street brokers. Her female partner Smith, is so insufferable that the reader has a problem trying to understand why Wetzon (who tells the story in the first person) stays in the firm. The general suggestion is that it is money that holds her firm! In this one, it is proposed to bring back an old musical hit, with the original cast -- one of whom is Wetzon. One original member can't be located, and it turns out that she was in fact murdered years ago. Gradually it appears thatthe dastardly deed was probably done by one of the original cast. Wetzon, and her police detective lover, work the problem. A very annoying introductory format for each chapter adds nothing to the story; it seems to be there because the author (who is writing from her experience) cannot resist adding "inside" sorts of arcana. Otherwise it is a reasonable but mediocre mystery yarn. Actually, this is a tad better than the other two I have read.
Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut: 25 Years of P.J. Age and Guile...;P.J. O'Rourke O'Rourke is self-described as a humourist, and the author of seven other books, of which I have read none. This was my first. It will probably be my last. The articles, all published elsewhere over the last 25 years, mostly leave a lot to be desired. This is especially true of the first 98 pages which are described on page 99 as "...endless sensitive, self obsessed, first- person mewling...", a very apt description, to which one may add that the material is also very freshmanic -- not quite as advanced as sophomoric. The later work shows O'Rourke improving markedly in his writing, but with flashbacks. He started out as one of the radical "sixties" types in the seventies, and never really got out of that mindset until somewhere in the mid eighties it would seem. He has now become a conservative libertarian (see Cato Institute!). There are several good articles about automobiles and automobiles and travel -- he spent a while working for automotive magazines, including Car & Driver; a superb analysis of his "baby boom" generation (The 1987 Stock Market Crash); and two very touching personal notes: Why I'm Not Afraid of the Dark, and On First Looking into Emily Post's Etiquette. There are a number of mediocre ones. All in all, he should have left well enough alone -- except for the key factor which he notes: he is getting paid twice for the same stuff! Can't fault that kind of libertarian greed.
The Choir; Joanna Trollope A lovely piece of story telling by a descendent of Anthony Trollope. I have read none of her other seven works, but I shall. The jacket says they center on the nuances and dilemmas of domestic life in contemporary England. This one does too, in a way, but it is centered on a particular gentle subculture: that surrounding the organization of the life of an English cathedral, and that of the village in which it resides. The Dean is focused on the needs of the cathedral, and when it is clear that money is needed for urgent repairs, he proposes to do away with the vaunted boys choir of the King's School. The headmaster, and the organist, oppose this, and set out to save the choir; and all the characters in the story are swept into the battle. The characters are wonderfully drawn, and the reader empathises with all of them. It is an interesting, lively, gentle, touching story of ordinary -- and some slightly extraordinary -- nice people. Very enjoyable indeed.
Shadow Song; Terry Kay An interesting, somewhat different love story. It is told in the first person by "Bobo" Murphy. He recounts a golden summer in 1955, when, age 17, he came from a farm in the rural South to be a waiter in the Catskill's Pine Hill Inn, and tells of later events in the lives of the people of that summer. We meet Murphy when he returns to the Catskills to bury his VERY strange old Jewish friend Avrum Feldman, and to carry out Avrum's directions for a strange Kaddish. It was during that summer in 1955 that Murphy first met Avrum Feldman. He also met Amy, a young Jewish girl, and they fell in love, and parted. Now, back in the village to bury Avrum, he again meets Amy, and learns a lot about her, himself, friends, and Avrum. It is a gentle, romantic love story. Not the sort I usually read; but I am glad I read this one.
Electric City; K.K. Beck This is the third novel starring Jane da Silva, a private investigator who is charged by a trust (set up by her uncle) to investigate and solve "worthwhile hopless causes". If she finds a suitable case ( satisfys the trustees) and solves it, then she is paid a lot of money. That is the gimmick in this private eye series. In this one she is asked to look into the disappearance of a female researcher at a news clipping agency. The woman won $20,000 on a TV program, and then vanished. Her friends want Jane to find out what happened to her. Jane starts by advertising, and in the course of following up on replies begins to learn that the vanished researcher seems to have been very different from the persona presented to her friends at the clipping agency. For some reason this detective does not appeal to me, and the gimmick doesn't help. Otherwise it is an acceptable beach read.
Sunrise; Chassie West Sunrise is a town in North Carolina, and is the childhood home of Leigh Ann Warren, a black police officer in the Metropolitan Police of the District of Columbia. After a traumatic shooting incident, Warren desperately needs to escape, and heads for her childhood home, having decided that she will quit the Washington force when she returns to DC. She finds her hometown has changed but little in some ways, but there is a controversy about a proposed new large shopping mall, which will cover the town's black cemetary. She is reunited with her foster mother, and is catching up with her old friends, when her mother's dog uncovers some old bones. These reveal a 13 year old murder, and lead to another contemporary murder. She is drawn into the case by the white chief of police (Mr. Sheriff!), and as the investigation continues, she uncovers the fact that also in the past there had been multiple rapes by a serial rapist, and that the murders were probably related to that. I found this a very enjoyable novel despite the somewhat violent (but reasonable) ending. I guess it is technically a police procedural, but the author has created interesting people, an interesting situation, an interesting town, and an interesting view of all of them from the viewpoint of a black woman in a small town in the South. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.
Rulers of Darkness; Steven Spruill This is a suspenseful fantasy about vampires. However in this story they are not vampires, they are "hemophages", and there is a medical "explanation" for this "condition" -- a genetic condition in which the body cells are unkillable; the hemophage needs and craves infusions of fresh human blood, and has a genetic need to kill the victims. The story begins with the finding of a murdered, exsanguinated body of a young woman on the grounds of the Washington Cathedral. The investigating female pathologist makes an astounding discovery: blood from the killer was found on the scene, and the cells in those blood traces do not die. The investigating police officer, Merrick Chapman, one-time lover of the pathologist, and the father of her young son, realizes this is the work of a hemophage, and believes he knows the killer -- an older son (by another woman). Chapman is also a hemophage, and is 927 years old. He has overcome his desire to kill those from whom he takes blood, and for centuries has been "terminating" hemophages who are killers (terminating is not easy, as the reader will find out). The gene is not very transmissable, so only one of Chapman's many children over the years became a hemophage: Zane -- who is also a killer, and hates his father. The story involves the struggle between the father and son, with the son's daughter and the pathologist involved. A dandy story of its kind. Science and medicine meet vampires!
Bookman's Holiday;John Dunning Three years ago, in a stunningly good tale (Booked To Die), Dunning introduced us to Cliff Janeway: a startling combination of current rare and used book dealer, tough ex-cop, and nice guy. This is the second Janeway book, and it is another dandy. Janeway gets a visit from another former cop who runs a detective agency, and wants to pay Janeway $5000 to go to Seattle to pick up a fugitive young woman, and deliver her to court in Taos. The woman is wanted for burglary and armed assault, and may have stolen a copy of a 1969 special edition of Poe's "Raven", published by the now defunct Grayson Press of Northbend, Washington. As it happens, there is not supposed to be a copy with that date. Janeway goes to Seattle, picks up the young woman, discovers she is a very learned booklover and bookscout, and takes her on a tour of Seattle bookshops only to have her abducted by some nasty villains. Janeway slips into the cop mode, but must duck the local police. He gets help from a female reporter/author who is knowledgeable about the Grayson Press (has written a book about the Grayson brothers). They set out to find the woman, but to do so they have to unravel a complicated tangle of duplicity, fraud, and murder, that goes back in years, centers on books, and includes serial murders -- the latter quite different from what is usually depicted under that label. It is a spell binding, complicated, suspenseful, and exciting mystery story. It also portrays the fever that infects book collectors and book lovers, but I suspect that those readers who are not infected will not really understand those of us who are! The book-lover reader will find it extra interesting -- but any reader will have to pay attention to the somewhat complicated history of book printings of the "Raven". You will stay up past bedtime to finish this one.
Under The Beetle's Cellar; Mary Willis Walker This is one of the most suspenseful, scary, thrilling, heart-wrenching hostage stories that you will encounter. I suspect that it was inspired by a 1976 kidnapping episode in Chowchilla CA. Walker is a first class story teller, and this is the gripping account of a reporter caught up in the story related to a grim hostage situation, and of the hostages: eleven young schoolchildren and their unusual bus driver. The hostages are confined underground in an old buried bus (as in the CA episode) inside an armed compound owned by a religious cult headed by a creepy religious madman, with whom the negotiating teams seem to get nowhere. The situation has been stalemated for forty six days when the story starts. There are only four more days before the cult leader expects the world to end, and it becomes clear that he will kill the children on that day. The reporter investigates the past of the cult leader, and learns something that possibly offers a way to get inside the compound. The story alternates from the outside world to the underground bus as the clock ticks out the time. Walker wrote a great yarn in the "The Red Scream". This is better. Do not miss it. NOTE: Bette is a claustrophobe, and could not read this book! So claustrophobes -- beware!
On Gold Mountain; Lisa See A fascinating, multigenerational family history, by a woman who is one eighth Chinese, and seven eighths Caucasian. Her great- great-great grandfather emigrated from China to the United States -- "Gold Mountain" in Chinese. His son Fong See followed, and married a Caucasian. Lisa See was asked by her great aunt to write a history of the family, and this is it.It is a complicated family -- her great-great grandfather was married four times, sometimes concurrently! The family frequently married Caucasian women; Lisa's mother is Caucasian. Those marriages frequently failed. The book is an interesting picture of interesting characters, but it is utterly fascinating in its portrayal of the lives of Chinese and part Chinese in a racist United States, of the great cultural differences that plagued the inter-racial marriages, and of the development and changes in areas of California, especially Los Angeles. Family sagas are not my cup of tea, but this one captured me. Fascinating.
Finding Moon; Tony Hillerman A real surprise. Hillerman of course writes delightful Navajo mysteries, so this would naturally be the latest. The cover -- not looked at too carefully -- was carefully designed to reinforce that conclusion; which was wrong. This has nothing to do with the Navajo series. It is an adventure, suspense, quest yarn, set in April of 1975, and I liked it. The hero, "Moon" Mathias, is the editor of a third rate newspaper. He gets a call that tells him his mother, who is supposed to be in Florida, had collapsed at the Los Angeles International Airport, and is in an LA hospital. She was planning to board a plane to the Phillipines. Bewildered, Moon goes to LA, finds his mother had a heart attack and is in serious condition. He checks the papers that she was carrying. In those he learns that his younger brother, Ricky, a civilian who was killed in a helicopter crash in Viet Nam, was secretly married and had a daughter; a baby named Lisa. Lisa was to be brought to the Phillipines, where Moon's mother was to get her granddaughter. Moon takes off to the Phillipines. The baby is not there, and he has to sail across the South China Sea to the war zone to find the child. He has companions, as should all heros in quest tales: a young Dutch girl who is trying to reach her brother, an older Chinese who is seeking a jar that contains ancestral bones, and a warrier. The quest is also about how an uncertain man finds himself-- hence the title. This is a simple, linear, uncomplicated, romantic adventure. It also presents a picture of that chaotic time in Cambodia and VietNam: the period when the USA gave up, and pulled out. I was surprised to find comments about the Vietnam "Brown Water Navy" -- the U.S. Navy's Delta patrol fleet; it brought back memories.
Four Ways To Forgiveness;Ursula K.LeGuin This is in the science fiction category, and as usual LeGuin is interested in the sociology of the worlds she creates so vividly, and which she populates with very interesting and capable women. The book is not a novel; rather it is four short stories that have been published in magazines in '94 and '95. They are called novellas on the jacket, but it aint so. The four stories are related via locale, and the latter three also via re-entrant characters. LeGuin has created several planets, and uses Terra as one that is mentioned only. The main concern is the set of twin planets: Werel and Yeowe, and the slave-holding society that populated them. Yeowe was settled by the Corporations from Werel, and consisted of plantation compounds. The imported labor was slave labor; women were used for breeding. Finally the women instigated a rebellion which was ultimately successful; however the male dominated society that developed, essentially holds women in thrall! They have no rights. This solar system has been visited by humans from a collection of worlds, the Ekumen, who propose membership to the two worlds, and send envoys to the worlds. The stories focus on four women, and their lives on these worlds, on several men and their relationships with the women, and on the efforts to change the opression of women. I enjoyed these stories, although I cannot read LeGuin's short stories that are laid in our modern world. The latter are dark and pessimistic; these have hope -- and forgiveness.
The Wages of Guilt: Memories of War in Germany and Japan; Ian Buruma Buruma is a Dutchman, a traveler, a journalist, and an author of other books. He has written a fascinating, complicated study of the thoughts, feelings, and attitudes of people and governments in Germany and Japan about World War II. It is part reporting, part essay, and alternates from one society to the other. He points out similarities and differences, and I learned a great deal. Both countries have vast difficulty in handling that period of their histories, and Buruma details the situations very well. He has written a thoughtful, insightful, well-researched study of a complex subject, and has provided provocative insights. He has provided notes, and a good index. I found the analysis of the matter in Japan to be disturbing, especially because many of the difficulties seem to have been engendered by the United States via its occupation philosophy. Slow going, but entrancing. A subject that has shaped, and is shaping the world to come.
The Making of the New Testament:Origin, Collection, Text & Canon; Arthur G. Patzia. PB Patzia is a professor of New Testament and Director of Fuller Theological Seminary in Northern California, the book says. He says he has written this for non specialists. Regardless, in my terminology in these notes, this is for specialists -- i.e. not of general interest. It is also, I think, at best marginally for the lay reader; it is not easy reading. In fact, although I am quite interested in the matter, I could only skim much of the material. To read thoroughly would really amount to study -- and I did not care to do that at this time. Patzia is an academic, not a popularizer. It is however, a fascinating introduction to a remarkably complicated subject, with valuable appendices, a good glossary, extensive notes, a selected but encompassing bibliography, and a good index. I learned a number of things that surprised me a good deal -- and I was surprised by THAT! In fact, I plan to buy this paperback. I do wish that there was some indication of what brand of Christianity the Fuller Theological Seminary espouses; one likes to know the possible unconcious slants built into expositions such as this.
Surfing The Internet: A Nethead's Adventures On- Line; J.C. Herz Herz (female) has written a non-fiction series of essay-chapters on the parts of the Internet that she surfs. Be aware that the areas she is involved with are not the only ones by far. She is hypnotized by the USENET News groups, which are in fact not news at all, rather forums for e-mail postings (letters) on every subject imaginable; and by MUDs, fantasy structures involving fantasy games. The book will give you a good picture of many of the somewhat weird exchanges and interactions that are available to those so inclined. It strikes this old reader that most of these -- and the author -- may be indicative of arrested development, or regressions to the 60's. Most of the material involves what is essentially fantasy on the part of the participants. Perhaps the current world is such that the escape into fantasy is becoming essential to the newer generation. There is nothing wrong with that -- although a fair amount of what is described here is puerile; what bothers me is that the novice may well be turned off by the biased selection in this book. There is MUCH MUCH more to the on-line world of the Internet than the stuff that Herz implies she is addicted to. It is an exciting, fascinating, rewarding world even if you skip the areas in this book!
Traitor's Gate; Anne Perry The latest in Perry's good Victorian mysteries, which star London policeman Thomas Pitt, and his helpful wife, Charlotte. In the series, Pitt has been progressing up the hierarchy of police positions, and is Police Superintendent in this one. He married above his position when he married Charlotte, but his income has risen to make his life, and Charlotte's, easier. In this story Pitt has three problems to solve. His childhood sponsor and mentor, Sir Arthur Desmond, has died of poison in his private club, and Sir. Arthur's son, Pitt's childhood playmate, has asked Pitt to look into the matter. The second problem is treason. It appears that someone in the Colonial Office is leaking, to the Germans, classified information about British strategy in Africa. Pitt believes that the two crimes are related, and that they are tied to the covert Inner Circle, a powerful secret organization that involves people in high positions, and which influences politics and people. Charlotte, using her society influence, sets out to help Pitt. Half way through the story, there is a murder; the victim is a young woman, found in the Thames, at Traitor's Gate. Pitt solves that murder, and the loss of secrets, but it is Charlotte who finally nails the murderer of Arthur Desmond. It is a good story, and as always, Perry sketches a good picture of Victorian times, and provides interesting glimpses of upperclass London Society of the time. The internal evidence suggests the time is 1880, and I was surprised at the implication that telephones were already ubiquitous in London, but it seems that was in fact so. The Inner Circle is of course Perry's version of the Freemasons, as they were said to have been, and are said to still be in England-- especially in the police. I was tickled by the private club, which was for men only, and which gets invaded by Charlotte - - to the vast distress of members present. She gazes at the wreckage of a room after a fight, and murmurs mildly: "I always wondered what you did in here." Almost word for word the comment of a woman who entered the sacrosanct rooms of the Cosmos Club in Washington, DC, after it finally admitted women in 1988!
Angel of Death; Jack Higgins Another of the thrillers that Higgins writes about the covert British Group 4, which reports to the Prime Minister, and consists of Brigadier Charles Ferguson and various trusty cohorts. This is one in which the cast again includes the deadly Sean Dillon, onetime IRA enforcer, and Scotland Yard Inspector Hannah Bernstein. The Angel of Death is Grace Browning, a famous actress, and a killer. She is the assassin member of a group of three, of which the others are a very high level homosexual political advisor who is also a Russian agent, and his academic lover. They carry out assassinations for a Russian embassy director, and proclaim the killings to be the work of an Irish terrorist group. The object is to keep the British in a state of chaos about the Irish "situation." The book is about the group, and the attempts of Ferguson's band of stalwarts to track down the group. Standard Higgins fare.
Dead Man's Walk; Larry McMurtry This is a prequel to the saga: Lonesome Dove, and again features Agustus McCrae and Woodrow F. Call, at a time when they were very young men who had just signed up as Texas Rangers in an independent Texas Republic. It recounts their first encounter with the savage frontier. Their adventures include an ill fated and stupid expedition to Santa Fe, encounters with Indians and Mexicans, their capture by Mexicans, and their subsequent 200 mile journey across the desert to El Paso -- the Jornada Del Muerto, the Deadman's Walk. Woven through the adventures are encounters with Buffalo Hump, a Comanche Chief; Kicking Wolf, Buffalo Hump's sidekick; and the Apache, Gomez. At the end Gus and Call, and their several surviving companions, meet the remarkable Lady Carey, an English noblewoman being held for ransom along with her son, and then again encounter the Comanches in one of the most astounding and unlikely climactic scenes that you will ever read. Be warned that this is a recounting of VERY rough times; there are vivid descriptions of cruelty and atrocities. Life was harsh in Lonesome Dove; it is raw here.
The Last Lieutenant; John J. Gobbell This is a story of the last days of the Japanese siege of Corregidor, in the Phillipines, in the early days of World War II. When General Wainwright surrenders the US forces, Lieutenant Todd Ingram, USN, decides that HE is not going to surrender, and with 11 companions, snatches a 36 foot launch and sets out to island-hop to Australia. As a sidebar to that adventure, he is desperately trying to catch up with a Nazi spy, who infiltrated the US Army cryptography group, and has crucial US information about the forthcoming invasion of Midway -- the Japanese MUST not learn of it. Along the line he meets and falls in love with a nurse from Corregidor. An enjoyable adventure yarn, but nothing spectacular. The seemingly improbable journey (minus some of the fictional embellishments) actually happened in real life (with other protagonists, of course); it was the inspiration for this novel.
No Place To Hide; Gerry Carroll Gerry Carroll, USN (Ret.) died in 1993 after an illustrious career as a naval aviator, and after writing three novels about the Navy and the Vietnam war. This is the last novel. He was not a great story teller, but the novels are interesting men-at- war novels. Most of this takes place in 1975, during the chaotic final evacuation of US and allied personnel from Vietnam, and Carroll gives a very good picture of that ghastly time from the Navy point of view. The story brings back helicopter pilot Tim Boyle, and his close friend, A7 driver Mike Santy, and revolves around the attempted extraction of a Navy SEAL who, 8 years earlier, essentially went AOL to stay in country and fight with the Montagnards. It is a men-at-war story, and pretty good for the genre. The portrayal of the evacuation fiasco, and the problems engendered by the State Department and the Embassy, are as good as I have read.
In Retrospect: The Tragedy And Lessons Of Vietnam; Robert S. McNamera McNamera tells his version of the US involvement in Vietnam,his opinion of the reasons we got sucked into that quagmire, and his role in the whole affair; a mea culpa account. It is in fact a sad, and distressing book, which has already stirred a great deal of debate. He left the Johnson administration when he realized finally that the war was unwinnable -- he is still not sure whether he quit, or got fired(I have friends who have no doubts -- it was the latter, they say). He never spoke of the matter until this book, and he is severely faulted for that at present. I think that he is a generally an honest man (with major blind spots) and posessed of an interesting sense of integrity that made it impossible for him to speak out while Johnson was President, and he makes that persuasively clear - at least to me. Possibly he could not do so while Nixon was President. Certainly he could have spoken out when the war was over, but as I think of it after reading this book, I see that he could not do so then. He really did have to wait until this much later. I should note here that I did not like McNamera when he was Secretary; but I think his critics are mostly wrong, with perhaps one exception. I read this book with a growing sympathy for the man; he is a far cry from that brilliant, arrogant man who was Secretary of Defense. It is a good book to have on the subject, but it is not an easy read; one must pay considerable attention, but it is a good inside view of the matter. The major problem involving McNamera involves the second incident in the Gulf of Tonkin, the one that caused Johnson to take major war action. That incident certainly never happened, and it is probable that McNamera knew that when he told Johnson that it had, and that, in later years, he continued to insist that it had happened. He does not resolve that problem -- which I admit brings into question his integrity. The book is certainly self-serving, but not nearly as much as I anticipated. He suggests some lessons, and I suggest that we shall not profit from them. Perhaps it is just my pessimistic old age.
House of Blues; Julie Smith This is Smith's fifth novel laid in New Orleans, starring the six foot, white, policewoman Skip Langdon. Smith, a former reporter in New Orleans, has the city down pat, and has invented an interesting, very likeable, very human heroine in Skip Langdon. This story starts with a gathering of the Hebert clan, headed by nasty Arthur Hebert, head of a famous New Orleans restaurant. Arthur, who had earlier announced his retirement, and that his very capable daughter Reed was in charge, changes his mind, and announces the change. Reed is furious, and in the course of a shouting match, soup is spilled on Reed's young daughter. Arthur's distraught wife, rushes out of the house to go the Reed's house for a clean outfit, and when she returns she finds her husband killed by gunshots, and her daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter gone. Langdon gets the case, and the story is the unraveling of the murder, and the abduction of the family. The great emphasis in the book is on people, relationships, and emotions, especially Langdon's, and there are several subplots and flashbacks, so a fairly complicated structure emerges. It is a good story.
6 Messiahs; Mark Frost A while back, Frost wrote a novel called The List of Seven, in which young Arthur Conan Doyle met Jack Sparks(a fictitious character), and the two solved the problem of the The List of Seven. After the death of Sparks in a fall off the cliff at Reichenbach Falls, Doyle created Sherlock Holmes, and modeled him after Sparks. The current story, a fantasy, occurs a decade later. Doyle and his brother are headed for America. As the voyage proceeds, Doyle is asked for help by Lionel Stern, a Jew, who, with a friend, is transporting the oldest existing manuscript of the Book of Zohar, the basis of Kabbalah. Stern is sure that someone is trying to steal the manuscript. Doyle agrees to help. In the course of resolving that problem, Doyle is astounded to find that Sparks is still alive, albeit a drastically changed man. Sparks is investigating the theft of the oldest biblical manuscript in the Anglican Church. Someone is stealing valuable early religious books it seems. Interspersed with the story of Doyle and Sparks, are the stories of four other individuals, a Japanese, an American Indian, a Rabbi (Stern's father), and an unusual Marahaja from India. These people, and Sparks, are all having vivid dreams that summon them to a place where a large black tower is being built in the desert. As it happens, the tower is really being built, by a strange clergyman who has tremendous mental Power, and who has in mind the construction of a Pit, and the unloosing of the Beast described in the Prophecies of St. John -- the Beast whose number is 666. Key to this is the destruction of significant religious books. The people being summoned in dreams are to foil this evil attempt; they are the Messiahs -- a concept from the Kabbalah, explained by the Rabbi. Good yarn if you like the type. Others have written similar fantasies, but not involving Arthur Conan Doyle!