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Friday, September 30, 2016

Review: The Ghost by Robert Harris

Audiobook: I like Robert Harris and have read several of his books, many of which have an historical grounding. As this was promoted as being different, I avoided it, but one day started up the audiobook and I was hooked. The premise is quite interesting. A ghost writer, never identified by name, has been hired to complete a famous ex-prime minister’s memoirs after the apparent suicide of the former “ghost.” There’s a very short deadline, and he’s dismayed to see the 600 pages left by his predecessor are virtually unreadable, boring in the extreme.

Then things get a bit complicated as Adam Lang, the subject of the memoir and supposed author, is indicted by the International Criminal Court for having permitted and encouraged the rendition and torture of suspects following the 9/11 attacks. I suppose it’s the height of irony that the country that created the Nuremberg courts, trials and executions, the United States, has withdrawn from participation in the ICC, along with the Sudan (its president was indicted) and Israel, although being one of the signatories. That it is perhaps afraid of subjecting its leaders to international sanctions for committing war crimes puts the U.S. in good company with countries like China, Iraq and North Korea. I suspect it’s because Congress fears possible indictment of GW Bush for his complicity in the treatment and torture of prisoners. In any case, the indictment of Lange (Tony Blair, anyone?) makes the memoirs, already sought after, hot property, indeed.

Terrorism has been a real boon to those in power providing a rationale for obtaining more control over their “subjects,” while providing them with more mechanisms, in the name of security, of course, to remove themselves even further from the electorate in bomb/gas-proof limousines, guards, etc. That is a sub-theme of the book that has a host of relevant meanings for the word “ghost.” (Note that the book has been reissued under the title “Ghost Writer’ which loses much of the impact of the double meanings.)

Some interesting discussion on the relationship between truth, memoirs, ghost writers, and politics. I found it hard to put down, listening while walking the dog, sorting stamps, cleaning, etc. My only complaint was the ending , the justification for which seemed thin. Good read, nevertheless.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Review: Deal Breaker by Harlan Coben

The first Myron Bolitar, excellently read by Jonathan Marozs. It’s a lot of fun with Coben displaying the wise-cracking Bolitar to good advantage.

Myron, ex-basketball star, lawyer, and former spook, has just started his sports agency business and has signed Christian Steele to a lucrative contract with the Titans. Steele’s girlfriend (and sister to Myron’s girlfriend Jessica) has disappeared and is presumed to have been murdered by some random serial killer. Jessica, whose father, a medical examiner, has also been murdered recently, asks Myron to find out what happened to her sister. Of course, all the murders are related.

The regular characters are introduced in the novel: Wynn, the amoral, rich, sidekick; and Esperanza, his wiseass secretary and former wrestling champion. It all makes for a wonderful melange of mystery and investigation although occasionally it reads like an apologia for sports agents who must operate in a very sleezy world.

I’ve read several in the Bolitar series and like all of them. Some of the jokes in this the first of the series are a bit archaic. For example, “What did you say your name was?” “ Dom Deluise.”

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Review: Keller's Designated Hitter by Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block has been reissuing some of his earlier work as Kindle shorts. If you have read much Block, be careful not to purchase something that might have appeared earlier in one of the books. The Keller "novels" for example are often more collections of stories that lend themselves to appearing independently.

That being said, I had not read this one before, which had appeared in a magazine several decades ago. It is typical Keller with him making adjustments to the hit he has been paid to complete, stamps, etc., all written in that wonderful Block style that makes his work so engaging. This one has a baseball theme.

Most of these can be gotten free through Kindle Unlimited. Read them.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Review: Das Boot

Probably the most existential and realistic book of submarine warfare from the point of view of a German crew that I have read. It reveals an experience most would rather not have had to live through.

Submarines need buoyancy to function. Salt water makes that extremely difficult because the specific gravity of salt water varies with depth, temperature, the amount of plankton, salinity, even the time of year. (Apparently fresh water is much easier.) Now let’s assume that the specific gravity changes by 1/1000, a small enough amount. If the weight of the sub is 800 tons, the weight must change by 1/1000 or 1600 lbs., not an insignificant amount. The weight has to be increased or decreased as the case may be.

Or let’s say the cook moves a 100 lb. sack of potatoes from the stern forward. That amount of weight has to be redistributed by pumping an equivalent amount of water back to the stern in the trim tanks. You will never think of submarines in quite the same way after you have read the description of their sub in the midst of a storm having to run on the surface for speed (if you could call it that) and to charge the batteries, the boat plunging and heaving through the waves. Can submarines capsize?

This kind of fascinating information adds such verisimilitude to one of the submarine classics to come out of WW II. The author served as a naval correspondent on U-Boots during the war and experienced much of what he then wrote about. I have seen the movie (in German) and listened to the audiobook in addition to reading the book (in English). Not recommended in any form if you have a heart condition.

“All doubts are silenced by the concept of duty.” Think about that.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Review: Privileged Lives by Edward Stewart

I ran across Edward Stewart’s Lt. Vincent Cardozo series in an Amazon Kindle special promotion. They have been resurrected by Open Road Media, and I’m glad I found them. Stewart, who died at age 58, in 1996, had been a relatively unknown author, but this series promised to perhaps change that. It consists of four books, the last, Jury Double, having been published after his death. One reviewer suggested had he lived the series might have evolved into something like Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series; high praise, indeed. This one is the first.

The book begins with the vignette of a woman awaking after lying in a coma for almost 100 months following an accident. The scene then shifts to Cordozo on the beach being called to the homicide of a man in a mask whose leg had been amputated.

Well written with some nice phrases, e.g.: “ The air in the stairwell pressed like a blanket soaked in hot water.” and “a man who moved with the ease of a stone wall learning to walk.” Dobbs, the gossip columnist reminds me of Alice Longworth who said, “If you have nothing good to say come sit here by me.” He had some wickedly funny comments during his interview with the cops.

Another telling quote that hit home: “No matter what else happens,” he said, “no matter what else you discover has happened, hold on to work. Work is the last, the most important, the only frontier. Everything else comes and goes—but work stays. The one friend, the one parent, the one child, the one lover. It’s the only thread we’ve got to guide us through this labyrinth we call a life.”

On the other hand, this is not a book for the squeamish. There are some descriptions of sexual depravities that would, I’m sure, disturb the fearful and puritanical. I knocked off a star for what I thought were coincidences beyond belief, but generally still a good police procedural.