Saturday, September 20, 2014

Plan B: A Novel by Jonathan Tropper | LibraryThing

I’ve read several of Tropper’s books. He specializes in the dysfunctional family. This one concerns four friends: our narrator, Ben, long in love with Lindsey, but just getting divorced from Sarah;  Chuck, the Rogaine-using surgeon who can’t seem to get enough sex; Jack, a movie star with a bad cocaine habit, now estranged from them after they attempted a half-hearted intervention; and Allison, Jack’s sort of girlfriend.

But the worst thing is they’re turning thirty.  If I were a dog I’d be dead. Thirty . . . shit. It’s a nice round number to arrive at if you have it all together. Success, love, a family, the overall sense that you actually belong on the planet. If you have all that, you can wear thirty well. But if you don’t, it feels like you’ve missed the deadline, and suddenly your chances of ever getting it right, of ever achieving true happiness and fulfillment, are fading fast. . . Thirty . . . shit. Crows feet, jowls, love handles. I’ve started to see myself through the eyes of the teenagers I pass on the street, repeatedly shocked by the realization that they see me as older. So many of the things I’ve eaten with impunity for years suddenly give me indigestion. Nothing feels new anymore. Everything I see just reminds me of something else. I know now that there are certain things I’ll never do in my life. A shirt I still think of as new turns out to actually be seven or eight years old. Seasons are quicker, holidays vaguely disturbing. Statistically speaking, I’ve used up more than one third of my life span, the healthiest third. And where are the tradeoffs? Where’s the authority? The wisdom? The confidence that was supposed to have come with adulthood? I’m only experienced enough to know that I’m as clueless as I ever was.” (Man, would I love to be thirty again. My kids all thought thirty was death.  Now they’re all approaching or are past forty, it’s a different story.)

Convinced they can only help Jack with drastic measures, they adopt Plan B.  They kidnap him to get him out of his addiction.  Then things get complicated. They realize their motivations weren’t quite what they professed.  On the other hand, “The Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin Man weren’t just helping Dorothy for the hell of it. They all had their own reasons for wanting to see the Wizard.”

A very sweet book and thoroughly enjoyable.  It has suspense, conflict, surprise, and humor.  “That guy” Don told us when we greeted him on the porch, “got into the gene pool when the lifeguard wasn’t watching.” “He definitely has severe delusions of adequacy.”

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Friday, September 12, 2014

The Devil's Star: A Harry Hole Novel by Jo Nesbo | LibraryThing

I did not realize when I started this book that it was fifth in a series of ten, so far. While it does stand alone, I think I would recommend reading them in order.

Detective Inspector Harry Hole has been on a drunken bender for several weeks.  Having been obsessed with the idea that a fellow cop, Tom Waaler, is corrupt and had killed two people in order to hide his activities, he had come to the conclusion that he was stymied and unable to take the case further.  He has but one ally in the police department, his boss, Bjorn Moller. “Harry Hole.The lone wolf, the drunk, the department’s enfant terrible and, apart from Tom Waaler, the best detective on the sixth floor.”   He’s occasionally totally dysfunctional with moments of brilliance.

They are confronted with a strange case where the killer seemingly picks his targets at random, leaving only a severed digit as a clue and red diamonds.  Hole realizes that the killer is leaving a trail and the clues all revolve around the pentagon shape.

It took me a bit to get into the book, but once involved, it’s a real rush to the end with numerous tight curves and bends. Downgraded for intuitive insights on the part of Harry that seemed to spring out of thin air rather than from investigatory brilliance.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Jack in the Box (Brock and Poole Mysteries) by Graham Ison | LibraryThing

DCI Harry Brock is called to the scene of a burned corpse discovered by the fire brigade after being sent to put out a small litter fire.  Brock’s side-kick is DS Dave Poole and the two make an interesting pair. It’s a rather routine police procedural.  What makes it above average is the interplay between Brock and Dave.

Ison was a Scotland Yard detective for some thirty years and his expertise is apparent.  As are his often sarcastic opinions of the state of the current British justice system.  

Good story with lots of false leads.  Unlike his Hardcastle series, it’s set in a modern world, rather than around WW I.

Perfectly paced  audiobook nicely read by Damian Lynch.

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Hardcastle's Actress (Hardcastle Mysteries) by Graham Ison | LibraryThing

Enjoyable audiobook.  Hardcastle, a gruff, often rude, DDI (Divisional Detective Inspector) is sent from Scotland Yard to investigate the murder of a young actress, Victoria Hart, the recently married wife of a Navy Commander. The investigation wanders from husband to theater director to others who might have resented the lovely actress.

WW I in full swing, Victoria Hart, the dead woman, known for her risque outfits and dancing, had tried to help recruitment by offering a kiss to any man willing to sign recruitment papers (otherwise known as a death warrant.) When two recruiting sergeants are also murdered the investigation takes a different shift, focusing instead on looking for someone who might have resented having a loved one recruited leading to his death in France.  The end result is something different, indeed.

Hardcastle is temperamental and often obnoxious sometimes getting results as much through bullying as intelligence with only occasional -- and surprising -- acts of kindness toward his inferiors in rank.

The author, Graham Ison was apparently a Scotland Yard detective for many years.  He has an entire series built around the effects of WW I on the general population and the police.  He’s written close to forty novels.  They contain authentic details of police procedure in the early twentieth century as well has a host of obsolete slang, e.g. “who would know these days the meaning of a ‘fourpenny cannon’?  But in Hardcastle’s day, it was a steak and kidney pie.  And a ‘Piccadilly window’ was a term describing a monocle. “  (From the author’s web page.)

I’ll have my work cut out to read (listen to) all of the Hardcastle series.

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Widowmaker by Drew Martensen | LibraryThing

Riveting, but not for the faint-hearted.  The term “widowmaker” comes from the slang term given to battalions with casualty rates approaching 90 percent. The average was around 50 percent. Definitely not the Marine Corps of John Wayne. Mortensen’s squad has descended to a level of inhumanity that’s difficult to read.  He tries to maintain a level of sanity, but the pressure to become as evil as the rest is overwhelming. “Then, I begin thinking about what I am becoming in this wretched place. Something evil grabbed hold of me today. I feel my spirit of patriotism and belief in just causes slowly slipping away. I have moved a step closer to being a boonie rat in the Nam.”

Arriving in ‘Nam as a grunt Marine, one of the first tasks his platoon engages in is to burn a Vietnamese village. Having just lost three Marines to severe injuries from a makeshift IED (“  Mr. Frankenstein, a trip wire connected to a grenade stuck inside a spool of barbed wire.”) the  leader of the platoon orders his men to tie up three village women and then kicks them over a cliff to their deaths.  The new Marines are horrified and protest, only to be threatened with death themselves :

This ain’t the fuckin’ real world, asshole! Y’all better get your shit together before it’s too fuckin’ late. Now y’all know what payback is.” Dusty stares at me with icy blue eyes. He turns, lights a cigarette, and walks away with Tanner. I’m in shock and very confused. This unconscionable attack against defenseless women can’t be justified under any circumstances. I keep repeating to myself, Why? Cars and I walk silently back to our position along the dike. I am still stunned about what had happened when Killer, Calahan, and a fire-team leader from third squad named Corporal Stafford approach us. I’m thinking, now what? Stafford does the talking. “You guys better learn to keep your mouths shut or something bad might happen to you. What I mean is, when there is one of those crazy firefights, anything could happen.

“I’m really feeling the pressure to become one of the hardcore members of the platoon. Getting my first gook is one thing, but I am expected to move on to more insidious, evil acts. Becoming an animal in the eyes of others is the next step. Now, I will be evaluated on how well I rape or kill in cold blood. It seems I am constantly being pressed to walk the fine line between bravery and blackhearted insanity… This is the Vietnam War I had never envisioned. I had always believed that American fighting men were brave and honorable like John Wayne and Audie Murphy. This war, however, is nothing like the movies. I feel empty, betrayed, and alone in a world of chaos. Nothing makes sense any more.”

Mortensen’s life is saved only by being badly injured during an attack on an NVA stronghold, one that gave the battalion its nickname of “widowmaker” All of his friends but one were killed. His description of the scene is extraordinarily vivid and realistic and equally horrifying. The nightmare continued on the hospital ship where a soldier, reminiscent of the famous scene in Catch-22 where nurses come daily to switch bottles on the soldier in white, has lost all his appendages and screams constantly. “The Marine Corps is supposed to produce heroes—not freaks. Tears fall down his cheeks like a dreary autumn rain. Now he must come to grips with the reality of being a freak, a war leper destined to live in a country where beauty and strength are worshipped. He’s distant, remote, and totally alone. He probably would have been better off dead. As my mind clears, I become aware.”

 Another soldier, his arms and legs shot to pieces, his nose and ears missing and having been tortured by the NVA is lying in the hospital at Bethesda. “Later that afternoon his parents rush onto the unit to be with their dying son. I’m shocked they let them see him in such a hideous condition. From my bed at the end of the ward, I hear his mother let out a blood-curdling scream. She falls to the floor, unconscious. I am so upset I leave the ward and walk around the hospital in disgust. Mercifully, the Marine dies later in the day. He will always remind me of the real horror of war." Mortensen comes to truly appreciate the benefits of pain-killing drugs, a relief that comes back to haunt him when he is discharged back into civilian society and is labeled “baby-killer.”

Having suffered a “dear John” letter earlier, he was fortunate to meet his first wife, Jean, but that relationship became haunted by the specter of Vietnam, also. The final 20% of the book reminded me of “Chickenhawk,” and the problems of psychologically having to deal with the horror of what he experienced.

A disturbing book, and I fear for my son, having already been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, may be yet again.  When are we humans ever going to stop this insanity.

And let’s not forget that those who tell us the highest honor is to die for one's country are those who didn't.

The author has a facebook page ( with pictures of himself at bootcamp and in Vietnam.

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