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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Who's the Most Fidel of them All - EricCWelch

Who's the Most Fidel of them All - EricCWelch:

Thomas Perry has another winner. Started listening to this book intending to mow on the paths through the fields (about 60 minutes) and wound up finishing additional acreage. To those who say it's formulaic, I reply what a great formula.

Phil Kramer is shot dead on the street. Emily, his wife, soon learns that Phil had cleaned out their bank accounts, including that of the agency. She resolves to keep the agency going not just to bring in some cash, but also to use its operatives, especially to find out Phil's motivation. She learns more than she ever wanted to.

The mystery that holds your interest has nothing to do with "who" is responsible -- we know almost from the start who the killer is and who hired him -- but "why." That's the puzzle both Emily and the reader must figure out. Hobart, the actual killer, is very smart, but so is Emily and her cadre. Hobart makes it complicated because he wants to find out why Forrest wanted Kramer dead, too. It's a nice cat-and-mouse game.

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Line of Vision Review

This book starts out rather brilliantly. The narrator is stalking (and having an affair - we think) with Rachel, the wife of a well-known surgeon. One night, during dinner, as he watches from the woods behind her house for her evening flash, he sees the surgeon begin to beat Rachel. He charges in and kills the doctor. As it was very cold, he was wearing a ski mask, and he hauls off the body of the doctor. Rachel is senseless on the floor. His idea is make it look like a kidnapping. He then begins to set up an alibi, but he is constantly second-guessing himself and stumbling. A nice touch is that he is telling the story and we never quite know what the real story might be. He appears credible, but is that really the case?

There is never any doubt (or is there?) as to the killer. The narrator tells us right off he did it and even confesses, but as the police investigation continues, there is no body, no gun, no physical evidence connecting Marty to the killing/kidnapping. Was there an affair? Was he stalking Rachel, the doctor's wife?

The trial begins and Ellis does a great job of recreating the trial scenes. I really enjoyed this book and will definitely read more Ellis.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Goodreads Bullies Flap

I have been a loyal user of Goodreads for close to six years and have posted over 1300 reviews.  I've met many people both bibliographically and personally.  It's been marvelous.

In the last year or so, a battle began between some newbie authors, mostly independent and self-published, and reviewers, that accused some Goodreads reviewers of bullying the authors. They defined bullying as giving one-star reviews, labeling shelves in what they considered a threatening manner, and making abusive comments about their books. This battle seemed to exist almost exclusively in the YA and Romance fields.  Aside from the rather bizarre definition of bullying, many GR long-time reviewers resent the influx of authors who are anxious to hawk their books and aren't interested in reviewing or discussing books. Those of us who reviewed in other genres barely noticed the flap.

I only ran across the war because of another blog I follow that pertains to publishing, ThePassiveVoice.  I began to see references in comments to Goodreads having become a "cesspool" and being unfriendly to authors, etc. This perception was so foreign to my experience that I started to do a little digging. That, and a Huffington Post article, led me to a site call Stop the Goodreads Bullies.  This site is populated by authors who have had their feelings hurt by one-star ratings or comments they didn't like. They had all made the mistake of responding to the ratings and reviews in a somewhat vengeful manner. They began to publish the personal phone numbers and home addresses of the reviewers, which resulted in personal threats to these people at home (something both sides claim) as well has ill-advised Twitter-feeds, etc., etc. The war escalated.  Behavior from both sides could only best be described as adolescent.  Many of the claims bordered on hysteria and some were later retracted.  One famous incident involved an author totally misunderstanding the purpose and meaning of a shelf label. A good summary of the incident is here.  The best here.  Salon also wrote about the incident. (Be sure to read the comments that provide follow-up.) Ironically, the author has achieved the holy grail for authors, i.e. received tons of publicity and lots of "likes" from supporters.

 To suggest that a review must only be about the book and not be concerned with an author is nonsense.  See this review of mine which is all about author behavior,, some reviewers expressed their disdain for some authors in unfortunate ways. So what. In order to be offended you have to expose yourself to the offense. All this stalking nonsense occurred outside of GR so GR has no control over it at all. Removing personal shelves won't solve any problem other than to irritate members. The instance cited by everyone as a major causative event turns out to be a huge misunderstanding and the author who originally claimed offense (the rape remark) has apologized and completely backed off from her original concerns. GR (and I don't blame Amazon which has more liberal rules with regard to comments) has totally caved to a tiny group of adolescents at STGRB. The flagging already in place could have worked well if implemented judiciously..

Just last week the Goodreads folks (now owned by Amazon - I love Amazon BTW) went completely overboard in their reaction, saying they intend to remove shelves (on GR shelves are used by reviewers as tags; they are personal but visible to anyone) that reference authors.  They would also remove any review that was about author behavior.  Reviews were to be solely about books.

The response from many reviewers on Goodreads, judging from the comments, has been to jump ship, migrating to other sites like Booklikes and The Library Thing and the comments in the feedback site last time I looked were over 4000, 99% uniformly negative.  The response from GR has been silence and I suspect they figure they'll just let people get the ire out of their systems and then move on. Amazon is releasing a new Paperwhite reader with a built-in link to GR and perhaps that was part of the motivation for the attempt to silence those they feel are overly negative in their ratings/reviews with regard to authors.

There are so many other ways GR could have approached the problem but instead decided to go after the mosquito with the shotgun.  By their own admission, they deleted only 21 items/reviewers from some 20,000,000 members and 30,000 reviews that are posted daily. They already had a flagging procedure in place for removal of offending material, but they could have simply hidden the shelf-labels or limited them to friends, or even designed a list of approved tags for use.

My guess is that the kerfuffle will die down in a couple of weeks, GR will lose some of its more active members, but life will go on. I had never heard of Booklikes before (which has become so popular their site has been overwhelmed and is adding more servers), but it has some intriguing features so I may move over there.  Time will tell.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Review of An inch of time

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of An inch of time:

Chris is a painter who moonlights as a private detective. Or vice-versa. He lives with Annis, another painter  who shares her affections between Chris and Tim, Chris's partner in their little investigation firm.  Tim is a former safe-cracker, now supposedly reformed, who has become an IT specialist.  Tim plays but a small role in this particular novel, which sometimes feels more like a travelogue than a mystery. 

The owner of a huge grocery chain has enlisted Chris to find a missing employee, one who might have taken off for Greece, and since he mistakenly thinks Chris speaks Greek -- Chris is not about to disabuse him of the idea since the idea of paid work where it's warm and sunny is most appealing --there were few P.I.s to choose from.  Chris is afraid to fly so he has a friend loan him an old, well-used camper van to get down to Greece. (Good thing the assignment wasn't in Mexico.) 

Chris soon discovers he's being followed by a variety of people, that accidents seem to follow him, and the woman he is looking for, seems to be unfindable (although I must say he doesn’t seem to put much effort into the search.) 

It's an odd little mystery that occasionally has the same appeal of Paul Theroux. I found it easy to put down, do something else, then pick it up again.  It's not that I never wanted to finish it, there just didn't seem to be much compelling me to do so.  Nevertheless, I did so.

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Friday, September 06, 2013

Review of Presumption of Innocence

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Presumption of Innocence:
The elements I look for in a legal thriller/novel are competent descriptions of courtroom scenes, an unusual legal tactic/strategy/issue, a moral conundrum, and believable, if not likeable, characters. This book has several of the aforementioned and kept the pages turning as ADA David Brunelle tries to salvage a difficult case.

A young girl is found hanging upside-down from the banister in her home.  She has been bled-out, her blood collected for, well you'll find out.  The culprits are quickly identified and the novel then focuses on the legal shenanigans needed to try to convict the killer.  I liked the legal wrangling. The romance between Brunelle and the ME was forced and one of his actions was legally and ethically reprehensible.

The book could have been stronger on the moral issues. The death penalty was used on a couple of occasions as an element of humor rather than as a quandary for the characters.

Nevertheless, I like the book, a good quick read, perfect for a distraction.

3.3534128 stars rounded to 3

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Thursday, September 05, 2013

Review of The Hanging Judge: A Novel

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Hanging Judge: A Novel:

Excellent legal novel told from a unique perspective:  that of a federal judge.  The author, a sitting federal judge (although some research revealed he intended to retire soon)*, graphically recreates the events leading up to the trial of a man for a drive-by shooting.  There is a lot of doubt in the minds of the read that Moon, a former gang-member, is actually the shooter.  A cop coming on duty had seen the alleged shooter leap from a car and had identified him originally as a Hispanic, but the pressure to say it's Moon, a black man, now reformed and living with a wife and child, on the cop is substantial.  To make things worse, a bystander, a saintly nurse working in a clinic she had helped to found and  related to a police captain, was killed during the incident.  It's in Massachusetts, which has no death penalty so the state attorney conspires to get the case moved to federal court so they can ask for the death penalty.  The scene is set for a collision between the law, ambition, publicity, and just the little things that can go wrong.  

Whether the author intended it or not, "The Hanging Judge" title carries with it some historical baggage that doesn't fit with the book.  The sobriquet refers to Judge Isaac Parker who presided over the US District Court for what is now most of Oklahoma in the late 19th century.  It was a particularly lawless place and Parker sent 160 men to the gallows. He, certainly, had no compunctions about the death penalty. 

Ponsor writes vividly. The scene in which the police barge in on Moon's house based on the identification of the driver of the car, was so realistic I had to stop reading and skip over some of the paragraphs.  It scared me, and I wasn't there; the confusion, the terror of the inhabitants.  Extraordinary. 

I hope Judge Ponsor writes more. I'll be first in line to buy them. 

N.B. Ponsor happens to be involved in a current case worth watching: Sexual Minorities Uganda v. Lively. Scott Lively is an attorney, minister, and anti-gay activist who has been sued by an Ugandan civil rights group. You can read Ponsor's most recent judgment in this case denying Lively's motion to dismiss. I'm not a lawyer, but am quite interested in federal cases and this one has interesting ramifications. You can read the judge's memorandum at The case caught my interest because the defendant, Lively, has claimed his First Amendment rights and Judge Ponsor cited Snyder v Phelps (which involved tort claims and "hurtful" speech) in his denial of the motion to dismiss. "Plaintiff contends that Defendant’s conduct has gone far beyond mere expression into the realm not only of  advocacy of imminent criminal conduct, in this case advocacy of a crime against humanity. . ." Remember, this simply clears the way for a trial. 

My thanks to the publisher for making this advance copy available to me.  As always, that influenced my review not one whit.  Technically, it's not available until December.  Put it on your to-buy list.

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Monday, September 02, 2013

Review of Veil of Lies

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Veil of Lies:

This is the first in a series about Crispin Guest, a disgraced knight, who is now working as a finder, the Tracker he is called; someone who discovers culprits or things people have lost. Living in rather abject poverty, he remains scrupulously honest, insisting that his self-appointed servant, Jack, return purses he has picked. Crispin had unfortunately allied himself with the Lancastrians when Richard II became king and his conduct being considered treasonous lost everything except his life, thanks to the intervention of his Duke. 

Guest is hired by a local merchant to follow his wife and discover whether she has been unfaithful. Guest does so and witnesses her adultery. Before he can make his report, his employer is murdered in a locked and sealed room. Not having had a chance to collect his fee, Crispin is then approached by the man's widow who wants to engage him to find a relic, a cloth with the image oJesus.  When in its presence, people cannot lie.  

The plot inevitably thickens and soon involves threats to control England's economic future, a battle for control of the cloth the intersection of assorted other sub-plots.   

I'll read more in the series, but I knocked off a couple of the infamous stars, as I felt the plot lines remained indistinct as did the rather confusing battle scene on the bridge at the end of the novel. Nevertheless, I liked the gritty realism of 1384 and the book is certainly as good as many other historical mysteries out there. 

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Sunday, September 01, 2013

Review of The Stray Bullet: William S. Burroughs in Mexico

Review of The Stray Bullet: William S. Burroughs in Mexico:

I have never read any Burroughs and based on this weird biographical sketch I suspect I never will.  Seemingly fueled by any drug he could get, often in a stupor, with little sense of responsibility, I would have crossed the street to avoid walking past him. 

Garcia-Robles met Burroughs in 1990 and out of this meeting came the idea to write about Burroughs's stay in Mexico, a period of time Burroughs was reluctant to discuss. His time there resulted in the death of his wife from Burroughs's gun.  

It was not the first time he had been related to a violent act.  His friend Lucien Carr murdered David Kamerer in 1944 and Carr had enlisted the aid of Burroughs and Jack Kerouac to hide the evidence.  As a result he and Kerouac were arrested for the cover-up.  Burroughs's father bailed him out but Kerouac's family refused to help so he had to marry into money a few days later (I wish this had been explained more fully, but I suppose it had little to do with the main story.)  Supposedly Kerouac's "And the Hippos Boiled in their Tanks" was based on the incident.  It was about this time that  Burroughs met Joan Vollmer his later wife and future victim of his gun. 

It was a bizarre relationship, both indulging in their own predilections and often self-destructive actions. ("She told everyone, for example, how making love to him [he of homosexual tendencies] sometimes gave her foot cramps.")  Burroughs was soon also married to illicit substances and shaking down bums on the street to supplement the $200 a month his family sent unwillingly (so why do it?) supporting his heroin habit. 
Sentenced by a judge to his family in St. Louis (he hated anything remotely familial) he soon fell in with Kells Elvins and together they bought some land in Texas, departing with numerous grandiose schemes. Joan in the meantime had become destitute, was overdosing on Bennies, and was finally sentenced to Bellevue.  When Burroughs was notified, he schemed to get her out and took her off to Texas for five years of intense relationship where he planned to raise marijuana and sell it wholesale.  He didn't even think of writing, but found time to impregnate Joan (no foot cramps this time?) They spent their time smoking weed and listening to music.  Soon the crop was in and they drove 3000 ( according to the author -- my google maps says more like 2200) miles with the crop stuffed in their vehicle to New York, but they had failed to dry the crop properly so it was unsaleable.  Burroughs went back to sticking a needle in his arm.  Are you beginning to get a picture, here?  In the meantime, Kerouac and Nel Cassady, the "American Dionysus" weave their way in and out of Burroughs and Joan's lives, although little is said about their relationship, especially with regard to writing. 

Burroughs finally decided to give writing a try while under the influence.  His decision was motivated by a need to make some money,  his writing a form "of mumbling." 

Garcia-Robles occasionally makes some snide comments: "the apartment on 115th Street lacked just one thing: for his highness Burroughs to move in..."  There was little preceding that comment to justify it, regardless of its correctness.  On the other hand, none of the characters was particularly likeable so perhaps they are justified.  One wonders about the little asides, such as the digression into the life of Lola, the Mexican drug lord.  I also was skeptical about the perspective, i.e., how much came from Burroughs in the interviews, and how much the author gleaned about his subject from less subjective sources.  Comments like, "Joan wanted to die and Bill served as her escort to the final precipice. Further still, he would be the executor of her fate. What better companion toward the darkness than William S. Burroughs, over whom death loomed every minute of his life, like a swarm of mosquitoes around his head, like a black aura enveloping his body? Death was always breathing down his neck, though he never succumbed in desperation. Bill was a leathery reptile with an incredible ability to plunge to the depths and surface unscathed. Not Joan. Joan was tender. Her intelligence and clarity were not made of the same bullet-proof stuff as Burroughs’s. Joan was more like Kerouac: life seemed too large for them. Neither could face the world, neither could deal squarely with it, so it destroyed them—in different ways, but in the same measure," while intriguing, left me wondering. 

Ultimately, this book is more of a curiosity that pulls us along wondering what calamity will befall Burroughs next. All of his own making.  The central goal of the book, the shooting of Joan, I will not comment on in fear of raising the ire of the spoiler Nazis. 

Full disclosure:  I haven't read anything of Burroughs and this book was kindly made available to me by the University of Minnesota Press through NetGalley.

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