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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Advocate's Betray by Teresa Burrell

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Advocate's Betrayal:

I was a bit disappointed in this book, hoping that it would be a legal battle.  I love well-written courtroom scenes.  Instead it was a mish-mash of romance and investigation with just a wee bit of courtroom work on a case that was peripheral to the main plot.

Betty's husband, John, is attacked and killed one evening, in their trailer. Betty and John were apparently Sabre's good friends, although there is little evidence (back-story) of that friendship.  Mostly we just take her word for it. Sabre, our legal-beagle heroine (very attractive, of course) is being wooed by Luke (he is a hunk, of course,) but she's also lusted after by her JP, her P.I., who seems to be the most competent individual in the story, not to mention Bob, a legal colleague. The story twists here and there as Sabre realizes that Betty is not telling her the truth and nothing is it appears. I was disappointed in the ending which seemed to be antithetical to the story being told by the killer.

I don't mean to be too negative because the story did hold my interest, and the writing is competent. According to her bio, Teresa Burrell  is an attorney whose practice is largely devoted to juvenile court and now, semi-retired is focused on promoting children's issues. Sabre is supposed to be a child advocate, so  I think the book would have been much better had she built a plot around some child advocacy issue as they did on the better shows of The Guardian before it devolved into melodramatic soap between the characters.  Perhaps her other books do.  2.576 stars.

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Falling Glass by Adrian McKinty

Audiobook read with the classic Irish brogue by Gerald Doyle. There's a great scene in the beginning where Killian, sent to either kill or get money from a man with huge gambling debts, talks his way out of a desperate situation where the debtor gets the drop on him with a shotgun. In the end, both he, the man, and Killian's boss make out financially well. Classic

Killian, having long retired as an IRA fixer, has watched his real estate investments go bad as the economy tanks in Ireland.  So when the offer of an extremely well-paying job comes along, ostensibly simple, to find and retrieve the ex-wife and daughters of an extremely wealthy airline owner, Killian agrees to take the job.  Nothing is ever simple nor as it appears, and while Richard Coulter, his employer insists it's only about getting his daughters back, there's also a laptop that figures in the equation, not to mention an ex-military Russian who wants to earn the reward, too and will stop at nothing to get it.

There's an interesting subtext to the book:  an examination and brief history of the Pavee** travellers, not Romani Gypsies as the author is at pains to point out, but some say the original settlers of Ireland. Some readers may find these digressions as distracting;  I did not. I enjoy a little social history with my fiction. These "tinkers" as they are also known, earn their living as free-spirited wandering carnival operators.  Subject to extreme hostility and prejudice, Killian has roots in the community which helps him extricate himself, Rachel and the girls from the devastating information they discover on the laptop, information that could destroy the peace-process and bring down the government and many wealthy men.

This story will grab you and not let go until the end.

**From the Wikipedia: "The historical origins of Irish Travellers as an ethnic group has been a subject of academic and popular debate. Such discussions have been difficult as Irish Travellers left no written records of their own.[23][24]In 2011 an analysis of DNA from 40 Travellers was undertaken at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin and the University of Edinburgh. The study provided evidence that Irish Travellers are a distinct Irish ethnic minority, who separated from the settled Irish community at least 1000 years ago; the claim was made that they are distinct from the settled community as Icelanders are from Norwegians.[25] Even though all families claim ancient origins, not all families of Irish Travellers date back to the same point in time; some families adopted Traveller customs centuries ago, while others did so more recently.[26] It is unclear how many Irish Travellers would be included in this distinct ethnic group at least from a genetic perspective.
    There has been a wide range of theories speculating their origins such as that they were descended from those Irish who were made homeless by Oliver Cromwell's military campaign in Ireland in the 1650s, or possibly from the people made homeless in the 1840s famine due to eviction, or the descendants of aristocratic nomads the Clan Murtagh O'Connors in the Late Middle Ages. Their nomadism was based on cattle-herds or creaghts.
    There is evidence that, by the 12th century, the name Tynkler and Tynker emerged in reference to a group of nomads who maintained a separate identity, social organization, and dialect.[23] The genetic evidence indicates Irish Travellers have been a distinct ethnic group in Ireland for at least a millennium."

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Bad Boy by Peter Robinson

"My daughter has a gun." Banks is on holiday, but that's the concern a woman brings to Annie, Banks's DI, while Banks is on vacation. Even though unlicensed handgun possession carries a very steep penalty, the police completely over-react (Banks is on vacation) and the girl's father gets hit with a tazer and dies of a heart attack. Cut to a scene with the daughter's friends and we learn things are not quite so simple.

Soon, Banks' daughter is linked to Jaff, drugs, and attempted murder. Banks' former lover and DI Annie Cabbot investigates while Superintendent Chambers tries to paper over the fustercluck created by his armed response team.

The scene shifts to Geoff and Tracy who are soon on the run from the cops and Banks arrives home from his vacation in San Francisco to find a perfect mess.

I have to say that Tracy Banks has got to be one of the dumbest daughters to come down the pike.  There were numerous opportunities for her to make a bad situation better, but she seemed to lack the gumption to react positively to her dilemma. The few times when she made a feeble attempt, she mishandled it badly.

There are a couple of interesting new characters -- at least I believe they are new at this point in the series: Constable Nerys Powell, a member of the armed response team who has a crush on DI Cabott. Like Banks, she ignores regulations, in this case saving the day.  I also liked DS  Winsome Jackman, a statuesque, bright, and clever professional detective. The solution to the plot is intellectually unsatisfying. A decent story but not one of Robinson's better novels.

Simon Prebble's very competent narration has trouble salvaging a weak story.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Until Death by James L. Thane | LibraryThing

Until Death by James L. Thane | LibraryThing:

I read the first in the Sean Richardson series and liked it. This 2nd is even better 

The mark of a good entertainment, regardless of genre, is being compelled by the story to get back to it and see what happens. Until Death meets that test handsomely. 

Sean is still despondent over the death of his wife several months earlier and Maggie has her own romantic pressures. I liked the relationship between the two: supportive and friendly without the "jump-in-the-sack" syndrome that bedevils so many partner relationships. 

A man is bludgeoned to death in his garage. There are no clues. Then three other men are gunned down in seemingly random fashion, except they had been killed with the same gun. Things get interesting when a high-priced escort comes forward to reveal she had lost her client list (in a day-planner, no less) and realized all three of the men had been her clients. Sean and "Maggs," are stumped; they have a plethora of suspects but all seem to have solid alibis. 

By Part II some of the best suspects have been killed and a new one is revealed (I was surprised by who took the client book and his motive is never revealed.) 

Really don't want to drop any spoilers in here. Just buy and read the book. Very enjoyable. 

P.S. I would *really* like to meet Gina Gallagher.

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Monday, January 20, 2014

Peeler by Kevin McCarthy | LibraryThing

Peeler by Kevin McCarthy | LibraryThing:

The book takes place shortly after WW I.  Tensions between the Army, IRA, and local cops are horrible, with each shooting the other almost at will.  Going out after curfew risks being shot by either side.

Peeler is the derogatory word for policeman in Ireland.  The book begins in 1920 with the discovery of a woman's body splayed out on the side of a hill, naked and tarred and feathered with the word "Trator" [sic] written on a plank on her chest.  Being a policeman (RIC for Royal Irish Constabulary) in the "troubles" was a terrifying job and before they could inspect the body they had to have an army patrol search the hillside for potential snipers and ambush. But the IRA wants to know who did the crime as well.  The signature of the killing is an ice pick through the back of the brain.  And then similar killings happen.

The summer 2008 issue of Mystery Review Journal has a very interesting article by Jim Doherty ("Just the Facts: Mole to Manhunter") that discusses the relationship between the RIC and the British government. His article is very helpful in sorting out the intricacies of the relationships of the RIC, Black and Tans, Irish Volunteers and the Reserve forces.  There are a bewildering number of abbreviations. He notes,

 "As a policeman myself, I’m, at best, ambivalent about this strategy, but I can understand it. The fact is the main armed force maintaining British rule in Ireland was not the Army, but the police. Indeed, the most infamous enemies of the Irish Volunteers during the War for Independence, the notorious Black and Tans, were not a branch of the British Army, as is commonly supposed, but the Reserve Force of the RIC. Moreover, if you regard yourself as being at war, and the war you have to fight is a guerilla war against an occupying force, cops are, frankly, legitimate military targets. During World War II, would French resistance fighters, for example, have been wrong to target Gestapo officers, or even collaborating Surete officers, on the grounds that they were cops, not soldiers? Or were members of the Gestapo just as legitimate a target as, say, members of the Wehrmacht, the Waffen-SS, or the Luftwaffe?

I don’t mean to suggest that officers in the RIC or the DMP were comparable to the Gestapo. That would be not only fatuous, but terribly unjust. Nevertheless, there’s no denying that the British-backed police in Ireland played essentially the same role there that the German-backed police did in occupied France. And, if members of the Irish Volunteers, soon to be known as the Irish Republican Army (and known today as the “Old IRA,” to distinguish it from later groups using the same name), sincerely believed that their war for independence was justified, then it followed that those British-backed police were legitimate targets."

O'Keefe is a dedicated cop and goes where the leads take him.  Unfortunately they lead him to waters where the powers that be, i.e. the British, would rather not have them go. And the IRA want the killer caught as well.  And he has to control his men from beating up civilians who they think are responsible for allowing ambushes of their men.  It's a mess.

McCarthy does a very nice job of creating an atmosphere of the geography and time. I hope he writes more of Sean O'Keefe.

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Fire in the Hole

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Fire in the Hole:

A collection of really excellent (well, most of them) stories by Elmore Leonard.  My favorites were the collection titled story, "Fire in the Hole" that provided much of the background and basis for the Justified TV series (very good, btw.)  "Karen Makes Out" was lots of fun.  Karen is a U.S. Marshal who has been smitten by Carl, a man wanted (they think) by the FBI for bank robbery.  How she deals with it is delightful, indeed.  Shades of Raylan in that girl.   "Hurrah for Captain Early" provides a nice mix of the role played by black soldiers and some of the discrimination they faced.  "The Tonto Woman" is a touching story of a Mexican bandit who crosses the border to steal cattle.  Along the way he salvages the wife of the man whose cattle he's about to steal, resurrecting her in the eyes of her husband.  Charming.

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Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America by Patrick J. Carr | LibraryThing

Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America by Patrick J. Carr | LibraryThing:

This is a prime example of why sociology is not science. No testable hypothesis, or repeatable data, just a mélange of anecdotes from which sweeping generalizations are drawn.

I live in a rural area (the closest town to me has a population of 2,500) and as a community college dean (population of the town 27,000 but a district covering hundreds of square miles that borders on NE Iowa)  got to observe many rural high schools over thirty years.  These two researchers, husband and wife, have the temerity to move to a small town in Iowa for 18 months, interview some local students, and from those observations, draw all sorts of conclusions.

To do so , it's obvious they have bought into the national mythology of the small town that probably never existed except in people's minds.  Are rural areas in trouble economically?  Yes. Are we losing population and youth?  Yes.  Has it always been so?  Pretty much. Can it be fixed by adjusting the values of the local high schools? Hardly.  

It's become fashionable to blame the problems of rural areas on agribusiness.  The size of farms has increased, but ALL of the farms in this area are owned by family corporations.  It takes brains to run anything but a hobby farm, those quaint little small acreages that profess to be sustainable by selling "organic" vegetables at the local outdoor market.  No way are they sustainable economically and ALL rely on a second income in the family to pay the bills.
The problems outlined by the authors are not unique to rural America.  They are descriptive of an ever increasing under-class that exists both in rural and urban areas, one that reveals disdain for unions, a desire for the cheapest goods which necessarily fuels jobs abroad and the need for undocumented workers. 

Their solution? Make the high school a "town-saver" by not pushing highly motivated students into four-year colleges and emphasize associate degree and vocational education.  Just where the fuck have they been in the past forty years?  Vocational adjuncts to community colleges were all the rage 30 years ago and have all withered on the vine for lack of students. "Gone are the days of plentiful, well-paying blue-collar factory jobs..." they report.  Well, dah.  That's why the vo-tech schools closed. Students don’t see a future in blue-collar work so they are flocking to four-year schools and community colleges to get into high tech and service industry jobs.  My community college has a going program in training wind-turbine technicians, something they recommend starting.  All they had to do was look forty miles across the Mississippi to see what they recommend already in effect.  

Their recommendation for small towns to embrace immigration, while laudable, would simply distort the labor market even further, driving down wages already too low.  They suggest incentive programs to get professionals back to rural areas, especially in health care.  The University of Illinois started just such a program forty years ago, building three regional medical schools precisely for the purpose of training rural family practitioners.  Health care is thriving in my community but only because of gerontology and the movement of those who left as youngsters to return back. My college town of 27,000 has TWO dialysis centers. That tells you a lot.

Many people resent sociologists like these two and I suspect their data suffers from the "Margret Mead" syndrome if not the "observer effect."  We followed events in Postville, Iowa (could it be the same town pseudonymously named Ellis by the authors?) and read Stephen Bloom's "Postville: A Clash of Culture in Heartland America."  I visited Postville and talked with a friend who was the chief deputy sheriff for a large county in NE Iowa. His take on Bloom?  BS.  Bloom only talked to a few people and many of his conclusions were just wrong.  I have a feeling that Carr and Kefalas made similar mistakes and that they went to "Ellis" with a preconceived idea and found anecdotes to support it.  

There’s also an element of holier-than-thou that really frosts me.  They moved to a small town, spent a short amount of time there, and then purport to tell the residents everything they are doing wrong. I’m a liberal (albeit with libertarian tendencies) but this kind of paternalism I find repugnant.

Note that Carr was born and raised in Ireland and Kefalas studied at Wellesley and the University of Chicago and they now live outside of Philadelphia, no doubt on the Mainline (full disclosure:  I grew up on the Mainline.)

A very weak book with few new ideas.

Edit 1/19/14 After some poking around, it would appear that the community described in the book is Sumner, Iowa. Funny thing. My father and mother grew up in Fayette, Iowa, not fifteen miles east of Sumner.  Why is it that NE Iowa has become the mecca for those examining the problems of rural America? Postville, Oelwein (the book Methland) and now this book. Weird.

I suppose my parents are both examples of the brain drain.  My father left to study at Yale and become a university president on the west coast.  My mother hated the farm in Randalia and talked disparagingly of Iowa the rest of her life.  She went on to earn a Ph.D. in Education and lived on the east coast.  So should the high school in Fayette have tried to move them into the vo-tech track to keep them in Fayette?   And this was 80 years ago.

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Adrenaline by Jeff Abbott | LibraryThing

Adrenaline by Jeff Abbott | LibraryThing:

Sam Capra is off to work.  Things are going well.  His wife, Lucy,  is 8 months pregnant and he loves his job as part of a special team that tracks down bad guys through their networks.  He is just about to make an important report when Lucy calls telling him to meet her downstairs and then when he gets there, to run. He spots her in a car across the street and runs toward the car just as the top floor of the building, where his offices are located, blows up.

Soon, the next thing he knows is being locked in a dungeon, where he and Lucy are accused of being traitors.  After being held several months being tortured, all the while maintaining his innocence, he escapes and flees to Rotterdam with the assistance of a shadowy group which he doesn’t understand, but whose help certainly willing to accept.  Weird weapons,  groups within groups, psychotic killers, Patty Hearst parallels, and parktour (I had never heard of this, slug that I am.)  Not to mention Roger Cadet.

A bit too James Bond at times, nevertheless a fun time-waster.  This book delivers what the title suggests;  it's a frenetic rush.  3.5 stars rounded up to 4 since I happen to be in a good mood this morning.

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Darkness on the Edge of Town (Laura Cardinal Series, Book 1) by J. Carson Black | LibraryThing

Darkness on the Edge of Town (Laura Cardinal Series, Book 1) by J. Carson Black | LibraryThing:

Easy to take a chance on unfamiliar authors when a collection of four mysteries pops up for my Kindle for $.99. The first was Darkness on the Edge of Town, and I will seek out more from this author. 

The plot concerns Laura Cardinal, an investigative agent for the Arizona Department of Public Safety (sort of like the CBI, or Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, etc.) who is sent around the state to help small communities with limited homicide investigation resources. A fourteen-year-old girl has been found dead displayed in a doll's costume in a park in a tourist town. Soon, she is linked to a series of other murders, except that she doesn’t seem to fit the pattern. 

There is the usual tension between the state cops and the locals, but the explanation seems more rational in this case than sometimes. Some of the investigative scenes were good, especially the stuff in Florida and her tenacity in the face of adversity. It lacked the more solid authenticity of a McBain police procedural, however (well, except for the Deaf Man.) 

The ending was a bit over the top and strained credulity, nevertheless, a good start to what looks to be a series.

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Curran Vs. Catholic University: A Study of Authority and Freedom in Conflict by Larry Witham | LibraryThing

Curran Vs. Catholic University: A Study of Authority and Freedom in Conflict by Larry Witham | LibraryThing:

This is a fascinating study in the conflict between academic freedom and the authority of the church to determine what is to be orthodox and how to maintain that orthodoxy. I find it particularly relevant as we now see individual Catholic bishops trying to deny communion to Catholic candidates who are pro-choice. 

The author takes the reader through a fascinating tour of trends in moral theology. including consequentialism *the consequences of an action form the basis for judgment as to its morality,) proportionalism (moral principles should never be violated unless the good resulting outweighs the bad of breaking the rule,) the relative merit of a principle may be determined by the number of adherents, i.e. the probability that a moral position is "safe",) among others, leading to a discussion of relativism. (Geez, I hope I got that right.)

During the 1960's, casuistry, the case-by-case examination of an ethical issue, was making a comeback and Curran was an adherent of this method. Even though casuistry had been adopted by 17th century Jesuits, it had fallen out of favor in the church which had moved toward the development of absolutes (see Humanae Vitae). It was a "concrete methods for concrete problems." Curran's contribution to moral theology was a "theology of compromise, i.e. choosing the lesser of evils. *

Curran's philosophy leaned to Protestant moral theology, so much so, that he became the first Catholic president of the predominantly protestant Society of Christian Ethics. I doubt if that endeared him to his masters at Catholic University.

The Vatican, especially under Ratzinger's reign at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was interested in making sure that ecclesiastical courses were taught by ecclesiastically approved teachers. It's ironic that universities, a product of Christian humanism and its attempt to reconcile Greek and Roman philosophy with the teachings of the Church, have much to thank the church for with regard to academic freedom. In the 12th century, teachers would look to the Church for protection against the interference from merchants and bankers and the rest of the rising capitalist class who wanted to interfere with the academic program. On the other hand, the 12th century provided the roots for subjectivism and personalism in morality thanks to Peter Abelard (whether his little dalliance with Heloise influenced his thinking or not remains speculative.) In any case moral absolutes developed by the Church (which themselves had their roots in Cicero and Greek thought) came under pressure. Abelard insisted that intention was the key to determining the sinfulness of an action, not the action alone. (Of course, this guy gave us the idiotic concept of Limbo, too.) In any case, Ratzinger, later to be known as Benedict XVI, was a firm believer in moral absolutes and the antithesis of the new moral theology and personalism represented by Curran. Raztinger believed that moral decline stemmed from economic liberalism and could only be countered by a return to authority. This appealed to Catholics outside the West who still conflated authority with the supernatural. 

Admittedly, this might seem like a strange reading selection. Given the recent flap at Notre-Dame over whether they should give Obama an honorary degree, or even invite him to speak, I think the relevancy of the desire for authoritarian control and orthodoxy, particularly with a pope who some might consider an extension of Pius's anti-modernist philosophy, I think it's more than relevant. One could argue that the authority would extend only to the ecclesiastical, perhaps, but in the case of Curran, the Vatican, which had to approve all tenure applications, also wanted to prohibit Curran from teaching Catholic theology in non-ecclesiastical classes. 

I find the demand for orthodoxy and authoritarian control inimical to a healthy democratic society. This book provides appropriate historical background and context for those discussions.

*As an aside, I once heard Rushworth Kidder discuss his book [b:How Good People Make Tough Choices Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living|46683|How Good People Make Tough Choices Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living|Rushworth M. Kidder||45789] in which he suggests that the tough choices are never between good and evil, but rather between two shades of good.

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Every Precious Thing (Logan Harper, #2) by Brett Battles | LibraryThing

Every Precious Thing (Logan Harper, #2) by Brett Battles | LibraryThing:

Logan, in his second outing, is asked to locate Alan's wife, Sara, who disappeared into Mexico, leaving only a note and their child. After Alan returns home, he discovers that every trace of Sara has been removed from their home, including pictures stored on their computer. Alan, worried for her safety, contacts his lawyer who hires Logan. Soon, it becomes apparent that others are looking for her, too. Questions arise. Is Diana really operating in Sara's best interest. And who is the doctor who hires thugs (relatively incompetent) to track her down and along the way eliminate the competition?

There is a side plot involving Logan's father and his long-lost brother who had been killed in World War II. It seemed irrelevant and continually interrupted the story. Contrary to many other reviewers, I didn't think it expanded on the relationship between Logan and his father at all. Harp's brother (Logan's uncle) had been missing for sixty years and his Logan and his father haven't developed much of a relationship by that time, well....

I read the first Logan Harper and while the first part of that book (Little Girl Gone) was a good mystery, the last half, when he was in Thailand and Burma bordered on ridiculous (of course my credibility is strained here since I liked most of the Bond movies.) On a more general note, I think I prefer Battles' Jonathan Quinn "cleaner" books a bit better even if they tend to even more fantastical.

We all have different expectations for books we read (or listen to.) Those expectations can be met or destroyed by any combination of things: are we reading for information? entertainment? to be challenged? is the narrator competent?, etc. Sometimes when I read negative -- or positive -- reviews of books like this, I wonder whether the reviewer might have forgotten this basic premise.

This book more than met my expectations for a good light read/listen that kept my interest while mowing and driving to work. Three instead of four stars (ridiculous rating system) because the ending leaned toward action rather than a more cerebral solution which I prefer.

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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Pronto: A Novel by Elmore Leonard | LibraryThing

Pronto: A Novel by Elmore Leonard | LibraryThing:

An incongruous story at best.  A modern cowboy wanna-be, U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, has taken off for Italy in pursuit of Harry who is being sought by a number of felons who want to do him harm. 

I started reading the Raylan Givens series after reading an interview with Elmore Leonard who remarked that the writing and character of Givens in the TV series was spot-on.  I watched a couple of the "Justified", liked them, and then have been reading the Givens books. Generally, they are pretty good, except for the idea of shoot-em-up happy U.S. Marshals wandering around.  

But Raylan in Italy, the quasi-hick from Kentucky, just didn't make it. Italy was irrelevant (and Italy should *never* be irrelevant.  Had it been set in Montana, it would have worked better. 

It was certainly interesting to see how they pulled isolated incidents from the books and melded them into a coherent set of episodes on the TV show.  The early scene in the pilot for example where Givens gives the bad guy 24 hours to leave town, is from Pronto, and Boyd's use of the rocket to wipe out the drug-dealing church, just after yelling "fire in the hole," is from the eponymous short story. 

Givens is an interesting invention, although I kept looking around for the horses.

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Thursday, January 09, 2014

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Envoy

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Envoy:

The author, Edward Wilson, has a unique background. A decorated special forces officer in Vietnam, he became a permanent expatriate after he left the army and lost his US citizenship in 1986. He is now a British resident.

Interestingly, the main character’s father, was always losing his job, described as going slightly batty, after doing something honorable and honest, but unwise politically. Certainly, Kit, the diplomat who is moved into the OSS after pissing off Joseph Kennedy, has a similar streak, and one wonders what might be the relationship between those activities and Wilson’s own expatriation. 

Wilson is the ultimate cynic. At one point Kit describes espionage as a “sick place: a wilderness of mirrors inhabited by haunted minds that see only images and lies. The more plausible a truth the more cunning the deception.”

There are numerous caustic portraits of real individuals. In one piece the Dulles brothers, Foster and Allen are making fun of Edens, the Prime Minister. Kit notes that neither of the brothers had ever heard a shot fired in anger while Edens had lost two brothers and a son in the wars and won the Military Cross in 1916. They scorned his foreign policy of diplomacy and discussion while neither spoke a foreign language. Edens was fluent in German, Persian, and French and “could tell stories and tell proverbs in Arabic,” not to mention converse in Russian.

Kit’s task is to foment dissension between the British and Russians and to subvert Eden’s foreign policy. The U.S. wants to force Britain to accept hydrogen bombs on their soil. The U.S. also realizes that Britain might be the first to be vaporized in any attack. Kit is also haunted by his lust for his cousin, Jennifer, whose husband works for Britain’s own bomb project and Kit wants Jennifer to spy on him. Soon things begin to spiral out-of-control as the labyrinth of lies, deception and blackmail become overwhelming. I won't spoil things by even hinting at more.

Some great lines: “”Sorry,” [he said] That’s the thing about being born a Catholic: you always feel guilty even if it isn’t your fault. You can stop believing--it’s all infantile nonsense after all--but you can’t stop the guilt..” There’s a great scene when the Dulles brothers are trying to pry some gossip out of Kit. He tells them about this great looking woman he saw at a Washington party only to realize when he got closer and saw the hint of stubble that it was J. Edgar Hoover. Kit left the party and “heard that the party turned pretty raunchy and that the blond boys gave Hoover a hand job -- but I can’t confirm that.” Later that night Kit broke into the embassy’s taping room and erased the tape of that portion of his conversation with the Dulles boys. Kit notes late that Foster Dulles “goes about international diplomacy with all the grace of a trained chimpanzee putting out a grass fire with a wet sack.”

Or this line that sums up the book. Kit is describing a painting he likes: “the beautiful eighteenth-century house was set in an early American Arcadia. The house lies on a slight rise above the Potomac River; the thickly wooded banks are turning autumnal; there are dogs and horse-drawn carriages in the foreground, boats with sails in the background. The house was demolished in 1949 to build a four-lane highway.”

An excellent read. I’m very surprised Wilson hasn’t received more recognition. The book has a verisimilitude about it that’s quite refreshing, if not totally depressing. Actual events and people are woven into the story. The author insists that even though real people and events are mentioned, the story is fiction. One event, for example, the crash of a B-47 into a storage shed housing nuclear weapons in 1956 theoretically had the potential to wipe out much of England. All the reports I read of it assured the reader there was no chance of a nuclear explosion; then again, given the prevarication and mendacity of everyone in this book, one has to wonder.....

Possibly the best spy novel I have ever read.

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Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Battle of the Books: The Curriculum Debate in America by James Atlas | LibraryThing

Battle of the Books: The Curriculum Debate in America by James Atlas | LibraryThing:

James Atlas, an editor for The New York Times, no doubt wishing to cash in on the coattails of such as Allen Bloom and Eric D. Hirsch, summarizes what he considers to be the basic debate between the traditionalists (read Great Books and Dead-White- European-Males) and the radicals (read multiculturalists who would have us read gay and Hindu literature) who espouse cultural relativism. His Battle of the Books: The Curriculum Debate in America will not overload your shelves, physically or mentally.

Tradition, I suppose, is useful for building stability and creating a reference point from which to examine new ideas, but it seems to me that both sides of the issue miss the point; both sides want to operate in a world exclusive of the other, rather than take the best of both.

Allen Bloom, who started the whole thing, or at least brought the debate into the open, argues that democracy and its desire for equality, really is at fault; that the cultural relativism of the sixties removed us from the traditional values of the "Great Books", which, of course gave us slavery and colonialism. Atlas, who comes down on the side of the "canonists," (those arguing for a traditional canon of reading) -- along with William Bennett -- forget that the classics of today were the radical nonsense of yesterday. Surely a century that has seen genocide and the creation of weapons of universal destruction, can stop to examine the literature of the present in the context of the current century. And, surely, in a world in which all countries must rely on each other, it is useful to examine and understand the history, politics and social milieu of other peoples. After all, Hirsch argues that if we do not all have a common base of knowledge we will not be able to communicate with each other. Surely it becomes important to communicate with other than just ourselves.

Both sides are engaged in a political struggle: the Left wanting more attention paid to the disenfranchised, and the Right fearing the trend away from traditional values. Both sides suffer from an extreme naivete if they believe that excluding the literature of either side will carry the day for their own point of view.
Atlas wanders all over the place, blaming the univerities' "publish or perish" requirement for the decline of scholarship and the trend away from the classics. (How much more can be said about Shakespeare or Milton?) He is a fan of assimilation of other "cultures"; that it's important to maintain the superiority and power and righteousness of the United States of America. (Stand up and salute at this point.) The problem is, of course, that mainstream, white society has never permitted the assimilation of those who look or act differently from their own male WASP society; hence, perhaps, the trend toward valuing uniqueness and values other than those of the Dead White European Males.

Ultimately, I agree with Brumwich, who argues that the real purpose of education is not to transmit a point of view, -- although I see nothing wrong with that -- but to help students to think and make rational choices based on knowledge rather than opinion. Whether we've done that, of course, is a whole other debate.

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I Hear the Sirens in the Street: A Detective Sean Duffy Novel (The Troubles Trilogy) by Adrian Mckinty | LibraryThing

I Hear the Sirens in the Street: A Detective Sean Duffy Novel (The Troubles Trilogy) by Adrian Mckinty | LibraryThing:

I really enjoy McKinty's Sean Duffy series.  This is the second of a proposed trilogy. I read the first and immediately ordered the second.  I have just pre-ordered the third. 

It's 1982 and the Falklands have been invaded, not a good thing for the RUC in Northern Ireland, for it means that Thatcher's retaliation will denude Northern Ireland of half the British troops stationed there, leaving the police woefully undermanned to deal with the IRA terrorists now well-weaponed and funded thanks to money and guns flowing in by the bucketful from America. 

DI Sean Duffy is faced with a peculiar murder.  A headless man is found stuffed in an old suitcase.  He appears to be an American given the Big Red One tattoos and shrapnel.  But he has been poisoned using Abrin, a product of a rare plant known as the rosary pea and one of the most toxic substances known. It's native to India, but can be found in Florida.  Then the suitcase is linked to the killing of a UDC captain and things get weirder eventually leading him to the DeLorean factory, which had been seen as Northern Ireland's solution to its economic troubles.  Warned off by higher authorities on several occasions, but spurred on by a mysterious woman's phone calls, Duffy can't let it go.  

It's not a good time to be a cop (nor anyone, for that matter during the Troubles.) Murders disguised as IRA hits, bombings, attacks on police were common.  "Army helicopters flew low over the lough, sirens wailed in County Down, a distant thump-thump was the sound of mortars or explosions. The city was under a shroud of chimney smoke and the cinematographer, as always, was shooting it in 8mm black and white. This was Belfast in the fourteenth year of the low-level civil war euphemistically known as The Troubles. . ."I turned off the radio, made coffee, dressed in a black polo neck sweater, jeans and DM shoes, went outside. I checked under the BMW for any mercury tilt explosives but didn’t find any. Right about now seven thousand RUC men and women were all doing the same thing. One or two of them would find a bomb and after shitting their pants they’d be on the phone to the bomb squad, thanking their lucky stars that they’d kept to their morning routine." 

McKinty masterfully recreates a dystopian world that was Northern Ireland for several decades, a world of almost unimaginable despair for those who had to live there. Those who could left, "went over the sea," as it were, to Scotland or England, or better yet, to America. 

The ending will have you wondering where McKinty is going to take Duffy in volume 3.  I, for one, will be very disappointed that the series will end with only three volumes.  They are very good.

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