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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Black Marble by Joseph Wambaugh

After a slow start, Wambaugh gets really fun with his usual cynicism mixed with humor style. Sgt. Valnikov, a world weary cop, has been paired with Natalie in the burglary squad and they wind up investigating the theft of a potential Westminster Show winner.  (If you haven’t seen Best in Show, you must.)

The interchanges between Natalie, who thinks Valnikov is just some dope addled cop, and Valnikov, who has his own worries, are priceless, not to mention the often quite funny, yet cynical stories embedded in the larger tale.

For example, there’s the thief who decides to take down a floating crap game and rip off the players. He charges in with a double-barreled shotgun and immediately scares the crap out of everyone by shooting a round into the ceiling. That’s so exciting, he decide to fire off another round in the ceiling. Shortly thereafter, just after the crowd realizes what he’s done, he does too, i.e. that he just fired two rounds from a double-barreled shotgun.  Just before they all beat the crap out of him.  Or the Good Humor man breaking speed limits to get to the site of a jumper off a building so he can make a fortune selling ice cream to sooth the throats of all the bystanders yelling, “Jump, you chickenshit.”  Or the time when eighteen cops in a barricade situation with a crazy guy behind the door realize they need to dowse the lights in the hallway. Unlike in the movies, when one shot would do, in real life, “adrenaline turns the arms to licorice” and the fusillade from all the cops completely missed the lights. Only a lampshade had a bullet hole.  Valnikov suggests an alternate route.  Sneaking along the wall, he unscrewed the light bulbs.  Instant darkness.

In spite of all the fun and love story, there’s an undercurrent of cynicism and horror, represented by Charlie Lightfoot and the rabbit nightmares.  Not a great Wambaugh, but certainly a good read.

Friday, August 21, 2015

A Different Turf by Jon Cleary

This is the 13th or 14th Scobie Malone novel, depending on what list you happen to see.  Scobie is an Australian detective Inspector and in this novel he’s forced to confront Issues of homosexuality, racism, sexism, and vigilantism.  A man, claiming to represent a group of people, has contacted Scobie, taking responsibility for  a series of vigilante-style killings of gay bashers.  The investigation proves difficult as it forces issues within his own squad to the surface when he discovers the bi-sexuality of one of his detectives. The conflict feels a bit dated today, but Cleary handles them sensitively.

While I love the accent of the narrator and his multiple voices, I sometimes found the dialog a bit difficult to follow. Never mind, the intriguing relationship Scobie has with his wife Lisa and growing children (reminiscent of Commisario Brunetti’s family in Donna Leon’s series) makes the novels worth reading/listening to. Especially when you run across phrases like, “explaining the unbelievable to the incredulous,” and “navigating the shoals of a woman’s mind.”

Regretfully, Cleary died in 2010 and his books are not readily available, but are becoming more widely available especially in digital and audio formats. They are worth the effort to find them.

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Monday, August 17, 2015

Hell Is Empty (#7) by Craig Johnson

I saw a variation of this story on the excellent Longmire TV series (well, it has sort of jumped the shark recently), so I was prepared for having a basic idea of what was going to happen. Wrong. Very different.  No problem, the books are always .very good

Walt takes off after a gang of escaped convicts in the middle of a snowstorm. There’s a marvelous scene up in the mountains where Virgil White Buffalo, the huge Indian and Vietnam veteran from a previous book, and Walt hunker down during a snowstorm and discuss the Aeneid and play chess using some pebbles and rocks.   The question is, did it happen?

I questioned the motivations of the bad guy and certainly the apparitions, but Johnson always delivers a good story.

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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Why you should vote for Bernie Sanders.

If he were to win, about 25% of America would have a massive stroke.

Religious Freedom as Coercion

I have been following the debate, if we can call it that, regarding religious freedom and liberty since before the Hobby Lobby decision. Since that decision some public servants and private individuals have taken it upon themselves to refuse service to gay couples, supposedly for religious reasons (primarily bakers and pizza restaurants, although why wheat should provide such a catalyst remains a mystery to me.)  The part of the First Amendment known as the Establishment Clause that prohibits the state from favoring one form of religion over another seems to get lost in the shuffle.

I was particularly struck by the Rowan County Clerks admonition to her six deputies that they would not be allowed to provide marriage licenses to gay couples.

"After the Supreme Court decided in June that states must allow same-sex couples to marry, Davis had announced that she and her staff of six deputies would no longer issue marriage licenses to anyone. Barring any couples for getting licenses in Rowan County, Davis claimed, would protect her religious rights without discriminating against anyone."*

Aside from what is clearly a violation of the establishment clause, not to mention a totally undemocratic action, it seems to me that what she has done is to force her deputies to adopt her own religious position at the expense of the beliefs of her deputies.  She claims the state is forcing her to violate her religious beliefs, yet she is doing precisely the same thing with regard her deputies.  And, it seems to me, that precisely what Hobby Lobby was trying to do to its employees, i.e. get them to adhere to their own religious position in a rather coercive manner. (The Obama administration screwed up by even permitting a religious exemption that opened this can of worms.  What you do yourself with regard to contraception is your own business;  it's not your right to force it on everyone else, no matter how insecure you might be about your own beliefs.)

Just imagine the howls of rage that would emanate from these types had some abortion clinic decided that abortion should be protected under the religious freedom exception.

*Quote from Garrett Epps' excellent review of the situation in the Atlantic