I read "Tess" with mounting dread, amazed that Tess could always make the wrong decision and hoping (not really) that she would do something so that hI read "Tess" with mounting dread, amazed that Tess could always make the wrong decision and hoping (not really) that she would do something so that her suffering might make sense on some level....more
Three stars since I liked it enough to finish "Just One Evil Act" but is was a near run thing. Bailed at page 425 of the hardcover: Havers was actingThree stars since I liked it enough to finish "Just One Evil Act" but is was a near run thing. Bailed at page 425 of the hardcover: Havers was acting like an idiot, Lynley was more interested in a new flame, Daidre Trahair who worked as a large animal vet at the Bristol Zoo (George uses the term "large animal vet" so often that I began to wonder just HOW large this vet was). To get it out of the way the courtship between Lynley and Daidre was tentative, labored and very dull--two extremely self-centered people circling around each other and getting almost nowhere.
I picked it up again a few weeks later. This is Havers' book although Italian detective Salvatore Lo Bianco absolutely steals the show. Halfway through the book I thought that Havers should be fired; by the end it would have been fine to see her prosecuted. It ends with an obvious, tacked-on deus ex machina that allows Havers to keep her job although she is far from secure.
This must signal a change in the Lynley/Havers series. There is no author on earth who could create a credible situation for the two of them to work together again--Havers has gone nuts and broken laws in both the UK and Italy--a lot of laws. After this performance no one should be willing to partner with Havers. She is the loosest of loose cannons, always willing to go off on her own no matter what the consequences to those around her.
Perhaps Barbara will take a crash course in Italian and head back to Lucca (wonderfully described by George) into the waiting arms of Detective Lo Bianco. ...more
More of an English country house mystery transplanted to the French Riviera--a crime must be solved, espionage in this case; one of the twelve guestsMore of an English country house mystery transplanted to the French Riviera--a crime must be solved, espionage in this case; one of the twelve guests at the hotel is the criminal and there is a time limit, in this case our protagonist Josef Vadassy has to get on the train to Paris Sunday evening to make the start of the new semester at the language school where he teaches.
The plot is thin and unconvincing--there are too many outrageous coincidences and one deus ex machina-like appearance although Vadassy is a very well drawn and sympathetic character. A recurrent Ambler theme is the haphazard and fortuitous manner that a person can become stateless--unmoored and not a citizen of any nation with no official representative to protect him. Vadassy is working in France with papers granted by the police with the proviso that if he leaves he can't return. He has a ten years out of date Yugoslav passport but is not longer welcome there, having been stripped of his citizenship after his father and brother were executed for being social democrats. He was born in Hungary but in a section that was ceded to Yugoslavia when he was an infant, Vadassy has bounced around western Europe. Italy, Germany and Spain are closed to him (Fascism). England was nice (he is multilingual) but his work permit along with those of many other foreigners was withdrawn as the Depression deepened.
The precarious existence of stateless individuals was featured in several of Ambler's novels. The villain Dimitrios in "A Coffin for Dimitrios" traveled through southeastern Europe (Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania) on temporary documents after washing ashore in Athens in a tide of refugees from Turkey; Arthur Abdel Simpson, anti-hero of "The Light of Day" and "Dirty Story" has no nation to call home and even though it is his own doing he is still subjected to the indignity and outrages of any stateless refugee; a key minor character in "Cause for Alarm" is stuck in Italy without papers from a principality in eastern Europe that no longer exists.
Vadassy is on vacation. He is a keen amateur photographer and somehow part of a roll of film that he is having developed has images of the new naval fortifications at Toulon. When the local chemist turns the film in to the police he is arrested and told that unless he can uncover the person (who, he decides, must be one of his fellow guests at the hotel) that took the pictures he will be imprisoned and deported, most likely to Yugoslavia where his life will be forfeit.
Despite the shortcomings of its plot, "Epitaph for a Spy" is recommended for those who like political/espionage thriller. It is also a terrific character study of a man who is almost driven crazy while trying to solve the all but unsolvable....more
Excellent mid-career Ambler with a likable but sometimes very annoying protagonists, a typically well drawn cast of supporting characters including thExcellent mid-career Ambler with a likable but sometimes very annoying protagonists, a typically well drawn cast of supporting characters including the directors of military intelligence for two small NATO countries who want to enjoy a luxurious retirement, a trio of thuggish operatives from either the CIA of KGB and, as often happens in Ambler's novels, a beautiful, intelligent and resourceful young woman who is the hinge upon which the sometimes creaky plot turns.
While not on the level of Ambler's first four spy novels, still one of his better books. ...more
Kindle edition. Raid makes Martin Beck seem like a blabbermouth and Jack Reacher like a pushover. He doesn't enjoy killing people even though he makesKindle edition. Raid makes Martin Beck seem like a blabbermouth and Jack Reacher like a pushover. He doesn't enjoy killing people even though he makes his living as a hit man. He doesn't even like to shoot anyone although when he has to shoot he does so without hesitation. In "Raid and the Kid" for example he is confronted by two enforcers from a Colombian drug cartel who chance upon Raid while they are trying to find someone else. Each is shot in a shoulder, tied up and then delivered to their boss who comes looking for them.
Much of the book is spent with the police as Inspector Jansson and his squad try to unravel a new cocaine delivery route from Bogota to St. Petersburg via Madrid and Helsinki with Raid (and the Kid) trying to keep out of the clutches of both the Finnish police and the Colombian gangsters....more
The history of terrorism in Yemen and the limits of U.S. foreign policy in distant, unfriendly lands are the twin subjects of Gregory Johnsen’s excellThe history of terrorism in Yemen and the limits of U.S. foreign policy in distant, unfriendly lands are the twin subjects of Gregory Johnsen’s excellent book. He is one of the most knowledgeable people in the West on Yemen, having lived, studied and worked there for years and is currently finishing his Ph.D. in Near East Studies at Princeton. Johnsen wears his learning lightly—he seems to know the history and current affiliation of every tribe, ethnic group and political operation in the desert nation but “The Last Refuge” is written for the general reader. Johnsen is a careful stylist but his language is exciting and he paints a vivid picture of how Al Qaeda has affected Yemen and how the people, culture and landscape of Yemen have affected Al Qaeda.
Ali Abdullah Salih ruled (or tried to rule) for over 30 years although the government of Yemen never controlled the entire country and often only held sway over Sana’a and the area immediately around the capital. He thought it would be a good idea to send young men to Afghanistan for jihad and then begin using them against his only real opposition, the Socialist Party. He realized too late that while setting a process in motion may seem easy, controlling it or even influencing its direction can become impossible. Many young men left as idealistic defenders of Islam against invasion from infidels and returned as hardened Al Qaeda operatives, experienced in combat and unwilling to live under Salih’s kleptocratic regime.
And so these returning veterans created Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Salih was happy to allow U. S. counterinsurgency operations against AQAP but since they consisted solely using drones to kill those suspected of being ranking members of AQAP they were bound to be unsuccessful. The missiles fired by the drones sometime killed tribal or political enemies of the government of Yemen instead of their putative targets and more importantly, killed many Yemenis with no ties to Al Qaeda. Thus was a poorly coordinated rebellion turned into a large scale insurgency.
Events caught up with Johnsen—the Salih regime fell shortly after he finished the book but recent events in Yemen including the Houthi occupation of Sana’a and the collapse of the government that followed Salih shows the impossibility of accounting for everything with such a fast changing and unpredictable set of actors.
Highly recommended as a detailed history and analysis of the growth of terrorism in Yemen and the U.S. response to it. ...more
Pakistan may be the “most failed” in the list of failed nations. It certainly is the most dangerous to the peace and security of South Asia and much oPakistan may be the “most failed” in the list of failed nations. It certainly is the most dangerous to the peace and security of South Asia and much of the rest of the world. Pakistan has a large, well equipped and trained military over which civilian government has little control or even influence. The army has deposed governments in the past but seems now to be content with wielding whatever power is available to the central authorities while leaving hopelessly corrupt and inept civilian elites to deal with messy problems like making excuses to the United States (a chief source of funding) for not cracking down on the Taliban while wringing their hands over the attempted murder of Malala Yousafzai, the teenage girl that the Taliban tried to assassinate, or begging aid from no longer receptive donor countries for major disasters like the 2010 floods, donors who know that the majority of the aid granted will be stolen.
A major reason for Pakistan’s steadily worsening relations with neighboring countries and with the Muslim world generally is the continued use of proxy jihadist forces in addition to the Taliban like Lashkar-e-Taiba a group founded by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the spy service for the military. Lashkar-e-Taiba was initially deployed against the Indian army in Kashmir but soon spun out of the control of their masters, no longer willing to do the state’s bidding and turning against the insufficiently Islamist military. The Pakistani Taliban and other jihadist groups created with the connivance of the military are now (according to Rashid and it is impossible to disagree with him) the real existential threat to Pakistan, even while they still consider India to be their most dangerous enemy. And, of course, a final state collapse of Pakistan would mean a free-for-all over control of its nuclear weapons, an issue never far from the minds of Western, Chinese and Indian policymakers.
Despite being an agricultural country there have been no breakthroughs in the technology of farming or any new crops developed in Pakistan—its economy continues to export its cotton and rice and import manufactured goods. There has been no investment in upgrading the skills of its workforce or real improvements in infrastructure (electric power is cut for up to ten hours per day—every day—in the cities and more in rural areas) to attract industry, due to corruption and lack of interest of civil authorities.
Much of what Rashid writes about Afghanistan (about half the book) would be known to anyone who has paid attention to the news from there over the past few years. It is a compendium of grim statistics—body counts, suicide bombings, drone strikes, kidnappings—without much analysis; the same may be true concerning the Pakistan chapters, of course, but since I know so little about it others would have to answer that question. “Pakistan on the Brink” does have a thrown together against a deadline feel to it. The third book of a trilogy that began with the excellent “Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia” and continued with the well received “Descent into Chaos”. In a generous author's note, Rashid thanks his "publisher and editor Wendy Wolf of Viking Penguin for forcing this book out of a very reluctant author who wondered if anyone really would want to read another book of mine." He needn’t have worried, although it is not on the same level as the first two books in the trilogy. ...more
The Iceland that served as both foreground and background for the taut, perfectly paced mystery novels featuring Erlendur Sveinsson, the gloomy detectThe Iceland that served as both foreground and background for the taut, perfectly paced mystery novels featuring Erlendur Sveinsson, the gloomy detective with a broken marriage, a daughter addicted to heroin and a horrible memory of a lost brother from his childhood. Moving from the hothouse, closed in atmosphere of crime on an island in the North Atlantic to the opened out world of international skullduggery, super-secret special ops killers and pusillanimous cabinet ministers is difficult and Indriðason isn't able to make the transition.
The impetus for the action is well realized and plausible, even if far-fetched: a Luftwaffe plane crashed on a glacier during the last days of World War II. It had been commandeered by American servicemen and filled with Nazi gold--gold from the concentration camps, in other words from the bodies of slaughtered Jews. What remains of the plane is surfacing from the glacier; the intelligence service of the United States is tasked to make sure the story doesn't leak out and that the gold and what is left of the plane disappears into the bureaucratic maw of the federal government, never to be spoken of again.
The close in and deadly conflict between the spies and black ops personnel and the few people in Iceland who figure out what is happening is exciting and believable. Our heroine's desperate, fortuitous escape from two assassins sent after her, for example, is riveting. Unfortunately a most important part of the structure of this kind of novel, the cut and thrust of the careerist diplomats, generals and spymasters who undermine each other and compete for credit in dealing with this potentially disastrous situation doesn't come through at all.
In order for us to suspend disbelief we need to be convinced that the characters are acting rationally, even if they are doing so in service of evil. They have to have legitimate concerns, overcome real problems and, ultimately, act like real people even if they are people we dislike. So when the Delta Force commandos arrive in Reykjavik, take over the American embassy and turf out the ambassador and his staff, alarm bells go off. When the U.S. secretary of defense, on the basis of a single briefing from a person he doesn't trust, turns a blind eye to an operation that could destroy the administration he works for, we know things don't happen that way.
The potential repercussions of uncovering the plane with German markings full of Nazi gold that was flown by renegade American airmen aren't dealt with in any meaningful way.
Indriðason may have had enough of his morose homicide cops but "Operation Napoleon" doesn't point in a direction for him to go. ...more
This crime novel takes place in Finland and involves a journey taken by two men--Nygren, the older one is dying of cancer and wants to settle accountsThis crime novel takes place in Finland and involves a journey taken by two men--Nygren, the older one is dying of cancer and wants to settle accounts with enemies and friends from his past; the younger man, Raid, is an extraordinarily gifted hired killer, very efficient and always taciturn. There is another pair, Jansson, a lieutenant in the Helsinki police and Huusko, a friend and fellow officer. Each side knows secrets about the other.
Nygren and Raid visit a sleazy preacher who convinces his gullible flock to give him money they can't afford and who seduces several young women who are in his thrall. One of them is the daughter of a close friend of Nygren. The preacher is emotionally crushed in front of his congregation, forced to confess his duplicitous sexual and pecuniary behavior and hand back to them all the money he currently has.
A second confrontation is unplanned. Nygren and Raid are accosted by Sariola, a former criminal comrade who wants money from Nygren, solely because he has run through his share of the loot from a robbery they did together. He thinks Nygren might be a soft touch since he is near to death. He winds up in the hospital with painful burns after a pot of hot coffee is dumped in his crotch. Later he and an accomplice come after Nygren and Raid and barely escape with their lives although Sariola has his hand mangled by a shotgun blast.
They then drop in on Rusanen who was formerly in prison with Nygren and who now is a drug kingpin. Rusanen ends up with a bullet in his head.
While notching the butcher's bill the travelers visit Nygren's daughter, a person he has barely seen in decades. He meets his six year old grandson for the first time and leaves his daughter with a envelope full of cash. Another wad of money goes to a former convict who served time with Nygran and who is now trying to straighten out his life.
There are a couple of subplots involving the police officers including one of their colleagues who has a real transformation while trying to figure out what the criminal protagonists are trying to accomplish.
Well worth reading for fans of Nordic crime fiction. Harri Nykanen is a welcome addition from the land of sauna and cell phone. ...more
The four stars in this review are more for the organization and clarity of Donnelly's ideas and to a lesser extent for the ideas themselves. It worksThe four stars in this review are more for the organization and clarity of Donnelly's ideas and to a lesser extent for the ideas themselves. It works well as an introduction to the validity of human rights, the vocabulary of practitioners and some of the founding documents, particularly, in this case, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948. The Holocaust, plus the forced relocation of millions and the destruction of the most basic necessities to maintain life during World War II was the impetus for the Declaration (grammatically the upper case D is correct but if Donnelly were reading it aloud you could hear it) and the subsequent treaties that amended and extended it.
An important aspect of the UDHR is that all the rights it enumerates and defines are individual and not group rights. The rights of ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities are dealt with as the rights of individuals belonging to the group, not the group itself as a collective entity, since human rights are literally the rights that one has simply because on is a human being. Human rights are equal rights; all people have the same human rights as everyone else. They are inalienable; one cannot stop being human no matter how badly one behaves or how monstrously one is treated. And they are universal in that we consider all members of the species Homo Sapiens as human beings and thus, automatically, holders of human rights.
Human rights can be violated, ignored or abrogated and often are with impunity for the violators. Attempting to claim a right--the right of free assembly and association, for example, can lead, in many countries to extra-judicial execution--one can simply disappear or, now that it has become a transitive verb, can be disappeared--El Salvador, Chile under Pinochet, Iraq, the Philippines, the USSR, many others. Regimes that feature summary executions of suspected enemies of the state will almost always fail in most other categories of maintaining or expanding human rights. However, no matter how the concept of individual rights is trampled under the jackboots of fascism those rights still exist and individuals in these unfortunate countries are still fully entitled to them. The right to the presumption of innocence in a free and fair hearing before an independent and impartial judiciary doesn't evaporate in, for example, the People's Republic of China even though those rights may seem to be in permanent abeyance.
An important distinction for Donnelly is that human rights are not moral rights--human rights have played what he calls a "vanishingly small part of Western moral theory." He follows John Rawls in identifying them as political rights and is much more specific regarding them than Jurgen Habermas whose political philosophy often complements Rawls but who is in conflict with him as well. An excellent introduction and summary of their thoughts is in an article by Habermas criticizing Rawls in the Journal of Philosophy and the reply by Rawls in the same journal. For those interested the easiest route to search for "Reconciliation through the Public Use of Reason: Remarks on John Rawls's Political Liberalism". I would post the urls but they are each three lines long and subject to being broken.
Donnelly knows his stuff. He is cited everywhere by everyone, has been consulted by the United Nations and governments throughout the world. “Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice" is a valuable and timely book. ...more
**spoiler alert** Big spoiler: This is Wallender's last case. His developing dementia (described as sudden periods of complete forgetfulness) overtake**spoiler alert** Big spoiler: This is Wallender's last case. His developing dementia (described as sudden periods of complete forgetfulness) overtakes him and he is no longer a detective.
Smaller spoiler: The retired American spy did it. Clues abound....more
I wasn't very far into Sam Wasson's doorstop of a biography when I realized that he didn't really have much new to say about his subject. The outlineI wasn't very far into Sam Wasson's doorstop of a biography when I realized that he didn't really have much new to say about his subject. The outline of Bob Fosse's life is well known--a terrific dancer from the first time he put on tap shoes, his double act with his brother, playing strip clubs and hanging out with strippers while in his teens (his young teens) service in the Navy, the USO shows, the marriages, divorces, girlfriends, one night stands, quickies. Nothing really new there.
Winning the Academy Award for best director for "Cabaret", the Emmy for direction of "Liza with a Z" and the Tony for "Pippin" in 1973 was unprecedented and will never be repeated. His depression afterwards, hospitalization and decision that therapy wasn't for him, that work was the only way he could keep from going nuts. His death in the arms of Gwen Verdon who might have been Fosse's one true love.
"All That Jazz" was Fosse's autobiographical movie and has been seen by anyone interested in his life and work.
"Pippin" is running in revival in New York and is doing well enough that a national tour is possible--try to catch that and watch some of the You Tube and Vimeo clips of Fosse dancing and of great dancers interpreting his choreography--it's a lot more than hats, shoulder rolls, jazz hands and knee slides...more