My first experience with Mo Hayder (Hanging Hill) almost put me off her altogether, not because she isn't a brilliant writer, but because of the endinMy first experience with Mo Hayder (Hanging Hill) almost put me off her altogether, not because she isn't a brilliant writer, but because of the ending. But this book, one of her series on British detective Jack Caffery, brought me back to the fold.
In this book, Caffery charges off on his own to try to uncover what happened to a brother who had disappeared years before. He does eventually get that answer, but in the process, he stumbles into a horrific family torture scene that develops, excruciatingly, throughout the book.
The Anchor-Ferrers family has returned to its country home, the Turrets, when two men posing as police officers invade them and take them hostage. Oliver, the father in the family, is a laser warfare expert, and he's convinced the attack is being orchestrated by someone he has mentioned in an autobiography he has written but not yet published. Another plot element: Oliver developed his laser weapon after a young man and woman were brutally murdered near their property years before. Trapped in the home with him are punky daughter Lucia and wife Mathilda, at the mercy of a man who calls himself Honey and his subaltern, who calls himself Molina.
As you might suspect, there are many layers of motives and personalities yet to be peeled away.
In the meantime, Caffery has approached a wandering homeless man who himself lost someone to child molesting, because he learns the man has spoken in prison with one of the few convicts who might know what happened to Jack's brother. The man agrees to help if Caffery will try to identify the owner of a dog he found wandering with a help message wrapped around its collar. The dog, of course, came from the Turrets.
Will Caffery get to the house in time? What will happen next? With a Hayder novel, you truly never know. And you'll really enjoy (is that the right word?) finding out....more
Most people know about the Amistad, if they know of it at all, from Spielberg's 1997 movie. But there is much more to the story, and no one is betterMost people know about the Amistad, if they know of it at all, from Spielberg's 1997 movie. But there is much more to the story, and no one is better suited to tell it than University of Pittsburgh historian Marcus Rediker, whose previous book looked at the transatlantic slave trade through the device of the slave ship itself.
Rediker's book sets the Amistad rebellion in the context of growing ferment over the slave trade. Just 20 years away from the Civil War, the case began when a group of African slaves being transported on a small boat from Havana to Haiti took control of the ship, killing the captain and a cook, and then tried to sale the boat back to Sierra Leone, from which they had been shipped as slaves. Their navigator fooled them by sailing east when he was being watched but then heading north when he was not, so that the ship was eventually seized off Long Island and the slaves, led by the charismatic Mende warrior Cinque, were taken to a jail in Connecticut.
The judge in the case as known for his racism, and yet surprisingly ruled that because the Africans had not lived for very long in the Spanish territories and because both the United States and Spain had banned the slave trade at that point, the men had been seized illegally and were free to go. However, the pro-Southern president, Martin Van Buren, immediately had the case appealed, and so it took more than two years before the African captives could get a hearing before the Supreme Court, which again surprisingly (give the preponderance of Southerners on the court) upheld the slaves' freedom. Eventually they raised enough money to sail back to Sierra Leone as free men.
Those are the bare facts of the case, but Rediker offers much more. He showed how American abolitionists were absolutely crucial to the Africans' release, but how the abolitionists' goals -- to prove how much they had civilized and Christianized the captives -- were at odds with the Africans' goals, which were to learn English and please their supporters primarily so they could argue the case to return to their homes. Even after they arrived in Sierra Leone, there was conflict, because missionaries who traveled with them thought the Amistad crew would become a Westernized force for Christian mission, whereas most of the former slaves left the missionaries quickly and resumed the lives of freedom they had always wanted.
Rediker also demonstrates what a sensation the case caused. Within days of their capture, the Amistad slaves' story had been turned into a jam-packed New York play. One artist painted a huge canvas of their rebellion, twice as long as the Amistad itself. And another sculpted each of the Africans in lifesize wax for an exhibition. As they awaited their appeals, the Africans also performed gymnastics on the green in New Haven to earn money. Some of their abolitionist supporters thought this an undignified exercise, but the Africans were actually performing tricks that were part of their secret society initiation rituals from Africa.
It is these rich details and Rediker's sense of narrative flow that make this book so worthwhile to read.
This is my third book this year in the category of neglected classics. The former Washington Post book editor called this one of his all time favorite This is my third book this year in the category of neglected classics. The former Washington Post book editor called this one of his all time favorites, and I can see why.
The Siege of Krishnapur, written in 1973, is based on the actual 1857 rebellion against the British in India by sepoys, the native soldiers employed by the British. Throughout the book, the sepoys are a mysterious and menacing force, but none of the main characters are among the rebels.
Instead, Farrell concentrates on the British, Eurasian and Sikh occupants of the minor outpost of Krishnapur, and he manages to combine both a gripping tale of the siege and the outpost's tenacious defense with a scathing and yet oddly sympathetic exploration of the attitudes of the British leaders.
The Collector, the nominal head of the outpost, must organize its defenses after first having been scoffed at for fearing a possible uprising. Through a combination of valor and luck, the garrison manages to hold out, but not before death, disease, starvation and a loss of the vaunted British dignity all occur.
Among his charges is the sardonic and pessimistic Magistrate, the gruff but vital lieutenant Dunstaple, the only one who knows how to manage the little artillery they have, and the supercilious Fleury, whose main attribute when he comes to India is being up to date on the latest fashions from London. Fleury goes from being a champion of romantic values -- that the spirit and heart are far more important than the rising fascination with science and progress -- to a young man who holds his own in the fighting and, as he gains some real world skills during the crisis, converts quickly into someone who no longer aspires to the ethereal.
There are many other vivid characters: Hari, the maharajah's son who admires the West but then becomes bitter when he is held hostage; the Padre, a gloomy cleric who is convinced the crisis has been caused by the sins of his congregants; the lovely Louise, who initially worries more about the propriety of social behavior than the threats facing Krishnapur, but eventually becomes an iron willed nurse and assistant; and the two disputatious doctors, Dunstaple and McNab, who in the midst of the crisis nearly come to blows over the best way to cure cholera (Dunstaple's views will even lead to his demise).
The crisis changes all of the inhabitants, even if only for the months they are marooned, but what makes this novel truly sing is the deft way in which Farrell shows how British cultural arrogance and ignorance of the people whom they were sent to "better" not only led to the uprising, but proved to be a thin veneer that broke down in unpredictable ways during the crisis.
I picked this up as a freebie at Carnegie Mellon University, with a selection of poems by people well known and more obscure, special sections of tran I picked this up as a freebie at Carnegie Mellon University, with a selection of poems by people well known and more obscure, special sections of translated poetry by an Iranian poet and several Latino poets and some essays.
I can't say this gave me great hope for the state of modern poetry. But I can say I found a few gems. There was beautiful poem about basketball and longing ("On the Court," by Andrew Payton) and this lovely little gem by Sharon Lynn Schwartz
Turn the hourglass over, give it some exercise, he said, Unless you want this moment to go on forever. ...more
This Karin Fossum book is not so much a whodunit as a whydunit, and her detectives, Sejer and Skarre, take an understandably long time to find the culThis Karin Fossum book is not so much a whodunit as a whydunit, and her detectives, Sejer and Skarre, take an understandably long time to find the culprit behind a series of psychologically abusive pranks.
It begins with a young couple who find their new baby drenched in blood. They realize she is unharmed, but the impact of the incident on the wife and husband put a terrible strain on their marriage. Other pranks follow, and you know from the outset that they are committed by a young discontented loner of a boy who lives with his alcoholic mother.
Johnny Beskow is a complicated character, because in the midst of his malevolent pranks, he is also a kind and doting caregiver for his disabled grandfather.
In the end, the pranks lead to a horrific death, and then finally, to an unexpected ending and one unanswered mystery.
So, suffice to say without spoilers that Fossum has plenty of surprises in store at the end of the book and there is much to offer in this psychological cat and mouse game....more
This would make a fantastic movie, if you could only decide which of the dozens of violent, melodramatic scenes you'd have to delete, and how you coulThis would make a fantastic movie, if you could only decide which of the dozens of violent, melodramatic scenes you'd have to delete, and how you could get away with this author's take-no-prisoners view of Howard Hunt, Jimmy Hoffa, John and Bobby Kennedy, J. Edgar Hoover and many others.
It will not require a spoiler alert to say that this book takes us from the 1950s to the edge of the Kennedy assassination and provides a plausible plot line about why that assassination occurred. Along the way, you will meet mobsters, Sinatra wannabes, B-list singers, prostitutes, the illegitimate daughter of Joseph Kennedy, Cuban emigres, drug addicts, assassins and other people who shuttle between the legitimate and clandestine world.
At the heart of the novel is an unholy trio: Pete Bondurant, originally Howard Hunt's main fixer and bodyguard, a giant of a man who can intimidate nearly anyone; Kemper Boyd, a handsome, smooth talking FBI agent with an extremely pliable sense of morality, who idolizes JFK; and Ward Littell, another FBI agent who is, initially, desperate to hunt down mobsters and get away from Hoover's obsession with Communists.
These three will sometimes be enemies, then become allies, as they move through the historic events leading up to Kennedy's election, Fidel Castro's revolution and the later Bay of Pigs fiasco, and then the plot to kill the president.
The book begins at a gallop and never lets up. No literary stemwinding for Ellroy, and not even the noir patter you might associate with his subject matter. Just straight ahead action, led by smart, largely amoral men who have a penchant for violence, subterfuge and living beyond society's niceties. Each of them becomes more likeable as the book goes on, even as their deeds become more reprehensible, and perhaps most likeable of all is lethal Pete Bondurant, despite his ever mounting body count. The book is so scathing toward the Kennedys and Hoover it almost makes me wonder if family members complained after its publication.
Get ready for a rip roaring trip through recent past history and an unputdownable novel. ...more
Reading a book about stuff has the potential to be as boring as a rock or as abstruse as an organic chemistry textbook.
But in Miodownik's skilled handReading a book about stuff has the potential to be as boring as a rock or as abstruse as an organic chemistry textbook.
But in Miodownik's skilled hands, this turns out to be not only a fascinating exploration of the materials that shape our lives, but of our relationship to things and what they're made of.
Using the clever approach of a photo of himself on his London rooftop, Miodownik writes about a difference substance from that photo in each chapter. In the process, he sketches the evolution of everything from metal to glass to plastics, gives us glimpses of some famous inventors and discoverers and packs in all sorts of fascinating tidbits.
One of the best stories is of the discovery of aerogel, a foam that is barely lighter than air and almost colorless. It was discovered because one second-career chemist wanted to know whether you could find a skeleton for a gel, the scaffolding that would be left when its liquid had disappeared.
In the process, he figured out how to make an aerogel, and ultimately that substance was used by NASA scientists to capture samples of comet dust from outer space.
In the chapter on glass, he raises the intriguing question of why we can't see through every substance, since most of every atom is open space. The answer: when light enters most substances, its energy is absorbed when electrons in the substance move to a different position. In glass, the electrons are bound so tightly that the light passes through.
And on it goes. Did you know plastic was first developed to cover the outside of billiard balls? Did you know that stainless steel works in part by keeping our tongues from ever tasting iron? Or that titanium is one of the only metals the body will accept for implants that can also integrate itself with bone?
Story by story, Mark Miodownik fleshes out our material world in a way that will make you think twice about every material you pick up, clothe your body with, travel in and sleep on.