This very original novel is clever but also a difficult read. The story is presented through a series of transcripts of audio recordings made by "LittThis very original novel is clever but also a difficult read. The story is presented through a series of transcripts of audio recordings made by "Little Smithy," a semi-literate old school London gang member. The recordings describe his quest to find out what happened to his old high school Remedial English teacher after she disappeared during a field trip. The transcripts are phonetic and the imprecise patois is often transcribed inaccurately, e.g. "must have" becomes "mustard" and so on. There are numerous typographic symbols representing pauses, breath sounds, etc. The story is chopped up piecemeal. That's much of what makes it a hard read.
What makes it a fun read is that there is a mystery to solve, several in fact, with elaborate clues set forth in various ways. Purportedly Edith Twyford, a British children's author, left coded clues in the text and illustrations in her WWII-era books. It was one of her books Smithy had once found and given to his teacher that had led to the field trip where she disappeared. What were those coded clues for? Was Twyford a Nazi collaborator? A British spy working undercover? There are numerous references to the real-life Operation Fish where the UK transported is gold bullion Canada for safekeeping during the war. What happened to Miss Isles, the teacher? At the same time, the recordings described Smithy's early life in a London gang and a big theft of gold and jewels that remains unsolved to this day. But there are inconsistencies throughout the transcripts. The ending is fanciful, but satisfying, as it does resolve what needs to be resolved....more
This sarcastic survey of the fringes of alternative medicine is often funny and sometimes frightening. The author explores how wacko, unscientific medThis sarcastic survey of the fringes of alternative medicine is often funny and sometimes frightening. The author explores how wacko, unscientific medical theories have gained widespread acceptance in the United States. These include zombie cures, prayer healing, leeches and much more. The snake oil salesmen and women cooperated fully with the author in many cases, sharing stories of how they came to be such great healers (e.g. one guy came from the Andromeda galaxy), and even their failures (e.g. multiple criminal convictions and court orders that didn't stop them from pushing their wares or their miracle cure sessions at luxury spas and luxury prices). The FDA fights these quacks valiantly, but the book explores how certain political elements (e.g. an unnamed "former game show host" who became president as the book phrases it) have fought to keep them on the market. I was surprised to find out how invested that political element is in the "alternative medicine" (i.e. alternative TO medicine) industry. Certain senators I won't name sell their mailing lists to the snake oil salesmen according to the book. They also receive hefty campaign contributions from them. I can't verify that, so I presume such details come from financial disclosure forms. The whole industry has merged with antivax and conspiracy believers in general.
Personally I don't have a beef against the antivax and alternative medicine folks. I see it as natural selection in action. If they're right, they'll survive at higher rates than those of us who believe in actual medicine. If they're wrong, they'll be the ones dying off at higher rates. In either case, the gene pool is improved by definition. So far the statistics suggest by about 9 to 1 that they're doing most of the dying. I have a healthy skepticism about medical doctors, too, since too many are clearly focused more on making money than healing or helping patients. So, choose your poison and drink up. Back to the book: the writing is too snide to be all that enjoyable, but the content is too delicious not to give it a high rating....more
This story is told in the first person by Pinky, a bisexual private investigator with a nail through her nose. She works for a local attorney who is dThis story is told in the first person by Pinky, a bisexual private investigator with a nail through her nose. She works for a local attorney who is defending the female police chief against allegations of sexually harassing male members of her force. As usual with Turow, the courtroom scenes are top-notch. The investigative stuff is more in the fantasy range, but generally fun overall. The author's usual obsession with sex is apparent here, but somehow not as distasteful as usual. She gets hung up on her neighbor, a mysterious fellow who is obviously up to no good, but his sexual prowess does not seem to be in doubt. Turow seems committed to diversity since we have black, white, Hmong, Chinese, Hispanic, and the whole rainbow flag of personnel here. Of course Pinky seems to be the only one who figures things out and is a rule-breaker, which gets her in hot spots, but, hey, this is a detective thriller, so you gotta expect that. The ending is too gadgety and implausible for my taste but overall I enjoyed the book.
One small cavil is the author's misstatements of the law at times, which is surprising since he's a Harvard Law School graduate. He even got something as basic as the Miranda rule wrong ... twice. Near the beginning he says that if a cop rushes a suspect into a squad car and drives off without giving him Miranda warnings, anything the suspect says in the car can't be used in court. Wrong. That's only true if the officer questions him. Miranda is triggered by the combination of custody and questioning. Officers often wait until they get to the station and let the detectives do the questioning. Anything the suspect blurts out in the car is admissible. The second time, a suspect was being questioned by police and FBI without the warnings. He was told that he wasn't under arrest "at this time", but it was stated that it was obvious to everyone that if he tried to leave he would be arrested. That's custody and that requires the warnings. There's a lot of FBI procedure he gets wrong (I'm a retired FBI agent and legal advisor, so I know this stuff), like sending an expert out from the FBI lab, but I was happy to see that the FBI is portrayed as the good guys in this one....more
Hochman writes well and provides a mostly well-researched history of wiretapping in the U.S. He explains the fine points of the many Supreme Court rulHochman writes well and provides a mostly well-researched history of wiretapping in the U.S. He explains the fine points of the many Supreme Court rulings and other significant cases spanning the years. It took me back to law school and I learned a great deal. Many of the cases discussed were interesting in themselves, rather entertaining, in fact. Overall I enjoyed the book.
However, as former FBI agent and Legal Adviser I found the book had two significant flaws. One is his assertion that federal courts "rubber-stamp most any wiretap application." P.204. He cites statistics of a high rate of approval by judges as evidence. This overlooks the fact that such applications are scrutinized very thoroughly within the FBI itself. If a lawyer within the FBI and DOJ were to approve an application that was later denied, it would be a severe black mark, possibly career-ending. For this reason the internal controls are much more strict than the law requires. If an application makes it as far as a federal judge it is almost certainly a valid application with no justification for denial. Imagine how the author and media in general would react if such applications were regularly denied. The FBI would be excoriated for having a cavalier attitude to requirements of the law. For people like Hochman, if judges approve warrant applications, it's a sign of lax judicial oversight, not of the FBI and police carefully doing their job properly. This demonstrates an anti-wiretap and anti-law enforcement bias on the author's part.
The second flaw is the total lack of coverage of the largest category of wiretapping in law enforcement: consensual monitoring (CM). In the introduction, the author precisely defines wiretapping as "the act of intercepting or recording messages or voice conversations transmitted over electronic communications networks." Perhaps he meant "and" rather than "or," but that would be ironic since he ridicules lawmakers for that exact ambiguity in early laws on the subject. Assuming he meant what he wrote, the vast majority of wiretapping as he defines it, at least in my post-Hoover experience (1970s, 80s and 90s), consisted of recording with the consent of a party to the conversation. CM may or may not be considered intercepting, but it is certainly recording. This is legal without a warrant under federal law for anyone, and I think in all states when it is by, or in cooperation with, law enforcement. It is most often done by informants, co-conspirators cooperating to get lenient treatment, crime victims (e.g. kidnapping and extortion), witnesses, undercover agents, and even, as in Richard Nixon's case, by the criminals themselves. One of my last CM cases was ordering the warrantless installation of a recorder on the telephone of the spouse of a kidnapped executive being held for ransom (with her consent, of course). The "wiretap" as Hochman calls it, was instrumental in leading to the rescue of the victim unharmed, capturing of the kidnappers, and recovering the ransom money. Hochman's anti-wiretap diatribe seems to consider this an unconscionable violation of privacy. Oh, those poor kidnappers whose privacy was so badly violated; they didn't get much privacy for the next twenty years doing hard time. By the way, they were planning to kill the victim once they got the money. I'd put a conservative estimate of the frequency of CM as upward of 20 twenty times compared to that of Title III (court-ordered) recordings, perhaps ten times that. Wiretaps of both kinds are a necessary tool for protecting the public. In my 25+ years in the FBI I never saw any abuse of it. Hochman's omission of CM is both indicative of bias, looking only for instances supporting his view of wiretapping as evil, and sloppy research by overlooking the vast majority of data in the field he purports to cover. Nevertheless, the book is a good read and makes intelligible to the lay reader what are some very technical points....more
This is the best book I've read all year. The suspense starts from page one and doesn't let up all the way through. Nat, a historian, is shanghaied byThis is the best book I've read all year. The suspense starts from page one and doesn't let up all the way through. Nat, a historian, is shanghaied by the FBI and put on the trail of some missing documents from World War II about the White Rose, his academic specialty. His mentor, an old wartime OSS hand, dies suddenly and suspiciously and leaves him clues. But entering the mix is a dodgy blond woman researcher from Germany and a middle eastern man of dubious intentions. The scene shifts back to the wartime and we see Kurt Bauer, the teenage scion of a major industrialist, trying to survive the war while retaining the affections of his lady love. The time frame shifts back and forth throughout the book. There is double dealing and betrayal everywhere, both then and now.
The research that went into this novel is incredibly rich and the plot is nearly believable because of it. There is plenty of death and spycraft to satisfy the hardcore thriller buff and more than enough detail of Germany and Switzerland for those more inclined to appreciate ambience and history. Keeping track of all the players and trying to discern their true motivations is a challenge in itself. The sexual tension is muted but palpable in places. In short, the book has everything. Read it....more
The first 300 pages of this "thriller" is a snoozefest, but right about page 300 it turns into a real page turner. The plot is good if you have the paThe first 300 pages of this "thriller" is a snoozefest, but right about page 300 it turns into a real page turner. The plot is good if you have the patience to wait for it to develop.
Vaughn and Benny are two South African detectives with problems - one with weight and one with alcohol. The book begins with a wild gunfight that is totally irrelevant to the rest of the book. The two detectives are demoted over something that happened in a previous book and which is shamelessly promoted. They end up with lower rank in a sleepy, wealthy suburb working a missing person case. ZZZ. Meanwhile we meet Sandra, a young and comely realtor who is married to a professor on sabbatical. They're in financial trouble, and since hubby is writing a novel, i.e. not bringing in any dough, she needs to make some money as they can't meet the mortgage payment. A lecherous millionaire wants her to sell a wine estate he controls, but he tells her, lasciviously, the commission "doesn't come for free." Thus starts the story of the real estate deal from hell. What does this have to do with Vaughn and Benny? Nothing until the last quarter of the book, but it does all come together in quite an entertaining way.
The text is peppered with Afrikaans words and slang expressions. This gives it an interesting flavor, but can be somewhat distracting. There is a glossary at the end, which I didn't discover until I was almost at the end. I kept getting off on tangents when looking up the terms on my phone. For us Yanks with no familiarity with South African geography or anything else it's a bit challenging to follow at times, but it also carries with it a slight exotic flavor. In the end, I enjoyed it. I don't know where the title comes from since there is no flood, dark or otherwise. This is the seventh book in the series....more
The blurb from one reviewer said "...like no crime novel I've ever read." That's true, but that's not actually praise. A lot of us are fans of conventThe blurb from one reviewer said "...like no crime novel I've ever read." That's true, but that's not actually praise. A lot of us are fans of conventional crime novels. If you are, you're likely to be disappointed in this one, as I was. It's set in England. The main characters are a male physicist, a brilliant child, a woman police detective and a scientist couple. The woman has recently been expelled from the force, but we don't know the details of why. The woman scientist dies and the now ex-detective suspects she was murdered, even though she had cancer and died in a hospital. Then that woman's body goes missing. Okay, that's a pretty good setup. I was interested for the first 60% of the book. But at that point, the deaths (there are more) are explained and the culprit convicted. The case is solved.
Suddenly there is a white page with nothing but "Part 2" in the center. Everything we thought we knew starts to come into doubt. It becomes weirder and departs from the mundane. The characters are scientists, remember. And this is a novel, i.e. fiction. Science and fiction. Enough said. I found the ending imaginative, but unsatisfying. Still, it kept me reading and was entertaining enough to merit three stars....more
If there's such a thing as the perfect whodunit, this is it. I absolutely loved this one. It's got everything: suspense to the very end, deliciously cIf there's such a thing as the perfect whodunit, this is it. I absolutely loved this one. It's got everything: suspense to the very end, deliciously complex characters with mysterious motives, a lavish and exotic setting, and terrific writing. The setting is an island "wedding venue" off the coast of Ireland where a handsome movie star groom is about to marry a gorgeous posh publisher bride. It begins with an investigation underway, something about a "body" only it's not clear if a murder has taken place or even a dead body found. Perhaps someone only reported seeing a body or someone went missing.
Then the back stories begin. We learn the groom and most of his ushers are all "Trevellians," having attended the same prep school, one of those bully-filled Lord of the Flies type places. The rather dim best man did too, but he was there on a rugby scholarship and wasn't "one of the boys," being too rough and from a poor background. The bride and her sister have a strained relationship. The sister seems to have a screw loose and is a cutter. The bride demands everything be perfect and is more than a little demanding. Something bad happened at the stag party but we don't know what. The wedding planner, an attractive woman who runs the venue, seems mismatched to her fat husband but is the soul of efficiency. There's way too much drinking, some dangerous peat bogs, a raging storm, crumbling cliffs. What could possibly go wrong?
The stories are told by all the characters in turn and we learn that not all is right beneath all the lavish perfection. We begin to learn who the likely candidates are for victim and who has motives against each. The author skillfully manages to keep from us whether anyone died, and, if so, who it might be until almost the very end. The responsible party or parties for whatever happened is revealed only at the absolute end, and it caught me by surprise. The suspense was delicious.
This belongs to that genre of mystery that is not quite a locked-room mystery since the crime doesn't seem impossible, and it's not a pure whodunit where we follow along with an investigator. It resembles the classic game Clue where a body is found and the suspects are all together in a closed location like, for example, Murder on the Orient Express, but without the Poirot equivalent. The characters/suspects/victim tell the story themselves. I listened to the audiobook and the actors were just marvelous....more
This laughable fantasy is a cross between a fairy tale and comic book for horny teenage boys of yesteryear. Out on the Utah prairie two broad-shoulderThis laughable fantasy is a cross between a fairy tale and comic book for horny teenage boys of yesteryear. Out on the Utah prairie two broad-shouldered, straight-shooting men separately find beautiful women who are near helpless without them and who give themselves to the men. Either man can single-handedly kill a half dozen attackers and take only flesh wounds in return which they stoically endure. The plot is convoluted and makes little sense. All you need to know is that there are bad guys and good guys clearly identified and killing is the way things get settled. One man finds a hidden Eden where a man and women can live with abundance all around.
The one aspect that I found most interesting is the way Grey portrayed Mormons of the day. It would be politically incorrect today. Mormonism comes across as a violent cult led by lustful hypocritical men. While I've known several Mormons that I like and respect, there is some truth to the cultish aspect. My son was cut off from contact with a good friend when he was in elementary school when the friend's Mormon mother found out we weren't Christians.
The writing style is hard to describe. It's an amalgam of rusticity, elegance, and hyperbole. It's so different from anything else I've read that I imagine any other Zane Grey book would be instantly recognizable....more
Lauren is a tall, strong, black teenager in Southern California. She watches the apocalypse, or, more accurately, slowpocalypse, engulf her area. LifeLauren is a tall, strong, black teenager in Southern California. She watches the apocalypse, or, more accurately, slowpocalypse, engulf her area. Life has deteriorated to where thievery, arson, scavenging and bribery have become the overwhelming lifestyle. She has devised a plan to escape it and has concocted a religion, Earthseed, to provide philosophical underpinning for it. The book is classified as science fiction, rightfully so, but there are no aliens, monsters, or space travel. It is somewhat like The Road by Cormac McCarthy, but much better written and, at times at least, uplifting.
The book is slow to really get going. Her survival plan doesn't really start until about halfway through the book, but it is imaginative and evocative at that point. I found it interesting enough, but also disliked the doomsaying assumptions made at the outset. In the book, virtually no one is to be trusted and government, police and all forms of power are corrupt and have abandoned the people. In my experience, when hard times or disasters hit, people come together and help each other out and so do our state, local, and federal authorities as well as non-profits. They don't kill each other and set fire to a house in order to pillage their neighbors' belongings. This kind of fiction can feed the paranoia of the survivalists and preppers. The book is a decent read, but just remember, it is fiction....more
Elizabeth Zott is a brilliant chemist, but this being the 1950s and 60s, and she a woman, she is not allowed to finish her PhD, she is sexually molestElizabeth Zott is a brilliant chemist, but this being the 1950s and 60s, and she a woman, she is not allowed to finish her PhD, she is sexually molested, hired at a fraction of the pay of her male colleagues who are anything but brilliant, and in general no one believes she is actually capable of being a scientist since she's not a man. That's just for starters. I am very sympathetic to this plot line since my own brilliant mother, who skipped two grades, was date raped in college by a football player, and when she reported it to her sorority mother, was expelled for immorality. Nothing happened to the football player. So, yes, stories like this do happen. The writing style was decent enough.
Having said that, the author lays it on too thick in the book. It's 350 pages of the same thing, and it becomes very unbelievable very fast. Zott has a child out of wedlock with a fellow chemist and the child is more intelligent that Einstein and Feynman combined. So is her dog Six Thirty. I went to college in the 60s and plenty of women were successfully getting degrees and working in scientific fields. My daughter is a brilliant chemist and chose to leave academia for marriage and motherhood. She wasn't fired or discriminated against, and she is happy with her choice. So the book just seemed like a diatribe against all men. I felt castigated for my Y chromosome all the way through. Maybe some women feel that way and will get off on this revenge porn of a sort, but I couldn't make it past halfway. I skipped ahead from there until the end. The ending was unfortunately too predictable and too unbelievable....more
What I liked most about this book was the clever plot. There were enough twists and turns to keep me guessing to the very end. That said, in the end IWhat I liked most about this book was the clever plot. There were enough twists and turns to keep me guessing to the very end. That said, in the end I felt disappointed with this book. The writing was very uneven - quite good at the beginning but deteriorating as it continued. This included the proofreading, which allowed numerous errors such as wrong word (off for of), mixed tenses, omitted words, and commas scattered in random, odd places.
The story is a mystery. The main character, Deven, is called upon to identify a body as her half sister Kennedy, but she doesn't think it is she. Deven is black, something I didn't pick up on at first since there was no physical description given of her. The cover picture is the profile of a black woman, but is obscured by two such images overlaid on each other and the title print over that. With straight hair, her race was not obvious at a quick glance, but perhaps I was just unobservant. In any event, the cover picture was of Kennedy, not Deven, and with different fathers, they could have been of different races. Her race shouldn't matter, but as the story went on, it seemed rather important. At one point Deven mused that she couldn't marry outside her race. That made me assume she was white and thinking about a black man, when in fact, it was the opposite. The dialog became "blacker" as it went on, or at least it seemed that way to me; e.g. I had to look up the word "locs." The characters became rougher. At the beginning, it was nurse, doctor, hospital setting, but then some shady characters fell into the mix and everyone, even Deven, developed a filthy mouth toward the end.
Deven often did not behave in remotely logical ways. She decided to try to find her sister by herself, often withholding critical information not only from the police, but from others trying to help her. She would run off to confront someone, even after being told to let the police do it, and as she arrived, wished she had called the police instead, then even when confronting someone who could be dangerous, had no plan as to what she would say or do. She would get important calls or texts and not read or listen to them until much later. She also spent no time at work for days and days. There was a pregnancy inserted into the plot for no reason I could determine as it disappeared from the plot line as quickly as it appeared. Though I can't recommend it, the mystery itself was intriguing enough to keep me reading, and it was logically resolved in the end....more
Husband and wife team Baker (New York Times) and Glasser (The New Yorker) have written a massive tome documenting the Trump presidency based on years Husband and wife team Baker (New York Times) and Glasser (The New Yorker) have written a massive tome documenting the Trump presidency based on years of personal reporting and interviews of key insiders. I won't bother to analyze or bash Trump since everyone pretty much knows what he is. Those who need to hear the truth about him won't listen anyway. What I found interesting and important about the book is how it portrays the people around him in the White House or other key government positions. I hadn't realized how much they almost all hated each other. They fell into two general categories: those true pro-Trumpers and those who took positions primarily to prevent Trump from doing something horrible. The former didn't really like or respect Trump, nor he them, but they saw him as a vehicle for their own agenda. These include people like Jared Kushner (Israel), Jeff Sessions (immigration), John Bolton (Venezuela), Betsy DeVos (charter schools), and many others. The latter included the generals such as Mattis, McMaster, and Kelly, (but notably did not include Flynn, who was a true Trumper with an agenda of his own), Tillerson and many others. None of them was very effective either at their own agendas or at controlling Trump. Even within the second category, the in-fighting was fierce.
My takeaway from the book is how blessed we are to have a civil service system. Our governments and federal, state and local level chug along doing what needs to be done, whether protecting us , providing sanitation, education, social services, foreign relations, and a myriad of other things, all despite, not because of, the elected politicians. They are also protected by the civil service system which makes it hard to fire rank and file employees, and easy for arbitrators or boards to reinstate them. The same is true in the military. It leads to incompetent people staying in positions and plenty of the inefficiency for which government is known, but it is also the safeguard that keeps people like Trump from replacing knowledgeable career people with partisan incompetents or worse. It was our inexorable government machinery that kept our allies on our side, our military within the law, our court system running, and our economy working.
The book itself is too long and ponderous to be an enjoyable read. It is really written as a historical source document. People who follow the news closely won't find much surprising, although I skipped liberally through the second half and may have missed something. The book is over 700 pages....more
I'm a big Harry Bosch fan, so take that into account in the rating. If you've read his earlier stuff, you know the good and the bad of the style. HarrI'm a big Harry Bosch fan, so take that into account in the rating. If you've read his earlier stuff, you know the good and the bad of the style. Harry is a rule-breaking, abrasive, now ex-LAPD detective who still burns with a fury over injustices in the world. He is here working cold cases, called back to assist the force in a squad of volunteers led by Renee Ballard, the only sworn officer. The plot suffers from too much predictability, but the detail of how Harry works is pure joy to read. Connelly gets into the cop nitty-gritty - where Harry parks to get the best view, how he positions his body to look old and decrepit, the lies he tells to get people to tell him what he wants, and all the people and resources in the LAPD he knows how to use and clues only he is sharp enough to spot. There's a big reveal in the epilogue, but there's enough telegraphing of it throughout the book that I can't call it a surprise. The bottom line: if you're a Harry Bosch fan, read it and enjoy it; if not, avoid it, or if this is your first one, go back to the earlier ones. Don't start here....more
I really enjoyed this book, but it may be largely due to my experience and interests. I was an FBI agent on the very first high-tech squad in Silicon I really enjoyed this book, but it may be largely due to my experience and interests. I was an FBI agent on the very first high-tech squad in Silicon Valley in the 1990s and I have a longtime interest in cryptography and computers. I was dismayed at the unflattering (but accurate) portrayal of the FBI and its response (or non-response) in the middle of the book. But I was pleased to see by the end that the FBI has upped its game and works well with the private sector to combat this scourge of ransomware.
The book is not a technical manual. It spends most of its time on the lives of the team members, the mostly young people who selflessly devote their time and talents to breaking ransomware or otherwise helping victims recover their encrypted files without paying ransom, or sometimes by helping to reduce the ransom through negotiation. The team who does this is an informal but real group, many of whom have never met the others, scattered around the western world. Their technical skills are formidable, but they are often socially somewhat inept, the stereotypical computer nerds from TV and movies. The reality is these people are heroes.
The ransomware business is more complicated than I'd imagined, and the book gives fascinating insights about it. I hadn't realized, for example, that many American businesses profit from it. Insurance companies make money insuring against it and there are unethical companies who claim to help victim companies recover their files through their technical expertise and not pay ransom, but actually just pay the demanded ransom and charge the victim that amount plus a premium. The ransomers vary in geographic locale and in their conscience (e.g. not victimizing hospitals), but the worst of them are in Russia, Iran, or Belarus. Read the book to learn more....more
I really liked this book and recommend it. Although this is his first novel, the author is a professional writer (screenplays for movies and TV) and iI really liked this book and recommend it. Although this is his first novel, the author is a professional writer (screenplays for movies and TV) and it shows. The plot is suspense-filled, with twists and turns, and he does an excellent job of painting a scene of the east Texas legal scene. As a lawyer and FBI agent who worked in the intellectual property (IP) field, I was impressed with the depth of his research. The basic setup is that the main character, James Euchre, is a patent attorney who serves as the local counsel for patent law firms coming here from out of state. He is representing a client, Amin, who loses a ruling and screams threats in the courtroom. Then the judge who presided is murdered. Amin is charged with the murder and Euchre must represent him even though he's never been a criminal attorney. Okay, that's far-fetched. A good-looking female attorney, Layla, formerly a prosecutor, is seconded to the case to help him since it's a capital case. To add a twist, the victim judge was a dear personal friend and mentor to Euchre. Euchre wants to find the killer, even if it is his own client, so he has in mind that he will screw Amin if he finds out he's guilty. It is up to him and his quirky investigator, "the Leg," to find out whodunit.
For a non-lawyer the author got the vast majority of the legal stuff right, like the feds deferring to Texas in order to go for the death penalty, and most of what wasn't right was probably due to literary license. He lists a slew of lawyers in the acknowledgments section. However I feel compelled to set the record straight on a few issues. There is no FBI lab in Dallas. The only FBI lab is in Quantico, VA. It does assist local cases like this on request, but it is much more likely a local department would use a state lab for several reasons. This trial would surely be moved from the local area; it it wasn't, any conviction would be overturned on appeal.
Another reason I can't boost this to five stars is that the characters aren't very likeable. Amin is a jerk. Euchre is a dissolute hothead. He claims to be a non-smoker but chain smokes Marlboros and throws the butts out on the roadway. He drinks heavily and is obviously impaired from hangovers running up to trial. At trial he cuts down to three stiff drinks a night as though that's virtuous. He's sarcastic and insulting to half the people he deals with. I've never really understood why authors like to make their lead characters flawed, but I guess it goes back at least to Sherlock Holmes and seems to be popular with some readers. Layla is inserted as a token black and female who should be lead counsel with her experience, but does almost nothing but provide a love interest. The Leg is the only somewhat likeable character, although she also seems like a token lesbian who ultimately doesn't have much effect on the final resolution. The plot strains credibility even more toward the end, but I found it compelling enough to really enjoy it....more
Pohl's 1952 satirical treatment of consumerism and mercantilism seems dated these days, but overall it stands the test of time. At some point in futurPohl's 1952 satirical treatment of consumerism and mercantilism seems dated these days, but overall it stands the test of time. At some point in future America, advertising agencies are the highest ranking employment and societal strata. They control Congress and the presidency. The highest legal authority is the Chamber of Commerce. The populace is divided into consumers and copysmiths, i.e. ad men. Mitch, the central character, is an ambitious copysmith who lands the Venus contract. His agency is seeking to commercialize the planet, notwithstanding the fact that it's essentially uninhabitable at present. That's a mere niggling detail for the engineers and Production Department to handle. The important thing is to convince people they want to go to Venus and buy Venus goods, etc. But there are evil opposition forces at work - the Consies (conservationists) who spout blasphemy such as opposing pollution and despoliation of the planet - both planets. You get the idea.
Mitch gets kidnapped, tattooed to appear to be a consumer (gasp!), and stuck in a consumer job. He learns what it's like to be part of the masses and it isn't pretty. The book is very well written and quite humorous in places, at times intentionally, and in others, accidentally. It's always amusing to read old sci-fi that is set in the far future only to find that everyone communicates by fax and landlines, smokes cigarettes, and has female secretaries who type memos. Pohl's dystopia is very imaginative, but I will refrain from spoiling the fun for you with further description....more
The title is not a mistake, but it is a bit misleading. A group of Punjabi widows in London join a writing class by Nikki, a young, modern, London-borThe title is not a mistake, but it is a bit misleading. A group of Punjabi widows in London join a writing class by Nikki, a young, modern, London-born Punjabi woman. What Nikki thought would be a creative writing course turned askew when she learned most of the women could not read or write, or had minimal literacy skills. The class turned into a story-telling class, and, yes, the stories became raunchy as these widows seemed to be hornier than people imagined. For propriety's sake, the tales mostly involve the ladies' own husbands. They are more graphic than I would have expected, so if you're not mentally prepared for bodice-ripping (or salwar kameez ripping) lustful raunch, just skip the italicized portions. They don't take up much of the book.
That setup is the framework for a story focused on the differences and difficulties between the generations within the Punjabi community, but, more broadly, between traditional cultures and today's more permissive western society. While not a murder mystery per se, the plot also involves a mysterious death. Nikki falls into danger while she and her sister both find themselves in romantic entanglements. To say more would be a spoiler.
Some readers may find it sort of cute that these old ladies are as lustful as they are, but at times it almost seems as a cheap trick to get some low-grade smut into the book. Another drawback for a white American male reader is that the book contains a great deal of Punjabi terms and cultural references. I know almost nothing about Sikh/Punjabi/London culture. I was looking stuff up on my phone pretty much to the very end. There's also a lot geographical knowledge of London required to fully appreciate what's going on, i.e., which areas are ethnic, or hip, or dangerous, etc. I think the book was written primarily with a British/Indian audience in mind. There were virtually no explanations of the various terms or customs used for the rest of us.
You may wonder how I came to choose to read this. Tired of my usual sources, I decided to search online for "books with good non-political stories" or words to that effect. I checked some of the links on the first page and one book blogger had a list of ten described almost exactly that way. As it happened, I'd read two of them and liked them both, so I was encouraged to try this one. I'm not exactly disappointed in it, but neither can I say I really enjoyed it. It passed the time until my next book on hold at the library came in....more
I found this book very interesting, but some readers will need a strong stomach for the gorier crime scene or autopsy descriptions. Those parts can beI found this book very interesting, but some readers will need a strong stomach for the gorier crime scene or autopsy descriptions. Those parts can be skipped. The author was a criminologist in the San Francisco Bay Area. The book is a mix of his personal story and case studies. The personal story is relevant in some ways in that we learn how obsessive he is about the cases, how that and his childhood contributed to his many marital troubles and work stress. But I wasn't very interested in him as a person, and I doubt most readers are, either. The most interesting sections are discussions of some famous cases, including Jaycee Dugard and the Golden State Killer. I gained a much better understanding of, and appreciation for, the expertise required and employed by criminologists and detectives and the roadblocks they face. The roadblocks include bosses who would rather direct resources to open cases than to cold cases or ones past the statute of limitations, and interagency rivalry. Many departments refuse to share evidence or theories because they want to be the ones who solve and get the headlines, or because they don't want local residents to know that a serial rapist or murderer may be in their midst.
The writing is unremarkable but workmanlike, which is appropriate for a semibiographical book, and it is clear and easy to follow. There's a little too much time at the beginning spent on the author's early life, but it soon focuses on some of the cases he worked. I believe most people will be surprised at how easy it is for a detective to become fixated on an innocent person by interpreting the evidence incorrectly. There is quite a lot about DNA in the latter pages and some of that surprised me, especially the differences between forensic analysis and genealogical analysis. One minor irritant with the book is the author's apparent high opinion of himself. I was tempted to say something like "It's not about you," but to be fair, the title warns you that it is about him, i.e. the life of a criminologist who specialized in cold cases, not solely the cases themselves....more
I didn't finish this book, so don't weigh my review too heavily. I just couldn't get into it, although I did make it almost halfway. The main characteI didn't finish this book, so don't weigh my review too heavily. I just couldn't get into it, although I did make it almost halfway. The main character is a private eye, "the best in the world" in fact, who is on a case of a missing person in New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina. At least that's how she was billed, but she's more like a clairvoyant. She can tell the breed mix of a dog from hearing the bark three blocks away. She can always tell whether a person is lying or telling the truth. She can shoot out both front tires of a car chasing her while she's leaning out the window of her own fast moving car because she learned to shoot with her eyes closed. The bullet wants to hit the target, she informs the reader, and just needs to be persuaded you are on its side. She also smokes blunts soaked in embalming fluid and swears a lot. It has atmosphere but it's pretty much stupid fantasy so far as I can tell, certainly not a real detective novel....more
The eponymous main character, Molly the Maid, is weird, or so many of her coworkers say. She talks and behaves like she is possibly autistic or obsessThe eponymous main character, Molly the Maid, is weird, or so many of her coworkers say. She talks and behaves like she is possibly autistic or obsessive-compulsive, or both, although that is never explicitly stated. This is a bit unusual in a mystery novel, although not unique. See, for example, A Man Called Ove and The Rosie Project. I have an autistic nephew and had an OCD tenant and I don't find the portrayal of Molly very credible, but it is a novel, so I went with it. She finds a dead body in a room she enters to clean. She is surrounded by characters both good and evil. The characterizations are heavy-handed, making it easy to tell which is which. If you read comic books you'll be right at home in that respect. The plot unfolds in a rather predictable way. I don't understand reviews talking about all the twists and turns. I thought almost everything was telegraphed way in advance. However, there was a surprise in the epilogue that will be a satisfying clarification to some, but with a lame "out of the blue" explanation in my view.
There is one aspect I sort of like about Molly. Instead of the now outworn "unreliable narrator" trope in mysteries and thrillers, Molly is almost a "too reliable narrator." She cannot tell a lie. But she can keep her trap shut. I'll leave it at that....more
Lewis has a way of personalizing large-scale data-driven stories through anecdotes about key individuals. He has done this here, focusing on some publLewis has a way of personalizing large-scale data-driven stories through anecdotes about key individuals. He has done this here, focusing on some public health and science figures you've never heard of who were instrumental in driving some of the more successful efforts at fighting the COVID pandemic. But it doesn't chronicle an overall success. Lewis is frank in recounting America's overall failure in its response, largely due to governmental bureaucracy and political considerations. In a way, it's an indictment of democracy itself since no politician wanted to order people to give up their freedoms. Staying power was more important than saving lives. It's ironic that the most authoritarian regime America has ever had was so afraid to act in authoritarian manner, e.g. ordering lockdowns, testing, vaccinations, and mask wearing, when other developed countries around the world were.
He tries to write a tale of unsung heroes working more or less underground for no recognition or pay, or, worse, at risk of losing their jobs for trying to save lives. The CDC comes off abysmally in this book and the anti-science views of politicians on both sides, although mostly the Trump administration, is shocking. The narrative doesn't quite come off, however. The heroes may have done their best, but they didn't really make much difference. It's obvious that most of the human interest stories about the "heroes" came from them and I suspect they supplied more than a little hyperbole and self-serving editing. There was often a whiff of whining and victim mentality.
Even so, the book is a very engaging and informative read. I felt like I was looking "under the hood" at what really went on during the pandemic and how we as a nation (and an often uncooperative public) can do better in the next one. I recommend the book....more
This little mystery novel caught me by surprise. I won't call it a murder mystery, since part of the mystery is that it's not clear the "victim" is inThis little mystery novel caught me by surprise. I won't call it a murder mystery, since part of the mystery is that it's not clear the "victim" is in fact dead. I read a blurb about the main character, insurance investigator Dave Brandstetter, being a rugged character in the style of a James M. Cain leading man. I decided to try the first one in the series in case I liked the character. I didn't realize the main character was gay. Actually, that word wasn't used in 1970 when this book was published. He was homosexual or worse in the language of the book and that was more than just a quirk. It was a main theme of the plot, which I suppose was daring back in the homophobic times, but not something I cared about. You'd think from this book that there are more gay men than straights in California. There was way more sex in it than I'd have liked, and gay sex is even more of a turnoff.
Setting that aside, there was much to like and some to dislike in the book. The prose is rich in description. The author is a master at painting the set and populating it with distinctive characters. I liked that the main character behaved as real investigators do, mostly going around interviewing people, not chasing people, getting in fistfights and shootouts. He reminds me of Kinsey Millhone, Sue Grafton's lead character in that respect. As a retired FBI agent I can tell you that part was realistic. The plot kept me guessing which meant it also kept me reading and kept me entertained until the end. The ending however, was disappointing. It was what I call an Agatha Christie ending, where there are too many characters, all of whom have motive and opportunity and the lead character seems to be the only one who spots tiny clues that are fortuitously scattered throughout the early pages to solve the mystery. I'll say no more to avoid spoilers....more
I was expecting a book crammed with naval combat action and I got all that. The two main navy men are academy graduates, one a bomber pilot, one a desI was expecting a book crammed with naval combat action and I got all that. The two main navy men are academy graduates, one a bomber pilot, one a destroyer man. The writing is unabashedly gung ho with political correctness out the window. It's written in the vernacular of the WWII navy, so if you're shocked by the term Jap or upset by violence and gore in general, this isn't a book for you. There are also two navy nurses as secondary, but important, characters. What I didn't expect was the well done character development and love stories. Since it's a WWII story, we know mostly how it comes out in the big picture, but the lives of the characters are uncertain throughout the book, just as they were in the war. The author managed to keep me in suspense throughout, and to pluck my emotional heartstrings rather surprisingly. I'd give it another half star if Goodreads would allow it. If you liked Clancy's early works or the Hornblower series, you'll enjoy this. The authenticity and detail are mind-blowing. ...more
This non-fiction book is part biography of a major scientific figure and part an exploration of how scientific ideas percolate through the scientific This non-fiction book is part biography of a major scientific figure and part an exploration of how scientific ideas percolate through the scientific community. Alexander Humboldt was a giant in his time throughout Europe especially, but also in the U.S. Right here in California we have Humboldt County and Humboldt Bay, both named for him. Yet not many Americans are familiar with him. He had a major influence on other scientists and naturalists like Charles Darwin and John Muir. This is all detailed in the book. Although it centers on Humboldt, it goes into some detail about other thinkers and explorers. It may be said that Humboldt invented the science of ecology.
The book's strength is the sheer volume of information about Humboldt and the others who took his ideas and expanded on them. It is also its main weakness. There is a great deal of repetition in this nearly 500-page tome. The author spends a too much time detailing what other scientists and luminaries of the day have said or written about Humboldt, especially about his wonderful prose writing about nature. Yet there is not a single example of that wonderful prose quoted. It's not protected by copyright, so there's no excuse for omitting it. I would rather read one paragraph about the plants of South America than five paragraphs quoting people saying he wrote beautifully about the plants of South America....more
This story is a heartwarming tale of a small dog in the Chinese desert finding someone to love her. That's the main story and there isn't much else toThis story is a heartwarming tale of a small dog in the Chinese desert finding someone to love her. That's the main story and there isn't much else to say about that. The rest consists of the author talking about his tough childhood, his own ultramarathon competitions, and the bureaucratic problems of getting a dog out of China and into the UK. That was not particularly interesting to read. If you can find a ten minute interview of the author online somewhere, you get the best part and don't need to read the book, not that there's anything particularly wrong with it....more
This thoroughly entertaining novel is unique in content and form. Jay Fitger is a pretentious, acerbic, cynical, and very witty professor of creative This thoroughly entertaining novel is unique in content and form. Jay Fitger is a pretentious, acerbic, cynical, and very witty professor of creative writing at a Midwestern college. The story is told, or rather insinuated, through a series of letters of recommendation he writes for various students, colleagues, and staff members. The letters overflow with rib-tickling asides on his personal life and academic insanity, such as:
Yesterday on the metal bookshelf in my office, I came across a cluster of insects - a beetle, two moths, a centipede, and several bluebottle flies - writhing together like dirgeful companions in their final death throes, presumably poisoned by vapors from the second floor. But never mind: I am sure our foreshortened life spans will be made worthwhile on the day the economists, in their jewel-encrusted palanquins, are reinstalled in their palazzo over our heads.
Don't be fooled by the format. Though short and fun to read, and cut into apparently unrelated chunks, it contains a full plot and character development nicely camouflaged as humor....more
You might think, "One more science book. Ho hum." But you'd be missing out on a very entertaining book full of bits of knowledge worth knowing. This iYou might think, "One more science book. Ho hum." But you'd be missing out on a very entertaining book full of bits of knowledge worth knowing. This is written in a light, almost silly tone. In fact, at first I thought it was written with a 10-year-old audience in mind, which irritated me a bit. But as I got into it, I realized it presented some sophisticated ideas and science in very accessible ways for anyone. It consists largely of anecdotes of discovery which can be fascinating, like the woman who discovered she could smell Parkinson's disease or the border guards who learned too late that they were training dogs to detect plastic wrap instead of the contraband inside the wrap....more
This fascinating book about a pioneering surgeon was especially enjoyable because it educated me about things I had never known anything about. In verThis fascinating book about a pioneering surgeon was especially enjoyable because it educated me about things I had never known anything about. In very readable prose the author has mixed World War I history, personal anecdotes about individual servicemen, and medical innovations in plastic surgery in just the right proportions. The extensive notes at the end testify to how thoroughly it was researched. The author holds a doctorate in the history of science and medicine. Yet the book is not the dry academic tome some historians seem to favor. It deals with a grisly subject, severe disfigurement, but maintains a light, upbeat tone, much like Sir Harold Gillies, the main figure of the book. She sticks to the subject matter of facial reconstruction without diverting too much into biography, which I appreciated. If you're not comfortable looking at facial disfigurement, skip the photos in the midsection, but the text should pose no problems....more
Bradbury, the author, and this book are both iconic symbols of science fiction. But the book really isn't science fiction per se. As Bradbury himself Bradbury, the author, and this book are both iconic symbols of science fiction. But the book really isn't science fiction per se. As Bradbury himself says in the introduction, it's myth. A bugaboo of mine is how booksellers and even libraries lump together science fiction and fantasy. I consider them separate genres. This book would clearly fall into the fantasy half since there is very little science in it. Bradbury makes little effort to portray Mars in ways that are remotely plausible to today's audience. It is covered with water-filled canals, has sufficient oxygen for people to breathe, and is already populated by happily married Martian couples much resembling humans only with crystal hair and triangular doors. It often sounds silly, and in truth, it mostly is.
But the book isn't intended to be hard science fiction like, say, The Martian. Bradbury uses Mars as metaphor, recreating the despoliation of the Americas by the Europeans, for how our earthly society could be so much better, or so much worse. Many later sci-fi books have done the same thing, but this book paved the way. It is rather amusing at times, as well as disappointing to some extent, to see how inaccurately the author foresaw the future. Of course it's easy to see in hindsight, but Bradbury posits the families of the future to look mostly like the families of middle America in the 1950s. Women are happy to stay in the kitchen and go to the beauty parlor. All astronauts are men and most of them smoke cigars. Vehicles on Mars are all gas hogs with fossil fuel rocketed up from Earth. Come on, Ray, electric cars have been around since the 1890s. You could have done better even back then. By today's standards, the book seems rather juvenile, but it deserves its place in the pantheon of pioneering science fiction....more