“Liked” is the wrong word for a Naomi Klein book. As usual, she does an awesome job of exposing a travesty of rich entitled capitalists exploiting a system they’ve rigged to strip assets and well-being from ordinary citizens — in this case, the storm-battered and serially colonized islands of Puerto Rico. I’d love to believe the small sustainable local infrastructure innovations of local residents can prevail, but it’s a Sisyphean battle. I wish Klein had more explicitly defined the epithet “neoliberal.”
A book that opens with the suicide of a sympathetic character is not a book I’d normally expect to like, or maybe even finish. Burying Ben caught me up fast and kept me turning pages straight through to the end. Unexpectedly, it’s an ideal read for this “perfect storm” season of coronavirus, wildfires and hurricanes, political deceit and treachery, when hugging a dear friend might kill you. Nobody (including the narrator) is quite who we think they are, or who they think they are. Kirschman is a deft, engaging writer with a unique advantage: she knows the real world of law enforcement up close, from both the roller-coaster level of cops joking over coffee and five minutes later risking their lives, and the expert-observer level of a clinical psychologist. So this is not a standard story of good guys trying to outwit bad guys and vice versa. The “mystery” doesn’t even really emerge until we understand how the characters’ depths, quirks, pasts, and the diverse pressures they work under became lethal for would-be Officer Ben Gomez. It’s a scary terrain–compelling because it’s authentic. And through the ups and downs Dr. Dot Meyerhoff perseveres, because what else can she do, with human lives and her own future at stake? Highly recommended!
This book was originally meant as an experienced-based guide for up-and-coming lawyers, particularly prosecutors. Bharara’s distinguished career makes him a suitable author for it, and depicts him as a thoughtful, methodical, circumspect player in a complicated system. It’s well written and the cases he describes are well chosen. I enjoyed it, but the distinctions he draws between the different kinds of challenges a prosecutor faces became too subtle for me to feel, after 200+ pages, that I was still learning useful information.
Doing Justice does suggest Preet Bharara would be an admirable candidate for any job he may be up for in future, such as Attorney General of the United States.
If you devour mysteries, this is a good one, especially if you’re familiar with the San Francisco Bay area. The plot is intriguing & the writing is capable. I particularly enjoyed following sleuth Jeri Howard into the local Philippine community. If I were reading this book on an airplane I’d have finished it. As it was, squeezing it in between other priorities, I set it aside (repeatedly), first because my sense of geography isn’t strong enough for me to care what roads Howard takes to get to what destinations, & second, because I’ve read (and written) so much crime fiction that at this point I’m looking to be deeply engaged by a distinctive plot &/or characters, not just to take an entertaining break from reality.
Odd that Raven Black’s front-cover labels it “a thriller.” Set on the remote Scottish isle of Shetland, this mystery doesn’t involve a single car chase, pub brawl, time bomb, or gunpoint abduction. On the contrary: things unfurl slowly here, where commonplace domestic worries weigh as heavily as piecing together the connection between two girls’ deaths. Everybody in this small community knows everybody, raising the creepy question: does anybody ever really know anybody?
Ann Cleeves is brilliant at building suspense out of her characters’ self-absorbed observations and assumptions. Her point-of-view choices are bold: the story opens through the eyes of Magnus Tait, a slow-witted recluse who lives with a caged raven and quickly becomes a suspect, and shifts to schoolgirl Sally Hardy, who can’t help rejoicing when her best friend’s murder boosts her social standing. Our anchor and main POV character is local police detective Jimmy Perez (who looks nothing like actor Doug Henshall, who plays him on TV). Perez is conscious of his obligation to stay objective, maintaining an overview, yet inevitably he too is biased — sometimes hobbled — by his relationships with the neighbors he’s investigating.
My only quibbles with this absorbing novel were that I wasn’t entirely convinced whodunnit, and Ann Cleeves deserves a better copyeditor. I plan to read more of her books, as well as keep watching both the Shetland and Vera TV series.
This is the first book I’ve read by Blake Crouch, and if not for a friend’s recommendation plus an advance review copy, I’d have backed off from its melodramatic sci-fi blurb: “What if someone could rewrite your entire life?” Luckily, from my POV as a former science editor, Recursion is not about the ooh-scary possibility that “someone” could “rewrite” your life. Crouch explores a much more plausible (and therefore scarier) scenario: since past, present, and future all coexist, and arguably are defined by human memories rather than that amorphous concept/entity “time,” a tech genius whose mother suffers from Alzheimer’s could find out how to shift time back, or shift back in time, to alleviate her suffering.
We know from sci-fi’s long history that tweaking time always creates deadly ripples, enabling Crouch to open this book with a dramatic human crisis. Police Detective Barry Sutton confronts a suicidal woman who’s just discovered that her happy memories of a full life are false, and she can’t live with the grim, empty reality that’s replaced them. Barry has his own human drama to cope with, and it propels him to investigate the woman’s impossible story. Meanwhile, scientist Helena Smith is offered a Faustian bargain she can’t refuse, with consequences that set her and Barry on a collision course.
Told in the present tense, third person, Recursion quickly became so riveting I could hardly put it down. Its fast-paced interwoven story lines are all the more poignant if you have, or know anyone who has, difficulties with memory. I just finished reading it, but it will be a while before I stop thinking about it.
Coming to England from New Zealand, mystery writer Ngaio Marsh was fascinated by the island’s quaint customs and rituals. Death of a Fool centers on the pre-Christian “Hobby Horse” dance-play, here depicted as the South Mardian Sword Dance. Marsh was very involved in theatre, and she shows us this Winter Solstice drama both behind the scenes and onstage (so to speak — it’s performed outdoors, around the ancient Mardian Stone, and rehearsed in a barn). Still practiced much as it was in pagan times, handed down through local families, the Sword Dance attracts the obsessively curious German-born fan Mrs. Anna Bunz to the Mardian family’s door. Through her eyes we learn the ancient ritual character by character, scene by scene. Once the Sword Dance inevitably claims a victim, Marsh’s series detective arrives to investigate: Chief Superintendent Roderick Alleyn (a professional police counterpart of his amateur contemporaries Lord Peter Wimsey and Albert Campion).
Having gone to the Brontes’ village of Haworth partly to watch the Morris dancing, I very much enjoyed the performances (offstage and on) in Death of a Fool. Mrs. Bunz’s outsider’s view of ancient British customs was both comical and illuminating — she’s a bit like Hercule Poirot that way. My difficulty with the story is that understanding the eponymous murder depends on being able to picture clearly the layout of the Sword Dance, which I’m not so good at. I could follow the plot, but since I couldn’t envision the scene, I had little chance of guessing what happened and why.
As a huge fan of Daniel Kahneman’s comprehensive research summary Thinking, Fast and Slow, and the riveting revelations Michael Lewis wove into Moneyball and The Big Short, I was delighted by this compelling story of how they’re connected. The Undoing Project delves into the profound, complex friendship between two brilliant psychologists, Kahneman and the late Amos Tversky, while explaining the ideas that drove their investigations into the quirks that distort human beings’ response to information.
For more, see https://carolverburg.com/thoughts-on-…
by CJ Verburg
This delightful memoir offers a rare look behind the scenes at some turning-point TV shows back when television was first taking off: Doctor Kildare, The Mod Squad, Peyton Place, The Rookies. Rita Lakin didn’t set out to be a Hollywood screenwriter — in those days, that wasn’t an option for a woman. Widowed with three young children, her urgent quest was to support her family. Not surprisingly, she got in the the back way, as a secretary. Hard work and some lucky breaks turned a few brick walls into doorways, and for the next 25 years Rita Lakin rode the roller-coaster: sometimes given a hand, sometimes kicked in the face. She shares the fun she had meeting celebrities, and also breathes 3-D life into names the rest of us only see in the credits, such as Aaron Spelling and Sydney Pollack. Not least, she reminds us that the key to success is collaboration, not confrontation — though there are moments when you do have to stand your ground, go out on a limb, or just close your eyes and jump.
Nero Wolfe meets the civil-rights movement. Published in 1964, A Right to Die is a fascinating literary-historical periscope into the language and attitudes of left-leaning successful white men (e.g., author Rex Stout) when the fight against racism was first gaining traction. The politics are muted, but there’s a jaw-dropping racist outburst from one character whose prejudices have been hidden until Wolfe rips back the curtain.
This particular case enters the West 35th St. brownstone of the famous detective in the person of Paul Whipple, whom Wolfe (and his assistant and narrator, Archie Goodwin) met many years ago at Kanawha Spa in West Virginia. Then, Whipple was a student at Howard University and kitchen staffer at the Spa; now, he’s a Columbia University professor and the father of a young man who works for the ROCC (Rights of Citizens Committee) in Harlem. Paul Whipple opposes his son’s plan to marry a wealthy white volunteer. Wolfe owes him a favor; but as he sets out to repay it, a simple inquiry mushrooms into a murder investigation.
Racial attitudes and information in the U.S. have expanded so much since 1964 that this book feels more dated than most of Stout’s mysteries from that era. Still, definitely worth reading!
We’ve been so pleased with Charisse Howard’s three Regency Rakes & Rebels novellas that we’re eager to publish more short-form novels. This enterprise brought our attention to (among others) Raymond Chandler’s 7th and last book, the Philip Marlowe novella Playback.
Checking reviews on Goodreads, we discovered that Playback has inspired Chandler fans to literary tours de force which are less comments on the book than nanovellas in their own right. Here are two:
I looked at her legs. It was only 10 in the morning but she had legs to look at. She had brought them into my office with her. Her legs looked at me but I never found out what they thought. She balanced all of next year’s expense account on her little finger and blew smoke over it. She was wearing the kind of perfume you could invade countries for. The rest of her was what your imagination wasn’t any use for any more. I’d had a tough night that day so I only looked in her right eye. She offered me a cigarette. She offered me a drink. She offered me the Pacific Ocean. She offered me ten different futures, in all of which I ended up at the bottom of a lift shaft with both feet at the wrong angle and no health insurance. I looked at her legs. They were probably a metaphor but I never read French novels. There was a guy in the sedan behind us. I turned right then right again on Ventura. Now he was only three cars back. Her legs looked at me. I unhooked her clothing. “You have to help me, Marlowe,” she said. She said, “You’re speeding, Marlowe, this is a residential zone and there’s a school somewhere round here.” Then she was naked and I poured all over her like moonlight. The sedan in the mirror was as subtle as a Nazi at a christening. I took a right then another right. He took a left and I was down on the floor, my jaw felt like Carnegie Hall after the 1812 Overture. He looked a lot taller from down there. But at least I could look at her legs without interruption. I was happy about that then all the lights went out.
The waiter set a glass down on the table in front of me. It was my sixth drink in an hour. I couldn’t even remember ordering it. I drank it. It seemed like the right thing to do. The waiter watched me put down the empty glass. “Another shot?” he asked. I nodded. “You’ll have to pay for this one.” I looked around the room in search of my benefactor. I saw her first, sitting alone at a nearby table, then I saw her legs. They didn’t look like any legs I had seen before. Then they moved. She could see I was watching them. She crossed her legs, and I hoped to die, but not straight away. She reached into her handbag and withdrew a packet of cigarettes. She flipped it open and put one in her mouth. Her lips glistened the whole time. Then she fumbled around in her bag for a lighter. She returned the bag to the chair beside her, empty-handed. She looked at me. I shrugged. I had given up smoking since my last novel, only I hadn’t told my author. There was much I hadn’t confided in him. The time had come to make some changes in my life. I didn’t move. I watched her mind working. It’s not as easy as it sounds. I wasn’t sure whether she was my type. “Well…” She paused. She was improvising. It wasn’t something she was normally expected to do. My author usually made our decisions for us. “If you won’t light my cigarette, will you at least kiss me?” I ambled over to her table and sat down. But first she had another request:“Stop looking at my legs.” I did as I was told. I was hoping the effort would be rewarded. She returned her cigarette to the pack and put it back in her bag. I looked into her eyes. I could see nothing unless you want to count lust, or was that just a projection on my part? I wondered what she saw in my eyes. The same? I moved closer to her, and had another look. I clasped my hands around her face. Then I pulled her closer and kissed her. She licked her lips, inquisitively. “Christian Dior?” She asked. “Of course,” I replied. Her lips embarked on the most direct path towards mine. “Kiss me harder.” I did. She slipped her hand inside my blouse and squeezed my breast. Maybe I could like her after all.
This is a difficult book to appreciate if you care more about racism, sexism, and colonization than intricately crafted metaphors. Conrad seems aware of the layers upon layers of contradictions that envelop his characters, yet insofar as he confronts them, he does it by observing and reporting rather than judging. For instance, the condescension of Brits to Africans is blatant and grating. Yet the narrator Marlow doesn’t remark on it, either when these events took place or now, as he recalls them: he simply describes it, and leaves any judgment to us.
Marlow is a sailor, privileged by his race and gender but not by his social position, which presumably in the Britain of Conrad’s day counted just as heavily. This short book is a story he’s telling to a crew of old sailing comrades about a voyage up an unfriendly river in a wild land that was being exploited by his shipping-company employers. His task was to find Kurtz, the company’s most effective ivory collector, who’d evidently “gone native” (= turned traitor to his race, class, etc.). Before he could take command of his assigned boat, Marlow had to dredge it up from where it sank when the previous captain beat a local chief and was killed. So, as in Melville’s Moby-Dick, we’re traveling among misfits and renegades obliged to obey an arbitrary leader.
However, unlike Ishmael et al., Marlow and his listeners are old friends (not a motley crew of strangers) waiting on a yacht (not a working boat), in the safe comfort of London’s Thames River mouth, for the tide to change so they can set sail. The prose is suitably languid for men who are in no hurry. And the multifaceted paradox of Kurtz makes a neat paradigm for the larger paradoxes Conrad describes, or delicately alludes to.
It’s a book so full of arrogance that I had a hard time with it.