Recent Read: The Chill in the Night

ChillThe young and beautiful lawyer Lainie Goff is on the fast track at her law firm until one night she disappears and  is soon discovered naked, frozen and dead in the trunk of her car at  Portland’s Fish Pier on a cold night in January. A witness, Abby Quinn, a young woman with a history of schizophrenia soon appears but just as quickly ends up missing.  Will she be found before the killer finds her? Did she really see the murder or was it a hallucination? Abby’s history of mental problems, she is known for hearing voices and seeing strange things, makes her an unreliable witness. Would a jury believe her testimony? Former NYC cop, now a Portland detective, Michael Savage is extremely determined, dedicated, and fighting his inner demons, along with his partner Maggie Savage are up against a slick and nasty killer. There are multiple suspects, all with good motives. First off there is Goff’s married boss/lover at the law firm. Did she threaten to out their affair to his wife after she was denied a partnership in the firm? There is  the ex-priest who now runs Sanctuary House, a home for abused kids, where Goff was a board member and volunteer. The organization is the sole beneficiary of Lainie’s will. Then there is the superintendent/handyman where Goff lived, a creepy dude with strange sex fixations including getting caught by McCabe sniffing Goff’s underwear.

The Chill of the Night is author James Hayman’s second novel in the McCabe and Savage series. It is my first book by the author. McCabe is nicely drawn.  We learn he has an artist girlfriend, an ex-wife, and a daughter he cares deeply about. His partner Maggie Savage comes across as more of a secondary character. I would like to learn more about her. Maybe, she will be more prominent and developed in later books in the series.

Set in Portland, Maine, The Chill of the Night is a suspenseful mystery/thriller and a entertaining read.

 

 

Recent Read: Mystery Inc.

OatesWhen I lived in New York City, there was a bookstore called the Gotham Book Mart.  The store had a long and famous history and was a favorite for many authors and other celebrities. Allen Ginsberg and LeRoi Jones worked there as clerks. Arthur Miller and Woody Allen were frequent visitors. Patti Smith’s book of poetry Witt was published by the Gotham Book Mart. That was in 1973 about the time I was making my own sojourns to the 47th Street location. At the time, I had no idea of the bookstore’s background and history, but the Gotham Book Mart was a book lovers’ ideal dream of what the perfect bookstore should be.

The Gotham kept coming to mind as I read Joyce Carol Oates eloquently written  short story, Mystery Inc. Bookstores like the Gotham Book Mart and the one described in Oates devious tale are a dying breed. Located in Seabrook, New Hampshire, Mystery Inc. is a charming, cozy, four leveled store with one level dedicated to rare signed first editions by Agatha Christie, S.S. Van Dine, John Dickson Carr and unsigned first editions of A Study in Scarlet and The Hound of the Baskervilles.  There is much more, enough to make our narrator, Charles Brockden, salivate. The name is an alias and with good reason. You might say Mr. Brockden collects bookstores like others collect books. His method of acquisition is a deadly one for the owners. Brockden does not like to kill, but his desire to own the bookstores is more potent than his will see them in other less deserving hands. Unbeknownst to our narrator, he has never come  up against someone who likes to murder just for the sake of killing.

The owner, Aaron Neuhaus, is outgoing and enthusiastic and happy to engage with someone who loves books as much as he does. He invites our narrator to talk in his private office over a cup of cappuccino. Brockden likes the man and feels terrible that he  has to murder him. Still, he sees himself as the owner of the cozy store and even imagines himself marrying Neuhaus’ widow.

”Mystery Inc. was initially published as part of Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop’s  Bibliomystery series which has been ongoing for some years now with something like more than thirty titles in the series. It has since been published as part of a collection of short fiction by the author (The Doll-Maker and other Tales of Terror) and as a stand-alone.

Oates is a fabulous writer, and while you may be able to guess how it will turn out, this foreshadowing just makes it more chilling.

Recent Read: Why To Kill a Mockingbird Matters

MockFew novels have proven to be as important and influential as To Kill a Mockingbird, and few films have become just as important as its source material. Tom Santopietro (The Godfather Effect, Sinatra in Hollywood, Becoming Doris Day) is one of the finest pop culture writers working today. In his new book, the author take a deep dive look at the cultural impact of both Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, published in 1960, and the now iconic film released in 1962. Over its more than 50 years existence, To Kill a Mockingbird has been both praised and banned. Criticized and hailed by both liberals and conservatives.

Santopietro paints a detailed look beginning with Harper Lee’s childhood in the tiny town of Monroeville, Alabama, the inspiration for Maycomb, the fictional town in Lee’s classic. It ends with the publication of Go Tell the Watchman, Lee’s original and extremely different first draft. In between, we get well known and little known details such as Spencer Tracy was originally considered for the role of Atticus Finch. We all know Gregory Peck landed the part in what would turn out to be the role of a lifetime. Who else can be Atticus Finch!

Almost sixty years after its publication, To Kill A Mockingbird remains one of the most read and influential books in America, required reading in many high schools. As relevant today as it was back in the 1960’s. It asks some,hard questions. Can a country that has fought to make the world safe from tyranny and fascism somehow save itself and live up to its potential as a democracy where there is justice and freedom for all. Today, we are failing. As the author  points out, substitute Muslims and Mexicans, along with other South Americans attempting to enter the country, for blacks and you have to asked yourself how much has really changed?

With over 40 million books in print, everyone whether liberal or conservative wants to have an Atticus Finch in his or her life.

 

Burn, Baby Burn: America and The Burning of Books and Ideas

fahrenheitresizedI recently watched HBO’s remake of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 starring Michael Jordan and Michael Shannon. The film got me thinking about our political climate today and the suppression of ideas that do not coincide with the company line. It made me think about how close we are from this incendiary topic becoming a reality.

Fahrenheit 451 was written in the early 1950’s during the McCarthy witch hunts, a point in time when the author feared America reached a point where the burning of ‘subversive’ literature was more than a slight possibility.  The book focuses on an American society in the near future where owning a book is a crime. ‘Firemen’ are employed to burn any books found.

When I came across the book cover of the edition pictured above, I thought how simple, yet powerfully effective it was. The title with the ‘1′ replaced by a matchstick. That one degree, stressing the point where paper burns.

Book burning or other materials has a history going a long way back to before Christ. In America, the first book burning occurred during the War of 1812, when the British, not the Canadians, in 1814 burned down the U.S. Capital and other facilities of the Government including most of the 3,000 books housed in the Library of Congress.

In 1935, Government officials of Warsaw, Indiana where author Theodore Dreiser (An American Tragedy, Sister Carrie) was born and attended high school, demanded that all library copies of Dreiser’s inflammatory books be burned.

After World War II, with the defeat of Germany and the Japanese, some Americans needed to find a new battle. A German-born psychiatrist named Fredric Wertham who treated delinquent children discovered during his hospital work in Harlem that most of thee troubled kids he worked with read comic books. He came up with his own formula equating kids times comic books = juvenile delinquency. By 1948, Wertham was on a crusade attacking comic books in some very prestigious magazines. His attacks on the comic book industry continued for years including presenting himself to the 1954 U.S. Senate Subcommittee Hearing on Juvenile Delinquency wherein part he stated, “I think Hitler was a beginner compared to the comic-book industry.” Pressure was put on comic book publishers to stem the tide of this dreaded menace. Parental concerns mounted. On October 26, 1948, in the town of Spencer, West Virginia, religious leaders, teachers, and parents oversaw the collection and burning of hundreds and hundreds of evil comic books. It wasn’t just the South that was in an uproar. Shortly after that Binghamton, New York conducted their own public barn book fire. In light of the publicity by the news media, other cities followed including Rumson, New Jersey, Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and Chicago. The fever even spread across to the Canadian border when a group called the JayCee Youth Leadership collected and burned more than 8,000 comic books. It was in this heated climate that Ray Bradbury wrote his dystopian classic, Fahrenheit 451.

datebook_july_1966For baby-boomers, the most famous book burning was the 1966 Beatles controversy. Religious conservatives in the South’s Bible Belt were up in arms after John Lennon’s quote “we are more popular than Jesus” was taken out of context from an interview with journalist Maureen Cleave that originally appeared in London’s Evening Standard some five months earlier.  When the U.S. teen magazine, Datebook published the interview, Lennon’s quote “I don’t know which will go first – Rock ‘n’ Roll or Christianity!” was on the front cover. In Birmingham, Alabama, always a hotbed of progressive thinking. DJ’s banned the playing of Beatles records. As the British rock group’s tour in the U.S. began protests rocked all over the South: Beatles records, magazines and books were tossed into large piles by fired up parents and teens and burned.

Most recently (2006) J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books attracted attention due to claims that the magic in the Potter book series struck a strong resemblance to practices of the occult. Incidents of Potter book burning occurred in Alamogordo, New Mexico, and Charlotte, South Carolina. Protestant, Catholic and mostly from Evangelical Christian groups flamed the claims.

Like other classic novels, The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984, Brave New World and It Can’t Happen Here, Fahrenheit 451 is a novel about suppression, control of people and ideas. With the political climate we face today it seemed to be a timely move by HBO to remake Bradbury’s novel into a movie. The film stars Michael B. Jordan as Montag, a rising star in the ranks of ‘fireman’ who starts to develop doubts about the mission of suppressing books after meeting a rebelling young woman. Michael Shannon is Captain Beatty.  In the world of the future, people need not bother themselves with unpleasant thoughts or feelings. Books are the culprit. They bring up depressing subject matter, sadness and most frightening to the government, independent thinking. Subsequently, the government sanctions drugs, emotionally free relationships and numbing mass media. Those who disobey are eliminated.

While Jordan and Michael Shannon as Captain Beatty are very good, the film, though not bad, is a disappointment. An even bigger disappointment when compared to Francois Truffaut’s 1966 film which though it moves at a slower pace definitely captures the feel and beliefs behind Bradbury totalitarian tale.

Recent Read: Old Black Magic

 

Old Black Magic

Back in 1990, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston was the victim of a massive art thief of 13 works with a worth estimated to be about 500 million dollars. To this day, the thief remains unsolved.

This little hit of history is used as the inspiration for Ace Atkins latest entry in the Spenser series, created by the late Robert B. Parker. Twenty years ago, three pieces, a Picasso sketch, a Goya painting, and the  most important of the group, an El Greco work called The Gentleman in Black, dating back to the late 1500’s were stolen from one of Boston’s top Museums. After so many years, most believe the artwork was sold, probably overseas or maybe even destroyed.

A private investigator by the name of Locke has been on the case all this time with little success in finding the artwork or the thieves. But now Locke is seriously ill, he’s dying and turns to our wise-cracking hero Spenser to continue investigating the case.

Our butt kicking anti-hero with a cause accepts the case for Locke, that and a five million dollar reward. Spenser reviews Locke’s files and with the help of Vinnie Morris, a man whose tendency is to be on the wrong side of the law, the P.I.  begins a long and winding trail in search of the missing artwork.

Spenser is not a man who scares easily, a good thing because he runs across some folks who rather see him dead than find the missing art. The road is murky, but Spenser does what he does best. So does keeper of the flame, author Ace Atkins. He keeps Parker’s voice alive and well in this entertaining entry in the series. My only problem is Spenser’s ace in the hole when trouble comes along, Hawk is missing in action.

 

Recent Read: Nightmare in Pink

pinkIn his second outing, Travis McGee,  John D. McDonald’s beach bum/salvage consultant who take 50% of whatever he recovers for his clients, has left his Florida home base for the asphalt jungle of New York City.

He has come to NYC to help the delectable sister of an old army buddy whose boyfriend was murdered on the city streets in what the police ruled an apparent mugging. While investigating the death, and a bit of romance, we learn the murdered boyfriend was into some shady dealings involving millions of dollars. While investigating,  Travis finds himself drugged, hallucinating and in a horror house  masquerading as a mental institution.

When reading, one has to remember this is 1964, because Travis is the kind of guy who has problems with women working. However, that does not stop our hero from bedding our lady friend  before and after she discovers her now dead boyfriend was not who he said he was. Hey,  someone had to help her recuperate from her melancholy.

While, admittedly I did not care for this book as much as the first book in the series (The Deep Blue Goody-by), and if you can excuse the 60’s sexism, McDonald, still fine tuning his long time anti-hero,  has crafted a strange, off-beat ending that you won’t see coming.

 

 

Recent Read: Born to Run

BorntorunIf you ever had the opportunity to experience the spiritual, soul-stirring, sermon preaching, exhaust filling concerts of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band then you will be right at home with this autobiography. Born to Run is a memoir like no other. Then again, Bruce Springsteen is a rock and roll artist like no other. He has absorbed, inhaled, assimilated, learned, the history of rock, blues, country and soul blending it all with everything in his heart, his mind, his intellect and his spirit. Elvis, The Beatles, Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and others were his teachers. He learned well.

While I purchased the eBook version of Springsteen’s tomb of a memoir, it laid there for a while. I finally ended up borrowing an audiobook version from a local library and listened to the more than 18 hours of Springsteen himself telling his story. I wasn’t sorry. Hearing Bruce himself added elements that would have been completely missed in reading the book. His style, his spirit, his cadence, his voice are as important as the written words.

The first part of the book focuses on his early years growin’ up in a dysfunctional Jersey family: a distant alcoholic father, a loving mother, and poverty. His father’s family had an unspoken history of mental illness. Bruce also discusses his own chronic battles with bouts of depression over the years. It’s all straightforward; not shying away from revealing the bad  and the difficult times in his life. Like all of us, those early years were a vital part in his development and his future. These many years later, his journey has been at times that of a haunted and tortured artist.

For me, the most interesting parts though were when Springsteen dives into his creative process. It’s well known he is a control freak and hates to let go. During his early years, Springsteen was a member a few struggling groups. For a control freak, he had to be in charge. That’s why it evolved into the Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Everyone had their say, but Bruce has the final say. His work, always personal, would take on social themes and causes like Vietnam Vets, nuclear energy and always the struggle of the working man, those still searching for their piece of the American pie.

Born to Run is at times heartwarming, heartbreaking, rambling, inspiring and definitely written in the artist’s voice.

 

Recent Read: Don’t Let Go

HarlanHarlan Coben never disappoints. He’s steady Eddie, always there to provide a thrilling ride. Don’t Let Go is a carryover from last year’s Fall Reading list. The book is a lesson in not trusting everything the government tells you, and sometimes even the people you most admire and love.

Napoleon “Nap” Dumas is a New Jersey detective. A recent murder case brings back questions, and memories, about how his twin brother Leo died some 15 years ago. It’s haunted him daily ever since. No one has been able to explain how Leo, and his girlfriend, Diana Sykes, ended up getting killed in front of a railroad train.

The recent murder is that of Pennsylvania police officer Rex Canton, another high school friend of Nap’s, murdered in his car, the fingerprints of Maura Wells, Nap’s high school girlfriend who vanished without a trace the same night Leo and Diana died, are found at the scene. How can that be? Compelled to investigate, he quickly realizes there is a connection even though the deaths are 15 years apart. Leo, Diana, Maura, and Rex were all members of Westbrook High School’s Conspiracy Club. The club members took a particular interest in a nearby secret military facility. What is the connection? Were they all murdered? What is the relationship between the deaths, then and now, and the secret military facility? Don’t Let Go is intense, fast-paced, and suspenseful as layers of lies, secrets, and deceit are slowly revealed.

Recent Read: Kill Devil Falls

Kill Devil Falls

Kill Devil Falls is a town on its final breaths of life. A former mining town whose water has been contaminated; it’s a cold and hostile place in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. There is no cell phone service, no main roads in or out, and the electrical power is iffy. The town’s main street is loaded with potholes and consists mostly of a lot of empty, dilapidated buildings and trailers. The few folks still living there are a strange collection of oddballs, deviates, and creeps.

Into this hellhole comes U.S. Marshall Helen Morrissey, sent there on a last minute assignment to transport prisoner Rita Crawford, back to Sacramento where she and her boyfriend Lee Larimer have been on a spree of robberies.  One night while on the run, Rita takes the stolen money and high tails it off to Kill Devil Falls leaving Larimer in the wind.  In town, she is apprehended by the local sheriff, Big Ed and his deputy, Teddy, who happens to be his son.

After filling out the required paperwork to transfer Rita into her custody; ready to take her back to Sacramento, Helen discovers her car won’t start. Has it been tampered with? This is just the beginning of a wild ride of terror and death. Rita is the first to die, but far from the last, and Helen soon discovers she’s on her own, isolated, with no one to trust, and fighting to stay alive.

Kill Devil Falls moves at a breathless speed with surprising twists and turns along the way. The author plays it cool with his cast of disturbing in-bred characters. You’re never certain which of them is the crazed psycho killer, or just creepy unscrupulous opportunists trying to get their hands on the money left behind by the late not so lovely Rita.