Sunday, February 28, 2010

"No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path." Buddah

Dove Linkhorn is an uneducated son of a preacher in the Texas, Mexican border.
When he was sixteen years old, he asked a Mexican waitress to teach him to read the Sunday funnies. He did mechanical things and odd jobs for truckers who stopped at the restaurant where the woman worked. Dove was so green that after one long job for a trucker, the trucker asked his price and Dove gave such a low figure that the Mexican woman stepped in and said that she was the one who sets the price and the trucker had to pay a reasonable figure.
The novel describes the hard life of the working people in the Texas and New Orleans area during the depression.
Dove travels from one encounter to another as he tries to make a life for himself. He steals rides on railroads, attempts to be recruited by the Marines, gets a non union job on the docks and more.
We follow his attempts as prohibition begins and Dove finds what he has to do to earn a living in a tough time, surrounded by poor working class people and those who make their money from other's misfortunes.
We never learn much of what Dove is thinking so there isn't the sentimentality of Steinbeck's characters in "The Grapes of Wrath." However, Nelson Algren gives the reader a photo of a piece of life at a difficult time.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

"I asked no odds and I gave none. A guy got in my way, I run him over." Enos Slaughter

In Pittsburgh, Sheriff Richard Christie is in the hospital with leukemia and is starting chemo.

Four young children of the Philips family are abandoned by their step mother. Since their father had already died, they are alone. The children have been accustomed to this and are very independent. They do exceptionally well in school and are hesitant to ask for help because they are afraid they will be placed in foster homes.

Nick Banks is a new employee at the pizza parlor in the neighborhood and helps Meg with food when she doesn't have sufficient funds.

A young boy is found dead from drugs. Homicide detectives John Potocki and Colleen Greer are assigned to investigate. With the case involving drugs, they are temporarily assigned to the Narcotics Division. They suspect that the pizza parlor might be a front for drug activity and want Colleen to go under cover and check things with Nick.

Nick is a former con and he is under pressure to help drug dealers but when something happens, he proves that he is basically a good person. He refuses to do a wrong thing and as a result is injured.

What happens is that Nick and the Phillips children connect in a way that is tender to read and exceptionally well done. Meg Phillips and her brother are the type of characters that readers will enjoy and remember.

I found the plot to be engaging and suspenseful. It also gave an understanding of drugs in the inner city and how easily it is for children to fall under the spell of drugs and for other children to remain free from drugs and lead a clean life.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Dilys Award

It gives me great pleasure to announce that four of the six 2009 nominees for the Dilys Award have been reviewed at this blog site.

A fact that many people do not know is that the Dilys Award is given by independent booksellers for the book that they most enjoyed selling.

The Dilys Award is named for Dilys Winn, founder of the first specialty bookseller in the United States dealing with mystery books.

2009 nominees are:

"The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" by Alan Bradley
"The Dark Horse" by Craig Johnson
"The Girl Who Played With Fire" by Steig Larsson
"The Ghosts of Belfast" by Stuart Neville
"The Brutal Telling" by Louise Penny
"The Shanghai Moon" by S.J. Rozan.

The books that have been reviewed on this blog are:
"The Dark Horse"
"The Girl Who Played With Fire"
"The Brutal Telling"
"The Shanghai Moon"

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"Fidelity. A virtue peculiar to those about to be betrayed." Ambrose Bierce

Sydney Chapin learns that her elder sister, a journalist, has been murdered. There are marks of torture indicating that the killer was after information.

Sydney had borrowed her sister's laptop computer and traces her sister's last searches. She learns that her sister was doing a story about a mental institution for children and the abuses that occurred there prior to the 1960s.

In a well plotted story with appealing and believable characters, the reader stays interested in finding out how the story develops.
What was Sydney's sister doing that caused her death?
Could the police fight through the political implications to find a killer among the wealthy and influential in Washington, D.C.?
What were the risks that Sydney would be taking in attempting to find her sister's killer?

Detective Sergeant Darius Train and Detective Jack Cassain are assigned to the case. Sydney and Cassain eventually work together in the hunt for the killer in this well written, fun story.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

"A teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering on cold iron." Horace Mann

Four white high school students lure a female American Indian to a meeting and rape her in a cruel and brutal manner. The woman, Melissa Little Bird, suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome and her reasoning powers are impaired.
The trial ends with a ridiculous sentence of two years suspended and then parole. The Indian community is incensed that they boys are let off so lightly.
Two years later, the ring leader is found dead. The town and sheriff Walt Longmere are attempting to make sense of it and then another of the boys is killed in the same manner. Now Walt knows he's dealing with a revenge killing and wondering why the killer waited two years before acting. Walt also wonders if he can protect the other two boys who were involved.
We follow the story with interesting characters and crisp dialogue. It is an interesting start but the characters didn't ring true. This lessened my belief in the story. In particular, Walt is a grossly overweight boozhound living in a home he began building years ago but when his wife died, he stopped building. The home doesn't even have a door on the bathroom. In addition, since Walt is a Viet Nam vet, he has to be in his sixties. With all of this background, his friend Henry Standing Bear is trying to fix him up and encourage him to begin dating, we also learn that there are other women in town interested in Walt as a partner. I don't see the attraction, the descriptions of Walt would seem to turn women completely off.
The conclusion is long in coming and when id does, the actions of one of the central characters were directly opposite to the personality and description of that character up to that point.
All in all, there were many well done scenes and I can see this writer having success in the future.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

"In Heaven all the interesting people are missing." Nietzsche

Not since I read Charles Frazier's "Cold Mountain" have I wholeheartedly enjoyed a story of a time in history and the characters who had so much to tell.

It is New Orleans, just after WWI. Sam Simoneaux returns from the war. He did not engage in the action but experienced the horrific aftermath of the conflict. Sam takes a job as a floor walker at a department store. A little girl is kidnapped from the store while he is on duty and he loses his job.

Having lost a child himself, he is anguished by the parents' pain. He accepts a job, joining them on a steamboat providing entertainment along the Mississippi waters. Sam feels that he could search for the missing child as the boat stops at ports along the river.

He keeps his eyes open for the one thing he remembers about the kidnapping, a woman who is missing her front teeth.

As Sam's search continues, the author's rich description of life along the river banks draws the reader's interest and imagination. We observe the hard working men and women drawn to the boat by the sounds of the calliope.

One lead surfaces about a family named Shadlock. What happens next makes Sam grateful that he's still alive. Sam is a haunted character, but admirable for his compassion, bravery and determination.
The Mississippi is also a character as the reader experiences the life of the people along its shores. We see the lawlessness, the excitement that the musical steamboat brings to the farmers, saw millers, and "hillbillies" along the river's edge. In this manner, there is a similarity to Inman's odessey in "Cold Mountain," experiencing the people on his odessy home to a life of peace with his love.
Among the other characters, Ralph Shadlock, who bemoaned the loss of his dog more than his mother's death, was the most memorable.
The plot tells of a time and place in history, rich with folklore and life of the past. It provides a vivid picture of the music, prejudice and life on the Mississippi.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"He made no policies, he commanded no battalions...but worst of all, he was a sniper." Stepehen Hunter

Four people are assassinated by a long range sniper. Each of the four had ties to the '60's radical movement.
Carefully crafted evidence points to former Marine war hero Carl Hitchcock who is eventually accused of the crime by the FBI. However, Hitchcock commits suicide prior to capture.
Special Agent Nick Memphis has a feeling about the case and wants to be sure that Hitchcock was the killer. Nick asks is friend, retired Marine sniper, Bob Lee Swagger to look into the evidence.
Swagger finds the evidence a little too perfect and is led to believe that Hitchcock was set up. He goes to a meeting with Nick and other authorities and demonstrates that the weapon they found could not have been the murder weapon. Swagger tells the officials that to find the real killer and unravel the set-up another sniper should be used and he volunteers.
With each segment, I picture Clint Eastwood and his gravely voice uttering Swagger's words.
Swagger is on the trail to clear Hitchcock but as he searches and the FBI doesn't close the case, political pressure mounts and suddenly, Nick Memphis is accused of irregularities.
Stephen Hunter has given the reader an action packed story. He provides abundant detail about weapons that to ordinary civilians more than backs up the case.
Swagger is a fun character and reading him in another adventure is like finding an old John Wayne movie and seeing it for the first time.
Very enjoyable.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

"The measure of a man's real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out." Unknown source

David Harwood, reporter, has been working on a story of a privately run correctional corporation, wanting to build a prison in his town. David has records of payoffs of politicians by Elmont Sebastian, the president of the corporation. Most of the information is complete, but David's editors delay in publishing it.

One day, David, his wife, Jan, and their four year old son, Ethan, go to Five Mountains, an amusement park. As they approach the gate, Jan remembers her back pack and returns to the car, telling David that she will meet him inside.

David waits but Jan never appears.

David begins searching and notifies park security, a search is mounted but Jan isn't found. When park officials check the surveillance records of people entering the park, there is no record of Jan entering.

When local police arrive and begin investigating, they find that only two tickets were purchased. The lead detective believes that David may have caused his wife's disappearance.

David conducts his own search and discovers that many of the things he and Jan had built their life around were untrue. He needs to find his wife and learn why she couldn't trust him with the truth.

As a character, David is most sympathetic. His plight is tragic but we also witness what his wife is doing and wonder why David, a reporter couldn't see how things really were. Jan is a true Machiavellian, out only for herself. She is totally unlikable but this is probably what the author intended so all of our compassion is with her husband.

The plot is magnificent. Barclay is like a master fisherman, casting his lines in different spots and then reeling them back with a story that catches the reader's breath.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

"Say not to your neighbor, "Go and come again, tomorrow I will give. When you can give at once." Proverbs

After a mine explosion in Butte, Montana results in the death of 162 miners in 1917, the miners walk out, demanding better safety conditions in the mines. Union organizer Frank Little comes to Butte and begins encouraging the miners to join his union.
The Pinkertons and other agencies are also at Butte. They are hired by the Copper Kings, the mining corporation, to make sure that Little doesn't succeed.
Young Pinkerton operative, Geed Ryder is sent to the area to infiltrate the strikers, find the trouble makers and determine what the miners were planning. Geed is well described as a character with his youthful ambition and gullibility. In this respect, he may be a symbol of how unions and corporate profits are viewed at that time.
Geed seems sincere and is able to talk his way into the homes and hearts of the miners and union representatives.
The setting of mining town Butte, Montana is depicted precisely with accompanying photographic documentation. This adds realism and makes it seem as if the reader is learning the details from the authors periodic contributions to the local newspaper.
The author details the attempts by the union to provide a safer work environment and a living wage for the union members. The mining corporation, uses the World War as an excuse and claim that anyone who wants to set up unions must be communists. In this manner they can hide their greed and their heartlessness toward their employees.
A thought provoking story.

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