Sunday, January 30, 2011

"Conscription may have been good for the country, but it ...killed the army." Sir. Richard Hull

Lisa Countryman is abducted in Tokyo, possibly taken by someone related to the Tokyo sex industry. People in the U.S. embasy don't seem bothered by her disappearance.

Tom Hurley is a bored diplomat. He's assigned to the case but he seems lazy and unambitious, more interested in his daily swims and his affair with the wife of a C.I.A. officer.

The Japanese police officer assigned to help with the search is Kenzo Otto. He's a self conscious person who is also preoccupied. He's bothered by the noise in his apartment, by his landlord, and looked down upon by his peers. He bungles his way from place to place as he attempts a half hearted investigation.

We follow Lisa's steps as she arrives in Tokyo. She seems to want to continue her dissertation there and when the promise of a teaching job falls through, she searches for other work, eventually getting a job as a hostess in a club.

Lisa is half Japanese and helf-African American. Besides wanting to study bar girls as part of her thesis, she also is in search for her family history.

The country of origin of the book's title seems to indicate that Lisa is not of any one race. With being half-Asian American and half-African American she seems to feel not part of any race and has no place to belong.

The novel seemed more a study of Lisa's attempts to fit in and her mistakes with the Japanese traditions and the view the Japanese men have toward woman and in particular with women of mixed race.

This novel won the American Book Award and the Edgar Award.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"We were eye to eye and the other fellow just blinked." Dean Rusk

In one of New York's finest steakhouses, Bruno Torenzi, kills attorney, Vincent Marcozza, by cutting out his eyes. Torenzi then shoots his way out of the restaurant, killing two New York cops.

At a nearby table, reporter Nick Daniels had been about to interview fallen New York Yankee player, Dwayne Robinson. Robinson was going to set the story straight about his use of drugs.

After the shooting Nick returns home and plays the tape of the interview he had started with Robinson. He's shocked when he hears the voice of the killer say, "I have a message from Eddie, Justice is Blind."

Nick knows that the word is that Marcozza was a longtime lawyer for reputed Brooklyn mob boss Eddie "The Prince" Pinero. The word is that Pinero ordered the hit because Marcozza failed to get Pinero off on a loansharking charge which resulted in a prison sentence.

Nick takes his evidence to Manhattan District attorney, David Sorren, who is also the fiance of Nick's ex-girlfriend.

Things happen in machine gun fashion. Bruno Torenzi is celebrating with a high priced prostitute when she attempted to scam him. Her two brothers pushed their way into the room and attempted to rob, a person who they mistook for just another nervous john. Torenzi isn't a hit man by mistake, he's upset at being set-up and turns the table on the two brothers.

There is the usual colorful descriptions as police "barked" and killers have "twisted grins" and a detective tells Nick, about the evidence he has brought, that Eddie Pinero is "...sick and twisted and kills with little provocation and less remorse." However, the detective didn't think that Nick had anything to worry about.

The pacing is well done and it is as if we hear heroic music in the background as Nick moves through the story, meets challenges and overcomes them. He's a character like a person's younger brother, brave but in need of protection.

James Patterson and Howard Roughan have written a stimulating novel with a satisfying plot that moves at a blistering pace. We follow Nick's steps as he bungles his way into solving the mystery. The dialogue is first rate and humorous. Overall, an enjoyable and fast read.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

"Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is ...the reason so few engage in it." Henry Ford

There is a body artist who works in a Chicago night club. She permits customers to paint her naked body on stage. Her image is posted on a web-cam which she later sells to the public.

V. I. Warshawski witnesses an ugly incident where an intoxicated man makes accusations and is asked to leave the club. Then, there is a second shouting match outside the club, also witnessed by Vic.

Later, that woman is murdered and the man, Chad Visneski, is accused and arrested for the crime.

Chad is a veteran who fought in Iraq. His father tells Vic that Chad suffers from PTSD but Chad's father doesn't believe that his son would kill a defenseless woman and hires Vic to get the answers.

Vic finds that the owner of the club, Olympia Koilada, was having financial troubles and that Anton Kystarnik of Rest EZ may have loaned her money and used the loan to gain interest in her nightclub.

Vic turns up a lead on Karin Buckley's true identity. She is the body artist and Vic wants to find her to learn what Karin knows about what went on at the club.

The plot is complex and tightly connected so that the reader will be entertained.

Spoiler (Vic hires her niece to help and a number of Iraq vets. The story takes an interesting turn as events that happened in Iraq are detailed. There is also the question that U.S. contractors might have issued faulty equipment to their employees and sold some of this equipment to the government. Then tried to bribe the families of fallen employees so they wouldn't discuss what went on in Iraq.)

The minor characters are also interesting as one of the Iraq vets is staff sergeant Marty Jepson. Another old friend is at the scene as Vic's elderly friend and protector, Mr. Contreras makes an appearance and his manner adds a realistic and personal touch as does young Clara Guaman, who is a character who we see develop through the course of the story.

The story was overly long and could stand a bit of tightening up, I would give it a 3 1/2 star rating and move the rating up to the finely interwoven plot and interesting characters.
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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Don't be concerned, Joe Pike is standing sentry.

There is something about the character, Joe Pike, that endears him to the reader. Pike is an ex-mercenary, ex-Los Angeles Police Officer and a man who cares for the less fortunate or abused.
As this excellent story unfolds, Joe is at a gas station when he sees two men swagger into a sandwich shop. Their body language telling all that they mean to do something malicious. When Joe enters the store to see what's transpiring, the men have the store owner on the floor and are administering a beating to him. Joe dispatches one of the men and the other beats a hasty retreat out the back door.
The attacker who Joe took care of is arrested but later that night, someone throws a can of paint through the store window.
The owner's niece, Dru Rayne, asks Joe to help. Joe learns that the gang is trying to shake down store owners for protection money. Joe approaches the gang leader and obtains the man's assurance that the hostilities toward this store will desist.
Dru and Joe go out for coffee and Joe learns of Dru's past in New Orleans. She also shows him a photo of her child. It seems as if this could be the start of a romantic attachment.
Again, the next night, someone enters the store, certain things are done and a sign is painted on the wall, "I am here."
The story continues at a fast pace. Violence and suspense mount as Joe, the authorities and others look for Dru and her uncle. There are plot twists and surprises as the story unfolds.
I found myself totally drawn to this story or heroism and courage on Joe's part. I now know what the meaning of a white knuckle story is.
Highly recommended.
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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"I was pure as the driven snow, then I drifted." Mae West

Former sheriff Cork O'Connor has done occasional private investigator work. Now he's hired to look for Lauren Cavanaugh by her brother, Max. Max tells Cork that Lauren hasn't been hard from for a week.

Max owns the mining company and Vermillion One is one of the deepest mines. It is being considered as a dumping site for nuclear waste. This is causing heated protests among the locals.

After meeting with other mine officials, Max asks Cork to look at something in Vermillion One. They enter the mine and find a note spray painted on the wall, "We die, you die."

Since no one saw the person who did the spray painting, enter the mine, Cork thinks that there must be another enterance. While he is searching for this, deep in the mine he finds a room with six bodies. Five of the bodies have been there for many years but one has only recently been placed there. This reminds Cork of The Vanishings.

In 1964, seventeen-year-old Naomi Stonedeer vanished, then Fawn Grand, a special child who was related to Cork, disappeared and finally there was a rich white woman, Monique Cavanaugh, Lauren's mother.

In a story deep with Indian folk lore, Cork speaks to his ancient friend, Henry Meloux. Despite advanced age, Henry can sense things. He tells Cork that he knows that things are stirred up at the reservation and tells Cork who to speak to to identify the other two bodies found in the mine.

It is interesting that Cork's father was the sheriff when the vanishings were happening. It creates a moral dilemma for Cork to consider if his father could be involved. In his investigation, he obtains his mother's journals and tries to learn more of what was happening at the time.

As always with William Kent Krueger, there is details about the Ojibwe culture and beliefs. He is well described and the story is told as if the pieces were put together like parts of a menu that is eventually laid out for the reader to learn and be entertained by its realistic detail.

Very enjoyable.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

"The pope is an idol...whose feet are kissed." Voltaire

If an object of a novel is to tell a story and possibly, to reveal a wrong, Miguel Angel Asturias has accomplished his goal.

The author, who won a Novel Prize, tells the story of an ugly American, George Maker Thompson. Thompson had been a pirate in the Caribbean, pretending to rescue passengers from broken down ships and forcing them to give him their jewelry in thanks for rescuing him. He also did such things like ransoming working men in Panama.

He feels that he's wasted his time as a pirate and can make more money on the land.

He meets Jinger Kind, a businessman from New Orleans. They discuss the local people who they consider backward. Their idea is that by taking land from the natives and building roads, they would be bringing civilization and progress in exchange for bringing themselves wealth. Kind also states that ending the natives isolation and opening a port for sea trade, are signs of progress.

Thompson also meets and becomes charmed by a local woman named Mayaris.

Callously, Thompson, Mr. Kind, Mayaris' mother, Dona Flora and a man called the Commander, set about bullying the natives into selling their land. They don't mind using force to get the land and state that if gold bullets (meaning money) doesn't work, there's always lead.

Things go smoothly until Mayaris realizes that Thompson is taking advantage of her people. A servant named Chipo Chipo hears Thompson and the others plotting to take the land by whatever means possible. Chipo then disappears and begin going from village to village spreading the word and advising the natives not to sell their land and resist by whatever means possible.

Dona Flora was a wealthy land owner. When her daughter, Mayaris, dressed in a bridal white, goes into a river to drown herself as a protest against Thompson, Dona doesn't seem that distressed and later marries Thompson herself.

Except for the fact that Thompson doesn't represent the United States government, this could be a story of a powerful country taking advantage of innocent natives, who had been content to live their life by the land.

The book was dry, no suspense and it seemed more like reading a text book than a novel. In addition, there isn't any character development. Many of the characters are called by their titles so it is impersonal but there is a clear message about the powerful, attempting to take what doesn't belong to them, from the poor, uneducated natives.

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

"I would have followed you my brother. My Captain. My King." Lord of the Rings

This is a novel that deals with important issues, friendship, loyalty, integrity and justice.
Attorney Jay Cassio's best friend, Dan, is murdered, apparently by professionals. Jay feels that he owes it to his friend's memory, to find out why Dan was killed and then punish the killer.
Dan had told Jay that a woman named Donna Kelly was holding some money for one of Dan's clients, Bryce Powers. Now Bryce and Bryce's wife Kate were dead in what police say is a murder suicide. Donna told Dan that she would pay him for bringing the $500,000 to her in Florida.
Jay and Dan had grown up in the mean streets of Newark, New Jersey at the time of the racial riots of 1967, which burned out much of Newark's slowly dying downtown. Both of the boy's families remained in Newark as the city slowly died around them.
There is a parallel story taking place in Mexico City when a beautiful girl named Isabel has been placed in a convent in 1977. In 1991 the man who visited her periodically and she called Uncle Herman, sees her developing into a beautiful woman and removes her in order to work for him.
Jay is warned against continuing his inquiries into the case of Bryce Powers' death. Then he learns that the attorney general in Mexico is named Lazaro Santaria and that he has a brother named Herman. Jay has seen Herman's name in some of the papers from Bryce Powers.

After confronting the FBI agent in charge of the case, Jay travels to Florida to look for Donna Kelly. He is accompanied by his friend, Frank Dunn, a recently retired police officer.
The tension mounts as two Mexican gunmen are looking for Jay and for Isabel (Donna Kelly). Isabel is on her own in Florida but has enough information about Herman Santaria and Herman's brother that they want her dead.
There is plenty of action and the characters are well described and most sympathetic. It is as if Jay and Isabel are two innocents and the reader becomes hopeful of their success against the killers. Will they find love together? How could they succeed in bringing down someone who has such power in the Mexican government? Will the FBI agent be able to use manipulate the law to serve his own ends and advance his career? The answers to these questions will keep the reader turning the pages and forgetting about everything else as the story unfolds.
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Saturday, January 1, 2011

"The test of civilization is the estimate of a woman. Among savages she is a slave." George W. Curtis

When dealing with ex-mercenary, Chon, it's helpful to understand that he likes pain. A former SEAL who had been back to Afghanistan two times. He and his partner Ben have a marijuana operation that is very successful. Chon's feeling is that dope creates balance in a person's life.

Chon and Ben are informed that the Mexican Baja Cartel intends to control all of the marijuana activity in Laguna Beach and elsewhere in Southern Cal. They will not allow any competition. However, they want Chon and Ben to stay in business and sell their marijuana to them. Then the Cartel will make most of the profit. The Cartel is also in the business of providing people for other enterprises like the sex markets and is now entering the kidnapping business.

When representatives of the Cartel approach Chon and Ben to make their demands, Chon and Ben tell them no. Actually, they have made enough money and would like to do something else with their lives. They know that the Cartel can be brutal and don't stop at torture and murder so they offer the Cartel their entire business.

The Cartel's leader tells them that they don't have a choice. Their business wouldn't be as lucrative without them managing it. Then, to show them that they mean business, they kidnap Ophelia "O" who is their playmate. The Cartel demands a ransom and three years of required cooperation in order to get her back.

This was the wrong move and set Ben and Chon on a plan to rob the Cartel and disrupt their business, then take other steps that will make the Cartel preoccupied, when that happens, they plan to rescue O.

The story provides a quick read. Chon and Ben are good characters, rebels against authority and witty in their responses with Chon being the rambunctious one and Ben the voice of reason.

A film adaptation of "Savages" to be directed by Oliver Stone is under way. I can't wait.
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