Book Report: This Was Cicero by H. J. Haskell (1942)

Book coverThis book is nominally a biography of Marcus Tullius Cicero, but in reality, it’s a history of the fall of the Roman republic wherein Cicero sometimes makes appearances. I guess the author was working from a lot of Cicero’s letters (as do so many historians from Plutarch on), so he focused on Cicero. But there are huge stretches of the book where Cicero is not mentioned at all, including the first couple of chapters.

The author is a Marxist, of course. He refers often to the proletariat in Rome; he defends Catiline because Catiline was in favor of redistributing the wealth; he name-checks the poor oppressed Sacco and Vanzetti; he touches upon themes and books mentioned in Books That Changed America (namely, conservative opposition to public schools and The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783 by Alfred T. Mahan referring to either Pompey or Caesar’s understanding of naval transport of armies); and he often equates good with progressivism/Marxism and bad/corruption/know-nothing aristocracy with “conservatives.” But he’s an early twentieth century Marxist, so it’s lacking in the invective you get in later works.

As I mentioned, the author spends a lot of time talking about things other than Cicero, and he spends a lot of time equating the lives of Roman citizens in Cicero’s lifetime to different periods in history, including seventeenth century England and modern (~1940) America. The comparisons are probably too facile, especially when trying to equate the political groups of the period to modern equivalents (which boils down mostly to Tories/Republicans/Old Senate Factions = bad, Democrats/Redistributionists/Caesar and anyone shaking up the order to make it fairer for the proletariat = good). However:

This is still a pretty good book to read. It is pretty in-depth coverage of Roman history during Cicero’s lifetime, which includes the First Triumvirate and the Second Triumvirate and the Civil War from a different perspective than Julius Caesar. It’s the story of one man with hopes of a restoration of the Constitution that never comes and the slow, continued dissolution of the ideal of the Roman Republic from an ideal state that probably never existed to the seeds of empire based on strong, charismatic men with armies ruling.

It also provides a good deal of context for Cicero’s orations and his other works, including the historical details of why and when the pieces were written. Reading a collection of Cicero’s words will get you a little context, but this book fills in all the gaps.

The author does not paint a flattering picture of Cicero, though. The subject of the book, when he appears, is presented as vacillating, vain, vainglorious, and too much in love with his own oratory. Also, Cicero, in this book, seems to think his words alone could counter armed insurrections of various stripes. A tale with modern parallels.

I enjoyed the book and learned a bunch from it. It’s not without its flaws–politics aside, it does give the subject a bit of short shrift and it has a tendency to draw back from a point in time to provide historical context which gives the reader a bit of whiplash–but informative none the less.

Recommended.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: A City in the North by Marta Randall (1976)

Book coverThis book should fit right into my wheelhouse: An abandoned city of an advanced civilization lies on a planet inhabited by intelligent, but primitive, ape-like beings. A shipping magnate and his off and on again rival shipping company magnate wife arrive on the planet to steal into the restricted area to visit the city. On planet, they find a mostly impotent governor tending a native garden while members of the corporation running mining operations on the planet run most of the show. The corporation members look at the tourists as though they were agents trying to figure out the illegal scheme the corporation is running. The tourists get permission from the apes to visit the forbidden city, and as they hitch a ride on a transport car between the only two bases on the planet, they avoid an attack from the corporate killers and flee with the apes who are migrating north toward the forbidden city. The wife seems to be going native and the husband wonders if his obsession with viewing the city, sparked by a talk he saw when he was younger, is worth the cost.

The story uses multiple points of view shifting intrachapter (but with clear demarcations via heading–this is Toyon’s Journal, this is Alin’s journal, and so on), and it has a pretty slow buildup. The world is interesting and alien, but the reveals at the end are kinda blurted out by principals to the main characters, and then the climactic action takes place. It could have been handled better, but I was afraid the ending and the mysteries would disappoint me, but they did not–only the execution of the story did.

It really brings to the fore the theme of humans coming into a world and observing it for a limited time and how much of that world throughout the ages they might miss, creating a flawed understanding. A good theme for sure.

So give it a look if you get the chance to do so inexpensively.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Bloodsport by “Don Pendleton” (1982)

Book coverThis book finds Mack Bolan in Europe, where he is looking into the disappearance of a number of Olympic-caliber athletes, including a martial arts expert, a skier, a gymnast, and a fencer. Bolan infilitrate a West German terrorist splinter group to stop whatever plot is afoot and to rescue the hostages if they’re still alive.

The book was written less than ten years after the Munich attack in Germany, so its plot was almost based on real life events. The book runs smoothly from set piece to set piece, including the disruption of an arms deal and Bolan posing as a fugitive United States Army pilferer and dealer of stolen goods to infiltrate the terrorist organization. Unfortunately, its plot ultimately is too ripped from the headlines and the pacing again turns abrupt as the word count nears novel length.

Still, by pacing the books out a little more (although this is the thirteen Mack Bolan book I’ve read this year, it’s the only one in a month’s time), I enjoy them a little better as time smooths the disparities between the different authors. And I am reading these for enjoyment, not some project to educatedly discourse on men’s adventure fiction. Well, okay, I do have a goal of someday reading the set I received for my birthday a couple years back, but they’re enmeshed in the larger collection I’ve picked up since then. So they’re a Quixotic quest involved. But it’s still 80% enjoyment.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Heathcliff: Smooth Sailing by Geo Gately (1979, 1987)

Book coverYou had to know I would read this book soon. Like a gun over the fireplace in a Chekov play, if I buy a cartoon book and finish a collection of Greek tragedies, the lighter cartoons will follow like night follows day. Wait, I think I’m mixing metaphors madly here. Apparently, cartoons also make my brain turn to mush.

This collection has a bunch of Heathcliff cartoons from 1979 in it. I would have had access as a child to these cartoons in the Milwaukee Journal Green Sheet. Some of you might hearken back to those if any of you are from Milwaukee. I doubt I’ve seen them before.

But I’ve seen their like before. I don’t know what I can say about this collection that I haven’t said before. It’s got the common tropes: Heathcliff on the back fence, Heathcliff fighting dogs, Heathcliff rolling garbage cans, Heathcliff outwitting the fishmonger, Heathcliff outwitting the milk man, and so on.

Still, it’s a bit of innocent comfort food to read and review. It takes one back to childhood, especially if one remembers Heathcliff from the Green Sheet at all. Unlike the Executioner and other men’s adventure novels that I read frequently, I can share these with my children. As I expect I will once the oldest catches sight of this new volume.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Books That Changed America by Robert B. Downs (1970)

Book coverThis book should have a red cover. Its title should be Books That Advanced The Socialist Agenda for America.

How red is it?

Many of the evils of Bellamy’s day have been eliminated or mitigated in the eighty years since he wrote Looking Backward, and reforms which he advocated have been incorporated into the nation’s laws. The closest modern equivalent in organization to the state-controlled society proposed by Bellamy is Soviet Russia, where numerous obstacles have stood in the way of a fair test. [Emphasis added.]

That is, the socialist Utopia dreamed of in a nineteenth century novel is best represented by the Soviet Union, but its implementation was flawed by “obstacles.” Numerous obstacles. Not that the theory itself was flawed; no, there were numerous obstacles.

It takes one 129 pages into the book before we get confirmation that we’re way down the rabbit hole, Alice.

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Book Report: The Oedipus Cycle by Sophocles / Translated by Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald (1969)

Book coverThis book collects the three Greek plays in the Oedipus trilogy from 2500 years ago.

Oedipus Rex, the first chronologically, is set over the course of a couple of days when the king of Thebes (Oedipus) is told by the oracles that a plague will continue until the murderer of the former king Laius is found and handled. Oedipus says the man will be killed. However, during the course of investigating and interviewing people on the stage, he comes to learn that even though he fled his home town because he was prophesied to kill his father and bed his mother, he was adopted in that town because his real father, Laius, had his son put to death because the son was prophesied to kill him–and kindly shepherds instead of leaving him to die in the countryside let him be adopted in a distant town. So all that was prophesied comes to pass, and when Oedipus learns the truth, he blinds himself and becomes a wandering beggar. Two and a half millennia later, we know the story (at least for a couple years yet, by which time all classical education will be educated out of our culture), but I tried to read with a double-effect reader, learning only the truth as it was exposed on stage. It was pretty suspenseful, so I pretended.

Oedipus at Colonus takes place just outside Athens. Oedipus, the blind wanderer, is accompanied by his daughter Antigone into the grove sacred to the Furies. There, his brother-in-law comes to retrieve him to have him nearby Thebes in case they need him. His son comes to recruit him in a civil war against his brother who sits on the throne of Thebes. Everyone wants to use Oedipus for their own ends without valuing the man, so he ends up cursing everyone except Theseus, the ruler of Athens, and Antigone and prophesies a deadly war in Thebes. Then he dies.

Antigone, which I read in high school, tells of the after-effects of the said civil war. Both of her brothers are dead. One, the ruler of Thebes, is buried with hero’s pomp. The other is left for the dogs outside the city walls. Creon, Oedipus’s brother-in-law, now rules Thebes and proclaims death for anyone who buries the rebelling brother. Antigone, because God’s laws overrule men’s laws, buries him anyway. Creon holds to his word and prepares to put her in a cabin where she’ll starve to death (because then it’s not him killing her, see?). A series of people cross the stage to try to get him to relent, including his son who was to marry Antigone, and Teiresias, the seer, but he remains firm until the end, where he relents. However, when he refused to relent, people cursed him, and by the time he has relented, the fruits of the curses have already occurred. As he gets to the cabin to release Antigone, he finds she has hanged herself and his son kills himself. When Creon returns with the news, his wife kills herself. And Creon must live with the fruits of his arrogance.

There’s a certain parallel between the first and the third plays; Oedipus is a hard-headed and hot-headed ruler who proclaims his father’s murderer must be killed, which leads to his downfall, although his sins of incest and patricide were done in ignorance. Creon evolves over the plays from a trusted advisor to a hothead and arrogant ruler.

I’ll be honest, I feel worst about Creon in Antigone; he finally relents and does the right thing–allowing the burial of his nephew and goes to release Antigone, but he bears the punishment for his wrongs even as he tries to amend them. That, brothers and sisters, is real tragedy.

The translation work by Fitts and Fitzgerald is very good; they’ve taken some liberties, as they explain in their afterwards to Oedipus in Colonus and Antigone but it probably makes for a better read.

It also makes me want to read Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes, which is part of that playwright’s version of the trilogy and fits between the events of Oedipus in Colonus and Antigone.

Maybe I’ll find that in an upcoming book sale. As I’m reading millennia-old classical literature, of course I’m going to buy up a bunch of it that I won’t read for a long time.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Blind Spot by Reed Farrel Coleman (2014)

Book coverThis book is the first of the Jesse Stone novels written by the new guy. So we’ve got a little whiplash to account for, as the series jerks back from the television writing to long paragraphs and entire chapters composed of tiny bits of plot development and a whole lot of “nice little moments” that take individual characters within the storyline and give them their time in the sun. And the night. And the light of dawn. And the grey of twilight.

I was going to digress a bit on describing the plot, but let me stay on general lamentation for the structure of the book for a moment: We’ve got dozens of chapters of each major player in the book getting his or her say in what’s going on, which builds some depth and maybe richness to the plot, but at the expense of the plot and a sense of movement. Pacing. This is supposed to be a suspense novel, but not a mystery: we know early on who has done it and what they’ve done, sort of. What we’re supposed to be in suspense for is the ultimate resolution. So I slog through hundreds of pages, and then we get a resolution triggered not by detection but the potentially uncharacteristic confession of a minor character (who gets his chapters, brah) that leads not to a complete resolution, but one of the Parkeriana solutions: A meeting with a bad guy arranged by a bad guy but accepted because they all agree Stone is a man of his word, a brush with danger, and a cliffhanger ending that might lead into the next book or it might not.

Sadly, with what I’ve been reading this year and what I’ve seen in this series, the Parker legacy is a set of series that are destined to be nothing better than fat, wordy men’s adventure novels. Whipsawed between authors seeking to put their stamps on the books, readers get continuity flux, differing styles, and characters who are similar to those who come before in name only.

Seriously, in this book, we get the following changes:

  • Jesse is now a hard core drinker.
  • The cat companion is gone, passed off in a paragraph-long bit of exposition.
  • Molly is back to the previous Irish incarnation.

Amid others.

The plot revolves around a former teammate of Jesse’s, a second baseman who made the big leagues after stealing Jesse’s girlfriend and who is rumored to have intentionally caused the play that ruined Stone’s big league career. After baseball, the fellow got into investments and after the markets fell in 2008, he turned to the mob to help finance a pyramid scheme. He throws together a reunion of his minor league team to get to talk to Jesse to see if Jesse can get him out from under, but before he does, his mob associates kidnap the son of their next target to apply pressure to the reluctant father, and they kill a girl in the process. So the ball player doesn’t get to talk to Jesse before the murder and can’t after the murder. An FBI agent has gone undercover on her own to get the goods on the ballplayer. And the father of the kidnapped boy has put out a hit on the ball player. So we have 300 pages of slow motion resolution that gets wrapped up unsatisfyingly at the end.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m getting older and cynical, but I’m not really enjoying modern suspense fiction as much as I did when the modern was late twentieth century and I was younger. But I have to wonder if I’m going to give up on the Parker properties much like I’ve given up on the Sandford series these days.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Currents of Space by Isaac Asimov (1952)

Book coverThis book is a 1952 classic-style science fiction novel by Asimov. Its plot centers on a spatio-analyst who studies elements in deep space who uncovers something apocalyptic about an agricultural planet and its impending doom, but when he tries to deliver the message to the authorities on the planet, someone wipes his mind and releases him, senseless, on the surface of the planet. A simple native woman takes care of him, but as his memories start to return, they find themselves on the run from interplanetary intrigue and harsh fuedal masters.

The book has a lot of threads going on: The agricultural planet in danger (Florina) is a fiefdom of different masters from another planet (Sark) and is the only source of a particular fabric (kirt) in great demand throughout the million worlds. Another galactic empire (Thantor) wants to get a hold of Florina, and its agents intrigue to do so and see this amnesiac as their way to do it. Meanwhile, on Florina, one regional Sarkite overlord thinks this is just the excuse he needs to unite the different lords under his control. And there’s the story of the spatio-analyst on the run as his memory returns, and the story of his local Florinian overseer benefactor’s efforts to protect the spatio-analyst and his own skin.

So the book jump cuts an awful lot and probably suffers for it, but Asimov was clearly going to include the macro-events and intrigues because exploration of this particular fuedal system was important to him. But it makes the book a bit scattered and thin in the individual story lines.

As I read it, though, I wondered if this influenced Dune. Both deal with a planet that has a monopoly on a commodity, a fuedal system in charge of the commodity, an independent space agency/guild with political powers of a sort, intrigues about who controls the commodity, and a protagonist undergoing an awakening of sorts….

It’s not a 1:1 parallel, but they share a number of elements.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Kung Fu 2: Chains by Howard Lee (1973)

Book coverThis book finds Caine in the mountains, looking for his brother. He encounters some fellows who don’t like Chinamen and calmly dissuades them from attacking him and then walks into a local fort to inquire about his brother and to talk to an accused murderer who shared a mining claim with his brother. The murderer is accused of killing one of the other mining claim partners. Of course, the guys in the fort recognize Caine as a wanted man and shackle him to the accused murderer. These are the physical chains of the title.

The duo escape and try to make for the mining camp to find out what happened to the other partners, including Caine’s brother. Along the way, they encounter hostile Indians, a trapper who doesn’t like Caine’s chainmate and the sister of another partner in the mining claim and her tenderfoot husband, and the fellows from the opening reappear with hostile intent.

The story moves along more linearly than the first volume of the series and more like a teleplay. It’s a quick and engaging read and lightly heady enough with traces of lightweight Buddhist thought to make one think a bit and compare some of the tenets to Stoic thought if one happens to be reading both at the same time. So better than a lot of men’s adventure novels.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: F15E Strike Eagle by Hans Halberstadt (1991)

Book coverThis book is badged by Microprose, which you old timers will recognize as the company behind military simulators such as F-15 Strike Eagle and Gunship (as well as the original Civilization). 1991 is near the end of its run as an independent game company (according to Wikipedia, so it’s possible they’re branching out into other revenue streams to create synergy at this point.

The book is primarily a photography book, with lots of images of the F-15E Eagle’s exterior and cockpit with a bit of text describing it, its history, and its recent successes in the Gulf War. If you’re a regular reader of Jane’s Defense Weekly, this stuff is old hat. But if you’re old timey like me and remember Top Gun fondly (which was not the F-15 but the F-14, but you know what I mean), you’ll find a lot to like in this short little book. Plus there’s bits like the fact that they painted over the kill counts on some of these machines as they continued to fly after the action where the saw the combat. Or that the names on the planes are not necessarily the names of the officers in the planes as crews take the available planes, not their plane on missions.

It makes me want to power up my Commodore 64 for another sortie. How come they don’t make good flight simulators any more? Oh, yeah: 9/11.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Holiday Memory by Dylan Thomas (1978)

Book coverThis book is a little chapbook containing a single ‘story’ from Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. It’s part of a series, and this ‘story’ first appeared in another volume, so I’m not sure why this appears in a slim chapbook edition twenty years after Thomas’s death.

At any rate, “Holiday Memory” is not so much a story as a stream-of-consciousness prose poem about being on vacation on the seashore in Wales in August of probably the late twenties or early thirties. Jeez, I’m going to have to start adding nineteen to the decades now, ainna? It’s a colorful, vivid recounting and a pleasant read, although there’s no plot to drive one along. It’s a pretty short work, though, so you don’t have far to go from morning to the beach and night at the fair.

Worth a look if you’re into this sort of thing as I am.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Romance by Ed McBain (1995)

Book coverIt’s been three years almost since I read an Ed McBain book (Doll in April 2012). It’s hard to believe because they were such a staple of my early adulthood, but he was producing new books at a rate of one or two a year until his death in 2005, and I had a source of new books to read then. By now, I’ve been through most of them more than once, and any reading is likely to be re-reading.

As is the case with this book.

An actress reports threats as she rehearses a play about an actress getting stabbed. Then she gets stabbed for real, superficially, which leads the detectives of the 87th Precinct, in particular Carella and Kling, to investigate. It turns out to have been a stunt cooked up by the actress and her lover/agent, but someone really stabs the actress good and dead, which complicates things.

The book makes good use of the play within the play trope (wrapping it in a novel–Ed McBain was nothing if not novel and clever as a writer). It has some series business in it–Kling is starting a new relationship with a deputy chief who is black–and some of the characters only make walk on appearances (although Ollie Weeks appears, and I’m not sure why McBain focused so much on him at this point in his, McBain’s, career). The beginning of the relationship–the first dates and whatnot–give McBain an opportunity to explore The Race Question especially in terms of personal relationships. Some of McBain’s books have crime-based subplots, but this one only has the one crime plot and the relationship plot. So it reads a little like an episode in a television series.

Which is what you expect when you’re picking up one of these books after having read others. And it’s not a bad thing. And McBain is an excellent writer in the genre. So it’s worth reading more than once.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Calvin and Hobbes: The Sunday Pages 1985-1995 by Bill Watterson (2001)

Book coverI don’t want to make you feel old, old man, but Calvin and Hobbes hasn’t been in the newspapers in twenty years. One day soon, you’ll have a doctor born so late that he’ll never have read it in the funnies, and how can you trust a doctor that young?

This book is not a comic collection. Instead, it describes an art exhibition that took place in 2001, fourteen years ago and six years after Watterson ended the strip. Watterson’s Sunday work was rolled into an art exhibition, and this book describes some of the history of Calvin and Hobbes as well as some of the Sunday comics. Each included comic includes the rough sketch and the finished product along with some commentary about the comic. Readers also get insight into how the Sunday comic is structured–in many cases, the first line of a three line comic is expendable as editors might have to cut it out to fit it into a particular newspaper or they can be sold “as is” as a half page, wherein the panels can be sized differently than normal and won’t be cut (Calvin and Hobbes started as the former but ended as the latter).

It’s a good bit of information, and the cartoons themselves are timelessly humorous.

The cartoon has been gone twice as long as it actually appeared in the paper; however, that’s probably a good thing, as Watterson got to end it on his terms, and readers were spared the endless “vote which cartoon stays” sorts of polls pitting Calvin and Hobbes against the Boondocks or having to write letters to the editor to get it restored.

I’m glad these books appear, though, because my children are coming to enjoy the strip. To be honest, my oldest son borrowed this book from the library and I poached it.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Downton Abbey Rules for Household Staff (2014)

Book coverI received this book for my birthday this year; it’s definitely the kind of book bought new as a gift. Or perhaps by serious, institutionizable fans of the show. It contains no narrative, no fan stuff: It’s basically an introduction by the fictional Carson (the butler) writing for new hires at Downton Abbey followed by tips and tricks for each job and their attendant responsibilities.

I’ve said recently what I think of the show these days, but there’s not any of that to dislike in the book.

Carson’s introduction is a nice bit of Stoic philosophy encouraging new workers: You are part of something meaningful and grand, and you should do your best at it. Then the tips and tricks are pretty much polish it with chamois leather. That’s two things I learned from the book: That chamois leather is good for polishing, and the source of the pun inherent in the ShamWow name.

Yes, friends, there are gaps in my classical education, and I’m unlikely to get certain French puns, especially those relating to cleaning products and practices, until decades later when reading gift books tied into British soap operas. Which probably means the chamois/ShamWow joke is the only one I’ll get.

So the book is an interesting little read if you get it as a gift or pick it up at a book fair, but it might not be a thing you order. But just in case you’re institutionizable, note this post is full of convenient links.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Town Council Meeting by J.R. Roberts (2009)

Book coverThis book starts out with an interesting conceit: The Gunsmith is playing poker when a group of ranch hands come into town and claim that he has killed their boss who was planning to hire him for something. It turns out he’s playing cards with the mayor, the judge, and the town’s attorney, so they call an impromptu town council meeting to order the sheriff to keep the men out of the saloon. So we’re presented with something novel: Clint tries to find out who killed the rancher by interviewing people while playing cards.

Ah, just when we’re wondering exactly how the author will handle this conceit throughout the book, it ends, and Adams sneaks out the back door to do a little, erm, investigation in that way he does. And he uncovers a pretty staple Western trope that ends with a gunfight in the street where (spoiler alert!) the title character of the series wins.

It’s unfortunate that the book couldn’t carry on with the novel setup to its conclusion, but that’s not what buyers of the series want or expect.

Me? I expected a thin bit of book to read that I spent a quarter on. And I got it.

So it’s the least bad of the books I’ve read in this line because of the novelty. I’ve only got one more in the series, and I don’t expect I’ll buy any more, though.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Paramilitary Plot by “Don Pendleton” (1982)

Book coverThis book is another in the 1982 Bolan books; at this time, they seem to have gone to the monthly model, which means of course that individual entries are passed onto different authors, which accounts for an uneven series.

This entry isn’t bad, but its plot is exceedingly similar to the others reviewed recently (Terrorist Summit, Return to Vietnam, and The New War especially). In each, Bolan gets wind of someone being held in an enemy camp (twice a jungle, once a desert, now a swamp). Bolan infiltrates the compound, leaves the compound, and then has to go into the compound with the bad guys on alert to extract the hostage and blow everything up.

In this case, the hardsite is a compound in the Everglades run by a right-wing corporate government contractor who wants a biological weapon to facilitate the invasion of Grenada, where he can then start properly trying to take over the world for right-wing reasons, which seem to be just being corporate and having a military.

This book preceded the actual United States invasion of Grenada, so its author was a little prescient in recognizing the political situation with the small island nation making it unstable. So I got a little history lesson on that which covers some of the gaps I didn’t gather when it happened because I was eleven years old at the time and dealing with boyhood things, like my parents’ divorce and my mother’s nascent plans to uproot us from Wisconsin to Texas.

So, as a book, it’s too much in the line with then-recent Bolan offerings but an interesting artifact in a meta way.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Curse of the Gypsy Woman by Lin G. Hill (1993)

Book coverThis book is a chapbook containing a single short story by a local author; I think I have one of his full length works here somewhere. I must have gotten this book in a package of books for a buck at the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County book sale.

At any rate, in this story, an author with writer’s block and a looming deadline agrees to take a quick vacation to a random spot on a map, and he ends up renting a car and driving with his wife into the Ozarks. They pull off the highway where a sign promises a restaurant and a place to stay, but the road turns to a dirt road. They pass an old gypsy woman and do not give her a ride, which leads to her placing a curse upon them. When they reach the ramshackle inn, they find it’s run by gypsies, and they’re kidnapped and taken to a hidden gypsy camp where they are locked in a ramshacklier shanty on the Night of the Wolf. And werewolves attack, and they survive. BECAUSE THEY’RE NOW CURSED WITH LYCANTHROPY.

It’s a pretty basic story, and not a very good one. But it hearkens back to a time of less cellular coverage and fewer smartphones. In a more deft storytelling, this might not have been quite so disparate, the distance between then and now, but reading it left a lot of brainpower for thinking about other things instead of the primary text.

Geez, Charles, I hope this isn’t your brother I’m pooh-poohing.

Book Report: Terrorist Summit by “Don Pendleton” (1982)

Book coverThis book reads so much like an authentic Don Pendleton book that I checked Fantastic Fiction to see if Pendleton wrote it. He did not; Steven Krauzer did. Krauzer, apparently, had read some of the Pendleton books before starting out. You have a lot of the elements of the Pendleton Bolan in the book, but a decided bit of tomfoolery at the end that is uncharacteristic of Pendleton.

In the book, Bolan has to go to Algiers to look for a missing technology executive whose daughter was kidnapped by terrorists of some stripe. For ransom, they want a prototype suitcase nuke the exec’s company had developed. The man goes to Africa himself to find his daughter and is instead captured, and it’s up to Bolan to get him out. Bolan does so early, getting the nominal plot out of the way so it can turn Pendeltonesque. Bolan pursues the woman to a camp in the Sahara where a Soviet-trained bad guy has assembled a summit of numerous terrorist groups to organize them under an umbrella operation headed by him. Bolan infiltrates the base posing as a Mafia-based bigwig and turns the groups upon themselves. This is all pretty Pendletonesque.

However, at the climax, Bolan is escaping from the site in a Range Rover when a Jeep pursues. He puts down his rifle to pick up his trademark .44 and has the Range Rover spring into reverse so suddenly he’s coming at the terrorists hard and fast while firing the handgun. Instead of, you know, shooting them with the rifle from a distance.

The tacky ending makes me wonder how the whole business worked. Did the editors have this cinematic ending in mind and perhaps on paper when turning it over to the writer to fill in the gaps? I dunno, but it diminishes the book.

I’m going to start calling these things the thrown silverware moments in honor of Silent Night: an outlandish moment in the climax thrown in for cinematic value but that leaves any thoughtful reader agape.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Silent Night by Robert B. Parker and Helen Brann (2013)

Book coverThis book was a little bit of a gift; it was, for me, an unexpected new Robert B. Parker Spenser novel. And although I savaged a lot of his later work on this very blog, because I know (suspect) this will be the last of his Spenser novels (although it was completed by someone else), I enjoyed it.

The plot: Around Christmas time, a boy comes to Spenser for help. The boy is associated with an unlicensed youth help facility. Run by the brother of an importer/exporter. Of drugs. The center is funded by the brother, who is unhappy about it but promised his mother to take care of his brother. Someone is attacking the brother who runs the shelter, trying to drive him off. The authorities are on the drug-smuggling brother, and he’s about to bolt, but he’s going to tie up some loose ends–including his former tennis pro girlfriend who might know too much. Until Spenser.

You know, trying to sum up the plot, I wonder if it holds up to scrutiny, or if the plot is merely the excuse for some Spensering.

Regardless, it’s full of proper Parkeriana: “Wouldn’t it be pretty to think so?” and unnecessary asides and psychoanalysis. We also get the obvious errata, like describing a Playstation and a couple of game cartridges or taking the shells out of a rifle. But because this is the last new Parker Spenser I’ll (probably) read, I kind of viewed them with affection.

Although I did laugh out loud in the climax, when the tennis pro is faced with a killer at a dinner party and picks up a knife from the table and throws it at the fellow, stopping him cold with a table knife to the chest. and Helen Brann, I presume. That does not read like something Parker would have done.

At any rate, I enjoyed it affectionately, and as time passes, Parker’s rising again in my memory. Perhaps I will fill out my collection of his works after all.

Now, with this rosy glow, do I pick up some of the latest John Sandford novels from the library?

UPDATE: As he mentions in the comments, Friar has already read this book.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Red Water by “J.R. Roberts” (2008)

Book coverIn case you’re wondering, it looks like it takes about nine months for me to forget how much I don’t like a series. I read A Daughter’s Revenge last May, and it took me until February 2015 to pick up this book.

Clint Adams, the Gunsmith, is camped out when clumsy horse thieves try to get the drop on him and steal his horse. He outfoxes them, goes to a nearby town (Red Water of the title), has an, erm, encounter, discovers the local marshal is forming a posse to hunt those dangerous (but clumsy) outlaws. The Gunsmith thinks that’s odd, and when he joins the posse after an, erm, encounter, he finds the marshal doesn’t have a plan for all the town’s decent gun handlers except that they’re out of town. Apparently, the marshal is in on a scheme to steal the plans of safes made by a local safemaker. Which Adams thwarts amid the, erm, encounters.

Of the contemporary Jove Western series, Longarm is the better of the two. As to the Gunsmith series, I think I’ll put them on a higher shelf and avoid them until I forget, again, how I feel about them.

Books mentioned in this review: