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Bookends: Reaching Back into Jack’s Past March 10, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, mystery, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Reaching Back into Jack’s Past

By Dan Davidson

Night SchoolJanuary 23, 2017

– 843 words –

 

Night School: A Jack Reacher Novel

By Lee Child

Delacorte Press

385 pages

$15.99

 

“In the morning they gave Reacher a medal and in the afternoon they sent him back to school.”

It was a Legion of Merit – his second. It was nice, “But he figured the real reason he was getting it was the same reason he had gotten it before. It was a transaction. A contractual token. Take the bauble and keep your mouth shut about what we asked you to do for it.”

What they had asked him to do was kill a couple of bad men, not exactly the sort of detail you expect to be handed to a Military MP. It wasn’t a chase and capture scenario, but a very clinical execution.

We get a précis of this operation later in the book, during one of several intimate interludes with Dr. Marian Sinclair, who is technically Reacher’s superior in the current operation.

You see, Major Reacher has not been sent to school, but to a very high level assignment involving interagency cooperation between the military, the FBI and the CIA.

Wait a minute, you say. Where’s the former MP who travels with nothing but a bankcard and a toothbrush?

Well, Child has been giving us the Reacher saga in no particular order ever since Killing Floor. It’s rare that one novel follows right after another, though there was a pair of them a few books ago. There have also been short stories dating back to his army days, and even some from when he was an army brat, living in various exotic locales around the world.

In this book it’s 1996, just about three years since that first group of terrorists tried to blow up the World Trade Centre with some bombs in the parking garage, and Reacher is still a Major.

The Reacher books also swing back and forth between first and third person narratives, depending on the needs of the story. In this one Child decided we needed to hear some of the interplay among the bad guys, so it’s a third person story, with interludes away from Reacher’s central viewpoint.

In Hamburg, Germany, the CIA have a mole planted in the group of unfriendly Arabs, and from that mole they have learned this: there is an American, probably a service man, who is willing to sell something to a bunch of potential jihadists. More importantly, he wants $100 million for whatever it is.

What the McGuffin (an object or device in a movie or a book that serves as a trigger for the plot) might be, no one has any idea. This is also pre-internet and e-mail time, and the jihadists are using the old school method of human couriers who have nothing written down. All transactions are oral, and all the folks at code name Night School know is that the communications all come back to Hamburg eventually. After a few false starts most of the action moves there.

Hamburg also seems to be home to a group of extreme German nationalists, who occupy a number of positions of power, have some intelligence expertise of their own, and very much want whatever the weapons or information might be to further their own goals with regards to the recently reunified Fatherland.

Most of the fight scenes (because this is a Reacher novel) involve Reacher versus these skinheads and neo-Natzis.

Each of the three agencies bring their own teams to work on the case. Reacher’s picks come from the MP group that he used to head up back in the States. One of them, Sgt. Frances Neagley, is a woman we first met later in the series (confusing, isn’t it?) Several others also arrive to play their parts.

The American, who remains nameless for much of the book until the police procedural sort of work ferrets out his name, has been planning his operation for some time, and has been taking care to leave very few clues. However, part of his leaving no tracks involves the murder of a sex-trade worker, who happens to be a favorite of a Hamburg Chief of Detectives named Griezman. This means that Griezman, who is a good homicide policeman in spite of that little indiscretion, has a personal and professional stake in pursuing this case. When Reacher suggests a connection with his own assignment, Griezman becomes a valuable asset.

There are quite a few twists and turns in this case, and once they finally determine who the American is and what he is willing to sell, the pace picks up dramatically. Where there had been a little too much “talking heads” exposition, things suddenly get very active. For me it was the last third of the book that really made it feel more like a Reacher story.

I enjoy these adventures and, in spite of Tom Cruise, I am looking forward to the second Reacher movie. He’s too short, but he plays the part well.

 

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Bookends: An Upstairs, Downstairs Kind of Murder March 10, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, mystery, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: An Upstairs, Downstairs Kind of Murder

The Massey MurderBy Dan Davidson

January 18, 2017

– 812 words –

 

The Massey Murder
By Charlotte Gray

Harper Collins

307 pages

$22.99

 

On the evening of Monday, February 8, 1915, Charles Albert Massey was on his way home from work. He was the not quite so well to do scion of the very well to do Massey family, a family which had grown wealthy and powerful making and selling agricultural equipment. It was a family that would go on to produce a Governor General and a world famous actor.

At 34 years of age, Bert, as he was generally known, cut quite a swath in Toronto’s social circle. It was true that he was less well off than others of the clan, that the house he and his family lived in was not nearly so grand. He was a high end car saleman in a new industry, and the family was living about his income.They had but one domestic servant, a mousy, quiet 18 year old import from Great Britain named Carrie Davis.

Bert liked her, and had crossed a line a day earlier (while his American born wife was visiting family in Bridgeport. Connecticut) by making several aggressive moves on the girl, which she successfully evaded. Even so, he was surprised, we assume, when she met him at the front door carrying his own .32 calibre Savage automatic pistol, and proceeded to shoot him twice, killing him almost immediately.

Those facts were never in doubt, having been witnessed by several people, and never actually denied by Carrie herself, although she was initially uncertain that she had killed him.

There were larger questions in play in almost no time at all. How quickly could the Massey family get this dealt with in a polite way (the girl was obviously deranged and Bert’s behavior had nothing to do with it) without besmirching the family name?

Then there was the question of public opinion, and what it might due to stimulate the sales of the two big rival newspapers in the city, not to mention the smaller ones.

Then there was the question of Carrie’s defense, and how it might put a feather in the cap of any potential lawyer willing to take it on.

Not much of this had any bearing on whether or not she had killed the man – because she had. Was it a planned event, a spur of the moment decision? Was the girl merely protecting her honour (her virginity, as it were) against a further assault?

Hartley Dewart, KC, had the daunting task of presenting a Carrie that was tried beyond her young endurance, forced to defend herself, and driven to the killing of her employer on the spur of the moment.

The city, already excited by the anxiety brought on by the war in Europe, which had begun the previous August, was somewhat diverted by this drama on the home front, and all sorts of people adopted all sorts of opinions as to what had happened and what ought to happen next.

This book is a kind of forensic examination, but it is not one about the facts of the case, which were mostly available to Gray through the newspaper coverage during the 19 days between the act and the verdict.

It is rather an examination of the time, place and society within which the events transpired. It is a portrait of Toronto during that month in 1915, in the midst of the war. As background and context we are offered the rise and fortunes of the Massey family, some of the history of the city’s newspaper wars, and a good look at the tactics that were used to both prosecute and defend Carrie Davis.

One of the reasons the book goes in this direction is that there is very little about the case preserved in the official record. It was a case where assumptions about character and motive trumped the cold facts of the killing.

Gray is the first to admit that the newspaper coverage was pretty cut-throat, and there are often competing accounts of the same speeches and descriptions, but that does help to make the book interesting.

Carrie Davis was a virgin, a major fact in her favour. She had a young suitor who was fighting the Hun in Europe. She seemed even younger than 18 much of the time, and utterly disconsolate at the state in which she found herself. The jury took pity on her.

Gray unfolds the narrative in four parts: The Story, The Law, The Trial and the Aftermath. Chapter 17 finishes off the war story that is interwoven with the trial for the month, and chapter 18 tells us something of what happened to Carrie Davis during the rest of her life. All told, it’s an engrossing story.

Charlotte Gray was Berton House writer-in-residence in 2008.

 

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Bookends: Murder is a matter of decision and action March 10, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, mystery, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Murder is a matter of decision and action

By Dan Davidson

January 11, 2017

– 779 words –

Black River Road 

Black River Road: An Unthinkable Crime, an Unlikely Suspect, and the Question of Character

By Debra Komar

Goose Lane Editions

224 pages

$17.93

also available in e-book format.

Debra Komar is the author of three previous books that have used her forensic investigative skills to reexamine real life historical crimes that have taken place somewhere in Canada.

In The Bastard of Fort Stikine, she took on a case from 1842, in which a miscarriage of justice in northern British Columbia was hushed up by the Hudson’s Bay Company. The death of John McLoughlin Jr. may have been a justifiable homicide, but Komar gave it the hearing it never got at the time.

In The Lynching of Peter Wheeler she looked at the evidence in the case of a coloured man who was hanged on the assumption that he has murdered a white girl. In 1896, forensic detective work was in its infancy and Komar concludes that several competing narratives were permitted to overcome the facts of the case

In The Ballad of Jacob Peck, Komar examined an even earlier case, from 1805, in which Amos Babcock was found guilty of killing his sister, under the influence of a religious mania. That he did the deed is not in doubt in her view, but how he came to do the deed, how he was inspired and by whom, become clear during Komar’s narrative.

Her method is to visit the archives, pull out the available material on cases which are somewhat shady, and see what a full “cold-case” examination of the existing records will reveal.

Each book so far deals with a particular manner in which the facts of a case may be distorted. Her most recent book, Black River Road: An Unthinkable Crime, an Unlikely Suspect, and the Question of Character, provides its theme in the title.

What is, or should be, the role of an accused person’s character in determining his or her guilt or innocence? The murders of Maggie Vail and her child are particularly instructive in examining this premise, for this 1869 case, taking place in St. John. New Brunswick, is seen to be the first in which the social standing and reputation of the accused, respected architect John Munoe, were used as the main argument in his defense by his trial lawyer.

“His lawyer’s strategy was as simple as it was revolutionary,” for that time and place, she writes.

“Munroe’s wealth, education and exemplary character made him incapable of murder.”

These things had not rendered him incapable of having an extramarital affair with Maggie, or of fathering a child with her. That he was connected to her in a number of ways and could be traced to the area where, some months latter, a group of teenaged berry pickers stumbled across the badly decomposed bodies, were facts dismissed by his lawyer as incongruent with his character.

Komar prefaces the elegantly told story of Munroe’s life with an essay titled “The Dahmer Effect” in which she shows how the case of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer led forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz to develop his theory of universal lethality. In short, under the right circumstances, anyone can make the decision to become a killer; it’s the ability to decide and the will to act that make the difference.
Dietz wrote, “I think people are born with the inherent ability to be cruel and harmful and destructive and selfish and acquisitive. It’s the function of many of the institutions of society to train us out of that.”

To some this would seem to contradict the notion that people are naturally good and that crimes such as murder are committed by deviants. To others this might well put a new spin on the older notion of original sin, divorcing it from any connection the sexual act.

In the courts of the post-Dahmer days, character, and its adjunct, motive, matter less than decisions and actions, and it is this point that Komar uses the Maggie Vail case to illustrate.

She does so in a prose style that deliberately echoes 19th century writing and is supported by useful maps, photographs, memorabilia from the high profile trial and a very thorugh listing of footnotes and references.

Debra Komar was the fall to early winter writer-in-residence at Berton House, having turned to writing non-fiction crime books after 23 years as a practicing forensic anthropologist. She has testified as an expert witness at The Hague and throughout North America and is the author of many scholarly articles and a textbook, Forensic Anthropology: Contemporary Theory and Practice.

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Bookends: Spenser does a favour for an old friend March 10, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, mystery, Whitehorse Star.
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WonderlandBookends: Spenser does a favour for an old friend

By Dan Davidson

January 4, 2017

– 830 words –

 

Robert B. Parker’s Wonderland

By Ace Atkins

Unabridged audiobook

Narrated by Joe Mantegna

7 hours and 2 minutes

Random House Audio

$17.99

 

This is book 41 of the Spenser series, the second written by successor writer Ace Atkins following the death of series creator Robert B. Parker. The first of these was Lullaby, which I reviewed as being decent enough, but longer than normal (by about 30 minutes longer than this one in the audio version) and quite a bit more profane in its use of language.

There was a pattern to Parker’s books. There would be a certain amount of cooking, some running, some Boston travelogue, some Susan and a bit of violence. Atkins hit all those notes, but it seemed like he was trying too hard.

He hits them again in Wonderland, but seems to be less forced. He is still more long winded. The last Parker novel was about a 5 ½ hour read and the Atkins’ books I’ve listened to so far clock in at 7 hours plus. In this case, the length is justified by a more complicated plot. At about the point where it seemed the main plot of the story was wrapping up, an unexpected murder sets it off in a new direction.

Susan Silverman is less present in this book than in most of the later Parkers, being on assignment teaching at a university in another city. She drops by Boston on the weekends.

Hawk is entirely absent from this story, being on some sort of personal assignment in Florida.

Atkins has apparently decided to flesh out some characters that are part of the canon, but haven’t been used too much. Zebulon Sixkill, a American Indian former college football player who had fallen on hard times, was introduced in the last of Parker’s novels (Sixkill). In this one he has been taken on as Spenser’s protégé. Z, as he is usually known, suffers from a bit of physical arrogance and had been a budding alcoholic when we met him. He still has that problem, especially when he finds himself physically overmatched by some of the bad guys in this book. So a good part of the story is about Spenser working with Z and Z learning the ropes.

Henry Cimoli owns the gym and training facility, which has been a feature in this series since almost the beginning, but in this book Henry is given a key role and provided with a lot of backstory with which we are not overly familiar.

Someone is trying to force Henry and the other elder residents of the condo where he lives to sell out and move on. The offer is pretty good, but awfully mysterious. Some residents like the proposed deal. Those who don’t, Henry chief among them, have been experiencing a series of increasingly annoying “accidents”. In fact, Spenser and Z enter the picture at about the time when things look to be getting personal and violent. Henry is set upon by a trio of thugs who are scared off by our heroes.

Since no one knows exactly who the interested buyer is, Spenser starts there and soon his poking around, as it often does, causes a series of reactions by the bad guys. Z, who has been tasked with watching over Henry, is set upon and injured by two of the same thugs they met before. He is hurt physically, but also psychologically, and his emotional recovery is one of the subplots in this adventure.

It turns out that the condo is the last piece of property needed to cement a deal for the creation of a casino in the area of the old Wonderland (hence the book’s title) dog racing park. Two parties are competing. One seems marginally more honest than the other, and, just as the deal is brokered with that group, with Spenser acting as mediator, one of the two front men is murdered and the affair takes a whole new turn.

There have been a number of readers in this series over the years, and while all have been interesting for the time of Spenser’s life, Joe Mantegna is one of the best for the most recent stories. Mantegna played the lead role in three made for TV Spenser movies and, to my mind, was better in the part than the late Robert Urich, who starred in the Spenser – For Hire TV series.

His bio includes the tidbit that he was a bass player as a young man in the 1960s, and was a member of the rock/jazz group that eventually morphed into the Chicago Transit Authority, which became just Chicago after that first double album.

He has, of course, been a regular cast member on Criminal Minds since he signed on in 2007 and has provided the voice of Fat Tony on the Simpsons since 1991.

 

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