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Bookends: What happens before and after the death of Evelyn Peterson February 16, 2018

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Bookends: What happens before and after the death of Evelyn Peterson

By Dan Davidson

July 26, 2017

– 744 words –

 

Pontoon: A Novel of Lake Wobegon

Written by Garrison KeillorPontoon

Narrated by Garrison Keillor

Unabridged Audiobook

8 hrs and 22 mins

Highbridge, a division of Recorded Books

Print edition: 256 pages

Faber & Faber

Also available as an eBook

Garrison Keillor retired from his stint with The Prairie Home Companion radio show about a year ago, but he has been busy in other formats for some time, writing essays, short stories, political commentary and advice columns for a number of magazines, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, National Geographic, and Salon.

He has also written novels, including 10 about the fictional community of Lake Wobegon, which was the subject of most of the monologues on his radio show. There are 11 other books not so connected to this place, and three volumes of poetry.

Pontoon is very much a Lake Wobegon book, the inciting event being the death of Evelyn Peterson, who has an civilized argument with the Angel of Death, a friendly spirit who came to collect her, just because it was time, dear.

The novel revolves around Evelyn’s life and its aftermath, telling the life stories of many of the people – friends, relatives and lovers – who were connected to her over the years.

For Evelyn there’s a lot to tell. Aside from her reputation as a Lutheran Church attending pillar of the community, she had a whole secret life that no one in town knew about, a life that began to develop after she assisted her ne-er do well husband in leaving the marriage and going to live in a shack in the bush.

This, by the way, was something he wanted to do, so it wasn’t as if she was cruel, and she helped to support him in this lifestyle until the day he dropped dead outside the barber shop, years later. Yes, we get his life story too.

Daughter Barbara is the one who finds Evelyn in bed in the morning after she dies. Barbara is way too fond of various brands of alcohol and is pretty much pooched by the time the ambulance arrives to take her mother away.

Evelyn’s sister is horrified by the revelation of Evelyn’s funeral instructions. Her ashes (What? Cremation?) are to be placed inside a bowling ball and dropped into the lake. This develops into a plan for Barbara’s son, Kyle, to carry the ashes over the lake with his parasailing outfit and drop them in the middle.

Kyle is at university, discovering that he needs to get away from the woman he’s been living with most of the year, and so this is a grand excuse for him to take off. Of course, we learn ore about his life too.

One of the longest connected stories is that of Debbie Delmar, who fled her stodgy home town in her late teems and made her fortune as an animal therapist for the rich and famous in California. She has a wedding planned. We get her life story and enough of the biography of her fiancée to know this is never going to work out. She intends her (not really a) wedding to take place on the lake in a ceremony that will involve a pontoon boat (hence the book’s title) and the parachuting arrival of a Elvis impersonator.

If you’re thinking that the lake might be getting crowded, we’re not done yet.

Add the arrival of a group of unorthodox Danish Lutheran ministers, who are stopping by Lake Wobegon on their tour of the U.S., sent there by the Danish church to get them out of the way after they issued a problematic manifesto on the irrelevance of God. We don’t see much of them, but by the time they get on the boat in the harbour, have a few glasses of the champagne left over from Debbie’s cancelled wedding plans (didn’t I tell you?), and manage to untie the boat they are having their liquid lunch on, I think you can see where all this is going to end up.

The various strands of this novel are slow to weave into a whole, but the individual threads, narrated in Keillor’s laconic deadpan delivery, are so funny, and sometimes so spot on in terms of observations about life, that you really don’t mind waiting to see where it all is going.

 

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February 14, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, mystery, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Murder and Mayhem among the not so idle rich

By Dan Davidson

May 31, 2017

– 790 Words –

 

Blacklist

Blacklist -audio

By Sara Paretsky

Narrated by Sandra Burr

15 hrs and 42 mins

Brilliance Audio

 

Kindle Edition

 

Print Length: 444 pages

Berkley Books

 

I’ve listened to five or six of theV. I. Warshawski novels over the years. Paretsky was one of the women, along with Sue Grafton (the Kinsey Milhone series), who took the Raymond Chandler style hardboiled private eye and swapped his gender. Like Chandler (and later like Robert B Parker) Paretsky has made her Chicago setting almost another character in the story. Chandler did this with LA, Grafton with her fictional California city, and Parker with Boston.

This novel came out in 2003, the second of the books that she wrote in the wake of the September 11, 2011 destruction of the World Trade Centre towers (and the other lesser remembered airborne assaults). These events brought on the morally questionable Patriot Act, interpretations of which are at the heart of this mystery.

VI. is hired by Darraugh Graham, an important long-time client of hers, to look into some complaints he’s getting from his aged mother, Geraldine Graham. The seniors condo where she lives outside of Chicago overlooks the former Graham family mansion and the old lady swears she is seeing lights in the building, but none of the local authorities are taking her seriously.

V.I. stakes out the place one night and bumps into a young woman doing something odd on the extensive grounds, Chasing her in the dark, she stumbles into the overgrown ornamental pond, and finds the body of a middle aged black journalist, Marcus Whitby. Investigation leads her to discover that he was working of a story dating back to the Re Scare era of the 1950s, a story that involves the wealthy families who live in splendor in this rural enclave and which dates back a couple of generations.

When the local authorities dismiss the suspicious death as a suicide, V.I, is hired by the reporters’ relatives to find out what really happened. She’s convinced it was murder, and a proper autopsy eventually confirms her suspicions.

She tracks down the girl, a high school student, Catherine Bayard, and finds out that she’s been hiding an Egyptian student, a young innocent who is wanted for questioning by Homeland Security simply because of his race and religion, by keeping him in the mansion.

There are many threads to this mystery. One of them leads to the story of a beautiful black dancer who was championed in the 1950s by various of the local liberals among the wealthy. There were affairs and much skullduggery. The homosexual secrets of a number of prominent right wingers were covered up and exploited. Blackmail and threats to reputations slid on down the years to the present day.

A second death, that of a once famous prosecutor for the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) which made so many lives miserable and created the Blacklist which inspired the title of this book, is also dismissed by the authorities, but V.I. is certain this death and Whitby’s are connected, and is also certain that Benji, the Egyptian boy, saw who put Whitby’s body in that pond.

There are certain set pieces in a Paretsky novel. V.I. must spend some time with Mr. Contreras, the downstairs neighbour with whom she shares a couple of dogs. She must argue with Bobby Mallory, a family friend (of he late father) and police officer who disapproves of her profession but nevertheless is often grudgingly helpful in some of the official niceties of her cases. The impression is that V.I. has to up her game and make all her suppositions airtight is order to get Bobby’s help.

V.I.’s emotions in this case are further complicated by the fact that some of the clues seem to lead back to Calvin Bayard, a civil rights legend for whom she had had immense respect during her years in law school (she was a public defender before becoming a PI). The man is now afflicted with late stage Alzheimer’s Disease and is not even a shadow of his former self.

I greatly enjoyed the developing relationship between V.I. and the haughty matron, Geraldine. They move from the latters attempts of bully an employee into submission to a true, cooperative friendship by the end of the book. I expect we’ll see her again.

This mystery is anything but simple, and I suspect that Paretsky’s decision to contrast the HUAC hearings with the Patriot Act was a very deliberate piece of social commentary by a writer whose Ph.D., thesis is history was entitled “The Breakdown of Moral Philosophy in New England Before the Civil War”.

Sandra Burr gave a very good reading of this book.

 

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Bookends: Considering Free Will in a Murder Investigation February 14, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, Science Fiction, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Considering Free Will in a Murder Investigation

By Dan DavidsonRule 34

May 16, 2017

– 923 words –

 

Rule 34

By Charles Stross

Ace Books,

336 pages

$8.99

Rule 34 is set in the same futuristic Scotland (a more or less independent nation) that Stross used for Halting State, the first book set in this milieu, but about five years later and with a different cast of characters.

It uses the same narrative structure. There are half a dozen second-person present-tense viewpoints that rotate the story around a series of murders.

Detective Inspector Liz Kavanaugh is one of these characters, and the one initially most concerned with the killings. She is the first to realize that, unconnected as the victims may be, there is a thread, a very obscure thread, in the means that ties them all together. The two or three she views, have all been killed by malfunctioning appliances that contain computer chips.

When it turns out that there are more of these, some in other countries, and that the body count is well over a dozen within a few days, she concludes, and manages to persuade her superiors, that some sort of coordinated murder spree is under way.

We are some time putting all this together, because we have to cycle through several other narratives, several times, before we hear enough of Liz’s thoughts (these are very internal narratives) to see the pattern.

Like many a Scots detective (Rebus is cited several times), Liz’s personal life is s total mess and her thought processes are disrupted several times by the arrival in town of an old lover, Dorothy, who has her own problems to share.

In the meantime we meet Anwar, a small time crook on probation who is trying to make ends meet and stay out of trouble. Anwar is that oddity, a married Muslim with a straight family (wife and kids) who carries on a number of homosexual liaisons in seedy bars, and imbibes quite often in spite of the Islamic laws about drinking alcohol. He becomes the onsite diplomatic attaché for a small, breakaway Slavic nation that is involved in some sort of financial scam, of which he is unaware. He is the comic relief in this book.

We meet the Toymaker, a multi-identitied agent of some sort who is in Scotland for nefarious purposes. He is somewhat psychotic when off his meds, and frustrated in accomplishing his task in that it seems that all the people he has been supposed to do business with are being murdered before he can work with them.

Ah-hah, we say to ourselves. A connection, though it’s uncertain as to what.

Not quite half-way through the book we encounter some other viewpoints, including one which is that of the organization (the Operation) which employs the Toymaker. There is also Felix, the chief aid of the president of the quasi-nation that employs Anwar. Another is Kemal, the European “spam-cop” who specializes in computer fraud and is assigned to travel to Scotland to assist in what has become an international murder case.

There’s an Internet meme that runs this way: “Rule 34—If it exists, there is porn of it – no exceptions.”

In this case we might substitute “corruption” for “porn”. Given what we have learned about Internet monitoring, government snooping and electronic surveillance, it might not seem as surprising today as it did when Stross published the hardcover edition of this book back in 2011, that something might go wrong.

In this case it seems that an advanced spam filter program might have gone off the rails and started organizing the deaths of people who might, perhaps, be involved in some sort of nefarious activity. It’s using an advanced form of the algorithms that Amazon and Facebook use to decide what ads to show us and what things we might like to buy.

Philip K. Dick wrote a short story decades ago in which psychic precognitives were used to do much the same sort of thing. It became the movie called “Minority Report” and the short-lived television spin-off of the same name.

This book delves into some of the same territory, while raising the possibility that an evolving artificial intelligence code named ATHENA might not hesitate to manipulate individuals in order to bring about what it considers to be a satisfactory solution to a problem that only it has resources enough to analyze.

This is likely the last of the Halting State series, unfortunately. Stross has written about why in an essay on his blog, Charlie’s Diary.

“I really wanted to make it a trilogy, you know? I mean, what could be cooler than a trilogy of near-future Scottish police procedurals about crimes that don’t exist yet, written in multi-viewpoint second person?

“At this point, I’m clutching my head. ‘Halting State’ wasn’t intended to be predictive when I started writing it in 2006. Trouble is, about the only parts that haven’t happened yet are Scottish Independence and the use of actual quantum computers for cracking public key encryption (and there’s a big fat question mark over the latter—what else are the NSA up to?).

“The science fictional universe of Halting State and Rule 34 is teetering on the edge of turning into reality. Meanwhile, the financial crisis of 2007 forced me back to the drawing board for Rule 34; the Snowden revelations have systematically trashed all my ideas for the third book.”

So there it is. Enjoy this one until he figures out some why to get beyond our rapidly evolving digital reality.

 

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Bookends: Mystery-thriller novels expand their series February 9, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, mystery, thriller, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Mystery-thriller novels expand their series

By Dan Davidson

April 26, 2017

– 866 words –

 

The Mephisto Club

The Mephisto Club

Tess Gerritsen

368 pages

Ballantine Books

Paperback $9.98

Kindle $9.39

Checking the online reactions to the Rizzoli and Isles series of novels, I find that many of the comments come from people who picked up the books because of the TV series. Many of those commentaries say they are disappointed with the books.

I’m not, though I came to them via the same path. The series is much more light-hearted than the books, and the characters are quite different. Jane, for instance, is married and has a child. She used to suffer from all sorts on insecurity, but that seems to have eased with her marriage.

Maura is much more serious and has a darker backstory, one involving a psychopathic birth mother. Among the police she is sometimes known as Dr. Death. She also has a questionable relationship with a local priest.

Kozak, Jane’s immediate YV superior, is retired, and has just started dating Jane’s mother, who has only just left her husband in this book, though they’ve be separated for years in the show.

Frost, who had to be written out of the show when the black actor who played the part died between seasons, is a white guy in the books.

On TV Frankie, Jane’s brother, has evolved into a worthwhile individual and has risen in the Boston Police Dept. In the books, he’s a total jerk.

This particular book seems to be trying to infuse the usual police procedural/thriller pattern with a supernatural twist.

There’s a series of bizarre murders, made stranger by the occult serial killer symbolism that is attached to them, and the fact that they ultimately seem to be directed at an international group of armchair sleuths who call themselves the Mephisto Club.

The members believe in the reality of evil, and that there is a certain hereditary line of humans that stretches back to Biblical times, and is determined to prepare the way for a very real coming of Satan.

Jane and Maura think this is claptrap, but they get caught up in it nevertheless and end up in one of those secluded mansions that feature in so many spooky thrillers. It’s the Christmas season, the weather is terrible, and things almost go rather badly.

Yes, that’s a spoiler, but the journey is more than half the pleasure in this book, and there are a number of other plot threads that I haven’t mentioned which will reward your reading pleasure.

 

Saint DeathSaint Death

By Mark Dawson

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

292 pages in print

Kindle Edition

Amazon Digital Services LLC

$2.96

 

Mark Dawson has been churning out books at a fabulous rate every since he discovered Amazon’s self-publishing platform. The John Milton series has ten books so far and he’s got several others under way. I wonder if he’s inspired by the record of John Creasey, who used to put out several books and several different series, under different names, every year during his career.

In the second of these books, Milton, a former British secret service hit man who has walked away from his job, has been on the run, quite successfully, for some six months. He’s left England and has been working his way north from South America until he has landed in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico.

Along the way he’s been finding occasions to work on his personal redemption by helping people, earning his living as an itinerant cook.

Juarez is a hotbed of drug related crime, as well as being littered with the bodies of sexually abused girls and terrified police officers. The media are uniformly frightened into silence except for a group of crusading bloggers. When Santa Muerta (Saint Death) and his crew arrive at the greasy spoon where Milton is working, aiming to murder the bloggers and their interview subject, Milton kills all but one of them, saves the female blogger, and inspires one of the local police to stand up to the cartel.

Milton joins forces with an American bounty hunter, who is being paid by the Mafia to take out Saint Death, in order to use his connections to get the young woman to safety in the USA.

Things go sideways and Milton is forced to improvise, at least partly because his former boss, known as Control, has sent a squad to capture him and bring him home. As it turns out, this works in his favour.

I’ve enjoyed the two books I’ve read. They’re light action reading. My main objection to them is the way their promotional material keeps trying to piggyback on Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. Except that they have an implacable main character who tries to help people, they don’t have much in common. They have a different style of writing, a different use of narrative viewpoints, and Dawson seems to suffer a lot more damage than Reacher.

In addition, there seem to be some continuing characters among the Brits that I expect to keep seeing again. One of two of them actually seem to be developing some sympathy for their erstwhile comrade, and it will be interesting to see how that develops.

 

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Bookends: Why There’s a Weird Person in the White House February 9, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, current events, Klondike Sun, Matt Taibbi, politics, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Why There’s a Weird Person in the White HouseInsane clown president

By Dan Davidson

April 19, 2017

– 850 words –

 

Insane Clown President: Dispatches from the 2016 Circus

By Matt Taibbi (Author),

Victor Juhasz (Illustrator)

Spiegel & Grau

352 pages

$22.98

Kindle Edition

$11.99

 

With a title like the one Matt Taibbi chose for this collection of US election year essays, you really can’t expect that he will have anything nice to say about the man currently (except on golfing weekends) occupying the White House.

Mind you, Rolling Stone’s style of election coverage, beginning with Hunter S. Thompson’s “fear and loathing” series, and continuing ever since, have always been irreverent, scatological and, well, politically incorrect.

In this book we have 25 of the articles that were written for the magazine, plus a couple of bookends – one to admit that we are going to see a quite a few wrong predictions and early gaffes, and another to sum up what he thinks are the lessons to take away from the 2016 Circus, or the train wreck, as he often puts it.

The essay titles tell you a lot, even without reading the book: Inside the COP Clown Car; The Official GOP Debate Drinking Game Rules (parts 2 & 5); America is too Dumb for TV News; Casting “Clown Car, the Movie”; Revenge of the Simple: How George W. Bush Gave Rise to Donald Trump; and so on.

As he writes in his opening essay, “It’s an Alice in Wonderland story, in which a billionaire hedonist jumps down the rabbit hole of American politics and discovers a surreal world where each successive barrier to power collapses before him like magic.”

Those are among the nicest things he says about the man some cartoonists have lately been calling “the golfer in chief”.

The other COP candidates are the “clown car to which he refers so often. There was not one of them without major flaws and character defects. Some he classifies as mentally unready for anything for complicated than a greeter’s job at Wal-Mart.

He’s not kind to Hilary Clinton or the Democratic Party, either. Given the nature of the opponent set before them, this was their election to lose, and they did so by not paying attention to how Bernie Sanders inspired people, and by not working as hard as Barack Obama did to win his two terms.

“Why Young People are Right About Hilary Clinton” is a chapter that, while it clearly indicates he believes that she would have been a better, saner, safer choice, outlines all the reasons why she was rejected by so many people in so many key states. While she may have won the popular vote, she knew as well as anyone in the game that she had to win the Electoral College votes for that to matter. She had lost the common touch that she and Bill had used to gain his two terms in office, and while she stated more than once that she knew that, she didn’t do anything about it.

Taibbi is kind to Bernie Sanders and merciless on the Democratic Party that refused to take him seriously or to learn from what he almost managed to accomplish with nothing to compare to the massive financial backing that Hilary got.

Taibbi thought at first that Trump was a complete joke but, long before others, he upgraded him from joke to disaster in the making, and eventually stopped being surprised as he took down all the other clowns. “The Unconquerable Trump” analyses that triumph.

He saves some of his bitterest bile for the media, that has turned American news outlets into infotainment centers, and quotes that memorable news exec who opined that Trump was bad for the country but great for ratings and therefor for profits.

Reality TV gets a good whack along the way, as well, but while it is blamed for helping to dumb down the public’s ability to think critically, the public itself is raked over the coals for allowing it to do so. This section should have contained a passing reference to Neil Postman’s 1985 classic, Amusing Ourselves to Death. Perhaps he did that in his 2010 book, Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America. I think I must read this one, too.

He reserves some of his nicest words for the chapter called “Barack Obama’s Last Stand”, in which he describes the brief analysis of the outcome that the soon to be ex-President offered the public. Obama is not judged to be sinless. Promises were broken. Drones killed people. Red Lines were drawn but ignored. Still, Taibbi sums op the changing of the guard this way:

“Donald Trump may have won the White House, but he will never be a man like his predecessor, whose personal example will now only shine more brightly with the passage of time. At a time when a lot of Americans feel like they have little to be proud of, we should think about our outgoing president, whose humanity and greatness are probably only just now coming into true focus.”

 

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Bookends: A quest for ancient artifacts and the secrets of making gold February 8, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, D.J. McIntosh, Klondike Sun, thriller, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: A quest for ancient artifacts and the secrets of making gold

By Dan Davidson

– 722 words-

Witch of Babylon

 

 

The Witch of Babylon

By D.J. McIntosh

Kindle edition

$9.99

416 pages in Penguin paperback

I get a lot of books in the mail from distributors and publicists who don’t seem to realize that the best I can do is review 50-60 books in the run of a year. Its’ almost annoying when someone sends me book three of a trilogy and I don’t know how the story got to that point. In this case I received the first paperback edition of McIntosh’s Angel of Eden, the final book in her Mesopotamian Trilogy.

I go about 25 pages into it when I realized I really needed to begin at the beginning.

This is where the advantage of e-books comes into play. The two previous books were available as either Kindle or Kobo editions, and at reasonable prices.

Here I will stop to complain about Amazon.ca’s policy of charging ridiculous shipping fees for CDs and DVDs. All of the Yukon started to be considered a remote area a few years ago, and the tiny postage on these light items suddenly got jacked up to the value of the item or more. Fortunately, digital items have no shipping costs.

The Witch of Babylon comes across a bit like a cross between Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon novels and the Indiana Jones movies. John Madison is a dealer in art and ancient artifacts. He is the half brother of Samuel Madison, who was a mover and shaker in the art world, and John has been able to ride on his much older brother’s coattails to develop his own career.

Two prologues (as is often the case with historically crafted thrillers) give us a note on the history of Nineveh and an action–filled segment during the 2003 sack of Baghdad during the disastrous invasion of Iraq. An artifact is purloined – or perhaps protected – it’s hard to tell at this point. Samuel is involved, along with some locals we will meet later.

John was partly raised by a family in Turkey, and the age difference between the brothers was such that Samuel was more like an uncle to him. As we enter the book, Samuel is dead, victim of a car accident which John (and quite a few other people) believes to have been his fault, since he was the driver.

John is pretty much on his uppers. He was also hurt in the accident; his career has taken a nose dive, and he has just lost his job at a local college, thanks to the intervention of a man he had thought was his life-long friend. That man, Clive, is about to die of a drug overdose, leaving John as a suspect in what turns out to be murder, and leaving him a deadly puzzle game which he has to solve in order to prove his innocence, save his own life, and that of his former friend’s wife.

He is aided, and manipulated, in this quest by Tomas, an archaeologist, and Ari, an Iraqi photojournalist, the two who were with Samuel when he found the artifact, which is part of an original tablet version of an Old Testament book.

He is also up against the plotting of a wealthy art expert and collector who wants to get his hands on this ancient writing, which he believes to hold one of greatest of alchemical secrets – the method for turning base metals into gold.

Along the way to solving the puzzles he does begin to wonder if the crash that killed his brother wasn’t really an accident, and just how long people have been meddling with his life.

There is a great deal of action, many deceptions, surprises and plot twists before we get to the end of this story, which seems quite complete in itself, but did leave room for sequels that could make use of some of the same background material. These are The Book of Stolen Tales (2013) and The Angel of Eden (2015).

Unusually, the book concludes with a series of essays on Mesopotamian culture and art, historical timelines, footnote references from numerous pages in the book, a bibliography, and several pages of acknowledgments.

The Witch of Babylon was shortlisted for the UK Crime Writer Association’s Debut Dagger Award and winner of the Canadian Arthur Ellis Award for best unpublished crime novel.

 

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Bookends: The rehabilitation of an assassin February 8, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, Mark Dawson, mystery, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: The rehabilitation of an assassinThe Cleaner

By Dan Davidson

March 15, 2017

– 812 words –

 

The Cleaner

By Mark Dawson

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Amazon Digital Services LLC

314 pages in paperback

$9.90

Kindle version

$2.22

 

The Cleaner is the first in a series of novels about John Milton, a master assassin for the British government who has finally, after 130 or so kills, burned out – or acquired a conscience.

Here we begin with Milton’s last assignment, in which he kills three targets in cold blood and then finds himself unable to kill the woman’s young son. It is his epiphany and leads him to a conclusion that Control, the head of Group 15, is not prepared to accept. For Control, Milton is his Number One Cleaner, or he is useless, and too dangerous to let run loose. He may have to be decommissioned, in the bloodless deflective terminology of the agency.

The story continues with a sequence that reminded me bit of the silent cold opening from the late 60s British cult TV series, The Prisoner. In that sequence, Patrick McGoohan’s character, who seemed to have stepped right out of his earlier series, Danger Man (Secret Agent on American television), resigns from the British Secret Service and storms out of his boss’s office.

Hours later he is gassed unconscious at his flat and transported to an island home for defective spies, where he spends the next 12 or 13 episodes (this was one of the first mini-series) trying to escape.

So, to put it more bluntly, Milton will have to be put down if he doesn’t change his mind. Control would probably have loved to be able to use the solution from The Prisoner.

Milton’s second epiphany is when the black woman jumps down onto the tracks in the underground with the apparent intention of letting herself be run down by the approaching coaches. He saves her at some risk to his own life, and that act determines his immediate future.

Sharon has a son, Elijah. He’s beginning to mix with a bad lot and Sharon feels like she’s failed him, as she has failed at so many things and with so any people in her life. Milton has decided that his action obligates him to protect this woman and her teenage son, and determines that he will clean up the project neighbourhood. He rents a house, cases the area, finds an ally in a former soldier who runs a boxing club for local boys, and begins to build a relationship with the lad.

He’s not very good at it, and when he and Sharon finally spend the night together, Elijah, who was beginning to warm to him, assumes he is just another “John” using him to get to his mother’s bed.

After that, things get seriously nasty. Milton has to deal with a gangland rapper called Risky Bizness, as well as cope with the fact that he is being hunted by another Group 15 agent, who has orders to kill him.

The story is economical in its prose style and effective in its characterizations and action scenes.

If it appears odd that Milton doesn’t seem to anticipate the level of retaliatory violence that the rapper is prepared to use to protect his turf and his rep, that might be explained by the clandestine nature of his former occupation. His has been a clinical profession in which matters of weapons, ambush, preparation and invisibility were key components. He doesn’t seem to have spent a lot of time dealing with people except as targets.

The advertising surrounding the series is a bit misleading. Milton is compared to Jack Reacher. Not that Reacher never assassinated anyone, but those deaths were executions as part of his service as an MP and involved people who had committed serious crimes, rather that simply being foreign policy inconveniences, as Milton’s targets were at the beginning of this book.

Milton’s going to be footloose, as far as I can see, but he’s also going to be on the run. The second novel begins with a series of agency memos summarizing what has already happened and recommending further action.

It also appears that this series is going to march on in chronological order, whereas Lee Child has his character jump all over his lifeline.

At the start Milton does come across as the sort of blunt instrument that Ian Fleming’s rendition of James Bond was (as opposed to the various movie incarnations), but you can see that he is beginning to change by the end of this book, and it may be interesting to see how he develops.

Dawson has self-published this book and the other nine in the series, plus a bunch of other books during the last several years, and my copy of The Cleaner came as part of an eight book ebundle from Kindle.

 

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Bookends: A Quintet of Really Dark Stories from Stephen King February 8, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, fantasy, Full Dark, No Stars, Klondike Sun, Stephen KIng, Uncategorized, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: A Quintet of Really Dark Stories from Stephen Kingfull dark

By Dan Davidson

March 1, 2017

– 907 words –

 

Full Dark, No Stars

By Stephen King

Pocket Books

560 pages

$18.99

or e-book

$10.99

 

Every few years Stephen King drops another big book of short stories on us. The one prior to this was Just After Sunset, and contained 14 tales that one could actually classify as short stories within its 539 pages. I say this because none of them were more than 80 pages long and most were way less. Some were as short as 10.

That’s not the case with Full Dark, No Stars. Only the bonus story not listed in the table of contents is actually a short story, a mere 25 pages, which is really short for King.[

There are five other items. Just five. Don’t worry. Years ago King wrote that he didn’t consider himself a literary superstar, but he always gave good weight. Most of these would fall into the novella category. Some of them might be a little longer that they needed to be, but they are never boring.

He opens up with 1922 (p. 3 to 191), a tale named for the year that Wilfred Leland Jones began the journey that led to his writing his confession just before his death. Fans of the genre will probably recognize this as a long-winded homage to Poe’s “A Telltale Heart”, a story in which a man’s guilt tortures him so that he eventually goes mad. Jones went mad well before his end in 1930. This is a tale of a marriage gone bad, of a son corrupted by his father’s foul deeds and of karma raining down hell on all the major players, including some who were basically innocent when we first met them.

When Wilfred killed his wife fairly early in the story, he set in motion a chain of events that doomed more than her. He’s not a reliable narrator, so we are free to assume that a lot of what he later perceives is guilt driven insanity. It’s a powerful story.

Next up is “Big Driver” (pages 195 to 357), a story which owes something to the Jodie Foster movie The Brave One, which is referenced in the telling. King likes to write about writers. Tess (last name?) writes cozy mysteries about the Willow Grove Knitting Society, and it never occurred to her that she would be involved a Charles Bronson Death Wish style revenge thriller.

When the big truck driver who stopped to help her with her flat tire rapes her, beats her and leaves her for dead in a drainage ditch along with several other bodies, Tess survives instead, manages to get home and in a more than slightly altered state of mind, applies herself to finding and dealing with the people who were responsible for what had just happened to her.

It’s a dark story, but it ends well.

“Fair Extension” (pages 359 to 405) is a twist on the deal with the devil story. Mr. David Streeter was dying of cancer when he met George Elvrid (figure it out), who offered him a life extension with a whole lot of options. The trick was that for everything good that happened to him, something bad had to happen to someone else – or maybe to the world at large; that’s sort of hinted at. What we do know is that the lives of his best friend and every member of that man’s poor family suffer horribly over the ensuing years.

What we also know is that the end result of this story, told to us cheerfully from Dave’s point of view, is that Dave becomes an utter rotter of a human being and is happy that way. This is a full dark story.

“A Good Marriage” (pages 407 to 526) is the tale of Darcy Anderson who, after 25 years of happy marriage, suddenly discovers that her husband, Bob, is an insane serial killer. She’s in no danger, as he explains to her the night she figures it out. It’s another side of his personality, a side that roamed freely before they got married, stopped entirely for 15 years, and has recently become active again. But, for her, he can stop, and apparently does. But this is another kind of devil’s deal, and one she has to decide how she will live with, or not.

There’s a Constant Reader afterword to this book, in which King explains (because he’s happy to do that) where the ideas for these stories came from, and his own theories about the importance of stories that are “both propulsive and assaultive”, stories about “ordinary people in extraordinary situations.”

Then there’s the really short story called “Under The Weather” about the advertising agency man who manages to convince himself, though we know better, that his wife has not died in their bedroom several days ago. This is an EC Comix kind of horror story, so it’s funny in a very dark way.

Looking at this entire book, what I notice is that the really downer stories are the ones in which the viewpoint characters are male, while the stories focussing on women are ultimately uplifting, even when they feature terrible events.

I’ve had this book for a while, and I’m glad I finally got around to it. It is still available, about 18 different formats, two of which I’ve listed above.

 

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Bookends: The Story of a Haunted Life. February 8, 2018

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Bookends: The Story of a Haunted Life.

By Dan DavidsonFirst Blast

February 8, 2017

– 797 words –

 

 

First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women

By Eric McCormack

Penguin Books

272 pages

$14.99

 

Perhaps the first thing to get out of the way is the identity of the author. This is not the Canadian actor Eric McCormack of television fame, star of the western, Lonesome Dove, the comedy series, Will and Grace, , the mystery series, Perception and, most recently, the time travel adventure, Travellers (which has been renewed, by the way).

No, this is the Eric McCormack who was born in Scotland, taught school there, immigrated to Canada for get his Ph.D. and spent decades on staff at the University of Waterloo before retiring to live in Kingston.

They’re about 25 years apart in age.

The McCormack in this column has written a short story collection and five strange but compelling novels. This is the third novel, published in 1997 and winner of the Governor General’s Award for that year.

I had been hoping for another book like his mystery novel, The Mysterium (1993), when I picked this one up a few years ago, and it has languished on my shelves for several years.

The title is a play on a 1558 polemic by the Scottish reformer John Knox, entitled The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women. Knox believed that it was unnatural (monstrous) for women to rule (regiment) a country. He had in mind a succession of Marys who held power in England, as well as Elizabeth I.

In this book, the title refers mostly to the frightening parade of cloaked women who haunt the nightmares of Andrew Halfnight, a Scots orphan who has taken to writing this memoir at the behest of his wife, in order to sort out the emotions and events that have troubled him through much of his life.

Andrew was one of a pair of twins, whose sister was accidentally killed by their father in a bizarre christening event in the back yard of their home. This led almost immediately to the strange suicide of his father, who was discovered at the bottom of a nearby cliff with one arm missing.

It would be years before Andrew learned about that arm, where it came from, and how it came to be the death of his sister.

Long before that his mother died of a mysterious wasting disease during which he, then a schoolboy, was her main caregiver, assisting Doctor Giffen, who would later take on the role of guardian for a brief period until Andrew was sent to live with an aunt he had never met on the strange island of St. Jude.

In a life full of strange and often terrible events, Andrew endured a long sea voyage with the aid of Harry Greene, the Steward and Medic on the Comnock. The pair formed a life long friendship on that trip and Andrew learned much from the bookish sailor, but he also learned about Knox’s book, and its title became a trigger for his dreams.

St, Jude eventually turns out to be a place where Andrew witnesses murder (twice tried) and the incredible violence of nature. As if to balance all this, it is also be the place where he meets the girl who many years later, becomes his wife.

The narrative moves from tropical storms to Ontario, and place called Camberloo (which seems to be an amalgam of Cambridge and Waterloo University), where Andrew might have lived an unremarkable middle age were it not that he is afflicted with bad dreams and a recurring black spot that threatened at times to occlude his vision.

He has an unfortunate prolonged sexual dalliance with a mad woman and is driven almost to madness himself before a winter vehicular mishap that puts him in the hospital for a time, and which he can not, for several years after, recall in any detail.

It is, in fact, the writing of this memoir that brings back all his blocked memories and allows him, in conversation with Maria, his wife, to bring what had been a disturbing narrative to a happy conclusion.

This is, by any assessment, a weird tale full of strange events and even stranger individuals. Andrew, troubled by events and people, and uncertain of his place in the world, is a likeable but frustrating narrator.

The 51 chapters is divided into six sections, and I found that I paused after each of them for at least a day before moving on to the next. I needed to stop and absorb what had just happened to Andrew. I’m not particularly fond of this fictional life story variety of novel, but this on was quote worthwhile.

 

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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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