Hunters in the Dark by Lawrence Osborne returns me to that ubiquitous state of ghosts, being invisible, multiple identities, wanderlust, and the other usual suspects in a current novel. Robert, a UK teacher, is traveling in Cambodia and neighboring countries. He becomes invisible by being another after an encounter with Simon, an ex pat American. Now that’s a switch. Robert being Simon takes on a tutoring job and things get even more bizarre. Surreal is best description so far. When Robert first arrived in Cambodia, he went to a casino and won some goodly amount of money. That money had bad karma as we soon learn and Robert fell into a rabbit hole, Alice had once willingly gone down. One misadventure followed another and events cascaded just as Karma would predict. The circle of life and death is more of a spiral and Robert is not back where he started but a level higher. It is a fascinating and wondrous journey Robert takes and one we can enjoy and view from a far.
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Last Bus to Wisdom by Ivan Doig introduces us to Donal at a very young age setting off on a bus adventure from his home with his grandmother near Glacier National Park to his great aunt’s house in Wisconsin. He is not happy about it. He is a storyteller. He has lots of stories he tells his fellow travellers. They are all different and they are all lies. He has quite the imagination. When he arrives at his grandmother’s sister’s town in Wisconsin, Donny thinks his Aunt Kate Smith is the famous singer. Herman, her second husband serves Donny well in his new temporary home. Herman and Kate have marital problems and Herman joins Donny on his forced exile from Wisconsin by Kate. They both do a Huck Finn and light out for the territory. As Herman says they are somewhere south of the moon and north of Hell.
Dogs appear in this novel as well, since Donny and then Herman spend time on the dog bus, Greyhound, tom get around on their journeys. One trick Herman teaches Donny is Fingerspitzengefühl, using the finger to select a destination for a trip, something I often do. The old ore sailor and the young cowpoke head West on a dog bus. Adventures abound as they enjoy a powwow, Yellowstone, and haying. It is a coming of age story for more than a boy. It is about compromises and deals and big ideas and living a dream.
Doig lived his dream of being a writer and a darn good one. Many will miss his stories. Doig died in April 2015.
Friday, January 22, 2016
Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving is for the dogs. It is about being bilingual, bicultural, binational, bisected, bedeviled. I remember fondly a day in my life as a teacher in NYC. Two students were conversating. One was speaking in Mandarin while the other was speaking in English. Well, that’s what this novel is like. Juan Diego lives in two places, his youth in Mexico and his middle age in Iowa. It makes us, the reader, have to really pay attention, because we are constantly shuffled between the two places and not surprisingly, they seem to join as one.
In Mexico, Juan Diego was a dump kid scavenging, who has the ability to read, which is his salvation as he becomes an adult who is a writer living in Iowa. Shuffling back and forth fills in gaps and entertains us with his sister, Lupe, Virgins, religion, angels, ghosts, prostitutes, a circus, and dogs, dogs everywhere and in everyone’s story. We are in Juan’s post Mexico life and he is a successful writer and we learn of his Mexico life in his dreams. So we aren’t always sure where we are at times as we, too, flow between now and then within Juan Diego’s dreams. It is as if everyone is a ghost since Juan Diego is in constant dream status unless he is actually in the real world for those conscious moments to help us catch up or take a break. Surreal is perhaps the best word to describe this wonderfully whimsical novel about death by a master of whimsy.
Monday, January 18, 2016
Never Go Back by Lee Child continues the quest to find the woman behind the voice, Susan Turner, Major in charge of his old unit in Virginia. From last book to this one, we are entertained with a quick recap of his journey, which is fun and fanciful in that he gets around by hitchhiking. Hitchhiking? Not happening anymore, which is too bad. The extinction of the hitchhiker tells us so much about us. I remember getting around the east coast when I was 17 until I joined the Army and even hitchhiked in Nam. Hitchhiking was a social networking kind of exercise. Now we have Uber.
Oh yay, Jack. He is on the stairs up to his old office to finally meet the voice in his old office. It’s like a dream. Upon entering he sees an old male Light Bird. After shock, the dream goes nightmare. He is suddenly unretired and back in the Army and under this guy’s command. Where is Susan Turner, the voice?
Get your retaliation in first. Now that’s a mantra to live by.
Even when Jack is in jail, he is in control. He finds Turner and they bust out in remarkable style. It was all worth it, to Jack to have found Turner and something else living in LA. He finds his ATM, a burning meth lab, lots of money and a car, a red Corvette. Turner drives. Now they have to solve the problem they both are in.
Bogus charges of course to set something else up, but what and why? The most troubling of all is that Jack may have a fifteen-year-old daughter out there and he just learns about this. Is the girl bait? If so bad move, very bad move. It doesn’t matter if she is or isn’t his daughter, little girls should never be used as bait, especially when it involves Jack Reacher. Those false charges against him might become real in this case if he finds, if? Haha, he’ll find them and then watch out. Oh and what they did to Turner. Get your retaliation in first.
Another crime based on the use of drugs. This time pure opium from the source and used in a cultured society using Shakespeare and Wordsworth and De Quincey to set the stage for a proper gentleman’s exit.
On the road again alone.
Friday, January 15, 2016
The Company She Kept by Archer Mayor returns me to Vermont and a case of murder that Joe Gunther of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation must solve. The case he has caught is a doosey. It is familial, in that it involves someone he knew and who was know by many around him. Joe has a love life and again those around him are familiar with it and some with whom he loved. One is the governor and her best friend and we discover a lesbian lover as well is murdered and then left to make it look like a hate crime because the word “dyke” is etched into her chest with a knife and left hanging on the interstate at a popular and beautiful overlook.
The murderer has tried to make it look like a crazy misanthrope and misogynist is responsible. When that fails drug dealers are framed. It the end it all comes down to money, where it comes from and why it is needed. This is a haunting mystery about family, love for family, and what we do for family. Funny that since it is not into a family we have much control, but we do about our friends and lovers. So what does that say about us? Rarely are murders committed by folks we don’t know, except all of a sudden that seems to be the case as we are now inundated with too many murders by folks with too much fire power. What does that say about us? Now that Northeast Vermont has been soiled, what’s left?
“Ninety-nine times out of hundred, crimes come down to love, hate, or money, and unlike what it says in the bible, the greatest of these is money.”
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Crimson Shore by Preston and Child is another Agent A. X. L. Pendergast adventure. Pendergast is idle and an intriguing case of some missing wine peaks his interest because of the rarity of the wine itself. He is not on a case for the FBI, so he figures he can do some moonlighting as a private investigator is a small isolated village on the Massachusetts coast in a town called Exmouth, a short distance north of Salem and south of Newburyport. The crime occurs in an old and important abandoned lighthouse. The new owners of the lighthouse, a sculptor and his companion have renovated the old lighthouse and lighthouse keeper’s home into his workshop and home. He has collected a very extensive and valuable wine collection that is stolen one weekend when they are in Boston on a cultural weekend. His pay will merely be one bottle of a very very rare bottle of wine.
Soon we discover this is more than just the case of some missing wine. A body of a man is found buried behind one of the walls supporting one of the racks of wine. The missing wine is just a red herring to the real crime and horror that body will reveal. The first crime happened in Salem with the witch trials of the 1690’s and the escape of witches to the marshes of Exmouth. The next crime happened in the 1880’s when a steamer was lured onto the rocks so that the now poor and helpless residents could get some money from a wrecked ship. The third and horrendous crime of today involves mass murders. Pendergast and his assistant, Constance Green set out to solve this mystery and almost die for their efforts, except in the end we are not so sure of Pendergast’s survival.
Again to solve this mystery and to give us dramatic clarity of the past, Pendergast uses his skills with Chong Ran, a trance he puts himself into to see into the past. This is a lovely dramatic skill our authors use with Pendergast, just as Shakespeare uses a character to come on stage and fill us in on lots of action we do not need to see and make a play go longer than two hours.
This becomes a ghoulish romp through the marshes and once again our authors use an old Sherlock Holmes tale, The Hound of the Baskervilles as a reference to this story. There are many similarities that help us along in our own minds.
Crimson Shore is a wonderfully told story of a ghastly event that took place yesterday and continues into today.
Friday, January 8, 2016
Master of the Prado by Javier Sierra is a memoir, an account of his discovery of art. I was immediately drawn in because of my college art history classes at Skidmore. I had an art history professor who would go to Europe during the summer and take Kodachrome slides of masterpieces various European museums. He had an incredible cache of slides he would use in class and unlock their secrets just as Doctor Fovel does with Sierra in the early 90’s in the Prado. What I learned in my art history classes has stayed with me as I taught English and now as I tour the great museums of Europe and America. So much culture, history, and beauty reveal themselves in these pages. This is a good example of “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” This is a personal journey and reflection, which are the best things to read IMHO.
The mysteries imbedded in art are the most magical ones. In art history we learned how masterpieces were actually marriage contracts, depictions of agreements made by one ruler with another, attempts to understand some religious event, accounts of the battles between life and death. We know the names of these masters and how they are all connected in some kind of bizarre or supernatural way. But above all are the secrets these paintings hold. We know the paintings; we use them in English class to augment a poem or short story or novel. When we look at the symbols littering those old Flemish or Italian or Spanish painters we are left with mouths agape at what they mean. We are captivated by the stories, the myths, the mysteries these paintings hold. We are held by the stories of the paintings, the dissection of the parts of them, the symbols embedded in them. Sierra’s tale is such a story of enchantment and intrigue as we, each of us, seek truths and evidence about our faith or lack of it. Just as I have been intrigued about art since my early art history days and then as I read more and visit these museums, I find myself more of one of those believers of how everything is connected. How often has one thing we know connected up with something we learn made us jump to another level of our own inquiry about life and death? This book has enthralled me only as a few before it have.
This book belongs in the collection of books of secrets and intellect: The Swerve by Stephan Greenblatt; The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco; and even The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. If these books captured you, then The Master of the Prado will excite and stimulate you.
Tuesday, January 5, 2016
Wanted Man by Lee Child finds Jack Reacher in the middle of an FBI, CIA, anti terrorism undercover job just by hitchhiking. He was in Nebraska hitchhiking to Virginia to meet the lady at the other end of the phone at Langley. He had nowhere else to be, never does. He liked her voice. The 57th car picked him up heading east with two men and a woman in the back seat. He joined her. All three were dressed like they were in musical group. Jack’s cop senses go to work and he knows he is in a situation, but not exactly what kind of situation, good or bad and eventually surmises it is not good. After a couple of roadblocks and an botched attempt on his life, Jack is abandoned at a motel and that is where it gets bizarre. He connects up with an Omaha FBI agent, Karen Sorenson and they begin to try to solve the crime, which is so convoluted. The crime is a dead guy in a pumping station in the middle of nowhere in Nebraska. The guys who picked him up are responsible for the death, but why is the question.
In a former motel in the middle of nowhere in Kansas, which has barbed wire around it, just like a prison. Reacher is reunited with many of the characters we have already met or know about. This is where he begins to learn some answers and they aren’t satisfying. And he is given strict instructions not to talk to anyone about anything concerning the case. Jack hates rules, as we know. This is for his own safety and Jack takes care of himself, as we know. And everyone else with some help from others when needed. All done, he’s back on the road to find the voice at the other end of the phone.
Oh and one more fact about the 1960 World Series, Mr. Reacher. A member of the losing team won the Series, MVP: Bobby Richardson for getting six RBI’s in one game, which was tied by another Yankee, Hideki Matsui in 2009.
One, two, three, four…. No a’s to hundred and one, an amazing trick.
Friday, January 1, 2016
The Curse of Jacob Tracy by Holly Messinger is her debut novel. It, too, has something to do with newspapers like Numero Zero, but in a different way. The newspaper in this tale is the tool of a demon that uses them to predict deaths that it then carries out. Our hero, Jacob Tracy sees things that others don’t, like spirits and other supernatural things. He was in the Civil War and trained to be a priest but gave that up. After the war he and his partner, Boz, used to protect wagon trains going west from St Louis, but that business dried up and he was hired by another spiritualist, Miss Fairweather to help her locate and get rid of demons. They are ghost hunters in the 1880’s. We encounter all sorts of ghouls, goblins, werewolves, bloodsuckers, and evil. It is eye opening and amazing that all around us these specters exist; we just don’t see them as Tracy and Fairweather do.
This is Tarantino on steroids. The action and gratuitous killings and deaths we have grown to love and hate in a Tarantino film is what our Ms. Messinger provides in print. She provides different scenarios in the novel as Quentin provides chapters in his movies. I hope he picks up this novel cause he is the only one to do it as a movie. I can’t wait for the next in the series.