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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Four Book Reviews

Ron Chernow.  Washington, a Life.  November 2011    This came on 33 CDs.  The first half covers Washington’s life through the conclusion of the war with the British.  It’s an excellent account, memorable for its discourse on GW’s strengths and weaknesses as a general and the greatest of his accomplishments up to that time: keeping the army together for 8 ½  years.  It was his life after that that really fascinated me, because what seemed like normal activity and choices established so many strong precedents that are still with us today.  Simply resigning his commission at the end of the war could not have been more significant.  Even George III was impressed.  Our tripartite form of government was written down, in brief, in the Constitution, but the choices GW made and the interaction between him and the other two branches are what made this invention a reality of political life.  For example, it was the Bank Bill of Feb. 25, 1791 that established the concept of implied powers.  There were some things that surprised me.  I did not know that after all the damage Citizen Genet had caused, GW granted him asylum when he was recalled to France, probably to the guillotine.  And I was surprised that he addressed a letter to John Jay as “Chief Justice of the Supreme Court” instead of Chief Justice of the United States.  When our conservative members of Congress rail against Administration initiatives to improve infrastructure, invest in R&D and regulate commercial activity for the common good and propose we return to earlier days of small government, they might want to consider that it was GW, the Father of our Country, who gave full support, even leadership, to Hamilton’s project to develop a manufacturing hub at a site on the Passaic River in what is now Patterson, NJ.
Dean Koontz.  The Good Guy.  November 2011  Tim Carrier is sitting at the bar in his friend’s neighborhood establishment when a stranger walks in and sits down next to him.  When he says “Are you the guy?” Tim nods in puzzlement and the guy says “Here’s half; the other half when she’s gone,” puts an envelope on the bar, pushes it toward him and leaves.  He looks inside and finds $10,000 and a picture of a woman named Linda Paquette.  He pockets the picture and puts the envelope back on the bar.  A few minutes later another guy comes in, sits next to Tim and reaches for the envelope.  Tim says he’s changed his mind about the job and that you can keep what’s in the envelope for your trouble.  He hopes that ends the contract but goes to warn the woman.  It’s only the beginning.  The professional killer is a psychopath, who takes contracts from some sort of powerful organization which provides him with logistical support.  He takes other contracts as well and sometimes offs people just because he doesn’t like something as trivial as the books they read.  And the chase begins with Tim and Linda trying to stay alive.  Tim is able to draw on some prior experience which only becomes clear in the end.  Apparently Koontz likes conspiracy theories.  This one is a little farfetched but it makes for a great ride.
Henning Mankell.  The Dogs of Riga.  November 2011  It’s February 1991 when a liferaft with two well dressed bodies shot through their hearts drifts ashore in Detective Kurt Wallander’s jurisdiction.  After some investigation, it’s determined that the bodies are Latvian and a Detective Maj. Liepa is sent over to take custody of the bodies and responsibility for the case.  The night after he gets back to Riga, Liepa is murdered, and Riga asks that a Swedish detective be sent over to assist in the case.  Then the real action starts with all of the complications of Latvian independence and tripartite corruption among the police, the politicians and organized crime.  When an obviously innocent Latvian confesses to the murder of Liepa, Wallander’s services are no longer required, and he is on a plane home the next day.  Wallander is contacted by a Latvian exile who asks him to return to Riga incognito to help Liepa’s widow find the file the major had been building on police corruption and Soviet efforts to discredit the freedom movement to which the Liepas belonged.  It’s a real thriller.
Jodi Picoult.  The Tenth Circle.  November 2011 (Playaway)    The tenth circle is a modern addition to the nine circles of Dante’s Inferno.  After I got a ways into this I almost quit.  It concerns the rape of a 14 year old girl by the captain of the high school hockey team and the sexual mores of contemporary teens.  I’m glad I stayed with it.  Picoult reveals layer after layer of human emotion as she jerks the reader back and forth telling the story from the different perspectives of the parents, the police detective, the girl, and the boy.  Each time I thought I’d figured it all out she rearranged the stage set and revised the script.  Not as much fun as her Jacob in House Rules, but still a good read.  Maybe not fun at all, but I’m glad I read it.

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