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Friday, December 20, 2013

Sunset Limited; Six Years; Havana Nocturne; Joseph Anton, A Memoir; and Superman

James Lee Burke.  Sunset Limited.  ©1998  Robicheaux 10.   This makes 11 novels that I have read in the Robicheaux series of 20, and they are becoming formulaic.  Nevertheless his musing about good and evil and the antics of his fat friend Clete continue to amuse.  I am getting tired of the odor of testosterone and under arms with and without deodorant.  In this one he solves the 40 year old murder of a labor organizer and takes down still another rich guy along with a number of button men.  Actually the rich guy lives on but with the knowledge that his daughter was murdered by a killer he had hired to murder someone else.  December 2013
Harlan Coben.  Six Years.  ©2013   Six years ago Jake Fisher had a torrid summer affair with Natalie Avery, while he was at a writers’ retreat in Vermont finishing his dissertation and she was at a neighboring retreat for artists.  At the end of the summer she invites him to her wedding to Todd, who seems to have come out of nowhere, and asks Jake never to try to contact them again.  Jake continues to carry the torch for Natalie but keeps his promise.  While meeting with a student in his office at the small college where he teaches political science, Jake notices an obituary for Todd on the college’s website.  He decides to go to the funeral and pay his respects to Natalie.  At the funeral it turns out that Todd was married to someone else and had teenage children, that Todd was a pillar of his community, and that Todd was murdered.  Jake asks a friend who has FBI connections to try to find Natalie.  There is no trace of her anywhere.  Then Jake is kidnapped by two guys in a van, who are prepared to torture him to find out where Natalie is.  Jake kills the torturer by breaking his neck and rolls out of the moving van and escapes.  Later he learns that he has killed a famous hit man and that the driver of the van is the right hand man of a New York mob boss.  This is only the beginning.  The plot is ingenious, as it always is with Coben, and keeps one guessing right to the very end.  December 2013
T. J. English.  Havana Nocturne.   ©2008   This is a history of the Mafia’s involvement in Cuba and its corrupt relationship with Batista.  The main player for the mob was Meyer Lansky, who was absolutely brilliant in balancing the competing interests of the many factions in the mob and in Batista’s government, all the while enriching himself as he built one hotel and casino after another.  The big mistake of all the players was to under estimate Fidel Castro, who seized power in 1959 and ended the party.  Interesting bits and pieces:  1. During WW II German saboteurs were disrupting shipments of military supplies to Europe and North Africa.  Charlie Lucky Luciano got out of prison by making a deal with the Feds to have his people on the docks find them and shut them down 2. Afro Cuban jazz spread throughout the US in venues owned by the mob, the Cotton Club in Harlem for one, and eventually melded with New Orleans and the blues to become the mainstream.  3. Meyer Lansky’s take on Ginger Rogers at 46: “She can wiggle her ass, but she can’t sing a note.”  December 2013
Salmon Rushdie.  Joseph Anton, A Memoir.  ©2012  This is Rushdie’s memoire of the years that he was under Khomeini’s fatwa.  Joseph Anton was his pseudonym, Joseph from Joseph Conrad and Anton from Anton Chekov. He was protected by the Special Branch until the Iranians found it was in their interest to withdraw the fatwa.  Much of the book is devoted to the nuts and bolts of living under the threat of death from any one of one billion Muslims and Rushdie’s efforts to get the UK and other governments to pressure the Iranians.  He also had to fight off efforts by both Labor and Tory MPs to reduce or withdraw his protection because it was costing British tax payers, and he had to stand up to senior officers in the Special Branch, who wanted to keep the protection job simple by denying him opportunities to appear in public.  This could have been tedious, but Rushdie takes us through the literary world – he knows everyone – and into politics and foreign affairs in Britain and the US and the EU, and he proved himself an eloquent spokesman for freedom of expression. There is much too much of his personal life, four wives altogether, but his dedication to his son and the efforts he made to keep up their relationship under difficult circumstances tells us a lot about the man.  I was a little conflicted as I plodded through 22 disks, but in the end I was glad I did.  I came away with a much better understanding of what Rushdie is all about  and why he is so highly thought of by so many of the lions of the literary scene.  December 2013
Larry Tye.  Superman.  ©2012   This is the story of Superman from the 1930s, when he was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, to the present.  The subject might seem a bit trivial, but there is a huge amount of social history wrapped up in the man of steel’s cape.  The comic and its spinoffs into radio, TV and film were big business and made big money, and it was also a social force which had considerable influence on its target audience of boys and some girls between about 10 and 16, many of whom kept on reading and watching Superman through their whole lives.  Superman was by far the preferred reading material of our troops in WW II.  The nuts and bolts of the comics industry are worth the price of admission all by themselves.  To start, two porn publishers got the rights to Superman away from Siegel and Schuster before the first issue was printed.  After that the creators were just on salary and eventually eased out altogether.  I was prepared for this after reading Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, a fictional account of a writer and artist who lost the rights to their original creation.  Another area of interest is the struggle to keep the story line coherent, particularly when it got to the point when there were three sets of writers, one each for the comic, for film and for TV series.  Superman first flew in 1940 and first changed in a phone booth in 1941.  He never killed his adversaries, and he was inoculated against objections to violence by his opposition to the clan.  He couldn’t serve in the military in WW II because Clark Kent failed the eye test – with his x-ray vision he mistakenly read the eye chart in the room next door.  The best line in the book is an epitaph by one of the writers: “Here lies Mort Weisinger, as usual.”  December 2013

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