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Friday, January 2, 2015

Star of Istanbul; Descartes's Meditations on First Philosophy; Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy; Trapeze; and Heat Lightning (Virgil Flowers No. 2)

Joseph Olen Butler.  Star of Istanbul.   © 2013  Christopher Marlowe Cobb, a foreign correspondent, is co-opted by the US Secret Service to follow Walter Brauer, a suspected German agent, and Greek American silent film actress Selene Bourgani, who may also be working for the Kaiser.   Cobb gets to know Selene intimately as the Lusitania cruises toward Ireland.  When the ship is torpedoed, Cobbs helps Selene survive the sinking.  Cobb turns out to be a very resourceful agent.  He tails Brauer and Selene in London and then follows them to Istanbul.  It turns out Selene is actually Armenian and is pretending to cooperate with the Germans, who are allied with the Turks, to get an opportunity to assassinate the Pasha in  revenge for what the Turks have done to the Armenians throughout Turkey.  Cobb lends a hand.  I like the WW I setting, but this was a little hokey.  December 2014
Rene Descartes.  Meditations on First Philosophy.  This is six meditations over six days intended to prove that God exists and that the soul is separate and distinct from the body.  The way he lays out his arguments is interesting, and it may or may not convince you.  In college, and perhaps in high school as well, the Jesuits tried to persuade me that Descartes was at least wrong, if not evil.  As that key phrase, “Cogito Ergo Sum,” was presented, Descartes was supposedly saying that his thinking caused his existence.  As he explains clearly in is meditations, it was nothing of the sort.  Instead he was arguing that because he is thinking, he knows he exists.  December 2014

Eri Hotta.   Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy© 2013  After researching reams of original documents, the author dispels the self-perpetuating myth that military took over leadership and was entirely responsible for Japanese aggression and the attack of Pearl Harbor in 1941.  Actually civilian and military leaders met more than 70 times to discuss the issue; civilians deluded themselves and went along, perhaps in the hope that events would over take them in some way and avoid the war which almost everyone believed would lead to a disastrous defeat.  There is an interesting interview with the author in the YouTube clip below:

Simon Mawer.  Trapeze© 2012  Marion Sutro is the daughter of an English father and a French mother.  She was spent much of her childhood in Geneva, where her father worked for the League of Nations.  She is fluent in French and English, both the languages and the cultures.  In the early days of WW II she is working as a WAAF when she is called for an interview with an agency that won’t even identify itself.  After several interviews, she is recruited as an agent, trained at secret sites and parachuted into southern France.  She has her routine duties with the underground, but she also has a special assignment to persuade a childhood friend from Geneva to leave his laboratory in Paris to work on the atomic bomb at Cambridge.  In the course of arranging his pickup, she kills two German counter espionage agents.  When the plane lands for the pickup, her friend expects her to get aboard with him.  She elects to stay in France and continue with her clandestine assignment.  There’s lots of tradecraft and lots of excitement throughout the novel.  It’s a good read.  December 2014

John Sandford.  Heat Lightning.  (Virgil Flowers No. 2)  © 2009  Flowers goes about his job as a senior investigator in the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in a sport coat, a T shirt with the logo of some band, denims and cowboy boots.  There’s often a boat hooked up to the back of his van.  There’s always a whole armory inside the van in case he needs something, but he rarely carries a sidearm unless he thinks he’s going to have to shoot someone.  This time there’s a serial killer murdering veterans and leaving their bodies at veterans’ memorials, always with a lemon slice in the mouth.  A little research tells Flowers that the lemon in the mouth was something Vietnamese executioners did to stifle the cries of their victims.  As always in Sandford novels, there’s a complicated plot, and this one involves retribution for a war crime in Vietnam.  The dialog is clever and funny, and this alone would make this a great read.  December 2014

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