Tuesday, August 17, 2004

"Close to Home" by Peter Robinson review

Peter Robinson’s "Close to Home" is a gem…one sensational read. Reading it is like watching an exquisite ballplayer at work…he makes the writing look so easy that only a thoughtful examination will clue you in as to how ingenious the writing is.

Chief Inspector Alan Banks is called home from vacation when a body dumped in 1965 is unearthed. Turns out the body is that of Graham Marshall, a boyhood pal of CI Banks.

In his own district, Banks is investigating a missing person, turned kidnapping, turned homicide. The victim is a teenager, about the same age as was Graham Marshall when he disappeared.

"They were linked in his mind in some odd way. Not technically, of course. But two very different boys from very different times had ended up dead before their time, and both had died violently."

Banks has able assistants in both cases: Michelle Hart in the Marshall case and Annie Cabbot on the current case.

The police procedural on both matters is detailed, captivating and all three detectives have an instinct for crime solving.

Banks is a keen observer of humanity and a man of integrity…a marvelous protagonist. In each case the whydunit will uncover whodunit.

I plan to go back and read the entire series. This is the first British mystery that has grabbed my attention in forever.

The pages absolutely glided by.

Curmudgeon in the Wry 272

Wednesday, August 18, 2004—595 Words---Average reading time: 2-minutes, 05 seconds
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Rave: Chris Noel
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Rave: The Central Florida YMCA opening its doors to hurricane victims offering "hot showers and air conditioning"---at no charge.
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Rave: One of the guys who swims at the same aquatic center as I do owns three upscale hotels in prime Disney/Universal territory knocked the rate to a third ($42.50) for Florida residents needing a place to stay…and the kids eat free.
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Rave: Cannot believe how quickly Publix refilled its shelves with water and batteries. Home Depot reloading as fast as the trucks arrive. Both outlets restocking around the clock.
Rave: Equally remarkable is just how promptly the county got the traffic lights working. However, they are way out of sync. No matter, getting them running was a yeoman’s effort.
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Rant: Looters should be shot on sight…and a medal given to the marksman.
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Rant: The price gougers should be incarcerated immediately and lost in the system for a couple of weeks. It is extortion and ought to be treated as such.
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Rave: Peter Robinson’s "Close to Home" is a gem…one sensational read. Reading it is like watching an exquisite ballplayer at work…he makes the writing look so easy that only a thoughtful examination will clue you in as to how ingenious the writing is.
Chief Inspector Alan Banks is called home from vacation when a body dumped in 1965 is unearthed. Turns out the body is that of Graham Marshall, a boyhood pal of CI Banks.
In his own district, Banks is investigating a missing person, turned kidnapping, turned homicide. The victim is a teenager, about the same age as was Graham Marshall when he disappeared.
"They were linked in his mind in some odd way. Not technically, of course. But two very different boys from very different times had ended up dead before their time, and both had died violently."
Banks has able assistants in both cases: Michelle Hart in the Marshall case and Annie Cabbot on the current case. The police procedural on both matters is detailed, captivating and all three detectives have an instinct for crime solving.
Banks is a keen observer of humanity and a man of integrity…a marvelous protagonist. In each case the whydunit will uncover whodunit.
I plan to go back and read the entire series. This is the first British mystery that has grabbed my attention in forever. The pages absolutely glided by.
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Rant: When you drive around the gym parking lot for ten minutes looking for the closest spot, clearly the whole gym concept has eluded you.
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Quote: "Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." ---E.L Doctorow
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Rant: The happiest ending in some movies is when those seated near you are finished eating their popcorn.
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Hmmmm: Looking through my history books, I simply do not find instances where nations planned the aftermath prior to engaging in war.
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Rant: With all of the news in the world, I just cannot understand why 50 percent of the TV coverage is about an alleged rape and two murders. It shows how the media perceives its audience.
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Free advice: To the USA Basketball team coaches—next Olympics, bring a point guard!
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Rant: I thought we watched TV shows to escape reality, not see it.
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Born this day: Jill St. John, Willie Shoemaker, Malcomb Forbes, Ogden Nash, Orville Wright, Gene Roddenberry, Coco Chanel, Debra Paget.
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That is all.
As you were.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Charley---Just west of Orlando

Somebody Up There Likes Me
I am most fortunate to have dodged a bullet.
Branch, limb and some damage to ornamentals are all I suffered. It will take some more time to clean up the mess...took about four hours to clear the driveway and a small area beside it.
My immediate area (two houses each way) had the same result---just a mess, but no damage to property or person.
The power went out a little before 9 PM on Friday the thirteenth. It was scary before that with the roar of the wind. The media did a superb job of getting out the word that this would be serious.
In fact, the Infinity stations all simulcasted the local Fox TV affiliate's hurricane coverage. That was great, as all that I had was a portable radio and a flashlight.
They say there are no atheists in foxholes---I think the same applies to hurricanes.
Saturday morning started the ongoing cleanup project. Low tech for me, as I would never endanger myself by using a chain saw.
About midday it was almost surreal when an Orange County Sheriff's Department patrol car rolled thru the area using its loudspeaker to broadcast, "All Windermere residents are to go inside their homes. Progress Energy will begin working to restore power within the hour. We want all residents away from any downed power lines." I felt like Montag in "Fahrenheit 451."
I was an obedient citizen. But, after about an hour and a half I saw that it was business as usual outside with traffic and people cleaning up.
So I finally got in my car and ventured out to see the damage in the area. I probably covered an area ten blocks by six blocks. It was devastating to see fifty-year-old oaks uprooted like tinker toys, pine trees that looked like matchsticks.
My overwhelming impression was just how both arbitrary and random the damage was. One house would have a tree thru the roof---next door was undamaged---the next house would have a tree down that fell away from the house.
Exactly one block from my house a neighbor had a pine go down that set off a chain reaction knocking down two more huge pines---the final pine knocked over a very mature oak that crashed into a wonderful old Florida cottage style home made of Dade County pine.
It was impossible to drive more than about three blocks before a downed tree made you detour left or right. Going from point A to point B was like navigating a maze.
I must say that it is remarkable how quickly Progress Energy got power back. I was down only 36 1/2 hours. It will be up to two weeks in some areas.
Equally as remarkable is how quickly the roads have been cleared. The emergency crews were ready.
It was an intimidating experience as a hurricane has majestic power. I went thru my first Florida hurricane in 1960 and never have I seen devastation like this. The Orlando area may not have been ground zero, but it was close enough---and closeness counts in hurricanes.
I have counted my blessings and given thanks informally and formally. I and those in my immediate area were more than lucky.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Review "Black" by Christopher Whitcomb

If you enjoy the black helicopter, conspiracy theory, paranoid thrillers, then Christopher Whitcomb’s "Black" is right up your alley.

Mr. Whitcomb writes what he knows. He spent fifteen years in the FBI…as a sniper on Hostage Rescue, an interrogation instructor and director of intelligence for the Critical Incident Response Group.

The plot centers upon telecom billionaire Jordan Mitchell, whose latest high-tech cell phone has a new encryption model so advanced it will take the NSA at least a year to map it.

Mitchell’s game plan to roll out the phones in the Mideast prompts many in the U.S. government to accuse him of putting profits ahead of patriotism. This phone will compromise the U.S. ability to gather intel on the terrorists.

There are three additional main players.

The HRT connection is Jeremy Waller, a rookie, always at the top of his class.

Senator Elizabeth Beecham who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee has Mitchell squarely in her sights.

The sexy Sirad Malneaux who works for Mitchell in his Atlanta office is a spy…who controls her, and is she perhaps a double or even a triple agent?

These four swirl in an intense eddy, eventually converging in this high stakes game.

To give away more plot points would sabotage your personal theories and predictions.

If you find yourself bewildered, perplexed or disoriented as the plot unfolds…at the resolution you will realize you were meant to feel that way.

So---read, hypothesize and enjoy a genuine electrifying ride.

Curmudgeon in the Wry #271

Thursday, August 12, 2004—508 words---Average reading time: 1-minute, 48 seconds
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Rave: Artie Shaw
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Rant: It’s the price of gas at the pump, stupid!
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Hmmmmm: Do home schoolers have to go somewhere else to do their homework?
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Quote: "The first twenty-five years of life contain the whole of experience…the rest is observation." ---Graham Greene.
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Rant: Why does a ringing telephone always take precedence over a customer paying cash?
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Rave: Turner Classic Movies’ "Summer Under the Sun" with a different Hollywood star featured all day long.
The day devoted to Jean Harlow was a great treat. The featurette on Harlow’s life hosted by Sharon Stone was poignant and spectacular.
Jean Harlow could crack wise with the best of them.
"Dinner at Eight" remains my absolute favorite Harlow movie. The final scene with Marie Dressler and Jean Harlow is a faultless classic. Dressler’s double take when Harlow’s character says, "I was reading a book the other day" is unmatched on the screen.
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Rant: Why did the media decide to replace the perfectly good word "disappeared" with the phrase "went missing?"
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Political wisdom: Ben Affleck's judgment: The same guy who is telling us Kerry will be a good president also thought "Gigli" was a great script.
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Rave: If you enjoy the black helicopter, conspiracy theory, paranoid thrillers, then Christopher Whitcomb’s "Black" is right up your alley.
Mr. Whitcomb writes what he knows. He spent fifteen years in the FBI…as a sniper on Hostage Rescue, an interrogation instructor and director of intelligence for the Critical Incident Response Group.
The plot centers upon telecom billionaire Jordan Mitchell whose latest high-tech cell phone has a new encryption model so advanced it will take the NSA at least a year to map it.
Mitchell’s game plan to roll out the phones in the Mideast prompts many in the U.S. government to accuse him of putting profits ahead of patriotism. This phone will compromise the U.S. ability to gather intel on the terrorists.
There are three additional main players.
The HRT connection is Jeremy Waller, a rookie, always at the top of his class.
Senator Elizabeth Beecham who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee has Mitchell squarely in her sights.
The sexy Sirad Malneaux who works for Mitchell in his Atlanta office is a spy…who controls her, and is she perhaps a double or even a triple agent?
These four swirl in an intense eddy, eventually converging in this high stakes game.
To give away more plot points would sabotage your personal theories and predictions.
If you find yourself bewildered, perplexed or disoriented as the plot unfolds…at the resolution you will realize you were meant to feel that way.
So---read, hypothesize and enjoy a genuine electrifying ride.
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Rant: I have tried as hard as I can to like the John McEnroe Show on CNBC---but have been totally unsuccessful. That show has more problems than a new desk can correct.
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Born this day: George Hamilton, Pete Sampras, John Derek, Jane Wyatt, Cecil B. DeMille, Buck Owens, Mark Knopfler.
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That is all
As you were.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Curmudgeon in the Wry #270

Friday, August 06, 2004—544 Words---Average reading time: 1-minute, 48 seconds
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Rave: The Falcon
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Hall of Fame Rave: Right turn on red.
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Rave: I am all for CAPPS II. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.
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Rant: Michael Moore needs bodyguards? Who would have guessed?
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Recommendation: When you say, "to make a long story short," please do so
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Quote: ""The guy waving with the cell phone [at the ballpark] has become this year's John 3:16 guy with the rainbow hair," Bill Stetka, Orioles media relations.
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Rant: Terrorists are weapons of mass destruction.
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No such thing: Les fat, more flavor.
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Rave: Vince Flynn is as fine a thriller writer as there is today. His prescient "Memorial Day" is an incredibly detailed and persuasive novel on the CIA’s counter-terrorism war.
CIA counter-terrorism agent/assassin Mitch Rapp leads a highly successful lightning raid into Pakistan that uncovers an al Qaeda nuclear plot.
Using a combination of non-politically correct methods on the captured, Rapp extracts info stating that within seven days attacks will be launched against the president, his cabinet, armed forces leaders and foreign dignitaries.
Rapp is the CIA’s "Dirty Harry" with no time for due process. However he must overcome colliding egos, agendas, political philosophies in high places while leading the effort to thwart the attacks.
Vacillating politicos, obstructionist presidential sycophants and an ambitious liberal civil rights lawyer are just as bothersome to Rapp’s undertaking as are the al Qaeda.
Rapp is a fascinating character full of contradictions; capable of non-emotional violence and possessing admirable patriotism.
The plot packs a real kick, is full of surprises and populated with well-drawn characters.
Mr. Flynn distinguishes between the murderous terrorists and the peaceful, devout Muslims.
"Memorial Day" draws on today’s hot-button issues: citizen’s rights, captured prisoners’ treatment, government secrecy and homeland security…all in a believable manner.
Two guarantees: you will not be able to put this book down…and when you finish this cliffhanger, you will pray we have guys like Mitch Rapp on the front lines.
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Lest you forget: They do not know what they would do without you, but they will think of something if they have to.
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Movie wisdom: "You get what you settle for." ---Thelma and Louise
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Sound advice: Never leave your keys in the pocket of a checked coat.
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Truism: No meeting is effective that lasts beyond one hour---unless it is a training session.
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Truism II: The store brand sucks.
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Hmmmm: The impossible often isn’t.
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Rant: I am really worn out by people answering a question with, "That is good question."
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Just wondering: How can you tell if a cartoon family’s picture is a photo or a portrait?
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Oh so true: The photos in recruiting brochures never reflect real life on the job.
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No excuses: Never leave misspellings in any document that leaves your office…including e-mail. With spell-check there is no justification for any word to be misspelled.
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Self-evident truth: Clothes do not make you look fat. Fat makes you look fat.
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Quote: "Good people are not hard to find; they are hard to keep." ---George Perkins
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Born this day: Laverne Andrews, Pat Paulsen, George W. Bush, Dalai Lama, Ned Beatty, Burt Ward, Della Reese, Janet Leigh, Nancy Reagan, Bill Haley.
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That is all.
As you were.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

"The Madman's Tale" by John Katzenbach Review

John Katzenbach has assembled an authentic "Cuckoo’s Nest" of characters inside Western State Mental Hospital in his chilling thriller, "The Madman’s Tale."

Narrator (C-Bird), both witness and schizophrenic whose hold on mental normalcy and self-preservation is tenuous, revisits the nightmare that took place twenty years ago. His narrative rotates between present day in first person and his third person memories.

In 1979 a rape/murder inside the asylum brings in prosecuting attorney Lucy Jones (who has three unsolveds with similar profiles) to investigate. Lucy herself is a victim of a similar malicious crime.

Her initial act is unorthodox; enlisting two inmates (C-Bird and Peter the Fireman) to aid her as "they are the only ones I am certain are not guilty." Creating additional tension is a minimally cooperative and reluctant hospital management.

Uncovering the killer hiding inside the institution is a most intriguing premise. There are no rules for pursuing a murderer in a mental institution where "the mad know the truth and the sane cannot comprehend it."

The serial killer circles around them, committing two additional murders during the investigation.

Mr. Katzenbach creates an uneasy atmosphere filled with evil, darkness and an engrossing sense of foreboding.

The unfortunate, unlikely heroes are sympathetic characters that you worry and care about. You cannot anticipate what will happen next.

This tale will linger in your mind long after the final page. It commands your attention and has a terrific conclusion.

Curmudgeon in the Wry # 269

Sunday, August 01, 2004—564 Words---Average reading time: 1-minute, 48 seconds
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Rave: Sugarland
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Hmmmm: When a funeral director has a body in his hearse, does he qualify to use the HOV lane?
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Rave: "De-Lovely" is just as entertaining the second time around. Hard for me to believe the two hours it runs actually take 120 minutes.
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Rant: When did "shove it" become a vulgarity? Did I miss the memo?
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Rave: More candidates, spouses and people in general need to tell rude reporters to shove it.
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Rant: Hollywood is filming a remake of "The Longest Yard," starring (get this) Adam Sandler. Does not sound like "The Longest Yard" I remember.
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Quote: "I see more McCarthy than Murrow in the work of Michael Moore. No matter how hot a blowtorch burns, it doesn't shed much light." ---Scott Simon, NPR's "Weekend Edition Saturday".
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Rave: John Katzenbach has assembled an authentic "Cuckoo’s Nest" of characters inside Western State mental Hospital in his chilling thriller, "The Madman’s Tale."
Narrator (C-Bird), both witness and schizophrenic whose hold on mental normalcy and self-preservation is tenuous, revisits the nightmare that took place twenty years ago. His narrative rotates between present day in first person and his third person memories.
In 1979 a rape/murder inside the asylum brings in prosecuting attorney Lucy Jones (who has three unsolveds with similar profiles) to investigate. Lucy herself is a victim of a similar malicious crime.
Her initial act is unorthodox; enlisting two inmates (C-Bird and Peter the Fireman) to aid her as "they are the only ones I am certain are not guilty." Creating additional tension is a minimally cooperative and reluctant hospital management.
Uncovering the killer hiding inside the institution is a most intriguing premise. There are no rules for pursuing a murderer in a mental institution where "the mad know the truth and the sane cannot comprehend it."
The serial killer circles around them, committing two additional murders during the investigation.
Mr. Katzenbach creates an uneasy atmosphere filled with evil, darkness and an engrossing sense of foreboding.
The unfortunate, unlikely heroes are sympathetic characters that you worry and care about. You cannot anticipate what will happen next.
This tale will linger in your mind long after the final page. It commands your attention and has a terrific conclusion.
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‘Tis true: If you do not think God has a sense of humor, stand near the checkout line at Wal-Mart for an hour.
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Hmmmm: So the Miss America Pageant is doing away with the talent competition. This could spell the end to baton twirling, as we now know it.
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Truism: They may not be making any more land, but they sure are making a lot more condos.
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Rant: What is with all the cars and "vehicles" with the school bus yellow paint jobs? Why would someone purposely want his or her car to look like a New York taxi?
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Democratic philosophy: John McCain is a noble independent thinker for refusing to toe his party's line, but Zell Miller is a traitor for refusing to toe his.
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Just asking: Would a newly elected President Kerry pardon Sandy Berger for stealing classified documents from the National Archives?
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Rant: If morning drive traffic frustrates you and you are late for work every day, try leaving 15 minutes earlier.
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Born this day: Jerry Garcia, Yves Saint Laurent, Herman Melville, Francis Scott Key.
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That is all.
As you were.