Monday, December 16, 2013

We're in Big Trouble Now...

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four our of five stars

This book has the most intriguing premise of any that I've read in a long while. Set in the not-too-far-distant future, it features Hank Palace as a fledgling detective in Concord, New Hampshire. One night, Hank is called to the scene of a suspicious death in the restroom of a McDonald's restaurant. An insurance man named Peter Zell is lying on the floor with an expensive leather belt wrapped around his neck. The other end of the belt is tied to the handicap grip bar next to the toilet, and the officer who discovered the body has called it in as a 10-54S, that is, a suicide by hanging.

Sad to say, there's a lot of that going around these days, ever since astronomers discovered that a giant asteroid, designated 2011GV, is swinging around the sun in preparation for slamming into the earth at about a billion miles an hour six months hence.

The damned thing just came out of nowhere, one of those giant rocks that occasionally passes "near" to Earth but not close enough to be a concern. When 2011GV first appeared in distant space, all the "experts" insisted that it too would pass by harmlessly and that there was no need for concern. Turns out there was, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. The friggin' planet is about to be destroyed.

As one might imagine, a lot of people are upset about this and some changes have occurred in the wake of the news. The world economy has collapsed; there's a lot of turmoil everywhere; governments have assumed emergency powers, and so forth.

Lots of people are killing themselves; a lot of others have quite their jobs and are devoting their last six months to fulfilling life-long dreams. Then there's Detective Hank Palace, who's doggedly determined to keep doing the job he always wanted for as long as he possibly can.

The truth is that, at this point in time, no one really gives a rip what happened to Peter Zell and how he wound up dead in the McDonald's restroom. But Hank does. The death looks suspicious to him and he is determined to investigate it as a murder until proven otherwise. the book details his investigation which is, as you might imagine, a little out of the norm for a police procedural, given the death sentence hanging over everyone on the planet.

It's interesting to watch Hank work, and one admires his determination. Either that, or you question his sanity. It's also intriguing to watch how the rest of Winters' cast reacts to the coming of the end of the world. Any fan of police procedurals and looming apocalyptic novels will probably enjoy this book.


I do have one complaint about this book. I am compulsive about never reading a book's tease before beginning the book. I don't want to know anything about the plot until it unfolds in the course of the story. As I approached the end of the book, I was very anxious to see how the author would treat the final moments before the big collision between the asteroid and the Earth.

Except that he didn't. The book ends with several months still to go before the big event, and only then did I read the back cover and realize that this is only the first volume in a projected trilogy. I was hugely disappointed to learn that I would have to wait two more books before getting to the moment I was anticipating, and I'm not sure if I'm willing to do that, in large part because, although the premise is very intriguing, I'm not sure that it can be sustained over the course of three books rather than the one I was expecting. Also, I'm not sure I was enamored enough of Hank Palace to want to read two more books with him as the central character. This is a case where I'll probably wait to read reviews of the next two before deciding if I want to continue with the series.

No Need To Imagine, Here's The Goods

JohnJohn by Cynthia Lennon
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dear John,

You were kind of a jerk to me when we were kids first going out. I mean, you really scared the shit out of me. I understand all the problems you had growing up in a broken family and all. It was definitely hard on you. So I stuck it out and stayed with you, even when the Beatles were forming and getting big. That wasn't easy, you and the boys always being torn away in different directions. I didn't know where you were from one minute to the next. But again, I stayed by your side and how'd you repay me? By shacking up with that Asian slut!…sorry. I'm sorry. I promised I wasn't going to do that. I'm above it, I've moved on, and so have you, obviously. If I'm being honest, I guess I don't fully understand what you saw in her. I'm not going to say anything against her, I don't even really know her. But whatever, it happened. I wish it hadn't, but that's life. Btw, our son is doing fine, if you care.



PS: I am truly sorry you got shot to death.

War And Peace And Love

War and PeaceWar and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


That was the one thing I thought was missing from Leo Tolstoy's title, War and Peace. I was wrong. Love is in the title, you just have to look for it.

Certainly there is love in peace. It is the time of children, serenity, growth. The mother peacefully raising her children. The farmer lovingly tending his fields. The elderly passing their final days in comfort surrounded by family.

But there is love in war as well. The love for one's country. Such is a person's violent attachment to their motherland that they will die for it. To give up your own life so another should live, that is love indeed.

What is this preoccupation with love? Well, the Leo Tolstoy I've read is incomplete without this aspect within his writing. I knew this book would be about war, specifically Russia's involvement in the Napoleonic Wars, but I didn't right off see where the love would come in. It arrived in spades. There are peace-loving characters and there are those who are uber patriotic. Then there is man's love for the good he sees in another man's actions. And then there is the love that weds a couple for life.

Tolstoy's genius as a writer lies in his ability to dash his pen across all this with the same level of integrity regardless of whether his subject is a gallant officer in love with death or the daisy-fresh, springy step of a blossoming girl smitten by good looks and dash. Tolstoy transcends himself to become these hearty or hapless creatures. Then he marries them to our soul. Over these seemingly effortless hundreds upon hundreds of pages, these characters become family to us. We love them like brothers. We root for them. We are annoyed by them. We hate a few of them, but after all, they are family and therefore we must abide by them at least to a certain degree.

And when you step back from the book and see your attachment to these characters, it amazes you…and then it disheartens you, for you realize they are nothing but Tolstoy's puppets used in a grand way so that he may slash and burn the icon of his hatred, Napoleon Bonaparte.

Tolstoy seethes with loathing for this man. In large spurts through out, he devotes half the book to lampooning the man and his military deeds, and then as if that weren't enough, he piles on an average-sized book's worth of epilogue on essentially the same topic. In an effort to portray fairness, he also fillets his own. The Russian military leaders of the day come in for their share of condemnation. At times Tolstoy pours so much vitriol upon his own that you have to stop to recall who "the enemy" is.

Why is this a 5 star book? After all, it's not perfect, being neither fully a novel nor a military treatise, but rather both and not always successfully joined. For all its many pages, there was only a small handful of moments where I felt my heart fly or crash. Perhaps it is the vast scope of it all and the effortless way in which it is carried off. So much happens. Tolstoy gives us many rare experiences, puts us in battle after battle - whether it's upon the field amidst cannon and rifle fire, within the home during a dangerous pregnancy, or between an embattled couple bereft of love. Each of these scenes rings true, ringing to their own tune and yet all combining into one beautiful symphony.

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