Monday, June 23, 2014

A Thriller from the Creator of "Law and Order"

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

This thriller is the first novel from Dick Wolf, the creator of the television series, Law and Order, and it introduces NYC police detective Jeremy Fisk. Fisk is a member of the department's Intelligence Division, New York City's mini-CIA, which is designed to combat terror threats to the most attractive target in the world.

The book opens with a flashback to an angry Osama Bin Laden trying to persuade his henchmen that in the wake of the 9/11 attack, they have to be smarter than your average stupid shoe bomber. Rather than repeating themselves, they have to take the infidel Americans by surprise and hit them at a point where they will least expect it and which will do the maximum amount of damage.

Some time later, a terrorist claiming to have a bomb attempts to break into the cockpit of a jetliner bound for NYC. It's a clever scheme that exploits a weakness in the airlines' cockpit security system, but the plot is foiled when several passengers attack and subdue the terrorist who, happily, turns out not to have a bomb after all.

The brave passengers become instant celebrities and everyone seems to be falling all over themselves, thankful that another terrorist plot has been foiled. But not Jeremy Fisk. To him, the whole incident of the ineffective hijacker seems a bit too easy and he speculates that it might just be a diversion from another attack that no one sees coming yet.

Fisk's concerns are made more anxious because the Fourth of July is approaching and along with it is coming the dedication of the new One World Trade Center at Ground Zero, which he realizes would make an excellent terrorist target. With his partner, Krina Gersten, Fisk mounts an around-the-clock effort to determine if, in fact, there's more to this episode than meets the eye. Of course, there will be.

This is a timely thriller and Wolf keeps the tension mounting and the reader turning the pages. The back cover suggests that this book is reminiscent of The Day of the Jackal, which is an all-time classic of this genre. The Intercept does not really rise to that level, but it is a very good read--perfect for a lazy summer's day at the beach.

Who Doesn't Love Seamen?!

John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American NavyJohn Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy by Evan Thomas
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Poor ol' John. If only the US Navy at the time of Jones' life was the size of the man's ambition and ego, it would've been unstoppable!

If he'd lived just a few years longer, he would've been the ideal sea captain to head up Thomas Jefferson's hesitant-yet-ambitious expansion of the U.S. navy. But we do what we can with the time we're allotted and Jones did just about everything he could.

JOHN PAUL JONES: Journeyman Seaman

What an easy biography to write! The man's life reads like a legend. C.S. Forester couldn't have improved on it! Though the details are often more colorful and entertaining, here are some of the high-and low-lights of his tumultuous career:

* Rose to first mate on British slave ships, then threw away his enviable position out of disgust for the human trafficking trade.
* Saved an un-captained vessel from destruction after it was struck with the Yellow Jack fever.
* At a time when harsh punishment was not uncommon, was imprisoned and had his reputation forever damaged when a flogged man died on one of his cruises.
* Slew a mutineer with a sword over wages and fled to America, adding the name Jones to avoid persecution and leaving behind his fortune to join the American Colonies in their fight against England.
* Took the fight to the British Isles during the American Revolution, terrorizing the people who considered him a pirate, and in a valiant battle with the British navy coined the popular phrase, "I have not yet begun to fight!"

Jones was sometimes gallant and sometimes petty, but always daring, and boy did he like to let people know about it! But those were the times and tooting one's own horn was what one had to do to get ahead, so it's hard to fault the man for that.

What he can be faulted for is his pride. He often felt unduly slighted and he complained about it loudly to the people who he thought were slighting him. Unfortunately, those people were his bosses. When you bitch at your boss you're not likely to get promoted, and Jones did not. Promised appointment after appointment "fell through" for Jones, often leaving him high and dry. Yet his valor was undeniable and, against all odds, he did rise in rank over his short life.

He may have been rash, but you must give the ex-pat Scotsman credit for putting his neck on the line at a time when his own adopted country wasn't so willing to stretch their own out on his behalf.

Thomas' bio does an admirable job of painting Jones' larger than life personality. Prior to reading this the name John Paul Jones to me was associated with the bass player from Led Zeppelin.

The Other John Paul Jones:
(This Jones also dressed in frilly shirts and gave "No Quarter"(sorry), so you can see how the two might be confused!)

But now that quiet, retiring musician has been elbowed to the back of a two-man line. Thomas' almost swashbuckling-level adventure of a biography puts the sailor John Paul Jones right at the forefront!

F The Headline, Just Read The Book's Title...

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English DictionaryThe Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A man goes insane, shoots another man to death and then helps write one of the first complete dictionaries. What an odd way to enter the academic world!

And believe it or not, those aren't even spoilers! Simon Winchester gives us all that right in the title of his surprisingly riveting read The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary.

The idea of reading a book on the creation of a dictionary only sounded mildly interesting. In the hands of the wrong writer that book might not have entertained me from start to finish the way Winchester did. Granted the story has its intriguing oddities and the occasional shocking moment, but it's Winchester's ability to dramatize this hundreds-of-years-old story that makes it seem as vivid and catchy as the headlines of the morning newspaper. He is a writer who brings legend to life.

As exciting as I find it, this is a book about making a dictionary and that won't enthrall all readers. It gets an extra nudge up in the star department from me, because this is a book about words and I like words. If you're still reading this, I suspect you do too.