Monday, October 13, 2014

A Fitting Conclusion to a Very Good Series

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

This is the third and final volume in Ben H. Winters' series featuring Hank Palace, the Last Policeman. When the first volume, The Last Policeman, opened, Hank had just been promoted into his dream job of being a detective on the police force in Concord, New Hampshire. Sadly, though, the job is not going to last very long because in only six month's time, a giant asteroid is going to slam into the earth, ending Life As We Know It.

The Last Policeman and Countdown City detailed Hank's activities for the first five and a half months of the asteroid's approach. As civilization rapidly unravels all around him, Hank works as diligently as he can to remain a decent and responsible man, continuing his investigations at a time when many, including not a few readers, might wonder if he has lost his senses.

There are now two weeks left before impact. Food is scarce, potable water even more so. Things like the Internet, electricity, working phones, and gasoline are a dim, distant memory. Hank is reduced to traveling by bicycle and scrounging for food and water where he can find it.

His last investigation is his most personal. His sister, Nico, is his last remaining relative, but the two have become estranged for reasons described in the first two books, and Nico has disappeared. Hank is desperate to find her so that they might spend their last few days on earth together.

The search takes him to a small town in Ohio. In a world that has arrived at a post-apocalyptic state a few days ahead of schedule, hardly anything will surprise Hank or the reader, until Hank arrives in Ohio and discovers that things may have gotten even stranger than he could possibly have imagined.

I thought that the second book in the series was a bit weak, especially when compared with the first, but Winters returns to form here and provides a very fitting conclusion to what was, overall, a very unique and entertaining series. The story itself is gripping and the larger questions that have hung over the entire series grow even more important here. Readers contemplating the matter might well decide that they would have chosen to spend their last few weeks on Earth is ways far different than Hank Palace, but hanging out with the guy for the last six months has been a helluva ride.

A Tempestuous Introduction to The Tempest

The TempestThe Tempest by William Shakespeare
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What was that?

I expected a long drawn out battle of mariners versus a violent sea. There's a few lines of sailors fighting a storm at the start and then the rest is played out on land. Ah, "played," there's the nub! For this is an early 17th century play meant for the stage. Not a likely time and place for a lavish production with a water tank, ship and wind machine, though that would've been hella cool. Some Shakespeareanophile tell me my envisioned production went down at least once back in the day, please!

Once I figured out I'd been duped, I still didn't know what was going on. The story felt muddled and frankly not particularly intriguing. Apparently an Italian duke is trying to trying to get revenge on those who ousted him by marrying off his daughter to one of the plotters. That I understood. To make this happen, magical spirits are prevailed upon. That I understood. But who was magical, who was human, who was in between, and what was everyone's motivation, that's where I got lost.

Didn't matter. By the midpoint I'd grasped enough to follow along and what I thought was going to be a 1 or 2 star catastrophe turned out to be a fairly enjoyable romp in a semi-fairy land...kind of a mix between Macbeth or Othello and A Midsummer Night's Dream.

I listened to an audio version for this reading. I prefer to hear Shakespeare when I get the chance. I may have received a 4.0 in my Shakespeare class in college (a little more impressive than my 4.0 in my mountain hiking class), but that doesn't mean I understand half of what's being said. Put into context, the otherwise archaic phrases often will reveal their meaning.

The one thing that really perplexed me was that the actor playing Caliban, the monstrous humanoid creature stranded for years on the island, played him - as old timey, racist comedians (and Jon Stewart) would say - "Jewy". Think Alec Guinness' rendition of Fagin. Yeah, heavily over the top. Was Caliban Jewish? I thought his mom - the only person he was stranded on the island with - was a witch from Algiers. Now, I don't know from Algiers witches, but this? What is this? Oy vey...

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Gotta love the old-school dash!

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes, #3)The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Arthur Conan Doyle created such an intriguing vehicle for his mystery stories in the figure of Sherlock Holmes, a man almost inhuman, nearly robotic in his exacting speech and actions, so much so that the reader longs for and grasps on to the minute human aspects (a hint of carnal desire, for example) on the fleeting instances they appear.

In story after tightly-wound story intelligence and rational thought wins the day. But before it gets all too academic, Conan Doyle throws in a bit of action, some good old fashioned horror or a grotesque morsel for the reader to chew on, for he realized man can not be sustained on thought alone.

Taken on their own, each short story in this collection would receive 3 or 4 stars, but put them together and you've got a 5 star body of work. A lone stick breaks easily, but bundled together the sticks form a strong bond. Case after solved case impresses with its almost overwhelming accumulation of ingenuity. The character of Holmes eventually develops with nuggets of personal detail and, on rare occasion, even a display of pathos.

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