Monday, June 29, 2015

Hoke Moseley Has a Mid--Life Crisis

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

This is the third book in Charles Willeford's excellent series featuring Miami homicide detective Hoke Moseley. As the book opens, Hoke, although still only in his forties, wakes up to a full-blown mid-life crisis. He's completely unable to function irrespective of his responsibilities to his two teenage daughters who live with him, to his department, and to his partner, Ellita Sanchez, who is eight months pregnant (not by Hoke) and who also lives in Hoke's home.

Unable to cope, Hoke takes a leave of absence from his job and retreats to Singer Island, where his wealthy father lives. He takes a job running a small apartment building for his father and vows that he will never leave the island again.

In the meantime, Stanley Sinkiewicz, an elderly retiree who has moved to Florida from Detroit has a brush with the law and, although he is completely innocent, he is briefly forced to share a jail cell with a man claiming to be Robert Smith.

"Smith" is really a psychopathic career criminal named Troy Louden. He has a gift for reading people and immediately pegs Stanley for the sad, lonely man he is at heart. Louden befriends Stanley, schooling him in the way to best deal with the authorities, and before long, Stanley is convinced that Troy is his new best friend.

Louden is desperately hoping to have the charges against him dropped before a fingerprint check is returned and the police discover his real identity. To this end, he asks Stanley to do him a "small favor" once he is released, and, totally won over by his new buddy, the old man agrees. The ploy works and Louden, now free, enlists Stanley to help him pull off a big job he is planning.

Meanwhile, Hoke Mosley is discovering that it's a lot harder to simplify his life than he had hoped. His father is determined to help him get a new job with the local police force, although Hoke has absolutely no interest in the job. His younger daughter joins him on the island further complicating matters, and the tenants in the apartment house generally prove to be a major pain in the butt.

The Mosley story and the Stanley/Louden story proceed along parallel tracks and for a while the reader is left to wonder how Willeford is ever going to link them up. But it really doesn't matter because both stories are very entertaining.

Willeford has populated this book with a number of unique and very interesting characters and between the lines, he has a great deal to say about the nature of family and about the workings of the capitalist system in the United States. All in all, it's a very entertaining book that should appeal to large numbers of readers.

Morrison Waxing Faulkner-esque

A MercyA Mercy by Toni Morrison
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Toni, Toni, feels good to know you again.

A Mercy is a gorgeous narrative of a dark time that flitters from person to person: child, slave, sympathetic Dutch businessman, mother. Betrayal is ever present, even seemingly from mother to child.

The setting and subject is slavery in 17th century America, specifically Catholic Maryland. These are early days in the New World. Superstition was rife. Black magic and the devil were palpably real.

With a bevy of glimpses Morrison displays most of the facets of slavery in this period, in this place. She does not forget that it was black Africans who kidnapped and sold black Africans to white Europeans, who sold them into slavery. She did not forget that white slavery existed in this time. She wrote about a people's strife without bended knee and bleeding heart, and yet your heart will bleed.

Admittedly, I was turned off within the first few pages, because of the gypsy narration. I like permanence in my storytelling voice and this was very reminiscent of William Faulkner's The Sound and The Fury with its variant and confusing p.o.v.s and its scene setting via murky imagery. But I stuck with it, soon was enjoying A Mercy and in the end, came to love it.

The writing is so strong, emotive and filled with vivid imagery. It is the kind of writing that inspires writers in their craft.

This was a revisit to an old acquaintance for me. Not since college have I read a Toni Morrison novel. I loved it then, so why the delay? Why do we do that? When you only have one life - a single existence which could be snuffed out in an instance - why neglect the good things in life? Cherish what you have. It may be taken from you. Though we can only hope fate will be merciful.

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Man Vs Women

LoveLove by Toni Morrison
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Women clawing at and after the same man is a horrific thing to see, but hella fun to read!

Maybe "fun" isn't the perfect word to describe Toni Morrison's Love.* This is Faulknerian, not only in its language and flow, but its molasses-thick-and-dark emotional resonance. Love is like seeing a feminine take on Absalom! Absalom!: a beautifully shadowy Southern power; a corrupting energy that devours good souls.

An aloof man of substantial means in a Floridian coastal town of decades past is the sun around which competing planets revolve. These planets are women of various backgrounds all with some claim upon the man's radiant energy. Their world turns toxic as the reader witnesses the evils of too much radiation. These off-tilt and colliding friends are ripped apart, scorched whenever they come in contact with their beloved sun.

Morrison is a master at her craft, an absolute pleasure to read for those who can stomach a non-linear storytelling style. She will come at her topic at multiple angles. You must put the pieces together. Never fear, by the end this amoebic puzzle will come together in a portrait that is gorgeous, enlightening and heartbreaking. Love is life confirming, even if life can feel like one long, extended death.

* Perhaps it's not a good way to describe ANY of her books! I could be wrong, I haven't read them all, but jeez louise the woman writes some deep, depressing stuff!

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