I wanted to like George Pelecanos’ The Cut, but it left me a little cold. I’m a huge fan of Elmore Leonard, and Pelecanos has a lot in common with the master. Both rely heavily on dialog to convey character, and both have a good ear for the language. Leonard’s characters come off a little sharper, at least compared to this book, in which the testosterone-drenched wise guys on both sides of law do too much posturing and smart-mouthing.
In the opening of Day Keene’s Bring Him Back Dead, sheriff’s deputy Andy Latour seems to be stuck in the wrong job and the wrong marriage. His wife, Olga, a descendant of the faded Russian aristocracy, barely speaks to him. He had promised her a life of wealth and ease as the oil boom struck southern Louisiana and the Delta Oil Company had opened a test well on his land.
I’m often disappointed by contemporary mystery and thriller bestsellers. The characters are flat and unengaging, the writing is often heavy-handed, as if the author is telling us through a bullhorn what we’re supposed to feel. Many writers jack up the action to make up for a lack of depth, like a bad guitarist turning up his amp to try to bowl us over with power because he doesn’t have the skill to win us over with substance.
Bruce Thornton is a classics professor at Cal State Fresno and a fellow at the Hoover Institution. Decline and Fall is both a lament and a criticism of Europe’s weakening culture and declining moral stature. Liberals and progressives (among whom I count myself) will hate this book (though I don’t) because Thornton unabashedly advocates traditional European values such as individualism and freedom of speech, along with Christian values, including spiritual devotion to a higher power and clear and firm moral boundaries.
One of the downsides of indie publishing is that there are so many titles out there, it’s hard for the good ones to get attention. This is one of the good ones. D. J. “Jock” MacDonald ran the police station in the mining town of Kilembe, Uganda in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and was responsible for keeping order in a broad swath of the country’s rural Western Province. Dead End at Buffalo Corner recounts actual events in a novel-like third-person narrative.
These five works show Millar to be a brilliant mystery/suspense writer. I’ve reviewed them all separately, and they’re all four or five stars. She really deserves to be more widely read. Note that the negative reviews of this book on Amazon complain about the small print size, not the content of the works themselves. The print is indeed small. That, combined with large pages and narrow margins makes reading hard on the eyes.
Margaret Millar’s The Listening Walls opens in a room in the Windsor Hotel in Mexico City in the late 1950’s. Two American women are vacationing together. The mousy, deferential Amy Kellogg is feeling some resentment after getting roped into this trip by her domineering friend Wilma Wyatt. Wilma, thirty-three and just coming off her second divorce, is alternately high-spirited and moody, arrogant and temperamental, a drama queen seeking attention and excitement to distract from a life that wasn’t going as planned.
Phew! This one was a long slog. Putnam provides exhaustive data in his examination of the decline of “social capital” in late 20th-century American society. The author defines social capital as the network of informal social bonds within a society. These bonds tie individuals and communities together, providing social, economic, and emotional support for all. The social networks of church, clubs, interest groups and sports leagues embody an ethos of trust and open-ended reciprocity: you watch my kids this afternoon, and I’ll watch yours some day in the future.
I’m generally not a big fan of spy thrillers, but I wanted to read this one because so many fans of the genre consider it a classic. The plot itself was okay, but the writing and characterization left a lot to be desired. I think much of the book’s initial success came from it being the right story at the right time. At bottom, it’s a conspiracy novel exposing some of shadier operations of powerful governments, and the lengths to which those governments will go to cover up their crimes.
The Woman in White opens with a mysterious encounter between artist Walter Hartright and an unnamed woman dressed entirely in white. Hartright runs into her late at night along the dark road from Hampstead Heath to London. The woman is clearly frightened, fleeing some unseen pursuer. She asks Hartright for directions, which he gives. He doesn’t know who she is, but his instinct tells him to help her. In her disconcerted ramblings, she tells him she had spent a brief portion of her youth in the country house he is planning to visit, and she warns him of an evil man he will soon encounter.
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