Margaret Millar’s Beast in View opens with thirty-year-old Helen Clarvoe receving an unnerving, vaguely threatening phone call from a woman who claims to have once been her friend. Clarvoe is the sole daughter of a wealthy Southern California family whose dysfunction will be familiar to readers of the Lew Archer mysteries written by Millar’s husband, Ross Macdonald. The time is 1955, the place, Los Angeles. Miss Clarvoe, estranged from her mother and brother, spends most of her days alone in her room in the Monica Hotel, her door “locked against the ugliness of the world.
John Temple’s American Pain describes the rise and fall of America’s largest pill mill. A pill mill, in case you didn’t know, is a medical practice set up specifically to dispense narcotic pain killers. Patient appointments typically last only a few minutes, just long enough for doctor to write the prescription. Chris George, the wealthy son of a successful South Florida builder, was running a semi-successful shop selling anabolic steroids when he started seeing pain clinics pop up all over Broward County around 2008.
Nick Bilton’s American Kingpin describes the rise and fall of the darknet market The Silk Road, and its creator, Ross Ulbricht. The book focuses primarily on Ulbricht and a handful of agents from the DEA, FBI, IRS, and Homeland Security who wage a semi-coordinated effort to identify and capture the Silk Road leader, who was known online as the Dread Pirate Roberts. Ulbricht grew up in Austin, Texas, a middle-class kid with strong libertarian leanings.
This is one brutal book, and a damn good one. Slim writes with a fire that you rarely see even from great authors at their best. He doesn’t sugarcoat anything, nor does he lace his narrative with apologies to reassure delicate readers. He simply gives a straightforward account of a cruel world in which the cruelest rise to the top… at least for a while. The book takes place mostly on the south side of Chicago between the late 1930s and the late 1950s.
The Body Keeps the Score describes what Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk has seen and learned in his thirty-plus years of treating trauma survivors. The author describes the causes and manifestations of trauma in a number of patients from his clinical practice: abused children, combat veterans, victims of accidents, rape, and assault. He describes how the intense emotional impact of trauma can linger for years when the mind is unable to assimilate the unbearable terror of events.
Margaret Millar was best known for her mystery and suspense novels. Wives and Lovers, published near the height of her career in 1954, is somewhat of a departure. The story takes place in Channel City, a thinly veiled version of Santa Barbara where Millar lived with her husband, mystery writer Ross MacDonald. If you come to this this book expecting a hook and an immediately engaging plot, you’ll be frustrated. Wives and Lovers is set of interwoven character studies and a sociological portrait of a fairly wealthy small city in mid-century California.
Margaret Millar’s Vanish in an Instant opens with a rich, cranky old woman arriving at the Detriot airport in December, 1950 to try to extricate her spoiled daughter, Virginia, from some trouble. It takes a chapter or so for us to learn that the trouble is the violent murder of a local philanderer with whom Virginia was having an affair. Millar has the reader and most of the characters off balance from the beginning, creating an instant air of suspense that continues to deepen throughout the book.
Eight Million Ways to Die is the fifth in Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder detective series. You don’t need to have read any others in the series to follow this one. Scudder is a former New York City cop who quit the force after accidentally killing a child while pursuing two thieves. By the time the book begins, he has long since left his family, and has been living for years in a mid-town Manhattan hotel.
Dopefiend by Donald Goines opens in a shooting gallery on the east side of Detriot. The time is around 1970. The obese drug dealer, Porky, sits in an easy chair watching his customers shoot up, nod off, scratch themselves, and bleed. Goines, himself a heroin addict, describes the scene in disturbing sensual detail, with the dirty works and clogged needles soaking in water glasses, the blood-stained floor, and the stench of human filth rising from junkies too far gone to take care of themselves.
The Billion Dollar Whale, by Wall Street Journal reporters Tom Wright and Bradley Hope, describes the looting of Malaysia’s 1MDB sovereign wealth fund by con man Jho Low and his associates. Although this story has been in the news for years, and many are familiar with its outlines, the book provides rich details about a series of financial crimes whose scope and audacity is breathtaking. Jho Low came from a family in Penang provice, Malaysia, that had enough money to send him to boarding school at Harrow, where he met the children of some of the world’s richest families.
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