Edward Viljoen’s Bhagavad Gita: The Song of God Retold in Simplified English is sort of a CliffsNotes retelling of the Hindu classic. Viljoen paraphrases the story’s eighteen chapters in twenty-six pages of simple, straightforward English. The remaining seventy or so pages of the book are devoted to backstory about the main characters and definitions of some of Hinduism’s core concepts. Viljoen understands that no simplified paraphrasing can do justice to the poetry of the original work.
Alan C. Logan’s The Greatest Hoax on Earth is a journalistic examination of the life of Frank Abagnale, the infamous con man immortalized in Steven Spielberg’s 2002 file Catch Me if You Can. That film, based on Abagnale’s autobiography of the same name, portrays a smooth charmer living a life of glamour and adventure. The young Abegnale cons his way onto free flights around the world with beautiful women in tow.
The Troubled Man is the final installment in Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander series, and the only one of the series I’ve read. I found the book in a Little Free Libraryin a park in Virginia. I picked it up, because I felt quite troubled at the time. I saw the title and thought, “That’s me.” In this book, Wallander, a police officer in a small coastal town in Sweden, is sixty years old and spends a lot of time reflecting on his life.
Dr. Eger gives a powerful and harrowing account of her youth, of being taken from her home in Hungary, herded into the cattle cars, separated from her parents at Auschwitz. She and her sister survived more than a year in the death camp, and for months more on the death marches that followed before an American GI lifted her from a pile of corpses. Hope and remembrance of the good in life sustained her through unspeakable horrors.
Jean-Patrick Manchette’s No Room at the Morgue is the first book I’ve read from NYRB Classics that’s just flat out bad. The back cover includes a blurb from Kirkus Reviews that says, “If Marx, Freud, and Jim Thompson collaborated on a noir, this might be the result.” Actually, if Marx, Freud, and Jim Thompson had had an editor, this book would never have been published. A good crime novel raises questions in the reader’s mind to keep them hooked.
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.
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