Monday, November 28, 2011

11/22/63: A Novel (Stephen King)

When Al Templeton, owner of Al’s Diner in Lisbon Falls, Maine, invited high school English teacher Jay Epping over to his house, it was the culmination of many weeks of planning. Soon, Jay would step through the diner’s pantry door. Two minutes later, he’d walk back out a changed man.
In his newest novel – 11/22/63: A Novel – Stephen King takes us back to 1958. September 9th, to be exact, at 11:58 in the morning. The pantry, you see, is a portal to that particular date and time. Each visit back is like the first time.
It’s the movie Groundhog Day gone insane on steroids.
Al, whose dying of lung cancer, is on his last legs, and wants Jay to finish something for him. He wants Jay to change history, to thwart the assassination of John F. Kennedy by killing JFK’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.
Jay, on the other hand, isn’t so sure this is what he wants to do. What about the time-travel paradox? You know, the question of what the consequences of killing a person in the past. What would happen in the ensuing years and how would that affect the world today?
If Jay would only travel back and confirm that Oswald had indeed made an attempt to kill conservative Gen. Edwin Walker, that would confirm everything Al has learned. Then, Al surmises, Jay would have ample reason to end Oswald’s life.
Kill Oswald and that would save JFK, prevent the death of his brother Bobby Kennedy, save Martin Luther King, save Vietnam, and prevent the race riots that tore the country apart in the ‘60s when President Lyndon Johnson ratcheted up the war in Vietnam.
Al tells Jay that during one of his trips back, he saved a Carolyn Poulin from life in a wheelchair. But when Jay went through the portal for the first time and had a root beer, that alternate future reverted back to today’s actual status quo. Carolyn is now back in her wheelchair.
Determined to do his own test, Jay decides to do one more preliminary journey back and try to prevent school janitor Harry Dunning’s father from killing Harry’s mother and essentially wrecking his life. And what an adventure THAT turns out to be. Jake accomplishes what he went for, returning two minutes later, but with a few complications to face and the knowledge that the past does NOT like to be changed.
After a short rest, Jake resets his determination and goes back to 11:58 a.m., Sept. 1958, for a five-year excursion culminating in a date with destiny.
It was a time when men went around wearing straw hats and ties. Jerry Lee Lewis, Troy Shondell and Ferlin Husky were hot. There were 35-cent special walk-in admissions at the movie drive-in and 15-cent bus rides, and everybody smoked cigarettes wherever they wanted. The Yankees beat the Milwaukee Braves in 7 games after trailing 3 games to 1, and an increasingly decrepit derelict kept offering a yellow ticket for a buck.
11/22/63: A Novel is as nostalgic as all get out to a guy (me) who lived the era and remembers all the iconic moments laid out in the story. King’s prose is exceptionally mesmerizing in this book, sucking you in like a maelstrom on a sunny day – you know, powerfully while you enjoy the outing on what you thought was a calm sea.
It’s one helluva good book – gripping, full of history disguised as real life, and as compelling a story as Stephen King has ever written. No horror, just good story-telling.
11/22/63: A Novel (2011)
Stephen King
Scribner ($35.00 list)
ISBN-13: 978-1451627282

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Killing Tide (P.J. Alderman)

Astoria, Oregon, is no longer the quaint, peaceful town it was when Kasmira “Kaz” Jorgensen left years ago. It’s changed, and not necessarily for the better, thanks to newcomers and tourism.
Ken Lundquist, the Jorgensens’ crewman, is found burned when one of their boats, the Anna Marie, explodes in flames while Kaz was trying to find her twin brother Gary, who’d gotten into a ruckus twice that night at the Redemption Tavern.
Something is happening in Astoria, and it appears Gary is the chief suspect in their crewman’s murder. Kaz is determined to find her brother, who’s disappeared, before anyone else does – not her friend Lucy McGuire, an Astoria Police Department detective; not Astoria’s police chief Jim Sykes; and not the new fire chief, Michael Chapman, a former arson investigator with a past.
The intrigue grows as Kaz narrowly escapes encounters with a mysterious stalker, causing her to wonder if there are other forces at work here.
Is Gary really in on everything, and if not, then why is he hiding? And how come Kaz finds lots of frozen fish with money stuffed in their bellies at their storage locker? Something sinister is going on here, and she aims to find out what it is, reluctantly accepting Michael’s help.
Michael, you see, has taken to Kaz. Not only does she know it, she’s beginning to crave his attention. Will their “obsession” with each other hinder the investigation? Or will it help? Only time will tell, but they’re running out of time. Gary seems to be on the verge of elimination by someone.
A Killing Tide is good mystery work. It was nominated for a RITA award presented by the Romance Writers of America. The award is named for Rita Clay Estrada, RWA’s first president. It may be classified as a romance, but the romance takes a back seat to the mystery.
A Killing Tide (2006)
P.J. Alderman
Love Spell (Paperback, $15.00 list)
ASIN: B002QB9JH6

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mr. Monk Goes to Hawaii (Lee Goldberg)

Private investigator Adrian Monk’s assistant, Natalie Teeger, needs a vacation – specifically a week off to attend the wedding of her good friend Candace’s wedding on the Island of Kauai, in Hawaii.
However, when Natalie tells him she’s leaving him alone for a week, he nearly has a stroke and heart-attack (in his own mind, that is). His analyst – Dr. Kroger – gives him a Dioxynl, which amazingly makes his paranoia disappear but takes away his detective skills. And that results in a chuckle-worthy flight to Hawaii.
Yep, Monk weasels his way along with Natalie, amusing everyone on the flight with his uncharacteristic, uninhibited, un-Monk-like silliness. The next morning, the pill wears off and to Natalie’s and Candace’s surprise, he exposes the groom-to-be, Brian Galloway, as a big fat liar during the wedding itself at the Grand Kiahuna Poipu resort.
End of story. Right? Wrong. See, there’s this woman they find lying face down dead in a tropical hot tub – rich 60-ish Helen Gruber, who recently married her personal trainer, Lance Vaughn, who is 30 years her junior.
Monk takes it upon himself to solve her murder, but not before interacting with Kauai Police Department Lt. Ben Kealoha. Author Goldberg’s descriptive recounting of Det. Kealoha’s pidgin dialect almost made me fall off my chair with laughter. It was perfectly written and amazingly authentic, but I guess you need to be a Hawaii local to fully appreciate (and understand) it.
As an example of Monk’s OCD, he irritates a kiosk vendor by arranging shark-tooth necklaces both by species of sharks and the tooth’s position in the jaw. And, to quote Monk, “You can’t do this at home. Only in Hawaii," gleefully observed as he spends three hours in the process.
Monk’s idea of “cutting loose” while on vacation is teaching the hotel maids the correct way to fold towels, vacuum, mop and dust the rooms.
Okay. So he solves a rash of robberies in a jiffy. And, he solves the Gruber murder case while waiting for Natalie to buy a lilikoi (passion fruit) pie at Namura (Hamura) Saimin.
But is that the end of it? Did Natalie get to enjoy the rest of her vacation in Hawaiian bliss? Noooo. Monk decides (needs, actually) to expose a psychic as a con man. Not only that, at their luau, a man is found in the roast pig imu. Eww.
Natalie and Monk have to make their flight back to and Francisco before he can accomplish his work. But never fear, Monk doesn’t not like loose ends, even those that end in even numbers. He’s so smart that he finishes up the next day in the city by the bay.
I’ve watched the Monk television series, and will all due respect to Tony Shalhoub, Bitty Schram (his first assistant) and Traylor Howard (his new assistant), it was more enjoyable to read Lee Goldberg’s books about the strange detective. His descriptions of Monk’s proclivities just crack me up.
Mr. Monk Goes to Hawaii (2006)
Lee Goldberg
Signet Book ($28.95 list)
ISBN-13: 978-0739472135

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Remaindered (Lee Goldberg)

Kevin Dangler is a best-selling author who’s gone from New York appearances with other top mystery authors to hawking and signing books at Kmart in Spokane, Washington.
His first book, Frost Bite, hit the New York Times best-seller list. His second book, Do Unto Others, tanked. Badly. Dangler's book was “remaindered to $1.99 oblivion in just six weeks." His third book, Twisted Sheets, was rejected by his publisher and seven others.
While sitting there alone amidst shoppers passing by uninterested, he meets Megan, an attractive librarian who simply adores him and asks him to autograph her first-edition copy of Frost Bite. It turns out she has a wonderful collection of autographed first-edition mysteries.
Yep, she appreciates Kevin. She REALLY appreciates him … in her home, in her bed. The problem is, after all that … “appreciation,” she wants to spread her joy with all the world, with everyone she knows.
And we-e-ell, that doesn’t sit well with Kevin. See, Kevin has a wife. And a child. So he rejects her kind offer and … uh oh … he solves his immediate problem, only to create another. A worse another. A bloody another that Megan actually helps fix.
Unfortunately, Spokane Police Department detective Bud Flaneck, catches Kevin’s mistake.
Oops.
Remaindered first appeared in the August 2001 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. It’s now available as a digital download from Amazon.com.
Once you’re finished the story, you should go to Vimeo.com and watch Goldberg’s 20-minute movie of Remaindered. It’s nicely done, equivalent to watching a half-hour mystery story on TV. And, it’s free: http://www.vimeo.com/21005880. The password is DANGLER if you’re asked for one.
BTW, when you watch the video, see if you can catch Goldberg’s subtle self-promotion. Hint: It comes while Dangler is looking at Megan’s collection.
Remaindered is a quick, enjoyable read; you can probably figure out the ending if you paid attention to the story details. But I just wanted to enjoy and go with the flow, so that’s what I did. I wasn’t disappointed, because Goldberg never fails to deliver. Authors like him are why I love to read.
Remaindered (2011)
Lee Goldberg
Top Suspense Books (Digital Ebook $1.99 list)
ASIN: B00571PRG2

Friday, November 4, 2011

Black Hawk Down (Mark Bowden)

If you’ve seen the 2001 movie, Black Hawk Down, then you are familiar with the events of Oct. 3-4, 1993, when a joint task force conducted what was supposed to be a half-hour operation designed to capture high-level Habr Gidr leaders in Mogadishu, Somalia.
But if all you know about the deadly fiasco is what you’ve seen in the movie, then here’s what you have to do:
First of all, find out when the one-and-a-half hour feature, The True Story of Black Hawk Down, is scheduled to play on the History Channel (or, it’s available on Google video and YouTube). It fills in details and offers a perspective from Mark Bowden, who wrote the original book, and military historians.
Then, you need to read Bowden’s book – Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern Warfare. In his book, Bowden tells an amazing story that reads like a novel. The characters come alive because they ARE real, which makes their experiences all the more incredible, horrifying, and believable.
A total of 19 aircraft, 12 vehicles and 160 men were originally committed to assault a clandestine meeting of Somali warlord Farrah Aidid. The task force was successful in that phase of the operation, capturing Omar Salad, Aidid’s top political advisor, and Mohamed Hassan Awale, his chief spokesman, along with one of his lieutenants, Abdi Yusef Herse.
Unfortunately, things went wrong. Right off the bat, one of the assault troops fell seven stories from his helicopter and was seriously injured. Things went progressively downhill from then, with mess-ups, mistakes, bad decisions, and mobs and mobs of “Mogs” converging on the assault site.
And then, things really got bad – a Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk troop-carrier helicopter went down in a very bad spot. Soon, another was shot down.
As Army Rangers and SEAL Deltas tried to converge on the crash sites, the U.S. forces were split up and came under heavy gunfire as hundreds upon hundreds of armed Somalis rushed to the scene, supplemented by unarmed residents who simply wanted to see what was happening.
Bowden’s book takes us where the movie and the History Channel documentary can’t take us – into the minds of the soldiers who were there, into the minds of the Somalis who were there, into the minds of the leaders who were trying to extricate the badly shot-up Rangers and Deltas.
There are back-stories galore; events and activities of the soldiers leading up to the raid are presented in detail. In all, 13 Americans were killed, dozens wounded. Estimates of Somali deaths range from 500 to 1,000, with 3,000 to 4,000 wounded. America definitely won the battle, but it lost the war as the U.S. soon pulled out of Somalia altogether.
No good deed goes unpunished. America went in on a humanitarian mission to alleviate the starvation problems, and ended up being hated.
It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words. But, I have found that to be only partially true. A few words can create a million pictures in one’s mind. And that’s the beauty of reading a story like Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern Warfare. No movie can make the same impact with such great detail and historical accuracy.
Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern Warfare (1999)
Mark Bowden
Atlantic Monthly Press ($14.99 list)
ISBN-13: 978-0871137388