The Queen of Crime Drama?

My latest visit to the public library netted me the 2 books I have already blogged about recently (both of them in the Zombie genre), plus Lynda La Plante’s Widows – written almost 40 years ago.

See the source image

I haven’t read any of La Plante’s work before and probably wouldn’t have chosen this book at all (since there isn’t a single Zombie in it – I say only half jokingly), had it not been for bumping into an old work colleague in the library who enthusiastically recommended it. Funnily enough, he had never been much of a reader himself, until the Covid lockdowns started…..and now he’s a book addict. Thank goodness something positive has come out of this whole Covid mess.

Anyhow, back to the book. The cover proclaims La Plante as the “Queen of Crime Drama”. Frankly I had my doubts, but having just finished the book, for a story that is now a little dated, having been written in the early 1980’s, it is rather good.

I won’t be rushing out in search of another of her books straight away, but I will probably read another one or two at some point down the line.

The story has been made into a TV series on British TV back in the 80’s and remade as a feature film in 2018. I remember watching the original series but couldn’t recall the various twists and turns of the story in detail until reading the book this week.

It’s a good story with strong female characters but somewhat stereotypical male crime gang members and the usual hard working but under appreciated London copper (police detective) out to prove his bosses and fellow officers wrong.

The general outline of the story is that 3 women are widowed when a security van robbery goes terribly wrong and their husbands – the would be robbers – are blown up and burned badly in the botched heist. One of the would be robbers is gangland boss Harry Rawlins. After having to identify what’s left of his burned body – his distraught wife Dolly identifies him based on his very expensive gold watch that he never takes off – she then discovers Harry’s bank deposit box containing a gun, money, business (that’s crime business) ledgers which names names and gives details of some very shady crime-land business, and detailed plans for the botched robbery.

Dolly has several options available to her. She could hand Harry’s ledgers to the police, in the form of under appreciated and rather slovenly looking D.I. Resnick and shut down half of the crime gangs in London; she could sell them to the underworld thugs who are eager to take over Harry’s turf; or she could bring in the other widows, of the failed raid, into the fold and form her own gang to finish the job that their husbands had failed to do.

It’s no real surprise and therefore not really a spoiler to tell you that Dolly decides on the last option and pulls together her gang of misfit widows to attempt to pull off a physically demanding robbery that their well built, criminally hardened and street wise husbands had failed to do. What could possibly go wrong?

Part way through their planning to replicate the robbery – less, of course, the explosion and fire carnage – they realise that the original plan that Harry devised would need 4 men, not 3……so who was the 4th man and where is he now? AND who should they draft in as the 4th woman for their team?

La Plante writes a very good story. I’m happy to report that she doesn’t spare the splattering of blood along the way either. Let’s face it gangland crime stories demand their ample share of blood and gore. There are several bone crunching, blood splattering moments strewn liberally throughout the story. We also experience the full spectrum of emotions felt by the widows as they firstly cope with the loss of their husbands and then deal with the stomach churning angst and thrills of plotting the robbery of a security van….involving stolen vehicles, disguises, shotguns, chainsaws and sledge hammers….and a gas mask. We are taken along for the ride and see the women slowly coming together as a team, even if personal differences will mean that it’s unlikely that they will ever be friends….or will they?

La Plante asks many questions of the plot and characters and gives us all the answers, including a couple of rather unexpected ones that I won’t mention here. But what we want to know as avid readers is…….Will they be successful where their menfolk failed? If they do pull off the robbery, will they get away from both the police and the underworld criminal fraternity? Who will they choose as their 4th team member? Will we find out who the 4th man in Harry’s team is? And will he be detrimental to the widows plans? I’ll say no more for fear of slipping up and giving a big spoiler away. Needless to say that not everything is as it seems to be.

All in all it’s a bloody good story – and I mean that both literally and figuratively speaking. Definitely worth a read. So, is Lynda La Plante the Queen of Crime Drama? Actually….she could well be.

As usual, many thanks for reading this blog. Comments, likes and shares are always appreciated.

Another rip roaring tale from Jonathan Maberry.

Wikipedia says – Patient Zero is a 2009 novel by American writer Jonathan Maberry and the first book in the Joe Ledger series. It was first published on March 3, 2009 through St. Martin’s Griffin and follows a detective that must help prevent the world from being terrorized by a bioweapon that turns humans into zombies.

See the source image

But it’s much more than that. Don’t write it off as “just another Zombie novel”. As Wiki says, it’s the first book in Maberry’s Joe Ledger series of books, and having already read King of Plagues – the third book in the series, which I blogged about in an earlier post – as a Mayberry and as a Joe Ledger fan….and let’s face it a fan of Zombies, I knew I had to read this book. The one that started it all. There are, by the way, now 10 books in the series. It was initially optioned for a TV series but as of yet nothing has happened as far as production goes.

Maberry researches his technical information thoroughly and for this book consulted many experts in their field, including Michael Sicilia who is the Public Affairs Manager with the California Office of Homeland Security, Exercise and Training Branch. He is the project manager of the Public Officials Initiative, which trains and exercises elected officials on their crucial role as crisis communicators in catastrophic emergencies – Staff at the Philadelphia Forensic Science Bureau – doctors working in the Department of Molecular Pathology and Neuropathology. He likes to get his tech info as factual as possible. Almost everything as regards surveillance, computer and weapons systems are real although some are not yet available on the commercial market.

The science, the prion diseases are also real…but the parasites and disease which cause the “zombie pathogen are fictitious (thank goodness)…BUT are based on and inspired by similar pathogens known about in science.

Getting back to the book….without any spoilers….you’ll just have to take my word for what a rip-snorter of an action packed story this is. We follow Joe Ledger, who at the start of the book is a police detective (ex army, martial arts expert), off duty and enjoying the waves… and the girls in bikinis, at his local beach. His peaceful day is ruined when he is approached by 3 large men with FBI I.D. who ask him to accompany them….in their car to a destination unknown.

And so begins the recruitment of Joe Ledger into the newly formed and highly secret DMS – The Department of Military Sciences (answering only to the President….or is the leader of this organization, the mysterious Mr Church, answerable to no one?). These are the guys responsible for snuffing out terrorist plots before they happen….the terrorist plots that never make it into the news media reports. We’ve all heard of black ops…..this department deals with a much, much darker shade of black.

Ledger has been brought in to lead an elite team of terrorist hunters, and in this story Zombie hunters, who threaten the existence of human kind, planet wide.

Even before Ledger can get settled in and start to train his team, he’s thrown in at the deep end…straight into one death defying mission after another. It’s fast paced stuff!

As the blurb on the back of the book cover says “When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week, then there’s either something wrong with your skills or something wrong with your world. And there’s nothing wrong with my skills.”

Yes…as you can see by that short smidgen of dialogue from the book, Maberry writes in the first person. He becomes Joe Ledger…or does Joe Ledger become him? Either way, and I noticed this in the King of Plagues book too, in some parts of the story it makes the writer (or the Hero) sound like a bit of a big head….a know all….a big I AM. To put it in a really cheesy / corny way – All men want to be Joe Ledger and all women want to be with him! That’s the way that Maberry wants his readers to view the hero of the hour. But, if you can get past that aspect of Maberry’s writing, you will enjoy this action packed story…..3 zombie slaying missions in 24 hours is as full on as it gets believe me!

Of course there is also a little dark humour, plus the all important romantic link to a female team member, a smattering of merciless terrorists, a power crazy multi-billionaire (think Bill Gates on steroids) and a mad, but very lustful scientist thrown in for good measure. …Oh and hundreds of bloodthirsty, brain munching zombies. You don’t have to think very much reading the Joe Ledger series….frankly he doesn’t give you the time to think as he barrels you along from one burst of action to another. This is definitely not a book that will exercise your grey matter, but for pure adrenaline rushing entertainment I loved it and got through it in 2 reading sessions…..not a lot of work achieved by me during that time, but worth it.

I’ll end with a few quotes of recommendation for the book …. but other than that, thanks for reading. Comments are always welcome.

Deserves to take his place among the best suspense writers of recent years” – John Connoly

His writing is powerful enough to sing with poetry while simultaneously scaring the hell out of you” – Tess Gerritsen

Scary, creepy and gripping…Patient Zero is Night of the Living Dead meets Michael Crichton” – Joseph Finder

Minority Report – Philip K Dick

Having read Philip K Dick’s Man in a High Castle a while back I was delighted and excited to spot a copy of his story Minority Report in a second hand book store. I knew a movie had been made of the story starring Tom Cruise but otherwise knew little about it. I was initially disappointed to discover that it wasn’t a full length novel, but was “only” a short story.

However, having now read said short story, plus several more in this collection of short stories, I am back to being delighted and excited once more. I realize I am a little slow on the uptake, but Philip K Dick is a Sci Fi genius…..and as a predictor of the future (much like George Orwell was hailed for his dystopian novel 1984), this collection of stories sets Philip K Dick head and shoulders above his peers. (And I think I just got away with using the phrase Dick Head in a completely accidental manner).

Both Dick and Orwell died well before their time. Orwell was only 46, Dick was 54. Both were excellent story tellers, but where Dick was a master of Science Fiction novels (44) and short stories (121), Orwell was mainly known as a journalist, essayist and writer of realism and only wrote a total of 6 novels.

But, there are similarities. Orwell’s Thought Police and Dick’s Department of Precrime for instance are both there to punish the citizens for crimes they haven’t yet committed.

Of the stories in this collection it’s difficult to find the weakest link. The book opens with a strong lead story which is of course Minority Report. Set in the future, the Department of Precrime relies on the predictions of 3 “precogs” – clairvoyant humans who’s babblings are deciphered by the computer they are all linked to – who usually come up with separate but unanimous decisions about future murders about to be committed. I say these predictions are usually unanimous, but sometimes only 2 of the 3 will agree – so a majority decision, a majority report is published and the future murderer is arrested and charged for a murder they haven’t yet committed, based on the majority decision. Of course if there is a majority report, there is also the minority report which is the decision of the odd one out. The department has murders down almost 100% and everything is working well until the head of the department finds his name on a card, spat out by the computer, that predicts that he will murder someone who’s name is not even familiar to him. Since the computer and the precogs are “never wrong” a warrant for his arrest is issued…..can he escape and prove his innocence by getting hold of the minority report? Of course the story written in 1956 is somewhat different to the action movie filmed in 2002 which includes technology not thought of by Dick back in the 50’s but the principle is the same.

Imposter is the second story. Again set in the not too distant future, Spence Olham is part of a team designing a weapon to be used against invading Aliens. He is accused by a co-worker and the head of security of being an android imposter sent by the Aliens to destroy the weapon. (Movie of the same name made 2001)

Second Variety is 3rd off the block set in a dystopian future on a battlefield where the Americans have designed small but deadly A.I. robotic drones with pincers and sharp blades that slash the enemy (Russian) troops. These robots have been taught to replicate themselves in underground factories within the battlefield. But the authorities have underestimated the growing intelligence of the A.I.’s (Made into a movie titled Screamers in 1995).

War Game – takes place in a building where futuristic interplanetary toys designed on Ganymede – a moon of Jupiter – are tested for safety before being allowed to be sold to the public. The humans in general don’t trust the Ganymedans as they always seem to be on the cusp of invading Earth. One game is a war game, where a dozen soldiers attempt to attack and breach the defences of a citadel. After each failure the soldiers re assemble and try a different tactic. The testers suspect that the citadel may contain a nuclear device. The second game is actually a suit that once put on takes the wearer into an alternate reality….and the third game is a board game similar to monopoly, called Syndrome.

SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!

This story “War Game” is one where I am about to reveal the end of the story so if you intend to read it skip the next couple of paragraphs.

The testers of the games decide that of the three games only the Syndrome board game is deemed to be safe for release to the general population and doesn’t constitute a threat to mankind. A toy salesman takes one of the games home to let his kids try out. He decides to show them how to play. Having been familiar with the game monopoly gives him, he believes, an advantage and pretty soon he has acquired all the property, shares in businesses and money and he declares himself the winner. The kids look puzzled and point out that, according to the instruction booklet, the aim of the game is to get rid of your properties, shares and wealth….so in fact the father had lost and the kids played off again to find out who was the winner. The father, was annoyed that it had taken the monopoly rules and turned them on their head, but the important thing was that his kids were enjoying playing the game. And the quote a couple of lines …evidently it would sell well. Already the two youngsters were learning the naturalness of surrendering their holdings. They gave up their stocks and money avidly, with a kind of trembling abandon. Glancing up, her eyes bright Lora said “It’s the best educational toy you ever brought home, Dad!”

Dick wrote War Game in 1959 – incidentally, but inconsequentially, my year of birth – however I can’t but help seeing the parallels here with Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum and his Great Reset plan – You Will Own Nothing and YOU Will Be Happy.

OK SPOILER OVER

The next…the fifth story is What Dead Men Say – again a futuristic story where the dead can, if the body is chilled correctly immediately after death and monitored carefully, be revived for a series of “half-life” appearances. But when they try to bring wealthy businessman Louis Sarapis back, something goes wrong. The revival of his body fails, but seemingly from the other side of the universe his disembodied voice is transmitted over the airwaves creating all kinds of plot twists.

Oh to be a Blobel! is the next offering. A human who used to be an interplanetary spy and underwent treatment to change his physical appearance to the of a Blobel – a little like a huge jelly-fish – in order to spy on another planet, was initially told that his physical transformation would be a temporary thing. It turns out that this was incorrect and he would now spend part of his day in human form and part as this huge blob of jelly……which brings about numerous trials and tribulations in his life and his quest to find a woman who understands and accepts him. I believe that the story has a lot to do with how one sees oneself. Self worth and what constitutes “success”.

The Electric Ant – is a story about a man (Garson Poole) who, after having a work accident and finding himself in hospital is told that he’s not actually human, but some sort of flesh covered android. This comes as a great shock to him and after he is sent home we follow his thought processes in his search for the meaning of life….of his life that is….and how, or even if, his life affects those around him.

Faith of our Fathers – is about a communist dictatorship where the population is kept in line by giving them hallucinogenic drugs. One day Tung Chien a mid level bureaucrat is given an anti hallucinogen by a crippled street vender which allows him to see the world as it actually is. (Includes communism, drugs, sex and god.)

We Can Remember it for You Wholesale – is another futuristic story in which space travel is only for the rich. But for a fraction of the cost of a space flight ticket, you can have an experience implanted into your brain so that you actually believe that you have made, in this case, a trip to Mars….and they provide you with helpful souvenirs as memory prompts. It features reality, false memories and real memories. The story was adapted in the 1990 movie Total Recall starting Arnold Schwarzenegger….and the 2012 remake with Colin Farrell in the staring role. Douglas Quail has a boring office job. He has always wanted to visit Mars but has been constantly put off the idea by his wife. He then discovers a company called Rekal where you can have “false” memories implanted into your brain which make you think that you have been to Mars, along with all the sensory effects. However when under sedation to have the false memories implanted, somehow he regains some long ago erased memories of who he really is.

All in all this is a really thought provoking collection of stories and well worth the few dollars to acquire this 2002 printed 2nd hand paperback.

If you’ve never read any of Philip Dick’s stories, this book would be a wonderful place to dip your toes into the magical waters of his strange and wonderful mind.

Again, thank you for reading this post. Comments always appreciated.

A few movie trailers of Dick’s books made into movies – for your amusement.

A must for Zombie Fans

I’ve just finished reading The Return Man, by V.M. Zito. I borrowed it from the public library 4 days ago and given the chance I would have read it in one sitting, except of course life gets in the way of reading time. The book is an excellent take on the tried and tested Zombie story and is loaded with action, thrills and spills. If you’re a fan of Zombie books or movies, this book is an absolute must!

It’s not only me who writes in praise of this novel either. Here are some words by others to encourage you to read this book.

“Thrilling… crowd-pleasing.” –Publishers Weekly

“Hands down one of the best zombie novels I’ve read in a long, long time.” –David Moody, acclaimed author of AUTUMN

“A harrowing, haunting, and beautifully written novel…” –Library Journal

“… an action-packed, plot-driven thrill ride that is frightening and savage.” –Rue Morgue Magazine

“Highly accomplished… bloody excellent.” –Financial Times

“In a word: relentless.” –London Telegraph

“A hair-raising quest… Zito expertly piles on thrills, cliffhangers and numerous twists.” –The Guardian UK

“Compelling, captivating and at times hauntingly scary.” –Fantasy Book Review

OK, so for those of you who haven’t stopped reading this blog post and rushed out to buy a copy….here’s a brief outline of the story without giving up any spoilers.

Henry Marco…..formerly known as doctor Henry Marco….is now a bounty hunter of sorts. He finds himself living in the former state of Arizona, in what are now known as the Evacuated States of America – west of the great divide. The eastern states are known as the Safe States. Safe from what you may ask?…..Well go on….ask! Zombies are what. The eastern states being the Zombie Free Safe Zone and the western states, being handed over to the living dead, has supposedly been evacuated of all living humans….except of course for Henry Marco.

Marco’s new job is to locate specific zombies – ex family members of people living in the Safe States – and to make that zombie dead again…..permanently. To give the tortured soul, of that former human being, everlasting peace. He has a colleague who lives and works in the Safe States, who get the job contracts for Marco and who receives payment for the jobs as, when and if, they are completed.

The main reason Marco remained in the west, despite efforts to evacuate the living, is that he is desperately trying to find his own wife, who he suspects is dead….Zombified. Why does he think this? He thinks this because he found her car with bloody hand prints on the windows inside her car, AND a pile of entrails on the floor beneath the driver’s seat.

The story is set 4 years after the zombie apocalypse began and Marco, once a doctor who’s job was to save people, has now transformed into a Zombie Hunter. He sort of likes being his own boss and being responsible for his own destiny while being of service to others. But then he is given a mission by the head of Homeland Security…..a mission unlike any that he has been involved in so far.

Will he come out of this one alive? Will he complete the mission successfully? Will he find his wife and put her soul to rest?

You’re going to have to read the book to find out. It’s a brilliant page turner of a book. I hurried along the adventure with Marco, eager to find those answers and many more….but was extremely sad to finish the book. I want more. More Marco missions.

I was most upset to find out that V.M. Zito has only written one other Zombie story – a short story at that – which is a prequel to The Return Man with the title of Waiting Room.

See the source image

To quote Fantastic Fiction website “In the eerie abandoned corridors of St. Pius Hospital, professional corpse-finder Henry Marco is on a dangerous mission — to track and dispatch the Resurrected corpse of a man named Tim Patterson. The hunt will end in the dark waiting room of the sixth floor maternity ward, where Marco must confront the ultimate question: What meaning does life have to the dead?”

Waiting Room is not available at the library, but is available as a kindle download. I hate Kindles and don’t use them, but for V.M. Zito I will make an exception.

Many thanks for reading this blog post. Your comments are always appreciated. I shall endeavour….or for the Americans among you… endeavor….to write more regular posts.

Featherston Book Town 2021 book haul.

After a few weeks of neglecting my blog, mainly because I found excuses to do other things, I’m back again. Invigorated by the annual book/writers/readers festival at New Zealand’s “Book Town” Featherston – about which another post will follow.

This is just a short post to get me back in the saddle, so to speak.

I made a list of books that I wanted to try to buy second hand from the 7 permanent book shops in Featherston village….or is it a settlement? Although called a Book Town, it’s surely too small to be recognized as a Town, with a little under 3000 population. There were also book stalls set up in the main hall representing many other of the regions book shops, some brand new books as well as second hand. Sadly of the list of 50 books to look out for I only managed to acquire 3 of them. However, although I didn’t get the specific books on my list, I did get other books by some of the authors I was looking for.

My smaller than hoped for haul of books

I had, over the last few months, become acquainted with the work of Philip Roth (see my earlier blog posts). I was trying to get a copy of American Pastoral. No luck with that particular book but I did find 2 others – Portnoy’s Complaint……and Exit Ghost – so, not a complete disaster. Also on the list were a couple of books by Ayn Rand – again no luck with the ones I was looking for (Anthem and Atlas Shrugged), but did find a copy of The Fountainhead.

The three books that I did manage to tick off my list were Wool by Hugh Howey, Lord of the Flies by William Golding and Swan Song by Robert R McCammon…..all three of them were recommended on line under the heading of best dystopian books. I still can’t believe that I haven’t read Lord of the Flies yet, but bear with me, I’ll get there.

Meanwhile, I still have my wish list of books and have heard of another used book store a half hour drive away that I haven’t explored yet in Napier. Since I still have money in my pocket I’ll visit The Little Book Shop tomorrow. Wish me luck!

The King of Plagues – Book Review

This is a brief book review for Jonathan Maberry’s novel The King Of Plagues – the third book in his Joe Ledger series of stories.

Joe Ledger was a Baltimore cop until he was enlisted by the DMS – the Department of Military Science – a crack team of investigators created to thwart bio terrorists and headed by a mysterious man called Church….or the Bishop…..or Deacon…or any other name related to the clergy. Everyone seems to know him by a different name

Ledger is accompanied by his white haired Alsatian dog by the name of Ghost, a dog almost as deadly as Ledger himself.

Ledger and Ghost are on the trail of a secret society known as the 7 Kings, who are lead by their self proclaimed Goddess, and who are determined to release weaponized versions of the Ten Plagues of Egypt in order to destabilize the world economy. The lives of millions of innocent people are in the balance unless Leger and his special ops team can bring down the Kings.

It’s a rip roaring, action packed story that will keep most Action/Military/Special Ops fans happy. Bad guys who kill without conscience, blood, guts, bullets, explosions and bio weapons galore….a fast paced story and a few twists and turns along the way to add enough uncertainty to make it interesting. Of course there is also a glamorous femme fatale or two to add a sexual angle to the story. Will Ledger and his team find out who the Seven KIngs are and stop them in time, or is this one fight that is unwinnable?

One particular Kings assassin, Santoro, has some good lines that enforce his reputation as a bad guy without a conscience….

“…when I kill for the Kings I am not committing murder, nor am I participating in acts of terrorism. Those are subjective concepts, and our worldview is grand. It is our mandate from heaven. As a result we are above all of that……because we have the power to enforce our own and particular set of rules”.

Anyone would think he was a politician, not an assassin. There are similarities I believe….they both think that they have the power to create their own set of rules that sets them above the common folk. Or am I just letting “Covid and the New Normal” bring out my petulant side?

He has zero remorse whether he kills thousands in a fiery bomb blast, or takes apart an innocent child.

The Kings set about wreaking havoc and Ledger and team always seem to be just a step behind, so close and yet so far from bringing a halt to the Kings dastardly plans. Will they get there in the end?

Read the book and find out.

The King of Plagues will never be looked upon as a classic piece of literature, but it is good entertainment and a light read. I give it a 3 out of 5.

Another Hemingway DNF

Although this was meant to be a book review, DNF being of course Did Not Finish, it would be hardly fair to review a book, in any depth, that I only read half way through. I mentioned in one of my very early blog posts how I struggled to get interested in Hemingway’s books and how much I wanted to like his writing. At the time I had been reading A Moveable Feast – his book of essays about life in Paris when he was a struggling writer. I said at the time of reading it that I enjoyed books, documentaries and movies about Hemingway, but couldn’t bring myself to a state of reading bliss when it came to books written by him.

I thought I would give him, and me, another chance and when I saw The Sun Also Rises on the shelves of Minton Booklovers – a most excellent second hand book store in the city of Napier, New Zealand – I felt compelled to buy it.

I had read, somewhere, that The Sun Also Rises was “a Hemingway masterpiece that salutes The Paris Cafe Scene, Spain and the Lost Generation”. Since all three of these subjects interest me I thought it would be a good read. BUT once again I struggled with Hemingway’s style of writing.

So, what is Hemingway’s writing style? It has been described as “economical, minimalist and sparse with few adjectives or adverbs”….OR “simple, direct and unadorned prose”. He writes giving little or no background information and often refers to it, he, or she without being specific about which it, he or she he is talking about. It has been suggested that his style developed from his days of being a journalist – giving just the bare bones about what happened and nothing else. He certainly doesn’t elaborate about anything. It was almost like stepping into the middle of a story rather than having a beginning and introducing us to the characters, setting the scene etc.

Many proclaim him a genius – a masterful writer. I honestly don’t understand why he is lauded by so many. He tends to provide the reader with the very basics necessary and leaves it up to us to add flesh to the bones of what the character means by what they say or deciding how they feel emotionally. I enjoy stories where I care about what happens to the characters, but it’s difficult to care about a character who is presented as all bones and no substance. There are, at times, occasional pages of conversation between two or more characters where it is difficult to follow who exactly is speaking….kind of like you’re listening into a conversation that you’re not part of, or not even meant to be part of. I felt like the book was some sort of “in-joke” that I was being deliberately excluded from.

I didn’t quite reach the half way mark of the 224 page story before I’d decided that enough was enough, for now at least. I’ll leave the bookmark in there and may get around to finishing it at a later date…..perhaps a bottle of whiskey would help?

Speaking of drinking, Hemingway is often associated with being a hard drinker and a tough fighter, but he claimed to rarely drink while writing. He would usually drink afterwards as a way of relaxing, to subconsciously work over the story in his mind, so that the following day he could continue to work with a clear head. Sometimes I wish he had partaken of a tipple or two while actually writing The Sun Also Rises as it may have relaxed his writing style, made his characters more believable, less wooden and far more interesting.

The Sun also Rises, I’m sorry to say, did not make my enthusiasm for Hemingway novels rise at all.

Everyman (2006)- Philip Roth – Book review

I’d never read any of Roth’s work until recently, when I read “The Plot Against America”. (I reviewed this recently on my blog). I was alerted to Roth’s work when I was reading Woody Allen’s autobiography and in it he mentions several writers who have either influenced him, or who he rates highly. Now I’ve finished “Everyman” I can see similarities between Allen’s characters and writing and Roth’s.

Both writers write stories about relationships, both are of Jewish background, both write about characters who are obsessed with sex and death, particularly the emptiness of death….when you’re dead the lights go out and that’s it.

See the source image

My copy of Everyman is only a small novel 182 pages or average sized print but it’s well written and looks at one man’s life – his hopes and dreams – and his relationships. Sometimes in life we make decisions that we have a pretty good idea at the time are the wrong decisions for oh so many reasons, but we still choose to make them for short term gains, or instant pleasure, rather than looking at the long term effects of those choices and the problems that those decisions can cause – not just to yourself but to those around you.

We follow the life of one man – a successful commercial artist who worked for an advertising company in New York. The story begins with his death during a heart operation in hospital, followed by his funeral. From here we travel back in time – to when he was a boy and helped his father in the family jewelry shop. It’s a story about relationships. It’s about life and it’s about death and how, sooner or later, it befalls us all. We get to examine his relationship with his parents, with his older brother (who he adored and yet came to hate in his old age), with his three wives – as he was thrice married – with his children from the first two marriages…and his infidelities along the way. He’s one of those guys who is controlled by the urges of the libido rather than by letting logical thought take the lead. And when it comes to describing his character’s sexual liaisons Roth certainly leaves nothing to the imagination – he’s very up front and quite explicit.

All through his life, when it comes to a pretty face, or a stunning body – all traces of common sense, and common decency, take flight. He knows he’s making rash, irrational decisions based on lust. Even when he himself makes a point of letting the reader know how perfect his second wife is in so many ways – he still choses to cheat on her (repeatedly) with a much younger photographic model – and to hell with the consequences.

Of all of his decaying relationships, the one which makes no sense at all is the one that he has with his older brother Howie. As a child he idolized his older brother and as they grew up, they had a strong brotherly bond and a supportive relationship, but as our unnamed advertising exec reaches late middle age, his years of good, robust health come to an end and he develops heart disease, resulting in a number of operations. His older brother however, is still the picture of health and he comes to envy and despise him because of this and gradually, as years pass by, they become estranged.

Without wanting to give away the entire plot….it’s a quite remarkable novel about life, it’s mysteries and it’s strange ways of either working out, or turning bad in turn, and the bleak acceptance that death is waiting for us and that we have little to no control over when we take our final breath. It’s also about wasted opportunities, it’s about regrets and about his ideals not turning out how he hoped they would, even about himself not turning out as he’d hoped he’d turn out – as he becomes the kind of man he never wanted to be – and eventually it’s about acceptance. A human story…a story about the frailties of human life.

According to the blurb on the rear jacket of the book “Everyman takes its title from an anonymous fifteenth-century allegorical play whose theme is the summoning of the living to death.”

Douglas Kennedy in The Times writes – “The genius of this short, bleak, remarkable novel stems from the way that Roth turns his desolate assessment of death into something bracing: an angry acceptance that mortality is the price we pay for the sheer wonder of this thing called life“.

See the source image
Drawing of Roth which appeared in the New York Times.

RIP Lawrence Ferlinghetti – Literary Legend.

It was only a couple of years ago….April 11th 2019 to be exact..as I was heading towards my 60th birthday, that I finally got to visit the famous City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, home base of the legendary Lawrence Ferlinghetti – writer, poet, publisher, bookstore owner, artist and facilitator extraordinary. Without him, so many poets would not have seen their works in print….without him we may not have even heard of the Beat Writers.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti at City Lights in 1982.

My purpose in San Francisco was two fold. Firstly to spend time visiting my son and daughter-in-law who had recently moved there from Boston, and secondly to visit the abundance of bookstores that San Francisco boasts. I should have, perhaps, visited City Lights first, but my reasoning for leaving it until last was that, having seen what is broadly acknowledged as the best and most welcoming bookstore in SF, it would spoil the experience of visiting the many other lesser known bookstores. The problem with this was that by the time I finally set foot inside City Lights and was astounded by its multitude of books, many not available elsewhere, I had already bought so many books at other bookstores that my suitcase was over weight for the trip home to New Zealand. As a result, my only purchase there was Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island Of The Mind – his 1958 best selling collection of poems from his early days.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti departed this earth on February 22nd 2021 – just one month shy of his 102nd birthday. A life well lived, a literary legend and rather than me re-hashing the many well researched and well written obituaries I will link 3 of them below, from the New York Times…..Reuters…..and from the Guardian as featured on MSN News.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Poet Who Nurtured the Beats, Dies at 101 – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti dies at age 101 | Reuters

Lawrence Ferlinghetti obituary (msn.com)

Actually the Reuters one would probably have made him laugh as he always insisted that he was not a “Beat Writer” as such, he was there but was just a bookshop owner. Many would beg to differ. I never met him, sadly, just visited the shop, picked up a book, sat and read a while in the poetry room upstairs soaking in the atmosphere and wondering about the many writers who had been there before me….before making my purchase and moving on. The outpouring of grief in Jack Kerouac alley outside City Lights by many of his fans and followers after his death, even in times of Covid-19 anti-social distancing regulations, showed the extent of the love and respect they have for the man and the legend.

I close with a few lines borrowed from his poem titled autobiography – which appears in A Coney Island of the Mind.

I have written wild stories without punctuation. I am the man. I was there. I suffered somewhat. I have sat in an uneasy chair. I am a tear of the sun. I am a hill where poets run…….

The Plot Against America – Book Review.

The Plot Against America was written in 2004 by American writer Philip Roth. It’s a novel, but told in the first person, using his own name along with real people from the 1930’s and 40’s – the time in which the story is set. So, in a way it reads more like an autobiography….but not one that is factual. In this story, rather than Franklin D Roosevelt winning the presidential election for the Democrats, it is taken out by Republican Charles Lindbergh (the famous aviator…..and Nazi sympathiser). This of course puts a different spin on world war 2 and which side the USA is leaning toward supporting.

See the source image

Roth is an American of Jewish heritage and in this book he writes a story featuring himself as a child in Newark living in a very Jewish neighbourhood. His main concern and his main passion, at the beginning of the story, is his stamp album….collecting stamps and keeping them safe for posterity. This of course is the period of history where Hitler comes to power in Germany, endeavours to conquer Europe and bring about the “final solution” to what he sees as the Jewish problem.

Once Lindberg looks like becoming the Republican nominee for the presidency, the world of the Jewish population in America takes a distinct turn for the worse. The persecution of the Jews becomes an accepted thing.

We follow the Roth family – Philip, the youngest child, his older brother Sandy and his parents – through a disturbing turn of events in an American history that didn’t happen, but could have very easily. Philip’s parents take in cousin Alvin to raise as their own ( a troubled youth) to try to straighten him out and set him on the right path, but he runs away to Canada to join the war effort against Hitler’s Nazi tyrants. Within a short time, Alvin is badly wounded, losing half a leg from the knee down….(what a stupid statement….it’s not likely to be from the knee up is it?) and returns to the Roth household broken and dejected. Young Philip shares a bedroom with Alvin and helps to dress his stump and look after his welfare.

Roth writes a very believable story of ordinary citizens turning against the Jews in late 1930’s early 1940’s America. The phrase “it can’t happen here” rings out….but fact is, it can happen anywhere and often does. In Nazi Germany, German Jews who had lived quite happily with other Germans for years and were considered friends and acquaintances were abandoned and attacked by their former neighbours and handed over to the Nazi’s and Gestapo. And in “The Plot Against America” the Jews are once again the target of hatred, but this time it’s in the “land of the free”.

Lindberg initiates the Office of American Absorption (OAA)- programs to separate Jewish youths from their families and place them far away from home with gentile families on “work experience” where they become more Americanized. Philip’s brother Sandy is sent away to a farm in Kentucky during the 6 week school holiday to return home later a changed character who has no respect for his father and mother and has become an admirer of Lindberg.

I don’t want to talk in any detail about the plot as I’d like to encourage you to read it for yourselves and so don’t want to give away too much and spoil your reading experience.

Leaving talk of this particular book just there, many of us look at the slaughter of the 6 million Jews in Nazi Germany and question how anything like that could happen, where right thinking people initially turn a blind eye and then actually support the persecution of a particular group of people based on race, religion, or political beliefs – but it happens a lot. It is often seen as convenient to blame a particular set of people for causing problems to make them scapegoats for something that they were never responsible for. A way for the government, ruling classes, or crazed dictator to drive a wedge between other once peaceful parts of the civilian population. It happened to anyone of middle eastern origin/Muslims after the 9/11 tragedy. It’s happened more recently in Europe with eastern Europeans moving to the west and taking western jobs….and more recently still with Syrian refugees fleeing conflict in their own country and escaping to Europe and Britain in particular. The established residents take an instant disliking to the “invading refugees” and eye them suspiciously because they don’t understand their culture and most people fear, and therefore hate, what they don’t understand.

It worries me that more division, hatred, bullying and other means of victimization will occur, and be encouraged to occur, between those who accept the official narrative and take the covid-19 vaccine and those who question or refuse a vaccination. Already rival factions are attacking one another verbally on social (or not so social) media. The vitriol was already heated with threats of violence even before the various vaccines were approved for use. I wonder and worry what will happen now that the vaccinations have begun in earnest.

Going back to Roth’s book. At the end of the story is a post script in which Roth provides true details of some of the real life characters who appeared in his story. It’s actually uncanny how close Roth’s fictional events came to happening in reality having read the details in the post script. Scary stuff.

There is a 2020 HBO TV mini-series based on Roth’s book. I haven’t seen it yet, but judging by the trailer – link below – it appears to stick closely to the original story.

(408) The Plot Against America: Official Trailer | HBO – YouTube

“Anything can happen to anyone, but it usually doesn’t. Except when it does.”
― Philip Roth, quote from The Plot Against America