2 Spellings of Gray. Or Grey.

Photo credit: Ani Kolleshi @ anikolleshi

It must be because I’ve been plowing through Mark Greaney’s Gray Man novels – I got to thinking about the spelling of the word “gray,” which seems to be in a “dynamic” state just now.

As a child I learned the basic rule – Americans spell it “gray;” the English spell it “grey.” The first warning of change swam into my ken when I read an interview with Colleen McCullough, author of the besteller, The Thorn Birds. I think it was in the 1980s. She said, as I recall, that she always spelled it “gray,” except when describing eye color. “Grey” just seemed right for eyes, she said.

And it did seem right in that case. Maybe it’s the mirroring of the two vowels, “e” and “y.” There seems to be a suggestion of something kind of blue-grey in the English spelling. At least for me.

Then, years later, along comes the novel, Fifty Shades of Grey (Sorry, I will not link to it). It became a huge phenomenon and Americans began to see that “ey” spelling in front of their faces all day long. It seems to have imprinted itself on a lot of them.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that sexual excitement increases memorability.

In any case, it seems to be catching on. I’ve noticed that James Lileks consistently spells it “grey” over at the Daily Bleat. I expect that has more to do with the time he’s spent in England than with Fifty Shades.

But it looks (to me) as if we’re in the midst of a spelling shift in this country. The English are winning this one. Gradually.

Me, I’m going to stick with “gray,” even though I’ll admit I kind of like “grey.” I’m an anglophile, after all, and there is a certain nuance with the “ey.”

But I stick with the old rules, unless there’s good reason to drop them. And “gray” has committed no crime deserving of termination.

‘No Good Deed,’ by James Swain

The second book in James Swain’s intriguing Lancaster and Daniels series has now been released. No Good Deed is well worth your time and money.

Former Navy Seal and cop Jon Lancaster, and FBI agent Beth Daniels, are not officially a team, but once again they end up working together. Jon works for The Adam Project, a group devoted to finding kidnapped children. When he learns of the abduction of a teenaged girl in a small Florida town, he cancels a fishing vacation to see if he can help. And he does – he discovers a clue suggesting that the missing girl was not the kidnappers’ real target. They wanted her grandmother, who was murdered at the scene, but things didn’t go according to plan.

This links the crime to a string of abductions of adult women across the state. That brings in the FBI, and Lancaster and Daniels meet again – awkwardly. They’d had a couple dates after their last case, but then Daniels stopped answering his calls. They like and respect each other, and share a passion for their work, but their approaches are different. Lancaster is all about the objective – he’ll cut corners to save a life, without hesitation. Daniels needs to do things by the book. Cooperating with Lancaster will mean compromising her standards and breaking FBI regulations. Can she justify enabling Lancaster? Can she justify not enabling him? Each of them will learn the others’ darkest secrets, and share their own, before they solve the case.

No Good Deed is an exciting story, well told. Christianity gets a couple favorable mentions. I liked it. Cautions for language and intense situations.

Old movie review: ‘Passport to Suez’

Ever since I started spending my days at home, I’ve been exploring television options (when I’m not listening to talk radio). There were a couple different choices on free broadcast TV for old westerns, but I’ve begun to exhaust those over the past year. Now, having recently acquired a new Blu-Ray player (the old one died; they seem to have the life expectancy of goldfish), I’ve begun exploring the possibilities of that device. One thing I can do with it is stream Amazon Prime video. Last night I tried out an old movie in a series I knew mostly by reputation – Passport to Suez, a Lone Wolf movie starring Warren William.

Warren William had an intriguing career. He looks and sounds like an Englishman, but was actually born in the small town of Aitkin, Minnesota. One’s immediate impression when he comes on screen is, “This can’t be the hero. He’s too old.” He does indeed look old, but nevertheless he is the star. Like Basil Rathbone, he was known as a screen villain, but had a successful run as a movie detective – Michael Lanyard, “The Lone Wolf.” (This 1943 movie would be his last appearance in the role. He would die in 1948, aged 53.) The Lone Wolf character was similar to the Saint – a reformed thief now operating as a private detective. The character was created by American writer Louis Joseph Vance in 1914. Though English, Michael Lanyard (it is clearly explained) is now a patriotic American citizen.

The Lone Wolf does not noticeably live up to his nickname. He is staying in a Cairo hotel with his constant companion, his valet Jamison (Eric Blore), and immediately gets flowers sent by the hotel’s owner, his old buddy Johnny Booth (a young Sheldon Leonard playing a sort of Rick Blaine without the secret sorrow). A driver named Fritz (a youthful Lloyd Bridges showing off a not-bad English accent) comes to take them to visit the head of British intelligence in the city, but Fritz is actually a Nazi agent. He delivers them to a German spymaster, who threatens them to help him but is bluffing – he knows Lanyard will try to double-cross him, and he’s planning on that.

It all gets complicated (and implausible). Actress Ann Savage is there as the Dangerous Dame, and a series of Middle Eastern sinister types worthy of “Algiers” (one of my favorite movies) pop in and out, often through an odd tiled wall in Johnny’s office, equipped with a secret door. (It seems as if anybody can wander in; I’d have it nailed shut if I were him.) But all in all, Passport to Suez was a pleasant entertainment, atmospheric and streaked with interesting shadows. I liked it.

My only real quibble is the final action sequence, which involves Lanyard in a borrowed plane, firing a machine gun at a car driven by fleeing Nazis. This is supposed to be Egypt, but the landscape looks like the American Midwest. I mean, there’s plenty of desert not far from Los Angeles. Couldn’t they have shot there? (I expect the answer is, “We were using stock footage.”)

Still, a fun flick. I think I’ll watch another.

‘Gunmetal Gray,’ by Mark Greaney

Another Gray Man novel by Mark Greaney. The books make no claim to literary excellence or psychological depth. They’re just action movies in print form, low on credibility but high on entertainment value.

The basics of super-operative Court Gentry’s life have changed in Gunmetal Gray. (By the way, this use of the term “gunmetal” annoys me a little. Everyone assumes – as I did at first – that the word “gunmetal” refers to the color of iron or steel. Because that’s what we make guns out of today. But originally [I looked it up once] it referred to a yellow color, the color of brass – because that’s what cannons used to be made of. Not that anyone cares anymore.) Anyway, Court Gentry is back in the good graces of the CIA, not as a regular agent but as a deniable private contractor. This situation, though one he’s longed for for years, is not as good as he imagined, as he will soon learn.

A Chinese army computer hacker named Fan Jiang has defected. He had intended to run to Taiwan, but ended up in the hands of Hong Kong gangsters. The Chinese contracted with Sir Donald Fitzroy, an old (though estranged) friend of Court’s, to retrieve Fan. Sir Donald’s first two teams got killed, and so he asked Court to step in. The Chinese have added an incentive – they’ve kidnapped Sir Donald, and promise to kill him if he can’t get the job completed.

Court takes the job, with the CIA’s encouragement. They don’t care about Sir Donald – they want Fan for themselves. Court, though, plans to do it his own way – to divert Fan to the Americans while rescuing Sir Donald.

Piece of cake.

If the plot sounds kind of convoluted, it is. I found a lot of the book unengaging – you’ve got a couple kinds of gangsters plus the Chinese and the Russians (I didn’t mention the Russians before), and Court himself, running around bumping into one another like characters in a French bedroom farce – except bloodier. It was kind of hard to tell the players apart.

It got better toward the end, when Court paired up with a beautiful Russian operative who’s sort of a distaff image of himself (sparks fly). At that point my interest returned. Court comes out looking pretty good, though otherwise it’s hard to tell the white hats from the black in this story.

In spite of cynicism about the CIA (no doubt justified), there’s a basic morality and American patriotism in the Gray Man books that please me. I recommend Gunmetal Gray if you’re a fan of this kind of story, though it’s not the best of the series. Cautions for language, violence, and some off-stage sex.

For your Spectation

I have a new column up at The American Spectator Online today: Slaves to Intellectual Fashion: 1619. A little more fiery and dismissive than my usual stuff, I think. This particular initiative gets my goat in a personal way. I consider it slander against a country I love and am grateful for.

The weekend was good, thanks for asking. We had a couple Viking groups at Nisswa, Minnesota for a one-day Viking event on Saturday. I took a few pictures, but they weren’t very good. Having 2 groups together made it possible to have some relatively impressive battles, with (I guess) 15 to 20 guys all together. I did not participate in those. I sat in my pavilion in Viking splendor, dispensing wisdom and information to all comers. Also selling books.

It was nice, the weather was beatiful, and I stayed with some very gracious hosts in Brainerd. All in all, pretty rewarding. The scuttlebutt is that the event will happen again next year.

‘Debunking Howard Zinn’

This isn’t a review, just a signal-boosting mention of a new book by a woman I used to know online. We haven’t been in contact for a while, but Mary Grabar has obviously been fighting the good fight. She just released Debunking Howard Zinn, a book on Howard Zinn’s influential A People’s History of the United States. From the blurb:

Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States has sold more than 2.5 million copies. It is pushed by Hollywood celebrities, defended by university professors who know better, and assigned in high school and college classrooms to teach students that American history is nothing more than a litany of oppression, slavery, and exploitation. 

Zinn’s history is popular, but it is also massively wrong.

Scholar Mary Grabar exposes just how wrong in her stunning new book Debunking Howard Zinn, which demolishes Zinn’s Marxist talking points that now dominate American education. 

Watch for ‘Wisting’

I have approval now to tell you about another Norwegian TV miniseries I helped translate. You may recall the name Wisting, because I reviewed several of the books on which this series is based, written by Jørn Lier Horst. I couldn’t say it at the time, but I got interested in the books when I worked on the TV scripts (though I admit I only helped with a couple). The books seem to be out of print in English right now, but I suspect they’re preparing a new edition to tie in with the miniseries.

Should be interesting. It’s been broadcast in Norway already, so I would look for it to show up on Netflix or something before very long. Recommended, with cautions for the sort of things you’d expect.

‘A Dangerous Man,’ by Robert Crais

Robert Crais switches off between books starring his private detective character, Elvis Cole, and books starring Joe Pike, Elvis’s associate, whose actual vocation is security and covert ops. The Elvis books are notable for the main character’s charm – he’s a laid back, slightly flippant character. Joe Pike is his dark shadow – grim and taciturn, physically conditioned and in perfect control of his body and reactions. He rarely speaks, wears sunglasses almost all the time, and lives an ascetic, squared-away life.

A Dangerous Man is (as you might have guessed) primarily a Joe Pike book. Joe is at the bank one morning when he witnesses the attempted abduction of one of the tellers, Isabel Roland (who has a secret crush on Joe). Joe intervenes and rescues the girl. Soon afterward the kidnappers are mysteriously released on bail and murdered. Then Isabel disappears again.

Nobody has hired Joe, but he makes it his case. He feels responsible. To locate Isabel, he needs to find out why a not very well-to-do bank teller would be kidnapped (this is Elvis’s job). The investigation will uncover old ties to Isabel’s parents, drug dealers, the witness protection program, and a whole lot of missing money.

The special delight of a Joe Pike novel is the moments when we peek behind his armor. Joe is so stolid that he almost counts as a type rather than a character. But that makes those rare human moments shine through like sunbeams.

A Dangerous Man was an extremely satisfying read. Highly recommended, with mild cautions for language and violence.

Can Christians Write Good Satire?

A popular fact-checking, myth-busting website has been in something of a stare-down with a popular Christian satire site over everyone’s favorite topic since 2016–fake news. Worries flare over the possibility that readers will take headlines like this, “Portland Police: ‘We Wish There Were Some Kind Of Organized, Armed Force That Could Fight Back Against Antifa’,” as actual reporting.

Christianity Today’s “Quick to Listen” podcast interviewed an editor of the biggest Christian satire and humor magazine in our lifetime on that topic and what Christians should expect from satire.

The Wittenberg Door and other Christian satire at its best would be like the little boy in the old fable who was the only one who would say the king is buck naked. Everybody else was just nodding about how well-dressed the king was. Well, good satire is sometimes that little boy who points out what we’re all either afraid to say or just overlooking.

‘Back Blast,’ by Mark Greaney

Court realized that people here in the U.S. were nicer to strangers than in the other places he’d traveled in the past five years–when they weren’t shooting you in the ribs, that was. And while Court had no problem with politeness, for a man who lived his life moving through society without leaving a trace, this was problematic.

In a fictional series, it seems to me, the reader expects a certain familiarity. The story ought to be the same kind of story as those that preceded it. But it can’t be too familiar. Mark Greaney does a very good job rejiggering the formula in his Gray Man novels, starring white hat international assassin Courtland Gentry, formerly of the CIA, now hunted by them.

Back Blast provides a dramatic new wrinkle — Court is finally back in the US. For five years, he’s been a man without a country, living in the shadows on several continents, taking contract hit jobs (but only against bad guys). He’s a consummate martial artist, a dead shot, and a master of camouflage — even in urban environments. But now, thanks to a grateful friend in Mossad, Court is back home. He’s in the Washington DC area, and he’s identified his target — Denny Carmichael, operations chief of the CIA. Denny put the kill order out on Court, and Court wants to know why. He wants it fixed. He wants to come home.

But Denny has deep and dark secrets to protect. His resources are almost unlimited. He has a plan — a devious and ruthless one — not only to kill or capture Court, but to make Court the scapegoat for his own crimes. It’s a David and Goliath fight — but this David is no simple shepherd boy. He does, however, have a big shock in store for him.

Lots of fun. Very satisfying. Be prepared to suspend your disbelief, of course, and enjoy the ride.

Cautions for language and violence, but not too bad. Recommended, like the whole series.

Alcorn Giving Away His Royalties

Years ago, author Randy Alcorn was a pastor, participating with his church in some resistance work at the local abortion clinic. For that work the courts penalized him and other members of the team thousands of dollars to be paid to the clinics. They would not pay. More court hearings came with more penalties, eventually landing the group in a jury trial before an angry judge.

“On February 11, 1991, nine of the twelve jurors agreed to award the abortion clinic $8.2 million dollars, averaging about $250,000 per defendant. It was the largest judgment ever against a group of peaceful protestors. “

But Alcorn has not paid the clinics anything; instead, he has given away over $8.2 million in book royalties to various charities. He wrote about all of this on his blog last month.

The Donald and the Erik

Scrupulously researched portrait of Erik the Red from Arngrimur Jonsson’s Gronlandia (ca. early 17th Century).

Sorry about the lack of a post last night. I actually posted one, and WordPress disappeared it. It vanished into the ether, like a childhood friend of Stalin. I don’t know what my sin was.

Let’s see if this one stays up.

Last night’s post wasn’t anything you’ll miss much, just a reminiscence from my childhood. Not even very dramatic. Maybe I’ll write about it again someday.

One of today’s big news stories is that President Trump, apparently, would like the US to purchase Greenland.

It ain’t gonna happen, according to the Danes. They have no need, or wish, to part with one of the very few remnants of their once-extensive empire.

And after all, people live in Greenland. I would hope they’d have a say in the matter.

Still, it’s an intriguing thought. It occurs to me that Donald Trump and Erik the Red, settler of Greenland, are kindred souls.

Both are larger-than-life characters, combative, practiced in self-promotion. The saga famously says that Erik called his country Greenland “because people would be more inclined to move there if it had a pleasant name.”

Thus he’s been called the first real estate developer.

I like to think that if Erik and Donald could meet, they’d take to one another right off. Sit down over some mead (though I understand Pres. Trump doesn’t drink) and talk deals.

I suspect Erik could have been talked out of Greenland, for a sweet enough offer.

‘The 12th Man,’ by Scott and Haug

A multitude of stories of courage and endurance come out of World War II. Surely one of the most remarkable is that of Jan Baalsrud (pronounced “Yon Bowls-rood”), the subject of the book, The 12th Man by Astrid Karlsen Scott and Tore Haug. (If you see a book called Defiant Courage, it’s the same book. They changed the title to go with the release of a 12th Man movie a couple years back.)

Jan Baalsrud was one of a team of 12 saboteurs who sailed to Norway from Scotland in a fishing boat as part of a “Shetland Bus” operation in 1943. They were to deliver arms, munitions and supplies to the Resistance, and to attack some air bases. Tragically, a missed connection led to their betrayal, and a German patrol ship attacked them. They managed to blow their boat up, but the whole team except for Baalsrud were either killed on the spot or captured, tortured, and executed. Baalsrud himself escaped into the mountains with one foot bare and wounded.

Then followed months of working his way eastward toward the Swedish border through some of the roughest terrain in the world. He endured an avalanche, starvation, frostbite, gangrene (he amputated his own toes) and snow blindness. He received help and supplies from scattered farms along the way, but when he finally came to the great mountains around Manndalen he was unable to go further under his own power. He then became dependent on a team of Resistance sympathizers in the area who – in spite of killing weather and repeated missed appointments – refused to let this brave man die.

It’s a harrowing, almost unbelievable story. It was first publicized (I believe) by David Howarth in his book The Shetland Bus. Later he devoted a whole book, We Die Alone, to the tale.

Unfortunately (the authors report) Howarth didn’t get the whole story. Apparently, the Norwegians he interviewed were suspicious of him, and did not tell him everything they knew. Authors Scott and Haug spent five years interviewing surviving participants and combing the records, in order to provide what they believe to be an accurate account.

Sadly, their book isn’t very well written. Ms. Scott and Dr. Haug describe themselves as co-authors, but to me The 12th Man reads exactly like a bad translation (and I know bad translations). The phrasing is consistently Norwegian (hence awkward in English), the word choice poor. I wish I could say otherwise, but the book needed a good editor badly. I’m not quite satisfied with a few passages in Viking Legacy, but I felt better after reading this.

But if you can deal with the clumsy writing, it’s one heck of a story. Cautions for intense situations.

‘Gone To Sea In a Bucket,’ by David Black

‘That’s why the trade has a reputation for being a bit more easy-going than the proper navy. You’ll have heard it and you’ll hear it again. But only from those that don’t understand. There isn’t less discipline in the trade, Mr. Gilmour. If anything, the discipline here is the hardest of all. Self-discipline….’

I don’t generally read novels about World War II, but Gone To Sea In a Bucket by David Black starts in Norway, and so I noticed it. Not a bad book, either.

It opens during the Battle of Narvik, in 1940. Sub Lieutenant Harry Gilmour is experiencing his first naval battle, but it’s not much of an experience. Guided by aerial spotters, the ship he’s on is lobbing cannon shells over the mountains from one fjord to another. They can’t even see the enemy.

Harry Gilmour is making a poor start to his naval career. He was brought in as part of a Navy program to increase the officer pool, outside traditional training sources. But that doesn’t make him welcome to the “old navy” hands. Harry’s not quite their sort.

But a compassionate senior officer intervenes. He informs Harry of openings in the submarine service (known to its members as “the trade”). It’s a different world there. The small crews and tight spaces make traditional navy discipline and separation of ranks impossible. Submarine service is dauntingly dangerous and physically demanding, but it gives Harry the best possible opportunity to develop his personal qualities – he discovers he’s hard-working, brave, and fiercely loyal. His service will bring him near death, and take his “boat” into a secret mission to the edge of the world.

I was not much impressed at the start of Gone To Sea In a Bucket. I thought the writing muddy and wordy, and I caught some grammar lapses. But it grew on me as I read. Once I got used to the author’s style it seemed to get better and better, until I found myself admiring various passages.

I also liked the treatment of the characters. Author Black likes to give us a bad first impression of a character, and then gradually reveal his or her story until we come to admire – or at least sympathize with – them.

The Harry Gilmour series seems to be sort of a modern Horatio Hornblower saga. I probably won’t be continuing with it, because I find submarine stories kind of… claustrophobic. But if this is your kind of epic, I would recommend it. Minor cautions for language and intense violence.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture