I’m reading a greater variety of authors these days, as I follow bargain offers on Amazon. This brings me into contact with more poorly written books (which I endure with greater patience than in my palmier days), but now and then I encounter something interesting.
This one, for instance. It isn’t often I encounter a book I consider a genuine original. But Silent Retribution Man by J. Sato was unlike anything I’ve read before. It’s not without flaws, but it was a fascinating exercise.
The Amazon review says the narrator’s name is Lionel Seaver, so I suppose that name must have cropped up somewhere in the text. But mostly he calls himself Silent Retribution Man. Once an ordinary lawyer and family man, his life got demolished in a day. He then found his “purpose in life” (quoting Steve Martin in “The Jerk.” He can barely express himself without quoting movies and TV shows) in getting revenge on the creeps of the world. Not the ordinary run of rude and obnoxious people, but those egregious types who take pleasure in cruelty, or ruin others’ lives for personal gain. Silent Retribution Man finds simple ways to give them a taste of their own medicine. Sometimes his activities are rather pleasant to observe, sometimes shocking. But always effective.
Until the day it goes wrong.
He tells his story to a journalist. There’s a reason why he’s
seeking this publicity, and I did guess that reason before it was officially revealed.
But the details were fascinating, and the ending something of a surprise.
The book had flaws. There were spelling problems, as is so
often the case in novels today. And the whole story is morally problematic –
but that’s kind of the point. We’re forced to confront our assumptions about
what’s fair and right and just. There are no easy answers.
I enjoyed Silent Retribution Man, and recommend it for adults. Worth your time.
Erik (teacher): Why is it of particular interest to talk about the old Norse gods? Especially right here in Edda? Gry?
Gry: Because was Edda was the last town in Norway to become Christian. Ah, and to give up faith in the Norse gods.
Erik: Yes, that is correct. One could say it all happened right here. Ragnarok. The end of the world. The final clash between the gods and the giants.
If I had seen the promotional tagline you see on the poster above, “This is where it all begins,” I might have watched Ragnarok, Netflix’s new six-episode series, in anticipation of an open, unfinished story — a part one. The series does have good character arcs and bring things together at the end, but it doesn’t wrap them up nearly as I was expecting. I kept thinking our hero would have to really lower the hammer in the next episode, but the final showdown isn’t, you know, the end of the world.
Norse myth fans will easily recognize names and characters as they appear: Odin and Frigg, Thor and Loki are represented in the old man with an eyepatch with the oddly serene, oddly prophetic wife, the mischievous brother, and the kind, justice-minded son. And the villain is named Vidar (Lars can tell us what that means).
Ragnarok is set in Edda, another nod to the myths, but it moves as methodically as any high-school superhero origin story might. Magne arrives with his family in this new town, which is his hometown but they had moved away after his father’s death several years ago; his mother’s new job at the undefined industry that supports Edda has brought them back. He befriends the “greenpeace” girl, Isolde, and learns that official accounts of the pristine nature of their town and country don’t fit the evidence they draw from the river.
Sometimes, even in my reading life, I come across something that reminds me I’m a native of another century. Green Light by Tom Barber is such a book. Rousing, but for me it skipped over the interesting parts.
Sam Archer, hero of the series of novels of which this one
is the seventh, is an Englishman working in the New York City Police
Department. (The author is clearly English, as he has his Americans employing
English colloquial expressions, and the spelling and orthography are uniformly English.)
Think Chris Hemsworth for Sam, which is probably what the author has in mind,
because if any book was ever written with an eye to making an action movie, it’s
Following a high-octane chase and shootout, Detective Archer and his colleague/girlfriend, Alice Vargas, stop to pick up food at a convenience store. In the parking lot, they observe a young woman being attacked by two thugs. They rush to help, but the thugs pull guns, kill the girl, and shoot both cops who, though caught unprepared, are wearing their ballistic vests. Sam gets away with bruises, but Alice is wounded and rushed to the hospital.
Sam then gets sandbagged, suspended, and even arrested thanks to a police superior who hates him. But he’s gotten a whiff of a conspiracy involving human traffickers and high-level blackmail, and he won’t let up until he finds the men who shot Alice. He’ll have to tangle with more powerful criminals than them, though, before he gets to the heart of the conspiracy. Thankfully, he has friends in the department who’ll go the extra mile for him.
My problem with Green Light was that it was 90% action and 10% character stuff. I like to take time over the course of a story to get to know the people. The human interactions here, when we were allowed to observe them, were perfectly fine. I liked the characters. But they rarely got a minute to rest. And I can’t help thinking (old horse that I am) that even strong young people can’t handle that level of violence indefinitely.
You may like Green Light more than I did, especially if you’re a young reader. Cautions for violence and language.
As you doubtless know already, screen legend Kirk Douglas died on Wednesday, 103 years old.
Born Issur Danielovitch in Amsterdam, New York to Jewish immigrant parents, he turned a difficult, impoverished childhood into fuel for a red-hot film career. Whether he played good guys or bad guys, his characters always burned with an inner rage. It was impossible to be bored with a Douglas portrayal.
He played two Norwegian roles in his career (that I’m aware of) The Heroes of Telemark, and The Vikings, and I’m grateful for them. We sometimes make jokes about the Jewish Vikings in 1958’s The Vikings, but in one sense I’d say he was the best movie Viking ever. The film itself, in spite of some minimal efforts at authenticity within the limits of the scholarship of the day, is fairly cartoonish, though undeniably rousing. But Douglas himself (even beardless) caught the spirit of the Viking perfectly. It would be very hard for any actor today to match the swagger, the sheer, strutting male display that Douglas brought to the role.
In the clip above, he and some extras do a trick that’s recorded in the Saga of Olaf Trygvesson — running along the ship’s sides on the oars. Douglas insisted on doing the stunt himself, and was a good enough sport to leave his falls in.
Colley Cibber (1671-1757) was an actor, playwright, and theater manager who made a name for himself initially as a comic actor in his own play, Love’s Last Shift, playing Sir Novelty Fashion.
Hilliaria: Oh! For Heav’n’s sake! no more of this Galantry, Sir Novelty: for I know you say the fame of every Woman you see.
Novelty: Every one that sees you, Madam, must say the fame. Your Beauty, like the Rack, forces every Beholder to confess his Crime–of daring to adore you.
He also reworked Shakespeare’s Richard III and Moliere’s Tartuffe. It was for crimes such as these that he was made Britain’s poet Laureate in 1730, drawing ire from contemporary poet Alexander Pope and his friends. They mocked him aggressively in print, some perhaps in good fun, some perhaps with malice.
Benham’s Book of Quotations gives sixteen pages to Pope’s words and to Cibber’s one column, and lest they die their appointed death too soon, I’ll repeat some Cibber lines here.
“Poverty, the reward of honest fools.”
“The aspiring youth that fired the Ephesian dome Outlives in fame the pious fool that raised it.”
It’s a rare experience for one of my gray hairs and reverence to watch a beloved childhood TV show and discover that it’s actually better than remembered. But such is the case for me with Yancy Derringer, a 1958-59 show that’s technically classed as a Western. It’s not really, though, because it’s set in New Orleans and the action is mostly urban. You could make a case that it’s really historical Noir (of course, I see Noir under every bed).
The eponymous hero, Yancy (played by stunt man and actor Jock Mahoney), is a scion of New Orleans’ elite society, a Confederate veteran, who returns from a sojourn in the Wild West to find that his riverboat is in someone else’s possession, along with the old family plantation, and his mansion (the same one they used in Gone With the Wind, by the way) has been turned into a casino.
Burning with anger at the local criminal element, Yancy gets
an offer that you’d think anyone could refuse, from the federal administrator
of New Orleans, currently under martial law. This man is John Colton, played by
a Scandinavian-American actor named Kevin Hagen. He wants Yancy to be his (unpaid)
“underground agent,” keeping tabs on the illegal side of life in the
post-bellum Big Easy. Yancy, who like most 1950s TV heroes can apparently subsist
on danger alone, agrees, because he cares about his city.
This perilous life is made safer by the fact that he comes
equipped with full-time personal security. This is in the person of Pahoo-Ka-Ta-Wah,
a Pawnee chief who (according to the story line) once saved Yancy’s life, and
is now obligated by tribal tradition to protect him forever. Pahoo, though he
never speaks and communicates only through sign language, is one of the
highlights of the show. Immobile and impassive as a cigar store Indian much of
the time, he still manages to command our attention, and when he springs into
action he’s silent and deadly. He’s played by X Brands (his real name), a
German-American actor who played a lot of Native Americans. But his costume is
far more authentic (to my eyes) than anything we generally saw in old Westerns (I
wonder if it wasn’t copied from a George Catlin portrait or some such), and, at
least according to TV lore, his sign language is correct. Real Native Americans
praised his performance. It’s particularly fun to watch Brands and Mahoney work
together in action scenes – they’re a smooth tag team, perfectly in synch.
During the first episodes, Yancy is the archetypal
impoverished aristocrat, subsisting on gambling winnings, skipping meals
sometimes, but always impeccably dressed, usually in a white suit. He’s as
smooth with the ladies as James Bond, and there’s a fresh flirtation in every
episode. His chief companion, however, is Madame Francine, played by Frances
Bergen (wife of ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and mother of Candice). Madame
Francine’s business is ostensibly a gambling house, but it’s full of beautiful
girls, and this is New Orleans, so we all know what was going on. But you didn’t
mention such things on TV in the ‘50s.
The series was created and partly owned by a husband and wife team, Richard Sale and Mary Loos. Sale had an amazing career, starting as a pulp writer and eventually becoming a Hollywood script writer and director. Mary was the niece of legendary screenwriter Anita Loos, but had a formidable career herself. Their sensibilities are visible all through the series – minorities are treated with unusual respect for the time, and women play strong parts. The scripts are generally sharp and clever, considering the limitations of the medium and the time constraints of the half-hour format.
A nice feature is that Yancy Derringer anticipated today’s miniseries. The show kept continuity between episodes – if Yancy mentions in one episode that he’s taking the train to Nevada soon, the next installment will show him on the train. Several minor characters return more than once. Previous events do not disappear, but are recalled and remarked on.
Yancy Derringer was a ratings success, and was on track to
be renewed for a second season. Then, according to legend, the network tried to
get a piece of the ownership, the owners refused, and negotiations collapsed.
However, in those days one season meant 34 episodes. So you can have a pretty nice
marathon by streaming it on Amazon Plus – though they omit one episode because
(apparently) a good print of it no longer exists. You can see them all if you buy
the DVD set.
I finished streaming it today. And had a very good time.
By the way, the first time I heard the expression “I’m your huckleberry,” popularized by Val Kilmer in Tombstone, was in the pilot episode of Yancy Derringer.
When we Americans pick up a British mystery or police novel, we generally expect something a tad more refined than our own domestic product. Great Britain, after all, is a society that takes pride in being disarmed, in not having either criminals or cops running around the streets with guns.
Harry “H” Hawkins is a London police detective, and a proud
dinosaur. He has no time for sociological policing, and little comprehension of
online resources. (He leaves such matters to his partner, a young ethnic Indian
woman named Amisha, whose talents he has gradually learned to appreciate.)
But for H, policing is still mostly a matter of wearing out
shoe leather, barging in on suspects unannounced, physically threatening them
when necessary, and occasionally jogging their memories with a good beating.
H is a veteran of the Falklands War and suffers from PTSD,
which he self-medicates with alcohol.
When he’s called to the scene of the murder of two upper
class women in fashionable St. James Park, he can barely keep himself together.
One of the victims is the wife of his best friend, Ronnie, who saved his life
in the war and is now a successful businessman. The brass won’t let him work
the case, but that means nothing to H. Not even suspension from the force will
keep him from doing whatever it takes to identify the killer and stop a vicious
and perverted conspiracy at the highest level. In the end it will be just him
and Ronnie at war again, and woe to anyone foolish enough to stand in their
The purpose of the London Large series (this is the first volume of it) would seem to be to show us Americans that the English can write books as violent and bloody as ours. The body count is certainly all you could ask in a Jack Reacher or Mitch Rapp novel, and H seems to have little trouble getting his hands on all the firearms he wants, even if he has to go to illegal sources. Nor is he hesitant to use them.
For me, however, the book was kind of ham-fisted. The writing was often clumsy, and the violence seemed to be the product of people who don’t understand weapons very well – in one scene, for instance, a thrown knife pierces someone’s forehead – I’m pretty sure that’s not possible.
On the other hand, character development was surprisingly good – certain characters exhibited unexpected strengths, something I always like in a story.
All in all, though, I found London Large: Blood On the Streets a little much. Over-violent, awkwardly written, and – oh yes – lots of profanity.
Not only was he less sure now of the difference between their crimes, but there was also this other side to it, the love these people here in Lisbon felt for a man who the world viewed, with good reason, as a monster. Who would speak for Wes in such a way? One person, maybe, and she had died for it.
I’ve become a fan of Kevin Wignall’s novels, but I’ve never liked one of them as much as I like his latest, The Names of the Dead. Other readers are likely to have different opinions, but this one worked for me.
James “Wes” Wesley is a former CIA agent, abandoned by the
agency and now languishing in a French prison for war criminals. He’s not quite
innocent, but not as guilty as the world thinks. His best friend is Patrice, an
African and former commander of God’s Own Army, a very real and vicious (ostensibly
Christian) terrorist group. Patrice is repentant, and spends much of his time
studying the Bible. He shares his wisdom with Wes, but Wes remains skeptical.
Then news comes that Wes’s ex-wife has been murdered. Also, their son (whom Wes didn’t know about) has gone missing. Wes gets compassionate early release. His former CIA colleagues try to kill him, but he manages to escape. Then he’s rescued, more or less, by a young woman. She is Mia, the granddaughter of one of Wes’s fellow prisoners, recently deceased, a Croatian war criminal. Mia is on the autism spectrum and doesn’t care to be touched, so there’s no question of romance. But she has nowhere to go and likes to drive (stopping frequently to visit cathedrals), so they form an unlikely team as they travel across Spain, Portugal, France, and on into the Balkans.
Wes’s plan is simple and limited – he will find the men who framed him, and kill them. Then he will find his son.
But on the way, guided by the Bible Patrice gave him as a
going-away present, Wes will learn to see himself in new ways. And in the end
he will make the hardest decision of his life – and the most right.
I have no knowledge of author Wignall’s faith or lack of it, and it would be wrong to call The Names of the Dead a Christian novel. But it’s a book that takes Scripture seriously, and in a positive way. The questions Wes struggles with – about human connections, personal choices, and moral good – resonated for this reader. I recommend The Names of the Dead highly.
At long last, and now that I am well and truly out of the script translation business, you’ll have the opportunity to view a Norwegian production I had a hand in translating. (I can’t watch it myself, having divested myself of Netflix in the recent austerity initiative.)
Ragnarok can perhaps be described, in what scriptwriters call an “elevator pitch” (a description short enough to be given during an elevator ride) as “American Gods,” crossed with “Stranger Things,” set in a Norwegian high school.
The theme is environmental, and the visuals are, by all accounts, spectacular. I worked on two or three episodes, and some of my work will probably have survived in the subtitles. Not for younger kids.
I’ve read and appreciated a couple of Frank H. Spearman’s classic westerns (he wrote Whispering Smith, most famously), and thought I’d try another. The Mountain Divide is somewhat different from my previous choices. It has the feel of a boy’s book, a genre which was big at one time. That’s mainly because the main character is a 17-year-old boy, and due to the lack of a romantic element in the plot. The book is also different from the others in not being set in the author’s contemporary time, but several decades back in history. It’s about the building of the Transcontinental Railroad, just after the Civil War.
We first meet Bucks, our hero, as a newly hired telegrapher in
the track town of Medicine Bend. Faced with a mob of angry customers, he
handles himself with coolness and good sense, gaining the favor of his bosses
and senior employees. Important among them is Bob Scott, the action hero of the
book, who – interestingly enough – is a “half-breed.”
The story proceeds with Bucks advancing in his career, and
clashing again and again with the outlaw element that accompanies the progress
of the track laying. In the end it will come to open war between the railroad
men and the lawless elements. Hostile Indians are also a constant threat. Bucks
and Bob Scott will nearly lose their lives before their final triumph.
I should probably mention that, to the best of my knowledge, author Spearman gives a false impression of the legal situation. The recent miniseries Hell On Wheels, which I gave up watching, more realistically portrayed the arrangement – the saloons and gambling dens and houses of ill fame went west with the construction, and were tolerated – or facilitated – by the railroad companies. In this story, the two groups are mortal enemies.
As you’d expect for a book written around the turn of the 20th Century and aimed at boys, The Mountain Divide is a pretty straightforward adventure story, easily enjoyed. I consider Spearman a superior stylist to most of his contemporaries, and I liked this book.
“How many weapons do I have?” Helmer asked. Picket took a quick inventory, though he thought Helmer might be concealing some.
“Two. Your knife and the sword,” Picket said.
Helmer responded with an immediate attack. He hit Picket, kicked him, took off his jacket and struck him with it over and over, then threw rocks at him. Picket scrambled around, trying to dodge rocks, block blows, and escape the whirlwind of whipping coat. . . .
“Lesson. Number. One,” Helmer said evenly. “Everything is a weapon.”
The Green Ember is the first of several fantasies by S.D. Smith, in which brave rabbits with swords and bows fight the hoard of wolves and raptors that has overwhelmed their land. Youngsters Heather and Pickett begin the novel playing in the fields near their country home. They have loving parents, a baby brother, and a happy, innocent life.
But this isn’t Little House on the Prairie.
Soon, enemies they hadn’t known are charging at them with torches, bows, and spears. They escape by the skin of their teeth with a bit of help, but Pickett won’t take up living to fight another. His mistakes and lack of strength during their escape weigh him to the ground. Plus, some hero rabbit, who looked about as old as Pickett, displays incredible skill, strength, and general swagger in their escape, all of which Pickett hates. He has no reason to be jealous of him, so, of course, he is.
The Green Ember is written for young readers, not very young, but this isn’t YA either. Smith assumes his readers will need a little help to understand. When characters use sarcasm, the narrator explains it clearly. It’s a fun adventure, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of them. My kids have loved them for years, and my youngest just reread all of the books in anticipation of the fourth one, Ember’s End, coming in March.
A better than average novel by an author new to me. Always nice to find. Tonight’s book is Murder Board, by Brian Shea.
For Michael Kelly, Boston police detective, family comes
before everything. For the Rakowskis, a Polish-American crime family, the same rule
goes. But they mean very different things by it.
Michael Kelly is a Boston Homicide cop. He’s the rookie on
the squad, though he’s been a cop for years. Trouble has followed him, causing
him to restart his career more than once. But he thinks he’s where he belongs
When a 13-year-old girl’s body is discovered in a shallow grave in a blighted neighborhood, Michael takes a personal interest. He grew up in this neighborhood himself, and still has friends here, on both sides of the law. But the dead girl came from an upscale suburb. How did she end up here? Who killed her, and why?
Searching for answers, Michael, assisted by a (beautiful, of course) female detective from the Sexual Crimes squad, begins a dangerous investigation into the human trafficking industry. Gangsters will threaten them, and politicians will pressure them. But Michael Kelly does not let go.
I found Murder Board an exciting and compelling read. The writing is a little under the top rank – author Shea has a problem with word choice sometimes – but the story itself grabbed me. I’d describe Shea as somewhere between Michael Connelly and Joseph Wambaugh in themes and tone.
Recommended. Cautions for disturbing scenes, but I didn’t notice
any obscene language.
Probably my most eminent friend (though I only know him online) is Gene Edward Veith. Veith is possibly the most prominent Lutheran among today’s well-known evangelicals. He may be best known for his book, Postmodern Times.
We live in a post-Christian world. Contemporary thought―claiming to be “progressive” and “liberating”―attempts to place human beings in God’s role as creator, lawgiver, and savior. But these post-Christian ways of thinking and living are running into dead ends and fatal contradictions.
This timely book demonstrates how the Christian worldview stands firm in a world dedicated to constructing its own knowledge, morality, and truth. Gene Edward Veith Jr. points out the problems with how today’s culture views humanity, God, and even reality itself. He offers hope-filled, practical ways believers can live out their faith in a secularist society as a way to recover reality, rebuild culture, and revive faith.
This was a good day. I did not expect to be able to say that. More on that later.
Yesterday I gave up on a book I was reading. I used to do that more than I do now, but I’m trying to save money on book buying, so I cut books more slack now. But I’d gotten this one free through an Amazon promotion, so no loss.
It’s sad. You read a book that’s clearly well meant, by an
author with something to say. All indications are that the story might well turn
But it’s written so badly. The author, aside from the (now
expected) misspellings and grammar errors, just doesn’t know how to manipulate
the tool he possesses in the English language. The writing is flaccid.
Sentences and paragraphs could easily have been cut. Lines that might have been
dramatic lose all their punch through redundancies and poor word choices. I had
to give up on it.
But today I had a good experience, expecting little.
Some members of my high school graduation class who live in
this general area have adopted a custom of late. Every time there are 5 weeks
in a month (about 3 times a year) they gather on the fifth Wednesday at a bar
& grill in a town near our home town. This time, no doubt made desperate by
the attrition in our ranks, they invited me. And I agreed to go.
My inclination was to give it a miss. I’ve become convinced
over the years that my appearance at any social event is about as welcome as
the Grim Reaper’s. I am miserable, and the cause of misery in others.
But I missed our 50-year reunion, in a recent year I will
not specify. So I felt I owed it to them make an appearance now.
It turned into a long drive, because Google Maps sent me around the north side of the Twin Cities to get to a destination southeast-ward. One assumes traffic was backed up on the rational routes, as is generally the case nowadays. But I was an hour early anyway. Because the guy who invited me told me noon when it was actually 1:00. If I’d gotten there alone, I’d have probably waited a while and then slunk home, feeling persecuted. But another fellow had been similarly misinformed, and we able to enjoy a mini-reunion of our own before the main contingent arrived.
And it went pretty well. I sat at one end of the long table, so I didn’t have to divide my attention left and right (that’s helpful when you’re on the autistic spectrum, as I suspect I am). I conversed pleasantly with my neighbors, none of whom had been particular friends when I was young. The woman next to me told me (to my surprise) that she belongs to a congregation of my church body. The guy across from me spoke quietly about being born again.
What do you know.
Two people in my immediate vicinity told how they’d lost adult children. That’s an experience – a world, really – of which I have no conception. The courage of ordinary folks is a wonder to me, something I can only admire.
We were young once. Now we are old. Once we were cool kids and dorks. Jocks and eggheads. Popular and pariahs. Bullies and bullied. Now, like Civil War veterans, blue and gray, we find comfort in one another, in having seen what we’ve all seen and been what we’ve all been, in a world that no longer exists.
Wow. I enjoyed a social event. I must find a way to suppress
this memory, so it won’t upset my working world-view.
The Peters family is more dysfunctional in sum than any of its individual member knows.
Carley Bleak Peters, the central character in Bleak Harbor, is a descendant of the man who founded the upscale town of Bleak Harbor, Michigan. She is estranged, however, from her widowed mother, and has been cut out of her will. She was working in Chicago before her husband moved them back to Bleak Harbor, and she does not like commuting. It limits her time with her beloved son Danny, born of a fling with a drug dealer 15 years ago. But she has a plan. She will use documents she’s stolen to blackmail her boss, who pressured her into sex. This will allow her to flee Bleak Harbor with Danny.
Her husband, Danny’s stepfather, Pete Peters, is a nice guy,
but not one of life’s winners. Formerly a successful commodities trader in
Chicago, his career languished when he had to switch to online trading. Fired
from his job, he moved to Bleak Harbor to open a medical marijuana shop – a sure-fire
goldmine, he thought. Only he’s found that the only way to compete wtih the
illicit market is to buy his stock from very bad people.
Fifteen-year-old Danny Peters is “on the autism scale.” He is handsome and intelligent, but does not relate well to people. His passions are dragonflies, perch (the fish), and one particular poem by Wallace Stevens. Neither of his parents is sure how much he understands about their situation.
When Danny is kidnapped, and cryptic text messages come to
his parents demanding an odd ransom amount, Carley and Pete each believe it has
to do with their own sins coming home to roost. They will be pushed to their
personal limits, sometimes cooperating with the police and sometimes going
behind their backs, to satisfy the demands of a bizarre kidnapper who seems
determined to bring some of the Bleak family’s old skeletons to light.
Bleak Harbor was a departure for me, a different kind of thriller. I think it will be surprising to a lot of readers. The plot seems to me (I may just be uninformed) a pretty original one. I did guess the kidnapper’s identity a little ahead of schedule, but it was pretty surprising, and the surprise was well set up.
I’m not entirely sure what the theme of Bleak Harbor was, to be honest, but it kept my interest and kept me turning pages. Recommended, with minor cautions for language.