Mano a Mannix

TV Guide

Dave Lull has done it again. He found an anecdote about D. Keith Mano in a posting at It’s About TV. The author, Mitchell D. Hadley, recaps an issue of TV Guide from May 18, 1967 (I was about to finish my junior year in high school that week, but we didn’t take TV Guide). Mano isn’t featured in the magazine, but Hadley has a recollection:

It reminds me of a story told by the novelist D. Keith Mano, who was teaching a creative writing class and slogging through some dreadful efforts by earnest would-be writers. When one, complaining about his low grade, protested, “But this is how it was,” Mano replied, “Yes, and make sure it doesn’t happen again.” And that’s why Joe Mannix’s life is more interesting than yours, Mister Private Detective.

We watched Mannix at our house, but I was never a big fan. I remember that he seemed to get knocked unconscious roughly once a week. I was no neurologist even then, but I was pretty sure you’d be drooling in a nursing care facility if that happened in real life.

‘Citadel,’ by Stephen Hunter

Citadel

A slight rain fell; the cobblestones glistened; the whole thing had a cinematic look that Basil paid no attention to, as it did him no good at all and he was by no means a romantic.

In the wake of reading Stephen Hunter’s G-man (reviewed below), I also downloaded his novella Citadel, available as an e-book. I had some niggles with G-man, but I found Citadel pure delight – a brisk, exciting mystery and spy story.

Basil St. Florian is an agent for Britain’s SOE during World War II. He accepts a dodgy assignment with little chance of success – to fly into occupied France, break into an antiquarian library in Paris, and photograph selected pages of a rare manuscript. Supposedly (nobody’s really sure) those pages contain the key to a “book code” which will allow (for reasons explained in the story) the British to pass information on German plans to the Soviets. Alan Turing is involved.

Basil is an interesting character – the kind of upper-class ne’er-do-well who was never useful to society until the war gave scope for his less respectable talents. His adventures introduce him to a bore of a Luftwaffe officer and a rather decent Abwehr agent.

Citadel was fun. Lots of wit went into the story, and it was fascinating to watch the unflappable Basil overcome repeated seemingly fatal setbacks. The plot tied itself up neatly in the end and left a good taste in my mouth.

Recommended light adventure and suspense, with a touch of Hogan’s Heroes. Only minor cautions for mature stuff.

‘G-Man,’ by Stephen Hunter

G-Man

Dave Lull reminded me that the new Bob Lee Swagger book by Stephen Hunter was coming out the other day, and I was on it like a fedora on J. Edgar Hoover. I had a good time with the book, though it’s not among my favorites in the series.

In G-Man, old Bob Lee finally sells off the family homestead in Blue Eye, Arkansas. As the house is being demolished, workmen discover a strongbox buried in the foundation. Inside are a pristine Colt 1911 pistol, a hand-drawn map, an old, uncirculated thousand-dollar bill, and a piece of metal that looks like a rifle suppressor, though Bob Lee can’t identify it right off.

Various clues indicate the box must have been buried by his grandfather, Charles F. Swagger, a kind of a mystery man. He was county sheriff, and a World War I hero, and an angry alcoholic. Bob Lee’s father Earl made it his life’s goal to be nothing like him. The Colt 1911 belongs to a batch that went to the FBI in 1934. Could old Charles have been an FBI agent for a while? Continue reading ‘G-Man,’ by Stephen Hunter

Discovering Early American Serials

Early American Serialized Novels is a project dedicated to publishing novels serialized in US newspapers and magazines from the 1780s to the 1820s. The project grows out of a graduate seminar on early American literature and the digital humanities at Idaho State University.

I have a heart for early America, though perhaps not enough patience, so an ongoing project like this appeals to me. They have seven stories now. The hosts explain the context in which these tales first appeared.

Novel installments were often printed without predetermined knowledge of how many weeks or months would be devoted to the story, thus requiring authors to adapt accordingly. In addition, readers were never assured that the novels would reach a resolution and therefore became accustomed to complex, dissonant texts in which narrative suspension was a defining feature.

(via Prufrock News)

Coffee Is Good, But How Do You Drink It?

Coffee

Many voices will tell you coffee is great for your health, your social life, and your faith, but nutritionists have a reputation of wanting to take all of that joy away from you.

“I don’t typically like to demonize one food and deem it horrible, because you can have a good relationship with [coffee],” Sarah Greenfield, an L.A.-based trainer and nutritionist, told Observer.com. “But if you’re using a stimulant to get energy and wake yourself up, you have to look back on your lifestyle and habits.”

Clearly a killjoy.

Coffee does have healthy benefits, like most foods that are not Hot Pockets and Pop Tarts, but we should watch out for too much caffeine. Drinking coffee along with cokes and energy drinks because we’re cramming too many responsibilities into one day or week could lead to such negative consequences as death. So don’t do that, but if you like coffee, feel free to enjoy it in moderation and gratitude. And if you’re drinking at a run-down Waffle House or Denny’s, please Instagram the moment.

News flash: ‘The Great Army’ was actually great

Via Dave Lull: A report from The Guardian on a new exhibition in England, devoted to the Viking Great Army (also known as the Great Heathen Army) which wintered over in England in 872:

A major exhibition at the Yorkshire Museum, staged in partnership with the British Museum, draws on new research by the universities of York and Sheffield. According to Professor Dawn Hadley, one of the co-directors of the universities’ project at the site of a Viking winter camp, archeologists and historians had thought that the invading Viking armies numbered in the low hundreds. But archeological work at the camp on the river Trent at Torksey, Lincolnshire, suggested otherwise.

Historians have been inclined to consider contemporary chronicles, which numbered the Great Army in the thousands, as exaggerations, because… because historians always think medieval chroniclers were very gullible and stupid, and exaggerated everything. In general, my impression is that trusting the most contemporary sources is generally a prudent approach.

The Process Behind Penny Books

Dan Nosowitz explores the threat and delight of selling cheap used books.

“At some point in the next two to three years, I predict that ‘Go Set a Watchman’ will be selling for a penny,” says Mike Ward, president of the Seattle-based used-book seller Thriftbooks, which sells 12 million books a year.

“We are taking garbage [and] running it through a very sophisticated salvage process in our warehouses, to create or find or discover products people want, and then we sell them at a very, very cheap price,” Ward explains. Garbage isn’t a value judgment: His company, along with several other enormous used-book-selling operations that have popped up online in the past decade, is literally buying garbage. Thrift stores like Goodwill receive many more donations than they can physically accommodate. Employees rifle through donations, pick out the stuff that is most likely to sell and send the rest to a landfill. The same thing happens at public libraries; they can take only as many donations as their space and storage will allow, so eventually they have to dispose of books, too. (For libraries, the process is a little more complicated; they can’t legally sell books, so they essentially launder them through groups with names like Friends of the Library, which sell the discards and donate the proceeds to the library.)

Operations like Thriftbooks step in and buy these landfill-bound books, sight unseen, for around 10 cents a pound.

I’ve still got too many books that aren’t selling on Amazon. It may be time they visit the landfill.

17 May 2017

Today is Syttende Mai, Norway’s Constitution Day (not, as I’m sure you remember from previous years, its Independence Day).

As happened last year (I’m pretty sure) it rained today, so I couldn’t display my Norwegian flag once again. I did wear my Norwegian flag tie, plus a Norwegian flag button, to work, however.

In celebration, I’ll post this video, the most memorable Norwegian thing I’ve seen recently.

It’s not memorable, I think you’ll agree, for its beauty or its music. It’s memorable for featuring an idiot in a man-bun who does things on mountains that no sane person should even think about.

I suppose it’s meant as a reminder of one thing Norwegians all have in common — a death wish.

After all, we’re the country that gave the world the lemming.

‘Murder at the Wake,’ by Bruce Beckham

Murder at the Wake

‘Still, Guv – darkest hour before dawn, eh?’

‘What?’

Skelgill’s tone is irate, though DS Leyton seems not to notice.

‘It’s what they say, Guv – that it’s the darkest hour before dawn.’

‘No it’s not. It starts getting light in the hour before dawn. It’s called nautical twilight. The darkest hour’s in the middle of the night, Leyton.’

I have an idea that Bruce Beckham, author of the Inspector Skelgill mysteries, is having us on. Just as his main character likes to play tricks on his longsuffering subordinates, Jones and Leyton, Beckham has a lot of stuff going on in his books that’s not apparent on the surface. One obvious example is the language – his characters never employ any curse stronger than “darn” in the dialogue, but the narrator informs us matter-of-factly that the actual words were much saltier. And it’s fairly plain that Skelgill enjoys a rich and varied sex life, but we only learn about it from hints – as when he appears at work wearing the same clothes he wore the day before. The same goes for his attractive female subordinate DS Jones, and there are signs they may have something going between them. But it’s never stated, at least thus far.

Beckham also likes to play with names, in Dickensian style. An actor character, for instance, is named Brutus. That’s kind of nice, I have to admit (it helps me keep track of the characters, which is often a problem for me). But naming a Dublin legal firm “Mullarkey & Shenanigan, Solicitors,” may be a bridge over the Liffey too far.

The form of these novels is generally cozy, but unlike Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot, Inspector Skelgill is no cold-blooded thinking machine. Skelgill barely thinks at all. He’s a purely physical man who solves his puzzles kinetically, as a kind of by-product of his physical exertions. In the early books it was mostly “fell running,” but more recently it’s been fishing on the lakes of England’s Lake District, where he is a policeman.

That gut-based method of operation is severely restricted in Murder at the Wake, which takes place after a freak blizzard and extended cold spell have rendered the lakes unfishable. When elderly Declan O’More is found clubbed to death in his study in his family’s stately home, one week after the death of his older brother, Skelgill is helping the mountain rescue team search for a lost hiker. He gets the helicopter pilot to drop him near the hall, and is confronted with something like a classic Agatha Christie problem – the residents of the hall, gathered for the funeral, have been isolated there. They are Declan’s five grand-nephews and nieces, plus a few servants and business connections. One of them must be the killer.

Skelgill goes to work in his usual fashion, being rude and insensitive to almost everyone and attracting strong attention from the females present. After the roads open up the investigation proceeds along more conventional lines, and the inquiries stretch as far as Dublin. The murderer is finally unmasked in a dramatic, but somewhat contrived, scene.

Skelgill annoys me, but I keep coming back to his stories. So I must be entertained. In that light I recommend Murder at the Wake, though it won’t be to everyone’s taste.

‘The Tracker,’ by Chad Zunker

The Tracker

I’m going to go a little beyond giving this book a good review and a recommendation. I’m going to indulge in a little advocacy for The Tracker, by Chad Zunker.

Sam Callahan is 25 years old, almost finished with law school. He looks forward to a bright future that once seemed an impossible dream.

He takes a summer job as a “tracker.” Trackers are operatives for political campaigns. They’re the people who follow the opposition candidates around with their smart phones, recording everything so that every slip of the tongue and bad facial expression can be saved and shared.

He goes to a motel where (an anonymous tipster has informed him) the candidate he’s tracking is about to engage in some unacceptable behavior. What he sees is, first, a romantic tryst, and then a murder.

But the candidate has powerful backers, who falsify the evidence to make Sam into the suspect. Soon he’s on the run with the FBI on his heels.

Fortunately he’s not without resources. In his past he was a street kid, and in that life he acquired some useful skills – like breaking and entering, jacking cars, and picking pockets. He also has a hacker friend with high level abilities. And beyond that, he possesses a natural gift – situational awareness at an unusual level, allowing him to find ways of escape where others would be baffled.

The Tracker reminded me quite a bit of the last Gregg Hurwitz novel I reviewed, Trust No One. But that’s no criticism. When you’re doing a Hitchcockian “wrong man” thriller, where an innocent man becomes a fugitive, it’s a good move to give your hero a checkered past and some experience with extra-legal (or military) survival techniques. Stephen Hunter’s Point of Impact, one example among many, employs a similar approach.

Sam Callahan is an appealing hero – a guy with a rough past who’s turned his life around and is still learning how to give and receive love and trust. What makes the book particularly interesting to me – and probably to most of this blog’s readers – is that it contains openly Christian elements. It’s not a “message” book where everything works up to a conversion, but Christian characters speak the gospel in an open way.

The writing is good. The characters worked. Author Zunker hasn’t entirely polished his prose style (he falls into redundancies like “processing through” information, and “revert back”). But he has a feel for the craft, and I expect him to only get better. And he’s not bad now.

Highly recommended.

The Party of the ‘Aggressively Aggrieved’

Hal Niedzviecki was the editor of Write magazine, a quarterly published by The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC), until the other day when The Controlling Party (operating this time under the name of TWUC Equity Task Force) forced him to resign. The pressure came in response to an editorial in which Niedzviecki argued that cultural appropriation isn’t really a thing, but on the other hand is kinda cool.  Perhaps there should be a prize to honor writers who successful write about cultures that aren’t their own.

But if you’re going to accuse someone of the worst and Nazism seems so yesterday, then cultural appropriation should be your go-to charge. Niedzviecki and a member of the editorial board, who “would have strongly objected to this piece had I seen it prior to publication,” resigned.

Christie Blatchford labeled all “this is the thuggish attempted takeover of a public (and publicly funded) organization by a single aggressively aggrieved group of activists.” And they will not stop until they have victimized everyone in the name of vindicating their own victimization.

This is not healthy culture; if anything, it’s cannibalism.

‘Trust No One,’ by Gregg Hurwitz

Trust No One

This should end my run of Gregg Hurwitz reviews for a while. I’m enjoying his books, but I’ve read everything available that interests me for the time being. So I’m happy to end on a positive note by saying I enjoyed Trust No One quite a lot.

Nick Horrigan made a terrible mistake 17 years ago, when he was 17 years old. Because of it his family was shattered, and he spent a long time on the road, living under the radar. Now he’s back at home in Los Angeles, but he’s still keeping a low profile. He’s learned to be cautious and not to take risks.

Until the night Secret Service agents break into his apartment and drag him off to a nuclear power plant. A terrorist has taken control of the spent fuel facility, they tell him. He says he will speak to only one person – Nick Horrigan. Nick is baffled. He has no knowledge of this man. But he agrees to go in and talk to him. Things go very, very wrong, and then Nick is on the run again with a bag full of money and a few clues, accused of terrorism in his own right.

Nick has two choices – to run away, as he did 17 years ago, or to emulate the man he respected most in his life by uncovering secrets, taking the fight to his enemies, and trusting… a few people.

This story was a little less over the top than a lot of Hurwitz’s books. It was a little more grounded, though far from a likely scenario. I was particularly impressed with the handling of politics. Although political parties aren’t directly named, Nick’s opinions are easily recognizable as liberal. However, there are surprises – even an implied criticism of gun control.

I enjoyed Trust No One very much. It’s not only a thriller but a story about coming of age and a character reintegrating into human relationships.

Cautions for language and violence.

The glass is a quarter full

Things that occur to you while you’re preparing a devotional (things which are probably tediously familiar to pastors and teachers already)…

And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:3-9, ESV)

What occurred to me while reading this was, first of all (I’ve written about this here before), three-quarters of the seed is lost. Out of four kinds of soil where the seed falls, only one of them is actually arable and productive.

But the yield of the productive soil is 100, sixty, or thirty times the investment. The crop that does grow is worth the loss.

But something else occurred to me too. We’re accustomed to dividing people into “glass half full” and “glass half empty” groups. Optimists and pessimists.

God seems to think that a quarter full is just great.

Here endeth the lesson.

Marx Was a Racist

Karl Marx, blockhead“Few people who call themselves Marxists have ever even bothered to read Das Kapital,” writes professor Walter Williams. “If one did read it, he would see that people who call themselves Marxists have little in common with Marx.”

In a piece today, Williams says Karl Marx was a racist who would not be tolerated on Twitter, and yet many people who style themselves as his disciples would be outraged if a current public figure said things he said. Pulling from a book by ex-communist Nathaniel Weyl, Williams offers examples.

Marx didn’t think much of Mexicans. When the United States annexed California after the Mexican War, Marx sarcastically asked, “Is it a misfortune that magnificent California was seized from the lazy Mexicans who did not know what to do with it?”

Engels said similar things, such as writing that a political foe who had African heritage was suitable to represent the people living in a district that contained a zoo because he was biologically closer to the animals than other other men.

Of course, the question is not whether anyone from history said anything hateful or disagreeable to modern listeners. The question is whether such statements flow naturally from the speaker’s worldview. Given Communism’s bloody history, even its current practice, I don’t find Marx’s views of personal superiority surprising on any basis.

‘The Tower,’ by Gregg Andrew Hurwitz

The Tower

Before he was a bestselling author (and before he deserved to be) Gregg Hurwitz wrote his first novel, The Tower, including his middle name in his byline. I figured I’d read it just for fun.

It is, definitely, a first novel.

You can see the author’s potential. It’s a high-energy story, written more like an action movie than a work of fiction. Author Hurwitz admits in his introduction that The Silence of the Lambs was his model, and there are a number of similarities—though Hurwitz lacks Thomas Harris’ character depth.

The male hero has the confusing, semi-Raymond Chandler-esque name of Jade Marlow. Marlow is a former FBI agent who (rather improbably, but the improbabilities pile up past counting) is temporarily re-attached to the agency in order to pursue serial killer Allander Atlasia. Atlasia has escaped from a fictional (and unlikely) high-security prison unit. Marlow attempts to get inside Atlasia’s head and anticipate his moves, resulting in a lot of chases and near-misses. Atlasia, of course, turns it into a game and teases Marlow with obscure clues.

It all doesn’t work very well.

At this point in his career, Hurwitz hasn’t mastered characterization. He attempts to dig below the surface, and provides vivid accounts of the personal traumas that led his main characters to become what they’ve become. But the bottom line is that I didn’t believe in them for a minute, and their behavior didn’t always make sense. On the other hand I didn’t dump the book from my Kindle unfinished either, so it could have been worse.

I don’t recommend The Tower very highly, unless you’re just keen to complete your Hurwitz collection. Cautions for violence, mild sex, and lots of rough language.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture