‘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.

‘The Benedict Option,’ by Rod Dreher

The Benedict Option

“When a man first comes to the monastery, the first thing he notices is everybody else’s quirks—that is, what’s wrong with everybody else,” said Father Martin. “But the longer you’re here, the more you begin to think: what’s wrong with me? You go deeper into yourself to learn your own strengths and weaknesses. And that leads you to acceptance of others.”

OK, this time it is a review. I read The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher.

I won’t lie to you–I didn’t want to. I had a pretty good idea what this book would be—a depressingly realistic appraisal of the current, radically changed situation in which orthodox Christians find themselves. Plus a series of suggestions for dealing with the new normal—all of them uncomfortable.

I was correct.

Dreher describes how the situation of the (small “o”) orthodox church in America (and in the west as a whole) has changed, suddenly and (apparently) for the foreseeable future. Thanks to the cultural earthquake that the Gay Movement brought forth, Christians who had been ensconced, relatively comfortably, within our culture just a decade ago are now an isolated, and increasingly threatened, minority.

Dreher sees no chance of altering that situation through politics or public relations. All we can do, he believes, is what Saint Benedict of Nursia did in the 6th Century, after the fall of Rome. Benedict founded western monasticism, creating communities of committed believers who cared for one another, cared for their neighbors, and preserved the wisdom of the Classical age for the future. Little Noah’s Arks in a sea of barbarism. Continue reading ‘The Benedict Option,’ by Rod Dreher

New Ideas About Christ Are Fairly Old

It is difficult to think of a modern “radical” theory about Christian origins that was not pretty standard and mainstream in the decades before the First World War. So, (we heard way back then) Jesus was a New Age teacher; Jesus drew on Buddhist thought; Jesus was an Essene mystic; Mary Magdalene and other women disciples were crucial transmitters of his inner truths; the Gnostics represented alternative feminist and psychological-oriented traditions in early Christianity . . .

Philip Jenkins says it’s natural for writers wanting to be published to present their conclusions as earth-shattering when truthfully the same ideas have been written about–the same “discoveries” made, the same arguments about conspiratorial cover-ups put forward–for decades. We want to been seen as smarter than our predecessors, so look what we’ve rehashed today.

‘Avarice,’ by Pete Brassett

Avarice

In the sequel to She, which I reviewed last night, Pete Brassett’s Scottish Detective Inspector Munro is back home in Scotland, having retired from London policing. When a woman’s body is found in a glenn, under suspicious circumstances, the local inspector persuades his superiors to bring in Munro, rather than turning the case over to CID. The hope is that Munro can unravel the case before they have to turn it over to the “big boys.” A little authorly plot manipulation gets Detective Sergeant Charlie West, Munro’s sidekick in the last book, into the immediate vicinity and available to help out. And so Avarice gets its momentum up.

With the help of the local force they begin to examine the woman’s past (she was a German immigrant, and previously married), uncovering various motives (mainly financial) why certain people would want her dead. The real culprit(s), however, are a surprise.

This is a fairly cozy police procedural, with lots of quiet interviews and red herrings and tea getting drunk. Inspector Munro is amusingly curmudgeonly (he even takes a moment to criticize political correctness, which pleased me). No explicit sex or violence, but some rough language.

Recommended if this sort of thing is your cuppa tea. I liked it.

‘She,’ by Pete Brassett

She

‘You’re…’

‘I kid you not. What’s the time?’

‘Five. Give or take.’

‘That makes it 1am in Perth,’ said Munro. ‘Let’s give her a wee call.’

‘At this hour?’ said West. ‘She’ll be in bed, surely?’

‘Nae bother. She’ll have to get up to answer the phone anyway.’

The Amazon summary describes She by Pete Brassett as a “Scandinavian style suspense thriller.” I’m not sure I know exactly what that means. I was reminded more of Inspector Morse. The police procedural featuring the crusty, insensitive senior officer and the callow, long-suffering younger officer seems to be in vogue these days, and for good reason. It’s a formula that works. The Inspector Skelgill mysteries I’ve been reviewing are examples of the same sort ot thing. In fact, Inspector Munro, hero of this book and its sequels, bears a pretty close resemblance to Skelgill, except that he’s a few notches less abusive.

Inspector Munro is from Scotland, but works in London, where he fled after the death of his beloved wife. He’s paired with Sergeant Charlotte (Charlie) West, an attractive young woman with a drinking problem. What seems like a routine missing person case turns out to be part of a string of bizarre murders and dismemberments. In a parallel narrative we learn about their suspect, an innocent-looking young woman who conceals bizarre compulsions.

The picture of the killer is compelling, in a flashing-lights-and-ambulances-by-the-side-of-the-road sort of way, but the main interest of the story (for me) was watching Munro work with Sergeant West. A smart and talented officer, she walks the razor edge of career disaster with her alcohol-caused mistakes and late appearances. Munro takes a sergeant-major approach with her, cutting her no slack, and gradually she responds positively to the challenge.

The plot wraps up in an extremely neat way. In fact it’s so neat that author Brassett throws in an epilogue to throw everything we think we’ve learned into question.

I’m not sure I’ve forgiven him for that trick. But I have read two more books in the series, so I must not be too angry.

Cautions for language, gore, and adult themes.

‘Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus,’ by Nabeel Qureshi

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus

Islam is not just a set of religious beliefs. It is an all-encompassing identity. It is inconceivable to change that identity, even for those who barely practice their Islamic faith. To do so is like suicide. It kills the identity of the convert and leaves the rest of the family in a state of shameful mourning.

Nabeel Qureshi has given us, I think, not only an outstanding memoir of conversion to Christianity from the Islamic faith, but a formidable work of apologetics, in his book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. It makes an excellent companion work to Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ (indeed, Strobel provides the introduction to this expanded edition).

If you’re expecting a story of a man who longed for freedom from Islamic bondage and found it at last, you will be disappointed here. Nabeel Qureshi is more like C.S. Lewis, “dragged kicking and screaming” into Christianity, a “most reluctant convert.”

Nabeel was raised in a loving, even somewhat indulgent home of Muslims of the Ahmadi sect. He adored his parents, loved his mosque, and was proud of his Islamic community. His family was Muslim-American, his father a Navy officer. Nabeel spent much of his childhood in Scotland, where his father served at a naval base, before relocating to the US. Like most Muslims, he believed Muhammad self-evidently superior to the Prophet Issa (Jesus, whom he nevertheless revered), and the Quran (preserved without error) much nobler than the corrupted Christian Bible. Islamic culture, of course, was obviously the most perfect in the world. Continue reading ‘Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus,’ by Nabeel Qureshi

‘Golden Prey,’ by John Sandford

Golden Prey

If you like John Sandford’s Prey novels, you’ll probably like his latest, Golden Prey. I do, and I did.

Golden Prey is pretty much written to pattern, except that the locations and the cast of characters have been shaken up. Hero cop Lucas Davenport has left the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and joined the US Marshal’s Service. His unique status, as one who saved the life of the woman expected to be the next president (clearly modeled on Hillary Clinton), allows him, unlike other marshals, to be selective about his assignments. He holds out for “interesting” jobs, which means what he’s always done best – pursuing serial killers.

This time he goes to the American southwest to hunt a couple of stick-up men who ripped off a huge money delivery meant for a drug cartel, killing several people in the process. Meanwhile a pair of killers sent by the cartel are on the robbers’ trail as well. Their investigative methods are not subtle – they torture to death anyone they can find who knows their targets.

Lucas teams up with a female/male/black/white team of FBI agents to catch the robbers before the cartel killers can get to them, meanwhile trying to identify the cartel killers’ next targets so they can be protected. There are a lot of interesting opportunities for moral ambiguity, balancing off our sympathies as awful people are pursued by even more awful people.

Golden Prey breaks little new ground. It’s written pretty much to pattern, and if you like the pattern, you’ll probably enjoy the book. Cautions, as usual, for lots of black cop humor, foul language, and violence.

Well spoken

An unanticipated good time. That was what I had last night.

Well, a good time by my rather low standards.

The first thing that needs to be understood was that I felt lousy. It’s become my custom to get a very bad cold in the spring, and then again in the fall. These colds invariably plunge into my lungs and there, in the darkness, foment sedition and unrest. In the end I generally have to go to the doctor for antibiotics. Which, of course, mess up my digestion.

I was in the midst of that cycle, having started sniffing and coughing several days ago. Yesterday I took the day off work and went to my doctor for my bread mold prescription.

But I was worried about the Lecture. Months ago I’d agreed to lecture, on May 1, to Fjell Syn Lodge of the Sons of Norway, in Mounds View, Minnesota. My subject would be the Viking Sagas. I’d lectured to them before, a year ago, and they treated me well. I wanted to do right by those good people.

My fear was that I’d cough through the presentation, spread contagion to immune-suppressed attendees, and be so hoarse I’d be unintelligible.

The weather was miserable. It was one of those chill spring evenings when winter is still holding on, and having run out of snowballs to throw at you, just spits. I wore a heavy parka over my Viking costume going to and from the car. All nature seemed to portend failure and miserable death.

Instead, it went quite well. The audience was appreciative, and seemed to understand when I needed to pause now and then for a sip of water. There are times when you just resonate with a crowd – they laugh in all the right places, and longer than you expected. They nod and smile and you know they’re following with interest and pleasure. This was one of those nights. I enjoyed it a lot, and hope they ask me back yet again.

Plus, several of them bought books, which is impressive when you’re dealing with a group you’ve sold books to before.

Thank you, Fjell Syn Lodge!

I even felt better today (went back to work, sort of on a flyer), and I give them the credit.

Ever Lie About Reading a Book?

I don’t think I’ve ever lied about reading a book. I usually claim to have read about it, but apparently more and more people wish to portray themselves as readers, at least of select books, just like music fans of any band you claim is legit. Oh, yeah, I love their style.

David Barnett writes, “The 13 books we are most likely to claim to have read have one thing in common: they have all been adapted into blockbuster movies.”

Top of the current list are Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, followed by JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and CS Lewis’s Narnia series. Perhaps more curious is the fact that people claim to have read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collinsand Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, when there are more copies of both novels languishing in charity shops than could be sold before Armageddon, so supply issues are not putting people off trying to read them.

I probably do lie by what I don’t say, which means I should just stop talking. (via Prufrock News)

Happy Friday

For anyone interested, I will be giving my lecture on the Icelandic Sagas on Monday, May 1 for Fjellsyn Lodge, Sons of Norway. They meet 7:00 p.m. (program about 7:30) at Abiding Savior Lutheran Church, 8211 Red Oak Dr., Moundsview, Minnesota.

Dave Lull sent me this link to a video about something I was unaware of — the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein kept a hut on the Sognefjord in Norway, and lived there off and on between World War I and his death. The video follows a group of people making a pilgrimage to what’s left of it.

The video is a little over 20 minutes long, which is more time than I’m usually willing to give Wittgenstein. But the Norwegian scenery is lovely. Among the peculiarities of this video, besides the perfervid intonations of the narrator at the beginning, is a reading from Wittgenstein given by a woman wearing what appears to be 17th Century breeches. I haven’t a guess why.

Also another woman on the hike (a fairly rugged one) is wearing flip-flops. The Norwegians have a saying, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” They might have added, “There are no painful hikes, only painful footwear.”

Have a good weekend.

Amazon Prime Video Review: ‘Bosch,’ Season 3

Bosch Season 3

I’m pretty sure I reviewed Bosch, the Amazon Prime Video series based on Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch mystery novels, earlier on this blog. Still it’s been a while, and I just finished the new third season, so I’ll praise it again. Because it is quite good.

Harry (Hieronymus) Bosch is a Los Angeles homicide detective. He’s a military veteran and has a high case clearance rate, though he can be a pain in the anatomy to his co-workers and superiors. He’s almost obsessively by the book in his work ethic, but he can cut moral corners when he feels it’s justified. He is in fact motivated by inner demons, but he keeps them buttoned up.

In this third season, the first major plot line involves a reprehensible Hollywood producer (that’s an oxymoron, I suppose), who had a lowlife acquaintance murdered because he knew too much about a previous murder he’d committed (this is complicated by the fact that Bosch has been pursuing the guy himself over another matter, and has the murder on film, which he can’t use because his surveillance is illegal). The second big plot line centers on a group of former Army Special Forces guys who pull off a big theft and aren’t shy about killing people along the way. Their combat skills make them formidable adversaries for Bosch – and eventually for each other. Continue reading Amazon Prime Video Review: ‘Bosch,’ Season 3

Book Reviews, Creative Culture