Category Archives: Fiction

The 47th Samurai, by Stephen Hunter

“It’s a war thing. I’m a war guy, he’s a war guy. His dad, my dad, war guys. Us war guys, we’re all connected. So I picked up an obligation. It’s something ancient and forgotten and not in existence no more. Lost and gone, a joke, something from those silly sword-fight movies. Something samurai.”

The 47th Samurai, Stephen Hunter’s latest Bob Lee Swagger novel, centers on probably the most ridiculous premise I’ve ever encountered in a thriller.

I loved it.

I think this may be my favorite Bob Lee Swagger book in the whole series. Which is saying a lot.

What do you do if you’re out working in your meadow, and a car approaches, and out comes a Japanese gentleman, a military veteran, who informs you that, judging from the records, your father probably killed his father at Iwo Jima? And he asks your help in locating his father’s military sword, which disappeared at the same time?

Well, if you’re Bob Lee Swagger, you start rooting through your father’s effects, and then make a series of phone calls and visits, until you’ve located the thing. And you carry it back to Japan personally, as a surprise for your new friend.

And what do you do if your new friend and his family are then brutally murdered?

You go to the crime scene, make a spectacle of yourself trying to give information to the police, and get yourself expelled from the country.

Then you hole up for a while, watching old samurai movies and reading everything you can find about Japanese tradition. You go back again with a false passport. And you learn to use a sword. Continue reading The 47th Samurai, by Stephen Hunter

The Dead Whisper On, by T. L. Hines

This is the second published novel by T. L. Hines. It’s a stand-alone, not a sequel to his previous book, Waking Lazarus, which I reviewed a few days ago.

The hero of The Dead Whisper On is Candace “Canada” MacHugh, of Butte, Montana. The product of a broken home, embittered by the early death of her beloved father, estranged from her mother, she worked first (like her father) in Butte’s mines, before they shut down. Now she’s a garbage collector. She lives a packrat life in her late father’s trailer, and drives his old car. She’s aimless and depressed.

And then, one day, from out of the shadows, she hears her father’s voice speaking to her. He wants her to make contact with certain people, who will recruit her into a secret organization. That organization, he says, is devoted to fighting evil and to saving humanity from a terrible threat.

She does what he asks. Why wouldn’t she do what her father wants? But as she learns her new duties, she has trouble making sense of her assignments. And she learns that she’s being pursued, hunted—by a strange, man-like thing that cannot be killed, a monster of Jewish folklore called a golem. In confronting that supernatural antagonist, she will learn secrets that may save—or destroy—her home city.

I was, frankly, a little disappointed with this book. I had hoped to see more growth in Hines’ technique. All in all I rate this book slightly lower than Waking Lazarus. There’s only one fully developed character in The Dead Whisper On—Canada herself. Everybody else seemed pretty sketchy to me. In the later part of the novel Hines brings on a collection of Butte miners who are intended to be colorful. But colorful in itself isn’t enough. You need to establish the characters in the readers’ minds. They all kind of coalesced in my memory, and Hines didn’t help me by offering a lot of differentiation.

The final action centers on a plan by Canada to save the city through a fairly elaborate operation involving explosives and mining technology. For all I know, the plan may be realistic and based on solid engineering principles, but it seemed kind of out there to me, reading as a layman. Maybe other, more knowledgeable, readers had less trouble with that.

My guess (and such guesses are frequently wrong) is that Hines wrote this novel under a fair amount of time pressure from his publisher, and wasn’t able to develop his concept as well as he’d have liked. (Been in those parts myself.)

I still recommend it, especially for those looking for a G-Rated alternative to Dean Koontz. But I hope Hines develops the promise of the first novel a little more in the next one.

The Mood Will Pass

From P.G. Wodehouse’s The Code of the Woosters:

“Yes, sir. It is certainly a somewhat unfortunate state of affairs.”

I gave him one of my looks.

“Jeeves,” I said, “don’t try me too high. Not at a moment like this. Somewhat unfortunate, forsooth! Who was it you were telling me about the other day, on whose head all the sorrows of the world had come?”

“The Mona Lisa, sir.”

“Well, if I met the Mona Lisa at this moment, I would shake her by the hand and assure her that I knew just how she felt. You see before you, Jeeves, a toad beneath the harrow.”

“Yes, sir. The trousers perhaps a quarter of an inch higher, sir. One aims at the carelessly graceful break over the instep. It is a matter of the nicest adjustment.”

“Like that?”

“Admirable, sir.”

I sighed.

“There are moments, Jeeves, who one asks oneself, ‘Do trousers matter?'”

“The mood will pass, sir.”

Waking Lazarus, by T. L. Hines

First of all, thanks to Phil for sending me this book.

Waking Lazarus is the story of a man who calls himself Ron Gress, a school janitor in the town of Red Lodge, Montana. He lives alone, and is socially isolated, partly by his own choice (although, as we learn later, he has a young son in town, living with his mother, with whom Ron had a one-night stand a few years ago) and partly by plain fear.

His isolation is mostly a result of the fact that he is not, in fact, Ron Gress. His real name is Jude Allman, and he used to be famous. He used to be known as The Boy Who Died Three Times. Three times he fell victim to fatal accidents, and three times he came back to life, to the confusion of doctors. He was on television and radio, and he wrote a book. The trouble was, everything he told the world about what he’d learned “on the other side” was a lie. He got sick of the lying, and so disappeared and took on a new identity.

But he can’t hide forever. There’s a mysterious woman in town who recognizes him and knows too much about his past. And there’s a serial killer loose, a predator of children. Jude will soon find himself forced to choose between his anonymity and his son’s life. In order to unmask the murderer Jude will have to face up to his own past, and his own grudge against God.

As someone who suffers from a shyness disorder myself, I was extremely impressed by the author’s portrayal of what it’s like to live with that kind of social phobia. As a matter of fact, I found the book somewhat uncomfortable at times and had to put it down for a while. I don’t think normal people will have the same difficulty.

I believe that any reader familiar with Dean Koontz will realize almost immediately that author T. L. Hines is plowing much the same ground here. I think he does it creditably. His characters and dialogue are very good. The plotting could be stronger, and there are some holes. But if you like the sort of thing Dean Koontz does, but would prefer something without obscene language, something with less violence on stage, T. L. Hines will probably please you very much. He pleased me, and I’m glad I have a second book of his to read, thanks again to Phil.

“At Christmas Time” By Anton Chekhov

“WHAT shall I write?” asked Yegor, dipping his pen in the ink.

Vasilissa had not seen her daughter for four years. Efimia had gone away to St. Petersburg with her husband after her wedding, had written two letters, and then had vanished as if the earth had engulfed her, not a word nor a sound had come from her since. So now, whether the aged mother was milking the cow at daybreak, or lighting the stove, or dozing at night, the tenor of her thoughts was always the same: “How is Efimia? Is she alive and well?” She wanted to send her a letter, but the old father could not write, and there was no one whom they could ask to write it for them.

But now Christmas had come, and Vasilissa could endure the silence no longer. She went to the tavern to see Yegor, the innkeeper’s wife’s brother, who had done nothing but sit idly at home in the tavern since he had come back from military service, but of whom people said that he wrote the most beautiful letters, if only one paid him enough. Vasilissa talked with the cook at the tavern, and with the innkeeper’s wife, and finally with Yegor himself, and at last they agreed on a price of fifteen copecks.

So now, on the second day of the Christmas festival, Yegor was sitting at a table in the inn kitchen with a pen in his hand. Vasilissa was standing in front of him, plunged in thought, with a look of care and sorrow on her face. Her husband, Peter, a tall, gaunt old man with a bald, brown head, had accompanied her. He was staring steadily in front of him like a blind man; a pan of pork that was frying on the stove was sizzling and puffing, and seeming to say: “Hush, hush, hush!” The kitchen was hot and close.

“What shall I write?” Yegor asked again.

“What’s that?” asked Vasilissa, looking at him angrily and suspiciously. “Don’t hurry me! You are writing this letter for money, not for love! Now then, begin. To our esteemed son-in-law, Andrei Khrisanfltch, and our only and beloved daughter Efimia, we send greetings and love, and the everlasting blessing of their parents.”

“All right, fire away!”

“We wish them a happy Christmas. We are alive and well, and we wish the same for you in the name of God, our Father in heaven–our Father in heaven–”

Vasilissa stopped to think, and exchanged glances with the old man.

“We wish the same for you in the name of God, our Father in Heaven–” she repeated and burst into tears.

That was all she could say. . . . (read on)

Christmas Contest for Moms of Girls

Let’s balance all of the manliness on this blog (and risk our blog gender analysis) by posting information about a contest the little girls in your family will love.

Pam Davis, creator of Girls ’n Grace, and Authentic Books, the publishing portion of the International Bible Society, have announced a Christmas contest to give away a Girls ‘n Grace doll and book. To enter the contest, submit a story about your “best teachable grace moment with a child” in your life to You must include that you read about the contest on Brandywine Books or copy a link to this blog. Send in your story by December 17. Author Pam Davis will read the entries and pick a winner.

The winning participant will recieve one of two character dolls in the Girls ‘ Grace line: Sydney Claire or Mesi. When you submit your story, note which doll you prefer to receive.

There are a handful of books and dolls in this series, so if you or your girls are interested, browse the Girls ‘n Grace website.

More details after the jump: Continue reading Christmas Contest for Moms of Girls

My top 5: Mysteries and thrillers

Late posting tonight. I had to usher for Advent services.

Dale requested in Comments my list of the best mysteries/thrillers written in the past twenty years.

I’m reluctant to produce such a list, for a couple reasons.

One, my knowledge of the field is highly limited. I read authors I like and trust, and there are dozens (at least) I’ve never even tried. The mystery field in particular is dominated by female writers, many of whom have feminist agendas, and I just don’t cruise that side of the street. And there are a number of very popular writers whom I avoid either because I simply haven’t tried them yet, or I’ve tried one book and didn’t care to read any more. There’s a good chance there are several out there whom, once I discover them, I’ll be tugging at your (metaphorical) sleeve and boring you about. It’s also possible that an author I’ve weighed and found wanting in the past may surprise me with his/her growth and win me over (this has already happened with Dean Koontz).

But having said that, I’ll list my favorite books of the last twenty years. They’re all from two authors whom I consider preeminent in the field. They are books that not only entertain, but educate the heart, making the reader want to live more generously and courageously. Continue reading My top 5: Mysteries and thrillers

A couple reviews

I read a couple books over the holiday, but I don’t think they’re really worth separate reviews. I’ll take a few superficial swipes and move along.

Strangers by Dean Koontz appears to me to be a transitional work for the author. First published in 1986, it shows considerable improvement in character development and dialogue from much of his other early work.

It follows the adventures of a group of people, scattered all over the country, who begin to have similar anxiety symptoms (but not identical symptoms—there are interesting variations and contradictions). Most of them are suffering nightmares. Some of them develop obsessions. The moon, in particular, becomes the focus of more than one. Continue reading A couple reviews

The Day the Silent Planet Stood Still

Back in college, I took an interterm course that appeared to be an easy grade. It simply required the students to read a certain number of books chosen from a list of famous novels, and to participate in one discussion on each of them.

I found it more difficult than I expected, mainly because it required me to read rather faster than I generally do (though I’m a fairly fast reader), and because some of the books I chose (like The Brothers Karamazov) were pretty long.

But I recall in particular one book I read that summer. It was Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street. I remember it in part because I found it unusually repellent. It’s a book (in case you haven’t read it, which a lot of people haven’t nowadays, and I’m OK with that) by an intellectual who had the misfortune to grow up in a small Minnesota town (Sauk Centre), and who just had to write this book in order to tell the world how soul-destroying life in such a town was (though why we should be interested in the opinion of an author whose soul has been destroyed is not explained). The book itself centers on a young woman from Minneapolis who marries a man from the town of “Gopher Prairie,” and how she struggles to maintain her intellectual and artistic life in its barren environment. I learned after I’d read the book that it’s supposed to be humorous, and I’m glad someone told me, because I’d have never guessed it.

The one thing I recall most clearly about Main Street was a realization I came to while reading it. I couldn’t understand why this book was supposed to be so important, until I realized that it was a pioneering work. Up until then, American literature had generally celebrated the small town as the source of American strength, goodness and wisdom. Lewis was the first writer to convince Americans that small towns were places where they actually didn’t want to live, spiritual swamps inhabited almost exclusively by rubes, yokels and bigots. It’s hard to get the original impact of Main Street today, because Lewis’ revolutionary manifesto has become our popular prejudice. Continue reading The Day the Silent Planet Stood Still