‘The Survivor,’ by Gregg Hurwitz

The Survivor

Cielle curled her legs beneath herself on the couch. “Is it scary?”

“Being sick?”

She nodded. Her fists rose to her chin, elbows on her knees. She might have been six or ten. “What’s it like?”

He could feel Janie, too, focused on him. The stillness was electric.

“It teaches you that no part of you is sacred,” he said. “And that other people are.”

Dear heavens, what Gregg Hurwitz puts me through with his novels.

Listen to the premise of The Survivor:

Nate Overbay has nothing left to live for. He lost his family, thanks to PTSD. Now he has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). And so he climbs out on a ledge on the 11th story of a bank building, to get it over with before the real suffering starts.

But instead of killing himself, he stops a bloody bank robbery, killing four out of five of the bank robbers. The lone survivor, before fleeing, tells him, “He will make you pay, in ways you can’t imagine.”

Soon, in spite of a steadily failing body, Nate is fighting desperately for the lives of his wife and daughter. Along the way he finds redemption he’d never thought possible.

Completely implausible. I didn’t believe the premise for a second. This book is so over the top it would never work if it weren’t being told by a consummate storyteller who knows how to flip all our switches. You will care – deeply – about this man and his family, people who come alive in stirring ways. You’ll even care about the villain, to an extent. The Survivor is, simply, a moving, irresistible read.

Cautions for language, violence, and plain intensity.

Non-review: Talking about ‘The Benedict Option’

The Benedict Option

This is not a review. I haven’t read Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option, because I’m depressed enough as it is.

However, I’ve heard the book discussed a lot recently. Today Michael Medved interviewed him on his program, and I got a little better picture of Dreher’s argument. It was different from what I assumed.

When I first heard that Dreher was urging today’s Christians to adopt the tactics of Saint Benedict of Nursia, who founded the Benedictine Order, my thought was, “That’s not realistic. Our situation is nothing like Benedict’s.”

Benedict responded to the decline of civilization by creating communities where the old truths – as well as the old civilizational treasures – could be preserved.

It seemed to me that that model wouldn’t work today. Although Benedict lived in hard times, his culture had not turned its back on Christianity as such. He was able to carry on his educational program without officious bureaucrats coming in and shutting him down for crimes against diversity.

In the near future, it seems to me, we won’t be allowed to run schools. Not only will we be unable to start institutions, the institutions we have will likely be shut down or repurposed.

But in today’s interview, Dreher was clearly aware of those problems. He’s talking about acting in secret, underground ways, and building our faith communities on smaller, more intimate models. Things like house churches.

That, it seems to me, is probably how it will have to be.

I have no fear that the Church as such will die. It’s Christ’s church, and he will keep it until He returns.

I do wonder whether the Church in the west will die. The Book of Revelation warns sharply that Christ will “take away the lamps” of churches that do not hold out to the end. I fear our lazy, selfish, lukewarm churches may have exhausted His patience.

‘The Crime Writer,’ by Gregg Hurwitz

The Crime Writer

“You’re living an investigation?”

“A story. We all are, but this segment of my life has a pleasing structure to it.”

“Maybe that’s why it happened to you.”

“I don’t believe in intelligent design.”

“Sure you do.” She waved a hand at the book spines in all their eye-catching glory.

Drew Danner, the hero of Gregg Hurwitz’s novel The Crime Writer, is precisely that. He writes crime thrillers, and has gotten a movie deal and a TV series. He’s kind of a minor big shot in LA.

Until the day he wakes up in a hospital bed with a cop watching him. He is informed that a brain tumor has been removed from his head, and that he has murdered his ex-girlfriend. He can’t remember anything about it.

Drew gets off on a temporary insanity plea, thanks to the tumor, but he’s haunted. He needs to know whether he did this thing or not. He becomes even more frantic after another woman is murdered, with evidence pointing to him again. Has he become a danger to society, homicidal during blackouts?

His investigation (in which he learns, embarrassingly, that he knows less than he thought he did about the things he’s been writing about) leads him to meet an emotionally fragile, damaged woman with whom he begins a relationship. In Hurwitz’s trademark style, the tension zooms rather than ratchets up, and the stakes are soon greater than just Drew’s freedom – they involve his sanity and his very sense of himself.

I think I liked this book better than any Hurwitz I’ve read to date (I also think it’s the first thriller he wrote). Aspects I appreciated included some Christian characters who were treated simply as decent human beings, without a trace of condescension. There was a homosexual character who was so subtly revealed that you only began to suspect his orientation gradually, as is often the case in real life. And – perhaps for the first time in a novel for me – there was a sex scene that actually did advance the plot. It was done in good taste, and was very touching.

I probably need to mention that I did figure out whodunit fairly early on. That didn’t really bother me, though. I loved The Crime Writer for its own sake.

Highly recommended. Cautions for the usual.

Obviously the words of a humanitarian…

Here’s a little dose of massive cognitive dissonance for you, courtesy of Richard Weikart’s Hitler’s Religion, which I reviewed yesterday:

…Like many atheists and freethinkers, [Hitler] often associated Christian churches with the Inquisition and witch hunts. According to August Kubizek, Hitler got riled up even as a youth by reading books about witch trials and the Inquisition. In 1927, Hitler corresponded with a Catholic priest who had previously supported Nazism but by this time had some misgivings. Hitler contradicted the priest’s claim that Christianity had brought an end to Roman barbarism. Instead, Hitler insisted that Christianity was even more barbaric than the Romans had been, killing hundreds of thousands for their heretical beliefs. He then rattled off a list of Christian atrocities: killing the Aztecs and Incas, slave hunts during medieval times, and enslaving millions of black Africans. Otto Wagener reported that Hitler made similar comments several years later. Hitler attacked those in the churches who opposed his regime, indignantly claiming that their resistance was “nothing more than the continuation of the crime of the Inquisition and burning of witches, by which the Jewish-Roman world exterminated whatever offered resistance to that shameful parasitism…. Hitler wondered why the thumbscrews of the Inquisition were necessary if the Christian faith was based on knowledge.

If only he’d been born later in time, Hitler would probably have qualified to teach liberal arts at an American university.

Whose Book Is Funniest in UK?

The short list for this year’s Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction has been released. The winner of this UK literary award  will be announced next month, just prior to the Hay Festival in Wales.  The winner “will receive a jeroboam of Bollinger Special Cuvée, a case of Bollinger La Grande Année and the complete set of the Everyman Wodehouse collection. They will also be presented with a locally-bred Gloucestershire Old Spot pig, which will be named after the winning novel.”

Last year’s prize went to two authors, Hannah Rothschild for The Improbability of Love and Paul Murray for The Mark and the Void. In 2015, Alexander McCall Smith won the prize for Fatty O’Leary’s Dinner Party. (See this article for a photo of the prize pig.)

“It was impossible to separate these two books, because they made us laugh so much. And between them they produce a surfeit of wild satire and piercing humour about the subject that can always make us laugh and cry. Money,” judge and broadcaster James Naughtie told The Guardian.

‘Hitler’s Religion,’ by Richard Weikart

Hitler's Religion

It still amazes me that some people actually believe the public religious image that Hitler created for himself, as if Hitler would never have stooped to deceiving anyone about such important matters.

If you’re in the mood to start an argument and lose some friends on Facebook, you can hardly choose a better topic than Hitler’s religion (or lack thereof). Hitler is the great hot potato of ideologues – whoever gets him in the toss tries to pass him on to somebody else as quickly as possible. Atheists like to declare that Hitler was a Christian, and Christians like to retort he was an atheist, or an occultist.

Richard Weikart, author of Hitler’s Religion, says they’re all wrong. He provides pretty convincing documentation that Hitler was in fact a pantheist. Hitler remained a member of the Catholic Church for political purposes, and appealed to God and the Creator in his public statements. But, like so many modern figures, he cherished very private, secret definitions of those terms. Continue reading ‘Hitler’s Religion,’ by Richard Weikart

HuffPost Retracts Controversial Post Due to Lack of Author’s Existence

Huffington Post South Africa was fine with an April 13 article arguing white men should be denied the right to vote, but when they could not contact the author and subsequently found no evidence of her existence, they pulled the article and an editorial defending it.

The blogger wrote that her argument “may seem unfair and unjust,” but “allowing white males to continue to call the shots politically and economically, following their actions over the past 500 years, is the greater injustice.”

HuffPo South Africa’s editor in chief, Verashni Pillay, supported this idea. “Those who have held undue power granted to them by patriarchy must lose it for us to be truly equal. This seems blindingly obvious to us.”

But when the supposed author of the piece went unverified, the whole argument fell apart. I’d like to say this is another example of how liberalism undermines itself, calling for the benefits of the virtues it works against, but that bit of sense seems absent here. This is simply nonsense.

‘They’re Watching,’ by Gregg Hurwitz

They're Watching

A sometime model from Bulgaria, she had a knee-weakening accent and natural eyelashes longer than most Hollywood prenups.

Patrick Davis briefly realized his dream of becoming a Hollywood screenwriter. He saw his script turned into a major picture. Then one day, on the set, he managed to sabotage his career, and shortly thereafter his marriage began to fall apart. Now he’s sleeping on the couch, contemplating a separation, and has taken a job teaching college-level writing. He feels pretty bad, but it’s about to get worse.

At the beginning of They’re Watching (by Gregg Hurwitz) Patrick brings in the morning paper one day to find an unlabeled DVD inside it. The video on the disc demonstrates that someone has been watching and filming him – even coming inside his house. After a couple more DVDs are delivered – and the police say they can’t help – he starts getting demands that he carry out certain tasks.

The odd thing is that they’re nice tasks.

But what follows is not nice at all. Soon Patrick is the chief suspect in a headline homicide, facing the prospect of conviction and execution. All indications say that the people manipulating him are powerful on a world-class scale, and have resources neither he nor the police (even if they believed him) can match.

I think They’re Watching is one of Gregg Hurwitz’s earlier books, and it seemed to me he hadn’t quite mastered the “start with an earthquake and then escalate” style his most recent books demonstrate when he wrote it. And frankly I liked that. The more leisurely beginning was easier for me to handle. But the stakes got high quickly enough, and I was riveted (despite the highly improbable plot – but after all they’re all highly improbable). It’s the kind of book designed to be made into a Mark Wahlberg movie with loads of choppy action and chase scenes. Lots of fun.

Cautions for language, violence, and adult themes, as you’d expect. Recommended for its proper audience.

Luther’s “Utterly Improbable” Career Shown in New Biography

Lyndal Roper has a new scholarly biography on Martin Luther’s “utterly improbable” life.

Roper took ten years to write this book, which the NY Times calls, ” a fresh and deeply illuminating study of the man who somewhat reluctantly divided a continent.”

Roper is especially good on Luther’s unusual upbringing as the son of a mining family. It was a hard life, full of risk; they lived well, but always one bad business decision away from disaster. Young Martin knew that the price of his education was an investment in the family’s future, and how much his decision to abandon his legal studies in favor of a church career would disrupt his father’s plans.

But reviewer Melanie Gilbert suggests Roper crops out the full picture. “When read for its smaller insights – his prolific letter writing, for instance – this book offers a rewarding look at a specific time and place in history. But in a story where the Gutenberg printing press isn’t even mentioned, and the English Reformation gets only a one-page mention, the larger importance of Luther’s life is lost in translation.” (via Prufrock News)

A meditation

For Good Friday (via Dave Lull) a meditation from National Review on Holy Week by the late D. Keith Mano:

Again, I think not. God prefers, when He can, to conserve terrestrial order. He has a dramatic instinct. And His own peculiar unities. The Passion is as naturalistic as frail wrist tissue shredded by a spike. Jesus could ferment water. He could infinitely divide the loaf and the fish. But here He had need of a furnished apartment. His colt might have come about providentially, as Abraham’s ram came about, caught in some thicket. But God wanted a known colt: one that had memorable references in Jerusalem. It was His purpose to leave a clear and historical track behind — evidence that might stand up in court. The presence of transcendent power among modest instruments is more persuasive than any bullying miracle could be.

He is risen!

‘The Star Fox,’ by Poul Anderson

The Star Fox

What I liked best about this book was that it’s a military science fiction novel written before political correctness. Thus, Poul Anderson’s The Space Fox is blessedly free of tiny little girls with mystic ninja skills who throw 200-pound men around in the manner of Summer Glau.

Centuries in the future, the earth is ruled by a Federation, which also has jurisdiction over various space colonies. One of the most promising of those colonies, New Europe (settled by Frenchpeople), has been conquered by an alien race, the Alerians. The Alerians report that all the human settlers have (unfortunately) been killed. The earth government, dominated by pacifists, is inclined to accept the fait accompli and cede the planet to them.

Gunnar Heim, industrialist, is not so sure. He knows New Europe and doesn’t find the Alerian story plausible. He expects that the humans there survive in the wilderness, and are waiting for relief from earth. When he meets a Hungarian folk singer who has brought evidence of just that, but can’t get a hearing from the government, he starts moving. With the help of a combative French (!) legislator, he concocts a scheme to exploit a loophole in the law to set out in his own war ship, the Space Fox, becoming a latter-day privateer.

The Star Fox was recommended to me by a friend as right up my alley, and it has numerous theoretical attractions for me. It was written by a Danish-American who grew up partly on a Minnesota farm. The hero, Gunnar, is a Norwegian-American who lapses into Norwegian in his conversation from time to time. And it was written as a commentary on the Vietnam War, which Anderson supported, as did I.

And yet, I didn’t love it as much as I should have. I don’t know what it is that puts me off about Poul Anderson. I’m in the habit of criticizing his characters, but I couldn’t really find fault with the characters here. Gunnar especially is very well drawn, and I was even moved by his troubles from time to time. Yet when I was finished, I had no great yearning to pick up another Anderson. So I guess it’s just me.

On that understanding, I recommend The Star Fox. In keeping with publishing norms in its time in history, it has no elements that make it unsuitable for any age of reader likely to enjoy it.

What Did Judas Actually Do?

Judas throws the money back at the chief priests.

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd. (Luke 22:3-6 ESV)

Judas gave his name to the world as the greatest traitor to ever live. And for what? For pointing Jesus out when he was relatively isolated. Jesus even points this out when the gang came to get him at night, “Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me” (Matt. 26:55 ESV). The temple rulers feared the crowds, so they didn’t try to seize him in the middle of the day, but they didn’t have anyone follow him either. Without Judas, they appear to have been stymied.

But that doesn’t change the fact that what Judas did was almost nothing. He said, “I’ll show you who Jesus is. This is him right here.” If anyone had walked into the garden that night, even a Roman soldier, and asked if the Master was present, which of the disciples would have asked, “Who wants to know?” Any of them probably would have pointed him out himself.

Great evil is often committed with the most boring actions. Apathy is the frontrunner. Laziness, sloppy work, deliberate ignorance, truthful gossip, all have their place in the hallway of boring evil.

Even Judas was horrified by the results of his decision. I can’t imagine what he thought would happen or even his motive, except that asks this of the chief priests when he first goes to them: “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” (Matt. 26:15 ESV).

Your favorite Bible teacher John Calvin writes:

It is particularly worthy of notice, that the cause and source of so great blindness in Judas was avarice, which makes it evident that it is justly denominated by Paul the root of all evils, (1 Timothy 6:10.) To inquire here whether or not Satan entered into Judas bodily is an idle speculation. We ought rather to consider how fearfully monstrous it is, that men formed after the image of God, and appointed to be temples for the Holy Spirit, should not only be turned into filthy stables or sinks, but should become the wretched abodes of Satan.

‘Murder in the Mind,’ by Bruce Beckham

Murder in the Mind

‘Do you catch by logic, Daniel – or is it gut feel?’

Skelgill turns to her, blinking.

‘You mean fish?’

‘Fish – or criminals. Is there a difference?’

Now Skelgill is forced to contemplate the distinction.

‘After I’ve caught a fish – when I’m thinking about it – maybe driving home, walking the dog, whatever – I can explain how I did it.’ He pulls of his Tilley hat and absently combs back his hair with the fingers of one hand. ‘I can’t honestly say I always see it at the time.’

I think I have a codependent relationship with Bruce Beckham’s Inspector Skelgill mysteries, set in England’s Cumbria county. The man is annoying by design, and he does annoy me. He’s obsessive, exploitative of his underlings, and insensitive to others generally. And yet I keep coming back to the books.

In this outing, Murder in the Mind, Skelgill is more irritating than usual (even after appearing to make progress in the previous book). He and the long-suffering Sergeant Leyton drive out to a maximum-security hospital for the criminally insane. The complaint is – apparently – a trivial one. Some supplies have gone missing. Yet before long two patients are dead, and later two more escape, one with a hostage. Continue reading ‘Murder in the Mind,’ by Bruce Beckham

Is Publishing Too Liberal?

Publishers Weekly asks, “Is Book Publishing Too Liberal?” They talk to several anonymous industry people about it–anonymous people. Doesn’t that strongly allege the answer to their answer is yes?

“Politics is a dangerous thing to be candid about,” said one agent, who has worked with conservative authors. “It’s now acceptable to ban speech on college campuses; this is the world we live in.”

Marji Ross of Regnery Publishing says many conservative authors are dismissed by mainstream publishers or treated contemptuously. An unnamed literary agent said you can tell the industry is too liberal by the mere fact that you have a few “conservative” imprints and no “liberal” imprints. Liberal ideas are treated as normal and published through the majority channels. (via Trevin Wax)

Country & Northern

From PJ Media, via Dave Lull: This New Yorker Grew to Love Country Music — in the Last Place You’d Ever Think.

And, yes, they adore country music. It speaks to them. Because it’s the real America, if you like, speaking to the real Norway. And guess what? Listening to that music here, I’ve undergone a long-delayed conversion. I’ve finally realized that of all the popular music produced today, it’s country songs, by far, that are most likely to have real melodies and real lyrics, to speak honestly and movingly about love and friendship, to exhibit courage and humor in the face of adversity, and to show appreciation for everyday comforts and pleasures. All in all, they’re the closest thing around today to the standards by Kern, Berlin, Rodgers, and company that I grew up on.

This story may surprise you. But to one who, like me, has spent time at the Hostfest in Minot, North Dakota, it’s just part of life. Like trains, dogs, pickup trucks… and lutefisk.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture