song of shadowsReview by David Steinberg

I have favorite authors, as many readers do. Choosing what to read of what they’ve written is another matter.

I watch for John Connolly’s crime novels. I’m a big fan of his Charlie Parker series.

And I’ve just finished reading “A Song of Shadows,” the newest in that series. Not that new; it was released last fall. But it certainly hasn’t lose its power sitting on the shelf.

Parker is a fearless private detective even while recovering from a shooting that nearly killed him. Battered physically and emotionally, he’s still haunted by the death of his wife and daughter.

Parker is now recuperating in a seaside house in Boreas, Maine when he meets a neighbor, Ruth Winter. She is reluctant to let Parker peel away the shadows of her world.

When Ruth is killed, Parker takes it upon himself to find out what’s behind her murder. His snooping challenges the local police and the dynamics of the town. He is smart, forceful, relentless. He is, in other words, a presence, and that presence is reason why some folks in town want him out of the way. 

Among them are Germans who emigrated to the U.S. after World War II. They’re still hiding their Nazi past and are linked to a shadowy Boreas resident who is an unlikely neo-Nazi. Parker keeps digging. He sees a connection between this cabal and Winter’s death, and to an apparent suicide by drowning in the offshore waters.

And there are the constant shadows in Parker’s life – his half-hidden buddies Louis and Angel who are available to rescue him and the reappearing specter of his dead daughter.

Obviously, shadows dominate this story. They invest the novel with shades of darkness that Connolly fashions into a thrilling read.

“A Song of Shadows” is an Emily Bestler Book published by Atria. Retail price is $26.99.

The next installment in the Charlie Parker series is due out this year.

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This is the front cover of "Two Friends," a book for early readers about the friendship of famous activists Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass

This is the front cover of “Two Friends,” a book for early readers about the friendship of famous activists Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass

“Two Friends – Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass” by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko

Orchard Books/Scholastic, $17.99

Review by David Steinberg

This picture book for young readers is a terrific jumping off point for anyone of any age to learn about two iconic 19th century Americans famous for their unceasing activism – Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass.

Anthony is known today chiefly for championing the right to vote for women. But Anthony was an activist on many fronts. She fought for women to have equal pay for equal work, for the right of all people, regardless of race or gender, to have equal educational opportunities and to be admitted into all professions.

And she pushed for the abolition of slavery.

An escaped slave, Douglass is largely known as an abolitionist. But he also supported women’s suffrage in his brilliant oratory and writings.

The setting of this book is Anthony’s home in Rochester, N.Y., and it is based on a statue in that city that shows Anthony and Douglass having tea.

The book’s author is award-winning writer Dean Robbins who reads his cultural commentaries on Wisconsin Public Radio. It’s Robbins’ first picture book.

The husband-and-wife illustrators are Sean Qualls and Selina Alko of Brooklyn, N.Y. Their illustrations, according to Publishers Weekly, use “paint, colored pencil and collage to create symbolic illustrations with a folk-art feel…”

spidersweb“The Girl in the Spider’s Web, A Lisbeth Salander Novel” by David Lagercrantz, translated from the Swedish by George Goulding

Alfred A. Knopf, $27.95, 400 pp.

Review by David Steinberg

Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy – the first was “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” – received international acclaim and drew attention to Scandinavian crime fiction.

David Lagercrantz’s recent supercharged novel “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” that may not have gained the same status but it deserves it.

Lagercrantz’s novel continues the story of Lisbeth Salander, the tattooed, physically strong computer hacker and feminist who was the heroine of Larsson’s series. Her foil and friend is still Mikael Blomkvist, star investigative reporter of Stockholm’s muckraking Millennium magazine.

Lagercrantz extends the weblike intrigue to the international stage with a deep thread of corporate espionage, illlegal activity by Swedish and American security officials, and sales of stolen computer programs by a Russian criminal gang, the Spiders.

The story’s trigger is the murder of genius computer scientist Frans Balder and the murderer’s hunt for his savant-son August. August can’t speak but he possesses powerful artistic skills that could reveal the identity of the murderer. August also is a brilliant mathematician.

There are, believe it or not, captivating peripheral subplots that round out this thriller.

Salander is a shadow player in these elements, saving August’s life, striking down bad guys, feeding tips to Blomkvist, who wants to report this entangled tale for the magazine.

Twenty-five pages before the book’s conclusion, there’s a neat summary as seen through Blomkvist’s eyes: “On one level he intended the report to be a murder story about Frans and August Balder – an account of an eight-year-old austistic boy, who sees his father shot, and who despite his disability finds a way of striking back. But on another level Blomkvist wanted it to be an instructive narrative about a new world of surveillance and espionage, where the boundaries between the legal and the criminal have been erased.”

Larsson’s trilogy revealed the value of investigative journalism. Lagercrantz’s novel expands on the subject. It tells of the bravery of a younger generation of reporters, the precarious financial state of newsmagazines and the business of journalism in the 21st century.

The novel also maintains reader interest in Salander’s personal life – the deep emotional scars of her youth – with the surprising appearance of her twin sister and their monstrous brother.

Followers of Larsson’s series should be pleased with the novel by Lagercrantz, a Swedish novelist and crime journalist.

For those unfamiliar with that series, the new novel contains sufficient background to jump in with Lagercrantz’s absorbing, substantive follow-up. Then you’ll want to go back and read Larsson’s trilogy.

A pity that Larsson died before his trilogy and Lagercrantz’s novel were published.

Reviewer’s footnote: Albuquerque’s Steve Murray, under the name Reg Keeland, translated Larsson’s famous series.

Poet Richard Blanco and illustrator Dav Pilkey will read from and talk about their new children’s book “One Today” at 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7 at Simms Auditorium, Albuquerque Academy. The book’s text is the poem “One Today” that Blanco wrote, by invitation, for President Obama’s second inauguration.

Pilkey is the creator of the bestselling series “Captain Underpants.”

The event is free and open to the public. Albuquerque Academy is at 6400 Wyoming NE.

Simon Winchester discusses his book “Pacific” at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 11 at the Museum of Nuclear Science and History, 601 Eubank SE. Admission is $5. The admission fee is also a coupon for a $5 discount on a hardbook copy. Copies are available in advance at Bookworks, 4022 Rio Grande NW or online at www.bkwrks.com or at the museum event.

By David Steinberg

How do you tell the story of an ocean in a single book? How, indeed.

Simon Winchester’s “Atlantic” accomplished that task using the outline of the Seven Ages of Man.

“I clearly didn’t want to do the same thing with this book. It’s not a copycat book,” Winchester said, referring to his new book “Pacific.”

Winchester had to narrow the subjects. “Yes, that was difficult. For a start, I really didn’t know after I came up with the basic idea how to structure it. I believe structure is hugely important and certainly on a big, sprawling topic as this,” he said in a phone interview.

It has 10 big chapters, each about 10 significant events in the ocean’s human history between 1950 to 2015.

The first chapter zeroes in on a Doomsday subject embodied in President Harry S. Truman’s State of the Union address on Jan. 4, 1950. The speech hinted at, but did not explicitly mention, his decision to test thermonuclear weapons, Winchester said.

“He didn’t have to. So far as the United States was concerned, the 64-million-square-mile expanse of the Pacific Ocean was the only place big enough and empty enough, and American enough,” to allow for the testing of such weapons, the author wrote.

The second chapter relates the start of a worldwide consumer revolution – the making of the first Japanese transistor radio.

The third chapter, “The Ecstasies of Wave Riding,” is about the admission of Hawaii as the 50th state of the union on Aug. 21, 1959. Surfing became the symbol of the Hawaiian Islands in American popular culture. Hawaiians of all rank and file, of all ages, surfed long before the islands achieved statehood.

Winchester said that on balance the Americans, the British, the French and the Germans – white people – haven’t been terribly kind to the Pacific’s indigenous peoples. In the process, the contributions of the native peoples from all across the ocean have been ignored.

The book’s epilogue seeks to shed light on a major contribution of Hawaiians – the traditional Hawaiian sailing canoe, called a wa. In 1976, a Polynesian crew demonstrated that it was possible to cross  long stretches of the Pacific without a single navigational instrument. In fact, last year another crew attempted to show that the sailing canoe could circumnavigate the globe without a clock, a sextant, a compass or a GPS.

The book’s subtitle is as sprawling as its subject: “Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires and the Coming Collision of the World’s Superpowers.”

Despite the doom of gloom of many chapters, Winchester wants readers to come away with a sense of hope about the future of the ocean.

“Empire of Illusion – The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” by Chris Hedges

Nation Books, $24.95, 232 pp.

Review by Rick Edwards

Self-deception and spectacle have been with civilizations since Adam and Eve, Babel, the pyramids, coliseums, messiahs, W.C. Fields, guns and butter, O.J. Simpson and football stadiums. They span the empires of Egypt, Persia, Mayan, Byzantium, Ottoman and the democracy turned into empire – the United States of America.

All have died, except ours, and all the dead ones “at a certain point were taken over by a bankrupt and corporate elite ….squandering resources and pillaging the state.” So writes Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges in his book “Empire of Illusion.”

Cultures,” Hedges further writes, “that cannot distinguish between illusion and reality die. Our culture of illusion is, at its core a culture of death.”

Hedges makes it clear that we in the U.S. are increasingly clinging to our fanciful illusions. As a result, we fail to confront the stark reality of the imminent economic, political and moral collapse about to engulf us.

The fundamental cause of this approaching collage is an “inverted totalitarianism,” he writes, which does not revolve around the typical sole, individual dictator but rather the dominating, ubiquitous corporation – the “corporate state.” Consequently, we, the consumer, have allowed ourselves to be happily seduced and have caved in to the reality of this ruthless onslaught. Hedges states that “the worse the reality becomes, the less a beleaguered population wants to hear about it.”

The corporate state offers distractions galore. The hyper-consuming citizenry is inundated with spectacle: NFL (“Football is family”), shopping malls (“shop till you drop”), sex (erectile dysfunction), food (The TV show “The Biggest Loser”), celebrity worship (Justin Bieber, Oprah, et al), drugs (the Mexican cartels), guns (mass shootings).

We buy into these distractions hook, line and singer, thanks to the corporate state and our casino – predatory capitalism – run amuck. Entertainment has even replaced its most rival for human emotion – religion – as the opiate of the masses.

Hedges writes that these powerful corporations, in collusion with our governmental bodies, flood our decaying culture to keep us happy, fat, and dumbed down so that we will ignore the grim reality that threatens and is real.

The book is a well-documented analysis and scathing criticism of our culture that includes the now functional illiteracy epidemic in our educational system – bottom to top (“Universities shower honorary degrees and trusteeships on hedge-fund managers and Wall Street titans”), and sexual obsessions (Through its distributors, Hedges writes, “GM and AT&T rake in approximately 80 percent of all porn dollars spent by consumers … more than Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Apple, Netflix and Earth Link combined.”)

And the spin of transformational psychology does not escape Hedges’ criticism; namely the Toyota corporate model used in American corporations to keep workers upbeat, positive, cohesive that gives maximum efficiency to the work process. However, it ignores the uglier facts about labor relations and reminds one of the illusions in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.”

Hedges’ criticism of the corporate state also includes the Internet, where making a virtual world of oneself is akin to the problem of projecting ourselves onto a cyberworld where there’s no limit to virtual spaces to find stimulation.

Hedges denounces military growth and spending: “We maintain 761 military bases around the globe and the U.S. military spends more than all other militaries on earth combined.”

Media hype, government and corporate misinformation, interlocking corporate entities, religious demagogues and political and corporate charlatans come in for criticism.

Finally, the dressing down of the economic and money system – globalization, the free market con game, the cannibalistic financial system, now a debt-ridden credit generator so that the consumer can assume even more debt. And the incestuous relationship of the corporate state and government.

The author concludes that we are a “Peter Pan culture. … We will be dragged back to realism ….the world that awaits us will be painful and difficult.”

Rick Edwards in a longtime Albuquerque resident and a voracious reader.

Connelly_THECROSSINGfinal[1]“The Crossing – A Bosch Novel” by Michael Connelly

Little, Brown, $28, 388 pp.

Review by David Steinberg

Gods of Guilt

Michael Connelly

That flawed, likable fellow Harry Bosch is back in Michael Connelly’s new crime novel “The Crossing.”

Now retired from the Los Angeles Police Department, Bosch reluctantly hooks up with his half brother, defense attorney Mickey Haller.

Haller believes his client, Da’Quan Foster, arrested for a brutal murder, is innocent. The client claims he was in his art studio. Haller thinks Foster was set up with faked evidence.

If  Foster is indeed found innocent, Haller has done his job.

But that doesn’t go far enough for Bosch. The cop inside him pushes to find out who is responsible for the killing.

Though the title refers to a single “crossing,” this edgy, compelling story actually has a series of embedded “crossings.”

— The most evident crossing is this: Bosch is trying to find where the paths of the murder victim and the accused killer may have crossed. If there is no provable crossing, the client may be wrongfully accused.

—Bosch is crossing over to work for the defense in a criminal case. That’s seen as a sell-out by many cops; Bosch is keenly aware of that attitude and declares this case is one-and-out.

—Bosch crosses an ethical line by illegally entering a police station and by not always identifying himself as a “retired” cop to people he’s interviewing.

—Two undercover LA cops have crossed over to the dark side in a startling criminal enterprise, an enterprise revealed through Bosch’s bulldogging and dot-connecting.

An empty watch case at the murder scene triggers Bosch’s persistent snooping. It’s his attention to those otherwise overlooked details, and his calm confidence in his instincts, that set Bosch apart as a protagonist.

The novel contains several references that take the reader outside the story to the world of film. A 2011 movie, “The Lincoln Lawyer,” was based on a Connelly novel of the same name. That title refers to Haller, who works out of his car, a Lincoln Continental.

In “The Crossing,” Connelly writes, “(Haller) had received the ultimate imprimatur of L.A. acceptance –  a movie about one of his cases starring no less than Matthew McConaughey.”

The book’s subtitle, “A Bosch Novel,” is a slight change from Connelly’s previous fiction with Bosch as protagonist. Those were subtitled “A Harry Bosch Novel.”

Why the change? It might have something to do with the popular TV series “Bosch” on AmazonPrime.

Publication date of “The Crossing” is Nov. 3.

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