Old mysteries and thrillers gathering dust and adding to your clutter? Donate them to the Burrito Boyz and they'll distribute to the homeless of San Diego.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Gumshoe by Rob Leininger

Mortimer Angel ("Mort, please") is early-mid 40s and is "looking at a long empty stretch of road ahead." Divorced from the gorgeous - and rich - Dallas. He quit his job as an IRS field agent. Sixteen years of scaring the liver out of people to squeeze a few quarters out of them. Drives a POS Tercel. And next week he starts his new life as a PI, working for his nephew. Reno, NV. No training. Sounded like fun. Greg, the nephew, says being a PI is not Mickey Spillane or Magnum. It's more hurry up and wait than it is, "Hey, babe."

Dallas has been seeing Jonnie Sjorgen, the current mayor of Reno. Marriage is in the not-too-distant future. Problem is that Jonnie and the Reno DA, Dave Milliken, have gone missing. Been gone for over a week. No clues. No ideas. Just gone like they were beamed up to the Enterprise.

Until Jonnie's head is delivered to Dallas. A day later, Milliken's head is delivered to the DA's office. And they weren't just decapitated. Their brains were scooped out and replaced with their . . . um . . . use your imagination. Mort is there each time and becomes a person of interest to the Reno PD. Now he's the subject of jokes on late-night monologs as the crimes go national.

And then there's that blond sleeping in his bed who left a note for him, signed it simply K. While Greg starts looking closely at Jonnie's business dealings, they sort of subcontract another PI, Jerry DiFrazzia. Make that Jeri.

After Jeri sets herself as the alpha male of the partnership, she and Mort start tracking down clues that  seem to have eluded the police. And what started out as a simple disappearance works its way into a sort of 'I am my own grandfather,' like that song.

Leininger's style is to tell the story through Mort, with Mort as the smart aleck, wisecracking, self-effacing PI (think of him as a cousin to Nelson DeMille's John Corey) who, after a dry spell of a few years now has babes practically throwing themselves at him. Maybe being a PI has some advantages.At least until the perps are revealed for the final countdown. It's all business then.

Not sure if Mort Angel is, or will be, a continuing character, but Leininger has an enjoyable and addictive style. Nowhere near power rotation quality, but certainly a reasonable diversion and worthy of another adventure.

East Coast Don

available November 2015

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Circle by Dave Eggers

John Lennon once wrote, "Imagine . . ."

And so many cheesy movie trailers began with, "In a world where . . . "

So try to imagine a world where Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Yahoo, AOL, electronic health records, Ancestry.com, SnapChat, every election board, Etsy, Pinterest, Microsoft, Apple, WeChat, MeerCat, Tinder, Reddit, yadda, yadda, yadda were all a single company.

The Circle.

Imagine every aspect of social media and mobile computing under one umbrella. Gobbling up startups almost daily. Making everything transparent. As Eggers puts it, "a gateway to the world's information."


Mae Holland spent her first couple years after college as a utility company drone in her small town California home. Ann, her college roomie, works for The Circle and responds to Mae's request for help getting a job with The Circle. Ann deals with regulatory stuff here and abroad while serving as a member of the Gang of 40, the drivers of much of the decision-making.

But the real drivers are the 3 Wise Men - the software engineer, the CEO, and the CFO. They have created The Circle as a way for individuals to connect and open up full transparency for the greater good. The campus, near San Francisco, is a massive monument to The Circle, employing thousands.

All Circle users are connected and all data is kept, forever. Therefore, all data is available for anyone. Everyone is invited to join interest groups, fill in surveys, connect with customers, respond to any and all queries, post thoughts and respond to other's comments (and woe to those who don't respond quickly. All those connections will wonder what's wrong). The more connections the better and each employee is ranked according to the number of connections, how their work is scored by their customers, everything.

A modern day Utopia.

One night, Mae drives home from seeing her parents when, in a spur of the moment impulse, pulls into a kayak rental place she frequents. It's closed, but a late returning customer left a kayak at the gate, so Mae takes off for a night paddle . . . and one of video feeds that a Circler placed picks up her midnight excursion.

Worse, Mae failed to post any thoughts about her adventure; it was a private moment for her. But one of the 3 Wise Men, Eamon Bailey, sees this as a selfish act denying other kayakers around the world the benefit of her experience and convinces Mae to start wearing a small camera that transmits her every act. It's a roaring success. Mae's rankings skyrocket. A Congresswoman pledges to go fully transparent and wears a camera. No back room deals now. Don't want your meeting with her recorded? Must not need the meeting.

And it mushrooms. Before long, thousands of local, state, and national politicians go fully transparent. Those that don't? Obviously hiding something, so forget reelection. And for a fully transparent nation to function efficiently, everyone has to vote. And to vote, you have to have The Circle software, make that required. Election results in seconds.

Eggers presents this cautionary tale of social media taken to the extreme. Individuals connect only via a digital interface - "one account, one identity, one password, one payment system, per person." Circlers are more interested in a comment or a smiley face from Cape Town or Delhi than to hold the hand of a real flesh and blood human. The employees of The Circle are its best representatives having fully drunk the proverbial Kool-Aid and convinced themselves that they are living a fascinating life.  The mantra of The Circle becomes:


Be careful what you wish for. Everyone will know. And that's a good thing, right?


Thursday, September 24, 2015

I am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World

I am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World is the story of Malala Yousafzai, an autobiography written with Patricia McCormick. You probably saw this story in the news when on 10/9/12, this 15-year-old girl was shot in the head by the Taliban in her home town in Pakistan. Then, she survived, recovered, and became the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner. She wrote this book a year after the shooting.

Recommended to me by my daughter, this is definitely a book worth reading. Not only is it a story of courage of a teenager girl standing up for the right to education in the face of the Taliban’s siege of the culture of Afghanistan, but it also gives a clue to what life is like in this country and the challenges that lie ahead for the country. This was a short and quick read. The writing is a bit simplistic, perhaps what she should expect from a teenager who is not a native English speaker. Nonetheless, the story is compelling and the idealism is infective.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Boys of the Dixie Pig

This is Stacy Childs’ second novel, and the first one I tried to read, but I only got 20% of the way through this book before I chose to abandon it, right before the start of chapter 15. The story started out with a reunion of men who had known each other in college, but had mostly not kept in touch. One of the fellows was a physician who had developed a company that did cryogenics – fast freezing people with terminal diseases so they could be awakened when cures for the conditions were finally developed. But, there was a hint that reincarnation would become a part of the story, which also included loan sharking and murder.

Basically, I was not impressed with the character development, the plot, or the quality of the writing. I decided it was not worth spending any more time with it.

A Cold War by Alan Russell

An Alaskan cruise or an impromptu vacation in Alaska may not have been the brightest of ideas.

Greg Martin and his wife Elese are honeymooning on an Alaskan cruise. She goes off the ship to get a better look at the northern lights and never returns.

Fast forward about 3 or 4 years. Nina Granville has joined a friend for a spontaneous trip to Alaska to escape NYC and the coming media crush of her future nuptials to Terrance Donnelly, a New York congressman said to be on the fast track for the White House in the not too distant future. At some forgotten hotel in Seward, Nina takes a short walk in the evening to counter her jet lag. What appears to be a homeless person suddenly clamps a chloroform rag over her face and whisks her away leaving not a clue.

The homeless man isn't what he seems. Baer is a trapper/survivalist who lives so far off the grid that the grid hasn't even mapped his home. Via a stolen car, a manipulated bush pilot, and his own skills, Baer takes Nina to his home way, way, way the hell into the interior of Alaska and imprisons her in a large animal kennel. She is to be his third (that we know of) wife.

Baer wants to break her down and make her totally dependent on him. Caged, beaten, raped, abandoned for days at a time while hunting, raped again and again, Baer forces his considerable will on her.

Nina is sure Donnelly has marshalled a massive search, but who will find her this far out in the bush and with the full Alaskan winter fast approaching?

Donnelly has even offered a cool million dollar reward for whomever finds her, but Greg Martin also continues to pester the police about his wife's disappearance, forming an uneasy alliance with Seward Sgt. Evan Hamilton who just happens to think Greg had something to do with his wife's disappearance.

Nina, too, tries to find a way to escape. When digging at the floor planks around her kennel, she pries a floorboard out to find a hidden diary of sorts rolled up in an empty caulk tube.

It's from Elese.

And it's this diary that gives Nina both hope and encouragement for a way out.

For months, Nina studies, learns, and plots her escape. On the outside, Greg and the Sgt. creep ever close to Baer's identity and rough location.

Russell's book is, essentially, a story about the motivations of four people. Baer's desire for a wife and family that would repopulate the wild after the SHTF. Nina's pursuit of survival. Greg's attempt to resolve his guilt for letting Elese out of his sight on their honeymoon. And Hamilton's obsession with finding both Elese and Nina; cases he failed to solve. All played out in the Alaskan wilderness and its inherent dangers. A riveting tale expertly told. Looks like Nina is a continuing character for Russell. Have to check back in with her . . . and soon.

East Coast Don

The Krakow Klub by Philip C. Elrod

Let's see. Erik Stoeller, a megabillionaire from Eastern Europe, envisions a new unified world living in peace under a common language, currency, and leadership . . .

His leadership. Erik is no benevolent grandfather-type, he is one part sociopath and one part megalomaniac. He has assembled a group of a dozen like-minded nutcases who have infiltrated the highest levels of government, military, and business in all the major nations. From their initial meeting, they call themselves the Krakow Klub.

Blackmail, bribery, and extortion are their tools. And it's time to pay the piper. Think SMERSH, not the United Nations.

And then there is James Scott. Think of him as Spock. Part human, part Mylean. We never learn how Scott came to be, just that the Mylean's, a mere couple thousand lights years distant, seem to have taken Earth under their wing. Their technology is also light years ahead of Earth. Two almost human 'computers' named Maxx and Maxxine, see all and predict all and do all. Whenever John Scott needs a question answered or an aircraft carrier battle group neutralized (without casualties, of course), Maxxine and 'her' cadre of drones based on an orbiting star cruiser are there to do the impossible.

Like thwart Stoeller and the Klub at every turn resulting in Stoeller becoming a candidate for a rubber room.

Reading a novel usually involves a level of suspension of reality. Elrod tries to unite a thriller with science fiction. Successful? For some, maybe so. For me? Not so much. I finished it, that's about the best I can say. Looks like this is part of a series about the Myleans. Enjoy it if you wish. Tell me what happens because I'm not coming back. Not my cup of tea.

East Coast Don

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Nature of the Beast

This is the 8th Louise Penny book reviewed in the blog, and The Nature of the Beast is the first one that leaves me disappointed. I am a big fan of her writing and her cast of characters from Three Pines, a fictitious village near Montreal. The quality of her writing and the continued evolution of her main characters remained superior. My only problem was the plot – just too improbable to swallow. In this genre, we have to be willing to suspend reality to a certain degree. In my opinion, Penny stepped well over the line in this novel. In her story, a 9-year-old boy was murdered soon after he claimed to have discovered an immense gun hidden in the forest with a monster drawn on it. The boy was already known to have a wild fantasy life. He was one that often made wild claims, so he was seen as The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Then he was dead. Eventually, the massive gun was found with a hideous monster etched into it, “The Whore of Babylon.” It was supposed to be a specially designed missile launcher which had been commissioned by Sadam Hussein. Really? I finished the book, but even the resolution of this fantastical tale was less than satisfying – this effort was so unlike Penny. No one can hit it out of the park every time.