Thursday, June 19, 2008

Escape From Andersonville, Gene Hackman and Daniel Lenihan

A Union officer and what is left of his command are sent to Fort Sumter, Georgia. The POW camp called Andersonville. Living conditions are a nightmare; sickness, no sanitation, no shelter, hardly any food and death and disease are all they can look forward to. As an officer, Nathan Parker could have opted for a different camp but he chose to stay with his men. Parker plans a daring escape hoping to induce the army to raid the camp and release the prisoners but after many hardships, when he gets to Washington, he meets resistance and disinterest in his request even from General Grant. Nathan is offered a discharge and a medal and told to forget it!~He gets together a group of mercenaries and tries to rescue his men . This was a good story about loyalty and courage and the awful things that went on during the last year of the Civil War.

Sir Gwain and the Green Knight Translated By Simon Armitage

A poem dating from around 1400 discovered and first published in 1839. It tells the story of a giant of a man dressed in green with green hair and a green beard who suddenly appears in Camelot at the Christmas festivities of Arthur and his round table knights with his green horse carrying a huge ax. He is willing to join the Yule dinner but after the feast he throws out a strange challenge. He will kneel and bare his neck and invite any knight to take the great ax and take the first whack. The condition is that one year from now, that same knight must seek him out and allow him to do the same. Sounds suicidal on the part of the giant but Arthur and his men are cajoled into accepting and Sir Gwain does the deed. The giant loses his head but the arms feel around and pick it up whereupon the eyes open and the head speaks reminding Gwain of the bargain.
The adventures and trials and temptations of Gwain as he seeks out the Green Knight are told in the poem. On the left of each page is each line of the poem in the original Germanic Old English, on the right is the translation. Fascinating and absorbing story.

The Seven Sins By Jon Land

"To Dream...To Dare...To Win; a moto etched on an ancient amulet supposed to have been created by King Mita, later known in mythology as King Midas is discovered and lost and found again by Caesar, Alexander and other notables and then finally discovered by a Sicilian fisherman. The amulet and it’s history are important in the story of the rise to power of a young Sicilian orphan who creates the largest and most expensive casino in Nevada, "The Seven Sins". He is a ruthless man with close "family" ties to the Mafia and personal contacts that include the world’s wealthiest people.
Shortly after the 9/11 attack, a multiple bomb attack on several casinos in Las Vegas attributed to a terrorist, cause the tourist trade to stop and consequently huge losses to the casinos. Michael Nunziato, takes it upon himself to find and destroy the terrorist who has promised an even more devastating attack in the very near future.
This is a well done story full of action and suspense; strong, believable characters and a grand finally. Jon Land has written 23 novels including
another favorite of mine "Blood Diamond"

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Testament By Eric Van Lustbader

Braverman Shaw—"Bravo" to his friends—always knew his father had secrets. But not until Dexter Shaw dies in a mysterious explosion does Bravo discover the enormity of his father’s hidden life as a high-ranking member of the Order of Gnostic Observatines, a sect founded by followers of St. Francis of Assisi and believed to have been wiped out centuries ago. For more than eight hundred years, the Order has preserved an ancient cache of documents, including a long-lost Testament attributed to Christ that could shake Christianity to its foundations. Dexter Shaw was the latest Keeper of the Testament—and Bravo is his chosen successor.

Before Dexter died, he hid the cache where only Bravo could find it. Now Bravo, an accomplished medieval scholar and cryptanalyst, must follow the esoteric clues his father left behind. His companion in this quest is Jenny Logan, a driven young woman with secrets of her own. Jenny is a Guardian, assigned by the Order to protect Bravo, or so she claims. Bravo soon learns that he can trust no one where the Testament is concerned, perhaps not even Jenny . . .

Another secret society, the Knights of St. Clement, originally founded and sponsored by the Papacy, has been after the Order’s precious cache since the time of the Crusades. The Knights, agents and assassins, will stop at nothing to obtain the treasure. Bravo has become both a target and a pawn in an ongoing war far larger and more deadly than any he could have imagined.
This was an exciting adventure.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

City of the Sun By David Levien

Very intense and powerful novel about the disappearance of a young boy, the trauma of his parents , the efforts to find the boy, and the changes in the lives of the parents.
After 14 months, the police still consider the boy to be a run away. The parents hire a former cop turned private detective, Frank Behr. Frank is carrying his own personal baggage in that feels responsible for the accidental death of his own son. Routine investigation and some luck leads the parents and the detective into danger and the unsavory world of child abuse and the sale of children.
The bad guys were very real and very frightening. This was a tough story.

Islandia By Austin Tappin Wright

This book was published in 1942, eleven years after Wright’s death. I first read it in 1946.
I was nineteen and had just arrived in Bad Kissingen, Germany.
The novel made quite an impression on me; I could imagine myself as John Lang meeting and making friends with Dorn, a person from a strange foreign land, learning his language and talking about his country and becoming good friends, and then accepting a post as Consul to his country where new moreś and customs must be learned. I throughly enjoyed the story, the imaginary world and the strong characters. Wright’s women characters are those that, probably, he and certainly, I, would want to meet and know. He was many years ahead in his attitude toward women. It is an adventure, and there is war and politics and unrequited love. Wright spent most of his life creating his "Islandia"; too bad it existed only in his mind. I would have liked to visit there.
Lang’s uncle was instrumental in his getting the post because he and a group of major business players wanted to get trade going with Islandia in spite of the fact that the Islandian people for the most part, do not want trade and do not welcome foreigners. Lang will find himself being pulled in different directions by the pressure that his uncle and various visiting business people put on him and his loyalty to his friend and his growing understanding of the people and the land of Islandia. I thought it interesting that A.T. Wright created for his country the " Hundred Law" which limited access to Islandia to one hundred visitors at anyone time. He also expressed concern for the exploitation of timber and resources, over population and pollution - this was back in the 30's or even earlier!
It has been maybe 20 years since I last read the novel; I am still captivated by the places and the people. The Fains, The Hyths, The Dorns, The Somes, exclusionists all, the conservative Westerners that are opposed to a pending treaty which would open the country to foreigners. These folks have been on their farms for more than 400 years (one, a thousand years). No telephones no telegraphs; people wrote letters! They made do without what was considered modern conveniences back then; why, I am not sure because Wright was from a wealthy family and did not lack for luxuries.
Then there are the Moras of the East, strong political factions that want trade and argued vigorously for it in council. The possibility of a "Trade Treaty" was one of the main themes of the novel.

Wright made no mention of a formal religion except that the people of Islandia must have had some bad experiences with Christian missionaries because they were banned from the country. They had several words for love: "alia" for love of place and lineage, "ania" for commitment and desire for marriage and "apia" for sexual attraction and another word, "linamia" to designate a strong affection for a person of either sex
I became John Lang and lived the story; Dorn and Dorna , his sister ,were very real persons to me. The intrigues , the passions and the dialog were mine to savor; happiness and sadness, hope and despair. I sometimes, tried to fit "real life" people into the various roles, I often wonder about Linamia, I think, that in these times, it is, sadly, very difficult to really get to know someone well enough to find the strong affection that the term denotes.
It is a very long story and Wright often goes too far in his detailed descriptions of everything. He is the kind of guy if you asked what time it is he would tell you how to build a watch. But it was a labor of love and he cared deeply for every place and every person in Islandia and I count it among my most favored novels.

The First Patient By Michael Palmer

The President of the United States is acting strangely, there is strong evidence that he may be going insane. Those close to him are very concerned but are covering up because the President is very close to being reelected and his first term was very good for the country and the next term could bring lasting peace and prosperity. The President’s personal physician has mysteriously disappeared and an old and close friend is asked to take his place. The friend may have to invoke the 25th Amendment which transfers the power of the President to the Vice President. The administration has enemies; there is a possibility that the President’s illness may not be to natural causes. This is a good, fast moving, medical thriller that gives a lot of insight to the things that go on in Wachington, DC and the White House.

Silver By Edward Chupack

We all remember the story of "Treasure Island" and Long John Silver; well, this is a rollicking pirate tale of the rough life of murders and thieves that banded together to sail the sea and plunder and kill.
The story is told by Long John as he is being brought back to England to be hanged. It begins with "Silver" as a boy, a thief and a pick pocket who is taken to sea by Black John the pirate where he learns the trade. He meets Billy Bones, Pew, Ben Gunn, the parrot Flint and other characters and tells the story of how over the years he plans to take over Black John’s Ship and find the "greatest treasure". It is a gory story and a little over long but I kept holding out hope that it would tie into the Robert Louis Stevenson tale. There are a couple of esoteric puzzles that I could not figure out. A fair yarn.

Secret Adventures of Charlotte Bronte By Laura Rowland

This was an easy read; I was attracted by the cover and the title. The author is the granddaughter of Chinese and Korean Immigrants and she writes mystery thrillers. The story is a fantasy revolving around historical and made up people during the time that Great Britain was involved in the Opium war with China. Very interesting story; Charlotte witnesses a murder finds herself in a world that she had never experienced before. There is danger, romance and plenty of tense action as Charlotte and her sisters help solve what becomes a national crises.

The Forgery of Venus By Michael Gruber

Art history, forgery, technique, mind expanding drugs, the life and times of Diego Velazquez and unscrupulous art dealers.
An accomplished painter with rare talents is wasting his time doing commercial art and cartoons when he gets a commission to restore a fresco in Italy. The money is too good to pass up but when he gets into the job he finds that he is actually recreating a forgery of the original work and the finished job will be "rediscovered". The artist’s "patron" with the help of mind altering drugs which seem to take the artist back to the time and place of the artist Velazquez sets the stage for a multimillion dollar art forgery scam. A bizarre premise but a great yarn.

The Dark Tide By Andrew Gross

A great story with compelling characters and a wonderful plot that carries you into the world of high finance, multibillion dollar speculation in hedge funds and money laundering. The players are ruthless and they play for keeps; if money is lost or not transferred in timely fashion or if the large"investors" feel threatened, people disappear or have "accidents".
Karen Friedman’s husband of eighteen years is on a commuter train that is destroyed by a mysterious explosion. A detective Lieutenant is investigating two seemingly unrelated deaths. Further investigation begins to connect these deaths to the death of Karen’s husband. like Karen and the detective are pulled into a deadly and complex conspiracy. This is a very well done thriller’ I enjoyed the subject matter and really liked the characters.

Bretrayal By John Lescroart

Attorney Dismas Hardy takes over the case load of a lawyer that recently disappeared and finds himself involved in murder, conspiracy, assassination and treason. The setting is contemporary in Iraq and in California; the plot involves the hundreds of millions of dollars that passes between the United States government and private contractors for construction and protection that is never spent for it’s stated purpose but rather finds it’s way into the pockets of the big contractors. When a major player for a large contractor is responsible for a fire fight that kills innocents and almost wipes out the team of US soldiers that were with him, his superiors think it necessary to kill the remaining witnesses because an investigation might disclose their money skimming operations.