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Richard Delman

San Francisco
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4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-04-18

McMurtry is the very best good guy.

Count me among the many fans of Mr. Bailey, Mr. Dove and of Professor Tom McMurtry. I have enjoyed this series very much. I acknowledge the objections of the readers who do not feel that the legal points are precisely accurate, but this is not a documentary. It's fiction, and great entertainment. Picking nits about fine legal points misses the adventure. The depictions of the South are vivid, sometimes scary (Bully Calhoun is great fun to hate) and the plot twists and turns like windy roads through rural Tennessee and Alabama. I listen to hours and hours of these books and still am happy with how they keep me reading. I won't go too deeply into the plot, as other reviewers have done this, and it is complicated. To be brief, the Professor is defending Wilma Newton, a broken-down woman whose life he feels he partially ruined in the previous trial. He is slightly guilt-tripped by Wilma's fourteen-year-old daughter. The evidence against Wilma seems overwhelming, at least according to the DA and police investigator, both of whom are former students and friends of the Professor. An increasingly large role in the proceedings is taken by Bocephus Haynes, an imposing, bald, black man who is one of the finest lawyers in Alabama. Everyone idolizes the great Bear Bryant, who famously said that winning isn't everything: it's the only thing.
Bully Calhoun's hit person is a Filipino woman who is utterly stealthy and coldly bloodthirsty, happy to kill anyone who displeases her boss. Calhoun is truly evil, the king of a meth-producing and -selling empire. He has amassed and lost fortunes. He is now financially broke and desperate. He is determined to kill everyone who may be a threat to his stealing the $3 million life insurance policy that is payable on the death of Jack Willistone. This is the death with which Wilma is charged, and with the death penalty. All the way through we know that she is innocent, and that the Professor and his friends will exonerate her, but in spite of this, the suspense is terrific. This technique is used in many legal thrillers, and I admire the authors who are capable of using it in this way. Kind of like several examples from the world of sports: everyone watching knew that Joe Montana, Michael Jordan, Barry Bonds, and their like were going to do what they did at the end of the game, and yet no one could stop them. Amazing feats.
So I recommend this audiobook to you highly. I understand that Bo Haynes will inherit the mantle from the Professor next spring. I look forward to that: Bo is likewise a truly fine good guy. We know that he will ultimately prevail, as they say, but we love listening to him do it.

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4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-02-18

Classic Elvis and Pike, smartass and sidekick.

This is an early book by Robert Crais, who has since become an extremely popular guy. This series has about eighteen books in it by now, and Crais has branched off to a couple of spin-offs. One of these is particularly great. It's about an LAPD Canine Officer and Maggie, his German Shepherd partner. In the Cole-Pike series, later books have made Pike the focus. Crais doesn't want to get stuck cranking out one Elvis Cole after another, and he's right about that. I remember when I first discovered Crais. One day I was sitting outside a cafe near my home, reading one of his first books and laughing out loud at how funny Cole was. A woman came over to me and asked what I was reading. She said that one seldom sees a reader enjoying a book so much. I have been enjoying Robert Crais for the ensuing twenty-five years or so.
In LA Requiem Cole and Pike are trying to track down a serial killer. This was back in the day when serial killers weren't a dime a dozen in the detective genre, as they are today. The killer is a very careful, clever and elusive guy. At the same time, Elvis's girlfriend Lucy has moved in with him. Lucy is an attorney who has been living with her son Ben in New Orleans. Living together is a giant step forward in a relationship, and Lucy is becoming quite alarmed with the amount of violence that is in Cole's life. She is rightly concerned that Ben will not be as safe living in LA as he has been in NO. In another book Ben is in fact kidnapped, which drives both Elvis and Lucy almost insane. In this one, Cole once again proves himself to be a better detective than some of the LA cops. There is a particularly horrid villain named Krantz, who heads the team that is trying to find the killer. Krantz hates both Cole and Pike, and his rage is so ferocious that it distorts his judgment. One of the cops in his detail is a lovely woman named Samantha, who is quite fine, and who eventually lets Cole know that she has been head over heels in love with him for quite a while. Cole, though, is loyal to Lucy, which makes Samantha insanely jealous. Crais keep things hot and interesting with the characters here, and with the plot as well. The search for the bad guy becomes more and more intense, and the good guys soon discover that a new target is in danger. The LAPD is clueless, despite their humongous resources. Cole, as you might guess, with Pike's help, uncovers the pattern in the identities of the victims. As Cole and Pike get closer and closer to their quarry, and the Cole-Lucy-Samantha triangle heats up, it gets really hard to put this book down. It is not smooth sailing for our guys, though. Crais never lets things get that simple. You know that Cole and Pike will be left standing at the end, although both of them get so badly injured in the process that Pike is actually near death. It's a long story, which you will enjoy tremendously, I believe. I recommend almost all of Crais's books, and right now I can't remember which of them is not so terrific. You can't lose with this one, though. Crais deserves every bit of the success that he has had. Have fun with this.

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4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-01-18

Historically accurate but truly grisly.

You really need to have a very strong stomach to finish this book. The violence, which many people dislike in other books, is so real and convincing that you may want to turn away from it, particularly during the four days in which the survivors are stranded in the ocean. The things that happen to these men are so awful and frightening that they could happen in Hell. And, the author leads off the book with the suicide of Captain McVeigh (I don't feel that this is a spoiler, as it happens in the very first chapter). What leads up to it is well written and engaging. The description of the ship's preparation for war is excellent. They are going to the "forward area" (a euphemism for parts of the ocean that are very close to Japan, and are the water equivalent of the front on land). They leave from San Francisco after being outfitted at Hunters Point, a naval area in the city. Part of the ship's cargo is Fat Man and Little Boy, (talk about euphemisms), these two packages being the atomic bomb which has been put together in Los Alamos, New Mexico by Robert Oppenheimer and his cohorts. Those who know the history of WWII know that two of these bombs were dropped on Japan, on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in August of 1945. This brutal act ended the war, so the invasion of Japan was not necessary. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese people were incinerated by these devices, as they were known then (more euphemistic phrases), and the two cities were leveled. President Truman made that decision. I cannot imagine how agonizing that was for him. Or how the Japanese people felt about thousands of their innocent citizens being, as they say, blown to smithereens by the explosions.
Mr. Stanton describes in detail the horrendous mistakes that were made by the Navy when they failed to notice that the USS Indianapolis had not landed in the port of Lahey (spelling?). War certainly is hell. Some of these mistakes were simple human error, often produced by demands on personnel that were impossible to meet. But no one can feel forgiving when hundreds of sailors, most of them about twenty years old, are floating in the ocean, slowly going mad, with little food and no water, being attacked by sharks, and eventually insanely killing each other. They were clinging onto fragile rafts and wearing out life vests that were not designed to remain in the ocean for so long. Many of the sailors and other crew are quite sympathetic. The officers are also very decent men. Captain McVeigh is overwhelmed, as many men would be, by the necessities of coping with a disaster of this magnitude.
All in all, a good book full of fine detail about how wars really work, but the manner in which hundreds of sailors die in a few days is almost beyond comprehension. If you can't tolerate very detailed violence being done to human bodies, I would not take a chance on this book. TMI (too much information).

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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-24-18

Charles Frazier is a magician.

The reviewers seem to be people who are already very serious fans. If you have heard Cold Mountain, then I suspect that you are too. The combination of Frazier and Will Patton is so intensely pleasurable that few others come close. Frazier is an author whose writing is so totally fine that he can keep you happily held for hours by a book that has almost no plot. His ability to describe the surroundings of his story rivals James Lee Burke's. You feel like you are there. Luce is the sister of murdered Lily. She inherits Lily's two seriously traumatized kids, Dolores and Frank, who are almost without speech, but not with each other. Luce is isolated in her small community in the Appalachian Mountains. She has a couple of friends, both of whom are her fierce supporters in the upbringing of these two very difficult kids. Stubblefield (does he have a first name?) is her landlord, friend and admirer from high school, and suitor on tenterhooks. She is so determined to be alone that she can only tolerate a jar of honey or some flowers that he has picked as gifts, even though she clearly sees his deep infatuation with her. Maddie (does she have a last name?) is also her friend, but not suitor. Maddie has a beaten-down "pony" by which the kids are mesmerized; the horse is a perfect pacifier for the kids, allowing her to have a couple of hours with Stubblefield, almost like a regular grownup who is allowed to have her own life. We gladly follow her wherever she goes, which ain't far.
If you listen carefully you will find that Mr. Frazier slips in a line of poetry or two with no notice, no attention paid to it, unlike many authors who are so very proud of themselves for what they do. Even when the writing is not literally poetic, you can frequently feel a rhythm to it, something that holds you as some music does. This is hard to explain, and for most authors utterly impossible even to dream of, but Mr. Frazier just calmly slides it in, just part of the deal. It is amazing.
Will Patton is the supreme voice for writing this fine. He communicates so many emotions with so many skills that one has trouble turning the story off. He can portray every human feeling that you can think of. Over the past ten years or so he has risen above the remainder of narrators to become just about #1 for me, with perhaps the only company being Edoardo Ballerini.
These men are artists. It is a pure pleasure like no other to discover the extent of the talents of all these individuals. I hope that you can derive the same kind of enjoyment that I have. I haven't lived in the Appalachians, but I have spent several years very nearby, and Frazier and Patton make me intensely nostalgic for places and times which are in all likelihood completely fictional for me as well as for you. Enjoy this. These are rare talents indeed.

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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-23-18

A remarkable achievement; the perfect narrator.

I believe that most people, at least most of the Boomer generation, know this book as a true classic of the 20th century. Few books have tackled the harsh realities of a suicidal decline by the author. This alone, the fact that the book is largely autobiographical, is an important part of what makes it such an overwhelming accomplishment. The first half of the book is much lighter than the second half. During the first half Esther Greenwood, the protagonist/stand-in for Ms. Plath, has some enjoyable moments, particularly in a month that she spends in New York City, working as a kind of student intern at a fashion magazine. There are maybe twenty of these "girls," in the program, all of them staying at a hotel that is called the Amazon but is, I believe, a very thinly disguised version of the Barbizon, a proper hotel for women in which no men are allowed in a woman's room at any time. This part of the book is not light-hearted fun: Esther clearly demonstrates the very early signs of the depression that eventually claims her life. However, she and a couple of girlfriends enjoy the city and its amazing gifts in ways that are occasionally fun, if rather grim fun. One particularly grim fun episode is a luncheon at which the girls all eat a cocktail made from an "avocado pear" (I believe that here on the Left Coast we just call this an avocado). The cocktail features a scooped-out avocado half that is filled with crabmeat, mayonnaise, paprika and so forth. Either the crab or the mayo or both is "loaded with ptomaine," and the poor girls throw up their insides for an entire night. If comedy is tragedy plus time, then this episode is a good example of how we can laugh at something which was truly horrendous in the moment.
The second half of the book is much rougher. Esther begins to come apart, and there is no room for denial on anyone's part. Her mother tries very hard to provide for Esther, and to get the "right" kinds of treatment for her. Some of what she gets is the perfectly wrong treatment, i.e., hospitalization and shock treatments at a private hospital run by a psychiatrist named Dr. Gordon. While it is true that electroshock treatment can be helpful in the cases of treatment-resistant severe depression, the experience that Esther endures is so painful and so intimately described that one can just barely listen to the words without yelling "Stop!" at the callow psychiatrist. During my training I actually administered EST at a Veteran's Hospital in Salisbury, North Carolina. Nothing will make you think a thousand times about its so-called efficacy as having to administer this awful procedure to a patient. Even when the process was improved to the point where a grand mal seizure was suppressed, no one could mistake the profound shock, literally and figuratively, that the patient was going through. Needless to say, the treatments didn't work for Esther, and so she continued down the slippery slope into the abyss.
The good news about this audiobook is Maggie Gyllenhaal. She is one of my favorite actors on the screen. I didn't know that she narrated audiobooks, but I am thrilled about it. If you saw her and James Spader in the deeply troubling movie "Secretary," you hold the image of Maggie portraying one of the most challenging parts anywhere in either literature or movies. I won't go on about this except to say that the relationship between the two leads (Spader is a lawyer who is his usual extremely creepy self, and Maggie is his secretary) quickly progresses from brand new to a spanking connection. Quite literally. Maggie Gyllenhaal pulls this off perfectly, with her extraordinarily expressive face and her stellar abilities as an actor. She applies these same skills, without the visuals, in The Bell Jar, and I think that I will remember this performance for as long as I will remember the tortured young woman in "Secretary." From this point forward, I will gladly listen to almost anything that Maggie narrates. Jake may get more work, but IMHO Maggie is the superior sibling by leaps and bounds. As Esther descends, Maggie's depiction of the awful metamorphosis is spellbinding. Even though we know that the end is coming, somehow the nutty optimist in all of us keeps hoping that she will by some miracle be saved. We think: she's just too good and sensitive a person to die like this.
Buy this book. Although it is quite difficult in some parts, the sheer talent on view, so to speak, is towering.

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3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-23-18

A combo whodunit/soap opera? Good/bad idea?

There are certainly things to enjoy here. Aoife McMahon is definitely a narrator to whom I could listen reading other books. And Dervla McTiernan can write. It's just that there is way too much of almost everything here: so much so that the book gets mighty confusing and the plots/subplots/red herrings become so twisted around that by a certain point I lost track of what was up and what was down. I felt kinda like Alice, falling down the rabbit hole. Down, down, down! The soap opera and the whodunit vie for dominance throughout, and IMHO this is not a healthy competition for an author to set up. I couldn't begin to tell you all of the characters and all of the plots. Just too much. Even the basic story is complicated, spanning over twenty years of people living in or near Galway, on the west coast of Ireland (a perfectly wonderful place to visit, BTW: go there soon). There are drug deaths, murders, long-simmering hatreds, garda (police) departments that just cannot keep up with the chaos that is happening on the streets of their communities. I know that I sometimes complain about the lack of humor in novels. Rightly or wrongly, I feel that a little bit of humor truly helps break the tension that is being generated by the plot(s), and it also serves to make the characters feel more like fleshed-out people. In ten and a half hours of listening to this book, I found exactly one moment of fun: the crotchety/crazy/psychopathic/demented old lady named Domenica Keen is a true laff riot, as they used to spell it in Vaudeville days. And Aoife does a perfect job with this voice, down to the last inflection. But truly, that is the only moment of fun in the entire book. The rest of it, and there's a lot, is about 100% suffering and pain. Now I know quite a number of Irishfolks, and I have spent three months there over about twelve years. I do know how much they have suffered, from a variety of misfortunes so severe that a weaker nation would collapse into an ocean of its own tears. Nonetheless, the brands of suffering here are so extensive that almost any character could burst into a flood of tears at any moment. Child abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, horrible poverty, disease, death, the fear of going to Hell...I'm a nervous wreck just thinking about all of it, and I am merely scratching the surface. A moment to breathe, please? A bit of comic relief? See what I mean? Too much misery. Almost like reading Dickens, although certainly not that far down the line.
So, as usual, you must make up your own minds about this book. I think I have been fair about the positives and the negatives, insofar as that is possible. For myself, when Aoife McMahon narrates another audiobook, I will look very closely at it, hoping that her serious talents might be well-employed again. And as for Ms. McTiernan, perhaps not so much.

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4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-18-18

A middling decent spy novel.

I don't usually enjoy spy novels. They often strain credulity. They tend to be absurdly complicated, so that tracking the plot and the minimal differences between the "good" guys and the "bad" guys becomes utterly impossible. Even the supposedly great ones, like the le Carre books, aren't that pleasurable to read. However, and faithful readers may be tired of my endless praise of Frank Muller, this one is saved by Frank's remarkable bag of tricks. The protagonist, I suppose, is Michael Osborne, a CIA operative (one of those words that I just hate: what is an operative?) who manages to come out on top of a mountain of bloody fights and fatal encounters. His opposite number is a professional assassin known as October. I could go on at great lengths about their feats of derring-do, but I will spare you. The most completely incredible, or shall I say un-credible, group is a sinister (of course it is) cabal (help me, I can't stop) of super-important guys who get paid enormous sums of money to stir up political storms by killing key people all around Europe, the US and the UK. The conflict in Northern Ireland is a perfect place for them to strike. The often confusing fights among the various factions there are full of violence. Decades-old hatreds flourish. So the bad guys enter and murder an important man in the IRA. The money men in this deal are the arms dealers, of course, who profit enormously by selling horrendous weapons that all sides will buy in order to kill as many of their bete-noires as possible.
......Michael's father-in-law is Douglas Cannon, an ex-legislator who has retired but becomes the US ambassador to the Court of St. James, as the UK is known in these fancy circles. That position puts an X on his back. He is thus a target for the Catholics and others who desperately want the UK to exit Northern Ireland and let the Irish run it. Having been there for a month about a decade ago, I can say that the picture of Belfast and Northern Ireland drawn by Daniel Silva is totally credible. The place is a nightmarish city. In the center of it is the Europa Hotel, the most frequently-bombed hotel anywhere. When you cross the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is in fact the UK, you have the highly unusual experience of switching sides of the street. The Brits drive on the left, and the Irish drive on the right, which is to say correct, side. As the book carries on, the corpses pile up and the labyrinthine plots cross back and forth and back again. Double and triple agents work in the area. Bloody beheadings and shootings proliferate. The head of the CIA, Monica Tyler...I won't spoil it for you, but it is a surprise. The scene in which terrorists attempt to murder the Ambassador by assaulting his residence fills up the count of murders in living color, so to speak. The last scene in the book is apt, and I believe that you will remember it for its poignancy and its ambiguity. What better ending? I probably will not read another Daniel Silva book. I hear that his hero is some kind of Israeli art critic, a double agent for the Mossad, or otherwise non-credible spy and agent-provocateur. If you like this stuff, you may love it. Perhaps.

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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-15-18

A wonderful ride.

The Black Stallion is a classic. The story is likely well known to many. The book was made into a movie long ago. The chance to hear the great Frank Muller narrate the book is priceless. Alec Ramsey is a young man who had spent a year in India as an adolescent. Alec was on a ship on its way back from India towards England when the ship moored at a port in Saudi Arabia. On board came the black stallion, a truly magnificent wild animal that had never been trained or broken. The ship, called the Drake, broke up in a storm. Into the water they went. Alec grabbed onto the tail of the Black, as he is called, and they swim a very long time before finding a tiny island off the coast of Portugal. There they spend about a month, getting to know each other. Alec proves himself to be an indomitable young man, as he manages to find food for both of them, and he gets so close to the horse that the stallion allows Alec to ride him. Alec will be the only person that the Black will ever allow to ride him. After about a month on the island, a nearby boat sees a fire on the island, which is Alec's hand-made hutch. Sailors rescue both of them. They end up in New York Harbor, and Alec convinces his parents to let him bring the Black home. Alec and an ex-jockey named Henry train the Black for months, and even though the horse has no registration papers, a local journalist persuades the owners of the two fastest horses in the US to let the Black run in a race to discover which horse is the fastest. You can probably imagine the finale.
The book is extremely entertaining. I was almost able to read it in one sitting, which is very unusual for me. Frank Muller had such an amazing voice. I have written about him many times before. He read over 200 audiobooks in his career, and he would have done many more if not for the fact that he died in a motorcycle accident about ten years ago. We do have his catalog of work, and it is truly a remarkable collection. So many of my favorite audiobooks: Martin Cruz Smith's Gorky Park and Polar Star; John Grisham's The Testament and several other books, this book, most of Stephen King's books, and on and on. Mr. King once said that he wrote for Frank Muller's voice, which is some compliment when you think about it. You get so completely caught up in Frank's narration that you lose track of time and forget the minor troubles that may beset you. This is pure pleasure, Frank's gift to us. I will remember him for the rest of my life. I hope that you get the opportunity to listen to him as well.

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3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-13-18

What is all the fuss about?

Maybe you have to be an Aussie in order to love this book. I love Australia, but the book escapes me. The narration of Kate Mulvany is decent, I suppose. By an hour or so I stopped noticing it, so that I heard it as regular English. My primary problem was with the plot. The protagonist is a young man of sixteen who escapes a brutal father and walks for several hundred miles with very little gear. He has a friend who becomes his girlfriend. He suffers from hunger and thirst. He meets a priest. I just don't have the sense that the book is going anywhere, to be concrete about it. Nothing much propels the plot. There is no humor, which is a loss, as Aussie humor can be outrageously funny and creative in a way that American humor doesn't reach. As an example of this, my favorite movie is Babe. You really should see it. I know that it has nothing to do with this book, but still.
I understand that Tim Winton has won a number of awards in Australia, and from this sample I am not at all tempted to read any of his other books. It just wasn't fun, which it certainly doesn't have to be, but it wasn't entertaining, and it didn't teach me anything, it didn't ask any of the big questions, it just didn't keep me reading. I gave up at halfway through. I would not recommend this book to anyone.

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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-08-18

A masterpiece. Plain and simple.

This book was published in 1929. It concerns itself with World War I, and is told from the point of view of a nineteen-year-old German soldier named Paul Baumer. Frank Muller narrates. It is not often by now that I get the wonderful pleasure of listening to Frank, who died about ten years ago. He narrated over two hundred audiobooks, and his voice instantly fills me with emotion. I have listened to perhaps a thousand audiobooks over the past ten or twelve years, and Frank Muller remains at the very top of my list of favorite narrators. He could do anything. I had heard of this novel, but do not know anything else about the author. I had heard that this was perhaps the finest book ever written about war, and I agree. I don't cry easily, but at the end of the book my eyes were filled with tears. The author and the narrator show us the absolute horror of war, in such great detail that we cannot turn away from it. The specifics of battle, the horrifying injuries, the stupidity of death on such a huge scale: all of these things and more fill this book with knowledge that one simply cannot ever dismiss. Remarque describes the young man's experience in such awful detail that the book ends up being perhaps the most powerful treatise against war that has ever been put on paper. I don't know anything about the author's life. If he was a soldier, then he had seen at first hand the desperate longing to flee, the deaths of friends, separation from loved ones, the internal and external torments that men and women must endure. And, even then, many of these people will die in the war, of course, and the artists make us ask the inevitable questions: Why? Why do old men create causes that require the forfeit of millions of young lives? The book ends in 1918, and we listen to Paul's thoughts about how tragic the entire thing is. And while we are listening to him, it is impossible to forget that only fifteen years later the Nazi party will begin winding Germany up to repeat the whole thing, but with many more deaths and with a war that stretches almost over the entire world. Paul loses everything and everyone. How can one have hope for humanity? Why do we persist in such unbelievable destruction? Just for power? Is that worth millions of lives?
This book provokes the asking of very large questions, perhaps unanswerable questions, but ones that nonetheless cry out to be examined by every thinking human being. I cannot think of higher praise for a novel.

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