Sunday, September 28, 2014

Contributing Factor

Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill – Revised and Updated Edition: A Call to Action Against TV, Movie, and Video Game Violence – Lt. Col. Dave Grossman and Gloria Degaetano (Harmony Books)

A short time after a teacher was shot and killed by a 14 year old at a middle school dance in nearby Edinboro, Pennsylvania, a sleepy, little, college town; I had the opportunity to interview Lt. Col. Dave Grossman about the original edition of his book with co-author Gloria Degaetano, Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill. In revised and updated edition of the book, the authors continue to make the case that the exposure our kids get to violence in the form of movies, TV and video games has desensitized them to violence and conditioned them to be more violent.

15 years after the that original edition of the book, not much has really changed; there continues to be a steady stream of violent acts committed by kids on an all to regular basis and there continues to be a sharp divide between those who have their beliefs confirmed by the book and those who disagree with the conclusion. One thing that has changed is that there has been a steady ratcheting up of the level of violent content and the access to this violent content has been multiplied by the advent of tablets and other smart devices that have become a part of our everyday life.

While I continue to believe that violent video games, movies and TV does not create killers, I think it’s foolish to believe that there is not at least a contributing factor to these violent acts that can be traced back to the video violence. When you track back through both the infamous instances of violence; Sandy Hook and Columbine and even the cases that didn’t stir national headlines, has the authors have here, there are a striking number of cases where violent video games and a high level of not only activity, but a proficiency at the games are part and parcel of the shooters lives.

Adam Lanza, who gunned down 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary, was an aficionado of the Combat Arms, shooting game with 83,496 kills to his credit including 22,725 head shots. Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were regular players of the early shooter classic, Doom. Did the games make them killers? I have my doubts, but do believe that the repetition of playing the games made them more efficient killing machines when the succumbed to their twisted mental view of the world. While I confess to not knowing the statistics on the more recent cases of violence involving kids; during what I call the Columbine era of school yard violence, the shooters involved 9 of the 13 high profile cases were confirmed to be prescribed psychotropic drugs like Luvox or Ritalin for behavioral issues. The other four shooters may have also been some prescription meds, but those involved in any treatment of the four, never disclosed if that was the case. So like violent video games, TV or movies, these medications could be a contributing factor.

Just as I did back in 1999, I still believe that Grossman and Degaetano have put together a compelling case that video violence has caused possibly irreparable damage to our kids and elevated the potential for sick, twisted, minds to continue to cause great damage to our society.  

Monday, September 22, 2014

I’m So Confused….

The Drop – A Novel – Dennis Lehane (William Morrow)

Let me start by saying; Dennis Lehane is a master at crafting great stories and even better characters.

Now that I have that out of the way, let me admit how confused I was about this project! I know that so much has been written and said about the Movie version of The Drop being the last movie featuring actor James Gandolfini and that it was based on a Lehane story; I didn’t know that Lehane actually wrote the movie script based on a short story (Animal Rescue) that he later fleshed out to become this movie companion book.

Having jumped into the book without reading the hype about Gandolfini’s final role, I was convinced that Lehane must have had Gandolfini in mind when he developed what I thought was the rumpled, lumpy, bartending, character Bob Saginowski. In my mind’s eye I could see him in the role. Turns out, Galdolfini is actually cast as the down on his luck, “made” guy Cousin Marv.

Be that has it may, The Drop has everything that you’ve come to expect from Dennis Lehane; great characters, dropped headlong into an intriguing story, all set in a slice of the low life setting. Lehane can take you to the underbelly of society better than just about anyone.

It is the guides to that underbelly, the troubled and troubling characters that really make The Drop standout; they breather real life into the “is this all there is” story back drop. Not sure if the movie will stand up, but the book makes for a nice bridge until Lehane drops his next masterpiece.

Got A Problem? Odds Against You?

The Equalizer – A Novel – Michael Sloan (Macmillan Audio)

Michael Sloan, the creator of the television series The Equalizer has breathed new life into the into the show’s ubiquitous character Robert McCall in the form of a new book barring the show’s name. While the big screen outing, featuring the oddly cast Denzel Washington in the lead role, hits theaters soon, don’t confuse this thriller with the separate storyline for the movie.

Sloan does a nice job of spinning out seemingly disparate storylines and then little by little he manages to pull the loose threads all together to bring this story to a rousing conclusion. While the story is the main focus spread over the 17 disc set, Sloan does a nice job of fleshing out the supporting characters to play off and alongside McCall. As if by some literary “magic” all of the women are tough, smart, and gorgeous with spectacular breasts and clothes that somehow manage to fall off or threaten to in McCall’s presence.

Having “retired” from The Company, McCall tries to settle in to a quieter life, plying his skills as a bartender in an upscale neighborhood joint. While on his way home one night, McCall makes the “mistake” of sticking his nose into a dispute between a hooker and her pimp and that sets him off on a path to his new role as a defender of the little guy who not only rights wrongs, but equalizes the playing field.

McCall’s run-ins with bad guys get detailed to a finite degree with every weapon, bullet and blow being described to the point where you can start to feel the body shots. While McCall gets pounded, sliced, diced, slugged, whacked, kicked, shot, shot again, shot one more time, stabbed, did I mention shot, grazed, walloped, pierced, pummeled, and oh yeah, shot; he still manages to out battle, out gun, and defeat every bad guy he comes up against.

Yeah this one is truly going to demand a suspension of your grip on reality, but that’s okay, because just like the TV show, this is really supposed to just be an adventurous ride. Did I mention the spectacular breasts and the clothes that fall off? If your seeking great literature, I suggest looking elsewhere. If you’re looking for a bit of kicked up action adventure then this is your ticket.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Fall Into the Action

Assassin’s Game - Ward Larsen (Forge Books)

The assassin thought he had left his former life behind; the goal was simple, a quite life with his wife, a doctor, in suburban Washington, DC. Then a simple, one word text message changed everything…”Help.”

The former Mossad kidon is thrust back into his former life; the spymasters who used to run his life now have his wife on the run and are back in firm control of his life. David Slaton’s task is simple, prevent Iran from arming itself with a nuclear tipped ballistic missile by killing their elusive, top nuclear scientist and in the process save his wife. That’s the straight forward setup to Ward Larsen’s latest outing, Assassin’s Game, the follow up to his first David Slaton book, The Perfect Assassin.

While Slaton is perfectly armed to tackle the task, it could be the toughest target is ever faced and the action is on full charge and the clock is ticking. While Slaton walked away from his former life, can he ever really turn his back on his country? Larsen keeps getting better and knocks it out of the park with this thriller.

Seven Wonders – Ben Mezrich (Ratpac/Running Press)

I knew author Ben Mezrich from his books Bringing Down the House, The Accidental Billionaires, and Busting Vegas; insider accounts of things like MIT students who scored millions in Las Vegas and the founding of Facebook that read like fiction and transitioned well to the big screen when Hollywood made them into movies.

So I was surprised to learn that Mezrich actually got his start writing fiction. He returns to those roots with his new book Seven Wonders a globetrotting adventure tail that is drawing comparisons to the Indiana Jones epics. One small problem…while Mezrich’s non-fiction works have played well in theaters Seven Wonders leaves behind action and tends to the plodding.

Clearly Mezrich has done his research and delivers meticulous detail, but his eye towards explanation all too often buries the action and the adventure. The concept his great however the delivery comes off as an attempt to make a deeply researched science text exciting.

Fatal Conceit – Robert K. Tanenbaum (Gallery Books)

One thing I can state with absolute certainty; veteran author Robert K. Tanenbaum’s latest effort Fatal Conceit will piss off any flaming liberal who picks it up. That being said; this is a great read that clearly has a ripped from today’s headlines feel to it.

Tanenbaum utilizes a gauze thin veil to deliver a story centered on a group of CIA operatives who are on the hunt of a terror mastermind Chechnya who cross paths with a state department diplomat and end up caught up in the crossfire that sounds oddly familiar; cough, cough, Bengazhi, cough, cough.

Familiar Tanenbaum characters like DA Butch Karp deliver a dependably good story and the deceitful Washington administration sounds oddly familiar as well. Those who are politically and historically astute may find some humor in the fact that Tanenbaum borrowed his title from conservative economist F. A. Hayek; whose book was fully titled The Fatal Conceit – The Errors of Socialism.  

No Safe House – Linwood Barclay (NAL Books)

Canadian author Linwood Barclay made a notable splash in fiction circles with his 2008 effort No Time for Goodbye, which won him a boatload of critical acclaim. Barclay’s new effort, No Safe House, a sequel in which he re-visits the characters Cynthia Bigge and Terry Archer and plunges them headlong into a new desperate situation.

Clearly Barclay spends a lot of time developing his plotline and characters, but his use of setting sets these stories apart from the pack; clearly there is something a whole lot more sinister going on behind the white picket fences of upscale Milford. It’s easy to draw comparisons to the suburban confines of a Breaking Bad episode.  

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The New Face of Fear

The Father of Fear – A Thriller - Ethan Cross (The Story Plant)

I vividly remember thumbing through a remainders catalog and needing to select a third book to get a discounted price and coming across a book called Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. It was what I thought would be a throwaway purchase; amazingly I couldn’t tell what the other two books were, but the supposed throwaway ended up being one of the most memorable books I ever read.

I can now add Ethan Cross’ latest installment in the Shepherd series, The Father of Fear to that list. Cross does a masterful job of weaving not only memorable characters into his story, but can also send readers reeling with an armload of “I didn’t see that coming” plot twists. In Thomas White, Cross has created a character that rivals Harris’ Hannibal Lecter in his sick, malevolent, genius. Fear, has a new face.

White not only carries out his own string of serial murders, he goes as far as creating his own series of killers to do his bidding. This evil bastard even goes so far as to perform his own version of brain surgery to alter his minion’s ability to even comprehend what they are doing. In even more delicious twist White’s sons, one a victim of his father’s evil surgery’s and a serial killer in his own right and the other serial killer hunter in the employ of a shadowy division of the Justice Department have formed an unlikely partnership to hunt down dear old Dad.

Cross’ creation of White’s “Coercion Killer” scenario that forces ordinary average people to kill in a seemingly helpless effort to save a loved one in a back to the wall desperation move will have you asking what would I do? The team tasked with the hunt ratchets up the tension.  This journey headlong into fear will have me tracking down Cross’ other efforts; because this one is certainly among the best I have read this year.    


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Love, Death, and a Petrie Dish of DNA

Death Punch’d – Surviving Five Finger Death Punch’s Metal Mayhem – Jeremy Spencer (Dey Street/William Morrow)

They say that confession is good for the soul. So full disclosure up front; My first “professional” job was working for a concert promotion company, later I worked as a disc jockey and a music reviewer for a major newspaper, which afforded me access to tons of music, concerts and interviews. I am a huge music fan and I thought I was pretty hip.

When I tore open the package containing Death Punch’d – Surviving Five Finger Death Punch’s Metal Mayhem, by Death Punch drummer Jeremy Spencer, while I had a vague recollection of the band’s name, I had to admit I had never heard anything by the band. Damn…I’m getting old. They natural starting place was the web and after a few keystrokes I was letting the Death Punch cover of Bad Company rip at full volume.

Satisfied by the stream, I delved into Spencer tale which weaves his life as a Midwestern youth and his career as a hard rock drummer. While love rock bios, I found myself gravitating to his experiences dealing with the band, life on the road and new found fame. Based on his description of events in the and the fact that her often calls himself worse things, I don’t feel bad saying that Spencer was more often than not, a prize winning a-hole.

Spencer hits loads of familiar notes with his tales of excess detailing plenty of drinkin’, dopin’, and a veritable Petrie dish of shared DNA and assorted fluids. I am always amazed at the level of clarity, a 20/20 hindsight, that celebrities manage to bring to their descriptions of their descent into addiction and the devastation it inevitably leads to. Spencer does let you down on that front describing in sometimes gag reflex inducing detail his endless pursuit of a buzz.
The one thing that separates Spencer from the rest of the rock bio pack is that he seems to be in on the joke; he injects a twisted sense of humor into the storyline and isn’t afraid to make himself the butt of the joke.