Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A New Ace of the Thrill

I Am Pilgrim – Terry Hayes (Atria Books)

For me there are two kinds of thrillers that really capture my interest; the first is the thriller that from the first page grips you by the throat and thrusts you headlong into the action and sweeps you along to a dynamic conclusion. The second, is the kind that is a slow, steady, burn; the type of story that weaves such an intricate tale that you suddenly realize that you are enveloped in such an amazing story that you have to think back to realize how you got into it neck deep.

I Am Pilgrim the debut novel from Terry Hayes, an award-winning screenwriter and producer of numerous movies whose big screen credits include; Payback,, Road Warrior, and Dead Calm, firmly and squarely into the second category. I Am Pilgrim, is one of those engrossing stories that as you peel back the layers and you start to think you have things figured out, you know exactly where the story is going and then Hayes turns things on their head and the hunt is back on.

What starts out with the mutilated body of a female murder victim, found in the “finest” of one star, lower-Manhattan hotels; soon twists and turns through international spy intrigue, with a healthy dollop of terrorism added to the mix. Pilgrim is one of those mysterious men that we all secretly hope is out there; we’re happy that they are on our side, fighting the good fight and if they have a little blood on their hands, we choose to ignore it because it’s for the best.

Hayes shows a masters touch, skillfully weaving the contrasting plot lines and then pulling them carefully together and creating a level of tension and doubt that will keep you second-guessing what happens next. I Am Pilgrim might have you tempted to draw comparisons to other aces of the thrill, but those comparisons will miss the mark for this thoroughly original read that ranks among my favorites of the year thus far.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Summer Reading Stampede: In Full Swing

Brutal Youth – Anthony Breznican – (Thomas Dunne Books)

There is something inherently not right about high school; it’s as if a group of masochists gathered to come up with a new and interesting way to torture children. Think about it; right around the time Mother Nature starts to bombard you with an abundance of hormones and urges, someone thought it was a good time to plunk you firmly down on the educational path towards your future. Good times.

With his debut novel, Brutal Youth, Anthony Breznican drops you squarely into the heart of evil; freshman year at St. Michael the Archangel High School, on the fringe of Pittsburgh, in Western Pennsylvania. To say St. Michael’s has issues is an understatement; which makes the oddball collected in the incoming freshman class a perfect fit, as the band together in survival mode.

Breznican will have you nodding your head, remembering the less than good old days as he dashes off so many familiar characters and relatable scenarios that we all endured. He brings together a colorful mix of The Outsiders and the band of brothers from Stand By Me, in this aptly titled debut.

Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Ascendancy – Eric Van Lustbader (Grand Central Publishing)

Eric Van Lustbader’s latest installment in the Jason Bourne series that he helms on behalf of the estate of Robert Ludlum, The Bourne Ascendancy is a new twist on the classic rock and a hard place scenario. Bourne, always on the outside with those most responsible for his creation at the CIA is scrabbling along as a freelance “blacksmith” impersonating high level business and government leaders in less than stellar situations, where their life could be on the line.

It is while in one of those “acting” jobs that Bourne comes up against an infamous terror mastermind El Ghadan and Bourne is given the ultimatum; kill the President of the United States or risk losing Soraya Moore, his close friend and her two year old daughter, that the terrorist holds captive.

Naturally the U. S. law enforcement types already mistrustful of Bourne get wind that something is afoot and that ratchets up the pressure and heightens the thrills. That makes The Bourne Ascendancy one of those great suspend reality and enjoy, summer reads.

Cold Shot – Mark Henshaw (Touchstone Books)

Thriller readers are a different breed; they crave not only the excitement that these books can create, but also they bring a focused attention to detail. They know when they are being sold a load of B.S. That is what truly separates the great thriller writers; the likes of Brad Thor, and sadly the late Vince Flynn and Tom Clancy from the rest of the pack. Either from real life experience or carefully cultivated contacts they bring a ripped from the real world authenticity to their books that put them a cut above.

Mark Henshaw is part of a new group of thriller writers who draw on real world experience to salt their stories with a gritty realism. Henshaw, a decorated CIA analyst and former member of the Red Cell think tank that was charged with getting into the minds of terrorists and developing potential scenarios and targets in an effort to beat terrorists to the punch; brings a rarely seen level of authenticity to his second novel Cold Shot.

Henshaw’s lead character, Jonathan Burke, a CIA analyst has that unlikely hero quality the Tom Clancy made famous in the form of Jack Ryan. Henshaw can certainly stake a claim to the Clancy territory, as he weaves mountains of facts into frighteningly realistic tale of the pursuit of the ultimate nuclear Cold Shot.

Sniper’s Honor – A Bob Lee Swagger Novel – Stephen Hunter (Simon & Schuster)

Bob Lee Swagger. The mere mention of his name can set the hearts of thriller fans aflutter. Point of Impact, the book that brought good ole Bob Lee to the big screen in the movie Shooter, is easily one of my all time favorite reads. Author Stephen Hunter has served up a steady diet of Swagger over the years and fortunately or unfortunately, depending upon your perspective, Point of Impact will be the yardstick fans use to measure the success of the latest installment in the Bob Lee saga.

Sniper’s Honor, Hunter’s latest helping of Swagger, offers up a familiar take for long time fans, as the author takes us back in time; he’s gone down this road before as Bob Lee revisited his own past and that of his father, but this time out it’s the tale torn from the sniper brotherhood or in this case sisterhood.

Swagger gets drawn into the search for “the White Witch” a World War II, Eastern Front, grim reaper, who rained death on her enemies. Hunter weaves history, current events and the sniper’s bond throughout the story. The ping pong approach can at times be disconcerting and it’s as if Hunter is trying mightily to meld the two distinct plot lines together to create one coherent story.

While it may not meet the measure of Point of Impact, and to be honest very little does, Hunter’s master grasp of guns and history still make this a tale worth reading.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Art: In the Eye of the Bank-holder

The Supermodel and the Brillo Box – Back Stories and Peculiar Economics From the World of Contemporary Art – Don Thompson (Palgrave Macmillan)

While my own skills are limited at best, I have always been fascinated by art and to a greater extent the economics of art. While the economics of classical art seems to be more straight forward; Rembrandt won’t be cranking out any new masterpieces, but when it comes to what qualifies as “contemporary art” the economics aren’t quite so easy.

Economist, marketer and author Don Thompson tries to tackle the question of the economics of contemporary art in his new book, The Supermodel and the Brillo Box – Back Stories and Peculiar Economics From the World of Contemporary Art. Thompson starts at square one; part of the difficulty in defining the economics of contemporary art is the settling on the definition of what qualifies as contemporary art, with different auction houses having varying definitions.

While classical artists worked in a variety of mediums, contemporary “artists” seem to be more purveyors of ideas and outrage more than the traditional paint, canvas and clay. While I have spent a fair amount of time pondering the body of work of Stephanie Seymour, the “supermodel” in question in the book’s title, I can’t imagine that a sculpture of her arched, upper torso, complete with hand bra, would qualify as a multi-million dollar work of art. As if to prove the questionable nature of contemporary art, the “Stephanie” sculpture is credited to Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, who came up with the concept, but the work was actually created by Frenchman Daniel Druet. One of a series of four “Stephanie’s” was put up for auction and fetched $2.4 million.

Thompson tries mightily to dissect the economics by explaining the exponential growth in collectors willing to shell out big bucks for contemporary pieces. At times it seems to boil down to art in the eye of the bank holder; with the economics being defined simply by what people are willing to pay.

Thompson points out the at times almost anti-commerce nature of some of the “artists.” Take the example of British vandal/grafitti artist Banksey, who’s work gained notice and accumulated an enthusiastic following willing to shell out big bucks almost in spite of the of the artists desire for the contrary. Banskey strives not for cash flow, but for street cred among his contemporaries in the graffiti underground.

Ultimately, Thompson may not deliver a definitive answer on the value of contemporary art,  he does succeed in delivering a fascinating look under the tent and into the world of modern art.  



Friday, July 4, 2014

The Battle for Control of the Democrat Party

Blood Feud – The Clintons vs. The Obamas – Edward Klein (Regnery Publishing)

Former foreign editor of Newsweek, former editor in chief of the New York Times Magazine and Vanity Fair contributor, hardly the bona fides of a conservative flame thrower, Edward Klein has made a cottage industry out of chronicling the comings and goings of Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack and Michelle Obama.

Klein’s background gives him unique access and perspective that he brings to bear on the extremely troubling relationship between these two sets political titans in Blood Feud – The Clintons vs. The Obamas. He recounts their tenuous history and what eventually boils down to an ultimate battle royal for the control of the Democrat party.

The final chapter of this story is far from being written; the Clinton’s certainly have a history of taking no prisoners and Obama is well schooled in “the Chicago Way” so the final victor is anything but certain.

While the Clintons and the Obamas have very little in common and clearly don’t get along; Klein without actually trying to do so points out exactly how little both of these two term Presidents have actually achieved! It’s almost as if the “legend” ridiculously out paces the reality.   

Klein doesn’t break to much new ground, but confirms suspicions has he paints a portrait of the Obamas and the Clintons at the crossroads where outsized ambitions and ego meets the utter lack of ability to accomplish anything beyond gaining elective office.

The Clintons dearly crave the power and position of the Presidency and the cache that that brings. Only Bill Clinton could build himself a bachelor pad at his Presidential library; a redneck doublewide penthouse where he dreams of scoring Hollywood actresses and ends up settling for Little Rock cocktail waitresses. Like I said, outsized ambition meets the lack of ability to get it done.

The Obamas seem to like the thought of the Presidency, but didn’t realize that there was actual work involved, so they treat the job like that of a community organizer with a Platinum card expense account.
This is the tale of two bitter rivals who despite all public statements to the contrary, truly HATE each other; and that gives me hope that rather than doing what it takes to get the “Hildebeast”, a named allegedly coined for Hillary by Michelle Obama and Obama insider Valerie Jarrett, elected in 2016, that this battle for control will lead to a meltdown that will once and for all rid us of both of these liberal losers and their awful policies.