Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Authentic Voices

As I was working my way through a pair of recent books it occurred to me that there was a striking similarity to the books and the works of some of my favorite fiction authors. While on their face the books by Robert B. Parker, Vince Flynn and Tom Clancy are nothing alike, there is one common thread that connects them; the authentic voice.

Parker, Flynn and Clancy all featured dynamic characters that lived in the settings and surroundings that their skillful creators devised that gave you as a reader a level of authenticity that can’t be faked, whether it’s Spenser’s Boston, Mitch Rapp’s rough and tumble antics or Jack Ryan and friends high tech global adventures, they all come off with a lived in, been there done that feel.

This authenticity can come in many forms, be it a lived in firsthand knowledge of Parker’s stomping grounds and Berkley and Boyleston or learned by Flynn and Clancy’s interactions with folks that move in those circles of life.

Veteran bestseller Robert Harris brings a crackling level authenticity as he moves you through the confines of World War II era Europe; you can’t help but sense the desperation of the times in the lead up to battle in his latest outing Munich: A Novel – Robert Harris (Knopf).

Clearly Harris wasn’t present at the time, but he delivers superior insight into the inner workings of Britain’s 10 Downing Street and the jockeying inside Hitler’s Germany and the machinations and manipulations in the dial up to war. It becomes very easy to get caught up in the story as Harris plays out both side of the coin, tugging hard with the backdrop of military and diplomacy set against family.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but Harris does a fascinating job of tackling Neville Chamberlin set not in the rearview mirror but in the time period of his failures, which makes for a great read.

On the other side of the authentic voice is Jason Matthews, who taps into his 33 years of firsthand experience as a CIA Operation Directorate officer that ratchets up the authenticity in the third and final installment in the Red Sparrow Trilogy, The Kremlin’s Candidate: A Novel.

Matthews’ career in the clandestine service collecting national security intel spanned the globe, with stops in such entertaining hotbeds as the fomer Soviet Bloc, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and East Asia. It is that insiders knowledge that he draws on to fill the stories and the characters that populate them in the Sparrow series. You just know that the places and people he describes are folks he crossed paths with in the dark alley of the world.

As a willing kitchen participant in trying new things, I have always been a fan of Matthews inclusion of rough recipes of the foods he describes as part and parcel of the stories he weaves. At times he describes them in detail to the point that you can almost smell and taste the food and the surroundings they are served up in; chock full of spices and wood smoke.

It will be an interesting, challenging, test to see how these detailed stories will make the transition from page to screen when Red Sparrow hits movie screens later in the week. Based on the experience of fellow authentic voice writer’s work making that leap, I can’t say as a reader I am hopeful for the outcome.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Wire…Wire to Wire

All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire – Jonathan Abrams (Crown Archetype)

Full Disclosure upfront; I have never watched a single episode of the television show The Wire. That being said, I recently subscribed to HBO with the full intention of first seeing what the hubbub is about when it comes to Game of Thrones, my son assures me it is can’t miss TV, but he is a George R R Martin style nerd, so I am taking a wait and see attitude on that one.

Second, I plan to delve into what I can only describe as a cultural phenomenon that is The Wire. So it is with that in mind that I was looking forward to a preview of sorts to the series in the form of All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire, by Jonathan Abrams to get a better insight into the show. Against the upfront disclosure, I can say that he does not disappoint.

Abrams brings a completist mindset to offer in depth insight into the minutiae of the show; he is clearly a fan, but without coming off as a star struck fanboy as he delves into the puzzle pieces that combine to make up to the show. Set in Baltimore, home to one of my all time favorite shows, Homicide: Life on the Street, it was a pleasure to learn that a couple of my favorite writers and Baltimore denizens George Pelcanos and Dennis Lehane were involved in the production, writing and even acting during the series.

Abrams gives great detail on the development and evolution of the show’s storylines over the course it’s five seasons. All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire, proves to be a great commemorative piece for long time fans and a solid primer for those like me that are ready to dive right into season one.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Make Journalism Great Again

Media Madness: Donald Trump, the Press, and the War over the Truth – Howard Kurtz (Regnery Press)

Journalist, media critic and bestselling author Howard Kurtz, the host of the Fox News program Media Buzz, that turns the microscopic back on the media is out with his brand new book, Media Madness: Donald Trump, the Press, and the War over the Truth. In the book, Kurtz puts out a plaintive cry to make journalism great again or failing that, at the very least he presses the media to get back to objective journalistic practice.

Unfortunately in the era in which we find ourselves currently mired, where Tweets, more often than not from Twitiots— are often passed off as news, that hope seems a long shot at best. All too often the truth is sacrificed on the altar of ideology and the need for speed. 

Much like Bernie Goldberg’s classic take on the media, Bias, Kurtz offers a solid insider’s view of a world that he has been part and parcel of for decades as a working journalist and later as a media critic. Here his criticism is on point and not self-serving like so many other so-called media critics…CNN’s Brian Stetler, cough cough.

Kurtz makes a clear case that the media incessant, biased pursuit to “get Trump” at the end of the day will do little to impact the President and will have a detrimentally negative impact on the already diminished reputation of the media. Just like they underestimated Trump and his campaign and over-estimated the Hilary Clinton campaign, the media continues to misjudge the American people who populate the portion of the country that does call the media bubble home, and they do so at their own peril.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Timeless Noir

The Women in the Window: A Novel – A J Finn (William Morrow)

On occasion a book comes along that tips the publishing world over because of its unique or daring prose. While I am not certain that the debut novel from A J Finn, The Women in the Window, is either of those things individually. What I am certain of is, it is an astonishingly good book that truly blurs the lines between styles and even the time of the setting.

Finn will have you conjuring images from classic films that he splatters mentions of throughout the book. You may find yourself wondering if this story is taking place in the fifties, except for the mentions of cell phones and the internet. Characters name Alistair and Jane Russell sound like throwbacks to a different time.

Clearly the agoraphobic, child psychologist has a complete set of her own baggage as she self-diagnoses, self-medicates and self-marinates with copious amounts of Merlot. Finn will have you thinking of Jimmy Stewart in the Hitchcock classic Rear Window, mixed with a dose of The Sixth Sense, with just a pinch of Psycho, to keep things interesting.

Fans of trying to figure out who done what, will be carefully spoon fed indications of where things are going in teaser amounts that will have you convinced you have the answer as Finn pulls the bait just out of your grip and then serves up the payoff that will keep you plugging along. This is a very skilled debut that has a timeless noir feel that will be perfect for its eventual and I am sure stylish appearance on the big screen.