Category Archives: Book Reviews & Opinions

Private Investigations – A Glimpse into the Hearts of Your Favorite Authors

Private Investigations was not what I expected and found it to be a pleasant surprise. 41dKe9cUVJLBesides, the pleasure readers will find, PI is a primer for writers and aspiring authors. The stories are essays about the struggles writers often experience.

Rachel Howzell Hall’s “I Don’t Know This Word” uses words to build a compelling story about an exceptionally strong and resilient woman. Her battles with cancer struck home with me. I lost two children, ages three and forty, to cancer. Shortly after the loss of my daughter, I began my battles with cancer. A two-time survivor, I empathized with Hall’s struggles, although mine were nowhere near as horrifying. She is an inspiration who brought tears to my eyes.

Jacqueline Winspear’s “Writing About War,” pulled at my heart in many ways. My taciturn Grandfather fought in France in World War I. Not once did he ever mention a word about the experience. The only one to remark was my Grandmother, who once said, “He was gassed, you know, mustard gas.” She would say no more.

My father was in France during World War II. He only twice mentioned his time in combat. “The only time I fired my gun was when I pointed it in the direction of the Germans and pulled the trigger. I don’t know if I ever hit anything.” The other was riding in the back of a 2 ½ ton truck when a German fighter began strafing them. The driver pulled into some trees. My Dad said he didn’t remember anything from then until the end of the war. He wasn’t wounded.

Both men suffered what we now know to be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Robert Dugoni’s “Nuns, Magic, and Stephen King,” was as good as King’s On Writing.
Twenty engrossing essays leading me to appreciate not only the ones familiar with but others I’ve never read but will.

In Private Investigations, Zackheim has once again succeeded in assembling an outstanding array of stories.

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It is the Ride, not the Destination

Over the years, my motorcycle trips have been more about the journey than the destination. I have been to the big motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, at least a dozen times. Three or four times, I was what is called derisively ‘a trailer queen,’ we pulled a bike trailer behind a motorhome. Those trips were in the early days, and we were all about getting to the rally: no side trips, only twelve-hour days driving straight through. Once there, we took rides to Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, and Wounded Knee. These trips were made quickly so we could get back to the rally. Everything was a crowded rush.

We could say we had been there and done that. (I hate that cliché)

In 2001, I got an Ultra Classic and began riding to Sturgis, following the advice of Robert Pirsig: “Sometimes it’s better to travel than arrive” (Pirsig 103). No longer on the road 1c4nPGlJQmVpftM0Tu9w_Beartooth-Pass_54_990x660from morning until dark, I looked around. Instead of the most direct route, we mapped out places we wanted to visit. Jackson Hole, Yellowstone, Beartooth Pass are just some of the big names. Places we never imagined like US-191 north out of Green River, Utah, and through fantastic country and on through Wyoming. I liked US-191 so much that I made a solo trip south on it. Not as scenic, but a great ride. I have made these long rides with a dozen riders, three or four, and alone—never once lonely.

This summer, my buddy Jim Kennemore and I, plan on heading north to the Cascades, make a right onto Washington-20 across the state to Kettle Falls on the Columbia River. There we will flip a coin and go—

We have room for other bikers; we don’t care what you ride as long as you miss the open road and the wind in your face.

 

Pirsig, Robert M. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Bantam Books, 1981.

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The Dreamer by Sheldon Siegel

Siegel, Sheldon. The Dreamer. Sheldon M. Siegel, Inc., 2020

When I saw that Sheldon Siegel had a new book, The Dreamer, I had an idea that he would address the social issue of immigration and DACA. I had no doubt he would weave The Dreamerthe subject into the plot. As always, he addresses issues in a way that none should find offensive, but instead learn and gain understanding. Undocumented people and the ICE agents are treated equally and with respect.

A rising star chef is found stabbed to death. Next to him is a young woman, covered in blood. Presumed guilty, the San Francisco County Public Defender takes her case.

Siegel’s story develops around the trial skills of Mike and Rosie. Trial work is repetitive, that is the nature of trial preparation and courtroom demeanor. He manages to bring new life to each book in the series.

While fast-paced, Siegel provides a breather when he takes his readers on a trip through time with each visit to the churches, courts, and police buildings. His descriptions of settings are accurate and help define the characters as well. In The Dreamer, he brings each of these people alive, and often, someone we would wish to meet.

Dreamer is a fun read!

 

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BLACK PEARL – A Review?

Bell, Donnell Ann. Black Pearl. Bell Bridge, 2019.

In most good detective stories, the hero almost always states: “I don’t believe in coincidences.” I beg to offer a different view. In over fifty years of law enforcement and private sector investigations, I have run across more coincidence than you can shake a stick at.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve posted a few book reviews that I was quite proud of until I got a telephone call.

My best friend is a voracious reader. After but a brief hello, he said, “Cramer, I have to tell you I think a couple of your reviews are bad.” Yep, he used the “B-word.” He went on to tell me that one review was of such a frightening nature; he would never read the book.; another so boring he wouldn’t spend money on it until he read some reviews on Amazon. The Amazon reviews convinced him otherwise.

I asked my friend what was so bad about my reviews, and he said, “You didn’t write them for a reader, you wrote them for someone like you.”

My usual response to criticism about what I’ve written is to get angry, set the comment(s) aside for a few days, and then with a much cooler head examine the %&^$#. Usually, I find value and what has been suggested. In this case, I didn’t need to wait or think it over. I knew he was right.

First coincidence: I had just settled down to read Bell’s, Black Pearl. I had my usual toolkit with me, Post-It notes, pencils, red, black, and blue ink pens, three different colored hi-liters, and a note pad. If you looked at books I’ve reviewed, you would them almost destroyed by the different underlining, high lighting, comments written in the margin, and dogeared pages. These readings take anywhere from one to two weeks.

After the call ended, I took all my weapons of mass destruction and dumped them on my desk. I retired with Black Pearl to where I only read fiction by Bernard Cornwell, Michael Connelly, J.A. Jance, and a rare few others. I read until dinner and then spent the evening enjoying it with my wife.

The next morning, I skipped breakfast and finished Bell’s book before lunch. I enjoyed it and felt fresh; it wasn’t like I had been working on an MFA review.

41lbPhTdeILToday, I wrote and submitted this Amazon Review. I hope it works for my friend.

“Drenched in mystery and violence, from the first page, Bell gives both misleading and factual clues. These are in such a cryptic fashion; it only becomes clear at the end of the action who the killer is. Or does it?

There were several places where I was taken out of the story by a confusing sentence or statement.

What worked for me, but then gave me concern were descriptions. The friendly difference of opinion between Agent DiPietro and the retired sheriff about their choice of motorcycles was realistic and added to the pleasure for me. What didn’t work for me was the lack of description of the Harley-Davidson. Even more distracting was the lack of a word picture of Ouray County and Montrose. I’ve ridden my H-D through there. It is some of the most breathtaking country in Colorado. Bell left out a description of the countryside, as well as some of the other settings.

What worked was the interaction of the characters. Bell drew me into the conversations, and unsaid messages that conveyed much of the action, and worked well with the story’s pacing.

It was an excellent and riveting read. I will buy more of Donnell Ann Bell’s work.”

Second Coincidence: During Shelter in Place (SIP), I am not wearing shirts that require ironing, just T-Shirts. In my closet is a stack of over a hundred of these souvenir shirts. Most are from Harley-Davidson shops. I just reach in and take the one at the top of the pile, sight unseen.

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Today: BLACK PEARL Harley-Davidson, Belize

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Book Review: Tracks – A Novel

Erdrich, Louise. Tracks: A Novel. New York: Henry Holt, 1988. Print.

Tracks, Erdrich’s fourth of fourteen novels, is set between 1912 and 1924. The message Tracks_(novel)she delivers is that unless tribal members stand together, they face extinction at the hands of the whites. Nanapush, a wise tribal elder understands there must be some accommodation to maintain as much tradition as possible.

Nanapush remains the same wise trickster throughout the story. A tribal elder, he wishes to hold on to the old customs while surviving the new ways forced upon his people by the whites. Early on, he establishes his belief in “…the unrest and curse of trouble that struck our people…was the doing of dissatisfied spirits. I know what’s fact…” (4). He follows with this about the (white) government, “Our trouble came from living … liquor . . . the dollar bill. We stumbled toward the government bait, never looking down, never noticing how the land was snatched from under us at every step” (4).

Nanapush is much more than a thoughtful and straightforward elder. He reads and writes English. He tells his granddaughter about his ancestors, her mother, and about mystical and historical events in an attempt to keep the Chippewa oral traditions alive. He is a survivor, as well as a trickster. He can step back from the force of white encroachment and use traditional life as a shield to avoid extinction.

Pauline Puyat is introduced in Chapter Two when she tells of the men who died saving Fleur’s life and the time the two young women spent together. Much of what we learn about Fleur comes from Pauline’s narration. Twice Fleur drowns, is presumed dead, and then rescued. Both times the rescuers’ reward is an untimely death. “…death by drowning, the death a Chippewa cannot survive unless you are Fleur Pillager” (11). By using these incidents to establish a relationship between Fleur and an evil spirit in the lake, Erdrich shows the reader that Fleur has frightening and mystical powers. Pauline tells the reader: “‘She washed on shore, her skin a dull dead gray, but George Many Women…saw her chest move. Then her eyes spun open, clear black agate, and … ‘You take my place,’ she hissed’” (11).

Nanapush realizes that not just whites cheat the Indian, but Indian cheats Indian.

Nanapush sees that the future requires accommodation if the tribe is to maintain a modicum of Chippewa tradition and allow him to save his granddaughter. “For I did stand for tribal chairman…To become a bureaucrat myself … the only place where I could find a ledge to kneel on, to reach through the loophole and draw you home” (225).

Tracks is a dark but dynamic, and well worth reading. Erdrich provides a deep understanding of the plight of the indigenous people of this continent without a moral discourse.

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Book Review: Blood Meridian, Or, The Evening Redness in the West

McCarthy, Cormac. Blood Meridian, Or, The Evening Redness in the West. 2010 Modern Library Edition ed. New York, NY: Modern Library, 2010. Print.

 

Many consider Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian too violent to read. Violence begins onGUEST_e7b7a5bd-5894-4e82-907d-da212ef1d4e8 the second page and continues unabated to the end. McCarthy delivers a treatise on man’s inhumanity to man in the form of genocide. Blood is a constant theme as blood is spilled in one senseless massacre after another. Blood is not the result of conflict, but the reason for it.

McCarthy weaves what could be a series of short stories describing the worth or lack of indigenous people’s lives in the latter half of the nineteenth century west. The story, seen through the eyes of the narrator, follows the Kid and a gang of killers. McCarthy’s narrator never allows the reader inside the mind of the characters. We learn only what McCarthy wants as he develops his characters. He forces the reader to imagine one’s vision of the murderous thoughts. He is masterful in constructing his performers while forcing his readers to judge them.

McCarthy uses understated allegory to deliver messages that express what the characters are or what they represent. Spitting is used throughout as a symbol of the low regard the men have for anything, including human life. The insult of the act says more than dialogue could deliver. Wolves are symbolic actors. Almost daily, we see wolves. The humans and the wolves are representative of hunters looking for easy prey. The only difference, wolves kill for survival.

Glanton and his gang are inherently immoral, evil, clichés of bad guys in black hats. The governments of Mexico and the United States, equally evil, legitimatize genocide. This allowed for the ferocious and persistent murder and attempted extermination of the native peoples of both countries.

Genocide is the predominant theme. Except for the Delaware’s, the Indians are shown as savages. This holds even when the Diegueño Indians rescue the Kid and the ex-priest. “They would have died if the indians had not found them” (312). The narrator refers to these people as savages, as aborigines. “they saw the halfnaked savages crouched…” (312).

Two central characters, Glanton and the Judge, build upon the theme of genocide. Glanton, when he kills an old Indian woman sitting in the square of an impoverished Mexican village. When he sees three of his men squatting with her, he dismounts and kills her. “The woman looked up. Neither courage nor heartsink in those old eyes. He . . . put the pistol to her head and fired” (102). On the very next page, he confirms his complete contempt for life when he tells the only Mexican in his band to scalp the woman’s corpse with these chilling words, “Get that receipt for us” (103). She is nothing more than a hundred-dollar bounty.

The reader becomes almost inured to the violence. Once the butchery began, it seems as though there can be nothing more disturbing—there is—the Judge is evil incarnate. The gang surprises and attacks a large Indian encampment, “the partisans [Glanton’s men] nineteen in number bearing down upon the encampment where there lay sleeping upward of a thousand souls” (161). The Judge leaves the devastated village with a captured child, a ten-year-old boy. He treats the child humanely, and the boy becomes somewhat of a mascot. Three days later, the depth of the Judge’s evil is shown. “Toadvine saw him with the child as he passed with his saddle, but when he came back ten minutes later leading his horse the child was dead and the judge had scalped it” (170). The reader is left to wonder if the Judge killed the boy because he thrives on murder, or if he defiled the child and killed him afterward.

McCarthy’s colorful and graphic language adds significantly to the ability of the reader to see, understand, and experience the scenes and settings. Short and straightforward, his portrayal of the gang as they cross the desert, conveys in a few easy to read lines, in which the reader can feel, and smell the riders. “They rode on, and the wind drove the fine gray dust before them and they rode an army of graybeards, gray men, gray horses” (259).

The Kid, born into a violent world, dies a violent death forty-five years later. Some assume that the Judge, a pedophile, and sexual deviant, rapes the Kid and leaves him for dead. We’ll never know the answer.

McCarthy’s final message to the reader, evil cannot be eradicated; it lives forever.

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