unlikely scenario doesn’t even *begin* …

A highly unlikely scenario, or a Neetsa Pizza employee’s guide to saving the world DB 78399

Cantor, Rachel

Let me say first that if you are looking for a straightforward story, whose plot unfolds from point A to point B in a logical manner, and whose characters act and react in ways you will find believable, then this emphatically is not the book for you.  Most rules just …don’t apply.

 

In some ways, this book is difficult to describe, perhaps because by its very nature, it resists being pinned down.  Perhaps because it is divided into *really* short chapters, it seems disjointed, although it isn’t.  In addition, each chapter is more like a separate little scene than a continuation of what came before, but, in fact, each of these little scenes does move the story forward.  While reading it, I felt more like I was looking at a handful of separate photographs than I was watching a book movie in my mind, and until I got used to that, I was disoriented.

 

However, I couldn’t quite give up on the book, either, and now I’m glad I didn’t.  For one thing, I was enchanted by the lovely, sometimes lyrical, writing, that has more of poetry than prose in it.  For another, despite not being done in the usual way, the main characters, living and …not … are lovingly and beautifully drawn, and I found myself caring about them, and wanting to follow them through their admittedly very strange adventures to find out how things are resolved.  In respect to resolution, this book is completely and delightfully satisfying.

 

Now, for the plot.  Well, it has elements of the surreal, of street theater, of theater of the absurd, and of the fantastic, and I mean that in its traditional, not genre, sense.

 

Imagine a world where each major ancient philosophical “school” has its own fast food franchise (yes, you read that right), a somewhat Orwellian society, with a “leader”, chimp monk police patrols, (who, nevertheless carry “justice sticks” with which they beat people), and where time, mysticism, space and other cosmic rules are extremely fluid.  Now, insert some people who, despite certain … talents … are very much like people we have all met, put it all in a salad tosser, and … see what you get.  BTW, you, as the reader, are also placed in the salad tosser, with salad constantly moving all around you, and your job is to keep track of each bit of stuff.

 

In retrospect, this book deals with some very thought provoking issues, about how the Universe works, about various schools of mysticism, (and how similar, for example, Jewish Cabalistic and Tibetan mysticism are), and about what makes relationships and the strength of love.  All in all, I enjoyed this little book, and I have a suspicion that, as its ideas sink in, I’ll keep enjoying it, for a very long time.

ONCE UPON A PROFILE

I’d like to talk about 3 books by Alan Jacobson. They are: The Seventh Victim, Crush, and Velocity, and are published by Vanguard Press. I’d classify these books under the category of police procedurals, although this category has spawned several sub categories, so this would be more like an FBI procedural. The main character is a profiler, and the books revolve around her investigations of 3 difficult cases. Karen is a funny, feisty lady with some serious anger management issues, but she is also absolutely dedicated to her work, willing to explore possibilities that go against the grain of the investigation, and can be totally loyal and loving to the people close to her. She’s prickly in the extreme, but she’s also the kind of friend that you treasure, because you *know* she’ll be there for you when things get up against the wall tough, and you *know* she won’t ever lie to you, or try to manipulate you for her own purposes. Serial killers, however, don’t get such privileges; in fact, where they are concerned, she is relentless and implacable. There have been so many serial killer novels lately that they have almost become a drug on the market, and can become stereotypical. What sets this series apart, aside from Karen herself (and she goes a long way toward doing that) is the depth of FBI procedural and profiler knowledge the author displays. He goes into detail about how an investigation is run, especially one of those task forces that include police officers from local jurisdictions, and he explains exactly how profiles are constructed, what they can and can’t provide, and the profiling pitfalls that can sidetrack investigators. Like most really good stories, these stories have more than one theme. Alongside the investigations is Karen’s personal life, which keeps distracting her in major ways. Despite these distractions, which are heart rendingly serious, she manages to unravel some very tangled skeins, with often dramatically breath holding action. All 3 books (and I think there are more) are very well written, and, just when I was beginning to dismiss the killer as “another typical serial killer who …” the author changes the game, raises the stakes, and keeps me surgically attached to his books. Great stuff, if you like this kind of book, which I do!

 

OUR KIND OF TRAITOR BY JOHN LE CARRE

If you like your book reviews scrupulously objective and coldly rational, I’m afraid You will need to look elsewhere, because this is one of my favorite authors, not just in the genre of espionage, but because of his supreme writing craftsmanship.

 

I will admit that the books that involve George Smiley are my favorites, but considering the esteem in which I hold John Le Carre, that isn’t saying too much.  His more recent books seem to be varying treatments of a repeating theme.  It goes something like this.

 

Innocent, usually idealistic, nonprofessional gets drawn into and entangled in a situation of interest to an espionage service (not always British), and is used to accomplish a specific goal.  Invariably, this person becomes a pawn, and the result is often either deadly or emotionally devastating. 

 

JLC’s treatment of the professional services is often bitterly cynical, yet his treatment of some of the operatives within those services is sensitive, even compassionate.  He recognizes that all organizations are formed by people, not machines, and that motivations and moral stances are wide ranging. 

 

In this book, we see our innocents abroad (as they are often called within the story), yet these innocents are smart, capable, and demonstrate an extremely high level of creative efficiency.  We also get to look into the world of the Russian Mafia, meet a uniquely wonderful, If somewhat dysfunctional family, and come to know, and sympathize with a criminal who wants to turn whistle blower, and get himself and his family safely to England.

 

Dima Krasnov is an exuberantly unrepentant reprobate, who makes no apologies or excuses for his criminal past.  However, he has his own code of honor, and something happened which he will not forgive, and he has decided that defecting is the way in which he will take his revenge.

 

There are, of course, British political and diplomatic considerations that complicate things, not to mention the internecine power struggles within the service itself.

 

The entrapped victims are not just Dima, but his family, the young nonprofessionals who must become professionals (and do) in a hurry, but also some of the professionals of the service.  Each of these victims is manipulated and exploited in many ways, and each reacts differently.

I like this book for the same reasons I like most of Le Carre’s books.  Some of the characters are sympathetic, and even admirable.  All of the characters are drawn with a very fine and revealing brush; uniquely human and believable without falling into stereotypes, heroic or otherwise.

 

The story is well and intricately plotted, never drags, and stays fresh and interesting without having to rely either on graphic violence or explicit sex scenes to hold a reader’s interest, and as always, the writing is absolutely superb.

 

 

INSOMNIA an original poem by Shoshana Hathaway

                   

 Uneasy body fighting for repose:

Twitching between discomforts

Unquiet mind seeking rest

Distracted by flitting trivia

Unrelaxed muscles urgently

Tense, demanding movement …

 

I seek oblivion in the muted

Night music beyond my window

Seek serenity  in distant

City lights;  silent streets

Without movement or bustle

 

I need to rise from this soft prison

Of pillows and sheets

Pace my rooms, turn on lights

To hear a voice not my own,

To speak of random night idea fragments   …

My mind is too sluggish

To be coherent,

To restless for silence.

The discipline of time

And human patterns forbids

Requiring consideration of

Friends at 4 AM.

 

Copyright 2014 by Shoshana Hathaway

 

 

 

HERCULE POIROT; THE COMPLETE STORIES, BY AGATHA CHRISTIE

Hercule Poirot: the complete short stories DB 77615

Christie, AgathaTodd, Charles. Reading time 36 ours, 27 minutes.

The first mystery writers I ever read were Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dame Agatha Christie.  I had a terrible romantic problem at the age of 10 or so.  I couldn’t decide upon whom to lavish my unadulterated adoration, Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot.  Since I couldn’t choose, I sensibly settled on choosing both.

This is a huge book, and, unless you are as irrationally devoted to M. Poirot as I am, you might want to seek something shorter, or sample this, interspersed with other things.  I didn’t, of course, and it was an entirely decadent indulgence!  In some ways, it was a bit like eating a whole death by chocolate cake at once (without the indigestion), though I must admit that 36 hours of short stories was almost (but not quite) too much of a good thing.

 

For those who prefer modern writing, this will disappoint.  The latest of these tales was written in 1947, so you will find things a bit different than today’s best sellers.  The writing style is slower, more gentle, and much less graphic.  Certain things we speak of openly are spoken of only in hints and circumlocutions.  The characters (at least a few of them) are beautifully depicted, although some stylistic conventions are maintained.  One of those stylistic conventions made very eccentric characters of brilliant detectives.  Poirot is often depicted as almost a comic character, and demonstrates what today we would recognize as OCD disorder behavior.   Even his physical description reflects the humorous ..certainly not a super hero physically.  Yet, beneath that costume, there is true and deep humanity, and when it shines through, as it often does, I find that, once again, my heart is touched.  Beneath his posing and his mannerisms, Hercule Poirot is a brilliant, compassionate and honorable man, who is not just dedicated to solving puzzles, but to bringing justice, balanced with mercy, to each situation.

 

The dialog reflects its time, as well, and it falls strangely on the modern ear, and yet, these tales are also timeless and as relevant to us as they were to those who first read them in popular magazines of the day.  If you can accommodate those things that will feel dated, and read beyond them to the heart of these stories, I think you will be well rewarded for your efforts.

 

BRANCHES ON THE MYSTERY TREE

The mystery genre has developed many branches since its introduction into fiction. Like any old and flourishing tree some branches are very large, and have developed branches of their own, and even those smaller branches produce offshoots. One of the primary mystery tree branches is the cozy mystery, and while most cozies have certain in things in common, many smaller branches have grown from the primary limb.  For the most part, the crime solvers in Cozies are not law enforcement officers (although, of course, there are exceptions) or professionals, such as forensic pathologists.  True, the private detective is a favorite sleuth, but even here, a very clear line is drawn between these “crime professionals” and official Law Enforcement, and the relationship between them can range from overtly hostile to usually grudging alliance.

 

 Sometimes a branch is unique  because of the character or occupation of the primary detective. This has given us Priests, Nuns, Rabbis, Ministers and University Professors (as samples) who find themselves in positions which require them to untangle mystery knots and solve crimes. Another sub branch of the cozy is what I call the theme cozy. This usually involves people with special interests, is often as interested in the skill set or occupation around which the plot revolves, and depends as much on the lives of the main characters as on the mystery being solved. So, we have, among other things, cat mysteries, dog mysteries, knitting, cooking, cookie shop, wine making or collecting, and house renovation mysteries. These are almost always in series, and, while each presents a crime (usually murder, of course), the series itself tells the story of a specific person, that ‘person’s immediate family and environment, (town, village, etc.)  love life if not married, and family life (kids spouse and pets) where appropriate. While there is almost always a police presence of some sort, the indomitable sleuth is either barely tolerated or outright discouraged, because, after all, the owner of a cookie shop or the president of a knitting group is emphatically not a professional law enforcement officer. At some point in the series, the detective usually wins the grudging respect of someone in law enforcement and gains some access, albeit with many reservations. Sometimes the market seems to be flooded with these theme mysteries, and many readers find them shallow. Well, usually they *are*, but they are popular because they work. The crimes are often cleverly constructed, the characters are often very well drawn, sympathetic and believable, the continuing story of the main character’s life and experiences is engaging, and, last but not least, the theme provides interest of its own, and not just for people who are interested in the topic. I have absolutely no desire to renovate an old house, for example, but I enjoy the “Home repair is homicide” series by Sarah Graves, partly because I collect tidbits of home renovation knowledge I may never need, but which is still interesting. One of my favorite series is the “cookie shop” mysteries by Joanne Fluke, especially because I love to bake, and the recipes included are an extra treat. Of course, any mention of this type of story must include homage to Dick Francis, who brought the world of horse racing brilliantly to life during his long and illustrious career, and to Lillian Jackson Braun, who delighted readers (including this reader) for many years with her charming “cat who …” books. In short, most of the books in this sub-genre are mind candy, but at their best, they are pure, scrumptious, Godiva!

 

More about me (blogging 101, day 9)

This is in response to the Blogging 101, day nine post.

 

The assignment was to post on something not included in the “About” page, so here it is.

 

For most people there are no gradations between totally blind and fully sighted.  There are, of course, from light perception only to technical legal blindness, (I’ve known legally blind people who drove a car, though I never rode as a passenger with such a driver).  Many, many people fall somewhere along that spectrum, and it is often difficult to explain, especially if the condition is congenital, as mine is, how much one can or can’t see.  There is no frame of reference, since it is impossible for me to know, first hand, what fully sighted people *do* see.

 

I usually explain myself and my vision this way.  I can see things like skin color, (and even skin tone, sometimes), hair color and style, clothing, (though not necessarily its print or small decorations).  If someone is wearing a blue dress, I can tell if it has short or long sleeves, is full or straight, is long or short, but, for example, if it has tiny white flowers on it, I can tell there’s something, but not identify flowers.  I can tell if a man is wearing a suit and tie, what color they are, (and the shirt, too), or jeans and a hoodie, but if the tie has a small pattern, no, though I can often see, at least somewhat, a tie clip.

 

I can see movement, if its close enough and directly in front of me.  I have no peripheral vision …so if something is coming at me from the side, I don’t know it until we become physically attached. 

 

What I can’t see are eye color, facial expressions, or things like make up.  If a person is smiling at me, the voice often reveals that, but if a person is standing across the room and trying to get my attention by looking directly at me, I’ll have absolutely no idea.

 

To even read print letters (let alone words) they must be magnified no less than 12x (which is to the power of 12, or something like that, not just 12 times larger than the original.  To be even minimally comfortable, the print must be magnified from 25x to 30x and even then, I can’t read quickly or for long periods. 

 

I do have good mobility, but some of that is a matter of training more than vision.  I carry a white cane when I go outside my apartment building, though inside the building, I know my way around well enough not to get into too much trouble.

 

So, in many ways, I am neither fish nor fowl.  I have a foot in both the “blind” world and the “sighted” world, and that brings both joys and frustrations, almost in equal measure. My greatest frustration is that people tend to stereotype me as “a blind person” and look no further.  I am not evaluated on such things as my mind, my communication skills, or the way I interact with other people.  True, this happens less now than it used to, but it Is all too frequent.

 

Luckily for me, I have a few friends that see beyond a physical fact over which I have absolutely no control, and have chosen to know *me*.  They have chosen to find out what and how I think, come to know my heart, and have found me, as a person who is their equal, to be worthy of their friendship.  I can count such friends on the fingers of one hand, but each of them is a treasure beyond price for me.

 

I have come to accept myself and both my abilities and limitations.  My visual acuity is an integral part of my life, because, in one way or another, it effects almost everything I do and perceive, but it is not me, no more than I am entirely a short person, a full figured person, or a person with blue eyes.  Each of these things gives some, but not all, of the information about the package that is Shoshana.

 

If someone wishes to get to know me, I hope that they will do so because of who, not what, I am.