Monthly Archives: March 2014

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Dear Killer’: Teen-Age Girl in London Combines Prep School Attendance with Contract Killing

dear killer jacket
REVIEWED BY DAVID M. KINCHEN

When I started to read Katherine Ewell’s “Dear Killer” (Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of Harper/Collins, 368 pages, $17.99) I was conducting an internal debate on whether or not to review it.

 

After all, the book is aimed at young readers and was written when Ewell was only seventeen (she’s nineteen now). According to the handout from the publisher “She was one of fifty finalists out of 5,000 entries in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest and has attended the invitational Iowa Young Writers’ Studio. In addition, she has the distinction of being named a California Arts Scholar and has been awarded the California Governor’s Medallion for artistically talented youth. Dear Killer is her first novel.”

I was worried that impressionable young readers would use “Dear Killer” as a model for their own killings. I decided that this was a stretch, that most readers never carry their fantasies into fruition. At least I hope so!

Kit Ward attends a posh prep school in London. She lives with her beautiful mom (or “mum” as they say across the pond) and her clueless as to what his wife and daughter do in their spare time dad. Kit has taken after her mom as a contract killer, with a mail drop box in a restaurant bathroom where people who want to do away with someone leave her letters that start out: “Dear Killer.”

Kit doesn’t know it at the time — although she’s amazed at her mom’s audacity — but her killing life begins to unravel when her mom invites a young Scotland Yard homicide detective over for tea, introducing Alex to Kit. The teen wonders what’s gotten into her mom, who’s always warned her daughter — London’s “Perfect Killer” — to be careful. So what’s up with her mom, inviting the person who’s in charge of solving the “Perfect Killer” murders into her house?

As is the case with other thrillers I review, I promise not to give away too much of the plot of “Dear Killer.” It’s amazingly well written, especially for a book by such a young writer, and deserves to be a bestseller. I can see a movie in this book, maybe a Lifetime or IFC production, perhaps a mini-series.

Kit Ward’s moral nihilism—the fact that she doesn’t believe in right and wrong—makes being a serial killer a whole lot easier . . . until she breaks her own rules by befriending someone she’s supposed to murder as well as the detective in charge of the Perfect Killer case.

Kit has five rules:

Rule One: Nothing is right, nothing is wrong.

Rule Two: Be careful.
Rule Three: Fight using your legs whenever possible, because they’re the strongest part of your body.
Rule Four: Hit to kill. The first blow should be the last, if at all possible.
Rule Five: The letters are the law.

It appears that her very own mom — the woman who taught her everything she knows about killing — is violating Rule Two: Be Careful, but maybe she’s operating by the devious principle of keeping your friends close and your (potential) enemies closer.

I don’t think many young readers are fans of the Showtime series “Dexter”, now history, but if they are, they’ll be intrigued with Kit, her mom and dad, Alex and her friends at school. Fans of Dan Wells’s I Am Not a Serial Killer and Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why will find “Dear Killer” an ideal psychological thriller. But, as they say in commercials showing risky actions, do not attempt this yourself!

 

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Zero Marginal Cost Society’: Welcome to the Brave New Workerless World

REVIEWED BY DAVID M. KINCHEN
“The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.” –Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1870-1924) First Leader of the Soviet Union

Zero Marginal Cost Society* * *
Marginal cost is the term used in the science of economics and business to refer to the increase in total production costs resulting from producing one additional unit of the item. Zero marginal cost describes a situation where an additional unit can be produced without any increase in the total cost of production. Producing another unit of a good can have zero marginal costs when that good is non-rivalrous, meaning that it is possible for one person to consume the good without diminishing the ability of others to simultaneously consume it as well. –Wise Geek.com

* * *

Maybe economists like Jeremy Rifkin will stop writing books like “The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism” (Palgrave Macmillan, 368 pages, $28.00) when they are replaced by robots who can do the same work as human economists at far less cost.

This is already happening in academia, as many prestigious teachers are offering online courses for free or for a modest fee, he writes in a book that will probably discourage the hell out of many people already at the end of their job-seeking tether. At the same time, Rifkin’s book is that rarity, a book about economics that general readers can understand and enjoy, even.

Brick and mortar universities will be replaced by massive open online courses (MOOCs) that also operate at near-zero marginal cost, he predicts. And young social entrepreneurs are establishing ecologically sensitive businesses, crowdsourcing capital, and even creating alternative currencies in the new sharable economy. As a result, “exchange value” in the marketplace — long the bedrock of our economy – is increasingly being replaced by “use value” on the collaborative Commons.

Rifkin describes how zero marginal cost economics has already changed the face of manufacturing and has contributed to the jobless “recovery” from the financial meltdown of 2008 in a book that further confirms my view that economics is truly “the dismal science.”

The rope that Lenin spoke of is probably manufactured in an Asian country by automated machines, with only a few people around to make sure they’re functioning properly.

Shades of Charlie Chaplin’s dystopic 1936 movie “Modern Times” — said to be inspired as his iconic “Little Tramp” character struggles to survive in the modern, industrialized world. According to the Wikipedia entry on “Modern Times”: “The film is a comment on the desperate employment and fiscal conditions many people faced during the Great Depression, conditions created, in Chaplin’s view, by the efficiencies of modern industrialization.”

In his 1995 book “The End of Work” Rifkin said that “more sophisticated software technologies are going to bring civilization ever closer to a near workerless world.”

Unemployed “Little Tramps” need not apply!

Rifkin quotes himself on page 122 of his new book, adding : “In the interim years, the projections I made back in 1995 of IT-generated automation leading to technology displacement in virtually every sector of the economy became a troubling reality, leaving millions of people unemployed and underemployed across every country in the world. If anything, the original forecast proved to be a bit too conservative.”

Is that dismal enough for you?

He goes on to cite statistics on the people in the U.S. and worldwide who are unemployed or underemployed, who have given up looking for jobs that have disappeared. (Chapter Eight “The Last Standing Worker” Pages 121ff.). And see below my reference to Cornell University economist Robert H. Frank.

Retailing will change drastically. If you’ve been in a Walmart recently, you’ve probably seen the self-checkout stations (I refuse to use them, hoping that at least some jobs will remain!). It’s no secret that the Walmart management people — and other retailers — would like to see workers disappear, with customers doing all the work.

Rifkin writes that many people — especially younger consumers who are already buying most everything online — are using big-box stores to try on garments that they will later buy online,. And stores are reacting by charging them to use the fitting rooms — or convincing them to use their own online service, making the store distribution center, he tells us.

The capitalist era that Lenin hoped to see disappear inevitably will do so, Rifkin writes. Replacing it will be a new global collaborative Commons that will fundamentally transform our way of life.

Ironically, capitalism’s demise is not coming at the hands of hostile external forces. Rather, “The Zero Marginal Cost Society” argues, capitalism is a victim of its own success. Intense competition across sectors of the economy is forcing the introduction of ever newer technologies.

Rifkin explains that this competition is boosting productivity to its optimal point where the marginal cost of producing additional units is nearly zero, which makes the product essentially free. In turn, profits are drying up, property ownership is becoming meaningless, and an economy based on scarcity is giving way to an economy of abundance, changing the very nature of society.

Rifkin describes how hundreds of millions of people are already transferring parts of their economic lives from capitalist markets to global networked Commons.

“Prosumers” are producing their own information, entertainment, green energy, and 3-D printed products at nearly zero marginal cost, and sharing them via social media sites, rentals, redistribution clubs, bartering networks, and cooperatives.

For Rifkin’s 1999 speech “The Third Sector — and the Rebirth of Civil Society”: http://www.jobsletter.org.nz/art/rifkin04.htm

I was particularly intrigued by Chapter Ten, “The Comedy of the Commons”, where Rifkin discusses Garrett Hardin’s 1968 essay “The Tragedy of the Commons” and law professor Carol Rose’s re-examination of the ancient principle of the commons in what Rifkin calls a “salvo” entitled “The Comedy of the Commons.” This chapter also includes an account of Elinor Ostrom’s publication of “The Governing of the Commons” in 1990. Ostrom (1933-2012) won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009 — the first woman ever to receive the honor, Rifkin writes. Ostrom was associated with two universities: Arizona State and Indiana University. From the Nobel Prize site on Ostrom: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economic-sciences/laureates/2009/…

In this new era, identity is less bound to what one owns and more to what one shares. Cooperation replaces self-interest, access trumps ownership, and networking drubs autonomy. Rifkin concludes that while capitalism will be with us for at least the next half century, albeit in an increasingly diminished role, it will no longer be the dominant paradigm. We are, Rifkin says, entering a world beyond markets where we are learning how to live together collaboratively and sustainably in an increasingly interdependent global Commons.

I have some issues with this: I don’t think utility companies will be giving away their electricity or natural gas anytime soon. I expect my electric utility company –TXU, based in Dallas — will continue to send me bills every month, despite all the talk in Rifkin’s book about the Internet Commons. TXU and other utilities will be among the biggest holdouts, if I’m correct in my guesses.

I just (March 28, 2014) watched Cornell University economics professor Robert H. Frank being interviewed by Ronan Farrow on MSNBC (Yes, I watch this channel, especially for Farrow, whom I’m convinced is Frank Sinatra’s son, not Woody Allen’s!). Frank, the professor, not the singer/actor (and he was frank in his assessment of the economy) said the problem with unemployment is that there are no jobs for those seeking them. Potential employers are sitting on mountains of cash and are unwilling to hire actual people. Job training is not the answer when nobody’s hiring, at least hiring American workers.

At last, an economist who tells it like it is! His website: http://www.robert-h-frank.com/. Frank, born in 1945, was blunt in his statement that the recession isn’t over. I sensed that he doubts that it will ever be over, with the oxymoronic “jobless recovery” continuing for the foreseeable future. Without jobs, consuming will decrease and companies will find themselves without customers. Despite the “Internet of Everything” that Rifkin describes, customers are vital. When they’re gone, the company disappears.

It almost happened to Ford Motor Co. when they stopped making the Model T, and took months to develop the Model A in the fall of 1927. Ford never regained its position as the biggest of the Big Three automakers. Bill Bryson describes Ford’s blunder in his excellent “One Summer: America 1927” (Doubleday, 2013), which I’ve just read and which I recommend without reservation. I love Bryson’s books.

For Frank’s clear exposition of the “vicious circle of income inequality” see: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/12/business/the-vicious-circle-of-income-inequality.html?_r=0.

I suspect that most people will continue to be consumers, buying cars, houses, cell phones, TV sets, instead of renting them. Sharing bikes and cars won’t be the norm outside of a few cities. Corpus Christi, TX, the nearest large city to where I live on the Texas Gulf Coast, is not Portland, OR: People there will need cars to get around a sprawling metro area with no rapid transit — unlike the excellent Portland system, my favorite on the West Coast.

On my first reading of Rifkin’s tome, I was reminded of the predictions trumpeted by Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines when I was in grade school, in the 1940s and ’50s. You know the ones: Every suburban house with an autogyro in the driveway…expressways where cars moved like trains, etc. etc. On further reflection, I recalled the disappearance of three places in the town I live in where you could rent a DVD of a movie. Netflex and video on demand killed them, leaving fogies who like to play DVDs limited to the handy Redbox kiosks at a couple of locations.

My own profession, journalism, is not immune to the zero cost marginal society.

In an article on “robo-journalists” (http://www.infowars.com/robo-reporters-to-replace-mainstream-journalists/) “Computer algorithms are already being used to manufacture news stories about earthquakes and other data-rich issues and this same process could soon be employed for sports games and eventually more complicated news stories – rendering many journalists obsolete.

“Human editors would probably still be needed to check stories before publication, but the actual process of writing articles could be handed over completely to artificially intelligent software programs.”

The story goes on to say, citing a report in The Vancouver Sun, “that the Los Angeles Times is already using robo-reporters for some of its content, thanks to a computer program developed by the newspaper’s digital editor Ken Schwencke.” The L.A. Times is where I worked for more than 14 years, from 1976 to 1990.

“The article explores the ethical concerns of assigning “routine news tasks” to robo-reporters, which would ‘lighten the load for everybody involved’ according to Schwencke. Alfred Hermida, associate professor at the University of British Columbia, concluded that if the computer algorithm was created by the reporter, the generation of news stories by a robo-reporter would be acceptable.”

* * *

“O, brave new world
that has such people in’t!” ― William Shakespeare, The Tempest

About the author

Jeremy Rifkin, one of the most popular social thinkers of our time, is the bestselling author of 20 books, including “The Third Industrial Revolution”, “The Empathic Civilization”, “The European Dream”, “The Age of Access”, “The Hydrogen Economy”, “The Biotech Century”, and “The End of Work”. His books have been translated into more than 35 languages. Rifkin is an advisor to the European Union and heads of state around the world. He is a senior lecturer at the Wharton School’s Executive Education Program at the University of Pennsylvania and the president of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, DC.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Not Cool’: Gutfeld at His Best

Not Cool jacketREVIEWED BY DAVID M. KINCHEN

To the list of writers I love — a list that includes Mark Steyn, P.J. O’Rourke, Christopher Buckley, Margaret Hoover — add Greg Gutfeld’s new book “Not Cool: The Hipster Elite and Their War on You” (Crown Forum, 272 pages, $26.00, also available as an audio book and a Kindle ebook).
If you’re a fan of Gutfeld on Fox News Channel’s “The Five” and “Red Eye”, his dissection of liberals running amok in this new book will not be a surprise.

If you’re allergic to FNC, do yourself a favor and buy this book — or check it out of the library, as I did. Crown Forum usually sends me review copies, as they did with Margaret Hoover’s excellent “American Individualism” published in 2011 (link to my review: http://www.huntingtonnews.net/6290) but they didn’t send me Gutfeld’s excellent and funny dissection of “cool” types like Sean Penn, Michael Moore, Al Gore, Hugo Chavez and a whole bunch of similarly toxic folks. This is one book I didn’t want to end as quickly as I read it — in one sitting, no less.

Life is a high school, Gutfeld writes (I don’t even think it’s a junior high/middle school, but I digress) and behind every awful, dangerous decision lurks one evil beast: the Cool.

From politics to the personal, from fashion to food, from the campus to the locker room, the desire to be cool has infected all aspects of our lives. At its most harmless, it is annoying. At its worst, it is deadly, on a massive scale. The Cool are the termites of life, infiltrating every nook and cranny and destroying it from within. The Cool report the news, write the scripts, teach our children, run our government—and each day they pass judgment on those who don’t worship at the altar of their coolness. The cool fawn over terrorists, mock the military, and denigrate employers. They are, in short, awful people.

From what we wear and what we eat, to what we smoke and who we poke, pop culture is crafted and manipulated by the cool and, to Greg Gutfeld, that’s Not Cool.

How do the cool enslave you? By convincing you that:

– If you don’t agree with them no one will like you.

– If you don’t follow them you will miss out on life.

– If you don’t listen to them you will die a lonely loser

How do you vanquish the cool and discover your own true self? Read this book. Buy it or check it out — Gutfeld prefers the former, even if you decide to incinerate it after reading!

In “Not Cool”, Gutfeld, bestselling author of “The Joy Of Hate”, lays out the battle plan for reclaiming the real American ideal of cool–building businesses, protecting freedom at home and abroad, taking responsibility for your actions, and leaving other people alone to live as they damn well please.

That’s as good a definition of a libertarian as I’ve seen anywhere! And Gutfeld considers himself a libertarian. “Not Cool” fights back against the culture of phonies, elitists, and creeps who want your soul. I recommend it without reservation — except to remind the good folks at Crown Forum to keep sending me review copies.

About the Author

Gregory John “Greg” Gutfeld, was born in San Mateo, CA in 1964 and was a Catholic altar boy…believe it or not. He is a cohost of the hit show The Five and the host of Red Eye on the Fox News Channel. He is the author of The Bible of Unspeakable Truths and the New York Times bestseller The Joy of Hate, and he contributes regularly to Breitbart.com. His website: http://www.ggutfeld.com.

 

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Death on Blackheath’: Special Branch Commander Thomas Pitt Faces His Greatest Challenge

REVIEWED BY DAVID M. KINCHEN

Readers of Anne Perry’s Thomas and Charlotte Pitt novels have come to expect twists and turns and red herrings by the bushel full, but her newest entry, “Death on Blackheath” (Ballantine Books, 320 pages, $27.00) raises the bar in this respect. And that’s a good thing, because much of the charm of these Victorian era novels is the clash of personalities in a world threatened by competing empires.

Death on Blackheath
Pitt has been challenged before by people who don’t believe he has the right credentials or the gravitas to head the country’s Special Branch, the agency that was created to protect the country from foreign and domestic terrorism (it was originally called the Irish Special Branch).

He’s the son of a gamekeeper, and he lacks the army or navy service that is deemed vital to men who head the agency. Through ability and success in solving crimes, he rose through the ranks of Scotland Yard and was named Special Branch commander, replacing Victor Narraway, who was removed from the post and elevated to the House of Lords in the wake of a corruption scandal. Pitt retains his ties to Narraway and in this novel, those connections prove to be invaluable.

At first there appears to be no need for Pitt to be involved in the disappearance of a maid in the household of Dudley Kynaston, except that Kynaston is a high-ranking scientist working on naval weapons, especially submarines. The time of the novel isn’t specified, but I’m guessing it’s 1898 or 1899, near the end of the reign of Queen Victoria, when Europe’s empires were engaged in power struggles that in 1914 boiled over and started the Great War, later known as World War I.

There are signs of a bloody struggle outside the Kynaston house on Shooter’s Hill in Blackheath, the area of southeast London adjacent to the Greenwich Observatory (for more on this scenic area of London: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackheath,_London) today better known as the start of the London Marathon.

What would be normally a case for Scotland Yard — the blood, hair and shards of glass evident of a struggle outside the Kynaston home and the disappearance of the family’s beautiful maid Kitty Ryder — becomes a case for the Special Branch, with Pitt and his trusty right-hand man Davey Stoker becoming involved because of Kynaston’s national security work.

When a mutilated woman’s body is found in a gravel pit not far from Kynaston’s house, speculation begins that the scientist might be involved in what might be the murder of the unidentified woman who may or may not be Kitty.

Questions are asked in the House of Commons and the pressure on Pitt becomes more intense as Home Secretary bureaucrat Edom Talbot, who becomes an instant foe of Pitt, pressures him to solve the case as quickly as possible. Following the advice of Narraway, Pitt manages to contain his anger at Talbot.

As evidence mounts that seemingly implicates Dudley Kynaston in an espionage conspiracy and murder, Pitt needs the help of everyone, including the dogged investigator Stoker; his wife and confidante Charlotte; his sister-in-law Emily Radley and her husband Jack, who is considering a post with Kynaston; and his key to London’s drawing room gossip, Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould.

Even with all these people providing information, the case baffles Pitt. Only through the kind of meticulous investigation work that distinguished his career in Scotland Yard can Pitt hope to unravel the tangled web facing him. Even this might not be enough; sheer luck may play a role.
“Death on Blackheath” sets new high standards for a Thomas and Charlotte Pitt novel. It has a complex and rewarding plot and outstanding characterization and even involves important events in Sweden, making it a book that fans of Stieg Larsson’s “Dragon Tattoo” trilogy will find interesting.
About the Author
Anne Perry, born in 1938, is the bestselling author of two acclaimed series set in Victorian England: the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt novels, including Midnight at Marble Arch and Dorchester Terrace,and the William Monk novels, including Blind Justice and A Sunless Sea. She is also the author of a series of five World War I novels, as well as eleven holiday novels, most recently A Christmas Hope, and a historical novel, The Sheen on the Silk, set in the Ottoman Empire. Anne Perry lives in Scotland. For David M. Kinchen reviews of her books, use the search engine at the upper right hand side of the http://www.huntingtonnews.net site.

Perry’s website: http://www.anneperry.co.uk

For more on the history of submarines: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_submarines

PARALLEL UNIVERSE: March Madness: Mississippi, South Carolina Shooting Themselves in the Foot Over Wrong Flag

  • By David M. Kinchen 
The Stars and Bars Confederate Flag

The Stars and Bars Confederate Flag
Like just about everybody in the known universe, I’m gobbling up as many March Madness basketball games as I can. That Arizona State v Texas matchup at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee on Thursday was a stunner, wasn’t it? With a last second basket saving the bacon for the ‘Horns. Of course, as a Texan for almost six years now, the Longhorns were my team.

Thursday’s (March 20) games were held in Buffalo, Milwaukee, Orlando and Spokane, and Friday’s games   will be held in another four cities: Raleigh, San Antonio, San Diego and St. Louis. The NCAA women’s tournament begins Saturday, March 22,  with weekend games spread out over 16 cities.   None of those cities will be in South Carolina or Mississippi. An article I read in Slate explains why: http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2014/03/20/ncaa_confederate_flag_ban_the_reason_march_madness_never_reaches_south_carolina.html  Quoting from the excellent article:

“The reason: The Confederate battle flags that still fly over the state capitol grounds in Columbia [SC] and Jackson [MS].

“In 2001, the NCAA imposed a ban on either state hosting post-season sporting events at predetermined sites (an important caveat I’ll get to in a second) as long as the flags continued to fly, and neither it nor the states have budged since. That is set to change somewhat next year when a format tweak will allow for a key exception for the women’s tournament. But that change won’t be in place in time to help the Lady Gamecocks, who are currently bearing the brunt of the NCAA post-season boycott of the Palmetto State.”

This is beyond ridiculous for those two Deep South states, in my opinion, since the familiar X-shaped Battle Flag isn’t even the real Confederate flag. They’re kissing off precious revenue from fans attending events for the wrong flag!

If you look it up, you’ll find a number of flags that the Confederate States of America displayed from 1861-1865. The Battle Flag never was one of the government’s flags: The “Stars and Bars” (pictured) was probably as close to an official flag as anything. It was displayed from 1861-63. Other flags adopted by the Confederacy incorporated the X-shaped “Southern Cross” in the flag.

The seven stars represent the original Confederate States; South Carolina (December 20, 1860), Mississippi (January 9, 1861), Florida (January 10,1861), Alabama (January 11, 1861), Georgia (January 19, 1861), Louisiana (January 26, 1861), and Texas (February 1, 1861).

My suggestion to the people of South Carolina and Mississippi: Stop harming your state by sticking to the wrong flag. Fly the Stars and Bars, or better yet, follow the example of Texas: Fly the Stars and Stripes. Of course, in Texas, the Lone Star state flag, dating from the days (1836-1845) when Texas was an independent republic, will be displayed with pride.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Not I: Memoirs of a German Childhood’: Joachim Fest’s Account of Survival During the Nazi Nightmare

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 

“If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life.'” — Henry David Thoreau

Joachim Fest (1926-2006) uses this quote toward the end of his engrossing memoir “Not I: Memoirs of a German Childhood” (Other Press, 464 pages, $15.95, trade paperback, photographs, index, translated from the German by Martin Chalmers, with an introduction by Herbert A. Arnold) to explain why he retained the conservative beliefs of his father in writing some of the best accounts of Hitler and Nazi Germany that have been published by any author. Many of the other writers on the subject approached it from a leftist perspective but Fest believed the Communists were as bad as the Nazis — only they had better PR.

 

BOOK REVIEW: 'Not I: Memoirs of a German Childhood': Joachim Fest's Account of Survival During the Nazi Nightmare

  

The quote from Thoreau appears on Page 409, in the part of the memoir that deals with his adult life — a relatively short section compared with his experiences up to 1945 when he was captured by American troops near the Remagen bridge in western Germany. 

Fest had joined the regular army — the Wehrmacht —  to avoid being drafted into the Waffen S.S., he writes, much to the consternation of his father, who opposed the Nazi regime from the conservative spectrum of the Weimar Republic. His father said: “one does not volunteer for Hitler’s criminal war.”

His father, Johannes Fest, was dismissed from his teaching position in 1933, when Hitler was elected chancellor and the night descended on Germany. The footnotes by the translator and Arnold explain the literary and cultural references in Fest’s memoirs and are an invaluable addition to the book for the general reader.

“Not I” is a depiction of  an intellectually rigorous German household opposed to the Nazis and how its members suffered for their political stance.  Fest offers a far-reaching view of how he experienced the war and National Socialism. True to the German Bildung tradition, serious bookworm Fest grows up immersed in the works of Goethe, Schiller, Mörike, Rilke, Kleist, Mozart, and Beethoven. 

His father, a conservative Catholic teacher, opposes the Nazi regime and as a result loses his job and status. Fest is forced to move to a boarding school in the countryside that he despises, and in his effort to come to terms with his father’s strong political convictions, he embarks on a tireless quest for knowledge and moral integrity that will shape the rest of his life and writing career.

Here’s an excerpt: 

In early 1936, from our place by the wall, Wolfgang [his older brother] and I eavesdropped on a rare argument between our parents. There had been a strangely irritable atmosphere all day. My mother evidently started it, reminding my father in a few short sentences what she had put up with, politically and personally, in the last three years. She said she wasn’t complaining, but she had never dreamt of such a future. From morning to night she was standing in front of pots, pans, and washboards, and when the day was over she had to attend to the torn clothes of the children, patched five times over. And then, after what seemed like a hesitant pause, she asked whether my father did not, after all, want to reconsider joining the Party. The gentlemen from the education authority had called twice in the course of the year to persuade him to give way; at the last visit they had even held out the prospect of rapid promotion. In any case, she couldn’t cope anymore…And to indicate the end of her plea, after a long pause she added a simple “Please!”

My father replied a little too wordily (as I sometimes thought in the years to come), but at the same time revealed how uneasy he had been about the question for a long time. He said something about the readjustments that she, like many others, had been forced to make. He spoke about habit, which after often difficult beginnings provides a certain degree of stability. He spoke about conscience and trust in God. Also that he himself, as well as my brothers and I, could gradually relieve her of some of the work in the household, and so on. But my mother insisted on an answer, suggesting that joining the Party would not change anything: “After all, we remain who we are!” It did not take long for my father to retort: “Precisely not! It would change everything!”

As an avid reader of just about every aspect of World War II and the Nazis, I was impressed with the insights Fest provides about everyday life in Germany. Fest’s father had many Jewish friends and he urged all of them to get out of Germany as quickly as possible. Some followed his advice: all too many said the gangsters called Nazis would soon be gone, that Germany was too civilized a nation to continue the persecution of a people who had contributed so much to Germany. Fest writes about the special connection between German Jews and the nation, calling the destruction of the Jewish community a “fratricidal” catastrophe.

“Not I” is a must-read book for anyone interested in understanding how Europe descended into the madness described so vividly by British historian Mark Mazower  in his 1999 book “Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century.”

Joachim Fest

Joachim Fest

About the author

Joachim Fest was one of the most important authors and historians of the Federal Republic of Germany. From 1963 he worked as chief editor of Norddeutscher Rundfunk (North German Broadcasting), and from 1973 to 1993 as editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. His biography “Hitler” (1974) has been translated into more than twenty languages. His other works include “Inside Hitler’s Bunker” (2005), “Speer: The Final Verdict” (2002), and “Plotting Hitler’s Death” (1996).

 

Fiction by Shelly Reuben: ‘The One Thing You Can Count On’

  • By Shelly Reuben 
Shelly Reuben

Shelly Reuben

In order to describe what happened, I have to transport you to a time and place when the twins, Tierney and Doe Madrigal, were not quite teens.

Their mother, Jeanette, had an instinctive awareness about the downside of sibling relationships, and always seemed to know where resentments could take root:

The boy who flirts with one twin but ignores the other.

The teacher who foolishly admonishes, “You would be as smart as your sister if just made the effort.”

The diary secretly read.

The blouse borrowed without permission.

Although they were identical, the twins’ parents encouraged them to cultivate characteristics that would set them apart.  This started with separate shopping excursions to the same stores, so that neither would influence the other in their selection of, say, a sweater or a skirt.

The intention was admirable, but the execution was flawed, because no matter what time Jeanette took Tierney to Macy’s or how much later in the day Ralph, their father, went shopping with Doe, the girls inevitably came home toting exactly the same dresses, blouses, and shoes.

This also happened with bathing suits, bicycles, bracelets, and books.

Eventually, the problem was solved by not only taking the girls shopping at different times, but to different department stores, too.  They also went to different beauty salons.   Tierney wore her hair in a shoulder-length blunt cut, whereas Doe’s stylist had allowed hers to curl naturally.  But when they pulled their hair back into ponytails, the girls looked exactly alike, and other than their parents, no one could tell them apart.

If you knew them very well, however, you could perceive distinct differences.

Tierney, for example, was the stronger of the two.

Doe was the more romantic.

Both had known at an early age that they wanted to be actresses, but it was Tierney who mapped out their battle plans.

“We’ll live with Mom and Dad for a year after high school, work like slaves, save a ton of money, and then move to Manhattan.”

Tierney researched neighborhoods, realtors, and acting schools.  Doe staged photo shoots, created their portfolios, and wrote scripts for two-man shows.

Tierney’s favorite flowers were orchids; she loved to quote Winston Churchill and to sing Gershwin songs.  She could do first-rate impersonations of everyone she met, and if she heard a voice – any voice – just once, she could perfectly mimic its contents, tone, and pitch.  She excelled in archery, fencing, and rock climbing.

Doe’s favorite flowers were violets, and she was more likely to quote Elizabeth Barrett Browning than any politician.  She wrote poems, hated sports, and took lessons in classical ballet.  Once, she thought it would be fun to become an expert marksman, but she was a terrible shot, so took Driver’s Education instead.  Doe was as bad a driver as she was a shot though, and whenever she experienced a strong emotion, she lost control of the car.  When her father broke an ankle, she drove their Jeep through the back of the garage instead of taking him to the hospital.

“I thought I was in reverse!”

When three boys asked her to the same prom and she didn’t know whom to pick or how to say “No,” she drove through a picket fence.

Although her parents had incessantly warned her not to get behind the wheel when she was overwrought, she always forgot.

But that was when the girls were already in their teens.

The day we meet the twins they were wearing their best party dresses.   Tierney’s was yellow silk with embroidered trim around the hemline.  Doe’s was white dotted Swiss with a flair skirt and tiny silk rosettes.

Jeannette Madrigal took her daughters to the Mayflower Hotel twice a year:  In May, on their birthday, and on the second Saturday in November, for no particular reason at all.  A change in this routine occurred on an anonymous morning in August when Tierney and Doe were twelve years old.  Jeanette Madrigal had marched into their bedroom and told them what to wear.

“Why?”  The twins asked in unison.

“Because,” their mother answered coolly, “I am taking you to the Mayflower for lunch.”

Neither girl knew what to think.

For the past month, they had been ceaselessly bickering.

“Mother,” Doe complained, “Tierney ruined my purple scarf!”

“Daddy,” Tierney whined, “Doe spilled grape juice on my white slacks!”

“It’s your turn to do the dishes!”

“No.  It’s yours!”

“You stole my book!”

“You broke my watch!”

This continued from sun-up to bedtime until, after weeks of witnessing squabbles that began with the first slice of toast and trailed off behind them as they made their way to school, Ralph Madrigal flung open his arms in despair and begged his wife to, “Do something before they kill each other or I murder them both!”

So Jeanette Madrigal took the twins to lunch.

The situation was so odd, the circumstances so unusual, and their mother’s mood so inscrutable, that when Doe stumbled into Tierney at the entrance to the dining room at the Mayflower Hotel, instead of Tierney snapping, “Watch where you’re going, stupid,” she said, “Are you okay?”  And instead of Doe elbowing her sister in retaliation, she murmured, “Sorry, Tierney.  I tripped.”

They were led to a table in a dimly lighted corner of the room.

Very isolated.

Very quiet.

Jeanette asked the waiter to bring a pot of tea, and told him that they would order later.  While they waited for tea, the twins continually looked at each other with raised eyebrows, questioning glances, and responsive shrugs.

They tried to catch their mother’s eye.

She ignored them.

They fiddled with the silverware.

She studied the menu.

They fidgeted in their seats.

She looked away.

Not until tea was served and they had taken their first ceremonial sips did Jeanette Madrigal finally look across the table and begin to speak.

Neither girl remembered her exact words, but neither ever forgot their meaning.

“You are sisters,” their mother solemnly said.  “And you are going to be sisters for the rest of your lives.  You are going to grow up, leave home, fall in love, fall out of love, get jobs, lose jobs, make friends and lose friends.”

Tierney looked at Doe and frowned.

Doe twisted her napkin in her lap.

Their mother went on.

“Much as your father and I love you, and much as the two of you love us, we are not always going to be here for you.  Parents get old.  Parents…”

Tierney exclaimed, “Don’t say it!”

Doe cried, “Stop it, Mommy.  Stop!”

Impervious to their pleas, she continued, “Which means that as you grow up and as you grow old, there is only one thing in you life that you can count on.”

Jeanette Madrigal was an elegant woman with high cheekbones, a long neck, and an aristocratic face.  Tierney felt that when she introduced their mother to her friends, they should courtesy, as if being introduced to a queen.  Doe believed that their mother had a secret sword hidden in a bedroom closet, and that when no one was looking, she would tap the blade on the shoulder of a warrior bold and true, and dub him Sir Noble Knight.

Jeanette stopped talking.

She looked at Tierney.  She shifted her eyes to Doe.  Finally, she said, “As you grow up and as you grow older, shall I tell you what will be the one thing in life that you can count on?”

Neither girl said a word.

Jeanette reached across the table.  She took Tierney’s left hand in her right hand, and she took Doe’s right hand in her left.

“The only thing you will ever be able to count on, girls, is each other.”

Tierney jerked back her head.  Shocked.

Doe looked, first at her mother, and then at her sister.  She began to blink.

“If you are sad, Tierney, Doe will cheer you up.  If you are sick, Doe, Tierney will bring you chicken soup.  If one of you loses a job, the other will help to write a resume.  You will be maids of honor at each other’s weddings.  You will hold each other’s hands when your children are born.”  Saying this, Jeanette removed her own hands and joined her daughters’ hands instead.  “If you lose your way, your sister will bring you home.  If someone breaks your heart, your sister will make it right.  When you succeed, and you both willsucceed, your sister will be the first to wave pompoms and lead the parade.”

Jeanette rested her chin on her forefingers and studied her daughters’ faces.  Then she dropped her hands, straightened her back, and said, “You are my daughters, and I love you.  But what you are to me and to your father is nothing compared to what you will always … always be to each other.”

Doe bit her lower lip.

Tierney cleared her throat.

Both girls said at once, “What is that, Mommy?”

Jeanette smiled.

“You will always be each other’s best friend.”

Neither Tierney nor Doe recalled much else about that luncheon, except that first they began to cry, then they hugged each other, and then somehow or another, they got home.

What they did clearly remember, though, was that from that day forward, they stopped bickering and stopped competing.  Each became more an advocate for the other than for herself, and both shone with a new light that somehow carried them through adolescence and fueled the engines of their dreams.

They grew up.

They moved to New York

They became actresses.

When they entered the talent agency recommended by their high school drama coach, their individual beauty would have been stunning.  Times two, it was breath taking, and it got them signed-contracts within half-an-hour of walking through the door.

First, their agent had pictures taken of the twins … as twins.

“There aren’t many ads nowadays like Doublemint once did.  You know.  Two look-alikes on a bicycle with the ‘double your pleasure’ jingle in the background.  Never mind.  You’re too young.  But let’s get a set of photos on file so that we can do the twin angle if we want to.”

Then the agent sent them home.

“When you come back,” he said, “I want one of you to look like Ophelia before she goes nuts, and the other to look like sex on a pogo stick.  Or one to look like a debutante, and the other to look like…”

Tierney interrupted, “We get it.”

Doe said, “Been there.”

Tierney added, “Done that.”

And they waved their hands (identical hands, identical waves), and strode out the door.

The next day, their agent – and everybody else – could tell the twins apart.

Tierney had a feathery pixie haircut, and was made up with dark eye eyeliner and pale mauve lipstick.  She wore a sleeveless black turtleneck, high cut at the shoulders to expose two perfect collarbones, skin-tight Capri pants, and black ballet flats.  She looks chic, artistic, and worldly.

Doe’s hair was bunched into wild curls atop her head, freckles danced across her face, and her eyelashes extended long and luxurious over bright green eyes.  Doe was wearing a spaghetti strap sundress, skimpy high-heeled sandals, and cologne that smelled like a day at the beach.

Each had laid siege to a style.

Tierney:  New York Sophisticate.

Doe:  Girl next door.

Their talent agent wasted no time.

Within a month, Tierney had been cast as the lead investigator in a television thriller about the recovery of stolen masterpieces.  Her character was as agile as an acrobat and as versatile as a chameleon.  The series required her to wear designer clothes and to leap tall buildings at a single bound (not really).  It was filmed all over the world.

Within six weeks of arriving in New York, Doe had been cast in a TV series as a fledgling editor involved in the creation and production of best selling novels.  Doe’s character was a counterpoint of fresh-faced innocence in a world of literary sharks.  Her scenes were shot on Long Island and in Manhattan and required no location work at all.

Tierney and Doe loved their scripts, loved their parts, and loved their executive producer – the same producer of both shows.  Tierney, not surprisingly, had gone the next step and actually fallen in love with him, which was not difficult because, at one time or another, just about everybody fell in love with Johnnie.

When it was all over, Tierney reproached herself for having allowed him to get that close.  “Idiot!” she would murmur.  “Serves me right for thinking I could trust a man named after a bottle of scotch.”

Weeks … months … years later, Tierney still could not make up her mind about Johnnie.  She once tried to graph him on a sheet of paper.  In the center of the page, in big, bold letters, she printed JOHNNYWALKER HENNESSEY.

On the left side, she wrote, “Personality Profile.”

Under that, she wrote: Talented; Imaginative; Ambitious.

On the right side of the page, Tierney wrote, “Spiritual Profile.”

Under that, she scrawled: “Evil?  Egomaniacal?  Sadistic?”

Then she scratched out those words and wrote, “He broke my sister’s heart!”

Those last five words might have referred to a heart broken by love’s betrayal.

They did not.

Tierney meant a heart broken by inadvertent complicity in a lie.

A heart that, given time, could have mended and triumphed.

Johnnie Walker Hennessey was the perpetrator and catalyst of this catastrophe.  He was also, in many respects, a jewel of a man.  He looked like a hero in a 1940s Hollywood western.  Six-feet-four-inches tall, lean and masculine, with well-defined features.  He had a high brow, an angular jaw, and incisive blue eyes that glinted with irony.  And he was smart enough to untie the Gordian knot.

Johnnie had graduated from college at eighteen, received a doctorate in molecular biology at twenty-two, and published his first novel – a runaway best seller – a week before his twenty-fifth birthday.  This was followed by three more bestsellers, all made into movies that he did not like, which compelled him to write and produce the movie of his fifth novel himself.

He did not enter the area of television production until, after divorcing his fourth wife, he became bored with Hollywood and moved back to New York.

He was forty-years-old, childless, and possessed of a deep, seductive speaking voice.  His ex-wives appeared not to dislike him, although it was said that in exchange for generous alimony payments, they had negotiated away the right to expostulate about their marriages.

Yet, none seemed particularly bitter, and after his death, all came to his funeral and wept beside his grave.

It was Johnnie who had approved casting the twins in shows that would appear on the same network, although not on the same day.  “Don’t worry,” he assured the casting directors, “there won’t be a problem.”

He was right.

The production of Tierney’s series was a logistical nightmare, each week’s action revolving around the theft of artwork from a different private collection, museum, or auction house in a different part of the world.  In its initial phases, and as the show’s creator and executive producer, Johnnie Walker Hennessey accompanied the cast and crew to all of the locations where it was being shot.

Tierney and Doe were, at that time, twenty-one years old.

Twenty-one is the age of maximum vulnerability, when a woman believes that she is worldly enough to inspire (or quell) tempests, but is really as helpless as a puppy.

Think back on the history of infamous love affairs.

A president of the United States and an intern.

A movie star and a step-daughter.

A college professor and a co-ed.

Dozens of college professors, and dozens of co-eds!

Of these women – girls really – there were only three universal constants:

One.  They were young and inexperienced.

Two.  They believed everything their lovers said.

Three.  They were credulous romantics.

Tierney did not see herself that way.  She considered herself savvy, sophisticated, and cynical.  When she asked Johnnie how he could have had four failed marriages, he answered, “Because I was an inattentive husband.”

So naturally she assumed that all four failures had been his wives’ faults.

When he said, “Don’t trust me.  I’m unreliable,” yet was never late for a date and was courtly to a fault, Tierney believed him to be the trust-worthiest of men.

Only once had he acted in a manner she deemed incompatible with the man she thought she loved.  It happened on the day that they met.

An appointment had been made for afternoon tea at the Plaza Hotel.

Tierney and her agent were to meet with Johnnie and the director of their new TV show.  Tierney and Johnnie arrived simultaneously, Tierney getting out of her taxi at the same time that Johnnie started up the hotel stairs.

Johnnie’s shoe was about to touch the third step when Tierney heard a deep, gravely voice calling out from somewhere … everywhere …  nowhere, “Hey, Einstein.   Don’t forget your brain!”

At the first two words, Johnnie stopped.  Mid-step.

At the last four, he stood rigid.  Looking neither to his right nor to his left, as breathless as a stone.

Fascinated by the frozen tableau, Tierney started counting:  One.  Two.  Three.  All the way up to sixty-eight.  Then, as if released from a trance but still wearing a stunned look on his face, Johnnie Walker Hennessey continued up the stairs.

Minutes later, when Tierney sat across from him at their table in the Palm Court, he was once again his usual scintillating, brilliant self.

Tierney never found out what those six words meant or why they’d had such an immobilizing effect on Johnnie, and over the course of her bedazzlement by the executive producer, she thought that the incident had completely left her mind.

It had not.

Their love affair was a sumptuous thing, resonant with laughter and punctuated by a thousand thoughtful Johnnie-like things.  A Tiffany silver locket engraved with the words “I Love You.”  A leather-bound compilation of Winston Churchill speeches.  Bouquet upon bouquet of purple dendrobium orchids.  Spur of the moment trips to Paris for dinner.  A violinist hired to play Gershwin tunes.

Tierney was in love.  And it never occurred to her that anyone as loving as Johnnie would not be in love too.

Her schedule, had she not been one-and-twenty, would have killed an ox.

A week in Budapest.

A week in Tel Aviv.

The week after that, Madrid.

Then, Edinburgh, Zurich, and Hong Kong.

Followed by – she hadn’t known that such a place existed outside Bela Lugosi movies – Transylvania.

By the time Tierney’s cast and crew had arrived in the land of blood-sucking vampires, the show’s executive producer was investing fewer hours on their series and more time working on his other show.

Specifically, on Doe’s series based in New York.

Although Tierney and Doe still shared an apartment, Tierney had been away for over three months.  Aside from handwritten letters and sporadic phone calls (Doe hated the Internet), on a day-to-day basis, they were out of touch.  Doe knew, as did everybody on the set, that Johnnie Walker Hennessey and Tierney Madrigal were, or at least had been, a couple.  Now, however, rumors were rife that their affair was over, done, kaput, and that Tierney had dumped her older, richer, and more successful beau.

Doe got the news first from the wardrobe mistress.

It was repeated by the script girl, an assistant director, a gaffer, and her make-up lady.  When Johnnie asked her out for dinner, she heard it from him, too.

“I thought that you were dating my sister!”  Doe protested.

Were, past tense is the operative word,” he said with just the right combination of self-mockery and regret.  “I am afraid, Doe, that Tierney saw through me.  Wisely, she left me at the altar before I could make yet a fifth mistake.”

Doe telephoned her sister at least sixty times during the period when Johnnie’s wit, charm, and persistence were making inroads on her resistance, but she never managed to get through to Tierney, who was still on location in a remote and inaccessible area of Transylvania.

Finally, Doe agreed to go out with the man who executive produced her show and who was named after a smooth blended scotch.

“But just once,” she stated firmly.

One date led to two.

Two dates led to champagne, flowers, trinkets, and poems.

Doe, like Tierney, was twenty-one.

But Tierney was strong.

And Doe was a romantic.

So, when Tierney’s crew finally wrapped up shooting and she telephoned her twin from an airport in the God-knows-where-Baltics, Doe was stricken with guilt upon hearing Tierney’s end of the conversation.

“…Johnnie is meeting me tonight in Paris.  We’re staying at Le Meurice.  From there we go to…”

And Doe realized that Johnnie had lied.

She broke into her sister’s itinerary of bliss.

“Oh no,” she cried.  “Johnnie said … I believed … Oh, Tierney.  My darling, darling Tierney.  My sister.  My twin.  My dearest and best friend, I betrayed you!  I am so sorry.  Johnnie lied to me.  I would never … I didn’t know.  Honestly … honestly.  I didn’t know.”

Two more things happened that night.

Doe took her car out of the space where it was parked under their apartment building.

And Tierney booked a red-eye flight home.

Doe was dead before Tierney’s plane landed.

She had managed to get out of the city without incident.  Doe even drove safely across the George Washington Bridge.  The straightaway on the Palisades Parkway, though, was her undoing.  Some people, even the police for a time, speculated that she had deliberately driven off the road and into the stand of trees just north of Exit 4.  But Doe’s family knew better.

And Tierney knew everything about everything the minute that she got back to their apartment.

A silver Tiffany locket.  Violets.  Tickets to the ballet.   And poems.  The exact same poems that Johnnie had penned, or so he had said, for Tierney alone, but rewritten and substituted with Doe’s name.

That night, Tierney replayed in her mind – not Johnnie’s romantic flummery – but childhood lessons of loyalty and love.

“If you are sad,” her mother had promised, “Doe will cheer you up.  If Doe is sick, you will bring her chicken soup.”

Tierney reached for the telephone and called Johnnie’s number.  After he picked up, the first words he said were, “I heard about your sister.  You must be heartbroken.  What can I do?”

“Meet me,” Tierney said, “tomorrow afternoon.  Three o’clock.  Palm Court at the Plaza Hotel.”

“Done,” Johnny said.  “What else?”

Tierney replied curtly.  “That will do.”

She replaced her telephone in its cradle, and again recalled the words that her mother had said:

“You will be maids of honor at each other’s weddings.  You will hold each other’s hands when your children are born.  If you lose your way, your sister will bring you home.”

Tierney went into Doe’s bedroom and lay atop her twin’s bed.  She did not take off her clothes.  She did not get between the sheets.  She stared at the ceiling.

The next morning, she made no phone calls and she did not answer the telephone.  She continued to stare at the ceiling until 1:00 p.m., when she showered, put on her makeup, and got dressed.

One thing about Tierney Madrigal as an actress, which was known by every director with whom she worked, was that she had impeccable timing.  Her entrances, her raised eyebrows, her looks of scorn … all were exquisitely executed and achieved the desired effect.

Timing, Tierney believed, was everything.

She walked to the Plaza Hotel.

That day, Johnnie Walker Hennessey had also chosen to walk.  He proceeded up Fifth Avenue, cut through the park, and continued around the Pulitzer Fountain.  Nimble and graceful as a dancer, he had paced himself to jaywalk through the turnaround and arrive safely on the opposite sidewalk before a taxi cab – and he saw it coming – would barrel past the entrance to the hotel

He would have made it, too.

Had it not been for a voice – undistinguishable in pitch, tone, and content from the deep, gravely twang of so many months ago – that called out to him again.

“Hey, Einstein,” it shouted.

Johnnie stopped moving.

Tierney counted.

One.  Two.  Three.

The taxi cab hurtled forward.

“Don’t forget your…”

Four.  Five.  Six.

“…brain.”

The Plaza Hotel’s doorman, observing the seemingly paralyzed figure, screamed, “Move!”

But Johnnie Walker Hennessey did not move.  He stood, stone still in the middle of the street, defenseless against the terrible, terrifying, and unforgettably dull and deadly thud of metal against flesh.

Tierney watched from where she was hiding behind a parked limousine.  Softly, quietly, and in her own voice instead of the one that she had mimicked so convincingly, she repeated, “Don’t forget your brain.”

Years later, after the cancellation of one show and before rehearsals began on the next, the two-time Emmy Award winning actress toyed with the idea of researching the background of the late Johnnie Walker Hennessey and discovering the meaning behind those fateful and fatal words.  Were they the cruel taunt of bullies from his youth, evocative of such devastating humiliation that they had literally stopped Johnnie in his tracks?  Had it been a voice from the past? Was it a voice from the future?  A threat?  A warning?   A signal?  A curse?

Once, she had even gotten so far as to look up the telephone number of a highly recommended private detective.

But it never got beyond that, because whenever Tierney felt the urge, she would stop what she was doing, look at herself in the nearest mirror, and see the face of her sister staring back.  And each time … everytime she did that … Doe’s image would repeat the words that they had learned from their mother so very, very long ago.

“If someone breaks your heart,” Jeanette Madrigal had promised, “your sister will make it right.”

Then Tierney would fluff her still pixie-styled hair, throw the strap of her purse over her shoulder, and stride out of her apartment, once again eager to lead a happy, successful, and guilt-free life.

* * *

Copyright © 2014, Shelly ReubenOriginally published in The Evening Sun, Norwich, NY –  HYPERLINK “http://www.evesun.com/” \o “http://www.evesun.com/” evesun.com Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards.  For more about her books, visit  HYPERLINK “http://www.shellyreuben.com” \o “http://www.shellyreuben.com/” www.shellyreuben.com.  Link to David M. Kinchen’s reviews of her novels “The Skirt Man” and “Tabula Rasa”:  HYPERLINK “http://www.huntingtonnews.net/columns/060605-kinchen-review.html” \o “http://www.huntingtonnews.net/columns/060605-kinchen-review.html”http://www.huntingtonnews.net/columns/060605-kinchen-review.html

 

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Widow File’: Introducing Dani Britton: Don’t Underestimate This Tiny Gal

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 
BOOK REVIEW: 'The Widow File': Introducing Dani Britton: Don't Underestimate This Tiny Gal

In the greater Washington, DC area, it seems you never really know who you’re working for, as Danielle “Dani” Britton suddenly finds out when gunmen invade the suburban Virginia security firm where she works as a data analyst  and kill everybody they can find. They then place explosives and blow up the historic building  housing Rasmund.

S.G. Redling introduces Dani and her friends and enemies — sometimes the same people — in “The Widow File” (Thomas & Mercer, Las Vegas, a publishing unit of Amazon, trade paperback 228 pages, $14.95).

In this fast-paced thriller, I  recognized elements of James Grady’s 1974 thriller, “Six Days of the Condor”, translated to the big screen the next year as “Three Days of the Condor, starring Robert Redford,  where the Redford character returns to his office to find everybody murdered. I also caught a whiff of “Paycheck”,  starring Ben Affleck and Aaron Eckhart,  where Dani and her Rasmund co-worker Sinclair ‘Choo-Choo’ Charbaneaux dope out the contents of a file that contains an odd assortment of items.

Don’t let those elements stop you from reading “The Widow File”: It’s a very readable thriller by an author who promises more Dani Britton and more  Choo-Choo.

In addition to possessing more courage that anyone facing danger should have, Dani has a startling ability to read people by the trash they leave behind. Receipts, parking tickets, champagne corks: the detritus of daily life—if you leave it behind, she will figure you out.

After she escapes from Rasmund — before it’s blown sky-high — with the help of Choo-Choo, Dani tries to figure out who’s after her. Is it the client Dani and the other were working for? Or is it someone in Rasmund itself? The CIA, the NSA or another organization with no seal or letterhead?

Whoever ordered the hit on Rasmund thinks Dani has escaped with information that they desperately want. She’s being tracked by a hitman who identifies himself only as “Tom.” Dani and Choo-Choo move through Washington, DC just one or two steps ahead of “Tom.” She has one thing in common with “Tom”: They both like the sleek futuristic Metro that serves the region. I do, too.

Like “Tom” I grew to like and admire this plucky 5-footer from Oklahoma, with a truck driver father and a mentally ill mother. I look forward to more Dani!

S.G. Redling

S.G. Redling

About S.G. Redling (from her Amazon.com page)

“After a ridiculously normal childhood spent fighting with my siblings in the woods of West Virginia, I graduated from Georgetown University with an English degree. To my parents’ chagrin, I parlayed that fine education into a series of jobs including waitress, monument tour guide, and sheepskin packer before settling in as a morning radio host in Huntington, West Virginia.

“I tend to stroll blithely into strange situations and take adolescent pride in surviving them. Some of my favorites: jumping from an airplane (recommended), jumping from a moving train in Hungary (not recommended), getting lost in the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul, and being locked in a dining car on a midnight train through the Carpathians; and winning a heated argument over the schematics of the Battlestar Galactica.

“These days, I spend a lot of time in pajamas and–for reasons too complicated to explain–I am no longer shocked to find wildlife in my house. For me, everything is a story and the story is everything. Getting to tell my stories? Greatest thing ever.”

 

BOOK REVIEW: ‘If I Had a Son’: Another Dissection of Mainstream Media Bias, Often Deliberate Misreporting of Stories Involving Race

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 
BOOK REVIEW: 'If I Had a Son': Another Dissection of Mainstream Media Bias, Often Deliberate Misreporting of Stories Involving Race

I learned yesterday (March 10, 2014) that veteran CBS News Investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson has resigned from from CBS after two decades with the network. I found about this from a website new to me:www.theconservativetreehouse.com. Here’s the link:www.theconservativetreehouse.com/2014/03/10/whoah-sharyl-attkisson-resig…

Why all the fuss about a reporter leaving a job? It happens all the time, doesn’t it? Yes, but Attkisson, born in 1961, isn’t just any reporter. She was singled out for praise in at least two books on the Fast and Furious gunrunning operation conducted by the Federal Government. The two authors, Katie Pavlich and Mike Detty, said Attkisson, who was disappointed by the liberal bias of news reporting — according to the conservative blog — was among a handful of reporters who did the job right. News reports say Attkisson is currently at work on a book — tentatively titled “Stonewalled: One Reporter’s Fight for Truth in Obama’s Washington” — which addresses the challenges of reporting critically on the Obama administration.

Here’s a link to my review of Detty’s book, “Guns Across the Border,” which includes a link to my review of Pavlich’s book: www.huntingtonnews.net/63373

I discovered www.theconservativetreehouse in a book that came out last October which I just received from WND Books, ‘If I had a Son’: Race, Guns, and the Railroading of George Zimmerman by Jack Cashill (WND Books, notes, sources, index,  336 pages, $25.96). Cashill’s book arrived right after I had read and reviewed another book from WND, “White Girl Bleed a Lot” by Colin Flaherty. Link to my review:www.huntingtonnews.net/83275. Flaherty’s book deals with the often misleading reporting of black on white crime by the mainstream media. The two books — Flaherty’s and Cashill’s — should be read together.

Cashill’s title comes from a remark by President Barack Obama  in March 2012 about the  shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin four weeks earlier in Sanford, FL.

In so saying,  the nation’s first black president gave the White House seal of approval  to a politically irresistible campaign, one that both stoked the grievances of his racially sensitive base and energized his party’s gun-control advocates, Cashill writes in a detail-filled book that points out the many errors of the mainstream media in covering the story.

Did you know that George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s opponent in a fight that ended in Martin’s death, was a supporter of Obama, and whose efforts led to the resolution of the death of a homeless black man at the hands of the police? I followed the TV and print media reports of George Zimmerman’s trial and I wasn’t aware of either situation. Zimmerman was portrayed as a right-wing gun nut. They were uncovered by the conservative blogging site, www.theconservativetreehouse.com.

Cashill compares the “whitening of Zimmerman, who had a Peruvian mother with black ancestors, with the trial of a man in Tom Wolfe’s 1987 best-selling novel, “The Bonfire of the Vaniities”, made into a 1990 film of the same name starring Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis.

In the novel, the prosecutor delights in going after the character played by Hanks, a bond trader named Sherman McCoy who is accused of running over a black youth and putting him in a coma. In a profession that overwhelmingly involves black and Hispanic defendants at last a prosecutor has a “Great White Defendant” to ease his liberal guilt, Cashill says, in describing the “whitening” of Zimmerman.

What is there about Florida that so many weird things come from that state? I hate to demonize an entire state — especially since I’ve lived for five years in Texas, another state that has been picked on — but Florida, which I’ve visited many times,  takes the cake, hanging chads, lousy drivers and highly publicized crime just a few of the state’s oddities.

That the shooting took place in Florida, the most highly contested state in that year’s presidential election, made its politicization all the more inevitable. From the beginning, the major media worked overtime to convict shooter George Zimmerman in the court of public opinion, Cashill writes. To promote their grudge against guns and their skewed view of race in America, the media ignored or denied the truth even after the truth had become obvious to those who followed the story closely.

In another time and place, the media might have succeeded, but in the age of social media, their carefully crafted narrative has been thoroughly picked apart.  ‘If I Had A Son’ has a parallel plot line telling the story of a blogging collective called the Conservative Treehouse that has done much of the picking.  Indeed, the clever research work of these unpaid “Treepers,” most of them female, might well have been the defense’s best weapon, says Cashill.

His friends called George Zimmerman “Tugboat,” the one who always came to the rescue. An Hispanic-American civil rights activist, he helped a black homeless man find justice. He helped guide two black teens through life. He helped a terrified mother secure her house. He helped his wary neighbors secure their community.

‘In If I Had A Son’, Jack Cashill tells the inside story of how, as the result of a tragic encounter with troubled seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin, the media turned Tugboat into a white racist vigilante, “the most hated man in America.”

Cashill provides much needed background about the “gated” community where the fatal encounter occurred. The community was a victim, too, of the collapse of the real estate market, with units that originally sold for $250,000 plunging in value to $100,000 or less. This resulted in many of the townhouses being rented, bringing in many new and often unknown residents and a spike in crime, Cashill writes. Most of the crime involved black perpetrators, resulting in Zimmerman being named captain of the neighborhood watch. When most readers see the phrase “gated community” they think of wealthy people: Retreat at Twin Lakes, where Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman encountered each other, is not a wealthy community.

‘If I Had A Son’ tells how for the first time in the history of American jurisprudence, a state government, the US Department of Justice, the White House, the major media, the entertainment industry and the vestiges of the civil rights movement conspired to put an innocent man in prison for the rest of his life.

All that stood between Zimmerman and lifetime internment were two folksy local lawyers, their aides, and some very dedicated citizen journalists, most notably an unpaid handful of truth seekers at the blogging collective known as the Conservative Treehouse.

‘If I Had A Son’ takes an inside look at this unprecedented battle formation.

‘If I Had A Son’ tells the story too of the six stalwart female jurors who ignored the enormous pressure mounting around them and preserved America’s belief in its judicial system.

In the wake of the verdict, skeptics in the Martin camp claimed that the state of Florida did not play to win. In the course of his research, Cashill came across some startling evidence which suggests that those skeptics may indeed be right.

‘If I Had A Son’ is, so far,  the one and only comprehensive look at the most politically significant trial in decades. What George Zimmerman learned in the course of his ordeal is that although he supported Obama, and lobbied for Obama, and voted for Obama at least once, in the final analysis he did not look enough like Obama to be his son, and that made all the difference.

About the Author

Jack Cashill is an independent writer, producer and the Executive Editor of Ingram’s Magazine. He’s written for Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Weekly Standard, AmericanThinker.com,and regularly for WND. In the last decade Cashill has written six other books of non-fiction– three of which have cracked Amazon’s Top 10 list. He has produced a score of documentaries for regional PBS and national cable channels, including the Emmy Award-winning “The Royal Years”.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Lady Who Cried Murder’: Sixth Entry in Lauren Carr’s Mac Faraday Mysteries Takes on Bullies, CorruptPoliticians, Reality Stars

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 

To the arrogant, envious, rude, self-centered, demented, and twisted souls amongst us. For without you, murder mystery writers would be without inspiration. — Dedication of ‘The Lady Who Cried Murder’

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Lauren Carr’s “The Lady Who Cried Murder” (Acorn Book Services, 296 pages, trade paperback, $12.99, also available in a Kindle ebook edition) is the sixth entry in Carr’s Mac Faraday series, but it covers so many sordid deeds that it also brings in Cameron Gates, an officer in the Pennsylvania State Police,  and  Hancock County, WV Prosecuting Attorney Joshua Thornton — the married stars of her Lovers in Crime series  —  to solve a number of crimes in the greater Pittsburgh area which have Maryland connections.

Mac Faraday is the love child of famed mystery writer Robin Spencer, who, on her death, left him a $270 million fortune, a magnificent home in Deep Creek Lake, MD and the Spencer Inn, a five-star resort in Garrett County, MD. He also inherits the lovely Archie Monday, Robin’s researcher and editor and Mac’s lady love.

For more background on Mac and his friends, here’s my review of the debut entry in the series, “It’s Murder, My Son”:  http://www.huntingtonnews.net/23832

BOOK REVIEW: 'The Lady Who Cried Murder': Sixth Entry in Lauren Carr's Mac Faraday Mysteries Takes on Bullies, Corrupt Politicians, Reality Stars

There’s so much in this fast-paced novel featuring some truly evil characters that I can only summarize some of the action. I leave it to the reader to react with horror to the actions of U.S. Sen. Henry Palazzi, his weird beyond description son Bevis Palazzi and a collection of bad people who would do credit to a Mickey Spillane thriller. Fortunately for the reader, Carr provides one of my favorite, if often left out, features:  a front-of-the book Cast of Characters.

Carr says “The Lady Who Cried Murder” was inspired by a personal encounter with a neighborhood bully. “Believe it or not, childhood bullies do grow up,” Carr says.

“Just like any bully, ours never attacks when my husband is around. He only makes his verbal assaults when I’m alone and for no reason.”

Carr takes this incident — what some who would consider to be minor, if annoying — and expands it into a murder mystery.

“Writers like to analyze people for character development,” Carr explained. “Not knowing anything about this man, including his name, I had to imagine virtually everything about him to come up with a motive for his arrogant behavior, especially toward me. Then, I came to realize that our society is overrun with bullies—not just those who stop their cars and scream at women who happen to be walking their dogs. I was surprised to realize that some areas of our society embrace arrogance. Also, some bullies, due to their power or social positions, are protected by those around them, which allows them to prey on the rest of us.”

A central character in the novel is Khloe Everest, a would be reality TV star, who — determined to get her pretty face in front of the cameras — fakes an abduction, only to make a grand entrance in the midst of a press conference being held by Mac’s half-brother, Spencer Police Chief David O’Callaghan.

Three years later, after failing to catapult her notoriety into a long-lasting celebrity, Khloe Everest returns to Spencer upon her mother’s sudden death and seemingly finds another weapon to propel her into the spotlight. Unfortunately, someone kills her before she can make this entrance.

No Mac Faraday novel would be complete without Gnarly, his German Shepherd,  who becomes a hero in the book after being pressed into service as a K-9. Also present is Gnarly’s girlfriend, Molly, the service dog of Chelsea Adams, a woman with whom David O’Callaghan seeks a relationship. In addition to being mysteries, Carr’s novels have a large helping of romance in them.

Along with the two dogs, Irving, Homicide detective Cameron Gates’ 25-pound black and white Maine Coon Cat, also appears in the novel; Cameron can’t leave Irving behind in Pennsylvania. It’s fortunate for Archie that Irving is on the scene in Spencer Manor.

Lauren Carr

Lauren Carr

About the Author

Lauren Carr fell in love with mysteries when her mother read Perry Mason to her at bedtime. The first installment in the Joshua Thornton mysteries, A Small Case of Murder was a finalist for the Independent Publisher Book Award.

Carr is also the author of the Mac Faraday Mysteries, which takes place in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. It’s Murder, My SonOld Loves Die Hard, and Shades of Murder, Blast from the Past, and The Murders at Astaire Castle have all been getting rave reviews from readers and reviewers. The Lady Who Cried Murder is the sixth installment in the Mac Faraday Mystery series.

Released September 2012, Dead on Ice introduced a new series entitled Lovers in Crime, which features prosecutor Joshua Thornton with homicide detective Cameron Gates. The second installment in the Lovers in Crime, Real Murder will be published in 2014.

The owner of Acorn Book Services, Lauren is also a publishing manager, consultant, editor, cover and layout designer, and marketing agent for independent authors. This year, several books, over a variety of genre, written by independent authors will be released through the management of Acorn Book Services, which is currently accepting submissions. Visit Acorn Book Services website for more information.

She lives with her husband, son, and three dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV. Her website: http://mysterylady.net

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Reviewer’s Note: For my Feb. 26, 2014 review of the seventh Mac Faraday mystery, “Twelve to Murder”:http://www.huntingtonnews.net/82960