Saturday, October 24, 2009

Book # 12

The Boys from Brazil by Ira Levin is a great, thrilling read. Some books are hard to put down - this book grabs you by the throat and refuses to let go. This book is taut, harrowing, powerful, thought-provoking and detail oriented. Levin has created a masterpiece of the genre and it shows through the ridiculously tense scenario he perfectly plots. One of the reasons the book works so effectively - in just nine precise chapters - is his plot is semi-plausible and a good mixture of fact and fiction. He begins with a cabal of former Nazi's in Brazil led by the infamous Josef Mengele - he has a plan and needs their help. Before long, an aging Nazi hunter is investigating a series of mysterious murders and trying to piece the puzzle of Mengele's plan together.
If there is a better example of how a thriller should be written I have yet to find it.
Levin's vision is brilliantly crafted and builds a plausible scenario that incorporates what Mengele was doing at Aushwitz and how deeply engrained the Nazi ideology was in South America at the war's conclusion and on into the seventies.
Evocative, haunting and literally impossible to put down.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Book #11

James Lee Burke has written more than a dozen mysteries featuring New Iberia detective Dave Robicheaux and each has been critically acclaimed and sold well. That said, The Tin Roof Blowdown is his best book.
How can one distinguish between a plethora of similar works by Burke, each featuring inevitable confrontations between Robicheaux and the darker elements of New Orleans? Easily as this book takes Hurricane Katrina as its backdrop. Not only is this a fantastic mystery about Robicheaux, but it also serves as what may be the best book for understanding Katrina and its impact on Louisiana. At the opening, the hurricane hits and in the pages that fly by afterwards we see the devestation and apocalyptic aftermath of the tragedy.
Into the void of this destruction comes (Burke's best known character) Dave Robicheaux, a former alcholic with inner demons constantly consuming him, and his journey post-Katrina is not a pretty one. Burke has always had the ability to draw the reader into his books and you do not simply read one of his books - you live it. Burke evokes all the smells, tastes, feelings and descriptions other writers dream about. You feel every haunting, searing, beautiful, near poetic sentence as you are drawn deeper into the dark and seamy underbelly of New Orleans.
This book, written shortly after the disaster has a much darker and more cynical tone than his previous works (which I would not have thought possible) and as usual the characters pop off the page into reality as truly as if they were sitting beside you. New Orleans culture and community was severly damaged in the storm and this book is an anguished swan song for a city that will never be the same. It is truly a book that only an author as talented as James Lee Burke could write and it says something about the skill of the writer when his 14th book featuring the recurring characters is without a doubt his best work to date.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Book #10

American Tabloid by James Ellroy represents a departure from the "master of noir"; instead of investigating dark and twisty crimes in LA, he dives headfirst into the web of conspiracy surrounding the Kennedy Presidency. Some books are hard to put down. Some books are page turners. When I bought this one, the guy behind the counter told me to get ready to lose a week. I didn't lose one week - I lost a week and half.
This book explodes and sprawls like the literary answer to an incendiary grenade. It consumes the reader in the underworld beneath American History as it examines the "truth" of complex times. Ellroy contends that America was never innocent and JFK was killed at the perfect time to ensure martyrdom - just before all his discretions came to light.
The three central characters are conflicted, deep and perfect. They rise and fall along a Shakespearean arc with such real life figures as (among others): Howard "Dracula" Hughes, J. Edgar Hoover, RFK, Santo Trafficante, Jack Ruby, and Jimmy Hoffa. These men, Pete Bondurant (a brutal, mob-connected, Cuba entwinned, pimp, former policeman); Kemper Boyd (an FBI agent turned CIA asset bent on Castro's assassination) and Ward Littell (a disgraced drunk turned mob lawyer), manipulate the years 1957 - 1963. We see them at their lowest and at their highest and the plot swirls them in new directions with a single, perfectly carved sentence. Ellroy's style is machine gun bursts of beauty and deplorable violence.
This book surges like a tidal wive toward the brutal axis the reader knows is coming: November 22, 1963. This may just be the best book for understanding not only the conspiracy surrounding Kennedy's death but also the mob men who played a role in his rise and (possibly in his) demise.
Better yet? There are two more books following American Tabloid which complete Ellroy's Underworld USA trilogy. So when he leaves you twisting, off-balance and in complete awe on Novemeber 22, 1963, you can be assured that yes, there is more.