Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Finished Tu 5/28/13

My post on Good Reads-

This is one of my favorite novels, not so much that it's beautifully written, but the fact that it masterfully celebrates 'style' over 'storyline'. Mark Hudson's vivid and immoderate descriptions are so feverishly gushing and hyperbolic that the 'purple prose' brilliantly highlights and underscores the shallow and superficial nature of his lead character. Andrew 'Litch' Litchfield is a washed up, very minor figure in the music industry who, a couple of decades earlier, inadvertently stumbled upon the music of West African bandleader, Sajar Jopp, and was able to garner him some much needed international recognition. In a masterful and unceasing exhibition of self-delusion, Litch has always blindly maintained that it was his uncanny appreciation and understanding of all that is great in popular music that allowed him to pluck Sajar Jopp from obscurity, yet the fact of the matter is that it was probably just chance.  The book provides a delightfully detailed description of a man who loves music, but distances himself from the music itself, and actually is just more enthralled with the 'idea' of great pop music. Litch Litchfield is a man who is driven by his own very misconstrued notions about himself and his relationship to nearly everything, and he is undoubtedly my most favorite 'unreliable narrator' that I have ever come across.

If you are an avid collector of music or a fan of the sounds of West Africa, or auditorily addicted to nearly any genre of music, this might be the book for you. The overpowering allure and intensity of the love for any kind of popular music seems to come from the same place, and if you share that frenzied view, you'll have no trouble recognizing Litchfield's diabolically distorted 'take' on the nature of True Pop.  And, this novel also has a soundtrack (THE MUSIC IN MY HEAD-various artists) by the same name and serves as an excellent introduction to the real musicians on the 70's and 80's African Pop Scene. Hudson uses pseudonyms for most of his characters, and Sajar Jopp is modeled rather closely on Fela Kuti or King Sunny Ade. And, Litch Litchfield might be any one of a myriad of fanzine and magazine writers, borderline musical producers, and self-deluded 'movers and shakers' who are hypnotically drawn to the Music Biz.

novel that comes with its own soundtrack cd

Andrew 'Litch' Litchfield   Sarah 'Her' She'

Sajar Jopp

Tekrur (country)

N'Galam (city)

Confuses the music for what it represents. Wouldn't buy a record unless the act of passing on it would cause a lifetime of self recrimination.

The last twenty pages covers Litch's personal life.

Fevered, gushing, hyperbolic

Saturday, May 25, 2013


Finished Fr 5/24/13

The novel is packed with seedy atmosphere and sleazy characters, but lacks a compelling storyline. These seamy qualities seemed to put the lock on a dynamite 'noirish' thriller, yet the book fails to satisfy. John Field is an Canadian expatriate journalist who has lived in Bangkok for over twenty years, and has never once been back to the west. He no longer is in the writing trade and makes a spotty living as a kind of  'middleman' putting together business deals for various shady characters. His life basically consists of hanging out with his pals, drinking and carousing with local prostitutes. He's divorced and has one daughter, Songlin who attends Catholic boarding school and she is being raised strictly to become a native Thai. One of his best friends, Dr. Meechai Wuthiwat, is a local community leader who runs The Bangkok Nursing Home and is treated John for a particularly virulent strain of STD. In an odd manifestation of humanity, John buys the contract of young prostitute, Ao, to get her a better start in a straight life. Then, he does a deal in Laos for an old girlfriend and her husband, and finds them brutally tortured and murdered. He becomes ensnared in a huge heroin smuggling operation that has ties to members of the military and the government.

John has a lot on his plate, but it's more 'bumbling around' than a 'hard hitting, fast paced dramatic action'. All the elements are in place to make John Field the Jason Bourne of The East, yet not much happens. This really could have taken off in a big way, but, unfortunately, it never does.

My post on Good Reads-

 The novel is packed with seedy atmosphere and sleazy characters, yet the book cries out for a compelling storyline that is never provided. These seamy qualities might have put the lock on a delectable 'noirish' thriller, yet the book ultimately fails to satisfy.
 John Field is an Canadian expatriate journalist who has lived in Bangkok for over twenty years, and has never once been back to the west. He no longer is in the writing trade and makes a spotty living as a kind of 'middleman' putting together business deals for various shady characters, and his life basically consists of hanging out with his pals, drinking and carousing with local prostitutes. He gets caught up in an international heroin smuggling operation involving powerful and shady figures in the military and national government, he's implicated in a vicious double murder, he buys the contract of a young prostitute to get her 'out of the life', he raises his daughter to be an educated Thai, and finally contracts an STD seemingly impervious to treatment.
 However, it's a real letdown when the reader realizes how little excitement is generated. The book is fairly well-written, yet the storyline reflects more 'bumbling around' than 'hard hitting' drama. All the elements are in place to make John Field the Jason Bourne of The East but unfortunately, not much tension or drama is introduced. This really could have taken off in a big way, but, unfortunately, it never does.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE by Heather Gudenkauf

Finished Su 5/19/13
Selection for The Contemporary Book Club, May 2013

My post on Good Reads-

The story grabs you immediately, and it's hard to put down. I read the entire novel in one afternoon. I only have two rather mild objections to the novel. One, it really should be considered 'Young Adult'. I think the book would be ideal for teenagers- especially girls, and that should be the target audience. And, finally I thought that although each chapter offered a different point of view, the 'voice' always remained the same. The chapters by the children sounded identical to the adult characters such as Martin or Deputy Sheriff Louis. Although Calli's chapters are 'third person', and the rest are 'first person', they all shared the same 'voice'. The novel might have worked better if the author had used the omniscient narrator throughout.

OUR MAN IN HAVANA by Graham Greene

Finished Mo 5/20/13

My post on Good Reads-

A droll political thriller about James Wormold, an English vacuum salesmen in fifties Havana, who is drafted by the British Secret Service to help bolster his country's position in The Cold War. He obviously is privy to no secrets of any kind, but The Agency demands 'eyes and ears' as the evil Communists threaten global domination. Because Wormold needs money to support his sixteen year old daughter Milly's expensive lifestyle, he concocts a plan which would include an imaginary team of agents operating under his direction who would deliver blueprints of fake enemy installations. He would submit this entirely bogus information to The Service, and then charge them for his time and efforts. Apparently Graham Greene based the novel on a real incident that occurred in 1941 in which German agents operating in Portugal tried to implement this same scam. I don't know what happened in real-life agents, but in the novel, things rapidly fall to pieces, and take a turn for the sinister.

The book is in no way 'a laugh riot', and after reading some of the reviews, I thought it might be something like the 60's TV series, GET SMART. However, the humor in the book is more 'amusing' and 'whimsical' rather than downright 'hilarious', and this lends a more thought provoking aspect to the work. I fully enjoyed it.

The May selection for the Springfield Illinois Classic Book Club

Thursday, May 16, 2013

PSYCHEDELIC-40 by Louis Charbonneau

Finished Th 5/16/13

My post on Good Reads-

This is a rather unsatisfying novel of 'the not too distant American future' about a power struggle over the use and distribution of a particular drug, PSI-40, that enhances psychic ability in the user. The Mental Freedom Syndicate is a consortium of 'Specials' who are wealthy and powerful individuals who have highly enhanced their psychic powers, and are trying to control who has access to the drug PSI-40, and thus limiting who has the power to perceive information hidden from the normal senses. 'Sensitives' are people who have been monitored by the Syndicate because they have been tested and seem to have nascent psychic abilities, so their use of PSI-40 is carefully monitored. And these 'Sensitives' are pressured to join the Syndicate, and they help protect the MFS from the ANTI'S, who are a group that wants to end the control of PSI-40. The novel's protagonist is Jon Rand and he is a 'Sensitive' agent for the MFS who has a change of heart about the true aims of the Syndicate. The story-line is driven by a load of corny theatrics that seem like tedious Ian Fleming outtakes, but basically the novel is about Power and Domination. 

The novel was written in 1965, and I don't think anyone realized what a tremendous influence recreational drugs would have on society, and this novel doesn't provide much insight as to what might be just around the corner. Almost any of Philip K. Dick's novels (VALIS, THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH, A SCANNER DARKLY, etc) leave PSYCHEDELIC-40 in the literary dust, and my favorite novel about future drugs that impact psychic ability is most definitely John Brunner's, THE STONE THAT NEVER CAME DOWN. PSYCHEDELIC-40 can only be considered one of the 'also rans'.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Finished Tu 5/14/13
My post on Good Reads-
There's something almost comforting about reading a book about the end of the world that occurs in the 1980's. It's almost like we've collectively dodged a bullet....The Big One.

DOWN TO A SUNLESS SEA is a straightforward Action/Adventure tale of a nuclear apocalypse, and relates the adventures of the brave band of men and women who beat the odds and live to fight another day. The author's background is in aeronautics, and most of the action happens in the cockpit of a large airliner. The writing style and character development are pedestrian at best, yet the compelling storyline demands your attention. Nevil Shute's, ON THE BEACH and Pat Frank's ALAS, BABYLON offer the same story, yet so much better delivered. And, I'm sure there are many, many other examples, but if you are a fan of the genre, DOWN TO A SUNLESS SEA will not disappoint.

Notes about the book-
The story begins as Captain Jonah Scott has landed in NYC on a rainy October evening in 1985. The American dollar has tanked, and the US is plagued with domestic turmoil, and not a tranquil place. After picking up some stowaways, the captain begins the flight to London England, and while they are airborne  nuclear war begins in the Middle East, and rapidly becomes a worldwide conflagration.

They end up in Antarctica  and find that the Earth's axis has shifted, and in the future, the land will have the climate of Hawaii.

The title of the novel is from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem, Kubla Khan

Monday, May 13, 2013

THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood

Finished Su 5/12/13

My post on Good Reads-

This is a powerful novel that suggests what life might be like under an American Christian Theocracy, and offers important insight into the issues of Female Equality and Reproductive Rights. The book would have worked equally as well if it had been presented as a conventional 'thriller', but Margaret Atwood is a poet and an essayist, and cannot resist the urge to create a literary work that is both intuitive and lyrical. The tale is not presented in a linear fashion, and scenes jump back and forth from past to present, and only reinforces the theme of disorientation in a world out of balance. It's a chilling and terrifying read that is far too close to contemporary reality. We live among a powerful and vocal minority who honestly believe that humans suffer from far too many freedoms and all of us would be much better off with a limitation of choice. This highly restrictive and punitive point of view can be found in ALL of the world's major religions, not just Christianity. I found it tellingly significant that in the 'Republic of Gilead', the Old Testament has replaced the Constitution, yet the Bible is kept under lock and key. The word of God and the supreme law of the land are on a strictly 'need to know' basis.

Friday, May 10, 2013

WOMEN by Charles Bukowski

Skimmed to the end Tu 5/7/13

My post on Good Reads-

This is Bukowski's semi autobiographical work in which he uses the name Hank Chinaski, and documents his adventures with the opposite sex after enjoying some degree of recognition during the 1970's. At every stage in his life, Bukowski embraced a kind of poor man's Playboy philosophy where the slovenly, anti-social, and uninhibited bachelor finally gets his proper due. Razor sharp declarative sentences and a liquor store full of booze typify the novels, short stories, and poems of Charles Bukowski. His literary style consists of a fiery gumbo of William Burroughs, Arthur Rimbaud, Jean Genet, and Hunter Thompson. Bukowski never let's you forget that he's an obnoxious and dirty old man, and his work presents the point of view of the quintessential 'outsider', and this will either draw you in, or repel you. 

Saturday, May 4, 2013


Finished Fr 5/3/13

'Resurrection' was a scheme in which women would be stockpiled after a nuclear war. Neutron bombs would be employed so that the radiation would last weeks instead of centuries.
David Hartman had the computer software that disguised 'Resurrection' which had been operating beneath the grid for decades.
Jayne Jennison head a Black Ops outfit that wanted to get Hartman out, and secure the plan.
Her daugher was Elroy Coffin's wife, and she was always on the 'Resurrection' team. Of course, Elroy was unaware.
Heather Stone was on the US force against 'Resurrection' and looked like Toni, Elroy's wife. She leaves with Elroy after the apocalypse is averted, and in the final scene, after they have been on the run, Jayne's team invades their house, but there is only an Ipad, and Elroy and Heather blow up the house, killing Jennison.
Texas Data Concepts- software outfit that wrote the computer programs and provides the cover.
Axl Gange-Elroy's mentor, and he meets a young woman fighting to defeat 'Resurrection' by the name of Bennet. She was raised by Axl as his daughter after her parents were killed. Axl is tortured and killed by Hartman, and Elroy was present. Elroy probably loved Bennet, and she is killed in a gunfight.
Kim Hammer is a transexual gang leader in Houston that Elroy uses to sell a government helicopter that he stole while escaping. Kim also arranges a doctor to take care of Bennet's wounds.
Bennet is part of a group assembled by Jennison to break into a vault to get the computer discs that run 'Resurrection'. When Elroy breaks in, the group, headed by Sarge, turn on them. They are killed and Elroy and Bennet escape in the helicopter. Elroy's father, Ringo, gives up his life on this operation.
Washington and Franklin are two federal agents working with Jennison. Washington is a black man who is killed. And, Franklin is a huge surfer type who nearly kills Elroy in the end. He crushes Elroy, and they convince him that he has lost the use of his legs. But, this is not true.
Elroy was nearly killed in a gunfight and has plates in his head. This clouded his real memories of Toni and when he thinks of her he smells roses and steel.

My post on Good Reads-

The book is extremely fast-paced with little realistic character development, yet the plot rockets along like greased lightning with a maximum of exploding ordnance  You can really tell that the author has a background in Fantasy and Horror as RESURRECTION EXPRESS is riddled with dead bodies and nearly impossible gun fights, and the 'bad guys' could just as easily been cast as 'zombies' rather than human beings. The plot line that drives the novel is nearly identical to the theme of DR. STRANGELOVE : OR HOW I STOPPED WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB. It definitely makes the grade if you don't mind rudimentary writing with a killer story, or to put it another way, a work of glorious 'sizzle', but without much 'steak'.

Thursday, May 2, 2013


Finished We 5/1/13

My post on Good Reads-

The reason that I read this novel is that it represents a classic example of the 'unreliable narrator' genre, and in this respect, the novel is a success. In almost every case in literature, the narrator is omnipotent, and that point of view is unquestioned and defines the reality of the work, and I find it fascinating when that voice is lying, deluded, or unaware of the truth. However, my least favorite mystery genre is when a myriad of characters are presented, many are incriminated and then the reader is asked to ascertain who is the true villain. And this is also the case with THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD. The author presents a dizzying array possible suspects, red herrings, blind alleys, and false clues which overwhelm the reader. If the writer knows how to write, the reader would never be aware of 'who dunnit' because the writer would be in control of his craft. Only poor writing reveals the villain before his time. I don't think a reader can really figure out the ending unless the beginning and the middle were incorrectly or badly presented. If the writer is doing a proper job, the reader will NEVER know anything before he wants you to know it, or it's not really a novel, but only a re-enactment of the board game, CLUE. And, that's an inept way to tell a story and a false manner in which to represent reality. People who read books to understand the outcome before it is revealed are only deluding themselves, and that seems to account for much of the appeal of Agatha Christie, and she is NOT one of my favorite authors.