Behind Her Lives by Briana Cole

Behind Her Lives (Pseudo)Behind Her Lives by Briana Cole
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What I liked most about this book was the clever plot. There were enough twists and turns to keep me guessing to the very end. That said, in the end I felt disappointed with this book. The writing was very uneven – quite good at the beginning but deteriorating as it continued. This included the proofreading, which allowed numerous errors such as wrong word (off for of), mixed tenses, omitted words, and commas scattered in random, odd places.

The story is a mystery. The main character, Deven, is called upon to identify a body as her half sister Kennedy, but she doesn’t think it is her sister. Deven is black, something I didn’t pick up on at first since there was no physical description given of her. The cover picture is the profile of a black woman, but is obscured by two such images overlaid on each other and the title print over that. With straight hair, her race was not obvious at a quick glance, but perhaps I was just unobservant. In any event, the cover picture was of Kennedy, not Deven, and with different fathers, they could have been of different races. Her race shouldn’t matter, but as the story went on, it seemed rather important. At one point Deven mused that she couldn’t marry outside her race. That made me assume she was white and thinking about a black man, when in fact, it was the opposite. The dialog became “blacker” as it went on, or at least it seemed that way to me; e.g. I had to look up the word “locs.” The characters became rougher. At the beginning, it was nurse, doctor, hospital setting, but then some shady characters fell into the mix and everyone, even Deven, developed a filthy mouth toward the end.

Deven often did not behave in remotely logical ways. She decided to try to find her sister by herself, often withholding critical information not only from the police, but from others trying to help her. She would run off to confront someone, even after being told to let the police do it, and as she arrived, wished she had called the police instead, then even when confronting someone who could be dangerous, had no plan as to what she would say or do. She would get important calls or texts and not read or listen to them until much later. She also spent no time at work for days and days. There was a pregnancy inserted into the plot for no reason I could determine as it disappeared from the plot line as quickly as it appeared. Though I can’t recommend it, the mystery itself was intriguing enough to keep me reading, and it was logically resolved in the end.

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The Divider by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser

The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021 by Peter Baker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Husband and wife team Baker (New York Times) and Glasser (The New Yorker) have written a massive tome documenting the Trump presidency based on years of personal reporting and interviews of key insiders. I won’t bother to analyze or bash Trump since everyone pretty much knows what he is. Those who need to hear the truth about him won’t listen anyway. What I found interesting and important about the book is how it portrays the people around him in the White House or other key government positions. I hadn’t realized how much they almost all hated each other. They fell into two general categories: those true pro-Trumpers and those who took positions primarily to prevent Trump from doing something horrible. The former didn’t really like or respect Trump, nor he them, but they saw him as a vehicle for their own agenda. These include people like Jared Kushner (Israel), Jeff Sessions (immigration), John Bolton (Venezuela), Betsy DeVos (charter schools), and many others. The latter included the generals such as Mattis, McMaster, and Kelly, (but notably did not include Flynn, who was a true Trumper with an agenda of his own), Tillerson and many others. None of them was very effective either at their own agendas or at controlling Trump. Even within the second category, the in-fighting was fierce.

My takeaway from the book is how blessed we are to have a civil service system. Our governments and federal, state and local level chug along doing what needs to be done, whether protecting us , providing sanitation, education, social services, foreign relations, and a myriad of other things, all despite, not because of, the elected politicians. They are also protected by the civil service system which makes it hard to fire rank and file employees, and easy for arbitrators or boards to reinstate them. The same is true in the military. It leads to incompetent people staying in positions and plenty of the inefficiency for which government is known, but it is also the safeguard that keeps people like Trump from replacing knowledgeable career people with partisan incompetents or worse. It was our inexorable government machinery that kept our allies on our side, our military within the law, our court system running, and our economy working.

The book itself is too long and ponderous to be an enjoyable read. It is really written as a historical source document. People who follow the news closely won’t find much surprising, although I skipped liberally through the second half and may have missed something. The book is over 700 pages.

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Desert Star by Michael Connelly

Desert Star (Renée Ballard, #5; Harry Bosch Universe, #36)Desert Star by Michael Connelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m a big Harry Bosch fan, so take that into account in the rating. If you’ve read his earlier stuff, you know the good and the bad of the style. Harry is a rule-breaking, abrasive, now ex-LAPD detective who still burns with a fury over injustices in the world. He is here working cold cases, called back to assist the force in a squad of volunteers led by Renee Ballard, the only sworn officer. The plot suffers from too much predictability, but the detail of how Harry works is pure joy to read. Connelly gets into the cop nitty-gritty – where Harry parks to get the best view, how he positions his body to look old and decrepit, the lies he tells to get people to tell him what he wants, and all the people and resources in the LAPD he knows how to use and clues only he is sharp enough to spot. There’s a big reveal in the epilogue, but there’s enough telegraphing of it throughout the book that I can’t call it a surprise. The bottom line: if you’re a Harry Bosch fan, read it and enjoy it; if not, avoid it, or if this is your first one, go back to the earlier ones. Don’t start here.

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The Ransomware Hunting Team by Renee Dudley and Daniel Golden

The Ransomware Hunting TeamThe Ransomware Hunting Team by Renee Dudley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book, but it may be largely due to my experience and interests. I was an FBI agent on the very first high-tech squad in Silicon Valley in the 1990s and I have a longtime interest in cryptography and computers. I was dismayed at the unflattering (but accurate) portrayal of the FBI and its response (or non-response) in the middle of the book. But I was pleased to see by the end that the FBI has upped its game and works well with the private sector to combat this scourge of ransomware.

The book is not a technical manual. It spends most of its time on the lives of the team members, the mostly young people who selflessly devote their time and talents to breaking ransomware or otherwise helping victims recover their encrypted files without paying ransom, or sometimes by helping to reduce the ransom through negotiation. The team who does this is an informal but real group, many of whom have never met the others, scattered around the western world. Their technical skills are formidable, but they are often socially somewhat inept, the stereotypical computer nerds from TV and movies. The reality is these people are heroes.

The ransomware business is more complicated than I’d imagined, and the book gives fascinating insights about it. I hadn’t realized, for example, that many American businesses profit from it. Insurance companies make money insuring against it and there are unethical companies who claim to help victim companies recover their files through their technical expertise and not pay ransom, but actually just pay the demanded ransom and charge the victim that amount plus a premium. The ransomers vary in geographic locale and in their conscience (e.g. not victimizing hospitals), but the worst of them are in Russia, Iran, or Belarus. Read the book to learn more.

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2022 Timeline map

In case anyone is interested in where I go, here’s my Google timeline map for 2022 for the Bay Area. A couple of visits to the East Bay are out of range, and my road trip to Olympia, Washington doesn’t show here, although it does when I zoom out. The widespread nature of the locations is due mostly to my geocaching. I was surprised to see so many.

Varsity Blues finally over

William Singer, the mastermind behind the college admissions scandal known as Varsity Blues was sentenced yesterday to three and a half years. That’s a reduced sentence because he cooperated with the FBI to ensnare all or most of his clients. His was the last sentencing, because they had to keep him on the string until all the other cases resolved. He might have had to testify at trial for any holdouts.

The Local by Joey Hartstone

The LocalThe Local by Joey Hartstone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really liked this book and recommend it. Although this is his first novel, the author is a professional writer (screenplays for movies and TV) and it shows. The plot is suspense-filled, with twists and turns, and he does an excellent job of painting a scene of the east Texas legal scene. As a lawyer and FBI agent who worked in the intellectual property (IP) field, I was impressed with the depth of his research. The basic setup is that the main character, James Euchre, is a patent attorney who serves as the local counsel for patent law firms coming here from out of state. He is representing a client, Amin, who loses a ruling and screams threats in the courtroom. Then the judge who presided is murdered. Amin is charged with the murder and Euchre must represent him even though he’s never been a criminal attorney. Okay, that’s far-fetched. A good-looking female attorney, Layla, formerly a prosecutor, is seconded to the case to help him since it’s a capital case. To add a twist, the victim judge was a dear personal friend and mentor to Euchre. Euchre wants to find the killer, even if it is his own client, so he has in mind that he will screw Amin if he finds out he’s guilty. It is up to him and his quirky investigator, “the Leg,” to find out whodunit.

For a non-lawyer the author got the vast majority of the legal stuff right, like the feds deferring to Texas in order to go for the death penalty, and most of what wasn’t right was probably due to literary license. He lists a slew of lawyers in the acknowledgments section. However I feel compelled to set the record straight on a few issues. There is no FBI lab in Dallas. The only FBI lab is in Quantico, VA. It does assist local cases like this on request, but it is much more likely a local department would use a state lab for several reasons. This trial would surely be moved from the local area; it it wasn’t, any conviction would be overturned on appeal.

Another reason I can’t boost this to five stars is that the characters aren’t very likeable. Amin is a jerk. Euchre is a dissolute hothead. He claims to be a non-smoker but chain smokes Marlboros and throws the butts out on the roadway or sidewalk. He drinks heavily and is obviously impaired from hangovers running up to trial. At trial he cuts down to three stiff drinks a night as though that’s virtuous. He’s sarcastic and insulting to half the people he deals with. I’ve never really understood why authors like to make their lead characters flawed, but I guess it goes back at least to Sherlock Holmes and seems to be popular with some readers. Layla is inserted as a token black and female who should be lead counsel with her experience, but does almost nothing but provide a love interest. The Leg is the only somewhat likeable character, although she also seems like a token lesbian who ultimately doesn’t have much effect on the final resolution. The plot strains credibility even more toward the end, but I found it compelling enough to really enjoy it.

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Misplaced modifying clauses

Last night on the news I heard the newsreader (not really a reporter, alas) say something like “After sitting in her car for four hours at subfreezing temperatures, police officers were able to rescue the woman.” You may wonder why the police were sitting in the woman’s car for hours and why they waited so long to rescue her.

The answer is, of course, that it was the woman, not the police, who sat in the car for hours. This is the only thing that makes sense in the context. But from a grammatical perspective, the initial clause, lacking a subject of its own, is presumed to refer to the subject that immediately follows. You might think this is picky since, after all, the meaning is clear. But that’s not always so. That’s why it’s important to put the modifying clause immediately before or after the thing it modifies.

Take this example: “After winning the match, I asked Joe to buy me a beer.” Who won the match? It makes sense either way. Maybe we had a friendly bet and he owed me the beer since I won. Or maybe he won and I was hoping he’d buy me a beer as gracious consolation prize. The logic applies even if I was the one buying the beer for him. But what did your brain tell you when you read the sentence? You assumed I had won the match. Why? Because you intrinsically know the rule that the thing immediately following the clause is the thing referred to. Of course the best phrasing, at least for purposes of clarity, is to include the subject of the clause in the clause, e.g., “After she had sat in the car for four hours, the police rescued the woman.” The newsreader made three of these misplaced clause errors in a row in that newscast.

The Space Merchants by Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth

The Space Merchants (The Space Merchants, #1)The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pohl’s 1952 satirical treatment of consumerism and mercantilism seems dated these days, but overall it stands the test of time. At some point in future America, advertising agencies are the highest ranking employment and societal strata. They control Congress and the presidency. The highest legal authority is the Chamber of Commerce. The populace is divided into consumers and copysmiths, i.e. ad men. Mitch, the central character, is an ambitious copysmith who lands the Venus contract. His agency is seeking to commercialize the planet, notwithstanding the fact that it’s essentially uninhabitable at present. That’s a mere niggling detail for the engineers and Production Department to handle. The important thing is to convince people they want to go to Venus and buy Venus goods, etc. But there are evil opposition forces at work – the Consies (conservationists) who spout blasphemy such as opposing pollution and despoliation of the planet – both planets. You get the idea.

Mitch gets kidnapped, tattooed to appear to be a consumer (gasp!), and stuck in a consumer job. He learns what it’s like to be part of the masses and it isn’t pretty. The book is very well written and quite humorous in places, at times intentionally, and in others, accidentally. It’s always amusing to read old sci-fi that is set in the far future only to find that everyone communicates by fax and landlines, smokes cigarettes, and has female secretaries who type memos. Pohl’s dystopia is very imaginative, but I will refrain from spoiling the fun for you with further description.

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Our Ignorant Newsies – Arlon Judge

Yesterday I watched a local (San Francisco) television news program mention how the SF Giants missed out for the second time when they failed to sign star player Carlos Correa. They then showed a tweet from some random person condemning this failure and mentioning that the first failure, a few days earlier, was in not signing “Arlon Judge.” The correct name is Aaron Judge.

In case you don’t follow baseball (I don’t), Judge is probably the best batter in the major leagues now and the best-known. He’s a Yankee outfielder and just set the all-time American League home run record, beating Roger Maris’s old record. He was voted the AL’s most valuable player.

Right after showing the tweet, the anchor (female), weather reporter (female), and co-anchor (male) filled the final thirty seconds making chit chat about missing out on Correa and “Arlon” Judge. They repeated the wrong name at least three times. Now I don’t expect everyone to be a baseball fan, but what disturbs me is that so-called news professionals don’t follow the news themselves. They appear to be mere news readers. I would expect someone in that line of work to make a point of paying attention to the sports guy and to national news as well, if for no other reason, so they can pronounce things correctly.

More than that, it shows that behind the scenes the writers and researchers are sloppy and don’t check the facts. Those who write the news at the very least should follow it and not select erroneous tweets or other dubious claims off the Internet as news.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Erotic Stories for Punjabi WidowsErotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The title is not a mistake, but it is a bit misleading. A group of Punjabi widows in London join a writing class by Nikki, a young, modern, London-born Punjabi woman. What Nikki thought would be a creative writing course turned askew when she learned most of the women could not read or write, or had minimal literacy skills. The class turned into a story-telling class, and, yes, the stories became raunchy as these widows seemed to be hornier than people imagined. For propriety’s sake, the tales mostly involve the ladies’ own husbands. They are more graphic than I would have expected, so if you’re not mentally prepared for bodice-ripping (or salwar kameez ripping) lustful raunch, just skip the italicized portions. They don’t take up much of the book.

That setup is the framework for a story focused on the differences and difficulties between the generations within the Punjabi community, but, more broadly, between traditional cultures and today’s more permissive western society. While not a murder mystery per se, the plot also involves a mysterious death. Nikki falls into danger while she and her sister both find themselves in romantic entanglements. To say more would be a spoiler.

Some readers may find it sort of cute that these old ladies are as lustful as they are, but at times it almost seems as a cheap trick to get some low-grade smut into the book. Another drawback for a white American male reader is that the book contains a great deal of Punjabi terms and cultural references. I know almost nothing about Sikh/Punjabi/London culture. I was looking stuff up on my phone pretty much to the very end. There’s also a lot geographical knowledge of London required to fully appreciate what’s going on, i.e., which areas are ethnic, or hip, or dangerous, etc. I think the book was written primarily with a British/Indian audience in mind. There were virtually no explanations of the various terms or customs used for the rest of us.

You may wonder how I came to choose to read this. Tired of my usual sources, I decided to search online for “books with good non-political stories” or words to that effect. I checked some of the links on the first page and one book blogger had a list of ten described almost exactly that way. As it happened, I’d read two of them and liked them both, so I was encouraged to try this one. I’m not exactly disappointed in it, but neither can I say I really enjoyed it. It passed the time until my next book on hold at the library came in.

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Sunny Balwani sentenced to 13 years

Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, Elizabeth Holmes’s erstwhile boyfriend and president of Theranos, was sentenced last week to 155 months (one month short of 13 years) in prison for his role in the fraud and conspiracy they both perpetrated. People following this case already know that Holmes was sentenced to just over 11 years.

If you’re curious as to why, it’s easy enough to explain. Sunny was convicted of 12 counts while Holmes was only convicted of four counts. The extra counts related primarily to the patients who were given false medical test reports and the doctors who prescribed them in reliance on the false claims of Theranos. Under federal sentencing guidelines, the extra counts can be a factor both in the amount of “loss” and can also trigger an enhancement for taking advantage of vulnerable victims. I don’t know if the judge applied that enhancement for Balwani, but the jury found him guiltier than Holmes’s jury did, so he is paying the consequence. Both Holmes and Balwani plan to appeal their sentences. Both should surrender to prison early next year.

Unmasked by Paul Holes

Unmasked: My Life Solving America's Cold CasesUnmasked: My Life Solving America’s Cold Cases by Paul Holes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this book very interesting, but some readers will need a strong stomach for the gorier crime scene or autopsy descriptions. Those parts can be skipped. The author was a criminologist in the San Francisco Bay Area. The book is a mix of his personal story and case studies. The personal story is relevant in some ways in that we learn how obsessive he is about the cases, how that and his childhood contributed to his many marital troubles and work stress. But I wasn’t very interested in him as a person, and I doubt most readers are, either. The most interesting sections are discussions of some famous cases, including Jaycee Dugard and the Golden State Killer. I gained a much better understanding of, and appreciation for, the expertise required and employed by criminologists and detectives and the roadblocks they face. The roadblocks include bosses who would rather direct resources to open cases than to cold cases or ones past the statute of limitations, and interagency rivalry. Many departments refuse to share evidence or theories because they want to be the ones who solve and get the headlines, or because they don’t want local residents to know that a serial rapist or murderer may be in their midst.

The writing is unremarkable but workmanlike, which is appropriate for a semibiographical book, and it is clear and easy to follow. There’s a little too much time at the beginning spent on the author’s early life, but it soon focuses on some of the cases he worked. I believe most people will be surprised at how easy it is for a detective to become fixated on an innocent person by interpreting the evidence incorrectly. There is quite a lot about DNA in the latter pages and some of that surprised me, especially the differences between forensic analysis and genealogical analysis. One minor irritant with the book is the author’s apparent high opinion of himself. I was tempted to say something like “It’s not about you,” but to be fair, the title warns you that it is about him, i.e. the life of a criminologist who specialized in cold cases, not solely the cases themselves.

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Our Ignorant Newsies – Ordinances

I just heard another idiotic reporter in Ukraine who said the citizens there were in danger from unexploded ordinances. He managed to make two mistakes in one word.

First of all, an ordinance is law enacted by municipal government, like a parking or zoning law. What he actually meant was ordnance.

The second mistake is that ordnance is already plural. It just means ammunition. There is no ordnances form. You wouldn’t say ammunitions. It’s the same thing. This was a regular American, too, not a foreigner whose English was a second language.

Poor man’s chocolate mousse

I love soft, creamy desserts like ice cream and pudding. One of my favorites is chocolate mousse. But making real chocolate mousse is a task for a competent cook, which I’m not, so I found a great substitute anyone can make, and it’s cheap, too.

Empty one chocolate pudding cup into a bowl. I’ve used Jello brand and Hershey’s but any brand will probably do.

Scoop in some vanilla ice cream of about the same volume.

Squirt in a healthy dose of whipped cream from one of those aerated cans.

Mix thoroughly with a spoon and eat. It’s delicious.

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead (Claire DeWitt Mysteries, #1)Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I didn’t finish this book, so don’t weigh my review too heavily. I just couldn’t get into it, although I did make it almost halfway. The main character is a private eye, “the best in the world” in fact, who is on a case of a missing person in New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina. At least that’s how she was billed, but she’s more like a clairvoyant. She can tell the breed mix of a dog from hearing the bark three blocks away. She can always tell whether a person is lying or telling the truth. She can shoot out both front tires of a car chasing her while she’s leaning out the window of her own fast moving car because she learned to shoot with her eyes closed. The bullet wants to hit the target, she informs the reader, and just needs to be persuaded you are on its side. She also smokes blunts soaked in embalming fluid and swears a lot. It has atmosphere but it’s pretty much stupid fantasy so far as I can tell, certainly not a real detective novel.

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Elizabeth Holmes sentenced to 11 years

Judge Davila just sentenced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes to 135 months in prison for her massive ($100 million+) fraud. That’s federal time, so she will serve nearly all of it (unless Trump gets reelected and pardons her). There may have been restitution and a fine but I haven’t heard the details of that yet. She is to report to prison in April. I don’t think she can stay out during her appeal, although the appeals court (9th Circuit) or trial judge could stay the sentence. She has two weeks to file an appeal and I presume it will take  months for the appeal to be heard and decided.

Edit: I’ve now read the DOJ memo on the verdict. She was not fined, but there will be a restitution award. Parties will appear later to argue or agree on an amount. This is totally separate from any civil suits and judgments awarded there. One aspect I forgot to mention is that Davila sentenced under guidelines based solely on the convicted counts, not the acquitted conduct which he could have used. See my prior post about that. That may be a decision by the judge not to raise an additional issue for appeal.

The Maid by Nita Prose

The MaidThe Maid by Nita Prose
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The eponymous main character, Molly the Maid, is weird, or so many of her coworkers say. She talks and behaves like she is possibly autistic or obsessive-compulsive, or both, although that is never explicitly stated. This is a bit unusual in a mystery novel, although not unique. See, for example, A Man Called Ove and The Rosie Project. I have an autistic nephew and had an OCD tenant and I don’t find the portrayal of Molly very credible, but it is a novel, so I went with it. She finds a dead body in a room she enters to clean. She is surrounded by characters both good and evil. The characterizations are heavy-handed, making it easy to tell which is which. If you read comic books you’ll be right at home in that respect. The plot unfolds in a rather predictable way. I don’t understand reviews talking about all the twists and turns. I thought almost everything was telegraphed way in advance. However, there was a surprise in the epilogue that will be a satisfying clarification to some, but with a lame “out of the blue” explanation in my view.

There is one aspect I sort of like about Molly. Instead of the now outworn “unreliable narrator” trope in mysteries and thrillers, Molly is almost a “too reliable narrator.” She cannot tell a lie. But she can keep her trap shut. I’ll leave it at that.

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The Premonition by Michael Lewis

The Premonition: A Pandemic StoryThe Premonition: A Pandemic Story by Michael Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lewis has a way of personalizing large-scale data-driven stories through anecdotes about key individuals. He has done this here, focusing on some public health and science figures you’ve never heard of who were instrumental in driving some of the more successful efforts at fighting the COVID pandemic. But it doesn’t chronicle an overall success. Lewis is frank in recounting America’s overall failure in its response, largely due to governmental bureaucracy and political considerations. In a way, it’s an indictment of democracy itself since no politician wanted to order people to give up their freedoms. Staying power was more important than saving lives. It’s ironic that the most authoritarian regime America has ever had was so afraid to act in authoritarian manner, e.g. ordering lockdowns, testing, vaccinations, and mask wearing, when other developed countries around the world were.

He tries to write a tale of unsung heroes working more or less underground for no recognition or pay, or, worse, at risk of losing their jobs for trying to save lives. The CDC comes off abysmally in this book and the anti-science views of politicians on both sides, although mostly the Trump administration, is shocking. The narrative doesn’t quite come off, however. The heroes may have done their best, but they didn’t really make much difference. It’s obvious that most of the human interest stories about the “heroes” came from them and I suspect they supplied more than a little hyperbole and self-serving editing. There was often a whiff of whining and victim mentality.

Even so, the book is a very engaging and informative read. I felt like I was looking “under the hood” at what really went on during the pandemic and how we as a nation (and an often uncooperative public) can do better in the next one. I recommend the book.

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Fadeout by Joseph Hansen

Fadeout (Dave Brandstetter, #1)Fadeout by Joseph Hansen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This little mystery novel caught me by surprise. I won’t call it a murder mystery, since part of the mystery is that it’s not clear the “victim” is in fact dead. I read a blurb about the main character, insurance investigator Dave Brandstetter, being a rugged character in the style of a James M. Cain leading man. I decided to try the first one in the series in case I liked the character. I didn’t realize the main character was gay. Actually, that word wasn’t used in 1970 when this book was published. He was homosexual or worse in the language of the book and that was more than just a quirk. It was a main theme of the plot, which I suppose was daring back in the homophobic times, but not something I cared about. You’d think from this book that there are more gay men than straights in California. There was way more sex in it than I’d have liked, and gay sex is even more of a turnoff.

Setting that aside, there was much to like and some to dislike in the book. The prose is rich in description. The author is a master at painting the set and populating it with distinctive characters. I liked that the main character behaved as real investigators do, mostly going around interviewing people, not chasing people, getting in fistfights and shootouts. He reminds me of Kinsey Millhone, Sue Grafton’s lead character in that respect. As a retired FBI agent I can tell you that part was realistic. The plot kept me guessing which meant it also kept me reading and kept me entertained until the end. The ending however, was disappointing. It was what I call an Agatha Christie ending, where there are too many characters, all of whom have motive and opportunity and the lead character seems to be the only one who spots tiny clues that are fortuitously scattered throughout the early pages to solve the mystery. I’ll say no more to avoid spoilers.

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