Monthly Archives: April 2016

Deadly Straits by R.E. McDermott

Deadly Straits (Tom Dugan, #1)Deadly Straits by R.E. McDermott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Tom Dugan, the main character, is an expert on marine shipping and nautical matters in general. He takes a job with his friend Alex, a shipping magnate. Soon we learn that Alex is being extorted by a cabal of evildoers including Iranians, Chechens, and most formidably, a despicable German named Braun who has wormed his way into the company and has a violent thug ready to do imminent harm to Alex’s daughter. The rest of the plot is too complex to explain and I don’t want to provide any spoilers, but it involves a worldwide conspiracy that would affect global commerce disastrously.

Some aspects are terrific. The action scenes, and there are many, are pulse-pounding thrill rides and imaginative scenarios that could only come from an author who knows maritime matters inside and out. In this one sense the author lays legitimate claim to the title of successor to Tom Clancy. The book can also give the reader an education on geography and the importance to us all of the flow of oil and other goods through a few very critical straits. I listened to the Audible edition. The reader was outstanding, mastering perhaps a half dozen accents and doing a fine job of acting as well.

There were a few drawbacks, too, that one should be aware of. The number of characters and locales is huge and it is easy to lose track of who’s who. I wish I had started a spreadsheet at the beginning, but I was too lazy to start over and start writing it all down. I had trouble following the plot and remembering who was a good guy and who was a bad guy, especially since one of the CIA guys acts like a bad guy. Most disturbing to me, at least at first, was the amateurishly demonic way the bad guys were characterized. Every single one was a pedophile lusting after underage blond virgins, and of course several characters conveniently had underage daughters to serve as threat targets. All the bad guys kept shooting their own men in the head, too, once their usefulness was over. It must be hard to keep the cabal together with that kind of career advancement plan. It got to be so ludicrous that I literally began trying to predict when the next bad guy was going to get it in the head by his superior or fellow co-conspirator. The constant references to unspeakable acts on the young girls got to be a bit much, too, so if sadistic perversion upsets you, you may want to read actual Tom Clancy instead.

So for the real action fan, this book can be a great read. Don’t worry about the plot so much. Just enjoy the thrill ride in those scenes. For those seeking plausible characters and plot, there are better choices out there.

This audiobook was provided by the author, narrator, or publisher at no cost in exchange for an unbiased review courtesy of Audiobookboom.

View all my reviews

The Black Echo by Michael Connelly

The Black Echo (Harry Bosch, #1)The Black Echo by Michael Connelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I should have started the series with this book. I love all the ones I’ve read, but this provides a lot of background I didn’t know before. This is the first I knew Harry was “wiry.” I always thought he was a big, tough guy. Tough, yes, but not big. Harry is a homicide detective with LAPD assigned to Hollywood, which is supposedly a bad division, but he thrives there. He has a checkered past – an orphan after his prostitute mother died, some ugly times as a tunnel rat in Vietnam, and a record of insubordination and rule-bending with the department. He’s the ultimate iconoclast always in your face. I wouldn’t like him if I were to meet him in real life. He smokes in non-smoking areas, for one thing. But he’s the kind of cop we all secretly hope is out there “protecting and serving.”

Here he is being hounded by Internal Affairs for reasons we don’t know at first but generally can be summed up as not being a team player. A young man with a history as an addict turns up dead in a drainage pipe. Everyone wants to dismiss it as an OD, but Harry recognizes him as a fellow tunnel rat from Nam and won’t let it go that easily. Soon he finds out that the death is a homicide and somehow ties into an FBI investigation of a bank burglary. He begins working with FBI agent Eleanor Wish and a romance of sorts takes root, although to be clear, Bosch is anything but romantic. Even that relationship is dark and troubled. Harry is a cop’s cop, one who metes out justice, incorruptible while breaking rules at the same time.

What I like best about the Bosch series is the accuracy and detail of how a cop investigates, how a detective thinks, all the little things he notices or knows to avoid. Connelly either has very good police sources or an uncanny imagination bordering on clairvoyance.

Hill is the perfect reader. I always try to get the audiobook form if I can for the Bosch series because he reads them all, or at least all of those I’ve listened to. Amazon video has also made an excellent series called Bosch based on another one of the books in the series.

View all my reviews

Ballin’ the Jack – fingerstyle guitar

I always liked this peppy tune from the ragtime era. Watch the video (below) of Judy Garland and Gene Kelly doing the song and dance number if you want to see and hear some classy talent. There are a bunch of videos of bands or others playing it, but they almost all start with the main theme, not the intro. I have a record of John James playing it on guitar but I never found any tablature so I decided to arrange it from the piano music. It has a weird chord progression. The intro is written in G and the main theme in B-flat. I had to transpose those to C and E-flat respectively. E-flat sounds like a bad key for guitar but most of the chords are C, F, G7, and B-flat. The intro is written with a repeat, but I skip the 2nd time through and go right into the main theme because the intro really isn’t very catchy.



Now for the real pros:



Bomb squad buried in mud

At least, that what the newscaster said today on channel 5. “After being buried in mud for decades, the Alameda County bomb squad declared the dynamite was no longer dangerous.”

I am reminded of the many examples of syntactic ambiguity taught in my sophomore English class by Mr. Bayse. How hard is it to understand that the modifying dependent clause goes immediately before the thing it modifies? “The Alameda County bomb squad declared that after being buried in mud for decades, the dynamite was no longer dangerous.” Come on, newswriters, you can do better than an 8th grade C student.

Sorry, German-Americans, you aren’t the most populous group

Not long ago the national news organizations reported that more Americans were descended from German ancestors than from any other group. These reports were no doubt based on the following data released by the U.S, Census Bureau. Observe these charts:

Bar graph

At first glance it seems pretty clear. Light blue is German. Glance again. There are many problems with the notion that Germans are the most common ethnic group based on this data. Of course, the data is 17 years old and the influx of Hispanics and Asians may have changed it by now, but I am more concerned with how to interpret this data. Of course, most Americans probably have mixed ancestry. I would venture to guess that most Americans with German surnames also have ancestors with English names and lineage. The reverse is also true. My surname is English but I have German ancestors. So the first question is how many Americans have some English ancestry and how many have some German ancestry. The above charts don’t show this. Since the original colonies were predominantly inhabited by English immigrants, with most Germans coming later, I would guess that more Germans ended up intermarrying with English descendants than the other way around. Still, this is speculation on my part. For purposes of analysis, let’s assume the simplest case, which is also the one most in favor of the Germans as the leading group. I’ll assume that those identified as German are of 100% German ancestry and the English are 100% English, etc.

The map is based on land area, not population. So look at the bar graph. Still mostly German, you say, right? Not so fast. Look at that group called American. Whoa. Who are they? They’re not Native Americans, i.e. American Indians, because that group is identified separately. It becomes necessary to determine the methodology used to identify the ancestry. I researched this and determined that the Census questionnaire simply asks what is your ancestry and provides a short blank line. The respondent must answer with one or two words of their choosing. It’s not multiple choice and there is no one verifying the answer. A 100% ethnic Han Chinese with a Chinese name could answer English and no one at the Census Bureau would change it. They could put Martian. It’s purely self-identification. So that raises the question of who answers “American”? Look at the geographic distribution. Without going into extensive argument and analysis, I believe it is quite clear that the people most likely to answer that way are those with the longest ancestral ties to the original colonists. Most of those people were of English ancestry or possibly from Scotland or Ireland, especially in the Appalachian region where the highest concentration of “American” responders reside. If you combine those who said English with those who said American the total is higher than Germans.

Then there is the issue of African-Americans. Set aside for the moment the fact that Africa is a continent, not a country, and African-Americans are descended from many different tribes, ethnic groups, and regions of Africa. It’s no secret that most have some ancestry from slaveholders of old (or other whites – see my edits below). Note that the areas that show African-Americans as the predominant ancestry are surrounded by “Americans.” Think about how many African-Americans you know with German surnames and how many with English ones – Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Jackson, Johnson,… need I go on? Few German immigrants settled in the south, especially during the days of slavery. It is also part of our ugly history that any person with any noticeable African ancestry has been considered black or African-American. Slaves were even marketed with terms like quadroon or octoroon. Someone who was seven-eighths white European was still considered black and treated as such. It is fair to say that even today, many people of mixed race who actually have a majority of European ancestry, and this chart shows that to mean primarily English, consider themselves of African ancestry because American society has treated them that way. President Obama considers himself an African-American even though his mother was 100% white.

While none of this is absolute proof, I contend that this data actually provides overwhelming evidence that in fact for Americans it is the English who have the greatest representation among our ancestors. It also raises some very interesting and sometimes disturbing questions about what “ancestry” really means. Is it cultural? Genetic? Are Germans and Dutch different while African-Americans from west and east Africa are the same ethnicity? Is it our surname, our favorite food, our language? Does any of it matter? I’m having a 23andMe analysis done. It will be fun to see what it says about the genes, but I know one thing about my ancestry that it won’t show: I’m American. I have ancestors from England, Wales, Germany, Holland, and some with French- or Irish-sounding names. There’s even a rumor of a Cherokee ancestor who Anglicized his name. My son had his analysis done and he had a small but non-trivial amount of native American genes. My wife has good reason to think there is some native Mexican in her heritage along with the allegedly “pure” Castilian Spanish ancestor. It will be fun to see which of us contributed those genes.

Edit: May 17, 2017.

This post has proven to be one of the most popular ones on my blog, so I thought I would update it now that I have my genetic ancestry mapped with a DNA analysis. I have also seen the analyses done for my son, my wife, a great nephew and several other people 23andMe identifies as my DNA relatives. Without going into detail about how I evaluated it, I believe the ancestry part is quite accurate and consistent with known family history (although the trait part is not so accurate). My ancestry was almost entirely what I expected, with 99.1% European (i.e. white). The breakdown is very close to what my genealogy shows, with over half “British” some Scandinavian, French and German, and a big chunk of “broadly northwestern European” which no doubt includes the large Dutch component I have. The rumor about my Cherokee ancestor is false. My DNA shows 0% Native American. The one thing I did NOT expect is that I am 0.7% West African. That’s 7/10 of 1%, not 7%. At first I thought that was consistent with most white folks since we all came from Africa originally, but after examining the African part of the DNA reports of other white people I’m related to, I have much more than any of them. I even have a “3rd to 5th cousin” who shares DNA with me and is 86% West African. So it is probable one of my ancestors six or seven generations back, around the Revolutionary War or before, was African. For what it may signify, I am about as white as they come – blond (turned brown then gray), blue-eyed, pale as a ghost, and all that. For all that I am still —–American.

Edit November 28, 2017.

Since learning about the small West African genetic content I have, I have been able to discover its origin. I am a direct descendant of Alexander Fuller, who ran a tab at the local general store in North Carolina in 1763-1765. He is identified in that tab as a “molatto carpenter” (sic). I am also DNA relatives with several Fuller males (white) who have an African male haplotype. Without bothering to explain the genetics, the bottom line is that my original 100% African ancestor was male, not female, although it’s possible I also had a female African ancestor. More importantly, though, my research has revealed that Africans back in colonial America intermingled and intermarried with whites rather freely and without much prejudice or discrimination. Many, perhaps most, were indentured servants, not slaves, working for a period of years after which time they were given freedom and land. Some even owned slaves themselves. They often lived and worked alongside Irish and English indentured servants. Fuller owned land and practiced a trade, then sold the land and moved to Missouri. His grandchildren were all listed as white in subsequent censuses. A good book to read about this phenomenon is The Fiddler on Pantico Run by Joe Mozingo. Read that and you will understand that as a white person with an ancestry traceable back to colonial America, you, like Joe Mozingo and me, may very well have an African ancestor you didn’t know about. Or a German one, or English. In other words, as I said before, we’re all just Americans.

Speaking of books, I write mysteries based on my FBI career. See the link at the top of the page. I don’t allow ads on my blog, so you can show your appreciation for this post by checking out my books.

KidNAP, Inc. by J.T. Lewis

kidNAP Inc. (A Nick Behr Mystery Book 1)kidNAP Inc. by J.T. Lewis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nick is a crazy detective, suffering from a brain injury incurred on the job. He returns from a stint of recovery in the desert to his Indiana sheriff’s department accompanied by two hallucinatory friends: Trucker, a good ol’ boy who wants to kick ass, and Alix, a horny purple-haired punk rocker girl who has other things in mind for people’s asses. I can’t really say I liked this book, but it had its moments. I only wish it didn’t have so many really irritating aspects, too.

Let’s start with the sex and cursing. Okay, this is a mystery and we expect some of that, but the sheer quantity of both sticks in the craw after a while. The sex was voluminous and gratuitous but at least it wasn’t crude like I’ve seen in all too many mysteries. The same could be said for the swearing. There was too much of it, but it wasn’t particularly offensive. Then there’s the constant giggling. Why is everyone giggling all the time? As for plausibility, well, you really think a hallucinating detective would be put back on the force? And his ex-wife jumps his bones every time she sees him. Really? A really smoking hot, horny ex-wife who can’t get laid for six months while Nick is in the desert? Where’d she hang out – a nunnery? And how many ex-wives do you know who are constantly begging for more sex from their ex? I don’t have any ex-wives, but I know some and their attitudes toward the ex-husbands are less than affectionate, shall we say.

The plot is actually pretty decent, what little time is spent on it. Some would-be models get kidnapped and some of them turn up dead. I won’t spoil the rest. The crimes, although not plausible, are at least original. The author evens sticks mostly to reasonable police procedure despite the sheriff being a farcical stereotype. As a retired FBI agent that’s often a bugaboo for me when authors don’t.

When he’s not filling the page with cursing or sex the author writes quite well, with wit and good flow, even good grammar. I was disappointed when about halfway through it became obvious he’d gotten tired of proofreading and errors began to creep in, especially wrong-word errors: “on his heals” [heels]; “wanted her for desert” [dessert]; “the grow of the truck engine” [growl]; “quite your whining” [quit]; “candidness” [candor]. I won’t list the grammar errors that started showing up. Sure, some of these are typos, but they still should have been caught. Even so, overall there are fewer such errors than in the typical self-published novel. Most readers don’t mind these anyway, I’ve found.

Near the end the FBI gets pretty harsh treatment and some of my regular readers may think my criticism is motivated by that, but I had already decided on my star ratings (2 on Goodreads, 3 on Amazon and my blog) and pretty much written the review in my head before I came to that. Most police-centered mysteries do the same and I’m used to it. I’ve even done it myself in my own books.

View all my reviews