Monthly Archives: July 2019

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

A Gentleman in MoscowA Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Alexander, aka “The Count,” is a nobleman in Moscow at the time of the Russian Revolution. He manages to survive the purge, but is subjected to a sort of house arrest in his residence at the luxurious Metropol Hotel. He is exiled to a small attic room. Undaunted, he lives out a full life within the confines of the hotel, conferring his wisdom and opinions on food, wine, and pretty much everything else to the staff and visitors.

There’s nothing inherently objectionable in the book, but it just didn’t capture my interest. The writer seemed to have an obsession with food and drink, which wines pair with what, and that sort of thing. The Count is goodnatured but rather pretentious and condescending at times. At 719 pages (for the large print edition) it was way too long. Perhaps its biggest shortcoming, though, was the lack of a real plot. Rather, it is more like a book of fairy tales – individual small, very implausible, stories that are unrelated but always have a happy ending.

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Human Errors by Nathan H. Lents

Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, from Pointless Bones to Broken GenesHuman Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, from Pointless Bones to Broken Genes by Nathan H. Lents
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This fascinating book lists and explains many of the human body’s flaws from structural to genetic to psychological. The author is a biologist with a detailed knowledge of how the body works – or doesn’t. For example, he explains why mammals’ retinas are installed backward and why humans are one of the very few animals that don’t make their own vitamin C and thus must eat fresh fruits and vegetables regularly to avoid scurvy. His predictions, or perhaps speculations, as to the future of human evolution are especially riveting and very plausible to me. I found his section on human brains a bit too pop-culturish. The fact the people’s memories are not accurate is old hat as proven many times. Yes, people gamble even knowing they’re going to lose and they smoke cigarettes even though they know that they taste terrible, make them sick, and will eventually give them cancer, but these are not errors of the brain, they are results of risk-taking mate-attracting behavior that has, or at least had, an evolutionary advantage. Aside from that one chapter, I thought the book was chock full of fun, good stuff.

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Death Report by Eric Racker

Death Report (The Sergeant Braun Series, #1)Death Report by Erik Racker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This classic police procedural features major crimes detective sergeant Brad Braun, a big fellow with a beard. The pun on “brawn” is intended by the author; he even sticks in a joke about looking like the Brawny Paper Towels guy. It takes place in and around Pasco County, Florida. The serial killer, Troy, is a recently fired TV news anchor now scraping by as a field reporter at a down-market station. This is revealed right at the beginning, so it’s no spoiler. He likes to strangle young women and then freeze them and saw them up with a hacksaw. He does this in order to be first on the scene with a camera crew and make a name for himself in the newsroom. Hacksaw becomes his nickname in the press since he leaves notes with the bags of body parts.

There are things to like and things not to like about the book. As former law enforcement, I appreciated that Braun was polite and professional at all times, not one of these wacko antihero cops. He even lives near his parents and sees them regularly like a good son. The investigation was also straightforward and credible, exactly as I believe a homicide detective would proceed. That allowed me to get into the story. The flip side of that, though, is that the investigation itself was rather boring. It consisted mostly of responding to crime scenes, interviewing people who didn’t see anything, and reviewing camera footage that didn’t show anything useful. There were no “aha!” moments or great insights from Braun or any other cop. No Sherlock Holmes here.

All the action was driven by Troy, who, unfortunately, is not a credible character. To insert some action the author described the murders and dismemberments in some detail, which I found distasteful. The other downside to this style is that there just wasn’t much of a plot, so the author filled up a lot of pages with irrelevant descriptions. He describes every building Braun enters in detail, telling us how many left and right turns it took to get wherever, what was in the offices or the hallways, the decor of every restaurant, what Braun ate. It was obvious to me as a writer that he was just trying build up enough pages to fit the publishers’ required minimum. Still, I liked that he didn’t do that with sex or romance. There’s a hint of a romance for Braun in the story line but it doesn’t distract as in some other novels in the genre. The bottom line is that this is not a mystery – we know who the killer is from the beginning – it’s just a step by step description of police response until the good guys catch up with the bad guy. The writing was journeyman quality.  There’s enough action to satisfy people who require that but I would have preferred more of a plot. This is the first in a series. I doubt I’ll read more of them.

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What3Words name game

What3Words is a company that provides a unique service. It has named every spot (3 meters square) on the globe using a set of three words. I invented a name game using this site and a while back posted a few fun examples Here.  It’s time to play again. Tip: it’s usually more fun to view the W3W links in satellite view; click on the icon in the upper left.

The 2020 presidential race is already underway. I learned that the Louisiana is taking place in a swamp near Lake Salvador. I guess that’s better than in the Andes of Argentina. If you’re surprised to learn that extreme.liberal.politics are to be found in rural Utah, then prepare to be amazed that there are extremely.liberal.politics in the mountains near Cody, Wyoming.

Enough politics. Let’s take it easy. I went to Waikiki where I found on the beach in this very diverse city families.races.relaxing. What surprised me was that here were galleries.strictly.managed, while at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York were plenty.limp.punks with modest.sailor.shorts. I would have thought it would be the other way around.

Switching to food, the finest.fried.chicken is to be found in Datong, China, but closer to home many.tasty.foods are located in Navesink, New Jersey. Gourmets will go around the world for fine meals.

Use the link at the beginning of the post to make your own.

FBI Myths and Misconceptions by Jerri Williams

FBI Myths and MisconceptionsFBI Myths and Misconceptions by Jerri Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The author characterizes this book as a reference book, “A Manual for Armchair Detectives,” and it is that, but it is much more. It’s also a fun, entertaining read. Williams is both a retired FBI Special Agent and a crime novelist. She understands the need to tell a good story or make a good movie and the resulting necessity of condensing, conflating, and exaggerating. She also shares a certain dismay with me and other FBI retirees over the gross inaccuracies that crop up in the entertainment world about the FBI. One of the reasons I wrote my crime novels was to correct some of those misconceptions, but I admit to falling prey to some of the same cliches and shortcuts that a good narrative requires.

What Williams has done that makes this book work so well is to include specific examples from the movies and television to illustrate her points. Then she shares the real life story as told by guests on her podcast, and lastly she provides a cracking good review of the show. She not only writes great reviews, and includes whether she enjoyed the movie, but then she applies her own rating scale as to how accurate it is. She throws her shoes at the worst offenders, so we hear a lot about her footwear. I got a kick out of that, no pun intended.

The bottom line is that she educates as what is false and what is true, but also refrains from criticizing or ranting. She’s not trying to spoil our fun. I do hope this book helps to prevent a few people from falling prey to the CSI effect.

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