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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Many of you may know Oliver Sacks‘s classic work about the man who mistook his wife for a hat. This non-fiction book is along the same lines. It’s well-written and focuses a bit more on the science of the senses and less on the fascinating but oddball cases. Even so, there are many such cases, some of which turn out with a happy ending and some that don’t. If you have a queasy stomach over medical stuff, this is a bit challenging in spots, but very little of it is gory or technical, and those are mainly when talking about the author’s medical school training. The cases primarily involve people’s stories, how they describe to the doctor their symptoms and how they have coped (or not) with them and how they were treated by doctors.