Book Review #9

 

inferno

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This will be a review of Dan Brown’s most recent book, Inferno – but first, a word from our author – as usual.

I am always leery of “Best Sellers.”  That just means that marketing has appealed to the lowest common denominator, including people who write things that I rant about and make fun of in my usage blogs.  Take out the prurient porn, and Fifty Shades of Grey is really just a shit piece of prose.

So, when The DaVinci Code burst on the scene, I waited till I got a few actual readers and professional reviewers who said it was worth the read, before I dived in.  Lots of action and suspense, it all took place in one, 24-hour period (cute gimmick, that).  I caught many of the background references, but felt there must be more.

A book-reading co-worker lent me his copy of The DaVinci Code Decoded, an explanatory companion volume.  Sure enough, page by page, hundreds of little details turned a rock concert poster into the Bayeux Tapestry.  For example, if you spoke Italian, you would know that Bishop Aringarosa’s last name translated into “red herring.”

I went back, and read his Digital Fortress, and Deception Point.  Not as frenetic as The Code, these were still good solid books.  Later, Angels and Demons had that “many things happening” feeling, while The Lost Symbol was less so, but very enjoyable.

The Book – Inferno

The Author – Dan Brown

The Review

This is another Carnival ride novel, beginning with that reliable old cliché, amnesia.  It all occurs in a couple of days, until returning memory flashes and characters’ comments show the hero (and us) how we got here over the previous three days.

As with The DaVinci Code, I felt that I could use a lot of explanation.  The bad guy is six foot–five, with vivid green eyes.  I thought Brown might be referring to Osama bin Laden, but he was long dead before this book was written, and he personally did not possess bio-engineering abilities.

The plot turns on overpopulation, and how society must collapse if we don’t control it.  It took until 1820, for the world population to reach one billion. In a hundred years, by 1920, the numbers had doubled, to two billion.  In only fifty years, by 1970, the numbers doubled again.  Not merely “added another billion”, but doubled, to four billion, and it appears that, after only another fifty years, 2020, we’ll be hip deep in eight billion of our “loving neighbors.”

Being restrained and “civilized” is all very nice but, if we don’t have a good war or two soon, we’re going to have a bad plague.  As I finished this book, the news spoke of 20,000 dead to Ebola.  You may not get to read this review.

Although Professor Langdon doesn’t remember it, he traveled without a passport from Boston to Florence, Italy.  He goes by train to Venice, and is flown to Istanbul for the grand finale.  The world-travelling author provides great descriptions of many beautiful buildings and locations.

Brown always keeps our mind spun around.  The hero’s amnesia – isn’t.  The “good guys” aren’t always good.  The “bad guys” aren’t really bad.  The perils are only imagined, and the quiet, safe periods often have an avalanche bearing down on them.

one shot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Concurrent with this book, I was simultaneously reading Lee Child’s, One Shot, and remarked upon the difference of construction.  While far from plodding, Child’s books move in one direction till that plot point is achieved.  Chapters end on one page, and a new one begins on the next page.  They can be 30, 40, 50 pages long, taxing my attention span.

Dan Brown flits and flutters from thought to thought to thought – the hero, the villains, the damsel, the cavalry, the Blue Mosque, and then back around again, perfect for my Adult ADD.  Chapters end where they end – and the next one begins two lines below.  They are often only a few pages in length.  One chapter began on line 40 of the left-hand page, and ended on line 20 of the right-hand page, an entire chapter, less than a complete page long.

The plot-line centers around Dante’s Inferno trilogy poem, and a couple of well-known paintings which illustrate it.  The action and suspense are well built.  While nothing in the book is really what it seems, it still feels believable.  As many good books do, it describes a social problem, and causes the reader to think about both large-scale, and personal solutions to it.

If you haven’t read it already – and this literary Smoothie hasn’t ruined it for you – I suggest you give this book a try.

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I Got The Word

Small things amuse small minds; therefore, back when I was doing two crossword puzzles a day, I was intrigued by the number of times that a word would show up in both puzzles on the same day.  Different clues, of course, “He’ll give you a lift.” and, “Elevator guy,” would both yield “Otis.”

When I began also doing an online puzzle, it actually tripled the chances that any two would share a word.  I’ve never had a golden day where all three agreed; when the third clue might have been, “He’ll cause you ups and downs.”  I did have one interesting 3 X 2, silver-medal day, where A and B shared a word, B and C shared a word, and C and A shared a word.

So it was fascinating the other day, in my reading, to encounter, within an hour, in two different books, two different place-names both beginning with “Rh,” Rhyolite, Nevada, and Rhododendron, Oregon.  Rhyolite came from a 2007, Clive Cussler book, and refers to a now-ghost mining town.  “Rhyolite” is a volcanic form of granite, from which they mined gold.

The other was from the 2000, fourth book of Lee Child’s, Jack Reacher series.  Either they’re getting better, or they’re growing on me, and I’m learning to ignore the errors.  “Rhododendron”, of course, is a showy pink/purple flower, and the town of the same name in Oregon is in a region known for flower cultivation.  It’s not far from Puyallup, Washington, where growers used to supply daffodils for Johnny Carson’s Tonight show.

A grade three teacher read her charges a story which contained the word frugal.  I like to use the word frugal to describe myself.  It has a softer, more elegant ring than cheap-ass, tight, or stingy.  When asked, she explained that it meant saving (which it doesn’t) and, to get some alone-teacher time, she suggested that the class all write a little story including the word.

Little Johnny wrote an heroic tale of a brave knight, who frugalled the fair maiden, imprisoned in the castle tower.  He may have a future in porn.

I once asked Dictionary.com’s crossword solver about Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki raft’s construction, and got the following back:

Try these answers for ‘Kon-Tiki material’

ConfidenceMatching Answer

95% BALSA

43% INCAS

19% SUEDE

19% NYLON

19% ADOBE

19% DENIM

19% CORAL

19% SERGE

19% SATIN

19% SLATE

I don’t know how many dead Incas it would take to float across the Pacific.  A raft made out of serge, or denim would be utilitarian.  One made of nylon might be waterproof.  One constructed of satin would be gorgeous, just gorgeous – if you were floating your way to a gay wedding.  Suede would be for the sensible shoes, if it were a lesbian wedding.

I’m not too sure I’d like an ocean-going raft constructed of slate, coral or adobe.  A guy in my hometown constructed a 30 foot sailboat out of concrete, but I’d be afraid of getting an unguided tour of Jim Wheeler’s submarine with the screen doors.

I just got the word about the next knife show in Detroit.  Some conversation I overheard last spring made me check the website.  Apparently there is some conflict with another knife show, and a large show needing the entire hall in March.

After recently publishing the tale of our first trip down, in a blizzard, I find that the spring(?) show has been moved back to Feb. 1 – 2.  Get a little work done on the car, and we should be all set.  Since we need to travel to Detroit on the Friday evening, the son wouldn’t have the car to get to work.  He could bus in and back, but decided to request the night off.

The wife is suffering some internal problems which make her not want to be too far from a washroom, and doesn’t get to see the specialist till June, so she has decided to stay home, and the son and I are going together.  I have already booked a room at a Red Roof motel north of the tunnel, instead of the one south of the bridge, that we’ve been using for years.  Two days after I confirmed the reservation, I got the email word from Red Roof, that, if I’d waited till Jan. 15 to book, they’re having a 30% off sale.  Some times it just doesn’t pay to be prepared.   😦

It’s near a different Trade Center/flea market we’ve never been to, and is closer to the show venue.  I’m already researching where the nearest Meijer store, WalMart, and Outback restaurant is.  I’ve got addresses written down, and this time, Miss Smarty-Pants GPS just might earn her keep.

There’ll be another episode of The Continuing Adventures of Archon (With his trusty sidekick, Shimoniac) when we get back.

Book Review #3

This will be a review of Lee Child’s third Jack Reacher novel.  I will do reviews of books other than the Reacher set, I promise.  It’s just that I’ve reached the point in life where I have no need or desire to better my brain, or learn anything.  I read just for fun, and to pass the time.  Many years ago, I kidded the wife about the “Nurse Jane” romance novels she read.  As the son grew up, in his desperation to read anything, he got hooked on several of these series.  Now I denigrate them at my peril.

Both the romantic novels, and my men’s adventure books are one short step up from comic books, and are hardly serious enough prose to base a review on.  They’re not a complete waste of time though.  A surprising number of crossword and Jeopardy answers can be found in their gossamer plots.

The Author – Lee Child

The Book – Tripwire

The Review

Before he died of cancer, the old General who trained Reacher as an MP, started an investigation.  People are dying because a scam-artist from the Viet Nam war still doesn’t want to be found after 30 years, and the General’s daughter is in danger.

I don’t go looking for mistakes, but I’m observant enough that I often find them, especially in print.  Reacher starts the book with two jobs in Key West.  To protect the girl, he needs to get to New York soonest, so he has a stripper drive him in her Porsche to the Miami airport, in the middle of the night.  The book says, the only time she slowed to under 100 MPH, was when she went across the causeway to the mainland.

I drove out to Key West and back once.  It’s a hundred miles of on and off tiny islands, and through small towns, on a narrow, two-lane road, smaller than some English country lanes.  Average speed was about 40 MPH.  To try it at a hundred, almost guarantees that someone dies, and what for?  Why not fly out of the Key West airport?  There are 58 flights to NYC a day, 47 of them direct flights, starting at 7:55 AM.

It gave Reacher a chance to do some role-playing disguise.  If you strut up to the desk at Miami, and buy a one-way ticket with cash, you will be stopped and questioned by police about drug-smuggling.  Reacher looked poor, and non-threatening.

I began to wonder if Lee Child was being paid off for product placement by General Motors.  The heroine drove an Oldsmobile Bravada SUV.  The two contract killers drove either a Chevy Yukon, or a GMC Tahoe.  Child knows that they are the same vehicle, except for badging, but, being a Brit, he called them all Jeeps.

British word-usage was endemic through the book.  The heroine wore trousers instead of slacks or pants.  The missing man studied accountancy, not accounting, and had a passing-out ceremony instead of a graduation.  That sounds like a university party, or an old Victor Borge skit.  Everyone carried mobiles instead of cell phones.  I felt almost at home as Child described a road in New York City which changed names four times as it traveled from one borough, into the next.

In this book, Child seems to have a real fixation on the Hudson River.  He has the General’s home directly across it from West Point, and an old couple’s house 30 miles further up-river.  Three times in one chapter, he has someone approach it and note, “A mile-wide hush in the forest ahead.”  Come on, this isn’t the Mighty Mississippi.  It’s the Hudson, a hundred miles from the mouth; you can almost skip a stone across.

Child often provides a plethora of descriptive detail, usually right where you don’t need it.  When Reacher visited the old couple, Child listed all kinds of flowers, shrubs and trees.  He described a once-wide walkway, now reduced to a narrow trail through the overgrowing bushes.  I looked out my back window at plants the wife and I spent ten years planting, and getting to grow, but now don’t have the time or strength to uproot, or trim back.

This is just an eBook problem.  I was reading, and Reacher passed a homeless bum, but I saw it as burn.  I chalked it up to old eyes, until I saw the word again in the next chapter.  There it was again, burn, not bum.  Kobo has a feature where you can just tap a word on the screen, and it will give you a dictionary meaning.  Sure enough, it defined “BURN.”

Drug dealers in NYC use any gun they can get their hands on, usually obtained through break-ins and theft.  Reacher took down a lookout, a guard and a dealer, to get a handgun, all while he waited for a pizza.  The lookout had a Chinese .22 caliber semi-automatic pistol – odd, but possible in the Big Apple.  The guard had a .38 caliber revolver, which Child had Reacher throw away, because he had been told that they had no stopping power.

Child armed the drug dealer with a 9 MM Steyr GB, rare and expensive even in Europe, their home, but even more rare and expensive in New York.  I guess burglars can’t be choosers.  Later, the evil genius pulled out his handgun and pointed it at our damsel-in-distress.  Child has her describe it as “flat black, but shiny, bedewed with droplets of oil.”  “Flat black” means it has a non-rust coating, and doesn’t need to be oiled on the outside.  That much oil would foul clothing and/or the holster, causing the gun to fall out, and might make it nigh-impossible to hold.

He later reached into his pocket and removed a 1 inch diameter roll of duct tape, with perhaps five yards left on it.  Sounds like more British goods.  Every roll I’ve seen in North America has a 3 inch core.  This book was written in 1997, and Child has Reacher go to an Army Forensic Anthropologist, to absolutely identify the bones of returned Viet Nam MIAs.  This was just as Kathy Reichs was getting started as a writer.  I wonder, which came first, the Chicken-Colonel, or the Bones?

In the end, Reacher jumps in front of one of those puny .38s, and takes a hit, to save the damsel.  He wakes up in the hospital to be told that the powerful pectoral muscles over his sternum stopped the bullet.  There are no muscles over the sternum, and, if there were, they wouldn’t stop a .38 at eight feet.

While these books are as much fun as the drivel I won’t show you, I have trouble with the suspension of disbelief, and had hoped for a little more precision, and fewer plot holes.