Popular Pulp

Dirt (Stone Barrington, #2)Dirt by Stuart Woods

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Someone is faxing scandalous gossip to the offices of tabloid publishers and columnists. The targets of the scandal sheet hire former cop, former lawyer turned private detective, Stone Barrington, to find the culprit. Stone follows all the leads between sheets, gets hit in the head a couple times, and remains unconcerned when his client murders her secretary who leaked the dirt on her. Hit men hired by the aggrieved publisher beat Stone to the guilty parties by minutes, but he arrives in time to shoot the mafia thugs and rescue the girl who was almost raped.

This period piece of crap is part of a series that I’ve been told is wildly popular. It even claims to be a New York Times bestseller. That says much, none of it good, for the reading public. Dirt is amateurishly written and contains factual errors. The hero is barely likable, and the supporting characters vacuous. It is set in New York City in the nineties when cell phones only made phone calls, databases were on CD’s, and we still used fax machines. That part was a little nostalgic.

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Something Very Different

wyllene book cover

Some babies are delivered by the stork, some are found under a cabbage leaf, but my cousin, Wyllene was rooted up by a pig. Mrs. Bones, the midwife, told Wyllene that she was walking across a field when she noticed a pig rooting in the ditch. On closer examination, she noticed that the pig had rooted up a baby girl. Mrs. Bones didn’t know what to do with the child, so she took her to Mrs. Skipper and asked her to take care of the baby.

Rooted Up by a Pig and Then…is a delightful memoir written by my first cousin once removed, Carolyn Wyllene Skipper who lives in the hills of North Carolina where she has been a preacher for most of her life. Born in rural South Carolina, she is the youngest of seven siblings who were abandoned by their father when she was three. Her story of how their mother kept the family fed and clothed in a home without running water or electricity, with no income, and no social services is remarkable. Wyllene tells in a conversational voice how they got by and supported one another with the help of extended family, neighbors, and faith. In addition to being a history, this book is a genealogy of the Skipper and Walters families of Georgetown County, South Carolina. By definition, a memoir is the story of a person’s life, and Wyllene has had a very full one.

Wyllene sent me a copy of her book as a gift. I do not know where it might be available, but if anyone cares to buy a copy, contact me, and I will forward your request. Email me at Scott at ca dot rr dot com.

Original Planet of the Apes

Ape and EssenceApe and Essence by Aldous Huxley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A manuscript flies from a dangerously driven dump truck on its way to the incinerator. The script lands at the feet of two low-level Hollywood movie producers. They find it so remarkable they drive into the Mohave Desert to find the author. He had just died a short time before they arrived.

The rest of the book is the actual screenplay written in the form of a screenplay. It takes place over a hundred years after society has destroyed itself with nuclear and biological war. A group of scientists from New Zealand, which was spared owing to its remoteness, arrive off the coast of Southern California to investigate what might remain of the United States. A somewhat backward and introverted botanist, Alfred Poole, is captured by the few surviving locals who have regressed to a semi-barbaric state. Due to the frequency of birth defects caused by the gamma radiation, reproduction, that is, copulation is strictly prohibited except during an annual Bacchanalian festival during which the newborns with a certain level of deformity are culled.

Ape and Essence is the sequel to Brave New World. The two dystopian commentaries were separated by the Second World War, and more particularly, the atomic bomb. Huxley’s dark view of society has a surprisingly modern tone despite having been written in 1948. The screenplay format is different and gives the reader a very visual perspective of the story. I originally read Ape and Essence more than fifty years ago. At that time, I was a resident of Ohio who knew little of California, so a damning passage was lost on me. I didn’t miss it this time.

“He says those people up north are very friendly to runaways from Southern California. Won’t give them back even when the government officially asks for them.”

Even after the destruction of civilization and the passage of more than a century, California remained a sanctuary state.

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High Tech Hannibal Lecter

Digital Velocity (McAllister Justice Series #1)Digital Velocity by Reily Garrett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ethan McAllister was shot in the leg when he and his partner responded to a tip and walked into a murder in progress. But it wasn’t a garden-variety murder. It was a psychotic torture session to be videoed and shown on the dark web. Lexi, a young orphan saved from the street by prostitutes and mentored by the aforementioned murder victim, was a digital wizard who was tracking the killers’ posts online. Her tips to Ethan had been anonymous until he was shot, then she made a clandestine visit to him in the hospital. From that visit was born a rather tentative romance and a mutual effort to catch the diabolical killer.

Digital Velocity exists in two worlds. It is a detective thriller and a steamy romance. The characters are nicely developed, and they are numerous. Ethan has many siblings who protect him and harass him in equal quantities. Reily Garrett’s prose is generously descriptive, which may appeal more to her romance audience than the thriller aficcionados who might find the pace slows in places. The story relies heavily on technology, but it does not burden the reader with jargon or arcane details. There is also a canine component to the story that adds humanity to the characters. The antagonist is deliciously evil—think high tech Hannibal Lecter.

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A Big What If

All the Way with JFK: An Alternate History of 1964All the Way with JFK: An Alternate History of 1964 by F.C. Schaefer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What if a tip to the Secret Service made Oswald’s bullet miss by inches? How would Kennedy have dealt with Castro in the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs? Would Johnson have ever been president? Could we have been spared the ‘Great Society’? These musings are adroitly explored in this intelligent and well-researched alternative history that covers the period from 1963 to 1999. What would the world look like today?

All the Way with JFK is written in first person from the viewpoints of several fictional players. A Marine colonel advises Kennedy on how to deal with Castro. A Texas oilman promotes Barry Goldwater for president. A lobbyist tries to push the Civil Rights Act through Congress. A young Republican woman works on the Goldwater campaign. Each tells a piece of the story in his or her own voice. This is an interesting approach that Mr. Schaefer has made to work very well even though this reader thought the book would have been improved with a few less voices. I found that it took a few paragraphs to remember who was telling the story when a new chapter began. However, it’s the plausibility of the ‘what if’ is what makes this a great read.

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Not Genesis Redux

Noah's WifeNoah’s Wife by T.K. Thorne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Na’amah is different from the others in the village. Her hearing is uniquely acute as is her memory, but she lacks womanly skills such as weaving and spinning. Noah is a bit of an odd duck who lives outside the village where it’s convenient to steal logs from the beavers with which to build boats. He sees Na’amah in the market and smitten by her beauty, so he asks her father for her hand and receives it with the understanding that he will wait three years to take his bride who was young even for those days. Na’amah’s older brother, Tubal, is an abusive bastard who resents the fact that their mother died giving birth to Na’amah.

The one thing Na’amah loves to do is tend the sheep. She often shares the task with her childhood friend, Yanner, who develops a strong desire for her and conspires with Tubal to prevent her from marrying Noah. The plan is if she isn’t a virgin, Noah will reject her, so on the eve of the wedding, Tubal engineers for Yanner to forcibly rape her. For good measure, they also attack Noah and break his leg. Na’amah flees the village and is captured by slave traders before she reaches the sanctuary of the Mother Goddess’s cave.

Noah’s Wife is an engaging story that put me in mind of The Clan of the Cave Bear. As historical fiction, it resonates with verisimilitude and is not a retelling of Genesis. An unusual dynamic among the characters permeates the story in a curious way. The setting and the customs of the people seem real enough. Na’amah is a convincing and likeable character. The prose is clean and flowing if a little flowery for this reader’s taste. Ms. Thorne is fond of using unconventional verbs to describe actions in nature and more metaphors than I prefer. Most readers will find her style lovely and descriptive. There are scenes that I thought went on a little longer than was needed, but it did not diminish my enjoyment of the book.

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Slow and Tedious

Tabula Rasa (A Lambeth Group Thriller)Tabula Rasa by Gordon Bickerstaff

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Zoe is a super spy, which makes her a threat to the plans of an aristocratic family bent on world domination. The plan is to thwart climate change by slashing the human population to a scant fraction of its current level and replacing political leaders with scientists. The attempt to eliminate Zoe didn’t go well because the woman who the conspirators thrashed within an inch of her life was Zoe’s friend, Toni, who was staying in the flat for a few days. When Zoe finds her friend battered, raped, and near death, she called her brother, Michael, who arrived to consult about what should be done. After a disturbingly long discussion, they called an ambulance. Zoe vowed revenge and was assigned by her somewhat hands-off handler, Cairn, to get to the bottom of the scheme. Using a hapless academic, Gavin, as a foil she penetrated the Duke’s ancestral Silsden Estate, which was the headquarters of the monstrous plot. Posing as Gavin’s fiancée, Zoe was lured to the Silsden’s yacht on which she is tasered and left in the sea to drown. How will she save the world?

For a book that labels itself a thriller, this one moves very slowly. Tabula Rasa is part of a series, but it offers no back-story to help it stand alone. There are some references to old times in Bosnia, but I never discovered what the Lambeth Group was, whose side they were on, or who they worked for. There are orders from the Prime Minister and mention of SAS training, but the Silsden bad guys also have police on the payroll and tacit protection of the British aristocracy. I remain in the dark about who is fighting whom. Young Gavin flip-flops multiple times, and Zoe vacillates between wanting to sleep with him and wanting to kill him. She even momentarily gets on board with the dastardly plan except for the sticky detail of killing over six billion people. Mr. Bickerstaff’s prose makes no concession to point of view. It comes from the direction of whichever character appears on the scene. I found one case where the viewpoint switched within a single sentence. I hate posting a negative review, but I cannot be false. This was a letdown that went on way too long.

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