Saturday, October 19, 2013

Rainbow Six (published in 1998) - Terrorist fighting unit - Authored by Tom Clancy

Tom Clancy was a best selling author who died in the year 2013, dying at the age of 66 years. He has written a number of best-sellers, mostly focusing on military and intelligence matters, writing with a lot of depth and yet making the novel interesting. The main character in his fiction is the conservative, deeply moral and family man Jack Ryan, yet another character who plays a notable role in many of his books is the more mixed character of John Clark. He is more of an action guy, who can kill on behalf of the country, and also where he feels he is in the right and acting as an avenging angel, such as 'Without Remorse' where he feels the impact of a drug-runner's syndicate and takes revenge on those who killed his girl-friend. The net result of all these murders was that he was deemed intelligent enough and skilled enough to become part of the CIA, and all the killing of drug-runners was more in tune with what the US was trying to do.
The problem when dealing with terrorism, especially in a continent such as Europe, is about the borders between different nation-states and no interaction between the different countries and their police forces / specialized units. There are a number of issues that come to the fore when trying to get cooperation between the different nations involved, so the premise of the book is a bit difficult to believe; the book presumes that various countries agreed to contribute personnel to a security force that could go across nations and fight terrorist incidents where they occur (although in an admission of the need to get approval, the (Rainbow Six - the name of the security force) needs to be called in by the nation involved).




Also, the incidents of terrorism that happen nowadays are not the bank robberies or kidnapping in high-profile incidents, but cases of bomb blasts and the like, where you either need a security force to prevent such incidents from happening, or a good investigating agency to go across borders and determine who actually carried out the incidents. However, if you leave these quibbles aside, the book presents the action of the acts of terrorism (including the reaction of this specialized force - Rainbow Six - which is headed by John Clark, he being the one who had proposed the formation of such a force to the President, one assumes that was Jack Ryan).
Tom Clancy was never fond of the environmental movement, and that comes out in several of his books, although this book takes the narrative much further, presenting a plan by some rabid environmentalists to create a bioweapon that would be launched during the Olympics, and would kill of most of the people currently present on earth (a few would remain who would either have natural immunity, or who were given the antidote). When Clark learns about his, what does he do ?

Rainbow Six (published in 1998) - Terrorist fighting unit - Authored by Tom Clancy

The Sum of all Fears (published in 1991) - Thermo-nuclear blast, authored by Tom Clancy

Tom Clancy was a bestseller author, who wrote with great authority on the military and on intelligence matters. However, even though he wrote expertly and with great detail on the matters that he wrote about, his books were not boring. Imagine a detailed description of how a hydrogen (thermonuclear) bomb works, imagine it written out in a novel, and imagine how scared you can be of the prospect that a physicist, with access to a core of plutonium, and without the support of a nation state, can construct a huge weapon that has the potential to destroy a city and also bring the major powers to war with each other. The detailed description of how a hydrogen bomb, with its fission and fusion steps, almost seems out of a physics book without the technical jargon that would be there in a textbook.
The book is the 5th in the series of books that had Jack Ryan as the character, and here he is in a senior position in the CIA, but unfortunately not on good terms with the National Security Advisor (Liz Elliott) because of some ego issues. Unfortunately for Ryan, this carries a lot of weight, because normally the NSA carries a lot of weight, but in this case, since the NSA is also having an affair with the President, it carries even more importance. By this time, Ryan is also well know within Congress since he was intimately involved with the going-ons in the previous book, Clear and Present Danger, which forced the moving aside of the then President and the coming into the Presidency of the current president, Robert Fowler.
The book starts with a new twist to the Israeli-Palestinian twist, whereby everybody normally knows of the public cycle of rock-throwing and retaliation, which can result in deaths, but don't cause any moral issues on a wide scale. However, the book takes a new tactic by the Palestinians, where they oppose the Israeli army through non-violent means, and are viciously attacked by a slightly deranged Israeli army commander. This sight, on view on TV screens, forces a changeover in the morality, since nobody can defend this action of killing peaceful protesters who were not attacking them. Israel stands on the verge of being isolated, and although this isolation has happened, a change in attitude in the US could be very significant.





A quick plan, started by Jack Ryan, goes through the various stakeholders including the Vatican, the Saudis, the Russians, and a potential peace is declared in the troubled areas of the Middle East, where a troika of different religious leaders administer the region. This causes havoc in the minds of terrorists, since the confrontation is their life blood, and they join forces with a German terrorist who was also finding safe sanctuary missing with the meltdown of the communist worlds of eastern Europe. This would not mean anything, but they have found a lost Israeli bomb in the Golan Heights, and that is seen as the basis for building a powerful bomb, that combined with other actions, will make it seem that this was done by the Russians and provoke a massive confrontation.
With the bomb having been made, it is sought to be exploded in Denver when the Super Bowl is happening, which would devastate the city and also take out senior administration officials who were there to take part in the game. Combine this with an attack supposedly by the Russians in Berlin on American forces, and a weakened and traumatized President, not getting good counsel, and the situation rapidly escalates. The Russians are blamed, and they are shocked to find that they are being blamed, with a battle happening in Berlin and some of their aircraft getting downed without warning near Libya. But if threatened, they have the potential to kill back in equal number. Ryan is getting some good intelligence, but will the President listen in time ? A gripping, although seemingly unrealistic novel.

The Sum of all Fears (published in 1991) - Thermo-nuclear blast, authored by Tom Clancy

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Cardinal of the Kremlin (published in 1988) - A spy novel authored by Tom Clancy

Tom Clancy, who died recently, was a prolific writer of fiction, but the gripping kind. His novels were long, the books thick, but they were very detailed, and for his fans (of which I am one), they were hard to put down. Unlike many other novelists who would write with the concept of the CIA being a bad force, Clancy was more of a fan of the intelligence agencies, and specifically of the CIA (but not every officer of the CIA). His favorite was a reflection of how he himself was - conservative, high on morals, and hard working, able to do the right thing when it was required rather than backing down. And this was another novel in the earlier life of Jack Ryan, the character he created, a former marine who entered the CIA as a sort of reaction to terrorists attack on his family and who was not very fond of the politics inside the agency. By reading his novels, you would feel that you know what happens inside the agency, making it seem more humane.
The Cardinal of the Kremlin was another spy story, set within the environment of non-violent conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States. They would spy on each other, try their hardest to keep on evolving new technologies to outdo each other, and also when required (in an extreme case) conduct actual physical operations in each other's territory although this was limited since an all out conduct of physical operations in each other's territory that involved kidnapping or murder would become horrendous very soon, in a game of catch-up. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan had already happened and the fight-back by the Mujhaideen, supported by the US and Saudi Arabia was already on to oppose this invasion. Both countries were also in the midst of using laser research to develop high-energy weapons, to also conduct anti-satellite operations. But the most important element in the book was the 'Cardinal', one of the most important Soviet military agents who was controlled by the CIA and revealed a lot of super-secret military information.



The book deals with the life of 2 men - Jack Ryan, who is in the CIA and moving up in the agency. His role in the 'The Hunt for Red October' has earned him laurels. The other person who the books deals with is Colonel Mikhail Semyonovich Filitov, code name 'Cardinal', who is a decorated soldier and a war hero, and also the aide to the Soviet defense minister. In his position, he is invaluable to the CIA, but the passing on of documents is also an invitation to being revealed. Either somebody on the other side can reveal it, or counter-intelligence agents can figure out that information is being leaked, and that will meet that sooner or later the agent will be found out. In most countries, spying is deemed as treason, and is rewarded with execution, so the other country will try desperately to get their spy out. That is what happens in this case; the Cardinal is caught (but so important is his status and being a war hero, that the though of torturing him to get him to confess his crimes is fraught with danger, with the Soviet army reluctant to let their hero be tortured). And with the loss of the Red October submarine in the previous novel, and a few more cases, Ryan is able to force the hand of the KGB chief and present him no option but to defect. And then there is the case of the rival laser research and kidnapping and attack on installations ? For all this, you will have to read the book.

The Cardinal of the Kremlin (published in 1988) - A spy novel authored by Tom Clancy

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Red Storm Rising (published in 1986) - Authored by Tom Clancy, a conflict between NATO and Warsaw

Tom Clancy (1947 - 2013) was an author who wrote a number of gripping novels taking the intelligence agencies and military and wrote novels around these, involving a number of different countries. In some cases, the level of details was such that it surprised even experts. For example, when his first novel, 'The Hunt for Red October' came out in 1984, it was a big hit and the details of nuclear submarines was a surprise to everyone (with one person even wondering how the Government allowed a novel with such details to be published). Over a period of time, his novels, which initially focused on confrontation with the Soviets at an intelligence and military level, moved to new challenges, including reconciliation and support with the Russians and conflict with the Chinese (somewhat warped, and maybe even racist to some level - The Bear and the Dragon), and with more and more focus to conflict with Islamic terrorism (and the haunting depiction of the crashing of a full size commercial jet into the US Congress in the year 1994 - many years before the terrorist strike of 2001). For his fans, his novels were well researched novels, with a lot of details about how the intelligence agencies of the US Government worked, particularly through one of his chief characters - the honest and moral, and conservative Jack Ryan. For the generation who have been born after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, a novel about a clash between the huge Warsaw Pact and NATO forces in Europe would seem so old word, but this novel is a fascinating reading about how the policy making works in a restricted government - where the leaders think that whatever they say will happen. And the details of the military action are also great. Of course, most of Clancy's novels are gripping, but they are thick and take their own time to read (and read with great care).



Red Storm Rising does not have any association with Jack Ryan, one of the few of Clancy's novels that do not have any association with his chief character. It starts out with a terrorist strike by independence seekers from Azerbaijan who destroy a huge oil production facility, with this single striking causing a massive blow to the ability of the Soviet Union to generate oil - and this affects their production facilities, their farm production and their military. One option is to get cooperation from the West and seek their help - but internal politics plays a key role in moving the politburo away from this option and instead launching an all out attack on the NATO forces across Europe so as to prevent them from mobilizing in support of a Soviet drive to attack across Iran and seize the Persian oil field. The concept being to somehow show that there was an attack on the Warsaw Pact and this would force the Soviet Union to retaliate and hold NATO in Europe and keep them busy. And why would this work ? The Warsaw Pact had a much larger number of tanks and military equipment than NATO, but the quality of forces is a different matter.
However, NATO learns of these plans and on the first day of the offensive, manage to get their superior aircraft to slow down the Russian advance by destroying enemy aircraft and key infrastructure such as bridges. Soviet planners expected a slow advance through Germany and were willing to take losses, but were also able to surprise their NATO opposites through seizing Iceland, and also using some tactical efforts to attack some NATO naval vessels.
However, things start to reverse with the grounding of the force based at Iceland and re-taking of Iceland by the US Marines. And then a quick attack places NATO forces behind the front of the Soviet army and then the forces also learn knowledge about the dire fuel status of the Soviet armies and they destroy some of their fuel supplies, in a prelude to the general attack against the Soviet army forces. But such an offensive might force the Russians to go nuclear. What happens next ?

Red Storm Rising (published in 1986) - Authored by Tom Clancy, a conflict between NATO and Warsaw

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Flesh and Blood (published in 2001) - Authored by Jonathan Kellerman

Flesh and Blood is a first person account by Dr. Alex Delaware about Lauren Teague whom he treated as a child, before her father intervened and stopped the treatment. Lauren was a typical fifteen year old; trouble being her middle name, her tantrums, misdemeanors and attitude are what got her to therapy (she tried her damndest to worm her way out of it) - although two sessions hardly amount to that!
Ten years later, Alex receives a call from Jane Abbot - Lauren’s mother. Alex is a little wary and cautious as he remembers how much Lauren hated his interference in her life (he however finds out that the kid actually admired him a lot, and wanted to be a therapist like him when she grew up - surprising that he made such an impact in just two visits!). He is also aware that the young woman is stripping for a living, he saw her at a bachelor’s party six years after she left therapy. Lauren even visited Alex at his office, and told him she is happy with how things are, and that she’s doing well for herself - another four years have passed since they met last.
A riot of thoughts runs through his mind as he wonders why Jane is calling about her daughter. The frantic mother tells the doctor that Lauren is missing; she seems to have just vanished into thin air - the police seem distanced and uncooperative, and she seeks his help to locate her daughter. Milo Sturgis, Delaware’s friend and LAPD detective helps Alex find Lauren - sadly her body is in a dumpster, hogtied and shot. Who could’ve wanted the girl dead - a list that is possibly hundreds of names long-crops up. Lauren’s high-end services as an escort and prostitute could have earned her some jealous peers or even obsessive clients. Her own father Lyle Teague is a negative and dark presence in her life, she never wanted anything to do with him - but could he have detested her enough to have murdered her?



Andy, Lauren’s homosexual roommate is also questioned, but he seems to know next to nothing about her life. Then there’s Gene Dalby (her friend and professor at college). Finally what does Dr. Benjamin Drugger, director of the women’s motivational facility have to do with Lauren - were they lovers? On further investigation, it appears that one Shawna Yager, another student of the same college where Lauren was, had also disappeared a year ago - could this be related?
Even though Sturgis has told Delaware that Lauren had a record for prostitution, Alex is not willing to accept that her life as a sex worker had anything to do with her death. Although prostitution sounds like a dirty and dark business (and it is, beyond doubt) - Lauren was not really part of the cesspool, yet there must be more to her life, she was a great student, with good grades, studying to be a psychologist. Neck-deep in brothel madams and porn - Alex is set to redeem the dead woman’s honor.
The story is slow paced yet riveting, the cast of characters is interesting, including a Hugh Heffner type porn tycoon! The uninteresting bit is about Alex and Robin’s blow-hot-blow-cold relationship which seems to interest no one, not even them - so much so that Robin chooses to take a holiday without Alex. Kellerman’s fifteenth Delaware novel, and he manages to get it bang on every time - the narrative flows easy, blending in with the much loved Detective Delaware’s tenacity and talent.

Flesh and Blood (published in 2001) - Authored by Jonathan Kellerman

Monday, October 14, 2013

Dr. Death (Published in 2000) - Authored by Jonathan Kellerman

The Humanitron had taken fifty lives. And now, its final victim was the inventor of the pieced together death machine - Dr. Eldon Mate aka Dr. Death, but the IV bottles with potassium chloride and thiopental hooked to his arms are just a cloak behind which the actual cause of death is hidden. Injury to the head, castration - in fact, the doctor was bled through eight cuts. Macabre.
No secret that many would’ve kicked their heels up in joy at the news of Mate’s death, actually, there were many you’d suspect wouldn’t mind murdering the man or getting someone else to do it for them - the Church, supremacists, proponents of religious & moral conservatism - the list is endless. For his part, Eldon has many shades to his character - his surname for instance , could vulgarly be translated to mean the obvious, however, ‘mate’ in Spanish also means ‘to kill’ (he is survived by his widow, who being of Latin origin may have given him this useful insight into the nomenclature of his name!). All said and done, Eldon is far from likeable, as his post-life profiling reveals - he willingly assists anyone for any reason, walking the tight rope between morality, ethics and just pure thrill for kill.
The man of the hour is Alex Delaware, who makes his fourteenth appearance with Sturgis - the two team up to create a profile of the killer as well as set out to map the road taken by him or her that led to the horrific death of Eldon Mate. However, the two friends experience a slight turbulence, as Milo is offended that Alex should invoke doctor-patient secrecy and sanctity, by not giving him details of his dealings with one of the ‘travelers’ (as the incumbents awaiting death were referred to) relatives. Joanna Doss, the late wife of Richard Doss, a real estate developer, was one such traveler who was brought on board by her daughter Stacy. Joanna was being suffered immensely before she sought Eldon’s help - unbeknownst to Richard. The impropriety of discussing his patient’s revelations weighs heavily on the relationship which Milo and Delaware have shared for years.



The other suspect is an obsessive FBI Agent, Leimart Fusco, who has been trailing the suspect of many euthanasia-related deaths in healthcare facilities, and several other ‘mercy killers’, one of whom has a taste for psychopathic geometrical carving of corpses, who would vie for Eldon’s shoes are also suspect. Even his own son - who was abandoned, and lives on the fringes of society is on the list. The interesting aspect of the story is the network Kellerman creates while building up to the climax, while many readers have found it somewhat disappointing, one appreciates the effort taken to build the crescendo.
Kellerman brings in Detective Petra Connor who has a cameo appearance (her own novels being Survival of the Fittest, Billy Straight). His writing is short and layered at the same time - the average person has no difficulty understanding the shades, without any intellectual maneuvering to do. Implied inspiration from the real life Dr. Death - Dr. Jack Kevorkian – this thriller is a must, great weekend read, difficult to put down!

Dr. Death (Published in 2000) - Authored by Jonathan Kellerman

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Clinic (published in 1997) - Authored by Jonathan Kellerman

Heart, groin, back, cold rage, class snobbery, sexual intimacy, criminal confidence - just some of the dirt that gruesome knife slashes can throw up. As Alex Delaware tries to unravel the motive behind Hope Devane’s murder, he is intrigued that someone would want to kill the feminist-badge totting hardliner in so gruesome a manner. No doubt Hope has rankled a number of men with her extreme take on suffragists and their role in making society what it is today, that men were responsible for the martyrdom of femdom featured regularly in her talks and writings.
Delaware is able to make a connection that it has to be someone close to Hope who has killed her; a random murder wouldn’t have been so suggestive and message-rendering as hers. Her husband Phillip seems to have accepted her fame and popularity with studied ease, could he have a motive? Could the nameless, faceless person, who read her bestseller “Wolves and Sheep”- about how women are victimized by men, have had a motive? Could someone from the date-rape panel at her college been responsible? Could the suspicious character at the ob/gynae clinic be a killer?
But despite the male basher attitude that Hope had, she actually enjoyed the company of men and was friendly to quite a few of them - a fact that Delaware discovers along the way. And in doing so, has a couple of red herrings he has to deal with - the relationship Hope shared with her doctoral supervisee Casey Locking, the specialist in fertility from whom she received a huge amount of money for consultation, her private life, and the links she may have had with a mafia boss and Vegas showgirl. From one positive break to a claustrophobic dead end, Alex and Milo begin to understand why the case has been classified as cold.




Hope Devane’s list of enemies which seemed nonexistent at first is now peppered with suspects, after all the tough lady had rubbed so many people the wrong way; its almost as if she wished to master the whole control through psychology strategy - right from setting up inquisition style interpersonal conduct committees to extreme male bashing - could the lady have had it coming - obviously?
The Delaware - Sturgis friendships have been a regular feature over the past ten books, and it is refreshing to note that the two are given yet another opportunity to bond with each other. We witness the LAPD detective gently persuading college girls and arm twisting lawyers, undercover role as a soap producer or cruising in his Porsche: Milo-a-plenty. We would have liked to see Robin feature more often, her presence humanizes Delaware, and he seems a believable creation!
The novel is signature Kellerman, written in the typically and intentionally face paced, short sentenced style that the author is know by; the element of surprise in the book is the fact that this time, there isn’t really a sub plot to throws you off scent - he gets straight to the murder in the very first chapter, and all forty one chapters are racy, heart thumping and adrenalin pumping windows into clues that get you closer to nabbing the killer.

The Clinic (published in 1997) - Authored by Jonathan Kellerman

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Web (published in 1996) - Authored by Jonathan Kellerman

Dr. Woodrow Wilson Moreland: philanthropist and saint. This is probably why he invited Alex and Robin over for three months to his heavenly abode in Micronesia, where Delaware could work with him and play with Robin. (Alex is like Kellerman’s alter ego - so while he does his ‘daddy day care’ bit in real life at 43, Delaware gets to holiday!)
Moreland had come across an article that Alex had written about group trauma, and is impressed by the practical and informed perspective the forensic –cum-child psychologist has; Woodrow himself has been studying patients for years, and seeks Alex’s help in organizing the large data base of the medical records he has, while he would’ve preferred an anthropologist, he changes his preference, and would rather, that Alex, with his background in clinical psychology, helps out. He even offers a joint collaboration as far as authorship of his book is concerned, with equal stakes.
This is just the break Delaware needs, for both he and Robin have been through hell - their home in Malibu was burnt down, and a spate of jinxes follow. So, Woodrow’s offer is heaven-sent! Thus far, the setting is idyllic, blue waters, warm sands, polite cohabitants- but these waters have been known to harbor sharks, who knows what secret lies buried beneath the sands, and ‘there is no art to find the mind’s construction in the face’.



The island of Aruk is divided, for convenience as per the windward and leeward sides, the former being close to town is where Moreland resides, and the latter is Stanton, a US naval base. The exits from the base along the southern beach have been blocked after there were rumors that sailors murdered a local girl. It seems, though, unfortunately, that there will be more deaths in days to come.
Woodrow Moreland has spent almost more than four decades on the seven hundred acre island, which he bought from the US government in 1963, himself having served in the army. He enjoys the patronage of the locals, who hold him in high esteem - he’s vaccinated kids on the island, cleaned up the water supply - and is everyone’s obvious favorite. But Alex’s sleuthing-gut tells him there’s more to Moreland than meets the eye - including strange house guests which don’t include his collection of giant centipedes, spiders and roaches. A husband-wife sub alto pair of doctors, Moreland’s daughter who is getting over a divorce, a misread local – all add to the dense and dark mystery of Aruk.
What is even more bizarre is that the eccentric Moreland chooses the most outlandish cases to palm off to Alex - a demented guy who has witnessed something horrific, a victim who succumbed to radiation after a nuclear mishap, the washed up and mutilated body of a woman. But those readers who are Delaware fans would know that he is at ease and at home amongst the bizarre, in fact any semblance of normalcy in his world, would entail the above!
Let’s just say that the book is well ensconced between horror and crime - causing many a frisson of fear and thrills to run down the reader’s spine. How Alex always manages to get embroiled in a mystery with dead bodies cropping up effortlessly - is something Robin would wonder, no doubt. She might even think twice before packing her bags for the next holiday destination Delaware suggests!

The Web (published in 1996) - Authored by Jonathan Kellerman

Friday, October 11, 2013

Self-Defense (published in 1995) - Authored by Jonathan Kellerman

We meet Alex Delaware in his ninth adventure - along with Milo Sturgis, LAPD detective and friend. Although Dr. Delaware does not see private clients anymore, he has made an exception for Ms. Lucy Lowell, at the behest of Milo, a juror on a case involving a brutal serial killer that he was assigned to. Lucy has a history of being tormented by nightmare with a recurrent theme - a young child of four alone in a dark forest, privy to a strange act - a sleeping woman being carried away by three men. She has a past that is marred by abandonment and emotional abuse, as a twenty five year old, she lives with these scars, that have resurfaced and are beginning to cloud her ability to remain lucid.
Her father, once a celebrated author - Mr. Bayard Lowell is now a cripple, discontented with life. He’d enjoyed his laurels while they lasted, once the novelty of popularity faded, Bayard chose to open ‘Sanctum’- a retreat for artists and writers, who lived off ‘free love’ in the 1970s. The retreat is now an abandoned and rundown, ramshackle structure.
Although Lucy seems to have no memory of her time spent there, her half brother Ken recalls the summer when Bayard’s kids from both his marriages, came over to the Sanctum. On further investigation, it is revealed that a young woman called Karen Best had gone missing from the retreat; she was a waitress at a restaurant not far from Sanctum. Lucy’s dream may have its roots in that she had witnessed her father and two other men carrying Karen’s body into the woods.





Relief for the reader is at hand, though, for amidst all this chaotic investigating and gore - Lucy becomes infatuated with our suave Detective Sturgis, creating a few blushing moments - not for her, but him! As for Alex and Robin, the two are house hunting, and find a nook in Malibu, affordable, thanks to the recession, with the French bulldog, who was rescued by Delaware in ‘Bad Love.’
The sub plot is interesting as well - the trial of Job Shwandt has captured the attention of everyone, including Gothic-types who think he’s god; the man is on trial for a series of killings in which he brutally ripped his victims to shreds. The worst had been the case of Carrie Fielding, a ten year old girl from Brentwood. She was kidnapped, raped, strangled and mutilated. Milo stepped in and took over the case thereafter, bringing the perpetrator to book. He is picked up by the police, who find a mummified hand (not Carrie’s) in the glove compartment.
As Shwandt’s trial progresses, so does Lucy’s nightmare, which is now taking over reality, she starts to believe that she has an insight into the details of the crime scene: how he defecated into holes that he bore into the victim’s body, lacerating them and dishonoring the once live person in the most horrific manner imaginable. The book is longish, compared to Kellerman’s other works, with fifty chapters in all; in spite of the time travelling, it makes an interesting read, and gives an in depth view of the ‘70s. 

Self-Defense (published in 1995) - Authored by Jonathan Kellerman

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Bad Love (published in 1994) - Authored by Jonathan Kellerman

Kellerman has a knack for throwing the reader off scent with riveting sub plots - Bad Love, the eighth in the Delaware series, is no exception. The two Wallace sisters, Tiffany and Chondra, traumatized by the brutal murder of their mother, Ruthanne, by none other than their father, Donald Wallace - are Delaware’s patients. Four months after his incarceration in Folsom prison, the Court rules that Donald can see his daughters, twice a month at the prison, which is a plane ride away for the girls, currently in the care of their maternal grandmother - Evelyn Rodriguez.
Stephen Huff, an LA court judge is against granting Wallace paternal rights, considering history, and asks Alex to draw up a profile with the help of the children, to stall the procedure, stating that the visitation would further harm their already fragile psyches. Whilst Delaware is contemplating just how to break the ice with the girls, he ignores the package that arrived for him that morning. When he retrieves the brown package later, he finds an audio cassette inside, he plays it to find out what the message in it is; Alex is sickened and shocked - a blood curdling scream of a male, panting like an animal, howling in torturous pain. So loud an disturbing are these maniacal sounds, that Alex moves to lower the volume, and just as he is about to - silence ensues from the tape.
A new, almost cherubic, ethereal voice, a child’s - starts a low, stomach-turning, ghostly chant: ‘Bad love, bad love…Don’t give me that bad love…’ It is repeated four or five times, creepier and more onerous than earlier, Alex could almost see in his mind’s eye, the child who was chanting - ghostly, grey and emaciated.
As he delved into his ‘Black Museum’ aka the bottom drawer where he kept his files, all the while his mind is overwhelmed and replaying sounds of the chant. He decides against retrieving the Ruthanne files, and instead tries to find the meaning of the phrase ‘bad love’ - ransacking the corners of his mind – past and present- lifting  and opening recesses - still no clue. Could it be a client from the past, giving in to his/ her schizoid fantasies, or was it Wallace come to haunt him from behind prison walls?




Delaware decides to reach out to Milo Sturgis, the LAPD detective and friend. However, Sturgis is especially busy since all the efforts the Department made to ensure he retires early - are stalled by the rock willed officer. Meanwhile, as Delaware comes home, he is greeted by a bulldog, which he waters and takes to a vet. On his way back, he chats up with Milo, who tells him that sometime earlier a social worker called Rebecca Basille was murdered, and the killer had screamed the phrase out loud enough for a clinic director to have heard it but he wasn’t able to save her, as the psycho hacked her to bits.
In the evening, when Milo pays him a visit, he also christens the dog – Rover. They try and find clues about the origin of the tape - but are helpless. Meanwhile, as the days progress, Alex is sent chilling reminders – a creepy laugh on the phone, vandalism and trespassing. He seems to be the target of a sick psycho, out to get him. But who is it?
An intricate plot weaves its way into Delaware’s past when he worked at the LA’s Western Pediatric Medical Centre as a child psychologist. He comes across a file/paper with ‘Good love/Bad love’ (a term for mothering gone bad) written on it; the year was 1979, Alex was left in charge as interim chief as his bosses are on sabbatical. The above phrase was the title of a conference proposal sent by Katherine De Bosch, daughter, on behalf of  Andres B. De Bosch, PhD, to the WPMC. Delaware had rejected the proposal, the subject matter was uninteresting, and Bosch was ill known for originality.
The reader is now introduced to the plot - and lest this review should contain spoilers, suffice it to say - the read is exciting and intriguing! Kellerman at his best! And he even threw in Rover for good measure - takes the pressure off the reader!

Bad Love (published in 1994) - Authored by Jonathan Kellerman

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Private Eyes (published in 1992) - Authored by Jonathan Kellerman

The sixth in the Delaware Series, Private Eyes expresses the sense of accomplishment that our favorite Kellerman creation - Alex Delaware feels, when his patient of many years - Melissa Dickinson, a then seven year old traumatized by an anxiety disorder - walks out of his LA surgery two years thence; healed. He views the girl’s case as one of his greatest achievements, happy to have transformed the phobic, fearful child into a confident and happy kid.
Eleven years have passed, and now Melissa is an eighteen year old Harvard aspirant and wealthy heiress to her actor mother’s estate and riches. She calls Delaware, seeking help for her reclusive mother. Before she was born - Gina, Melissa’s mother, was touted to be a budding star with a promising future. Promising, until Melvin Louis Findlay, 28, (Black-American, on March 3 1969, posing as a Western Union messenger), attacked her with acid - she suffered from third degree facial burns to the left side of her face, but her eyes, thankfully, were safe. Three days later, a former lover and employer of Gina - Joel McCloskey, is arrested as a prime suspect.
 Two decades later, she spends her days in a cavernous mansion, too scared and emotionally scarred to face the world. So affected is she by the assault, that she suffers from agoraphobia. The news that her assailant is free and roaming the streets of LA, only makes matters worse. Gina, who was widowed years ago, is remarried and undergoing intensive therapy with a husband-wife duo of behavioral psychologists. The only other support the mother and daughter seem to have is the stolid Mr. Jacob Dutchy, the family retainer and their Man Friday.




When Alex arrives at the mansion, he learns that Gina has driven away, and no one knows where - amazing feat for someone who wasn’t confident enough to even peep out of her front door! Along with his loyal sidekick – Milo, the two take on the case, the latter only too happy to get a break from an enforced sabbatical aka disciplinary leave, from the LAPD for having whacked a  homophobic superior, that too on TV.
On the personal front, Alex gets back with Robin, after his brief fling with Linda in Time Bomb - though the details are sketchy and unsatisfying. His character is credible and rock solid, considering this is his sixth appearance since Kellerman created him in 1985.
Kellerman is well known for his prolific writing based on psychopathology, and is an Edgar and Anthony Award winning author. Jonathan was offended by “the moron reviewing for the New York Times detested the book and savaged it as “thin gruel.”
He shouldn’t be, for the story does get predictable, tending to drag a bit; despite ingesting temporal relief through twisted and sometimes hilariously nefarious characters, the story is at best, a travel-read, a bus/train journey and its over - you may deal with the temptation of skimming a few pages hurriedly to get to the end- which, although the book sales were modestly significant,  is somewhat disappointing, as the villain in the piece is someone who hardly surfaced anywhere in the book- a real dampener in a mystery novel!

Private Eyes (published in 1992) - Authored by Jonathan Kellerman

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Time Bomb (published in 1990) - Authored by Jonathan Kellerman

The nineties were still untouched by the then sad prospect of what the world has become today; what may have seemed like noirish fiction then, is reality now. School shoot-outs, random killings by teens are not matters of great surprise anymore. Kellerman’s own admission that this was his attempt to write a ‘quasi-political’ novel, and that he feels it unfortunate that most of what was part of his ‘warped imagination’- is now true.
Alex Delaware - maverick, genial, empathetic and insightful – a memorable Kellerman creation, receives a call on a rainy November morning from LAPD Detective Milo Sturgis, commanding him to turn on the TV (in true Alex D - style, he expects dead nuns and pets with ESP) - on doing so, he is rudely awakened to the sea of innocent children’s faces that flood the screen, all visibly shaken and understandably traumatized by the shooting. Nathan Hale Elementary School, in the west side community of Ocean Heights is the scene for what would have been a cold blooded killing spree, had not our protagonist - Holly Lyn Burden, been gunned down by the aide of a local politician.
Conspiracy theories abound, including one about an assassination attempt gone awry, fuelled by the presence of State Assemblyman Samuel Massengil and City Councilman Gordon Latch, who were participants – to-be in a televised debate. Milo then asks Alex to come over to the School, so that he can use his experience with children to help ease the stress and trauma they may face post the incident. He meets the leggy Linda, principal, and the two fall into comfortable steps with each other - discussing her apprehensions with regard to the safety of the kids and his concern about whether they are displaying signs of post-traumatic stress.




She shares with him how distressed she feels that the children (ninety percent of whom are Latino, the rest Asians,) who are already in the middle of racial discrimination and busing wars should be subject to violence at school, considering that most of them come from already troubled families and neighborhoods. She reminds Alex against using the phrase “melting pot”- citing a memo that suggests the use of ‘salad bowl’, “Every ingredient maintains its integrity, no matter how much you toss it around.”
Alex Delaware assures Principal Linda Overstreet that the best way to deal with the kids would be to tell them that the sniper was already dead (he does not know, as of now, that the gunned down body is that of a teenage girl), letting the children know that evil is destructible. As he helps the kids overcome the horrors of that morning, Alex D soon becomes involved with the over-sensitive yet devoted principal. Meanwhile, he receives a strange request from Mahlon Burden, the slain sniper’s father, to perform a ``psychological autopsy'' to clear his daughter's name.
Incidents of race - aggravated sabotage and violence increase in number at the school, Sturgis finds out that a black friend of Holly's was gunned down by the police followed political assassinations. Delaware himself is part of a conspiracy that involves a plan of killing him, since he unearths a revivalist plot of the German American Bund. The devious connivance has in tow Neo-Nazi and White Supremacists, and Anti-Semitic elements thrown in for good measure.
A racy read from the master of crime-Jonathan Kellerman. The incidents cited may have been isolated in the ’90s, but, for a reader today, they are more commonplace, and therefore, despite the book having been written over a decade ago, it rings true today , when race-induced violence is more commonplace, if not more disturbing.

Time Bomb (published in 1990) - Authored by Jonathan Kellerman

Monday, October 7, 2013

Devil's Waltz (published in 1993) - Authored by Jonathan Kellerman

Munchausen by Proxy Disorder is a mental disorder in which parents or guardians abuse a child in order to gain sympathy for themselves - typically, they ensure the child suffers from a factitious medical affliction, rendering the person in hospice-care sometimes for prolonged periods that may stretch into the child’s youth. The Devil’s Waltz is Kellerman’s unconditional offering to such parents, children and providers of medical care - it is an in depth account of what happens to families who suffer from this Disorder, and how society needs to understand and support people who have been traumatized by it. According to Kellerman, the act of writing the book was ‘altruistic’ and ‘extremely gratifying’.
Perhaps this underlying altruism is what has made The Devil’s Waltz such a sensitive and touching read. For once the reader ignores the loop holes which may have plagued previous works, and concentrate on the greater good the book seeks out to achieve - that of the act of spreading awareness and sensitizing people.
Another gauntlet is thrown Alex Delaware’s way - ''What we've got is a whodunit, howdunit — a did-anyone-do-it. Only this is no Agatha Christie thing... This is a real-life mess.''
21-month old baby Cassie has a host of problems with no apparent cause – she seems fine each time she is admitted , (and that has been countless times over the past fifteen months) - with signs of ‘false positives’, respiratory problems, croup, membrane problems, reasons that could be idiopathic, could be an enzyme disorder - the list of diseases seems to peter off, as Dr. Stephanie Eves resorts to her obvious choice – Alex Delaware, forensic psychologist.




As he walks into General Pediatrics, he learns that the child’s mother has a background in medicine, she was a  respiratory tech. Stephanie, since she scheduled an appointment, learns that Baby Cassie has missed her annual medical examination. When she meets the child, she observes that Cassie is vocally and verbally slow. Four days later, Cassie is back in ER, with 105 temperature, the sickness saga goes on and now includes seizures - all this while, her lab tests etc are normal.
Before we can say Jack Robinson, our man Alex reaches the premise that what they are encountering is MBP, a disorder names after Baron von Munchausen, the famous fabricator of tall stories. Mothers have been known to especially abuse their daughters in MBP, the children suffer pain and torture at the maternal hand. Could Baby Cassie be a sufferer of the same fate, could her older sibling, who died of respiratory disorders, have been a victim as well?
The child is also famously the only grandchild of the hospital’s dictatorial chairman of the board, Charles L. Junior, infamous for his firing and lay-off policies; the latest casualty being the members of the Psych Department. A murder is linked to the hospital, a beefy head of security to contend with - seemingly unrelated events which keep Alex and the affable Milo on their toes till the very end, and the reader is kept on tenterhooks. Jonathan Kellerman, himself a psychologist, has a hands on approach to all matters of the mind, and this book in particular is one of them.

Devil's Waltz (published in 1993) - Authored by Jonathan Kellerman

Silent Partner (published in 1989) - Authored by Jonathan Kellerman

The fourth in the Delaware series, we meet the affable Alex Delaware, resolute that he should be “…focusing on my patients, determined not to let my own garbage get in the way of work.” Alex D is faced with his most challenging case as yet (couple this with the recent emotional upheaval Delaware is facing, what with his long term girl friend Robin Castagna having left him) - when he is invited to a party he’s reluctant to go to (given the fact that the host is a man he detests - Dr. Paul Kruse, the new head of the University’s Psychology Department and sexologist who believes pornography is a legitimate sexual aid) - where he meets an ex-flame Sharon Ransom (leggy and buxom), who tells him she is seeking his help. Alex evades her, even though she tells him she is bothered by something and needs to confide in him. When he does make up his mind to meet her - he changes it again, leaving her a voice message, wishing her luck.
This is where things take a turn for the worse - Sharon is found dead the next morning, the prima facie evidence declaring it to be a case of suicide. Guilt–ridden, Delaware finds it hard to accept that she could’ve been driven to kill herself because of him. On digging further, he sees a side to Sharon he never thought existed. As he is caught in the web of investigations, he unearths aspects of her life he could not believe-illegal abortion networks, megalomania, doctors and their sexual exploits, academic pretense - just a whole lot of muck, too many sub-plots boggle the reader and a host of “now you see them, now you don’t” characters dot the horizon.


Delaware uncovers an unsavory sex tape of Sharon’s mum, triplets,(or the ‘three twins’ as they are referred to in the book) a journey that shows him the excesses of the rich and the lowdown on a family with some really sordid secrets. Schizophrenic flashbacks spaced over forty years, cold hearted business tycoons, ultra rich and immoral capitalists - boggle the mind. The underlying themes of depravity and sexual violence, murders and abuse unfold a little too frequently for the reader’s liking - making the story more bleak and cynical, and very noirish in approach, the extended plot can be especially trying for the reader.
In defense of the story-line, though, to be fair, the sexual improprieties mentioned – professor and student, then student and clients - have a realistic background. Kenneth Pope (renowned psychologist) in a 1979 survey came to the conclusion that 25% female graduates (then) had sexual contact/relations with their academic supervisors (professors, in most cases). Ofcourse the kind described in the book, lack believability only because they are so far-fetched.
Another big disappointment is the ‘lack of Milo’ in the book, he’s in and out of scenes only to raid the fridge and drop one liners. Missed him in this one! In fact the book is more about AD and his life - before his years of active sleuthing got the better of him! We get an insight into the man, as opposed to Delaware, forensic psychologist. The book has also been adapted as a graphic novel in 2012, scripted by Ande Parks (Union Station & Capote in Kansas), illustrated by Michael Gaydos, whose repertoire precedes him - Marvel and DC Comics. Not Kellerman’s best, yet.

Silent Partner (published in 1989) - Authored by Jonathan Kellerman

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Over the edge (published in 1987) - A psychological thriller written by Jonathan Kellerman

Two books old, Alex Delaware, former practicing child psychologist, currently forensic big wig with the LAPD – has another sticky case to solve. Although he needn’t work, considering that Lou Cestare, his ‘money handler’ makes sure he’s raking in the moolah through sound investments, he lends his expertise to the Department. However, he makes sure he has time to sit by his very own Koi pond and de-stress after a hard day’s work solving  less than savory  cases.
Revenge, money, power - the underlying motives for murders, and the recurring themes in mystery novel, set the pace of the story beginning with the very first chapter, and as the story progresses, one is sucked into the past - when two buddies, Black Jack and Souza fell for the same girl -Antoinette. Swept off her feet by Black Jack’s winning charm and charismatic persona, the lady makes her choice clear from the start, leaving Souza out in the cold.
Although he plays the best buddy to the T, Souza burns with jealousy and anger – from jilted lover to a face in the crowd at the wedding, from best pal to silent spectator of Jack's successes after another - he chooses to hit low and destroy his friend’s entire life. When Jack and Antoinette die tragically young, their three year old – Jamey Cadmus, scion and heir- is left in the care of his uncle and aunt.
An intelligent and exceptionally gifted child, Jamey was part of a UCLA study - Project 160, since he had a brilliant IQ of over 160. The aim of the study was to prove that there is no ‘streak of madness’ in geniuses, however, Jamey started to display troubled behavioral traits - a possibility that the psychosis that plagued his family, has come to haunt him as well.



This disapproves the premise the study is founded on; and Jamey seeks treatment with Alex Delaware - but drop out of it at sixteen, without any explanation. The doctor tries to get in touch with the child’s guardian, his uncle, but hears nothing from either of them. And then five years later, in the mid of night, Alex receives a frantic call from Jamey, obviously psychotic, begging for help. As the boy jabbers incoherently and rambles, Alex learns he is at the Canyon Oaks Mental Hospital; when Delaware drives to meet him - the boy goes missing again.
Milo Sturgis, Delaware’s friend and LAPD detective is, on the other hand, investigating a series of killings, called the Lavender Slasher Murders - he has been assigned the case based on the fact that involves the murder of young male prostitutes; the consequence of  bias he has to face since he  himself is homosexual.
Milo enquires whether Alex has heard of Jamey, this the doctor confirms. Later, he is informed by Souza (who is incidentally the Cadmus’ family lawyer ) that the boy has been found, in an extremely compromising situation - smeared with blood, clutching a knife midst two mutilated corpses. Charged with murder, Jamey is sent to the County Jail, where Alex is given access to the boy.
In all studies, psychologists agree that schizophrenics are harmless, and there is hardly any evidence to prove that they may become serial killers, and even though two of the kids on Project 160, went off it (the other being a boy called Gary, whom Jamey befriends) - there is no reason to link there psychosis to the murders.
In Kellerman’s own words, “As a psychologist, I’ve always been intrigued by the genius/insanity myth. The truth is most highly gifted individuals are pretty well-adjusted. But what if…it’s all about the what-if.” A great read, touching and sentimental, ruthless and coldblooded, thrilling and frightening, another masterpiece, much like When the Bough Breaks.

Over the edge (published in 1987) - A psychological thriller written by Jonathan Kellerman

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Blood Test (published in 1986) - Psychological drama written by Jonathan Kellerman

Kellerman’s second novel after When the Bough Breaks in the Delaware series, written in 1986, opens with Alex at the courtroom listening to the final judgment being delivered against one Richard Moody - who has been declared unfit by Delaware – due to which he is not allowed custody of his children. Moody approaches Alex, pleading with him to tell the judge otherwise, when the latter refuses, Richard assaults him, but is over powered by Delaware.
Meanwhile, Alex is approached by a friend, a pediatric oncologist - Dr. Raoul Melendez-Lynch to speak to the Swopes, a family whose five year old son Woody, is suffering from leukemia. Alex must try and convince the parents not to discontinue the child’s chemotherapy sessions, who are certain that the best way to deal with the disease is to administer non chemical, holistic medication. The Book follows these two families, the sub plot and the plot- the Moodys and the Swopes - and how Delaware is intrinsically involved with both, the shades that layer his dealings with both are different, yet the aim is the same - to ascertain that the children involved remain unscathed as far as possible.
When Alex arrives at the hospital, he learns that the child has been kidnapped by his own parents, his mother posed as a lab technician and on the pretext of running some tests, spirited him away, leaving only a portentous blood stain in their wake.





The Swopes are horticulturists who lost most of what they had after they tried their hand at cherimoya farming - the South American fruit, believed to protect against cancer and Parkinson’s disease. So confident is Mr. Swopes of his future success, that he asks buyers to pledge that they would purchase only his fruit for the first year. He slogs for a decade, pampering the soil and the buyers, unfortunately, the crop fails due to bad weather conditions, and the couple end up losing most of their assets - the father, loses more than that- for he takes to sexually abusing his daughter, an understandably sullen and gloomy teenager, who, unbeknownst to Delaware, is actually Woody’s mother, not his sister. To make matters worse, the parents are found dead, whilst the girl, Nona, is part of a drug dealing, holistic-meditative cult called The Touch.
Alex uncovers the dark life at the commune, including details of drug abuse and group sex. He just about manages to escape harrowing attempts on his life, but eventually saves Woody.
Alex, with a penchant for walking into trouble, a fall out of snooping around all by himself as Milo is out of town (although knowing Alex, one is certain he’d  go digging, partner in tow, as well!), he seems indestructible - a fact which readers would find hard to accept!
The characters of Alex and Milo are really well defined and impact-ridden, but what with every person having dark shades that lend them an air of foreboding; child molesters, drug dealers, murderers - the extreme of ugly, therefore, the other characters are lacking in credibility! The story is intriguing and gripping, however, the deviant nature of most of the characters – makes it unbelievable and too dark, it’s almost as if the reader is pushed into a tunnel of endless darkness with no hope of a light at the end of it! Thankfully, real life isn’t half as dreary as the book.

Blood Test (published in 1986) - Psychological drama written by Jonathan Kellerman

Friday, October 4, 2013

When the Bough Breaks (published in 1985) - Authored by Jonathan Kellerman

Jonathan Kellerman’s background in psychology makes him a formidable authority on not just the psychological practice, but also the psychosocial and legal aspects of his work. ‘When the Bough Breaks’ is Kellerman’s debut crime–mystery novel, written in 1985, and the first Delaware book. The novel could not have been written at a more harrowing time in America, when many cases of sexual abuse were being unearthed in child care facilities in the ‘80s; the Kern County child abuses, the Country Walk Babysitting Service abuse cases, Fell Acres Day Care Center case etc were only the tip of the iceberg, as more than 9 such criminal cases were brought to light.
Kellerman’s debut gave birth to the fictional character of Alex Delaware, a forensic psychologist with the LAPD, with a background in child psychology. His partner is Milo Sturgis, a detective with the Department.
We are introduced to a stressed out and highly strung Delaware, who would like to take a break - he had been working on a case of child abuse and molestation, and wants nothing more than to put it all behind and move on. However, Milo, urges Alex to put an end to his self imposed exile, for there is a case that needs his attention and expertise.
Dr. Morton Handler and his girlfriend Elena are found brutally murdered in the former’s apartment. The sole eye witness, a seven year old gives a confused and incoherent statement, and Milo is certain that with his expertise, Delaware would be able to help the child provide a more concrete and comprehensible account of what happened to the deceased couple, in the matter of just one interview. The child, whose name is Melody Quinn, was under Handler’s care for ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), she is also undergoing strong medication which includes the drug Ritalin - known to cause serious side effects such as disturbed sleep, changes in weight and suppressed appetite.




To complicate matters further, Dr. Lionel Towle, the child’s pediatrician, refuses to alter the dosage of medication. Forming a bond with the girl and her mother Bonita, Alex reduces her dosage, without Towle’s knowledge, and thus gains access to their trust and vital information. Unfortunately, Melody begins to have nightmares, this gives her pediatrician an excuse to blame Delaware; both the doctor and Bonita Quinn forbid Alex to meet Melody. Genuinely concerned about the child, Alex and Milo start to piece together the mysterious circumstances under which Handler and his friend were murdered - the trail leads them to La Casa de los NiƱos, a home for special children.
Not wanting to spoil the plot, let’s just say that the Handler double murder is a drop in the murky, gory waters of homicidal history; the roots an links of which reach far back into Delaware’s own past. Kellerman skillfully weaves in secondary characters with unique, multi-layered personalities that intrigue, repel and fascinate - all at once, a treat for the senses. The characters of Delaware and Milo are peppered with human foibles that any reader could identify with. The ‘80s were a troubled time, with people coming to terms with
 changing social orders and demographics that were shifting - this included a sizeable workforce in varied arenas who had alternative sexual identities. Sturgis faces scrutiny and scorn for being homosexual, but handles it with surprising aplomb, a sign that he is comfortable and respectful of his identity.
The most comforting aspect has to be Kellerman’s conscious effort not to beleaguer the reader with psycho-medical babble; the narrative is simple, hard hitting and impact-ridden. However, it is best avoided due to the disturbing and graphic detailing of child abuse, especially for those sensitive readers who are disconcerted when faced with even fictional instances of violence meted out towards children.

When the Bough Breaks (published in 1985) - Authored by Jonathan Kellerman

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Odd and the Frost Giants (published in 2008) - Written by Neil Gaiman

Gaiman, master of fantasy and mythology, offers an endearing tale about hope conquering all odds, a tale about how one can overcome any obstacle despite one’ own shortcomings and inhibitions. The book was chosen for the UNESCO World Book Day (2008).
Odd, a Norse name meaning ‘the tip of the blade’- is a young boy; although the name is meant to bring him luck, Odd is far from knowing what the word means. He is fatherless, having lost his dad in a Viking sea -raid, when he was only ten years old. He is physically maimed when he has an accident with an axe while chopping down a tree- it leaves him lame in the right leg. But what is most endearing about Odd, is his smile.
His mother, who is Scottish, marries a rich widower - Eldred, who ill treats Odd at the slightest provocation, whilst his mother is preoccupied looking after her seven other step children. Winter arrives, cold and almost arctic, never ending, threatening the onset of spring. Odd seems to have had enough at home, and decides he must get away; he leaves his stepfather’s abode for his own father’s hut in the chilly woods. In the forest, he meets a bear (with its paw caught in a tree trunk),a fox and a crow- unaware that these are Norse gods trapped in the bodies of these creatures - Loki, Odin and Thor - trapped thus by Frost Giants (who is actually just one giant).




He learns from the animals, that the winter was going to last forever, unless the Frost Giant is defeated. Odd comes to know that the city of Asgard has been invaded by the giant, who deceived Loki , and took Thor’s hammer - thus granting him dominion over the city and the terrible prospect of an endless winter. Odd decides to help the gods, who lead him to Mimir’s Well, to gain more astuteness and insight; here he sees his past, even his parents’ lives, and the possibility of a great future. Avoiding unnecessary conflict and confrontation, Odd uses his natural flair for negotiation, transitioning from the timid character we meet in the beginning of the story to a more confident boy, standing up to face all odds with skill and stoicism. Even his mother is transformed, as she sees her son as an inspiration, and garners strength from her son’s new persona.
Throughout the book, we learn to respect the young twelve year old Odd for the character he displays despite the adversities he’s pitted against. Friendships are tested, mistrust and deceit abound, but our hero remains untouched. He practices forgiveness and moves own, without any excess emotional baggage to hinder his quest. The Goddess Freya bestows partial healing to his lame leg, and he grows taller, stronger, leaning on a carved staff, bequeathed to him by none other than Odin, the All –Father.
The story touches a number of themes that appeal to a reader- coping with physical disability, the loss of a parent to death or even remarriage, the sadness of not knowing love at an early age, gracefully accepting that there is a place for everyone under god’s sun, and giving people a second chance. A must read - Neil Gaiman’s best, most human, and touching tale thus far!

Odd and the Frost Giants (published in 2008) - Written by Neil Gaiman

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

M is for Magic (A book by Neil Gaiman) - Published in 2007

The book is a compilation of short stories, written by Gaiman: ‘Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams.’ He alludes to Saki, Harlan Ellison, John Collier and Ray Bradbury, all writers whom he adores and is influenced by; the ten stories have range, exploring Gaiman’s depth and style, imagination and passion as a writer.

1. The case of Four and Twenty Blackbirds (from Knave)
The story has characters from nursery rhymes, that beloved and fragile eggshell encased character Humpty-Dumpty, is a vicious extortionist in the tale, unlike the image we have of him from Mother Goose!
And Jill, actually the Queen of Hearts, gets a makeover, the woman of scarlet with myriad dark shades is a criminal par excellence, having gotten rid of HD, Cock Robinson and Dr. Foster – all for the four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie and the one who pecked her nose off - audaciously HD having photographed her sans snoot - reason enough in Nursery-land to bump someone off! A macabre read for a child!

2. Troll Bridge (from Smoke and Mirrors)
When steam engines became a thing of the past and railway tracks were uprooted, a young boy revels in childhood rituals - walking home from school, catching shrimp, colored rocks and whiling away time. And then he’s lost (but doesn’t seem to mind it!) – what makes it even more adventurous is his meeting with a troll - horrifying and threatening to eat him for having trespassed his bridge. But after promising to return when he’s older, the troll lets him by unscathed. When he’s fifteen, he returns, although unknowingly - with a girl, planning to do what teenagers would, unchaperoned, - and then, the troll freezes the girl into a zombie. This time the boy asks the troll to take the girl, he refuses (because she’s innocent) – he’d rather eat his life. Once again, the teenager appeals to the troll’s kindness and escapes.
Many years later, disillusioned, he returns, seeking the troll, who is surprised, even touched that he returned-and this time, he does eat his life, leaving the man, now a troll to haunt the greens under the bridge.

3. Don't ask Jack (from Smoke and Mirrors)
Some toys you buy off the counter, some are bequeathed - in the story, its Jack’s ornate box, never opened because it’s so valuable, and so an aura surrounds it, giving wind to many stories; the most circulated being that Jack was the guardian of Pandora’s box - he kept the evil from getting out.
But sometimes some kids do open the box, quietly, in the attic - and Jack comes out from the box, whispering things they’ll never forget. The children in the house grow up, one dead in the Great War, another in a mad house, the girls now old women, and all this while, Jack waits upstairs patiently for a child to come by - they never do.
Chilling and creepy, the story is great for a night time bed story -don’t look under the bed, and if you have   a box on the dresser, don’t you dare open it - Jack would know, he’s waiting…




4. How to sell the Ponti Bridge (from Imagine #24)
The American conman George Parker sold the Brooklyn Bridge twice a week, and repeatedly, for years, giving rise to the phrase “and if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you.”
The Rogues’ Club is an exclusive intergalactic joint - the best in all the seven worlds, formed almost seventy thousand years ago (the bad guys have been around that long!)  in the Lost City of Carnadine. One evening, over conversations about past exploits and fine wine, a patron comments how classless it was when conmen tried to sell popular spots like the Ponti Bridge, to unsuspecting and susceptible tourists. That was low, even for accomplished fraudsters! The narrator comments that if at all the task was to be accomplished - the perpetrator would have no access to membership at this Club!
A suave man called Stoat cuts in politely, and tells all around that in fact - HE had gotten membership to The Rogues’ because he had sold the Ponti Bridge! He shares with them how he’d arrived penniless, and while listening to a tour guide at the bridge (studded with jewels) that Ponti wasn’t for sale, despite what scamsters were telling simple folk like them. That gave Stoat food for thought, and in his unctuous way, he sells the Bridge, bit by bit to jewelers of the city. Not revealing what the details were and what the consequences of his act were, Stoat leaves his audience wondering, and in wonder. The Rogues present feeling not so cad-like and clever anymore.

5. October in the chair (from Conjunctions)
October is chairing a meet of the twelve months, as they sit by a fire, sharing their experiences. Needless to say, October has the best story to tell. He narrates a tale about a little boy called Runt (here –a name, otherwise – a word meaning an undersized animal) , well that was his nickname, the only person who called him by his actual name Donald was his grandma. One day, Runt runs away from home, and befriends the ghost of a boy called ‘Dearly’. They have the best time- climbing trees and talking to each other. When it’s time to leave- Runt doesn’t want to, he’d rather die than go back to being a ‘runt’.
The story ends with Dearly showing Runt the farmhouse in the field of weeds, and as the ten year old stands by himself in the graveyard, he decides to go into the house, maybe hoping that he would be accepted as a ‘resident’ in the after life -yard, with Dearly for a friend. A jittery June asks what happened to him, but mild May entreats with  her not to ask, some things are better left unknown….I wonder, though…

6. (For Ray Bradbury) Chivalry  (from Smoke and Mirrors)
Genteel and aged Mrs. Whitaker purchases the Holy Grail from Oxfam, along with two Mills & Boons titles (which she’ll never read). The silver chalice would look wonderful on the , it mantelpiece.
And look wonderful – it does! Mrs. Greenberg, though, casts a jaundiced eye over it, proclaiming her son her son Myron had won a chalice like that for swimming- and unlike this one, his had his name engraved on it!
Social ritual over, the bell rings once more and Mrs. Whitaker opens the door to find a ‘knight in shining armor’, literally, at her doorstep. He introduces himself as Galaad, and that he is on a Right High and Noble Quest to find the Holy Grail- which is currently in her possession. The old lady asks him to leave when he requests that she give him the blessed chalice, refusing his offer for gold in exchange for it.
He returns again on Monday, and she asks him to help her out in the garden, he offers her the sword Balmung, she refuses, he leaves. On Tuesday, she gets him to help her with the boxes; he bears more gifts: the Philosopher’s stone, the  Egg of the Phoenix and lastly an apple carved out of a single ruby, the last would help her once more be youthful and live eternally.
She tut-tuts and tells the Knight to ‘put the apple away…you shouldn’t offer things like that to old ladies. It isn’t proper.’ Finally, she feels that the Stone and the  Egg were a fair exchange for the Grail, and sends Galaad away. On her next trip to Oxfam, she almost buys an old funny looking lamp- but decides not to, since there isn’t space on the mantelpiece for it.
Galaad still chivalrous after thousands of years, never once taking advantage of the Old Lady, who for her meager life, takes great pride in who she is and what her life has to offer. The best read  in the Book, so far!

7. The price  (from Smoke and Mirrors)
Perhaps the best read on Halloween’s, The Price tells of a Black Cat that is adopted by  the Author’s family, it is well cared for and loved. However, much to the bewilderment of the couple, Black Cat is always found wounded and bleeding each morning. With its best interest at heart, the narrator thinks it might help  if the cat were locked in the basement, far from harm’s way; strange things, bad things start to happen to the family, and the lady of the house, intuitively asks the husband to let the cat out of the
basement - she had commented on its arrival that it was a ‘person.’ Curious and concerned to find out who or what is harming the pet, the narrator stays awake all night- and discovers that the Devil, in guise of a woman, nearly mutilates the Black Cat, who puts up a fight and sends the Devil packing.
Realizing then that the cat is actually protecting his family, the narrator makes a decision to keep it, although guilty for The Price he expects it to pay….creepy.

8. How to talk to girls at parties (from Fragile Things)
The title is most suggestive and narrates the travails of Enn, whose only experience with the fairer sex is mums discussing politics and poetry, and the three girls he’s kissed. Understandably envious of Vic, his pal who has a way with women, Enn follows him around like a woebegone pup waiting for a treat. When it’s his turn to finally meet someone, Gaiman sets up an encounter with ‘alien women’ who want to fertilize him with a memetic virus transmitted verbally , in the form of a poem-such that the entire human race will be transformed. This alien-girl called Triolet sings him a poem, believing that if he hears it, it will change him. The story may have meant to thrill, but actually grosses you out and one can understand when Vic throws up after an encounter with a girl, who was also an extraterrestrial creature. Best avoided.

9. Sunbird (from Noisy Outlaws)
Augustus TwoFeathers McCoy, Professor Mandalay, Virginia Boote, Jackie Newhouse and Zebediah Crawcrustle are looking for something new to sink their teeth into - literally. The five are members of an epicurean club and have tried everything - from the exotic to the bizarre - and are raring, hungry for more. Mammoths, sloths, fruit bat, panda - have all traveled through their entrails.
And then they lament the fact that Man is no longer on the menu - served after electrocution (this is  getting more gut churning and sick) , thankfully they aren’t after man-meat, but instead decide to travel to Cairo to hunt the elusive Sunbird (Phoenix).
The Sunbird is set to come to Earth when the planet is closest to the Sun, and as the beauteous creature floats down, it is soon served on a platter to the five - who devour it with gusto. No sooner had they finished eating,  their innards feel like they are being set ablaze, and as they burn to white ash, a new generation of birds is born, a man who rises from the ashes like a Phoenix and a young girl…bizarre, avoidable.

10. The witch's headstone (from Dark Alchemy: Magical Tales from the Masters of Modern Fantasy)
Nobody ‘Bod’ Owens, the human creature among the dead, decides to crossover to unconsecrated ground - to where the Witch’s Headstone was supposed to be; she seems a likeable creature, helpful and kind.
Going to great lengths to steal a snakestone, then selling it to a corrupt trader Abanazer, Bod tries his level best to ensure that Lizzie gets her headstone - she healed his broken leg, after all!
When Abanazer  and his goon try and rough him up, Lizzie comes to his rescue, saving him from the kidnappers. Although his guardian Silas is upset that he’s been absconding without anyone knowing, the man-ghost-vampire like creature understands why Bod did what he did.
The story is an excerpt from the Graveyard Book, elaborated for effect for a short, separate story.

M is for Magic (A book by Neil Gaiman) - Published in 2007