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Promised Reviews

Promised Reviews

February 15, 2024

 Some time ago I promised (threatened) to review what I have been recently reading. Well, "recently" has come and gone but I am still working on my arm's long list, frequently interrupted by unexpected interlopers.

Enjoy.

Let me hear your opinion if you read or have read any of these or have any recommendations. 

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The Last Juror by John Grisham. Doubleday 2004

    At some point, I dismissed Grisham as formulaic. Then I found Bleachers, A Painted House, and Skipping Christmas which forced me to think again. In fact, most authors can be called formulaic -- certainly Conan Doyle, Christie, and even Clancy and Preuss. What counts is what one does within that 'formula', especially characterization, believability, consistency, and plot -- and not only as applied to mysteries.

    In The Last Juror, we follow 4 paths: The transformation of a southern County Seat from the late1960s into the 1980s. The trial and conviction of a defiant member of the local outcast family for the gruesome rape and murder of an attractive local woman and his threat to "get" his arbiters, the jury. The coming of age of Cornell dropout Willie Traynor, a "northerner" from Memphis (to a Mississippian), as he becomes the unlikely operator of the failing local newspaper and a professional observer of the local community. And, lastly, we enjoy the remarkable relationship that develops between Traynor and an unlikely local matriarch.

   Well-told, balanced, and intriguing, we enjoyed Willie's revelations about his new surroundings, his colleagues on the paper, the trial, and other notable characters he meets or observes. Most importantly, we care. We share Willie's wry understatement and curiosity as well as outrage at the delayed aftermath of the trial and the terror that ensues. You may find it difficult to bookmark and go to bed. You will surely recognize the similarity of Ford County to Sussex County at that time in history. It is a keeper.

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Night Over Water by Ken Follett.  

   I like nothing more than something I cannot put down. As usual, Follett delivers. The story concerns the passengers on the last flight of the Pan American Flying Clipper from England to America just as England declared war on Germany. No Ship of Fools, the manifest includes escaping lovers, a thief, a gangster, an industrialist trying to fend off a hostile takeover as well as a stowaway. The action builds quickly as it becomes apparent that the ship may be intentionally sabotaged off course, or worse. Later, it turns out that not all were what they claimed to be.

   Gosh! Coming of age; love triangles; industrial collusion; smuggling, running from Hitler and criminal escape! What's not to like?

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Death Is A Lonely Business by Ray Bradbury.  Knopf, 1985. 

   Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, numerous short stories printed in Playboy, Esquire, and nearly every Science Fiction magazine has always experimented. Death is no exception.  We are hearing the interior monologue of a lonely young science fiction writer struggling to survive in Venice, California in the early 1950s (check it out).

   Autobiographical? You bet. Confusing? Check.  Msterious death? Check.  Totally resolved? Perhaps.  Unusual characters? Of course.  

   Bradbury expects a lot of the reader. The author has again foregone chapters in favor of direct chronology with a few confusing flashbacks to create context. You may find this distracting, but you'll get used to it. As a story, you have to work to follow the tricks and turns; as an adventure, it is slow to develop; as a study in characters it is a joy.  Not for everyone, but rewarding at the end.

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Change Lobsters and Dance by Lilli Palmer.  Warner Books, 1975.

   Lilli Palmer grew up in Berlin in a conservative German family.  She decided early, against her surgeon father's wishes, that she wanted to be an actress. Graduating from drama school in 1932, she embarked on a difficult, perilous journey; first to Paris competing for brief gigs and then, remarkably, to England after she was scouted at a cabaret. Thus began her English-speaking film and stage career that introduced her to husband Rex Harrison and then to Hollywood films and television. Ten years after WWII she was enticed and welcomed back to Germany, as an accomplished and revered actress. She was surprised as she was a Jew, now a British subject, who had worked to oppose Hitler's Germany. Her film career spanned over 50 years: 1935 to 1986.

   Here is matter-of-fact reporting with no regrets, wailing, bemoaning or Hollywood hysterics. We know her as a handsome, accomplished actress.  As an actor, we see a woman trying to grow professionally while doing the right thing for her family, often self-doubting and always willing to learn. Her interactions with her heart-throb Gary Cooper, directors, and other thespians is part of the appeal. Her humility seems real.  

   She was an active supporter of the British war effort, a friend to many other refugees as well as British stage actors.  On arriving in Hollywood with Harrison, she found surprising inspiration in an acting coach who helped her and Harrison adapt to film. She discusses Harrison's liaison with Kay Kendall and her amicable divorce before her marriage to Carlos.

   If you want an interesting conversation with an intelligent woman about who she was and is, who is not trying to impress, brag, or harangue, this is for you. I admit to having been smitten when I was young by her looks and her voice -- in English and German.  As a keen observer of Hollywood and life in general, I recommend her.

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