13 September 2015

Noah' s Compass, by Anne Tyler

"In the sixty-first year of his life, Liam Pennywell lost his job." is the first sentence of Noah's Compass. Anne Tyler has always had a knack for capturing me from the start, but I found this hook extraordinarily effective.

Pennywell experiences a second disaster almost right away, and with these events, Tyler introduces us to another of her very human--quirky, selfish, out-of-it--characters, and his family, which is also singular; yet, isn't there some platitude about all families being crazy when viewed up close?

Another terrific read from one of my very favorite authors.

The Jezebel Remedy, by Martin Clark

Joe and Lisa Stone are lawyers, married twenty years, and in practice together. They have an extremely eccentric client, Lettie VanSandt, who dies in a fire at her home in very strange circumstances.

As this legal mystery unfolds, we learn that there is a lot more to Lettie and her world than anyone expected.

The characters in this book are pretty good. Joe Stone may be just a little bit too manly and perfect to be believed, and Lisa smokes so much that reading this book I found myself having psychosomatic bronchitis.

The setting is rural Virginia, and there are a lot of pleasant home-town characters that support Lisa and Joe when things get rough. There is also an evil pharmaceutical corporation with an amoral leader who is very easy to despise. I never mind seeing that industry put in a bad light.

There are plot elements included that might have been done without. I don't want to spoil the enjoyment of the book for anyone by being specific here, but perhaps a more aggressive editor would be good for Mr. Clark.

The mystery itself is functional. I do think the resolution was just a little bit too facile, but I didn't mind. I enjoyed this book and read it in about a day.

Martin Clark is a Virginia circuit-court judge, according to the book jacket. This is interesting, as there is a very likable judge character in this book, named Klein. He has other books, one is Legal Limit, which I may look for.

07 September 2015

Truth Like the Sun, by Jim Lynch

This book is set in both 1962 and 2001. Roger Morgan is an important promoter of the Seattle World's Fair, the expo of 1962, the "Century 21" extravaganza that left its footprint on Seattle, a mark that may still be seen in many places, but none so obvious as the Space Needle, which has come to be the icon of Seattle.

Washington Post Review

New York Times Review

This is also about a young PI reporter, Helen Gulanos, in 2001, who takes on the story of Morgan and the corrupt network of illegal gambling businesses, real-estate traders, and law enforcement with whom he seems to have been involved during his ruthless promotion of the Expo, as well as the subsequent boom in Seattle as the I5 freeway was completed, changing the layout of the city and value of properties.

Many colorful fictional characters are in this story in both eras. Exactly who they represent would be an interesting study, but I doubt that anyone has the desire to fight the lawsuits--not to mention other consequences--that would result from an attempt to publish such a study.

The reviews are lukewarm, but I found this book impossible to put down, and read it in about a day.

05 September 2015

The Mayor of MacDougal Street, by Dave Van Ronk with Elijah Wald

With a foreword by Lawrence Block.

I saw Dave Van Ronk at Caffe Lena a long time ago. The memory is dim, but I remember his big, wheezy, wonderful voice and fabulous guitar. I think this was circa 1967, but I can't be sure. I also have a faded recollection of owning at least one Dave Van Ronk LP, but the only thing I really recall is that the record itself was bright red.

This book was a pure pleasure to read. Van Ronk recalls the late 50s and early 60s in Greenwich Village. He knew many of the luminaries of that period, including Joni Mitchell, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, and Bob Dylan. In addition, he was friends with Mississippi John Hurt and other famous American root-musicians.

Van Ronk was a consummate musician. He put everything into his music. He began with jazz. He describes himself as a "mouldy fig," of the traditional New Orleans Jazz school -- as opposed to the be-bop revolutionaries like Charlie Parker -- but he loved it all. He listened to all kinds of music, including musical theatre and classical. As his personal style developed, he fell into the genres described as "blues," and "folk," but he devotes several paragraphs to the meaninglessness of said categories, specifically as useless barriers that do nothing to enhance or describe the art of music, and musical performance.

Reading this book was a pleasant visit to my teenage years, when I listened to every note played by Jack Elliot, Bob Dylan, Dave Van Ronk, or Joni Mitchell as if it contained the key to all understanding.

Elijah Wald did a loving and thorough job of co-authoring this memoir. Van Ronk died before it was completed, and Wald had to do his best to pick up the pieces. The result should make him very proud.