The Kennedy Assassination, by Jacob Hornberger

Three stars

Hornberger entertains the reader with an excerpted compilation of the various articles he’s written about the various aspects of the Kennedy assassination, all of which fuel the belief that things are not as public was led to believe. Focussing on three key areas–Kennedy’s wounds, the arrival of the body at the Bethesda Naval Hospital, and the documentation of the autopsy–Hornberger shows the reader just how outrageous the official findings tend to be. Throughout this short book, the glaring inaccuracies and fabricated evidence piles up, leaving the sensible reader to see that a conspiracy is the only possible answer. Short chapters prove highly effective to push the argument along and Hornberger’s reasoning is sound, which can only help readers understand how duped the world has been for over half a century.

I have enjoyed the ongoing Kennedy assassination conspiracy for most of my life, having cut my teeth on it during the Oliver Stone classic film. What Hornberger seeks to do in this collection is nothing new or even shocking, but only adds to the ongoing collection of evidence that readers can digest at their liking. Told in a succinct and convincing manner, Hornberger does not mince words or let characters have the benefit of the doubt. He does, however, offer strong and compelling arguments while keeping his soapbox preaching to a minimum. A good piece of conspiracy material that has younger theorists like myself eager for the day all is released for thorough vetting.  

Kudos, Mr. Hornberger for this compilation of interesting insights. I am curious to get my hands on some of your full-length articles to see more of the thorough arguments for myself.

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, by Walter Isaacson

Five stars

Seeking to continue my trek to better understand the birth of America and its Founding Fathers, I tackled Walter Isaacson’s biography of Benjamin Franklin. The book offers not only a great examination of the man, but also a wonderful set of vignettes related to all the activities Franklin undertook in his life. This most eclectic of men, the fifth generation of the youngest son of the youngest son, dazzled many he met and Isaacson’s presentation surely will pull in many readers as well. In Isaacson’s examination, three themes emerge related to Franklin’s persona: a common man, the inquisitive thinker, and the great Founding Father. Using these themes and Isaacson’s strong narrative, the reader learns so much in this one tome, all of which helps better shape the view of this most varied of the early men who shaped America.

At no point did Ben Franklin make himself out to be anything other than a common man. He lived a simple life and grew up surrounded by sixteen siblings in a household where frugality was itself considered posh. Becoming self-sufficient at a young age, Franklin sought to make a name for himself in the Philadelphia region becoming a printer at a young age and beginning a career that would make him a household name before any of his Founding roles. He sought to educate the masses with the written word, from tracts to pamphlets and even into satirical books, proving that the pen has its might and can sway as effectively as the sword. Isaacson offers a dose of humanness to Franklin by discussing his dalliances that brought about a bastard son, William, but balances the scales when showing that Franklin did not shirk from his responsibilities. Franklin did marry and have a legitimate family of his own, but they seemed to take a secondary place to his work and eventually to his curiosities, as mentioned below. Franklin remained well rooted throughout his life, even when politics came knocking, differentiating himself from the likes of the military Washington or highly political Jefferson. A common man to the last of his days, Franklin always sought the best for his fellow man without pretentiousness or a sense of entitlement. 

That Franklin was always thinking appears to be a recurring thread in Isaacson’s narrative. Franklin never stopped wondering what was and what might be, given the chance. As early as when he began publishing, Franklin sought to better the lives of those around him by pushing the limits of the day and expressing a concrete desire to grow. Franklin printed his stories and ideas to force the common man to think about life and how he presents himself, hoping to open the mind up to new ideas or a better means of living the current one. Isaacson illustrates Franklin’s ideas which included fire brigades, property insurance, and even public lending libraries. He saw an opening and a need and simply presented a plan in the microcosm of Philadelphia, which blossomed into something most people take for granted. Moving into the world of science, Franklin espoused a greater interest in opening new channels of thinking, but always practical ideas rather than esoteric or theoretical ones. Franklin began discoveries of electrical conversion and conservation by creating primitive batteries, curiosities around electric fencing, and paved the way for future theoretical scientists to formulate some of the ideas Franklin found while tinkering. Isaacson presents Franklin’s ideas in such a way as to elevate his stature without leaving the reader to think he was better than anyone else, something biographers of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson fail to do in their respective tomes. Franklin did things for the curiosity of it and used that questioning spirit to help those around him. These ideas have, presently, become so ensconced in daily life that to learn of their inventor may leave the reader in awe.

Franklin’s concern for the common man and his innovative mind spawned a retired life where politics played a central role. Early in the tome, Isaacson mentions that Franklin was the only Founding Father who had a hand in all of the documents related to the eventual sovereignty of America. While he was strongly loyal to the British Crown, he did see some of the issues his fellow colonists felt, particularly in the realm of taxation and control of local affairs. Isaacson discusses Franklin’s plan to create a form of legislative agreement that would allow regional and even colonial issues to be handled within the region, while working with the Crown and permitting a British overseer. This idea could have, Isaacson posits, curtailed the need for the Revolutionary War and likely allowed a more Canadian-based solution to the colonial quagmire (the latter part of this point is not Isaacson’s but my political insight). It failed and Franklin stood firm with his colonial brothers in fighting for equality and representation. Franklin was elected to represent Pennsylvania at the bargaining table in London, but all his insight could not sway the likes of HRH George III, which precipitated the eventual War of Independence. With extensive sections of the tome dedicated to Franklin’s various diplomatic positions, in both London and Paris, during those years ahead of the War and the period of peace negotiations. Franklin stopped at nothing to secure America’s support from European allies and to temper the issues arising in the Mother Country. Isaacson does a masterful job at presenting this, as well as arguing that Franklin was likely the single man able to quell the size of the fight put up by the British during this colonial divorce proceedings. All this and the number of “who’s who” historical figures that Franklin encountered and liaised with will surely astound the reader to no end. Isaacson does not shy away from examining Franklin’s extensive work on constitutional documents, after Britain negotiated a settlement. While Franklin was elderly and not the greatest orator, his ideas were firmly rooted in democratic means, to benefit the people. Some ideas fell by the wayside when the consummate politicians scoffed at his empowering the common man, while others received strong consideration and eventually inclusion in the final constitutional documents. To call Franklin an important character in the political realm of America seems an understatement.

While Franklin showed a varied and pleasantly passionate side, a quasi-fourth theme emerges throughout the tome; Franklin’s complete abandonment of his family, particularly the women. Franklin galavanted throughout the colonies and into Europe with little regard for his wife, Deborah, penning letters to her on occasion and discussing how the woman whose home he shared while working in London had become so close to him. Franklin did not return when he discovered she’d had a stroke, nor did he rush back when she died. Franklin seemed to be divorced from his spousal responsibilities and did not give it a second thought. While he penned pleasant notes to his daughter and her husband, again, Franklin made little effort to attend her wedding or play any role in her life leading up to that point. Like the man always tinkering in the garage, Franklin had too much to do and too little time for those around him, unless they were as ensconced with his actions. Add to this, the aforementioned William, his bastard son, became a Royal Governor of New Jersey and thus put him opposite Franklin for much of the younger’s adult life. It is interesting to note that Franklin had a wonderful relationship with his grandchildren, as Isaacson shows throughout, no matter how poorly he treated his own children. This is an interesting theme, familial abandonment, and one that I have not seen in any of the previous Founding Father biographies. Very poignant and it does balance well against all the good that Franklin did in his life.

Isaacson’s biographical sketch of Franklin is both thorough and entertaining, keeping the reader away from the quagmires of the mundane while not skimming over key aspects. Full of wonderful insights throughout, Isaacson shows the attention to detail and extensive research he undertook to weave this together. With strong themes and exceptionally off the wall observations (that Franklin’s fathering of William led to two additional generations of bastard children begetting bastards) keep the reader pushing forward with interest and awe, rather than out of a sense of necessity. Like the previous figure Isaacson tackled that I have already read (Steve Jobs), the man appears to come alive through the author’s wonderful prose.

Kudos, Mr. Isaacson for your sensational biography. I cannot wait to sink my teeth into your other political juggernaut (Kissinger) or scientist (Einstein).

Invasion of Privacy, by Christopher Reich

Five stars

What if there were a supercomputer that could track the entire digital presence of any single person? What if it were in the hands of one man, using a single program? Such in the premise of the latest Christopher Reich novel. When FBI Agent Joe Grant and his confidential informant are murdered in rural Texas, his wife Mary is left with a number of unanswered questions. A cryptic voicemail leaves her confused, which is only exacerbated by its sudden disappearance from her phone. Working with what she recalls of the message, Mary seeks answers surrounding the FBI case on which Joe worked. Those within the Organisation stonewall her, which only adds to the mystery and pushes Mary to delve deeper. What she does not realise is that these inquiries have been raising red flags with Ian Prince, a multi-billionaire in possession of the greatest supercomputer of all time, able to track all minutiae related to a person’s digital footprint. With over ninety percent of the world’s servers and Internet-capable devices at his disposal, Prince will stop at nothing to cover up what he is doing while gathering information to expose his enemies. With the help of a disgraced reporter, Mary seeks to peel back the layers related to Joe’s case while dodging bullets (literally) from Prince’s team. As the exposure heats up, Mary will find help from an unexpected source close to her, who seeks to discover a mystery as well. Another must-read by this formidable writer, who grabs technology by the horns and leaves the reader in complete awe.

Reich finds himself at the centre of social commentaries with every novel he has released in the past number of years. Examining the Internet and wireless technology, Reich posits that nothing is safe and no shred of information can be protected with even the most sensitive of security software. Reich shows the lengths to which those with means can go and how a person’s online profile is more than a Facebook account or reservations through an airline’s database. With a powerful set of characters and a story perfectly paced to keep the reader on the edge of their seats, Reich perfects another one-off novel. Chills will likely appear down the reader’s spine during this aptly titled novel, turning us all back into Luddites.

Kudos, Mr. Reich for this wonderful piece. I am still in awe and wonder if I ought to be posting this review, for fear it may open a portal to further intrusions into my thought processes. 

The Girl in the Maze, by R.K. Jackson

Three stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, R.K. Jackson, Alibi, and Random House Publishing Group for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

Jackson seeks to make a mark on the psychological thriller genre after a successful career as a science writer and employee of CNN. This debut novel has a number of great aspects, as well as some tweaking a first-time published author can expect. After a psychotic break and time in an institution, Martha Covington arrives in Amberleen, Georgia. She’s taken a job working with the local historical society and is helping with a project to preserve this history and lands of the Geeshee, who descended from slaves and have remained a strong presence for the past two centuries. While transcribing the oral histories of the region, voices that haunted her in the past reemerge and leave her scrambling to understand what is going on, both inside her mind and in her environs. After a horrific murder finds her pitted as the perfect suspect, she must go into hiding to keep the authorities away. She is innocent, or so she thinks, but has no one to vouch for her, save an activist sought by the authorities for his own transgressions. Could the mysteries she uncovered in her research be the key to why she is being targeted? Might her mental illness be something that can be handled without medications by the Geeshee? Jackson poses these and many other questions in a fast-paced novel that pulls the reader into the dark side from the early stages.

An established writer, Jackson can expect to have the polish of the written word and utilise this forte to pull the reader into the story. Much of the story is strong and the dialogue believable, placing the reader in rural Georgia without issue. The story moves effectively and the pace is such that a reader feels the progression without too many barricades. However, the “flow of antifreeze from the heart” factor, a psychological thrill, lacks from the outset. There is enough fodder to create something eerie, but its presentation skims only the surface. I did not find myself gasping or wondering what lay beyond the next corner, even if Jackson tried to place Martha in such situations. It was more a thriller with a keen subplot about the horrors of mental disease, a social commentary embedded in the piece. One cannot ignore the numerous capitalisation issues in the unedited proof, which were distractions and an amateur mistake on either Jackson’s part or a gofer given a day to sit at the proofing desk. At this stage (both just before publication and by a man whose life has been writing), this is unacceptable and should never have been left to make its way out of the publishing house. Jackson has some great ideas, some solid means of presenting a story, but needs to work on the delivery and hone that chill factor before publishing under this genre again. Overall, a decent first effort to intrigue new readers.

Kudos, Mister Jackson for this decent first attempt at published work. Keep working on the skills you have and you will surely rise to the middle of your genre. The rest is up to your ideas and the dedication you bring to the craft.

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, by Jon Meacham

Four stars

Seeking to continue my trek to better understand the birth of America and its Founding Fathers, I tackled Meacham’s biography on Thomas Jefferson. Choosing to infuse literary breath into one of the key actors in much of the early creation of the state and its constitutional foundations, Meacham not only offers an over-arching narrative, but delves into the corners of Jefferson’s life, allowing the reader to have a better and well-rounded approach to this key historical figure. While Meacham offers Jefferson’s life through nine lenses, dividing his life into smaller and more digestible portions, three significant themes emerge as central arcs to better depict Jefferson’s life. A synthesis of the text sees Jefferson as a committed man, a stalwart politician, and a sharp statesman. These themes emerge throughout the text, even with the firm chronological flow of Meacham’s tome. A biography worthy of examination for the reader looking to better understand Jefferson and the rumours swirling around his earlier historical depictions.

That Jefferson is a man committed to all he undertakes cannot be denied, based on Meacham’s text. The biography moves forward to show that Jefferson, who came from a well established family, grew up with a strong thirst for knowledge. Jefferson always sought to open his mind to new ideas and to learn from whomever he could. He read and spoke as one would imagine a Greek thinker might have done 2 millennia earlier, always asking questions and building his ideas on those who influenced his life. From there, Jefferson became a man not only of knowledge, but one who dabbled in many areas: literature, politics, science, innovation, and even architecture. His passions extended outside of the esoteric, finding his greatest love in women. While Meacham hints at Jefferson’s fondness for the opposite sex, there is little to deter the reader from feeling that Martha Wayles was the love of his young life. Their marriage, a decade long, was filled with passion and six children, though few survived. Jefferson took her death personally and used his depression to fuel his aforementioned passions. While rumours around his involvement with Sally Hemings, Meacham handles it with the greatest aplomb, addressing it not as a tabloid scandal but presenting its inevitable occurrence. Whether the Jefferson-Hemings interaction was based on an amorous connection or strictly a power relationship cannot be definitively known, though Meacham does mention reports of the strong physical resemblance of Hemings’ children to Jefferson and how his time on his estate matched with the pregnancies. This did not mar Jefferson’s life or the high regard in which he was seen. His personal life and interests were strongly supported by Meacham throughout the tome, including his final years at the Monticello estate, where a detailed architectural and design discussion ensues. Jefferson’s connection to his personal beliefs are well-rooted in his final years, as he sought to better understand the emancipation movement and the American move towards the abolition of slavery. Meacham argues throughout the tome that Jefferson was a man like no other, with his own interests that fuelled his mind to the bitter end.

Born in Virginia at a time of strong political sentiment and eventual rebellious sentiments towards the British, it is no wonder that Jefferson found himself at the centre of the controversies in his political life. While he served in the House of Burgesses, where another Virginian named Washington made his mark, Jefferson began to hone his political skills and formulated his deeply-rooted beliefs. Meacham argues that Jefferson’s passion with the written word acted to propel the revolutionary movement forward as he helped to create the ideas behind the Declaration of Independence and penned the final document himself. This authorship saw him gain much favour within the Colonies, but he became a hunted man by the British Red Coats. His political life resurrected itself after the War of Independence when he headed to Philadelphia as a delegate to the Continental Congress, but soon crossed the Atlantic to work for the new America in Paris. Jefferson took that time to critique the constitutional document presented by the Congress and added his concerns. Jefferson saw the intricacies of the new America and sought to individualise it from the British influence so prominent in the Colonies. Jefferson’s political side reared its head again after he accepted a position in Washington’s Cabinet at Secretary of State, but became more powerful upon his departure from that body. As Jefferson saw himself as a Democratic Republican (not the oxymoronic phrase it would have today), he realised that there was a need to stand for an independent-minded form of government in America that did not promote a monarchy of some sort, as promoted by the Federalists. He battled the likes of John Adams on this point and, as Meacham illustrates, sought to ensure that the shackles of British oppression did not seep back in with the appearance of a crowned or hereditary monarch in the collective colonial unit. Meacham shows Jefferson’s passion for political ideals throughout the narrative and promotes the importance of the first political schism and party politics in 1796. Meacham depicts Jefferson’s political knowledge on numerous occasions throughout the tome, leaving no doubt about his political importance in early America.

The image of strong statesman seems a foregone conclusion when examining Jefferson’s political acumen, though the terms differ greatly. In his time as Secretary of State, Jefferson sought to work effectively with the European allies that helped secure a colonial victory, while also mending fences with the British. Jefferson utilised some of his time in the position to build strong ties and promote the new America, while also ensuring that this new state did not fall prey to those wishing to strike on a weakened and somewhat scattered colonial collective. Meacham shows that Jefferson’s ideas became his ideals, from which he would not stray. This left him no choice but to leave the role when the Federalists rooted their monarch-centric views within Washington’s Cabinet and Jefferson found himself at odds with the likes of John Adams. However, he hoped to push his republican ideas from the outside and eventually in the vice-presidential role, which clashed thoroughly with the aforementioned Adams. It was this that fuelled the great election of 1800, pitting Federalists against the Republican ideals on which Jefferson stumped so heavily. This is also the election that required a deadlock breaking in the House of Representatives, as Meacham depicts both in the preface and with more detail within the tome, where discussion of bribery and promises begat the final sway needed to secure victory. Meacham illustrates that Jefferson sought to push a hands-off approach to the state by positing that there need be time for Americans to find their niche. Jefferson scaled back the military and navy as well, feeling that the revolutionary times were past. Meacham discusses the great embargo with Britain, after a naval clash, and how the president sought to keep war off the table, no matter the public outcry for its use. All this pales in Meacham’s great argument surrounding the height of Jefferson’s statesman role; the acquisition of the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon. While this might seem a little awkward, discussing land as the highlight of a presidential career, Meacham presents it in such a way as to show how Jefferson used the new constitution to develop its Living Tree doctrine (even though the phrase had not yet been coined in Britain). The treaty for obtaining the land had to be ratified in the Senate, but Jefferson went ahead and made the arrangements. This constitutional see-saw battle helped hone the precedent of executive decision-making and legislative agreement. It happens all the time with multinational treaties and was, as the history buff will remember, the downfall of Wilson’s League of Nations. Meacham utilises this example to show how Jefferson could run an effective state, while not dictating his preconceived notions to ensure success. Perhaps it was this that helped solidify the republican movement and helps Meacham argue the position so effectively.

It is quite difficult not to play a comparison game when the reader has delved into numerous biographies about actors whose lives intertwined. Having read McCullough’s John Adams and Chernow’s Washington, the comparisons rise unsteadily to the surface. Length is the first and greatest discrepancy here. Applause to Meacham for succinctly laying out the life and times of Jefferson, while highlighting many important aspects. While Meacham admits he had not sought to write a life and times of the third president, such was the final project, which skims over many of the areas that were of greatest importance. I would have hoped for more time on the Continental Congress and creation of the constitutional documents, for these were areas of greatest importance to Jefferson in years to come. I would also have loved a further fleshing out of the personal life of Jefferson during his ‘down years’ and not brief linkages. Had I not read the other two biographies, I would likely not be making these comments, but I cannot unread what I had put in front of me and, like life in general, I bring these experiences to the forefront as I delve deeper in my understanding of the political and historical actors who shaped the world. That being said, Meacham is a wonderful wordsmith and weaves a wonderful tale from start to finish. A plethora of sources and first-hand accounts pepper the text and bring the story to life in ways that few could do with such ease.

One additional theme from the biography comes from its epilogue and author’s note. Meacham argues that while Jefferson’s views were his own, he could garner much support from those around him, both at the time and in the decades (centuries) to come. Washington and Adams had the greatest respect for the man, as did the likes of Lincoln, FDR, Truman, Kennedy, and Reagan. Jefferson’s views could appeal to those across the political spectrum, for they were rooted not in strict ideology, but in nation building and sovereignty. While America had its share of ups and downs, these political giants all turned to Jefferson’s Declaration and subsequent republican sentiments to shape the country in the 21st century. For this, his legacy parallels Washington, though for different reasons.

Kudos, Mr. Meacham for this wonderful biographical piece. Thomas Jefferson came to life in this depiction and for that you deserve the greatest of praise. I look forward to examining more of your work at a future time.

Pretty Dead (Elise Sandburg #3), by Anne Frasier

Three stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Anne Frasier, Amazon Publishing, and Thomas & Mercer for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

Without having read Frasier’s previous two novels in the series, I hoped to jump into the mix with little cause for concern. While not completely lost, I found myself wishing I had brushed up on my Elise Sandburg beforehand. Sandburg is working as the Head of Homicide in the quaint city of Savannah. After two recent murders of prostitutes, Sandburg and former FBI profiler David Gould begin investigating the early stages of a spree.Tailed by a reporter from New York, they must continue their work but remain on edge in this Castle-esque spin on police work. A serial killer on the loose, obscure Latin words on victims, and no concrete clues force Sandburg to grasp at any straw she can. When the mayor’s daughter becomes the latest victim, something has to change, as tensions run high. Two major decisions by the Chief of Police add new actors to the case, irritants for both Gould and Sandburg. After another murder points at a suspect within the force, the killer seems apparent and the manhunt begins. Sandburg and Gould must work together to piece the puzzle together, using the most unlikely of weapons, the newspaper itself. With the killer’s eye set on another victim, close to Sandburg, the race is on to catch the Savannah Killer, or face the ultimate demise. A well-paced novel that seemingly moves the characters forward and keeps the reader turning pages to see how it all plays out.

An author cannot write subsequent novels in a series and spend all their time rehashing past experiences or cases, as they will lose those who have invested time in reading up to this point. However, I find that the best way to snag new readers is to lure them in with just enough breadcrumbs to want to read what has happened, while not ruining any past plots. While I was parachuted into this reading experience, I felt as though I had an improper context of the Sandburg-Gould past relationship tensions, as well as Jackson Sweet’s role in the larger picture. Frasier mentions it all, at length, but perhaps too much so and yet leaves wide holes open. My curiosity was piqued, only to have it rained on when I learned major arcs that likely became key aspects of the plots in the past two books. Add to that, with a focus solely on this book, the flow of the book was decent, though perhaps too much happened to too many people in one single novel. Issues for Sandburg (Sweet) and Gould (Lamont) arrived simultaneously and left the reader juggle the pasts these characters share, the serial killer plot, and some of the dangling threads tossed into the mix just to highlight that the characters have backstories. Add to that, while there was a build-up in action, the killer was, even for me, too obvious from the start. There needs to be some question, some query, unless the author seeks to play parallel storylines from the get-go; have the police chase the killer in certain chapters and the killer do their work in their own chapters, allowing for the hunt from A to Z. Frasier has a good handle on the craft and without having read the past two novels, I cannot comment on this being an anomaly or par for the course, but it was somewhat troubling. However, the ideas are there and delivery is strong, with good room for growth.

Kudos, Madam Frasier for this novel. While I can be a little harsh, I do hope you garner more fans and advance the series in effective ways over the next while.

Injustice, by Lee Goodman

Five stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Lee Goldman, Emily Bestler Books and Simon & Schuster for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

Without having read Goodman’s first novel, I hoped to have no problem up the momentum and character development and not find myself lost. Goodman’s style is such that any reader could and should pick up this novel and be able to understand everything, while remaining curious about what they missed. Nick Davis is a well-established Assistant U.S. Attorney, head of the Criminal Division. Working on a case of bribery, he sets his sights on financial irregularities involving members of the state assembly. The murder of someone close to him causes his life to begin a downward spiral, only worsened when his wife, Tina, begins to push away and question their relationship. With a strained marriage and a murder investigation that leaves him stunned, Davis turns to what he knows best, getting to the bottom of things. Tina, a lawyer herself, remains fixated on her own work, seeking to exonerate a man who confessed to the murder of a boy years ago. As she uncovers facts and truths, Nick becomes involved in that case as well, but no amount of assistance can help his cause in Tina’s mind. With his billable hours and these murder investigations opening leads all over the place, Davis continues to struggle with his marriage and a possible new interest, whose life is as scattered as his. When the murderer comes to trial, revelations previously thought coincidental become central in the legal battle to bring justice to the community. With powerful courtroom and legal drama, Goodman paints a wonderful story with as many twists as one can expect from a fast-paced novel. A must-read for the legally inclined, and those who love being gobsmacked.

I cannot say enough about how well Goodman wove together this book. His approach with the Davis character not only allows the reader to want to learn more, but the breadcrumbs placed throughout the story, hinting and events from the past and characters with whom Davis has a history, enrich the experience. I often had to remind myself that there was only one previous novel and that all the past mentioned herein could not solely come from one previous novel. The detail and the means by which it is brought to the surface leave me wondering if Goodman might go back and write novels based on these previous events, including the loss of his infant son, the early years of his daughter’s life, and his first marriage in its entirety. There is enough there and, surely, he could weave in more wonderful courtroom drama, for which I cannot speak highly enough. Mixing a narrative, dialogue, and segments of ‘transcript text’, the reader is treated to all three as the story advances and this only adds realism to an already powerful novel. I cannot wait to go back to read the previous novel and hope that it is as rich with such tidbits, before looking forward to the next piece Goodman publishes.

Kudos, Mister Goodman for this entertaining piece. If all courtroom drama and legal thriller writers could moonlight as salmon fishermen, we’d have an ever stronger genre.

The Fall (Dismas Hardy #16), by John Lescroart

Five stars

A healthy annual dose of a Lescroart legal thriller does the mind and heart good. This year’s offering is just what I needed to push through a hectic summer. When the body of Anlya Paulson falls into oncoming traffic, authorities are left to wonder if this foster child was in the throes of a deep depression or if she was the victim of a crime. With a murder that baffles everyone, the SFPD begin their investigation, turning up the most unlikely of suspects, Greg Treadway. A middle-school teacher and Special Advocate for Anlya’s brother, Greg’s DNA is found on the body, leaving everyone to wonder if this might be the easiest of cases. Enter Dismas Hardy and his newly-minted associate, Rebecca ‘The Beck’ Hardy. Working her first homicide defence, Rebecca relies on her father’s experience and her own honed skills to hash out the truth of the Treadway case. With evidence burying them, the young Hardy and Treadwell must find a way to exonerate him, or he is sure to face prison time for decades to come. Just as the trial begins, new theories emerge and shoddy police work may prove helpful. As The Beck learns, she must not only possess these facts, but get them into evidence. The battle is on as she pushes the envelop to advocate for her client, with everything she has. In a powerful novel that sheds the spotlight on yet another former minor character, this story remains high-action and legally sound from the opening pages onwards, in true Lescroart fashion. Not to be missed by series fans or new and curious readers alike.

In the years I have been reading Lescroart’s novels, never have I come up against one I did not enjoy. He has honed his skills over the years and utilises a large cast of characters to develop a solid foundation, pulling some out for one novel and shelving them for a period. That said, these characters and themes associated with them always reappear in some form, if only to add a flavour to the story that remains unique. Bringing Rebecca from out of the shadows was a brilliant choice by Lescroart, while not writing Dismas out of the game entirely. Could this be the beginning of a new generation of legal thrillers, while keeping the Wyatt Hunt and Abe Glitsky novels slowly churing as well? Only time will tell as readers become more aware of this sensational legal writer.

Kudos, Mr. Lescroart for making me an addict to your work. I cannot wait to see what else you have percolating!

Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow

Five stars (of five)

After reading a fictional series set throughout the U.S. War of Independence, I became highly curious about some of its key actors. The first such individual is George Washington, known as the general who led the troops to victory and became the Republic’s first president. However, as Ron Chernow seeks to illustrate in his tome, little is actually known about Washington beyond his general persona. Chernow posits that many short and superficial biographies have been written, which offer only a shallow glimpse into the man and his life. Other pieces span volumes and are likely too dense or detailed to be of much use to the general public. For Americans and history buffs alike, this single-volume work offers a comprehensive look at Washington as it weaves along a narrative from cradle to grave. The tome highlights numerous aspects of Washington’s life, as Chernow presents a man in six periods of his life, generally told in a chronology easy to digest. As Chernow has undertaken my usual style of finding themes in the individual on discussion, I will analyse this book from a different angle; whether it provides key pillars to a strong biography. A truly powerful biography ought to encompass strong views of the individual throughout their life, give flowing connection through historical happenings, and offer a collection of anecdotes little known to the reader for synthesis. Chernow accomplishes this on many levels and makes the story one of both education and pure entertainment. George Washington is no simple man, which Chernow accentuates effectively while presenting his findings from years of research. A piece not only deserving of attention for its detail, but its presentation that permits the general public to digest with ease.

Chernow does a fabulous job in illustrating George Washington as a person, from cradle to grave. As mentioned above, the tome is divided into six areas of Washington’s life, with thorough discussion at each point, which offers the reader a foundation on which to build the greater story. While little is known about Washington’s youth, Chernow sifts through documents to create a fluid narrative and presents it to the reader, alongside some key aspects to his family life, particularly the relationship held with Mary Ball Washington, his ornery mother. From there, the reader learns much about Washington’s service to the Crown in the French and Indian Wars, as well as early public service in the House of Burgesses and the rebellious side, as Britain began abusing its colonial residents. Chernow takes much pleasure in painting a picture of Washington outside of his titled roles, including the struggles with slavery as a landowner and the perils of the heart related to loves lost and his eventual marriage to Martha Dandridge Custis. From the outset, Washington did not imagine himself a leader or political figure, though he wrestled the reins of power away from others and led the Continental Army into battle, as well as pushing the colonial political body through tough measures once the War of Independence had been completed. The road to the presidency was also one Washington did not expect to travel, going so far as to bow out of public life, only to be coaxed back to the forefront. He served to shape the nation, then led it along its newly crafted rulebook (the Constitution) for two terms. Thereafter, there was little left for him but final retirement at Mount Vernon. Chernow creates major arcs in the tome and keeps the reader in the fray as these transformations took place, highlighting the complexity and varied nature of George Washington.

While Washington the man stands firmly supported in the text, it is the connecting pieces, which act as historical ribbons, that keep the narrative moving effectively. Chernow does not parachute the reader into six areas of Washington’s life, but offers a hands-on approach to the entire history that was Washington. The length of the tome speaks to the detail in which Chernow invests in the story, offering powerful linkages and curious tales. Detailed discussions surrounding Washington’s early years in the Virginia backcountry, exploring the Indian lands, serve as a wonderful backdrop when it comes to the wars that Britain waged on the first inhabitants of America. Additionally, countless pages of backstory on the rise to rebellion and early military skirmishes help provide the reader with an omnipresent view of life on the battlefield. Washington struggled as well as conquered, something that cannot be downplayed. Even with the War complete, building the independent country took hard work and decisive action, all of which is accounted for within the biography. One cannot forget the two terms that Washington served as president, nor the daily struggles he had as he forged into unknown areas and sought to serve effectively. Chernow uses these, and many other historical events to weave together a narrative that leaves little doubt in the reader’s mind that the author did his due diligence.

No biography can truly hold its weight if it does not shine a light on some of the lesser-known events in an individual’s life. Chernow uses his research to present these sorts of facts throughout the tome. Numerous discussions arose surrounding Washington and his dental issues. While many might be aware of the dentures he wore (actually hippopotamus or walrus ivory and NOT wood), that he sought to have the extracted teeth of others (slaves, mostly) embedded in his gums as a first effort should provide early scintillating news that the reader will take away from the tome. Also, the struggles with statue and bust creation proved highly amusing and time consuming to Washington and those around him. Even the degree of detail into which Washington sought to create the ideal constitution cannot be lost. While Washington had many public feats about which history books overflow, smaller nuggets also prove highly entertaining for the reader and pace the narrative to keep details from dragging down the flow.

Chernow addresses a number of significant themes in the tome that cannot go unmentioned. While slavery and slave owning were common practice in the 18th century, Washington struggled with this, at times. Nowhere near a great emancipator, Washington saw such labour as essential as he cultivated crops and sought to keep his household afloat. He did, however, struggle with how to move forward, within his own lands as well as on a larger scale, but never firms up a policy, for which Lincoln paid a price decades later. Another of the key themes is, predictably, the creation of the constitutional document and the Bill of Rights. The stories surrounding these two documents are highly captivating, at least for a political scientist like myself, and should prove highly intriguing to the reader. As if sitting in the rooms, Chernow allows the reader to see some of the Founding Fathers present their ideas and thoughts related to the creation of the Republic, while tossing aside some of the parliamentary or British precedents so familiar to colonial statehouses. Included therein is the debate around federalism, state rights, as well as the split between the executive and legislative branches of government. Such foundation material comes off the page and allows the reader to understand in a way no generic textbook can offer. Pure historical and biographical gold on pages throughout this piece.

George Washington was a complicated man, so varied and unique that one book could not hope to shepherd it together. Chernow does a masterful job of bringing sources together, first hand accounts of happenings, and justifies much of what he has written with solid arguments. Was Washington the greatest man ever to walk the hallowed roads surrounding the Potomac? Likely not, but Chernow makes an effective argument that his simple life and passion to shed the chains of colonial oppression are key factors in how those United States of America came to fruition.

Kudos do not seem enough to offer you, Mr. Chernow. Your masterful storytelling has left me wanting more and places you alongside Robert A. Caro and David McCullough.

Blind Spot, by Tom Kakonis

Three stars (of five)

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Tom Kakonis, and Brash Books for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

New to the Kakonis world of writing, I sought to expand my horizons and determine if he might be an author worth exploring further. After this novel, I am not yet completely sold. A trip to the planetarium goes horribly wrong for Marshall and Lori Quinn when their son, Jeff, goes missing. As they turn to the authorities for help, the Quinns soon realise that they are on their own. No leads, no clues, and few ideas keep the Chicago Police disinterested, or at least without the needed momentum to forge ahead. Marshall decides to take things into his own hands, as he refuses to give up searching. Small leads go nowhere, but he will not stop until Jeff is back home. Meanwhile, Jeff has become a victim of illicit adoption, purchased through channels that trace back to a group of men, each aware of only a small piece of the puzzle. In an attempt to fill a familial void, Jeff (now Davie) plays a role and is led to believe that his birth parents are gone forever, replaced by a new and loving pair. While Marshall Quinn scours his mind and trips on clues, he is frantic to do what no one else seems interested in doing, finding Jeff and returning him to his rightful family? Kanonis keeps the reader curious and wondering from beginning to end in this multi-part novel, which flows effectively through its seven time periods.

While the premise is solid and the delivery keeps the reader engaged, the novel has some issues that I felt were consistent and, at times, highly distracting. Kakonis has a wonderful way with prose, from the early pages of the novel as he analytically describes how his characters tackle eating a hot dog to the pace Marshall takes as he searching suburban Chicago for his son. Juxtaposed with this is a choppy and contraction-filled dialogue, which encapsulates the speech patters likely found in blue-collar factories. The issue here is that the reader is left with such a literary dichotomy that one cannot synthesise the story effectively. Is this high- or low-brow? The story is neither Chicago or class-focussed, leaving me to wonder why Kakokis chose these two styles and layered them together. He does both so well, but they distract from one another. His characters are strong, his pace is decent, and even the flow of the plot keeps the reader wanting to push ahead. It is the delivery that hampers the stellar quality of this novel, which I cannot divorce from its foundational presentation.

Kudos, Mister Kakonis for this entertaining piece. Had some of these issues been found in a larger group or at the editorial level, I could surely have lauded you with more praise for a quick-paced novel that pulls on the heartstrings of all parents.