A Darker Domain (Inspector Karen Pirie #2), by Val McDermid

Seven stars

McDermid returns with a novel that gives Karen Pirie the central role she lacked in the series’ opening novel. Now a Detective Inspector with Cold Cases, Pirie is approached by a woman who wishes to report her father missing after twenty-two years. Pirie learns that Mick Prentice was presumed to have left for Nottingham during the miner’s strike of 1984, where he worked as a scab. However, the more Pirie learns, the less likely Prentice appears to be prone to cross the union, no matter his financial situation. She agrees to poke around, off the books, already on bad terms with her superior. When handed a high-profile case, Pirie heads out to meet with Sir Broderick Maclennan Grant, whose daughter and grandson made headlines in the late 1980s. After Catriona Maclennan Grant and her son, Adam, were kidnapped, a group of purported anarchists contacted the family and demanded a significant ransom. During the ensuing exchange, Catriona was shot and killed, leaving the kidnappers to flee with baby Adam. For the past twenty years, Sir Broderick has been unsure what might have happened to his grandson. Distrusting of the authorities, Grant liaises with a journalist in hopes that she can use her skills to investigate and hopefully crack the case wide open. Pirie works on a few leads, though both cases seem to be going nowhere. None of the other miners who left Scotland had seen Mick Prentice since heading to Nottingham, though Pirie did uncover proof that life in the Prentice household was anything but peaceful. This fuels her belief that Mick abandoned his family, though there is no clear lead as to where he might have gone. The Grant cases takes Pirie to Italy, where the kidnappers might have fled with Adam, offering him a new identity and life, wiped clean by the little one’s young age. With her superiors breathing down her neck, Pirie pushes forward to piece together the new evidence and offer two families the answers they have lacked for the better part of twenty years. With all cold cases, answers are sometimes met with frigid responses for all parties involved. Another fabulous novel, chock-full of flashback narrative, that pulls the reader in from the early pages and refuses to let anyone rest before justice is served.

While I did make mention of Pirie’s smaller role played in the opening novel, McDermid has changed this by placing her in the middle of these two convoluted cases, which push the authorities to their limits. McDermid build a great plot around numerous well-developed characters, each bringing their own flavour to the story. With two cases running parallel to one another in the narrative, McDermid must juggle all aspects effectively, keeping the story from getting too confusing or bogged down. As with any narrative dealing with cold cases, use of flashbacks fuels the story and the reader learns much from the use of past and present. However, McDermid has a means of using varied timelines effectively while not convoluting the larger picture. The reader can confidently navigate the story without losing their way as they seek answers. Additionally, the novel boasts realistic dialogue peppered with colloquialisms and Scottish settings, allowing McDermid to write using what she knows best while delivering a superior product. Readers will not be let down by this novel, which paves the way for another explosive story to come.  

Kudos, Madam McDermid for an exciting novel. It kept my attention and had me wondering where you’d take your twists until the very end. 

The Distant Echo (Inspector Karen Pirie #1), by Val McDermid

Eight stars

As she begins the Karen Pirie series, McDermid offers readers a wonderful introduction to another fast-paced novel and lays the groundwork for what could be an exciting few stories. Scotland, 1978: After a night of drinking, drugging, and partying, Alex Gilbey and his three closest mates stumble upon Rosie Duff, who’s been raped and stabbed, bleeding out in the middle of a blizzard. By the time the authorities are alerted and brought to the scene, Duff has died and there is little doubt that the boys must have some involvement. All four adamantly deny anything to do with the murder, though they must admit knowing Duff as the barmaid from their local watering hole. While never able to nail them down to anything concrete, everyone whispers that these four got away with the perfect crime. After twenty-five years, DC Karen Pirie is assigned the cold case review of the Duff murder, which she begins in earnest. A man by the name of Graham Macfadyen comes out of the woodwork to admit that he is a relative of Rosie Duff and wants her killers brought to justice. He is certain that Gilbey and his friends are responsible, hoping that new DNA technology can bring about their eventual arrest and conviction. While the investigation brings back old and awkward memories for Gilbey, he is further unsettled when two of his friends die under mysterious circumstances and a sinister reminder of the Duff case appears at their memorial services. Gilbey cannot rest until the killer is finally put behind bars and the stalking of his friends is put to rest. Could Macfadyen be using this investigation to get the justice that Duff deserved or does he have darker desires, murdering those who will never be forced to face justice? McDermid offers up some interesting twists in this opening novel, which will entertain and intrigue the curious reader.

Having read a number of McDermid’s past novels, I rushed to this one in order to see what she might present. The use of the extended flashback not only lays the groundwork for a sensational novel, but allows the reader to connect with the characters on a much deeper level. While all could have been rammed into a preface, McDermid chose to spin the tale out in the first half of the book, giving intricate detail to the struggles that Alex Gilbey and friends faced in the light of the December 1978 murder of young Rosie Duff. Then, to propel the story into 2003-04, with more drama and antics offered the reader a foundation on which to build. Adding Macfadyen to the mix surely offered another interesting aspect to the story, though his connection to Duff is not as controversial, at least in the narrative, as could be expected. While she does appear throughout the investigation, DC Karen Pirie is only peppered throughout the story, perhaps in a way to introduce her to the reader, though she does not take centre-stage, at least not in this novel. It leaves me to wonder if McDermid needed to test the waters before bringing her out in full-force, which has me wanting to rush for the next novel to see what she offers. I will be doing so right away, for this was a great read and highly entertaining throughout. McDermid has a wonderful series on her hands, though I am unsure if it will be entirely ‘cold case’ centred. I suppose I ought to read on to see what she has to offer.

Kudos, Madam McDermid for an exciting opening novel. I look forward to seeing what you have in store for us next. 

Hades (Archer and Bennett #1), by Candice Fox

Eight stars

Candice Fox marches onto the scene and makes an instant name for herself with an Australian police procedural with a significant twist. Frank Bennett is the new man on the Homicide Squad, a recent transfer with a list of less than stellar items from his past. When paired with the independent Eden Archer, Bennett cannot help but hope that he can melt her frigid exterior, while perhaps winning his way into her heart, or at least her knickers. With her elder brother, Eric, in the squad room alongside her and willing to take the piss out of anyone who messes with Eden, the team is less a cohesive unit than one full of competition. After the discovery of a collection of steel toolboxes at the local marina, Archer and Bennett are called to the scene, only to discover the grisly remains of a number of people, some of whom have been dismembered. What ties them together is that the bodies have at least one set of organs missing, removed with surgical precision. There is a killer on the loose, but who is procuring and accepting these organs? As Archer and Bennett dig a little deeper, they discover a correlation between those who remove themselves from the donor transplant list and a number of missing persons in and around the Sydney area. After interviewing at least one couple, they learn of the killer’s motive; to offer up the healthy organs of someone who will not be missed, for a price. One of the captors is able to escape her prison and shines added light to the killer and where they might be working, which propel Archer and Bennett into a high-risk game of cat and mouse. Running parallel to the story’s primary narrative is one about a man named Hades and two young children who come into his possession. He raises them and tries to instil a set of core beliefs with which they can use in life, even though he is nothing but a deeply rooted killer. How does this story mesh with what Archer and Bennett are doing? Fox leads the reader along the explosive path, only to drop another few bombshells along the way. A stellar first novel in a series that is sure to be both gripping and talked about for years to come.

I first came across Fox when asked to read a galley of her second novel, where I learned even more about Archer and Bennett. I was hooked at that point, but had wished I took the time to read HADES beforehand, as spoilers were plentiful. I found Fox laid out her macabre story in such a way as to entertain and enthral the reader, even with its gory nature. The narrative flows so easily that the reader cannot help but want to read a little more, if only to sate their desire for a little more action. Eden Archer is surely a complex character, paired with the down-and-out Frank Bennett, which creates and wonderful banter, even as the latter cannot help but try to use his manly ways to coax a little something from his partner. Add in some rough characters and the story takes on a life of its own, while Fox stands back and allows the reader to revel in everything she has to offer. Fox will make a household name for herself around the world and likely has done so already in Australia.

Kudos, Madam Fox for this great debut. I know you have two others in the series, one of which I have already read. I cannot wait to see what you’ve done alone, along with your recent project alongside James Patterson.

Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck, by Adam Cohen

Nine stars

A large thank you goes out to my friend, Brenda, who has agreed to jointly read and review this book, in hopes that we might stir up some discussion on the matters addressed. Her review can be found at: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1757482737  
Cohen uses this book as a much-needed soap box to highlight a case that made its way to the US Supreme Court, Buck v. Bell, and whose analysis was so jaded that it has found its way on a list of the Court’s worst decisions of all time. Not only were some of the greatest minds of time involved in the ruling, Louis Brandeis, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., and William Taft, but the Court stood behind Holmes’ written decision almost unanimously. However, Cohen chooses not only to focus on the Supreme Court ruling, which explored the eugenic sterilisation movement in America (as well as sanctioning the Virginia law as constitutional), but the journey the law took from its inception in the legislature and selection of a young Carrie Buck to be the test subject. 

Carrie Buck was a young woman, eighteen by the time the case made its way to the US Supreme Court, who was adopted as a child. She attended school for a few years before she was pulled out to work, as determined by her adoptive parents. At the age of seventeen, she fell pregnant and was committed to an institution for epileptics and the feebleminded, seemingly because she possessed loose morals and was deemed a woman whose brain was oversexed. At the time, the early 1920s, this was entirely appropriate and Carrie was forced to abide by the stringent rules set upon her by the State of Virginia. Around this time, as the eugenics movement in the United States was heating up, Virginia sought to pass a law to bring about eugenic sterilisation, which would not only ensure that the state’s residents were of the highest calibre, but also ensure those who were less than adequate could not reproduce and sully the gene pool [their views, not mine]. While other states were having similar laws overturned by the courts as unconstitutional, Virginia sought to test their legislative initiative all the way to the Supreme Court, using Carrie Buck and her situation as the ideal set of facts. From there, it was a process stacked against Buck, offering her no hope of personal victory. Doctors who manipulated facts and forced her to undergo mental testing for which she was not adequately prepared, an assigned lawyer who sought to defend her by offering flimsy arguments that would not pass muster in any court of law, as well as a set of legal and medical minds buoyed by a movement that tried to press for the purest of the race to continue, leaving those of a lesser ability to be subjugated to the role of subservient. By the time the case made its way to the nine justices of the US Supreme Court, the legal circus was in full swing and Buck had no chance. Once Justice Holmes got his hands on the right to pen a decision, he chose not even to explore the validity of the arguments made and simply rubber stamped the law, adding one of the most perverse comments ever attributed to a decision of the US Supreme Court: “three generations of imbeciles are enough!” Cohen dissects that inane comment throughout the book and shows how Buck was truly a whipping boy for the movement and stood no chance at having her rights upheld, personal and/or constitutional.

While the story of Buck would be enough to pull on the heartstrings of any warm-blooded reader, Cohen goes further, examining the backstories of the key actors, as well as the eugenics movement in America. The medical and legal communities filled their professional journals with articles on the subject, coming out on either side, which led to a mainstream propaganda attack, which propped up the idea of eugenics in books, pamphlets, and even a Hollywood movie, which sought to explore what letting a feebleminded baby grow up might yield (a mentally deficient killer, of course [which I say, tongue in cheek]). This eugenics movement was so well-established that the likes of Dr. Josef Mengele was surely salivating at the chance to implement it in Germany. Cohen does mention that some of the early eugenic ideas of the Nazis are attributed directly to the American movement, as lauded in German medical and propaganda materials in the early 1920s. Deplorable, perhaps, but also poignant as the world tosses out how atrocious the Nazis were in their Megele-ian experiments. We need only look to the Land of the Free to see how enslaved segments of its population were at the time. Worry not, when sober thinking returned, America scrapped its eugenics movement, seeking to sweep it under the rug and point to Germany’s atrocities, as if the left hand’s antics would never be remembered. Cohen makes it much harder to reach for that first stone now, though what is even more astonishing is that this case, this entire narrative, is not better known. America (read: anyone with a general knowledge of human and civil rights) is not able to toss out Buck v. Bell as a horrendous legal precedent, as we do Dred Scott, for reasons that baffle Cohen, as this was a significant case with a fiery line penned by Justice Holmes. Alas, the annals of poorly supported decisions made by the US Supreme Court must have missed this, their golden child example. It is that shameful sleight of hand that is perhaps worst of all!

Cohen does a masterful job at presenting this book. It is more than simply Carrie Buck and how she was forced into being sterilised, thereby forcing her not to have any children after her first. It is also more than a simple analysis of the criteria surrounding feeblemindedness in America, or the push for eugenics, which would rid the country of the ‘lesser folk from procreating’. It is even about more than forced sterilisation, which is a horrid subject in and of itself. Cohen explores all the pieces of the movement, its actors, and detractors, as well as using the Buck narrative to explore how America failed its citizenry and a US Supreme Court disregarded its fundamental law, the Constitution, to protect those who needed it the most. With significant research, Cohen hones in on many of those who played a role, some of whom will surprise the attentive reader. His narrative is crisp and propels the story forward, as abysmal as the content might be. It also pulls no punches in drawing significant connections between the American eugenics movement and the influence it played on Nazi Germany’s decision to adopt similar ideals. The blood is right there on the hands of the influential and the reader cannot deny its existence. No matter how the reader feels about eugenics and reproductive rights, the book opens eyes, leaves mouths agape, and paves the way for many intellectual or gut arguments. I can only hope readers will engage in this, both on public forums like GoodReads, and in their own way. This is not a topic to read about, nod, and move along. It is a discussion to be had. Are you willing to join in?

Kudos, Mr. Cohen for this spectacular piece. The title is so open-ended, I am left to wonder if you reference Holmes’ comment or the list of those who failed Buck throughout the ordeal.

For Duty and Honor (Dan Morgan #5.5), by Leo J. Maloney

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Leo Maloney, Kensington Books and Lyrical Underground for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

While readers await the next full-length Dan Morgan novel, Maloney keeps his fans sated with this entertaining short story. After being captured while on a mission in Russia, Dan Morgan is sent to a Siberian prison camp. Refusing to acknowledge his existence, let alone his his mission, Zeta Division will be of no assistance whatsoever. While Morgan toils within the horrible conditions of this prison that houses those who are meant to be forgotten, Alex Morgan refuses to wait idly by for her father’s rescue. A recent Zeta recruit, Alex demands answers of her own and heads to Russia with one name, someone who owes her father a favour. While trying to learn of his whereabouts, the younger Morgan must use her skills to bring her father home safely. However, some things do not work out as smoothly as can be hoped. Back in his prison camp, Morgan befriends another prisoner, a young Arab named Basri. After devising a plan to break-out, Morgan and Basri find themselves on the lam as they flee their captors. It is only then that Morgan realises that Basri has bigger plans, ones that could jeopardise America and his own sense of justice. Maloney crafts this high-impact thriller that keeps readers wondering until the final pages.

The Dan Morgan series is one that can be easily enjoyed by those who like something with a little edge, but who are also fond of the espionage thrillers on the market today. Maloney’s writing and chracterisations pulls on his past experiences, but also remains fresh and allows the reader to connect well with all involved. The narrative is crisp and in this short story the chapters are quick, allowing the reader to forge onwards with ‘just a little more’. Utilising the Dan AND Alex Morgan approach allows readers to connect with both independently, as well as see their joint struggles, which can only be useful for upcoming novels. Maloney should also be complimented for using not one, but two (three if we count Alex’s) scenarios to keep the story moving forward, paralleling two of America’ greatest enemies in the 21st century, the Russians and religious terrorists. While not unique, Maloney offers a spin that sets his work apart from others in the genre. This was a great teaser for readers before the next novel comes out, something that is surely highly anticipated by those who follow Dan Morgan and his adventures.

Kudos, Mr. Maloney for a great short story, developed with all the necessary ingredients. Well written and fast-paced, which will definitely earn the praise of series fans and new readers alike. 

The Searcher (Solomon Creed #1), by Simon Toyne

Six stars

Returning to begin a new series, Simon Toyne offers readers an interesting story and a mysterious protagonist, free of significant backstory. A man wanders along a deserted road, shoeless and confused. He has little knowledge of where he is, who he might be, or where he’s been. Arriving in Redemption, Arizona, the man soon realises that he is Solomon Creed and came from the direction of a plane crash, still smouldering on the outskirts of town. He has a book in his possession, a memoir of the town’s founder, given to him by one Jim Coronado. Creed has no idea what connection he has to Coronado, but seeks to begin piecing things together, if only to alleviate his sense of confusion. Meanwhile, the aforementioned plane crash seems to have taken the life of a young man, a drug dealer who has ties to a Mexican cartel. As the reader soon learns, the town’s authorities have a similar connection with the same cartel and have been acting as an entry point for drug distribution. However, someone is surely responsible for this crash and the cartel’s kingpin will not stand to see his son die for nothing. As Creed learns more about Jim Coronado and his connection to a town secret, he realises that he must act to blow the whistle on the corruption before he, too, is silenced, and the illegal activity continues to prosper. Toyne returns with another novel seeped in religious symbolism, equally as unique as his past collection of novels. A hit or miss for readers who may have an affinity for Mr. Toyne’s past work.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the previous books Toyne wrote, this one fell flat for me. The premise is one that usually pulls me in, a Reacher-esque novel where the reader is introduced to many characters, some of whom work with the protagonist while others seek to stymie his progress in unravelling what is going on. I could not find myself developing a connection to Creed or the story in general, even with some of the mysteries Toyne plants in his narrative. The ever-present town history told through the eyes of Redemption founder, Reverend Jack ‘King’ Cassidy, in the form of a testament of sorts did not succeed in yanking me into the intricacies of the story’s progression. The symbolic use of ‘J.C’ is not lost on me, but the religious undertones were not as captivating as in many other stories. I must admit that the writing was strong, the characters had some depth, and the narrative kept a decent pace, but that did not seem to be enough this go round. Some might welcome this new series with open arms, but I think I may give it a pass, unless I find myself in need of a filler or choose to forgive and allow Toyne to ‘redeem’ himself.

Decent work, Mr. Toyne and I hope you garner a large following with Solomon Creed. Alas, I won’t be one rushing out to see if he tries to be the new Jack Reacher.

113 Minutes: A BookShot, by James Patterson and Max DiLallo

Six stars

Patterson joins Max DiLallo for another story in the BookShot collection, one filled with heartache and fast-paced action to keep the reader curious. After Alex Rourke dies of a drug overdose, his mother, Molly, vows to get revenge for the person responsible. Working alongside her brothers, she devises one ‘hell of a plan’ and begins putting it into action. All the while, Molly Rourke must face the fact that her family farm is about to go into foreclosure, forcing her to think quickly to come up with the needed funds to keep the bank at bay. After orchestrating and pulling off two significant heists, the Rourkes are able to pay the bank and put that part of the plan behind them. However, the FBI is called in to track down those involved in the heists, headed by Agent Mason Randolph. Following the leads and clues left behind, he narrows his search to one of the acreages in Scurry County, Texas. As Agent Randolph and his collection of guns-toting agents narrow in, Molly Rourke must hope that the final leg of her plan goes off without a hitch. Trouble is, she never anticipated getting caught. An interesting story that the reader can finish swiftly, perhaps in a mere 113 minutes.

As with anything that attaches itself to the James Patterson name, BookShots can be a hit and miss endeavour. With this story, some readers might be drawn to the story and enjoy its progression, while others might not feel the drama that some of the other thriller stories have had to offer. I find myself in the latter category, though cannot pinpoint the precise reason. The story had all the elements of a successful tale, though I felt it fell flat, even with the twists in the narrative and the interesting character development. Neither Patterson nor DiLallo can be expected to shoulder the blame for this. As with any piece of writing, it is all about how the reader receives the piece. The characters were decent, the story flowed well enough, but the spark was missing for me. Perhaps others will feel differently.

Thank you, Messrs. Patterson and DiLallo for another BookShot. I hope I find your next collaboration more to my liking.

Blue on Black (Harry Bosch #15.5), by Michael Connelly

Six stars

Bringing a new meaning to ‘short story’, Connelly delivers a swift story that pairs Harry Bosch with Rachel Walling. After 600 hours of searching, Bosch and his team cannot pin two murders to a man with a long history of being a sexual predator. While he can be traced to the vicinity of the disappearances, Denninger appears ready to get away with the perfect crimes. Walling and Bosch have a quick discussion and look over a collection of photos in the man’s home. A long-shot tip sends Bosch out to investigate one lead, in the most unique of body dump locations. Whether it pays off, only time will tell. A nice story, perfect for that time the reader has while supper’s in the oven.

Having been a long-time Harry Bosch (and Michael Connelly) fan, I devour almost anything that bears his name. While reading this is a mere ten minutes, I feel as though I had done so before, or another author used the same idea (It was only later that I remembered that this was a story Connelly used in a 2010 collection edited by T. Jefferson Parker). Either way, there is not much time to develop much substantive fodder to review, but it does bear mentioning that Connelly does have a way of pulling the reader in from the outset and keeping things interesting until the very end. Such was the case with this piece. Its star-ranking may appear low mainly because there was not enough to merit its receiving much more.

Kudos, Mr. Connelly for this wonderful piece. I cannot wait for Bosch’s next full-length novel coming very soon!

The Twenty-Three (Promise Hills Trilogy #3), by Linwood Barclay

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Linwood Barclay, and Berkley Publishing Group for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

In the finale of his Promise Falls trilogy, Barclay ties everything together while impressing the reader with a fast-paced novel that is sure to leave as many questions lingering as it supplies answers. Still smarting from the recent drive-in bombing, Promise Falls must face another life-altering event. The water supply appears to be causing scores of residents to become ill, some showing flu-like symptoms while others die from the severity of their exposure. As the hospitals fill up, mayoral candidate and local businessman, Randall Finley, is on hand to provide bottled water as he shows his compassionate side, while trying to win over the electorate and regain his place as mayor. However, the authorities remain baffled by events, especially Detective Barry Duckworth, who traces the contamination back to the water treatment facility. Even after he learns what’s gone into the water supply, Duckworth is no closer to learning who might be responsible. Across town, on the campus of Thackeray College, a student in the middle of intercession classes is found murdered in her dorm room. What makes this all the more disturbing is that her body is found with the same wounds as two other Promise Falls women over the past few years. These women played a prominent role in the community (as well as in the past Barclay novels) and with the killer still on the loose, Duckworth and the rest of the limited police force must juggle this case as the city teeters on the edge. The further Duckworth probes, the stronger the connection to past events that have baffled the authorities, all tied to the number twenty-three. Two cases, hundreds of bodies, and a city on the verge of collapse. Barclay has laid the groundwork for an explosive final novel in this series and he lives up to all expectations. A stellar piece of work that forces the reader to remain attentive to the final sentence.

Barclay’s writing abilities have never been in doubt, but this collection, three novels and one short story, proves to be some of his best work in years. Parachuting the reader into small-town New York State is one thing, but his ability to present a powerful set of storylines that all come together so effortlessly makes this reading experience one that surpasses many novels on the market together. While some authors are able to sustain great characters throughout a series, Barclay not only offers up a collection of unique and interesting individuals to push the story along, but utilises them all in some form or another. The reader will rarely come across a character whose importance is not highlighted at some point in the series. While the novels have been spaced out over time to allow the author and publisher to develop them for their timed release, the narrative pulls past events into the present, giving the reader a brief recollection of what has happened to keep them from becoming too lost. Additionally, that the three novels take place in the span of a short period of time makes the intricate nature of the narrative all the more powerful. Barclay is able to literally pick up where the previous story left off and keeps the reader as enthralled as if they had put down one book to begin the next. This is surely the sign of a talented wordsmith and one who has honed his craft over many years. Few readers will leave this series feeling let down or underwhelmed. Quite the opposite, as they are sure to beg for more, even though it’s quite apparent all good things must come to an end.

Kudos, Mr. Barclay for this wonderful novel and the larger trilogy. I am highly impressed with this and cannot wait to read more of what you have to offer.

Eisenhower in War and Peace, by Jean Edward Smith

Nine stars

My ongoing exploration of presidential biographies led me to explore the life of Dwight D. Eisenhower, as depicted by Jean Edward Smith. With a preponderance of information, Smith is able to develop a fairly comprehensive look at the man who rose to greatness as the Supreme Allied Commander in the European Theatre during the Second World War. This preceded taking the reins of domestic power as he led America in the early stages of Cold War aggression. As the title suggests, Eisenhower was a man who flourished in a period of war, but also thrived during a period of renewed peace. Both are highly important to the man and his legacy, while permitting the reader to visualise the contrasts. Told with a strong narrative and seamless style, Smith is able to present his arguments effectively while entertaining the reader throughout. A wonderful piece of biographical writing for those curious about this most unique man.

As with many who eventually found themselves in the Oval Office, Eisenhower lived a life of poverty in the late 19th century, held together with family love and dedication. Raised in rural Kansas, Eisenhower excelled scholastically, but was not afraid of a little hard work and dirt under his fingernails. After an almost accidental acceptance to West Point, Eisenhower found his niche with the regimented nature of a military education that promoted both conformity and individual thinking. West Point fuelled Eisenhower’s ascendency within the US military and led to a highly structured future four decades. As Smith illustrates, Eisenhower could not only follow orders given to him, but became adept at leading and harnessing decision-making into productive output. His career in the military began with a small family in tow, headed by his wife, Mamie, whose prominent family had high hopes for Eisenhower. While Eisenhower was ushered around, from Washington to Paris and even to the Philippines, Mamie played military wife as she acclimated to a life of constant change. Sometimes accompanying him to his posts and at other times remaining behind with her family, Mamie developed a relationship with her husband that would be tested throughout their marriage. As Eisenhower found himself with more responsibility, he rose through the ranks and continued receiving plum postings. It was during these secondments that Eisenhower grew into the military powerhouse that would be the cornerstone of his ultimate military claim to fame. While Eisenhower worked hard, Smith recounts numerous occasions when Ike enjoyed the finer aspects of the powerful positions, some of which appeared to be quite extravagant. When the Nazis commenced their dominance in Europe, President Roosevelt stood firm with America’s stance of isolationist behaviour, much to the chagrin of Eisenhower, who felt duty bound to protect those who were being overrun. After Pearl Harbour, US forces entered the war on two fronts, with Eisenhower taking up position as one of the highest ranking members in the European Theatre. With his past time in Paris and liaising with some of the most eminent political and military officials in the West, he was soon offered the position of Supreme Allied Commander, tasked not only with pushing back the Nazis, but saving France from Vichy clutches and liberating those areas overrun by the German military juggernaut. As Smith explores in numerous chapters though the middle portion of the biography, Eisenhower had his fingerprints over many of the key offensives that helped push the Nazis back and earned much respect by all those with whom he came into contact, including D-Day, which was the greatest military gamble of the entire war. However, in the aftermath of saving Europe, Eisenhower could look out over the terrain and see that he had made a difference doing what he loved, organizing military efforts in hopes of bringing peace to the region. Smith repeatedly shows Eisenhower’s abilities as a man of war, though never an instigator. This would prove a key character trait in the years to come. Eisenhower’s presence in a warring world proved important, though it was not the only situation in which he excelled.

After a forty year service in the US military, many would likely want to retire to a quiet life. As Smith illustrates, Eisenhower had no interest in this approach, choosing instead to let himself be lured into a prominent civilian post as President of Columbia University. Perhaps a precursor to a political future that paralleled Woodrow Wilson, Eisenhower’s time at the university was short-lived, using it as a stepping stone to the political realm, when one of the major parties came calling. New York Governor Thomas Dewey wasted no time trying to prime Eisenhower for a White House run. After some key political maneuvering, Eisenhower surrounded himself with strong-willed men who helped use his military popularity to sculpt a hero persona for the electorate. Choosing Senator Richard Nixon as his running mate after securing the 1952 Republican presidential nomination might have been one of the worst political decisions Eisenhower made, though Smith chooses to recount some of the famed foibles, including the Checkers speech, which almost cost Tricky Dick the vice-presidency. For a man who had never dabbled in formal political activities beforehand, Smith argues that Eisenhower had been around political figures for much of his military career, including Roosevelt, de Gaulle, and Churchill. After a landslide victory in November, Eisenhower was able to transition nicely from the military battlefield to a political one, equally riddled with hidden enemies and land mines. America was in the midst of an ideological war in Korea and the Chinese were are thumping its own chest in a stance to create supremacy in the region. Smith weaves through some key early Cold War skirmishes that placed peace in the most precarious position, but also exemplified America’s strong stance as a superpower that had tossed isolationism to the wayside. Perhaps Eisenhower’s strong military background helped morph America into a watchdog, ready to pounce when it saw fit. Smith eludes to this repeatedly as Eisenhower remained firmly rooted into keeping the world from falling into the clutches of communists. Riddled with some health concerns, Eisenhower had to trust in his inner circle, a collection of powerful cabinet secretaries, to run things when he was convalescing, though Smith does not spin the narrative in such a way that the President was out of the loop at any point. Eisenhower was equally capable of running a tight ship on the domestic front, where he pushed through a plan to create an inter-state highway system that remains an essential part of travel within the continental United States. Equally important, Eisenhower used his presidential abilities to push early parts of the civil rights movement into reality, especially racial integration in southern schools. Smith presents a succinct narrative about the goings-on in Little Rock, Arkansas, which followed the Brown v. Board of Education rulings by the US Supreme Court. Eisenhower would not stand down, choosing to promote the constitution than seeking to appease the southern segregationists. This push towards equality and respect for the US Constitution lasted throughout Eisenhower’s two terms in the Oval Office and helped to strengthen the importance of his peacetime leadership.

Smith uses the biography to address two further themes worth noting, which reemerge throughout the text. The first is best described as Eisenhower’s fallible nature, more a man with faults than the god-like general that is depicted in the history texts. While no marriage to a soldier can be easy, the strain exemplified by both Ike and Mamie Eisenhower seems to have created numerous fissures that almost cost them their union. Smith discusses Mamie’s long periods of loneliness that were only solved by regular drinking. This abuse exacerbated an already problematic situation of being apart for long periods of time. However, Ike was equally to blame when it came to strains on the marriage, having seeming found happiness in the arms of Kay Summersby, a member of Britain’s Motor Transport Corps during the Second World War. Smith pulls no punches in presenting this amorous connection, though mentions that few early Eisenhower biographers focused too much on their connection, perhaps a sign of the times. That Eisenhower could foster such a connection to a woman other than his wife was only further strengthened in a letter Eisenhower sent to General Marshall around the time fighting ended in Europe. In it, Eisenhower ponders the possibility of a permanent position within the military hierarchy in Europe, thereby facilitating his ability to divorce Mamie and pursue Summersby. While this did not come to pass, it does come up throughout Smith’s narrative and is worth a mention. A theme from the latter part of the biography that finds itself repeated would be the parallels Eisenhower draws between himself and General Ulysses S. Grant. It should be noted that Eisenhower did not seek to inflate his own ego in making this connection, but commented that they had both been powerful generals in prominent wars and ascended to the White House. Military men with no previous political involvement becoming Commanders-in-Chief for eight years, Eisenhower and Grant offered America the best they had to offer on the battlefield and when waging war with Congress. (As a side note, Smith has also written a comprehensive biography of Grant, though I have yet to read it, so these parallels might be partially of the author’s making as he connects dots in the research he undertook with both tomes.) While neither man could be said to have surpassed the abilities of the other, Smith does offer numerous flashbacks to offer similarities in their decision-making processes at key points in their presidencies. 

Jean Edward Smith has taken much time to develop and shape this biographical piece of Dwight D. Eisenhower. In it, the reader is treated to not only a plethora of information about the man, but also a cogent argument for his military and political greatness. Rising from the dirt on his Kansas farm, Eisenhower became one of the best-known Americans from the Second World War, who went on to further impact the world in a political capacity. Eisenhower gave his all to every decision he made and answered many of the callings presented to him, choosing never to take the easy path. Predominantly selfless, Eisenhower placed the greater whole before his own benefit while still being a leader at a time many might cower. Smith’s biographical piece offers a wonderful sampling of the life and times of Dwight D. Eisenhower, showing Smith’s superior abilities as it relates to telling a complete story while keeping the reader enthralled throughout. 

Kudos, Mr. Smith for another splendid presidential biography. I have a few more of yours to complete, but have not been disappointed up to this point.