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By Jonathan Lowe

December 2011

by Jonathan Lowe

An Army CID warrant officer is sent to investigate a military family's murder in a West Virginia mining town in ZERO DAY by David Baldacci, an offbeat police procedural narrated by Ron McLarty and Orlagh Cassidy. The efficient use of two narrators to cover the male and females voices is appropriate and effective, given the dialogue-heavy text. Cassidy is particularly adept at accent and tone to differentiate her gender's characters, and the banter between her main character Samantha Cole and McLarty's John Puller convince the listener with its ease and authenticity. Occasional sound effects are added to highlight the action scenes, as in explosions or fights, while the plot twists are never telegraphed by the author or the narrators, making an engrossing experience for what might have been a formula suspense in lesser hands.

Next, fear can make a man do strange things, have odd dreams and recollections. . . especially when that fear has led him to abandon his children. Yet Cal has not forgotten them, nor does he want to shirk his responsibilities. Rather, he attempts to understand himself and the monumental task of parenthood in an age when trucks roar through school crossings and pedophiles lurk online, seeking prey. BOOK OF DAYS by Steve Rasnic Tem has elements of horror, fantasy, and even romance to it, but it's really a poetic homage to childhood itself, when we conjured entire worlds out of sticks in mud, and the future held limitless promise. Cal, returning to his own childhood memories, chronicles his own personal calendar, making spontaneous, visceral connections between past events in aid of present understanding. People, particularly dead writers, inform his awareness of his fear. You will not be shocked by any of it. Rather, you will nod acknowledgment of empires in the clouds which were your own, and are now your child's gift. Prepare for an unusual experience that is also, in a magical way, familiar. Narrator Nathan Lowell is ideal to voice the character, as he possesses the right sense of timing and tone, knowing just when the sentences need to flow together like a poem.

AMERICAN DESPERADO by journalist Evan Wright is the chronicle of "Cocaine Cowboy" Jon Roberts, the man most responsible for the transport of the drug into America during the Medellin Cartel's heydays in the 1980s. Besides being a smuggler, Roberts was also an assassin during the Vietnam War, and was then recruited by a Republican Congressman and the CIA to fly guns to rebels into Nicaragua. Roberts, an admitted sociopath without feelings, also displays classic signs of the psychopath, including a need to brag about and exaggerate his exploits. Wright attempts to verify the conversations he had with Roberts, with only partial success. So we are left to believe the account or not. Certainly Roberts is evil, repeatedly saying how evil is "stronger than good"(a motto learned from his father, who coldly killed a man in front of him as a child to show him "the way.") But oddly, while trying to convince us he's one of the worst human beings to ever live, (witness his murder of children, skinning people alive, firebombing houses, not to mention the relish he takes in describing how best to disable a victim quickly by cracking a knee and stabbing an eye), he occasionally claims to regret his choices, hoping his son doesn't become like him. This is certainly one of the most disturbing books ever written. Tour guides into Roberts' heart of darkness include Erik Davies, Mark Deakins, and Christina Rooney, among others, all of whom enhance the text with appropriate seriousness or flippancy of tone, showing how morally clueless a sociopath is, and also how dangerous to those who underestimate his charm.

THE HISTORY OF WESTERN ART is a broad view of art history by Renaissance man Peter Whitfield, who covers the subject from ancient times to the modern dilemma of defining what art is. An intriguing connection between past ideals & beliefs, and our current estrangement from the natural world is discussed, as modern deconstruction has led us into a box canyon of perpetual revolution without agreed upon parameters. It's all covered in four CDs, including commentary on architecture, architects, and artists, and is read by Sebastian Comberti, with classical music accompaniment.


Finally, BACK TO WORK is Bill Clinton's version of Obama's THE AUDACITY OF HOPE, with solid economic advice and an appeal for national cooperation. Although Clinton's one big economic blunder was to sign into law a Republican repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999, which allowed investment banks to trade in mortgage backed securities (and led to the 2008 collapse on Wall Street), he admits to this mistake, and now urges us to learn from our mistakes and move together toward a solvent economic future, as was the case during his administration (until it was derailed by Bush's war and Greenspan's spendthrift ways). As usual, and particularly now, Clinton sounds honest and smart, despite the fact that history has shown him to have the heart and soul of a politician (meaning he will say and do whatever it takes to look good.) Given our current disastrous economy, in fact, most people today would care not a wit about his personal life, and would vote him into office again in a heartbeat over all contenders--Democratic, Republican, or Tea Party.

2011 Past Columns