“The Brethren” by John Grisham (Doubleday, 2000)

Doing Time Never Paid So Good

The Brethrenstarstarstar

To quite a few people, when they hear that John Grisham has come out with a new novel, their first hasty generalization is that it is another “lawyer book.”  This may have been true with his first five novels, but the subsequent five had been entirely different.  Yes, each involved a lawyer or the court in some way, but they entailed an interesting story not to do with law and the courts, but with ordinary happenstances of life.  Once again, John Grisham has delivered with The Brethren, a unique story that keeps the reader hooked until the very end.

The Brethren are three judges doing time in a prison in Florida.  All three have committed somewhat serious crimes, nothing as major as murder or manslaughter, but enough that they are doing ten years at Trundle, a minimum-security prison.  What separates them from the rest of the inmates is the elaborate scheme they have concocted.

They enter personal ads in gay magazines, and then reply to those interested who seem to be rich and stable.  They created a fictitious yet perfect setting: a young boy in rehab, getting off his drug addiction, trying to get accepted back into the real world, and needing someone to comfort him.  Then, when the right moment is reached, they launch their attack, revealing their identities and their plot, demanding large amounts of money.  The people who have been had have no choice but to comply, unless they want their hidden sexual leanings reveled to their friends and families.

Juxtaposed with this is the election for President of the United States.  There is a perfect candidate, backed and controlled by the CIA, guaranteed to win; except he has answered one of the personal ads and currently has a “rich” correspondence with “Ricky” in rehab.

And so begins the ongoing game where the Brethren scam and scam, bringing in the dollars, while the CIA fight to preserve the secrets of the new president.  One cannot help but be sucked into the raging maelstrom Grisham has created with The Brethren, following the lives of the judges, the candidate, the CIA and its agents.  This tale is sure to delight any reader, whether they are a John Grisham fan or not.

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Originally published on April 2nd 2001 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“From the Corner of His Eye” by Dean Koontz (Bantam, 2000)

Koontz’s Brave New World

From the Corner of His Eyestarstarstar

“Like the cold and fragile ectoplasm of summoned spirits, the gossamer architecture pressed against their faces, and much of it clung tenaciously to their clothes that even in the gloom, they began to look like the risen dead in tattered gravecloth.”

Thus begins the latest novel from bestselling author Dean Koontz, who has brought us such great tales as Fear Nothing, Watchers, Intensity, and Dark Rivers of the Heart.  In From the Corner of His Eye Koontz transcends his revered storytelling, reaching a new and higher plateau, both in narrative style and plot.  From the Corner of His Eye becomes a story that one wants to keep, both in their hears and on their shelf, to return to often.

The novel uses a casts of fantastically strong characters, each with their own unique and complex lives that the reader learns about in turn.  The main character, Bartholomew Lampton, is a young boy who is almost a miracle birth, the mother having suffered a near-death accident on the way to the hospital.  Early on, Barty appears to be a prodigy of a new dimensions, excelling in all fields to a shocking degree.  Approaching the age of four, he develops a rare form of retinal cancer; the only solution is to have the retinas removed.  For the next ten years of his life, Barty is blind, dealing with this deformity and coping just fine.  Then one day, through powers both mystical and supernatural, Barty gains his sight.

Each of the other characters forms part of a beautiful circular puzzle, where Barty is at the cent, the rest accompanying pieces.  The reader is taken on journeys into the minds and lives of these characters, orchestrated by the great puppet master, Mr. Koontz, from one character to the next, from this chapter to that.

Koontz lays such a solid groundwork with From the Corner of His Eye that one is left hoping for possible sequels with this wonderful setting.  The book concludes with a satisfying end, opening up the reader’s narrow mind to a world of impossibilities made possible and events – ruled not empirically possible by scientists – to reality and fruition.

“Through the mind, odd and disconnected thoughts rolled like slow, greasy eye-of-the-hurricane waves on an ominous sea.”  Koontz’s words broach the realm of poetry with their imagery, making the story not only compelling and spellbinding but outright charming and exquisite.  When one begins reading From the Corner of His Eye, it will be unlike any book ever read by anyone.  The tale is magnificent, the pace strong and continuous, the characters unique and incomparable to any others.  The power is like a charging, one-manned train, where Mr. Koontz is the driver and the reader is the only passenger, where he or she will remain belted into the sea, reading paragraphs and turning pages, until the very last, collapsing in an exhausted heap; then rising after recuperation, hoping for a sequel.

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Originally published on March 26, 2001 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“The Darwin Awards: Evolution in Action” by Wendy Northcutt (Dutton, 2000)

Stupidest Act Ever

Darwin Awardsstarstarstarstar

Think of the stupidest thing a person could ever do.  Multiply this by a factor of ten. Then imagine that this person gets killed in the process of carrying out the stupid act.  This is an example of a Darwin Award.

In the founding days of the Internet, these Darwin Awards were one of the first chain letters to be created, named after the father of evolution, Charles Darwin.  In 1993, UC Berkeley began collecting them, finally starting a website http://www.darwinawards.com.  Since July of 1999 there have been one and a half million unique visitors to this site; it was also named “Coolest Wacky Site of the Year” in April of 2000.

In October of last year, these many amusing yet fantastic stories were brought together in book form, under the same title.  It is now possible for one to have a traveling companion to the Darwin Awards, for those times when one needs a “little something” to read.

But how does one become an entry or at least a nominee for a Darwin Award?  Northcutt has set out five strict rules that one must adhere to:

1)      The candidate must remove himself from the gene pool.

2)      The candidate must exhibit an astounding misapplication of judgment.

3)      The candidate must be the cause of his own demise.

4)      The candidate must be capable of sound judgment.

5)      The event must be verified.

So basically, if you can get someone to film this wacky “idea” you want to try, where in the process you kill yourself or render yourself unable to reproduced, you are eligible.

This book is recommended in any library for any person, for the simple reason that it is one of those books you can just pick up and begin skimming through anytime, anywhere and be extremely amused.  What is interesting about The Darwin Awards is that it does not only contain the essential Darwin Awards, but also has a selection of possible winners and runners-up, as well as Honorable Mentions and Urban Legends.

“Darwin Award, Junk Food Junkie: The 1994 Darwin Award went o the fellow who was killed by a Coke machine, which toppled over on top of him as he was attempting to tip a free soda out of it.”

“Honorable Mention, Official Drug Test: A woman called the police with a complaint that she had been burned in a drug deal.  She declared that a man had sold her a rock of crack cocaine, but when she brought it home, it ‘looked like baking powder.’  The police dispatched a narcotics agent to her house who tested the rock and verified that, despite its appearance, it was indeed cocaine.  The woman was promptly arrested for drug possession.”

“Urban Legend: Cow Bomb: A dairy worker who heard that bovine flatulence was largely composed of methane, and potentially explosive, decided to apply the scientific method to the theory.  While one of his contented cow charges was hooked up to the milking machine, he waited for the slight tail lift that dairy workers know signals an impending expulsion, generally something one avoids.  The hero struck a match.  To his satisfaction at seeing the resulting foot-long blue flame lasted mere seconds, before the flame was subsumed by a rectal contracting  The poor Holstein exploded, killing the worker, who was struck by a flying femur bone.”

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally published on March 19 2001 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“Code to Zero” by Ken Follett (Dutton, 2000)

The CIA at its Best

Code to Zerostarstarstar

Code to Zero is the latest from bestselling author, Ken Follett, who has brought us such greats as The Eye of the Needle and The Pillars of the EarthCode to Zero involves the violent competition between the United States and the Soviet Union in the race to get rockets and manned spacecraft up into space.  The year is 1958, the Soviet Union has already launched a rocket, Sputnik, and America is being left behind.  Their only hope is the Explorer I rocket.  Past rockets have all failed, and if this one fails, that will be it for the United States.

The book opens with the main character, Luke, waking up in the restroom at a train station in Washington DC.  He is dressed in rags, reeks of booze, has no money, and his friend is a fellow hobo.  He has no recollection of his past, how he got to be where he is, or who he is for that matter.

So begins this fast-paced novel of espionage, deceit, conspiracy and Soviet spies.  As the story continues, Luke discovers, slow inch by inch, details of his past and who he is.  Juxtaposed with this is the necessary launching of the Explorer I rocket.  Luke discovers that is someone important, related to the Explorer 1 launching, and that there was something he trying to do to prevent a possible sabotaging of the Explorer 1.

As we pursue the present, we are given chapters in Luke’s past and his friends from Harvard.  The girls in his life, and his best friend; none of which he can remember, but the read is made privy to these details.

It is not until the last fourth of the book that further details are revealed, where his best friend and even his wife are not who he thinks they are.  The only help he has is from a girl who he loved at one point, but didn’t talk to for years due to an unmentioned aborting – the death of his son.  But now this woman who he never trusted is his only help, the only one who is on his side and the one person he can use to prevent the launching of the Explorer 1 an make it a fantastic exploding firework display – the failure of the Capitalists and the triumph of the Communists.

Ken Follett does a great service to the spy novel of the Cold War, keeping true to the particular time frame, when the CIA was in its infant stages, the Korean War was over, and the Vietnam War had yet to begin.

If one has a penchant for faced-paced spy novels, with the Yanks against the Ruskies, this is the book for you.

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Originally published on March 12th 2001 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.