The Hot Rock by Donald E. Westlake

 

I think I saw this movie about a million years ago. I liked it then. The book? Quite frankly, even better!! This was unexpected. The book, in the Nook edition anyway, only runs 154 pages. But the writing is absolutely superb. It’s taut, it has a ton of great detail, it’s funny and it’s a damn good heist story.

A group of professional criminals is hired by an African Major in a nation torn apart by civil war, to steal an emerald which is spiritually and religiously important to both sides. The group assembles and creates a plan to get the rock. Think Ocean’s Eleven type of thing here.

What follows is a series of problems. One caper, turns into six capers because each time they get that hot rock, something happens in which the success of the heist is foiled. Each time, they have to go back to the Major to secure more funding and more resources in order to pull off the job.

Twists and turns right to the last page and not one minute of dull reading. It is really difficult to write like this. It’s a real art form to cram so much into a relatively short story. There is not a wasted word in this little gem of a book. And, as an added bonus, it’s pretty inexpensive as an ebook. It was a great read. Loved it!

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FBI’s Ten Most Wanted by Dary Matera

I expected one thing and got something completely different from this book. It was ok. I was hoping for a great history of the list and those on it. What I got was a limited history of the list with some interesting tidbits and an outdated current list.

It was interesting if incomplete. There really isn’t much to add. Pick it up but temper your expectations. For true crime buffs, its really just another addition to a saturated genre that covers the individuals profiled better than what’s in here.

One thing I did find comical: the author notes how much each of the bounties are and then gives almost everyone of them this addition – “Chances of locating? Excellent.” I don’t think the general public should be encouraged to go out bounty hunting with the idea in mind that they can make some quick bucks here.

OJ Is Innocent and I Can Prove It by William Dear

 

I was never O.J.’ed out because I was not in the country when all the excitement of the trial of the century took place. It wasn’t even a blip on my radar except as a trivia question until this year when a million different documentaries, discussions and recreations began to make the rounds of cable television.

This book came up on my Bookbub selections and being a curious sort, I thought, sure. So I dug in. And what unfolded makes for fascinating reading. Not just in terms of the thorough investigation William Dear makes and then outlines point by point with a mock juror’s ballot at the end which you can use to make up your own mind.

This book also takes the average person on a trip through the Los Angeles justice system circa 1994 and beyond. There was flawed methodology in evidence collection. There was sloppy police work. There was a lack of interest in the prosecutors office of making a thorough investigation prior to charging. Suspects who should have been considered weren’t. Evidence was not carefully preserved. The judge was blinded by the stars who turned up in court. The jury was looking to even the score on the Rodney King matter. It was a mess.

In addition to all of that, the Los Angeles Police Department and Prosecutors office is hinky with the case. Given a defendant was not convicted, the case should officially be an open or unsolved. They send out letters saying it is closed. Then open. Then closed. And there are other viable suspects. One in particular. I am not saying O.J. wasn’t somehow involved, but I will concede, based on what I read here, that there are questions that could be answered for the Goldman and Brown families.

Who done it? Who can say? People will no doubt hold their own opinion closely. But if you want to look at the case from a new and interesting angle, this is a good one. I would say this: the author covers certain ground over and over. The book could have been a little shorter and edited a little more tightly. But the information and facts are certainly worth giving some time. Especially if this case intrigues you.

 

The Survivors by Robert Palmer

I have to confess, I had high hopes for this book. The premise is fascinating: a mother shoots two of her three children, a visiting friend of her children, her husband and then herself. One child survives untouched physically but emotionally scarred. The visiting friend survives the shooting.

Fast forward twenty five years. The visiting friend, Scottie, shows up at Cal (the surviving child’s) office. Cal is now a successful psychologist in Washington D.C. Scottie is odd – a result of surviving the serious shooting, incurring severe physical, mental and emotional damage but with a burning desire to understand more fully what happened the night he was shot.

From here on out, the flaws made themselves known. Cal, who went through this tragedy, is oddly emotionally vacant. At most, he starts having these weird little blackouts. He’s a psychologist and he hasn’t gone through serious psychotherapy? Well, he does have a counselor/friend who he calls on informally to talk him off the proverbial ledge from time to time.

Scottie? Too weird to stay at home. Too weird to stay with Cal. But not too weird to dump at his counselor/friends house with barely and introduction. And so it goes as they try to unravel the mystery of what happened.

At some point, about ¾ of the way through the book, the whole thing turns into a sloppy mess. Quick wind ups of some things, lots left unexplained and this is the first book in what is going to be a series of mysteries? Thrillers? All involving Cal and….his counselor? Scottie? I stuck with it but after a pretty solid run on some good books, I was left wanting.

Thank You For Smoking by Christopher Buckley

This is a great satirical look at the tobacco industry. The humor is sly and subtle which is the best kind of satire. I needed some humor and this book provided a light touch, with great characters and a controversial topic to boot. I didn’t see the movie so I had no pre-conceived notions heading into the story.

Nick Naylor is on the chopping block. He needs to come up with the next brilliant idea to get cigarettes back into the hands and lungs of the public. He has a shady boss who emerged from the world of vending machines and would like nothing better to rid himself of Nick.

Nick conferences with his social group, the Merchants of Death or MOD Squad as they call themselves. The other two in the squad are the reps for the firearms industry and the alcohol industry. He does an end around on his boss and goes directly to the head man in the tobacco industry, a man known as The Captain. He falls in love with Nick and his ideas and Nick is off to the races.

However, a lot of people want Nick gone. There is the Tumbleweed Man – long representing the rugged smoker and now suing the industry that made him famous as he dies of lung cancer; Nick’s overheated co-worker and lover of his boss, Jeanette; his boss BR; and a host of unnamed individuals who call in to the talk shows on which Nick appears to threaten his life.

Nick survives a close call and from that point on, a cat and mouse game erupts as Nick tries to figure out who tried to kill him and the FBI tries to pin it on Nick, suspecting that it was all a publicity stunt.

This is a great little read. Satirical, topical and with some really great writing. I enjoyed it and will keep my eyes peeled for more by this author.