The Kennedy Imprisonment by Garry Wills

Garry Wills, who has been described as “a sort of intellectual outlaw” by the New York Times, has written many books related to politics, including Reagan’s America, Nixon Agonistes, Lincoln at Gettysburg (for which he won the Pulitzer Prize), and The Kennedy Imprisonment, originally published in 1982. This 2017 edition of The Kennedy Imprisonment includes an updated preface, but is still essentially Wills taking on the myths surrounding the Kennedy clan and disabusing people of the popular vision of the Kennedy image as viewed through the lens of Camelot.

For Kennedy fans who haven’t done much reading about the reality, this book may be unsettling as it pulls back the curtain and reveals a corrupt and opportunistic political family who valued image over reality, flattering myths and stories over truth,
and a world of “almost-Kennedys” and hangers-on who gave up their own integrity for the privilege of basking in the reflected glory of the Kennedy clan.

Wills covers the PT-109 story and the expert manipulation of it in print and film, the question of actual authorship of Profiles in Courage, the story that was presented as historical fact about the handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the notorious womanizing of Joe Sr., John, and Teddy (with Bobby allegedly being the faithful one).

The book is divided into five sections, each devoted to a particular aspect of the Kennedy family: Sex, Family, Image, Charisma, and Power. But even before we get to these, the prologue tells us the particular slant of the author: “Because of privilege of various sorts, bad behavior does not have consequences, which means that it continues and becomes more pronounced.” The heavy weight on each of the brothers following the deaths of their siblings culminates in Teddy’s sad comment: “After Robert was killed, he told his aide Dun Gifford: “I can’t let go. We have a job to do. If I let go, Ethel will let go, and my mother will let go, and all my sisters.”” Yikes, what a heavy load he carried…and his dysfunctional, doomed campaign for the Presidency in 1980 is covered in depth, including a good look at poor Joan, who never really made it into the insular inner circle of the clan.

Wills says there was a palpable energy between and among the Kennedys that excluded all outsiders: “When the nurse took the Kennedy children swimming at Taggert’s Pier, back in the thirties, they all wore the same color bathing hats, so they could be distinguished from the other children…Ever since they have been wearing invisible caps that signal to each other on a radio frequency no one else can use.”

I have vivid memories of JFK’s inauguration (when a TV was wheeled into my elementary school classroom so we could watch and hear his speech) and the assassinations, including the televised coverage of the aftermath each time another tragedy unfolded. I admit it was a bit disconcerting to learn the level to which coverage and myth protection was managed and manipulated, but I was still pleased to have the opportunity to read a copy of this edition (thanks to Open Road Integrated Media and NetGalley).

For me, the problem is that this book, written as it was in the early 1980s, assumed a familiarity with many of the people and events that was likely appropriate 30+ years ago, but for many of us, memories fade – and for others, there is complete cluelessness about who these people are and what their significance was to the Kennedy story of the 1960s-80s.

In addition to needing to figure out the characters and their roles, the author’s writing became annoying. I appreciate a strong vocabulary, but in several instances, it seemed like a simpler word might have served the purpose: for example, “jansenist,” “circumnambient,””orotundities,””thurible,” and “perdured’ seem a bit over the top (while the less puzzling “circumlocutious,” panegyric,” and “simulacra” seem to adequately demonstrate the author’s fine vocabulary). Or maybe it’s just me, and everyone else is completely familiar with the over-the-top examples listed above? In any case, that detracted from my appreciation of the book. (And spellcheck was equally puzzled by 7 of the 8 words listed above!)

In any case, it is a fine history of the clan and their impact on U.S. history and, while it may provoke a certain level of disappointment for readers to learn about both the human frailties and downright corrupt actions of their heroes, it is hugely entertaining. Political junkies in particular will love this. Four stars.

 

The Late Show by Michael Connelly

I’ve enjoyed many books by Michael Connelly, and when I learned his new book, The Late Show, was coming out, I looked forward to reading it. I didn’t know anything about the storyline, and I think perhaps I assumed it would be another in the long line of Connelly’s crime novels set in Los Angeles with a strong male protagonist (such as Harry Bosch or Mickey Haller).

But no! In the first paragraph, we learn that two police officers (“Ballard and Jenkins”) are working the night shift. We soon learn that Ballard is a female officer (at which point I thought, “OMG, is she the lead character here? A woman? AWESOME!!)

The way Connelly reveals Renee Ballard’s backstory, interweaving it with a complex police procedural full of the workings of the LAPD, is masterful. We learn that she is working nights (aka “the late show”) as a punishment for filing a sexual harassment suit against a former supervisor. She managed to keep her badge, but is clearly a black sheep in the squad room.

One night Renee catches two assignments that seem unrelated: the brutal beating of a prostitute left for dead in a parking lot and the killing of several people in a nightclub. Although typically the night shift turns all their cases over to the day shift, Ballard is determined not to give up these two cases. As the plot moves along, she chooses to go against both explicit orders and her partner’s wishes, working on both these cases during the day while still taking her regular shifts at night.

She is definitely a woman with a past that drove her to become a cop. After a fatal shooting, she notes there “…was something inside her she didn’t know she had. Something dark. Something scary.” As her investigations progress, she calls on sources she has developed, including navigating the intricacies of dealing with the media: “She knew a couple of things about how the murky lines between the media and law enforcement were negotiated. She knew there was little cooperation.”

She is advised that her job takes her “…into the bleakest side of the human soul…If you go into darkness, the darkness goes into you. You then have to decide what to do with it. How to keep yourself safe from it. How to keep it from hollowing you out.”

No spoilers here, just a STRONG recommendation for Connelly fans, anyone who likes a good mystery, appreciates police procedurals, or just enjoys a good story with a strong, interesting female character, to READ THIS BOOK. It is terrific! Five stars (only because I can’t give six)!

With gratitude to Little, Brown and Company and NetGalley, as I received a copy in exchange for my honest review.

 

UNSUB by Meg Gardiner

UNSUB by Meg Gardiner has gotten GREAT reviews, so when I started it and found my mind wandering, I put it aside for a couple of weeks and picked it up again.

I knew going in that the story involved a serial killer in the Bay Area with a catchy nickname, reminiscent of “The Zodiac Killer.” This time, the name is “The Prophet,” and this book is a dark, twisted thriller revolving around the apparent reappearance of a criminal who terrorized the Bay Area before disappearing a couple of decades ago.

Back in the initial hunt for The Prophet, Mack Hendrix was the lead police detective in the effort to stop the crime wave. His failure to do so has haunted him ever since. Now, his daughter Caitlin is also a police officer, whose focus has been narcotics. She looks to her father for help as she takes up the work of catching the killer whose victims bear the characteristics of The Prophet’s victims.

I suspect my lack of enthusiasm for this book is based on my own weird experiences. Living in Solano County in the Bay Area during the time of the Zodiac spree, I knew a man who was creepy. I saw a large flashlight in his car with clear red wrapping paper over the lens, held on with a rubber band. The Zodiac supposedly used a flashlight as he approached victims’ vehicles, possibly a large red flashlight to make people believe it was a police vehicle approaching. And as if that wasn’t enough, someone had tracked this guy’s schedule and he was always out sick or otherwise unaccounted for on the dates of the killings. I distanced myself from this creepy guy, but he contacted me by email in the year 2000 to tell me he had been “following” me online. So, yes, anything about the Zodiac brings up some less than positive feelings!

But, I digress. Lisa Gardiner has done a masterful job of plotting and character development showing both Caitlin’s strengths as a police officer and her softer, more human side. I expect we will see a string of stories featuring this feisty young woman. The ending was a bit abrupt, so that knocked off a star. The creepy factor almost knocked off another one, but the “it’s not you, it’s me” thing isn’t something I like to bring into my reviews. Thanks to Penguin Group/Dutton and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for my review. Three and a half stars, will show up as four.

The Secrets She Keeps by Michael Robotham

I am most familiar with Australian author Michael Robotham’s series of novels featuring protagonist Joe O’Loughlin, and I have recommended him to many people without hesitation. When I received a copy of his latest, The Secrets She Keeps, from Scribner and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review, I had no idea what the premise was, whether it was an O’Loughlin book, or something new and different. And it WAS different – for sure. This is the story of two women who are apparently pregnant at the same time. One of them, Agatha, works at a supermarket, isn’t married, and spends a lot of time and energy dreaming of the life she doesn’t have (especially the roles of wife and mother). She watches (and seriously at first her stalking really creeped me out) Meghan, a beautiful mother of two seemingly perfect children, wife to a good-looking television personality, whose pregnancy seems about as far along as Agatha’s own.

We learn that although everything LOOKS perfect. Meghan is restless in her marriage: “…sometimes I rake my memory to find moments that make me truly happy.” Told in the alternating points of view of these two women, a recurring theme of honesty and trust is voiced by Meghan early on: “Anyone who says that honesty is the best policy is living in la-la land. Either that or they have never been married or had children. Parents lie to their kids all the time—about sex, drugs, death, and a hundred other things. We lie to those we love to protect their feelings. We lie because that’s what love means, whereas unfettered honesty is cruel and the height of self-indulgence.”

Agatha is no less unsettled: “How can she ever understand my life? What it’s like to live in a cramped, claustrophobic tunnel that gets smaller and darker as each year passes.” Much of her viewpoint is revealed when she says to Meghan “I am an outlier. I am the incredible disappearing woman. I am childless. Less of a person. Not in the club. You take those things for granted.”

Agatha wants the life she thinks Meghan has. Meghan sees Agatha as a familiar face from her shopping trips and yoga class, but little does Meghan know that the ho-hum exchange she has with a store employee during her hurried afternoon shopping trip is about to change the course of her not-so-perfect life!

It’s quite the page-turner, as the characters of the women and their families are revealed in alternating chapters. I was somewhat skeptical about Mr. Robotham’s ability to write from the perspective of two different pregnant women, but he did it with his usual outstanding plot development and attention to details of the characters’ personalities. Never having been pregnant myself, lots of the feelings about pregnancy were unfamiliar – but the lines about childlessness really resonated. I take off one star just because I wasn’t wild about the ending, but I really did enjoy reading it (in pretty much one sitting – I was riveted). Four stars.

The Stolen Marriage by Diane Chamberlain

I started a neighborhood book club a little over two years ago, not sure it would work out. The first book we read was Diane Chamberlain’s Necessary Lies, and it was a great choice: it was set in a small Southern town fifty or so years ago, it included social issues (mental illness, forced sterilizations, the “appropriate” role of women in marriage) and it was filled with characters who stayed with the reader long after the last page was read. It also had the added EEEK! factor that occurs when you find out a novel is based on reality: in this case, forced sterilizations and racism. It made for some good discussions! So, with all that, I was happy to receive a copy of Ms. Chamberlain’s new book  The Stolen Marriage, from St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

This new book is also set primarily in a small town in the South, 50+ years ago. The protagonist, Tess DeMello, ends her engagement to a man she loves dearly, quickly marries a stranger, and moves to Hickory, North Carolina. Hickory is a small town struggling with racial tension and the hardships imposed by World War II. Tess finds out her new husband, an extremely successful furniture manufacturer, is quite mysterious: he often stays out all night, hides money, and is totally uninterested in any physical contact with his new wife. Although her new husband tries to give her everything she might want, Tess feels trapped and desperately wants out of the unhappy situation: “I hadn’t been happy in so long, I doubted a new house was going to fix what was wrong with me.”

The people of Hickory love and respect her husband, and see her as an outsider. When Tess is blamed for the death of a prominent citizen in an accident, she is treated with scorn and derision. She begins to feel like she is being followed, and becomes more and more unhappy. The town is a classic racist town, and even the “nice people” have stereotypical views of the times, reflected in Tess’s feeling that “…it was crazy that any state in the country allowed colored and white to get married in the first place. It only created problems for everyone.”

When a sudden polio epidemic strikes the town, the townspeople band together and build a polio hospital in just a few days (!). Tess begins to work at the hospital, finding a rewarding sense of identity in caring for the young victims. But the whole mess with her husband and his horrific mother and sister continues to make her life as a married woman completely NOT what she had dreamed of. It has suspense, drama, and a surprise ending that I loved.

This will be a good choice for book clubs, with the issues of women’s rights and roles in their marriages, interracial marriage, medical ethics (as an epidemic breaks out among people of all races and religions), honesty and trust. It is an easy read, but has a lot of depth. I read it a week ago, and keep thinking about the town, the people, the situation…so it’s an easy five stars for me…and a good future choice for our book club, still going strong.

BTW, the true story of a town that built a hospital from the ground up in just a few days in order to deal with the polio epidemic is awesome!

 

 

 

Snap Judgment by Marcia Clark

Cover Clark Snap Judgment

Last fall, I reviewed Moral Defense, by Marcia Clark (yes, THAT Marcia Clark, of OJ Simpson trial fame), which was the second in the series featuring criminal defense attorney Samantha Brinkman, based in Marcia’s turf, Los Angeles. Sam first showed up in Blood Defense, the first title in this series, in which she defended a decorated homicide detective accused in a double murder. That defendant is a recurring character in the series, as are Sam’s two associates (one of these is a genius ex-con, and the other is Sam’s closest friend since childhood).

In Moral Defense, I realized Sam is a REALLY great character, with opinions that I suspect reflect how Marcia may have felt during her legal career: “I’d been trashed on cable for dressing like a bargain-basement rag doll. Someday, women won’t have to put up with it. Someday, people are going to care more about what we say and do than what we look like. But that day didn’t seem to be coming any time soon…”

So we meet Sam again in Snap Judgment, #3 in this series. In this one, the seemingly perfect daughter of prominent civil attorney Graham Hutchins is found with her throat slashed. Her spurned ex-boyfriend seems the likely suspect, but he is found dead soon after in an apparent suicide. The person of interest in the boyfriend’s death is Hutchins, who hires Sam & Associates.

We learn that the boyfriend was uber-controlling and a creep who posted revenge porn online. The investigation quickly focuses on the daughter’s friends and classmates as well as perhaps some of her off-campus neighbors at USC (or, as many of us refer to it, “University of Spoiled Children.”): “For all that USC is a richy-rich kid school, the campus is in a shitty ‘hood where anything can happen.

Graham is a tough client. As a specialist in civil litigation, his perspective differs from Sam’s since “…in criminal court, the worst people are on their best behavior, and in civil court, the best people are on their worst behavior.” The investigation into the parallel mysteries takes the reader around Southern CA, areas Marcia Clark knows well. Good location detail, lots of interesting characters (and we feel like we are getting to know Dale, Greg and Michy VERY well), and a super twisty plot with great suspense make this a really good book.

In my prior review, I confessed my fascination with Marcia Clark, going back to the early 90s when she was a media star as well as a legal star as she battled to convict OJ . In her other series of novels there is also a female protagonist, Rachel Knight, but Rachel is on the other side, prosecuting cases (something Marcia knows inside and out). Placing Sam in the role of criminal defense attorney has allowed Ms. Clark to explore the “anything goes as long as you don’t get caught” side of the courtroom battles.

I am totally hooked on the Samantha Brinkman series, and this one reinforced my opinion that Sam is a much more interesting character than Rachel Knight, just IMHO. Thanks to Thomas & Mercer and Net Galley for an advance copy of this title in exchange for my honest review. Five stars! Can’t wait for the next one!

 

Close To Home by Robert Dugoni (Tracy Crosswhite Series, #5)

Cover Dugoni Close to Home

I first “met” Detective Tracy Crosswhite of the Seattle Police Department In My Sister’s Grave, back in 2014. Since then, I’ve enjoyed following both her adventures fighting crime and her personal story. Close To Home is #5 in Robert Dugoni’s Tracy Crosswhite Series, and I was happy to receive a copy of it from Thomas & Mercer and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

This one is structured like a braid, with three concurrent strands the death of a young African-American student, the legal wrangling over the suspect, who is on active duty at the local naval base, and the epidemic of heroin deaths in the area.

The novel opens with the first strand, a hit and run death of a young African-American on the streets of Seattle. The mystery surrounding his death goes on throughout the book, as Tracy investigates the suspect, who is stationed at the local naval base. The second strand follows his case as it begins to move through the legal systems (both naval and civilian), and he is apparently in the clear when a key piece of evidence goes missing. In the third strand, the suspect in the hit and run death turns out to be linked to a rash of recent deaths from a particularly potent batch of heroin, which is of special interest to Tracy’s fellow Detective, Delmo Castigliano (“Del”) , whose teenage niece has recently died of an overdose.

I was a bit turned off by an early line that states that Del’s niece “…started on marijuana at fifteen, progressed to prescription drugs, and, eventually became hooked on heroin.” Really? I thought, not the old “gateway drug” line??

In the afterword, Dugoni relates that he had “…always believed heroin addicts were people living in rodent-infested apartments.” In his research, he learned that many of them are “good kids from good families.” I appreciated the evolution of Del’s thinking about the war on drugs. Del’s thoughts match Dugoni’s: “People in these homes weren’t supposed to have sons and daughters hooked on heroin. The junkies were supposed to be downtown, living in dark alleys and abandoned buildings, sleeping on soiled mattresses amid garbage and rodents.” The book clarifies the explosion in heroin usage as tied to the legalization of marijuana in the U.S., because the Mexican cartels have seen a seriously diminished income from selling weed, and have turned to growing poppies instead, adding to the supply of cheap heroin in the States.

The story follows the various strands, tying everything together in a satisfying conclusion (with a tiny bit of what felt a bit like a contrived development in Tracy’s life revealed at the end). Along the way, we meet familiar characters (Tracy’s husband Dan, her co-workers Del and Faz, and JAG attorney Leah Battles, who I hope will appear in future installments in the series).

Excellent character development (particularly Del), plenty of twists and turns and Pacific Northwest atmosphere thrown in for good measure. Fans of the Tracy Crosswhite series will enjoy it (although it stands alone very well, so no need to feel you need to start earlier in the series to get what is going on…although I totally recommend this series!) Five stars.