Review: THE WAYS OF THE DEAD and MURDER, D.C. by Neely Tucker (Penguin/Windmill)

TuckerN-SC1-WaysOfTheDead

A fantastic, must-read new thriller series

Sarah Reese, the teenage daughter of a powerful Washington, D.C. judge, is dead, her body discovered in a slum in the shadow of the Capitol. Though the police promptly arrest three local black kids, newspaper reporter Sully Carter suspects there’s more to the case. Reese’s slaying might be related to a string of cold cases the police barely investigated, among them the recent disappearance of a gorgeous university student.

A journalist brought home from war-torn Bosnia and hobbled by loss, rage, and alcohol, Sully encounters a city rife with its own brand of treachery and intrigue. Weaving through D.C.’s broad avenues and shady backstreets on his Ducati 916 motorcycle, Sully comes to know not just the city’s pristine monuments of power but the blighted neighborhoods beyond the reach of the Metro. With the city clamoring for a conviction, Sully pursues the truth about the murders — all against pressure from government officials, police brass, suspicious locals, and even his own bosses at the paper.

A wry, street-smart hero with a serious authority problem, Sully delves into a deeply layered mystery, revealing vivid portraits of the nation’s capital from the highest corridors of power to D.C.’s seedy underbelly, where violence and corruption reign supreme — and where Sully must confront the back-breaking line between what you think and what you know, and what you know and what you can print. Inspired by the real-life 1990s Princeton Place murders and set in the last glory days of the American newspaper, The Ways of the Dead is a wickedly entertaining story of race, crime, the law, and the power of the media. Neely Tucker delivers a flawless rendering of a fast-paced, scoop-driven newsroom — investigative journalism at its grittiest.

It’s taken me a while to finally get around to reading this series, despite buying The Ways of the Dead on the day of its UK release last year. Nevertheless, with the recent publication of Murder, D.C., I decided it was time to give it a try — and I’m really glad that I did. I read both of these novels back-to-back, and in a handful of blissful days of reading. Both of these novels are fantastic — brilliantly written, plotted and paced, they are easily two of the best crime novels I’ve read in quite a few years. Continue reading

Review: THE LAST MAGAZINE by Michael Hastings (Blue Rider Press)

9780399169946_LastMagazineThe_JK_r2.inddA dual-personality novel from the late journalist

The year is 2002. Weekly newsmagazines dominate the political agenda in New York and Washington. A young journalist named Michael M. Hastings is a twenty-two-year-old intern at The Magazine, wet behind the ears, the only one in the office who’s actually read his coworker’s books. He will stop at nothing to turn his internship into a full-time position, and he’s figured out just whom to impress: Nishant Patel, the international editor, and Sanders Berman, managing editor, both vying for the job of editor in chief.

While Berman and Nishant try to one-up each other pontificating on cable news, A.E. Peoria — the one reporter seemingly doing any work — is having a career crisis. He’s just returned from Chad, where, instead of the genocide, he was told by his editors to focus on mobile phone outsourcing, which they think is more relevant. And then, suddenly, the United States invades Iraq — and all hell breaks loose. As Hastings loses his naïveté about the journalism game, he must choose where his loyalties lie — with the men at The Magazine who can advance his career or with his friend in the field who is reporting the truth.

Michael Hastings was one of the best young journalists in America before his death last year. Best known, perhaps, for his Rolling Stone piece that got General Stanley McChrystal fired (a media and political furore that was overblown in the extreme, in my opinion). He wrote excellent books (including The Operators, a much-expanded account of his time with McChrystal) and excellent feature articles for multiple publications. He also, as it turned out, wrote The Last Magazine, a fictional account of his time at Newsweek. Published posthumously, it took me a while to get my hands on the book, and I have very mixed feelings about what I found. Continue reading

Quick Review: THINKING ABOUT IT ONLY MAKES IT WORSE by David Mitchell (Faber)

MitchellD-ThinkingAboutItOnlyMakesItWorseA superb collection of Mitchell’s Observer columns

Why is my jumper depreciating? What’s wrong with calling a burglar brave? Why are people so f***ing hung up about swearing? Why do the asterisks in that sentence make it okay? Why do so many people want to stop other people doing things, and how can they be stopped from stopping them? Why is every film and TV programme a sequel or a remake? Why are we so reliant on perpetual diversion that someone has created chocolate toothpaste? Is there anything to be done about the Internet?

These and many other questions trouble David Mitchell as he delights us with a tour of the absurdities of modern life – from Ryanair to Downton Abbey, sports day to smoking, nuclear weapons to phone etiquette, UKIP to hotdogs made of cats. Funny, provocative and shot through with refreshing amounts of common sense, Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse celebrates and commiserates on the state of things in our not entirely glorious nation.

David Mitchell is a comedian, actor, writer and the polysyllabic member of Mitchell and Webb. He won BAFTAs for Peep Show and That Mitchell and Webb Look, and has also starred in Jam and Jerusalem, The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff and Ambassadors. He writes for the Observer, chairs TheUnbelievable Truth, is a team captain on Would I Lie To You? and has been in two films, neither of which made a profit.

I have long been a fan of David Mitchell’s television work – That Mitchell & Webb Look, Peep Show (which I was actually didn’t love at first), the all-too-short Ambassadors mini-series, and his frequent guest spots on QI and Have I Got News For You being my favourites. After I listened to the audio edition of his superb memoir, Back Story, my respect for him grew even more (it’s among my top ten ‘reads’ of the year, easily). I didn’t know how frequently he had been writing for the Observer, however, so I was pleasantly surprised when I received a review copy of Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse. This is a great read. Continue reading

Star Wars in Rolling Stone

RS-198007-SlavesOfTheEmpireWhile perusing Rolling Stone’s website (something I do frequently), I spotted a link for “Star Wars in Rolling Stone”. It’s a collection of the articles from the magazine, beginning with an interview with George Lucas from 1977. They’re presented in reverse-chronology, so I’d start with the final page (linked above) and work from there.

One article in particular jumped out for me – partly because of the title – and that was from the June 12th, 1980 issue of the magazine (pictured): “Slaves to the Empire: The ‘Star Wars’ Kids Talk Back”, by Timothy White. The article is about (according to the standfirst):

“Five actors caught in the paradox of ‘Star Wars’ (the highest-grossing film of all time has done nothing for their careers) talk about their trap, the making of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ and why they still want to be a part of the third installment”

It’s an interesting interview, more about their opinions about the movies, working on them, and where they came from, than about being “trapped” by the films’ success. It’s filled with some great trivia for die-hard Star Wars fans. For example: Carrie Fisher is quite mischievous, and suggests that Leia should have fallen for Chewbacca; Mark Hamill considered Luke to be the “classic thankless role”, confesses that he is a “serious collector” of Star Wars memorabilia, and amusingly bemoans the fact that the Luke dolls have been marked down in price for collectors; Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) explains why the first movie was a “miasma of pain”; Harrison Ford sheepishly admits that he’s “never been much of a film fan” but felt like Empire Strikes Back was “the first time I’ve ever seen anything I’ve done that I’m happy with”.

The piece also addresses Mark Hamill’s car accident, and is actually the first time I’ve read anything about it:

“Hamill’s anxiety about landing choice roles was tragically accelerated when his BMW ran off the freeway in 1977. Star Wars had not yet been released, and his face was sufficiently ravaged that he wondered whether he would be able to retain any part of his angular good looks, let alone fulfill the remainder of his three-picture deal with Lucas. That mental anguish was only intensified when the film proved to be an international smash.”

Reading these articles got me to thinking: has anyone written a book about the making of the movies? Not just big, photo-stuffed Coffee Table books (although, those are really nice, too), but a campaign-biography-style volume about the making of the original movies. I’d definitely read one of those.