Quick Review: BROKEN by Don Winslow (William Morrow)

WinslowD-BrokenUSA must-read collection of interlinked crime novellas

In six intense short novels connected by the themes of crime, corruption, vengeance, justice, loss, betrayal, guilt and redemption, Broken is #1 international bestseller Don Winslow at his nerve-shattering, heart-stopping, heartbreaking best. InBroken, he creates a world of high-level thieves and low-life crooks, obsessed cops struggling with life on and off the job, private detectives, dope dealers, bounty hunters and fugitives, the lost souls driving without headlights through the dark night on the American criminal highway.

With his trademark blend of insight, humanity, humor, action and the highest level of literary craftsmanship, Winslow delivers a collection of tales that will become classics of crime fiction

I’m a relative newcomer to Don Winslow’s novels. Since reading The Force, however, he has become a must-read author for me. Broken is his latest book: a superb, gripping collection of six novellas. Each takes a different look at the crime, mystery and/or thriller genres. One of my most-anticipated books of the year, I’m very happy to report that it absolutely met my very high expectations. I thoroughly enjoyed this. Continue reading

Upcoming: IF THEN by Jill Lepore (Liveright)

LeporeJ-IfThenA new Jill Lepore book is always something to celebrate! And this latest looks quite different from the author’s previous histories. In the past, Lepore has covered topics such as the storytelling tradition in America (The Story of America), The Secret History of Wonder Woman, and has also tackled the Herculean task of writing a single-volume history of the United States (These Truths). If Then is a history of a data company established during the Cold War and how its influence can still be felt today. Here’s the synopsis:

A brilliant, revelatory account of the Cold War origins of the data-mad, algorithmic twenty-first century, from the author of the acclaimed international bestseller These Truths.

The Simulmatics Corporation, founded in 1959, mined data, targeted voters, accelerated news, manipulated consumers, destabilized politics, and disordered knowledge — decades before Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Cambridge Analytica. Silicon Valley likes to imagine that it has no past, but the scientists of Simulmatics are the long-dead grandfathers of Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. Borrowing from psychological warfare, they used computers to predict and direct human behavior, deploying their “People Machine” from New York, Cambridge, and Saigon for clients that included John Kennedy’s presidential campaign, the New York Times, Young & Rubicam, and, during the Vietnam War, the Department of Defense.

Jill Lepore, distinguished Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer, unearthed from archives the almost unbelievable story of this long-vanished corporation, and of the women hidden behind it. In the 1950s and 1960s, Lepore argues, Simulmatics invented the future by building the machine in which the world now finds itself trapped and tormented, algorithm by algorithm.

I’m really looking forward to reading this. I would also highly recommend The Story of America and The Secret History of Wonder Woman. If you are looking for a single-volume history of the United States, then These Truths is certainly one to consider (I’ve typically found that genre rather unwieldy, but Lepore’s book is excellent).

If Then is due to be published by Liveright in North America and in the UK, on September 15th, 2020.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads

Quick Review: OPPO by Tom Rosenstiel (Ecco)

RosenstielT-3-OppoUSThe third Rena & Brooks Washington, D.C., thriller

The story of a senator who is offered the vice presidential slot by both parties’ presidential nominees and then gets ominous threats

It’s presidential primary season in Washington, DC, and both parties are on edge. At campaign rallies for all the candidates around the country, there are disturbing incidents of violence and protest and shocking acts of civil disobedience. Rena and Brooks are happy to sit it out.

Against this backdrop, Wendy Upton, the highly respected centrist senator, must make a choice: she’s been offered the VP slot by both parties’ leading candidates. When she receives an anonymous, unnerving threat that could destroy her promising career, she hires Peter Rena to investigate her past and figure out which side is threatening her and what they are threatening her with.

As Rena digs through the senator’s seemingly squeaky-clean past, he must walk the tightrope between two parties at war with each other and with themselves, an electorate that is as restive as it has ever been, and a political culture that is as much driven by money as it is by ideology.

In this third outing for Rosenstiel’s political fixers Peter Rena and Brooks, the fixers are hired to investigate a threat made against a centrist Republican senator who has been approached by frontrunners in both parties offering her the VP slot on their respective tickets. An examination of the devolution of American (presidential) politics, and the dark forces that manipulate the electorate and process, I enjoyed this novel. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE GOOD LIE by Tom Rosenstiel (Ecco)

RosenstielT-PR2-GoodLieUSA tragedy abroad causes a domestic political scandal: but what really happened?

When a shadowy American diplomatic complex is attacked in North Africa, the White House is besieged by accusations of incompetence and wild conspiracy theories. Eager to learn the truth, the president and his staff turn to Peter Rena and his partner, Randi Brooks. The investigators dive headfirst into the furtive world of foreign intelligence and national security, hoping to do it quietly. That becomes impossible, though, when it blows up into an all-out public scandal: Congress opens hearings and a tireless national security reporter publishes a bombshell exposé.

Now, Rena and Brooks are caught in the middle. The White House wants to prevent debilitating fallout for the president, the military appears to be in shutdown mode, the press is hungry for another big story, and rival politicians are plotting their next move. Rena learns the hard way that secrets in Washington come with a very high price. 

In this second novel featuring political fixer Peter Rena, he and his consulting firm are hired by the president to investigate the bombing of an overseas American military base. An interesting and intelligent investigative story, I enjoyed this.  Continue reading

Quick Review: THE PRESIDENT IS MISSING by Bill Clinton & James Patterson (Little, Brown/Century)

ClintonPatterson-PresidentIsMissingUKAn interesting, substantial political thriller

The President Is Missing confronts a threat so huge that it jeopardizes not just Pennsylvania Avenue and Wall Street, but all of America. Uncertainty and fear grip the nation. There are whispers of cyberterror and espionage and a traitor in the Cabinet. Even the President himself becomes a suspect, and then he disappears from public view…

Set over the course of three days, The President Is Missing sheds a stunning light upon the inner workings and vulnerabilities of our nation. Filled with information that only a former Commander-in-Chief could know, this is the most authentic, terrifying novel to come along in many years.

There was a lot of buzz surrounding this novel before it was published. Understandable, of course, but I nevertheless somehow managed to leave it quite some time before reading. I’m very glad I did, though. This is an entertaining political thriller that should definitely appeal to fans of the (sub-)genre. Continue reading

Quick Review: HOUSE ARREST by Mike Lawson (Atlantic Monthly Press)

LawsonM-JD13-HouseArrestUSIn the wake of a political assassination, Joe DeMarco is framed as the killer…

As the fixer for Congressman John Mahoney in Washington, D.C., Joe DeMarco has had to bend and break the law more than a few times. But when Representative Lyle Canton, House Majority Whip, is found shot dead in his office in the U.S. Capitol and DeMarco is arrested for the murder, DeMarco knows he’s been framed. Locked up in the Alexandria Jail awaiting trial, he calls on his enigmatic friend Emma, an ex-DIA agent, to search for the true killer.

Emma’s investigation leads her to Sebastian Spear, the ruthless and competitive CEO of the multi-billion-dollar Spear Industries. Spear had a motive for killing Lyle Canton: Canton’s wife, Jean, had once been Spear’s high school sweetheart and the one true love of his life — until Canton won her over. Now Jean was dead, killed in a car crash while driving drunk, and Spear blamed Canton for the accident. But the case the F.B.I. has built against DeMarco is airtight, and not a single piece of evidence points to the grieving CEO. Using her cunning and her D.C. connections, Emma sets out to prove that Spear has been using some fixers of his own.

I’ve been reading Mike Lawson’s Joe DeMarco series since the first novel, The Inside Ring, was published in the UK. Each new book in the series has been a highlight of Spring ever since. In House Arrest, the thirteenth instalment, the series comes to a bit of a head: DeMarco’s life and career are thrown into the spotlight when he is framed for an attention-grabbing, audacious political murder. I enjoyed reading this novel a great deal. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE CORROSION OF CONSERVATISM by Max Boot (Liveright)

BootM-CorrosionOfConservatismAn interesting account of a Republican’s departure from his life-long political home

Warning that the Trump presidency presages America’s decline, the political commentator recounts his extraordinary journey from lifelong Republican to vehement Trump opponent.

As nativism, xenophobia, vile racism, and assaults on the rule of law threaten the very fabric of our nation, The Corrosion of Conservatism presents an urgent defense of American democracy.

Pronouncing Mexican immigrants to be “rapists,” Donald Trump announced his 2015 presidential bid, causing Max Boot to think he was watching a dystopian science-fiction movie. The respected conservative historian couldn’t fathom that the party of Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Reagan could endorse such an unqualified reality-TV star. Yet the Twilight Zone episode that Boot believed he was watching created an ideological dislocation so shattering that Boot’s transformation from Republican foreign policy adviser to celebrated anti-Trump columnist becomes the dramatic story of The Corrosion of Conservatism.

No longer a Republican, but also not a Democrat, Boot here records his ideological journey from a “movement” conservative to a man without a party, beginning with his political coming-of-age as a young émigré from the Soviet Union, enthralled with the National Review and the conservative intellectual tradition of Russell Kirk and F. A. Hayek. Against this personal odyssey, Boot simultaneously traces the evolution of modern American conservatism, jump-started by Barry Goldwater’s canonical The Conscience of a Conservative, to the rise of Trumpism and its gradual corrosion of what was once the Republican Party.

While 90 percent of his fellow Republicans became political “toadies” in the aftermath of the 2016 election, Boot stood his ground, enduring the vitriol of his erstwhile conservative colleagues, trolled on Twitter by a white supremacist who depicted his “execution” in a gas chamber by a smiling, Nazi-clad Trump. And yet, Boot nevertheless remains a villain to some partisan circles for his enduring commitment to conservative fiscal and national security principles. It is from this isolated position, then, that Boot launches this bold declaration of dissent and its urgent plea for true, bipartisan cooperation.

With uncompromising insights, The Corrosion of Conservatism evokes both a president who has traduced every norm and the rise of a nascent centrist movement to counter Trump’s assault on democracy.

I’ve been aware of Max Boot’s writings for a long time. I read many of his articles as part of my research for one of my PhD chapters. I frequently disagreed with him, especially on US domestic policy, but was always interested in reading what he thought about foreign policy (the subject of my thesis). During 2016, like many who are interested in/obsessed with US politics, I noticed his sharp break from his party and have watched with interest his evolution as his former-party has imploded and wholly bought into Trumpism. Continue reading