Presumed Innocent: 4/5 Stars
So I didn’t realize this was the same as the Harrison Ford movie until about halfway through the book. I picked it up for two distinct reasons: 1) It was listed as one of the best legal thrillers (old school, we’ll call it) and that reason checks out and 2) the audiobook was read by Edward Hermann, which is obviously great. I have heard him read one book before and it was so good.
So the novel itself is told from the perspective of a deputy District Attorney on the eve of a city-wide election where his boss is running for re-election against a hotshot colleague. It’s more or less Chicago, but they never call it Chicago. Against this backdrop comes the crime, another assistant DA has been brutally murdered and possibly raped in her apartment and the narrator gets assigned the case, and of course it turns out he’s been recently sleeping with her and might be in love with her. The resulting investigation starts unearthing a lot of strange evidence and leads him down some familiar and uncomfortable avenues ultimately leading to, you guessed it, his being arrested for her murder.
This is in fact a really good legal thriller. The writing is actually pretty strong and it’s a good mystery. The absolute and really bad side of it is that the subplot involves a lot of talk of gay men meeting in parks and being arrested as a results. You can imagine that the conversations around this topic have not held up well in the 30 years since this was written. My privilege is such that it’s pretty offensive but I am not vulnerable because of it. So, take that as it is.
Pronto: 4/5 stars
This is the first Raylan Givens novel. It was written in the early 80s I think and it’s pretty good. The premise is so crazy that I was completely caught off guard by it. The plot starts in Miami, same as Justified, but unlike that one, it focuses heavily on Miami based crime to start off. This novel is about an older bookie who gets framed by the Feds to his boss with implications that he’s been skimming off the top. He has been skimming off the top, but not in the way the Feds have said. So what happens next is that he’s going to get killed, and when that fails and when the truth comes out, it becomes clear that he’s going to made an example of. And so, since he’s been working with the Italian mob, they bring over some Italian hitmen to take care of him. Raylan comes into it as protective services since he’s a federal bond holder and federal witness. So of course, the book takes off for Italy.
It made me turn my head to have the Raylan Givens I know traipsing around Italy and it mostly works. The characters are pretty well fleshed out and if not for the show, this would have made a really good movie, as you could have guessed. The main bad guy is not that bad and he’s weirdly obsessed with Ezra Pound and Italian poetry from his time in the war. It’s the end of a kind of era where WWII vets were in their retirement years. Anyway, maybe they can do something with this one since the tv show doesn’t start til book 3.
South and West: 2/5
Sigh. Yeah, I dunno why I read this, because as I have firmly established here and to myself, I don’t think I like Joan Didion at all. I guess what I am trying to do is figure out what my deal is with her deal. In terms of this one, I think I just feel like maybe we didn’t need this book/I am not sure what role this book is supposed to fulfill. Oh well. Here’s the idea: Joan Didion goes to New Orleans and the Los Angeles in the late 1970s and takes notes in journals about her discoveries there and thinks about writing it up as a piece for a magazine.
So here’s one of my issues with the book: 1) If it wasn’t enough for a magazine article, how did it become a book?
2) So much of the book is based on this fascination she has (that I don’t know that I actually trust) with people being fascinated with her. She is forever describing how much people are staring at here down in that crazy crazy South.
I just don’t think they are, actually. She seems pretty boring and it comes off like she’s describing deliverance or something. Oh and here’s the other thing…while she’s down there, she meets up with Eudora Welty and Walker Percy (two superior writers) and somehow makes her interactions with them boring as crap.
So like I get that it’s a journal, and so it’s not the fault of the writer who wrote the journals to make this interesting, but it is the responsibility of the writer who allowed this to published to make this interesting.
The Castle of Otranto: 2/5 Stars
So I read this. I read the whole thing. All of it. The whole part of it, which is a weird way to say the whole thing, because why would you say that otherwise? It’s just weird you know.
Anyway, this book is the “first Gothic” story, something they’ll tell you about 50 times before you read it. But this is the primary function of this book….to be first. We’re fifty years away from Frankenstein, which is a perfect and brilliant novel, and that was written by a teenager. This novel is weird and interesting in what it’s trying to do, but so much more good things came out soon thereafter this one was out, and especially in Germany some of them are downright brilliant.
So for me, something that I sometimes do is think about the historical time period that produced this work and what was going on at the same time. We had Voltaire writing Candide, we had a few decades off from the French and American revolutions, we had Jonathan Swift. So this one just doesn’t do it for me or impress me much. It’s a historical footnote and interesting in that sense, but that’s it.
The Tombs of Atuan: 2/5 Stars
Three things I learned about the world through this book. 1) Everything I thought about A Wizard of Earthsea being too much for children, too elementary in terms of structure and in terms of the genre, and too imbalanced in terms of having too little story and too much writing or vice versa going on here. 2) I think I have to be done with Earthsea now for sure….or until I forget that I am writing this right now and will forget and read more and write about my frustration later. 3) Ursula K Le Guin like almost every writer who uses the word has fallen into the trap of saying “Labyrinth” when they mean “Maze”.
So, let’s talk about the difference between mazes and labyrinths. It’s important. I took a college class on this in literature, no joke, and we talked about it all the time, and it became a kind of obsession for us in the class.