Book Reviews: The Ranger by Ace Atkins, Dead Scared by S. J. Bolton, and Dinner with Lenny by Jonathan Cott

The RangerThe Ranger
Ace Atkins
Berkley, May 2012
ISBN: 978-0-425-24749-5
Trade Paperback

Quinn Colson, the eponymous protagonist, has returned home to Tibbehah County, in rural northeast Mississippi, to attend the funeral of his beloved uncle.  He is told that his uncle committed suicide, but refuses to accept that.  In trying to uncover the truth, he discovers much more than just what the former sheriff had been up to in the months leading up to his death.

Quinn is a man of many talents and skills who had joined the Army when he was eighteen.  The author says of him:  “The Regiment had whittled him down to a wiry, muscular frame built for speed, surprise, chaos, and violence . . . .He had a Choctaw grandmother about a hundred years back mixed with the hard Scotch-Irish who settled the South.”  He has not been home for six years, is now a platoon sergeant with the Rangers, having done tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and back again.  He returns home to find a town that had seen hard times, getting harder, and a bunch of good ol’ boys spreading drugs, money and corruption wherever and whenever they can.  The town is perhaps typified by the following:  “Nobody has real names out here.  We’re all just kind of passing through until we can get to Memphis or Jackson,” and a chancery clerk at the Courthouse whose “job was elected, but unless you ran away with half the county’s budget or performed an intimate act in public you could pretty much keep the job as long as you wanted it.”

All the action – – and there is a lot of it – – takes places over a one-week period, the time frame allowed to Quinn for his bereavement leave from the Army.  There is a recurring theme of lost young women and the families – – and babies – – they leave behind.  And finally the inevitable showdown that you knew had to be coming, but that packs a punch nonetheless, with some plot developments that perhaps should have been expected but were not, at least for this reader.

I have to admit that this was my first Ace Atkins book.  It is one which is recommended, and I am looking forward to the next one.  [He has written four standalones, plus four books in the Nick Travers series, and, recently, The Lost Ones, a sequel to The Ranger.   In addition, the author was selected by the Robert B. Parker estate to continue the Spenser series, the first of which, titled, aptly enough, Robert B. Parker’s Lullaby, was also published in the past few months.]

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2012.

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Dead ScaredDead Scared
S. J. Bolton
Minotaur Books, June 2012
ISBN: 978-0-312-60053-2
Hardcover

The brief prologue sets the scene for the reader:  Near midnight; one of the tallest towers in Cambridge, England; D.I. Mark Joesbury, racing up the stairs to its roof; and a young woman perched near the ledge at the top.  And then the reader is brought back eleven days in time to see how they got there, with a 1st person p.o.v. of D.C. Lacey Flint, which alternates with third-person perspectives.  Flint has been “loaned out” from the Southwark Police to the Special Crimes Directorate of the Metropolitan Police which deals with covert ops, typically being sent on “difficult and dangerous situations.”  As we are introduced to them, the slightly flirtatious banter underlying their meetings hints at the least of a possible romantic entanglement between them at some point in the relatively recent past.

Lacey goes undercover as a student at Cambridge University after the latest in a number of suicides, with a suspicion that there is more going on than meets the eye.  The death was only the latest of three suicides during the current academic year.  The only one outside of her police colleagues who knows the truth is Dr. Evi Oliver, head of student counseling.  The belief is that there is “something decidedly sinister” happening. Lacey’s remit is to “keep a lookout for any unhealthy subculture that might be unduly influencing young people.”

Initially Lacey feels out of her element:  “I knew I’d never get used to it,” in a place where “Wordsworth and Wilberforce weren’t characters from history but alumni.”  But she is there to do a job, and it becomes increasingly urgent.  Within several days, one more death occurs.  And further investigation indicates that there have been a total of nineteen suicides over the past five years, far more than the general statistics on suicide would bear out.  And the manner of death chosen is not what might be expected, including self-immolation by one girl and another who’d decapitated herself.  As the days go on, whatever is going on threatens to ensnare Lacey herself.

This is a book at once not an easy read and yet difficult to put down, much more so on both counts as the book progresses. The fifth novel from Ms. Bolton, this is the first I have read, but it will certainly not be the last.  It is a nail-biter, beautifully written, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2012.

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Dinner with LennyDinner with Lenny
Jonathan Cott
Oxford University Press, January 2013
ISBN: 978-0-1998-5844-6
Hardcover

This is a book, sub-titled “The Last Long Interview with Leonard Bernstein,” that is slight in size only, but which provides hefty and fascinating insight into the mind of the internationally renowned “Lenny” Bernstein, brilliant conductor, composer of orchestral works as well as legendary musical scores for Broadway, including On the Town, Wonderful Town, and West Side Story, and lecturer at innumerable Young People’s Concerts at Carnegie Hall.

The author conducted a twelve-hour interview at Bernstein’s country home in Fairfield, Connecticut in November of 1989, not long after his 71st birthday – he passed away less than a year later.  The book opens, fittingly, with a Prelude, and concludes with a Postlude, in which the author discusses his subject, with many details of his career, e.g., it was on his 25th birthday that he was appointed the conducting assistant to Artur Rodzinski, then the music director of the NY Philharmonic, who told the young man that he had “gone through all the conductors I know of in my mind and I finally asked God whom I should take, and God said, “Take Bernstein.”  Three months later, he made his “legendary conductorial debut with the New York Philharmonic substituting for an ailing Bruno Walter on only a few hours’ notice at a Sunday afternoon Carnegie Hall concert on November 14, 1943.”

Bernstein states that he “was fourteen when I attended my first concert, and it was a revelation.  It was a Boston Pops benefit for my father’s temple – – he had to go because he was vice-president of the temple.”  He did jazz gigs as well as weddings and bar mitzvahs to defray the cost of his piano lessons.  There is discussion on Freud; the family seders; political references, e.g., Bernstein was blacklisted for years and the FBI had a file on him 700 pages thick, and the fact that he made the front page of the NY Times and Washington Post – –  which included his picture, he was quick to note – – when he refused to attend the White House luncheon awards ceremony given by President Bush; gave six lectures at Harvard University in 1973; famously took the all-Catholic Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, whose players didn’t know what a Jew was before he conducted them, to Israel; among many other anecdotes.  Bernstein’s enthusiasm, erudition and brilliance shine through these pages.  This is a book to be savored by musicians and non-musicians alike, and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2012.

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One thought on “Book Reviews: The Ranger by Ace Atkins, Dead Scared by S. J. Bolton, and Dinner with Lenny by Jonathan Cott

  1. Very interesting post, because I had no idea about Bernstein being blacklisted, for instance, among other things. He was very visible on the Public Broadcasting System, however. I remember, one show, in particular, where he was rehearsing with a tenor. It was not a pretty sight because of his temperament and his rude remarks to this excellent and respected tenor. My husband and I were surprised. I hope some of that is in the book as well. Musical genius, that he was, he was, also a flawed human, like the rest of us.

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