Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Shadow Factory by James Bamford, published by Doubleday

2.5 of 5 stars

If you didn't know the United States Government is listening to all you voice communications and reading all your emails and monitoring all the web sites you visit, then shame on you. Do you think the government didn't watch Arron Burr and other long before and after? Governments have always watched their own. Back in the day they use to go to the library and see what you were reading now it is easier to pull that information off the fiber optics the telecommunications industry charges you to use.

The Shadow Factory delineates the external and internal monitoring changes made post 9/11 by the various US alphabet agencies at the behest of the Bush administration. It has often been said by supporters of this type of broad reach surveillance that "If you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about." This is a book review so I won't argue that point but here is a link that will

In the early parts of The Shadow Factory Bamford succeeds in presenting a story line that stands on solid ground and feels like fact. As the book progresses though the factual feel begins to slip away and we're left with what seems to be “water cooler talk.” I wish he had been able to maintain that earlier story strength.

For me the real success Bamford has is in portraying the poor management and often mismanagement of these various spy projects/systems. The incestuous moneyed relationships between government agencies and their contractors that he presents are enough to make Monsanto and the Department of Agriculture blush.

I recommend that you read the early sections of The Shadow Factory.

George W. Parker

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Murder of the Century by Paul Collins, published by Crown Publishers

3.5 of 5 stars

The Murder of the Century starts with the discovery of the upper torso of a man floating in the East River of New York City in June, 1897. The following day the lower portion of the body is discovered in the Blueberry patches of Harlem. Who is the dead man? Who killed and cut him up. Where is his head?

1897 was the beginning of the great newspaper wars of New York City. William Randolf Hearst had moved in to make a name for himself by taken over the Journal. Joseph Pulitzer was running the World and they would and did anything and everything to outstrip the other. It was a time when newspaper reporters were on their bicycles out detecting the police and out scooping each other. Forensic science was in its infancy and Sherlock Holmes was the expert on catching criminals. The victim was identified by the unusual look of his circumcision and women were excluded for the court because of such evidence.

The Murder of the Century is the story of a lover's triangle, if you leave out the cuckolded husband. Mrs. Augusta Nack coped a plea and went to prison for a few years while her accomplice Martin Thorn took the rap and was one of the early victims of the electric chair.

You hear of such stories every day. The story's real interest for me was the behavior of the newspapers and the role they took in solving the case. New York Homicide Bureau was created, forensic science stepped forward and millions of newspapers were sold. Ultimately this is a story of yellow journalism and tabloids that foreshadows our current hunger for the latest news, regardless of fact or fiction.

George W. Parker

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Midnight in Peking by Paul French, published by Penguin Books

3 of 5 stars

Midnight in Peking has all the attributes of a great noir story including it is a true crime: a young woman is brutally murdered, her body hacked sadistically; an exotic time and locale, Peking, 1937 as the the world slides into war; racial prejudice between the Chinese and Anglos; and a father who will not let the murder of his daughter go unpunished.

From his research into the facts and times of the case Paul French brings great detail to the horrific story of Pamela Werner's death. He does an excellent job of drawing the Chinese and English detectives, the principal suspects, the environment of Peking and the overlaying bureaucracy permeating the place and times.

I found two explanations missing in the story which made it soft to me: Why did the Chinese Detective Han proceed as he did and why did the English authorities follow the path they did? Mr. French implies that Colonel Han was probably motivated by graft and the English motivated by an attempt to save face. These are probably correct assumptions but I wanted to see more definitive evidence. These two points create the salient “Why” question that we need to have answered.

If you have a chance read the book and see if you don't agree that it falls a little short of being a stand out crime novel.

George W. Parker

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

4 of 5 stars

Why do we need another review of Treasure Island? Because it is a great story and everyone needs to be reminded of it's true gift, imagination. Stevenson could have written a thousand pages describing and developing Jim Hawkins' life changing experiences with pirates, murder, mutiny, and buried treasure. Instead he gives you light brush strokes with a minimalist hand and allows your imagination to work its own magic.

I love Stevenson's description of the voyage out to Treasure Island: “I am not going to relate that voyage in detail. It was fairly prosperous. The ship proved to be a good ship, the crew were capable seamen, and the captain thoroughly understood his business. But before we came the length of Treasure Island, two or three things had happened which require to be known.” Here Stevenson goes into the apple barrel scene. No fuss, no muss, no wearing us out toiling on board ship.

Good writing is about giving us the information we need when we need it, not about building word count.

George W. Parker