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Eric Welch (Illinois)

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Private Sector
Private Sector
by Brian Haig
Edition: Hardcover
32 used & new from CDN$ 0.39

5.0 out of 5 stars Love wisecracks, March 25 2004
This review is from: Private Sector (Hardcover)
I just love wise-cracking protagonists; they have a skill I've never been able to develop. Sean Drummond is the JAG attorney creation of Brian Haig, son of Alexander (you know, of "Don't worry, Alex is here. I'm in charge, so nothing to worry about" fame), but I won't hold that against him.
Major Drummond has been asked to spend a year working for a private law firm - Culper, Hutch, and Westin - that represent some of the District of Columbia's most respectable institutions, as an experiment in army/private sector cooperation. The fact that he is unpopular with his army superiors for his sharp tongue and insubordination might also have had something to do with it. Drummond begins irritating his stuffed shirt bosses from the moment he arrives. He figures if he makes himself sufficiently unpopular, he can get himself kicked out of the program, where he follows in the footsteps at the law firm of Lisa Morrow, another JAG officer and Sean's erstwhile old flame.
Lisa had been killed in the Pentagon parking lot just before a dinner date that Sean hopes might rekindle some of the former embers. Her death is followed by three others, all the ostensible work of a serial killer whose modus operandi appears very similar to that of the LA Killer of several years before, i.e., the victims' necks had all been snapped. There was no apparent connection between the victims.
Sean, in the meantime has become embroiled in an audit of Morris Telecommunications, a company that has retained his law firm. Sean discovers some unusual financial arrangements, but he has no reason to suspect anything particularly nefarious until his brother, a financial wizard with spreadsheets, points out that several "swaps" on Morris's books put Sean's firm in some financial jeopardy. (Swaps are what sank Enron. Basically, two entities get together to show revenue on their books for the largely insubstantial use of each other's services. It's a way of propping up income statements to keep stock prices up, all legal according to generally accepted accounting principles, but another reason to shoot the accountants before going after the lawyers. :)) ) Drummond also begins to realize that the firm's attorneys might be capitalizing on his inexperience with corporate law to set him up as a fall guy. They to reckon without his long experience as a criminal attorney for the army.
In the meantime, Janet Morrow, Lisa's sister and assistant district attorney in Boston, has decided to follow the investigation into her sister's death from close up. She and Sean discover that Lisa's emails had been hidden and quarantined in the firm's network behind a secure firewall. Sean is accused of malfeasance by the firm, but by some not-so-subtle pressure on the privates of his boss (in a very funny scene), Sean extorts the help of the firm's computer expert to examine Lisa's emails. It's there that he discovers a link between the victims. Lisa had known all of them.
Soon Drummond is snared in a mesh of conflicting loyalties, as he discovers that some governmental agencies are involved in some very secret business. A fun read. Drummond is a great character who ranks with Nelson DeMille's wiseacre CID investigator.

Angels & Demons
Angels & Demons
by Dan Brown
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
306 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Well done, but take with liberal doses of salt., March 25 2004
If you liked the Da Vinci Code, you will love this book also. It has a great conspiracy, this time concerning the Illuminati, lots of artistic and historical detail, and also features Robert Langdon, the intrepid art historian from Cambridge.
Summoned to Switzerland by a strange fax he receives in the middle of the night from the director of CERN, Langdon learns of the murder of Leonardo Vetra, one of CERN's brilliant scientists, who had been working with his daughter, Victoria, on a way to harness anti-matter. Antimatter has astonishing characteristics; a tiny sample about the size of a grain of sand is hypothesized to hold "as much energy as about two hundred metric tons of rocket fuel." They have succeeded in suspending the violent substance in a vacuum. They learn to their horror that a vial of it has been stolen and hidden in the Vatican; it will explode when the battery pack keeping the material suspended runs out. There seems to be a conspiracy of Illuminati supporters to destroy the church. The pope has just died (killed as we later learn - I'll try not to give away too much), and the cardinals have all been called together to elect a new pope.
The Illuminati were supposedly a group of science-minded rationalists who abhorred the church's spiritual basis for reality, hence their desire to obliterate the church. (If I told you what was really going on, it would ruin the suspense, of course.) Supposedly, Italy's most enlightened men of the sixteenth century, physicists, astronomers, and mathematicians banded together to share their concerns about the inaccuracies of the church's teachings. "They feared that the church's monopoly on 'truth' threatened academic enlightenment around the world. They founded the world's first scientific think tank, calling themselves 'the enlightened ones,' " i.e., the Illuminati. Hunted by the church, they were forced to maintain extreme secrecy, but they spread the word through codes and messages and met regularly at a secret location called the Church of Illumination. Lucifer, in Latin, means bringer of light or illuminator.
There is some interesting history of iconography. U.S. currency is supposedly covered with Illuminati symbola. The pyramid on the back of a dollar bill is an occult symbol representing "a convergence upward, toward the ultimate source of Illumination. The eye above it, also emblazoned on Masonic lodges around the world - the Masons were thought to be offshoots of the Illuminati - represented the Illuminati's ability to infiltrate and watch all things. "The shining triangle represents enlightenment and is also the Greek letter delta, which is the mathematical symbol for change." The U.S. Great Seal is thus a call for enlightened, all-seeing change and the wording under the pyramid, Novus Ordo Seculorum, means new secular order. Take all this with liberal doses of salt.
Other pieces of delicious trivia include Pope Pius's emasculation of the male form in statues. In 1857, he decided that the accurate representation of the male form "might incite lust inside the Vatican. So he got a chisel and mallet and hacked off the genitalia of every single male statue inside Vatican City. He defaced works by Michelangelo, Bramante, and Bernini [who plays a very important role in this tale]. Plaster fig leaves were used to patch the damage. Hundreds of sculptures had been emasculated. Langdon had often wondered if there was a huge crate of stone penises someplace."
Langdon explains how the church pictured "satanic cults as devil-worshiping fiends. . .yet Satanists historically were educated men who stood as adversaries to the church," called Shaitan, an Islamic term meaning adversary. "The rumors of satanic black-magic animal sacrifices and the pentagram ritual were nothing but lies spread by the church as a smear campaign against their adversaries. Over time, opponents of the church, wanting to emulate the Illuminati, began believing the lies and acting them out. Thus, modern Satanism was born."
Langdon uses his knowledge of art history to locate the lair where the assassin who has been hired to kill off the four most likely candidates to the papacy is hiding, and has squirreled away the love interest (typical).
Taken with a tablespoon of salt, the story goes down delectably. For those wishing to wander down the path to paranoia, see
[...] Rationalists would find the Mason history more illuminating at [...]

Dark Waters
Dark Waters
by Lee Vyborny
Edition: Hardcover
16 used & new from CDN$ 32.39

5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating little known story, March 25 2004
This review is from: Dark Waters (Hardcover)
No one is quite sure when Admiral Rickover decided the Navy needed a small nuclear-powered submarine that could drive along the deepest depths of the ocean and be used for a variety of missions. The civilian world had been using deep-sea submersibles for some time, but it was not until the Thresher accident that everyone realized the need for a vessel that could remain underwater at the deepest depths for very long periods of time. It was developed and built under conditions of extreme secrecy and was never even designated a warship. It had a variety of bizarre features, including tires on the bottom of the hull that would literally permit it to drive along the bottom, and sideways thrusters fore and aft that allowed it to hover in one exact position.
Lee Vyborny was one of the original crew members on the tiny NR-1, a sub that contained a midget nuclear reactor, which developed a mere 130 horsepower, of which only 60 could be used for propulsion. The crew quarters were tiny, and there was no stateroom for the commander, who would usually sleep on the floor next to the control panel. The reactor was designed so it could be operated by one man because the crew never exceeded eight people, usually only four on duty at any given time.
In an uncharacteristic mistake, Rickover tried to keep the cost of development and building down and required that as many of the ship's components as possible be purchased off-the-shelf. He was under the mistaken impression that the commercial deep sea industry was well developed and the parts standardized. At the same time, he insisted on testing these parts under the most extreme conditions. They had never been designed for the role he intended, and the result was costly failures and time spent to develop alternatives. The early computer they used was a midget and capable of only fourteen simultaneous operations, in contrast to the original PC, which could do many thousands at once.
Rickover's presence was ubiquitous. Everyone was suitably cowed, but he knew the bureaucracy well and how to manipulate them. The story of the two dead mice is illustrative. A habitability team was due for an inspection. Their job was to verify that a new ship was liveable. The NR-1 had so many discomforts for the crew, Rickover knew he might be in trouble, so he sent out an aide to find two dead mice and to hide them in the boat. The habitability team was delighted to find a dead mouse, thinking they would be able to reprimand the famous admiral. Instead, they were the ones on the receiving end. He told them they had done a terrible job and didn't belong in the Navy. "I know there were two dead mice on that boat," he shouted, "I bought them! You only found one! Get out of here!"
When lambasted by the General Accounting Office for the NR-1's cost overruns and asked to explain the excess, Rickover replied with a sarcastic letter, reprinted in full in the book, suggesting their analysis was similar to a review of Lady Chatterly's Lover by Field and Stream magazine. The letter concluded, "A cursory review of the subject report leads me to conclude that its authors, likewise, lack comprehension in the manner of accomplishing research and development. Therefore, I believe no useful purpose would be served by detailed comments on my part."
In order to withstand the enormous pressures at depths to which the little sub was expected to go, the hull had to be perfectly round. The twelve-and-a-half-foot diameter hull could be out of round by no more than 1/16th of an inch. That required special manufacturing processes. The crew had to undergo special psychological tests to see whether they could stand being cooped up in tiny spaces for long periods. Submariners who had been successful at resisting the stresses of a regular submarine wound up in fistfights after just a few days when tested under the conditions expected on the NR-1.
The boat was expected to remain under water indefinitely, but practical considerations limited the length of the voyages: food and waste. The ship had no galley, so the crew subsisted on TV dinners purchased in large quantities and kept frozen until they were needed, and when the waste tank was full, they had to surface.
Ironically, the NR-1 has outlasted larger and more famous mega-submarines. According to the author, it continues to conduct classified missions in addition to being a valuable resource for many universities and research institutes for tamer exploratory searches of the ocean's depths.

The Brethren
The Brethren
by John Grisham
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 25.08
171 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Just good fun. Not to be taken seriously, March 25 2004
This review is from: The Brethren (Hardcover)
Grisham has to be one of the most cynical authors writing legal fiction today. Everyone is corrupt, thinking only of himself, and money rules.
The "Brethren" are three ex-judges who have been incarcerated in a minimum security federal prison for a variety of avaricious crimes. While in prison, they procure the services of Trevor, a greedy little lawyer who agrees to act as the go-between in a dirty scheme to extort money from gay men who are fearful of being outed. Trevor bribes the prison guards to look the other way while he "smuggles" in forbidden documents and deposits their ill-begotten proceeds in an off-shore bank account. It's all very sordid.
A subplot, that becomes mixed with the affairs of the Brethren concerns Teddy Maynard, director of the CIA, who, appalled by the fall of communism and the concomitant reduction in military spending, conspires to find a candidate of suitable malleability, whom he can groom to be the next president. Aaron Lake, handsome, widowed, a light drinker, with no political baggage, seems the perfect choice. Just to be on the safe side, though, Maynard has Lake followed everywhere. By instigating terrorist actions at the appropriate time, and collecting huge amounts of money from weapons manufacturers who stand to reap huge profits from Lake's sole campaign promise: to double the defense budget; Maynard assures that Lake soon has a commanding lead over the vice-president, the previous front runner. Maynard will stop at nothing, including orchestrating a murder, to realize his dream of controlling the president.
While following Lake, Maynard's agents discover he has a PO Box hidden away. They "borrow" the mail - notice the CIA has already been involved in several gross violations of the law, all in the name of national security - and discover to their horror that their "perfect" candidate is conducting a surreptitious correspondence with a young man looking for a wealthy male gigolo. We know that the young man, Ricky" is really the creation of the Brethren. The Brethren, always careful, learn who "AL" really is, and see a huge windfall in the making. What better extortion candidate than someone running for president. Soon they realize that there is a third party involved, a very powerful group of men, but they are determined to make the most of the situation. The ending, which I won't reveal, is less a blockbuster than a revelation of Grisham's sordid view of the world.

by Gore Vidal
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
19 used & new from CDN$ 0.60

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic, March 25 2004
This review is from: Julian (Mass Market Paperback)
Julian the Apostate was emperor of Rome from 361-363 CE and the nephew of Constantine. Raised in a strict Christian environment (although of the Arian tradition), he formally announced his conversion to paganism in 361 and became a public enemy of Christianity.
That provides the background for Vidal's excellent historical novel (historical in the best sense in that Vidal tried to use as many actual events and recorded conversations as possible). Vidal is, of course, rather flagrant in rejecting Christianity himself, so it is easy to see why Julian's gradual rejection of what he viewed as a faith filled with contradictions both in belief and behavior would be appealing to Vidal.
The book is told from Julian's point of view as a form of autobiography with little side social commentaries of two of his friends. The debate between the supporters of Athanasius (who finally won out) and the Arians is well explained. In the fourth century (see also When Jesus Became God (BT216 .R83 1999), reviewed in an earlier issue, the debate over the divinity of Jesus was of huge consequence. The Arians (basing their case on John 14:25) believed in the doctrine of homoiousios: Jesus was a similar substance to God the father but created by him. The followers of Athanasius adopted that "pernicious doctrine" later codified in the Nicene Creed of homoousius (meaning that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are one and the same).
It was essential for Julian to pretend to be one of the Galileans, as Christians were called then, because it was the declared religion of Rome after Constantine. As a potential successor to the throne, he was subject to all sorts of plots and political machinations, and these dangers form much of the tension of the book, as Julian tries to remain alive posing as a student of philosophy with no interest in politics. Julian's childhood was that of a prince with all that entails, including constant supervision, little access to people besides his siblings, and strict regulation of behavior. Julian's cousin, the reigning emperor Constantius, fearing for his throne, systematically murdered those who might be a threat -- especially his relatives -- so Julian had to tread very carefully. Fortunately, Julian was needed to be the titular head of Gaul, so he was removed from Athens, married to Constantius's sister, Helena, and sent to barbarian Europe. Julian, whom the emperor suspected had no military prowess, surprised everyone with his skill in battle as well as administratively, even though his hands were often tied by Constantius's Florentius, who had a great deal of administrative control. Constantius's attempts to subdue the Persians was to prove his undoing, and when he demanded that virtually all of Julian's troops be sent to him - despite Julian's promise to the troops from Gaul that they would not have to serve outside the province - those troops rebelled and demanded that Julian be appointed Julian Augustus, i.e., Emperor of the West. Helena, by this time, even though she was sister to Constantius, sided with Julian, because she knew that her brother had murdered her two children because he feared them as threats to his throne. Before a civil could result Constantius died.
Julian's (Vidal's?) comments on power and the corrupting role of imperialism are as pertinent today as they might have been two centuries ago: " Wherever there is a throne, one may observe in rich detail every folly and wickedness of which man is capable, enameled with manners and gilded with hypocrisy." "I have often felt when studying history that not enough is made of those intermediaries who so often do the actual governing. . . As a result, factions within the court could form and reform, irrelevant to the nominal power. . . .On the throne of the world, any delusion can become fact." The corruption and greed become palpable in Vidal's words.
Vidal uses a triple narrative technique that intersperses Julian's "autobiography" with comments by two contemporaries, a philosopher and a rhetorician, whose views do not always coincide with Julian's, permitting Vidal to offer disparate views of events. Julian is ultimately portrayed as a pagan philosopher-leader struggling against the hypocrisy of the new Galilean religion and trying to recapture the glory of the lost Hellenistic past.
Julian used his military and imperial rights to revive paganism and subdue the upstart Christian cult, but was killed - Vidal suggests by one of his own men, perhaps at the direction of the bishops - during the war against the Persians.
Vidal has vividly captured the intense political maneuvering and danger of being in line to succeed to the throne. This is historical fiction at its nail-biting best.

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right
Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right
by Al Franken
Edition: Hardcover
122 used & new from CDN$ 0.27

5.0 out of 5 stars Not balanced but accurate, March 25 2004
This very funny but extremely serious book goes after the deliberate falsehoods perpetrated by the right-wing on "liberals."
As you may know, the Fox Network went after Franken for trademark infringement because he used the phrase "fair and balanced." The judge threw out the suit as completely ludicrous and made several trenchant comments about the inability of the Fox executives to recognize satire when they saw it
Harvard University gave Franken a fellowship to basically do whatever he wanted, but demurred at his idea of having Harvard students write his son's college application, but Harvard demurred. He finally hit upon the idea of having a group of students do research for his book. They bought the idea.
His first target is Ann Coulter, author of Scandal. Franken methodically picks apart her book, revealing it for the inaccurate, if not disingenuous, piece of nonsense it is. He also shows how she has blatantly lied about things. Her Connecticut driver's license shows her birth date as 1961; her Washington DL says 1963. She claims the Washington DL is correct, which means she voted as a sixteen-year-old. On one of the applications she lied about her age. Now, many people have done that, but since the US Patriot Act makes it a felony to put false information on a government ID, she could be whisked away and held without counsel for a long time. I wish they would. Simple charges she makes in her book were never checked. For example, she complains that Evan Thomas, supposedly one of those heinous liberals, was the son of Norman Thomas, four-time [sic] candidate for president on the Socialist party ticket. Actually, he ran six times, and a simple phone call to Evan Thomas reveals that he is not the son of Norman Thomas. Coulter's book is filled with such false details. Either she is extremely lazy or a blatant liar. Franken obviously suspects the latter.
Francken has infuriated that scion of right-wing Fox Bill O'Reilly by publicly pointing out many untruths that O'Reilly has put forth. At Book Expo in Los Angeles, O'Reilly was humiliated by Franken, who categorically listed all sorts of lies O'Reilly had perpetrated on the public. Now, Franken makes clear that occasionally making a mistake on a statistic is hardly a crime, but O'Reilly's customary tactic, when challenged with the correct information from unimpeachable sources is to simply bully and yell at his challenger rather than correct the mistake. The problem is also that he makes lots of mistakes. More from the "sewer of right-wing dishonesty. When he interviewed the son of a worker killed on 9/11 on February 4th, 2003, he became enraged at the son's opposition to the war in Iraq, had his engineer cut off the man's microphone, and sent him packing saying to him after the show's end, "Get out of my studio before I tear you to f*cking pieces."
O'Reilly, who constantly rails at the lyrics of rap songs, wrote a murder mystery in 1998, Those who Trespass (about a serial killer who murders everyone who interferes with his rising television career), that took explicit sex and violence to new heights and the English language to new lows. In one murder, the victim is killed by having a spoon driven through the roof of her mouth into her brain stem. Variants of the "F" word and "B" word are used more than 51 times. Case of the pot calling the kettle black? O'Reilly is not a nice man.
Team Franken took a look at Hannity's (of Hannity and Colmes,) book to verify the factualness of his statements. Examples of disingenuousness and dishonesty abound.
Bush's initial indifference to al Qaeda prior to 9/11 is astonishing. The Clinton administration had developed plans for eliminating Bin Laden, but those plans were ignored. That the Bin Laden family were good friends with the Bush family is well-known, and Franken speculates as to what might have happened to Clinton had he been so nice to the Bin Laden family, permitting a Saudi plane to fly around the country picking up family members for return to Saudi Arabia, while American airplanes were grounded. In the meantime, President Bush has broken all presidential records for the number of days spent on vacation.
The book is often uneven, some parts funnier and some more serious. Should one laugh or cry learning that many of our leaders today, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Perle, Bush, and other chickenhawks who are sending men off to die in war, did everything in their power, having their fathers pull strings and inventing flimsy excuses (shouldn't pick on Limbaugh, I think he was just too fat) to avoid service in Vietnam.

Lost Light
Lost Light
by Michael Connelly
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 8.55
178 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Can't put Connelly down!, March 25 2004
This review is from: Lost Light (Mass Market Paperback)
I read (or listen) to everything Michael Connelly writes, and he never disappoints. This is the ninth novel featuring Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch, who remains dedicated to uncovering the truth no matter where it might lead. Harry has retired from the LAPD, disillusioned by his countless battles with police bureaucracy and hypocrisy, but he remains haunted by the sight of a murdered victim's hands that were arranged by the killer in almost a supplication. He decides to track down a few leads to see if he might get somewhere. The case involved the death of Angela Benton, who had worked for a bank that loaned $2 million in cash to a movie company to be used as part of a set during a movie. The cash was taken during a robbery on the set.
In a seemingly unrelated case, Harry has been called to visit a cop who had been paralyzed during a shooting in which his partner had been killed. Harry learns that an FBI agent had been killed in a seemingly separate case, but before she died she had discovered an anomaly in the list of serial numbers of the $100 bills heisted from the movie set. Harry wonders if there might possibly be a connection between the three cases and begins to investigate.
Suddenly he's confronted by stone walls and official FBI and police notice that he stay as far away from the case as possible. After he tries to borrow some files from the paralyzed cop, he's unceremoniously taken by FBI, to facilities they use to keep suspected terrorists under wraps. He learns that the elite Homeland Security Team is involved in the case and is using its dictatorial authority and secret powers to maintain control of the case.
That's when the book gets really interesting, because Harry captures on videotape the FBI manhandling the paralyzed cop. He had originally installed the equipment to check on the cop's wife, who the cop claims has been abusive to him. He uses the video to extort information from the FBI and to retrieve information about the original murders that no one would provide. It's really fun to watch them get manipulated so masterfully.

Power Failure: The Inside Story of the Collapse of Enron
Power Failure: The Inside Story of the Collapse of Enron
by Mimi Swartz
Edition: Hardcover
35 used & new from CDN$ 0.39

5.0 out of 5 stars Must Read, March 25 2004
Ken Lay was the product of a very religious background in a small Midwestern town. During work on his PhD in economics, he became enamored of the world of stocks. He parlayed InterNorth, a small energy company into Enron. He was a rich man, having made $4 million in stock value increases from the merger of Houston Gas into InterNorth, later renamed Enron. He was also the highest paid CEO in the United States. The company's strengths were also its weakness: the constant risk-taking; the high debt load to ward off potential takeovers; "impassioned embrace of deregulation;" constant reorganization; and instant adoption of the hottest new business ideas. They were soon struggling for cash.
In the meantime, Lay had created a new culture at Enron. It was his belief that all one had to do was hire the best and the brightest, provide a free environment, and things would take care of themselves. He also had trouble saying no to anyone. He hired an old friend to be the "bad guy," but it soon became apparent to all that if you made money for the company you could get whatever you wanted.
Watkins was hailed in 2001, following the collapse of Enron, as a heroine for her "whistle-blowing." Whether her actions actually constitute that appellation is open to question. Certainly she was an insider, and her account reveals a great deal more of the financial shenanigans in greater detail than the previous book I reviewed, Anatomy of Greed. She interacted constantly with Lay, Skilling and Fastow, and if she got really nervous about what she was seeing, perhaps whistle-blowing was just a way of protecting her posterior.
What started out as a new paradigm, a different way of delivering energy, soon became a case of the blind leading the blind, or a corporate version of Dumb and Dumber, as the board and Enron employees began creating numerous new ways of hiding losses, even making losses look like revenue. It was a huge, ever-increasing house of cards.
Watkins is an accountant and naturally had a strong sense of the financial improprieties the company had embarked upon, but the impending doom she warned of in her now-famous memo to Lay should have been obvious to everyone. Enron's own head of research said presciently, "Every era gets the clowns it deserves."
If they ever make a movie of this book, it will have to be a comedy. It is astonishing how stupid many of the "best and brightest" graduates of American business schools were, as they bellied up to the trough of corporate greed. Sherron made an attempt to meet with Ken Lay, but first she had to convince his personal secretary to arrange a meeting. The secretary informed Watkins that "Ken gravitates toward good news. . . ." It did not bode well for the meeting. Another insider told her to make the presentation as simple as possible and eliminate any accounting jargon. She obliged and reworked her presentation so that her two-year-old daughter could understand it. The meeting was a flop, and it was clear to her that Lay could not understand - or perhaps did not want to understand - a thing she was talking about.
Ironically, Osama Bin Laden's exploits barely dented the US economy. Lay's machinations and the subsequent stock free fall provided a vicious slambang.

Dynamite Road
Dynamite Road
by Andrew Klavan
Edition: Hardcover
24 used & new from CDN$ 0.94

4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, March 25 2004
This review is from: Dynamite Road (Hardcover)
Scott Weiss, ex-cop, now owner of a private investigation agency, sends Jim Bishop, one of his operatives, to a small airport in northern California. Ray Grambling, part owner of the FBO, has concerns that one of his pilots, Chris Wannamaker, may be involved in some kind of very shady deal with Bernie Hirschorn, the other FBO partner.
Bishop, operating undercover as Frank Kennedy, enjoys living on the edge He pushes Chris to the limit by seducing his wife and spreading rumors about his drinking in hopes that he (Bishop) will be hired to replace Chris as the pilot for the big job that Hirschorn has planned.
In the meantime, Ben Fry, whom we later realize is also know as the Shadowman, has gone to great lengths (even to implanting a device under his skin that won't show up in strip searches) to get himself imprisoned in the most secure prison in California, one reserved for incorrigibles and extremely violent offenders.
Weiss, during the course of another investigation, realizes that several people have been killed or have disappeared in seemingly unrelated events, and he finds a startling connection. They are all related to Whip, a man who specialized in creating new identities for criminals, identities so secure that once created, no law enforcement agency has been able to penetrate them. Whip, having knowledge of who became whom, is terrified that he may also have become a target, so he is placed in deep protective custody in a maximum security prison (guess what's coming?).
The book is a little unusual in that we see the story evolve from three points of view: Bishop's, Weiss's, and the first-person narrative of another Weiss employee. He stands in awe of Weiss's understanding of human nature. The narrator, whose name we never learn, inadvertently solves the Case of the Spanish Virgin and discovers some key elements of the case against the Shadowman. If this all sounds a little hokey, I suppose that's because it is. Still, a very entertaining read.

Bitter Harvest
Bitter Harvest
by Ann Rule
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.89
83 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Rule rules, March 25 2004
Rule is well-known for her true crime writing and justifiably so. Ever since Truman Capote popularized the form in In Cold Blood, true crime has become a popular genre.
This harrowing book tells the story of Dr. Debora Green, a very bright Kansas physician whose life unraveled into a nightmare of murder and virtual insanity. After her trial for the murder of two of her children and the attempted murder of her husband, Michael Farrar, psychiatrists attempted to answer why something like this could have happened. Their diagnosis was that Dr. Green had a limited ego, was a very immature person with the emotional responses of a small child. Ostensibly, she was able to function quite well, until her marriage and the pressures of raising a family began to stress her life. She had an IQ of 165 and had zipped through medical school, married a brilliant cardiologist, and borne three children. The family lived in a large house in the Kansas City suburbs.
By the end of the story Debora had become a violent and irrational monster who had driven away her husband, as she descended into a maelstrom of alcohol, drugs and invective. In hindsight, a house fire that destroyed an earlier home was probably her doing. The final straw was apparently her husband's affair with Celeste Walker, a nurse whose physician husband had committed suicide. The family had returned from a long-awaited vacation to South America, when Mike became deathly ill. He could keep no food down and suffered constant diarrhea. His condition puzzled the clinicians because the symptoms did not seem to match anything in their knowledge base. The only thing they could think of was that perhaps Mike had picked up some kind of virulent bug while traveling, but none of the others who had been on the trip had suffered anything beyond the normal traveler's stomach problems that quickly disappeared.
Bouts of his illness always seemed to come after he had been released from the hospital and had eaten food served by his wife. After what seemed - to me - an interminable period he began to suspect that perhaps Debora might be trying to poison him. One afternoon when she was out, he searched her purse and discovered several packages of Castor beans. Warnings on the package labels revealed that these beans contain a very toxic poison called Ricin. Normally, the beans could be swallowed whole without much difficulty because they had such a hard shell, and the beans would pass through the system without causing any ill effects, but if crushed, they could be terribly destructive. Mike also realized his wife had just finished an Agatha Christie novel in which the murder is committed using Ricin.
Several months later, a fire, clearly arson, broke out in their house. Mike had moved out in preparation for a divorce. Two of the children died, trapped in their bedrooms by a fire, fed with accelerants, that blocked access to the hall and the stairs. The responding police and firemen were immediately struck by the mother's bizarre behavior, talking of her children in the past tense, even before anyone knew whether they had been killed or not. Eventually, she confessed to all charges and escaped the death penalty with a guilty plea.
A truly tragic story spellbindingly told by Rule, a master of the genre.

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