Review of Caravan of Thieves by David Rich

Caravan of Thieves cover

Note: My interview with David Rich will air on KAZI FM (88.7 in Austin or listen online here) on Sunday, September 9 at 12:30 PM.

In a solid debut, Caravan of Thieves, David Rich delivers a tense and entertaining tale of intrigue, deception and a surprising amount of yoga.

Caravan of Thieves is a tense, action-filled tale that follows Rollie Waters, a Marine working undercover in Afghanistan that was recently brought back to the US and thrown in the brig. The fact that he was working undercover is your first clue that Rollie (our resident yoga practitioner) is not your typical Marine—he has all the skills of a con man courtesy of his mostly absent father Dan.  Dan is also the reason the Marines called Rollie home: the government is sure Dan stole a lot of money, and Rollie is their best chance of finding him.

The story switches between Rollie’s present-day adventures, earlier events in Afghanistan, with occasional trips back to Rollie’s childhood with (and without) his father Dan. It wouldn’t be fair to give away too much more of the story, as Rich’s tale takes off quickly and rarely lets up. After going back and checking, the lulls in the action are actually longer than I thought—they just seemed short because Rich does a fine job of ratcheting up the suspense when Rollie isn’t in an action piece.

Rich easily slides into his main character—it’s almost like coming in on the middle of a series, though this is his debut. The tangential stories that he has Rollie tell do a lot to fill out the both Rollie and Dan as people. The added color gives authenticity to the tale, like it was a friend telling you a story at dinner. He also balances the funny and serious sides of things well, though Rich is slightly more on the serious side of the scale—more like Nelson DeMille than, say, Carl Hiaasen. This is not to say that he is not funny, as he has a dry wit that suits both his main character and his story, and the occasional one-liners are well worth the inclusion.

A fairly major (and unexpected) part of the book is the development of the father/son relationship between Rollie and Dan. Even when Rollie isn’t actually with his father, Dan is still always there in his head. This is another point where yoga enters the tale: Dan eventually even invades the peaceful vision Rollie focuses on as he meditates.

Outside of Rollie and Dan, we don’t really get to know any of the other characters in-depth. However, I am sure we will get the chance to revisit some of these folks—as Caravan of Thieves proves, Rich is too talented to stop after his first novel.

This review and others are available at the KAZI Book Review page.

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Does the Cardinals’ Run Differential Matter In August? – Baseball Nation

Does Cardinals Run Differential Matter In August? – Baseball Nation.

A great look from Rob Neyer on why the Cardinals sit third in their division despite having the best run differential in the league.

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The Dystopian Timeline to The Hunger Games

Interesting graph and short article on Goodreads…caught my eye because I’ve read all sorts of dystopian fiction lately(and some rather apocalyptic non-fiction, for that matter), and it seems I’m not the only one…

Goodreads | Blog Post: The Dystopian Timeline to The Hunger Games [INFOGRAPHIC].

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Review of Too Much Magic by James Howard Kunstler

Note: I recently had the chance to interview Mr. Kunstler, and I will post here once I know when it will run on KAZI-FM (88.7) here in Austin.

In his latest non-fiction work, James Howard Kunstler delivers a sobering message about what a post-oil society might look like and how we got ourselves into this situation.

Too Much Magic is both a history lesson and a warning. The warning concerns how we as a society will have to deal with a world where cheap, plentiful oil is a thing of the past. The history lesson is all about how we came to live in such an oil-dependent society bent on expanding its suburbs to infinity.

Kunstler is also the author of 2005 book The Long Emergency which dealt with similar topics: the passing of peak oil production, climate change, and the reorganization of society in a lower-energy environment. He argues that advances in technology cannot replace dwindling fossil fuels in our economy, and we are unwilling as a people to prepare or plan for this eventuality.

One of Kunstler’s major beliefs is that the result of a lack of oil will be a necessary restructuring of our society on a more local basis. Geographical areas will have to be responsible for producing their own food and water. Waterways will become important again as a means of transportation, and people will have to adjust their living situations to be close to such waterways. He also advocates a more robust national rail system, as that may be the only way to reliably travel long distances quickly once our oil supply is gone.

Another main argument is that alternative energies such as wind and solar cannot produce enough energy to replace what we burn in oil right now. Also, the equipment needed to harvest these energies requires some form of fossil fuels to be used in the first place. Kunstler is not against trying what we can, but he feels that any of that will be a “transitory phase of history” before we settle into a “low-energy”, more local society. Another effect is that major parts of the country (such as the southwest) may become uninhabitable as we won’t have the electricity to pump water and run air conditioning in these areas.

Obviously an author with Kunstler’s views is going to have detractors, and Kunstler has many. Many argue that he lacks credentials as an oil expert or that he is simply a crackpot. A quick perusal of oil experts tells us that the world has anywhere from 40 to 100+ years of oil left at current usage, depending on whose numbers you believe. No matter what you think of Kunstler’s opinions, one must address the fact that a lack of oil will be a problem that the world will have to face sooner or later. I feel that Kunstler is merely pointing out something a lot of people would like to ignore, that our current state of energy consumption is unsustainable in the long-term. Kunstler states (and I tend to agree) that technology cannot replace energy–heck, that’s just physics.

This is a rather sobering (and, at times, frightening) book that may keep you up nights–there is a lot to think about. Even if you disagree with Kunstler’s views and vision of the future, you have to agree that the issues raised are important. If nothing else, reading this book will get you thinking about serious societal issues, and you will likely learn something as well.

This review and others are available at the KAZI Book Review page.

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Review of Rock & Roll Rip-Off by RJ McDonnell

Rock & Roll Rip-Off cover

RJ McDonnell combines a well-plotted mystery with a music-industry backdrop to create a book that should appeal to mystery fans and music fans alike.

The interesting part is that he doesn’t leave much to be mysterious: you are introduced to the crime and the criminals before you ever meet Jason Duffy, the musician turned private investigator that gets the case. By keeping his characters and locations moving, McDonnell turns the interest to finding out when and how Duffy and the robbers will meet.

The second book in McDonnell’s Rock & Roll Mystery series concerns the theft of a rather valuable music memorabilia collection. While Jason assumes it is a routine burglary, he quickly finds that the situation has put him in more danger than he bargained for. The ensuing story follows both his attempts to find the collection and to keep himself and those near him safe.

Rock & Roll Rip-Off provides a few twists along the way, and McDonnell writes a mystery that is interesting while remaining relatively plausible. This book should be especially enjoyable to anyone that has been connected with the music business at some point. The author’s obvious insight into the music scene is a central part of the story and serves as a framework for the mystery.

The relationship between Jason and his girlfriend Kelly adds a comforting and realistic side to the detective tale. Kelly acts as a reasonable woman that happens to be in love with a musician turned PI. She doesn’t completely capitulate herself to Jason’s job, but she also makes a point with Jason that she understands his line of work. It serves as a bit of a counterpoint to Jason’s work on the case, more relationship-centered sections that set up the next round of action.

The small cast of characters that work at Jason’s agency are enjoyable as well. Cory, a young man with Tourette’s syndrome, is Jason’s stakeout photographer whose profane outbursts are only described by McDonnell, adding humor by leaving something to the imagination. The other employee of the agency is Jason’s assistant Jeannine, tall, blonde, beautiful and nearly crippled by obsessive-compulsive disorder. The two are both more than competent, and they also serve as comic foils throughout.

The book, true to its genre, picks up tremendously in the final third. The story moves in a few unexpected directions, and the action happens at a faster pace. McDonnell uses this part of the book to pull the rug out from under the reader, changing paths when least expected. He also provides laughs along the way, and it is a hard-hearted reader indeed that doesn’t enjoy the final chapter. Mystery lovers and music lovers should both find something to enjoy about Rock & Roll Rip-Off.

The Rock & Roll Mystery series continues with The Concert Killer, released in August 2011 and the upcoming The Classic Rockers Reunion with Death due to be released in July 2012. Those interested in McDonnell’s series can find more information about the author and his books at www.rjmcdonnell.com.

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Review of Hard Country by Michael McGarrity

Hard Country is a sweeping epic of the American West that tells the story of imperfect people trying to settle a harsh country.

Author Michael McGarrity, best known for his Kevin Kerney mystery series, is going back in time to the American origins of Kevin’s family. Hard Country follows Kerney’s ancestors starting with Irish immigrant and Civil War veteran John Kerney in 1874. John’s story starts with the birth of a son, the death of a wife and the murder of his brother and nephew, and it only gets tougher for him from there. McGarrity has a knack for crisp storytelling, and he weaves a tight story that takes the Kerneys up to 1918.

This is obviously a meticulously-researched novel, as McGarrity weaves the actual history of the region into his story. The politics of cattle ranching and railroad expansion predominate, with most of the real-life politicians appearing as themselves. There are also cameos by more legendary figures such as Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, who just seem to mosey onto the page and are gone just as quickly. A larger part is played by the real western writer Eugene Manlove Rhodes, who is befriended by the Kerney family and even bases a story (that doesn’t sell) on one of them. This sort of historical framework around the story underscores the authentic feel of Hard Country.

McGarrity’s version of the west (specifically the Tularosa Basin in southern New Mexico) isn’t overly-romanticized and, thus, feels authentic. The gunplay, a staple of the pulp western, is sporadic, realistically presented and somewhat shocking when it happens. He is also mindful of the cultural shift going on in the area as Americans are settling an area already occupied by Native Americans and Mexicans. While the complex relations going on here are not deeply explored, they are also not ignored as something insignificant to the story.

With Hard Country, McGarrity has made a successful leap from mystery to history. His Tularosa Basin is almost a character unto itself, and his talent for bringing real cowboys to life is evident throughout the novel. Readers will find themselves transported to a time when the country was expanding and will get to know the tough (and not-so-tough) men and women that made it happen.

Fans of Hard Country will be pleased to know that this is the first of a trilogy, and McGarrity hopes to have the second installment (tentatively titled Backlands) published in early 2014.

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Not enough variety here? Try the KAZI Book Review

I think it’s only appropriate to give thanks to the people who got me started reviewing books, the good people at KAZI FM in Austin–you can listen online here. Specifically, it was Hopeton Hay (host of the KAZI Book Review, Sundays at 12:30 PM and Economic Perspectives, Mondays at 5:30 PM) that got me started–he’d supply me with books as long as I agreed to write a review and come be his co-host occasionally. How could I refuse? Two years in, and he’s still giving me books.

You can check out the authors Hopeton has interviewed at his KAZI Book Review page. Aside from my reviews, you’ll find out about upcoming interviews and other great books Hopeton recommends.

I’ll have some more reviews up soon, including a new epic western from Michael McGarrity called Hard Country. The author of the Kevin Kerney mystery series has decided to tell the history of Kerney’s family in New Mexico, beginning with Irish immigrant John Kerney in 1874. It’s a page-turner and is obviously painstakingly researched–I’ll be sure to post the full report soon.

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