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Monday, May 23, 2016

Irv's Book Reviews: Three Great Reads

Posted by patron and guest blogger, Irv S.

The Empire of the Night by Robert Olen Butler is a historical spy thriller set in England and Germany, mostly the latter, in the early days of The Great War. The narrator/protagonist Christopher Marlowe Cobb is an American spy and journalist.  He is the son of a charming and talented American actress Isabel Cobb who is playing the title role in a London production of Hamlet and rehearsing to do the role in German on the Berlin stage, and has been selected by his handler to be his partner in the attempt to infiltrate, understand, and sabotage a German bombing program. The story provides a great deal of history and excellent character development.  Mr. Butler has been correctly described as one of the America’s premier writers.
Cobb has much of James Bond in him. He is a connoisseur of cigars, wine, architecture, and who knows what else.  Occasionally he displays the hard-bitten cynicism of Sam Spade.  Mr. Butler often writes with tongue in cheek. 

Neither  Bond nor  Spade have difficulty differentiating between the good guys and the bad guys. Butler’s characters are more nuanced. Cobb has difficulty deciding who he should exterminate, and, indeed, has a deep aversion to killing.

There is a tension in the book between rapid paced story-telling and rich writing.  The reader risks becoming so engrossed in the tale as to overlook the finely wrought prose. Sometimes one must defer the pleasure of learning the next plot development in favor of re-reading particular passages of outstanding writing.  This is the third Christopher Marlowe Cobb novel. I look forward to reading the fourth.

Rogue Lawyer is a John Grisham page turner with plenty of substance.  The protagonist Sebastian Rudd is a complex and fascinating character who is selective about the cases he takes, concentrating on those which will produce the maximum conflict with law enforcement personnel and anyone else who wields power, politically or economic. He defends a drug-addled kid accused of murdering two little girls (not guilty), a vicious crime lord who killed a judge (guilty), and a homeowner who kills a policeman who mistakenly invaded his home (technically guilty but with an interesting twist). He is in a running battle with his ex-wife over custody/visitation with his eight year old son. Grisham was a trial lawyer and knows how a trial works. His discussion of legal procedures is not only fascinating, but accurate and reliable.  Rogue Lawyer is a good read, Grisham at his best.

So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell is shorter than most novels, but packs too much into its pages to be called a novella. It is a beautifully written story of love, sex, pain and growing up--without any lewdness or foul language. It has wonderful and well developed characters and strong imagery. It also deals with the questions of "what is truth?" and "how do we discern it?" The story is set in the author's hometown, Lincoln, Illinois. The author went east to attend Harvard and spent over thirty years as an editor of The New Yorker. So Long, See You Tomorrow is an excellent and very satisfying novel.

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