Simpson provides a broad examination of over two-dozen conspiracy
theories, from ancient times to modern, and all across the world.
For instances where there actually were conspiracies (Lincoln's
assassination, Watergate), he provides the historical context and
aftermath. For those that remain speculative (the deaths of Pope
John Paul I or Marilyn Monroe), he explains where the investigations
went wrong and muddied the historical record. Simpson's goal is “to
sort out the probable from the possible,” allowing readers to draw
their own conclusions. He does not, however, hesitate to point out
the ridiculous: writer Stephen King did not kill John Lennon, no
matter what pictures you may have seen on the Internet. Aside from
assassinations, the book discusses possible conspiracies and
cover-ups involving the military (Pam Am 103), extraterrestrials
(Roswell), secret societies (The Protocols of the Elders of Zion),
and governments (9/11). Of interest to Americans will be two British
conspiracies they might not have heard of. The Rendlesham Forest
Incident is frequently called “The British Roswell.” In 1980, lights
flew over a U.S. Airbase in England. Airmen later chased some form
of mechanical lights through a forest and found possible evidence of
a UFO landing site. Alternative 3 was a fake documentary
shown on British TV in 1977 in the tradition of Orson Welles' War
of the Worlds broadcast. It involved a supposed plan to send
Earth's best and brightest to Mars so that they could avoid our
coming environmental collapse. To this day, some people insist it's
real. (You can find the “expose” on YouTube.) For topics that are
out in the open, like The Council on Foreign Relations, the book
explains what they actually do and how they have come to be
misinterpreted. The book is well-footnoted, but still very “pop,”
and has appropriate historical images on almost every page,
including both forms of President Barack Obama's birth certificate.
Note: this is only available as an e-book. That's good for folks
with e-readers because it gives them something interesting to read
besides the obvious best sellers. It's bad for everyone else who
would like a copy on their shelf, or—as I surely would have done as
a high school or college student—to pass around with friends.
It's rare to find a fun, racy book about sex, drugs, and booze that
also has a literary focus. McKeen's history of Key West, Florida,
which has been home to many of the 20th Century's
most-celebrated writers, makes it seem inevitable. From here on out,
I won't be able to think of Hemingway or Hunter S. Thompson without
thinking first of daiquiris, girls in bikinis, and gorgeous sunsets.
Key West is popularly known as the southernmost city on the
continental U.S., and tourists flock to pose beside the titular
concrete mile marker. Hemingway made it his home during the 1930s,
and during the 1960s and '70s other writers came to wrestle with
Papa's ghost or just live somewhere warm and inexpensive. Residents,
or “Conchs,” as they like to be called, have long practiced “the
Bubba system,” where one hand washes the other, but people also tend
to leave each other alone. This not only allowed shrimpers to pick
up a little extra cash smuggling marijuana, but also made Key West
attractive for gay writers like Tennessee Williams. Tom McGuane, now
largely forgotten, but a very hot property in the 1970s when he was
frequently called “The Hemingway of his generation,” was part of the
migration that eventually included gonzo journalist Thompson,
Superman star Margot Kidder, and songwriter Jimmy Buffett.
McKeen depicts Buffett as a poet who songs portray his embodiment of
the Key West lifestyle. Buffett’s song “Margaritaville” spread the
word (and the fantasy) of his adopted home to all “the secretaries
and middle managers who dressed in JC Penny.” Like so many things,
Key West has become a victim of its own success. Now only the very
rich and the homeless can afford to live there, and what was once
authentically ramshackle has become Disneyfied quaint.
“Christopher Columbus realized that the decisive moment was
With that, Steve Berry’s prototype for the perfect thriller, The
Columbus Affair is off and running at breakneck speed. There’s
something truly special about an author at the top of his game
rising to even greater heights, maybe because so many bestselling
authors disappoint by the time their “Also By” page reaches double
digits. Not so here. Indeed, in book number eleven Berry daringly
lays the ever-reliable Cotton Malone aside in favor of new, and
considerably more flawed, protagonist Tom Sagan who’s, almost
literally, at the end of his rope when the book opens.
Sagan, a once famed journalist, thought he had seen it all. But the
wartime reporting that ultimately led to his disgrace is nothing
compared to a story that holds both hope and redemption for him.
This after he receives a visit from the enigmatic Zachariah Simon
who enlists Sagan’s aid and expertise in solving a centuries-old
mystery that exposes new truths about Christopher Columbus himself.
Not that Sagan has much of a choice, given that Simon has Tom’s own
daughter to use as a calculated bargaining chip, ratcheting up the
stakes, both personal and professional, even more.
“Let us hope that the secret of this day will long stay hidden,” a
character notes early on.
But in the world of Steve Berry we know it won’t, as he once again
magically blurs the line between fact and fiction, infusing his
potboiler with a perfect blend of historical speculation and
contemporary adventure that would make Indiana Jones proud and helps
raise The Columbus Affair into the rarified air of early
Robert Ludlum. There is simply no one today writing better or more
satisfying thrillers than Berry and this one is not to be missed.
Fans of the Castle TV series know that the author Richard Castle
wrote a series of novels starring Derrick Storm prior to writing
about Nikki Heat. The last Storm book killed off his main
character. With the release of the first e-book short A Brewing
Storm, the reader quickly learns he faked his death.
Enjoying retirement, he’s called back to the CIA by his old boss.
Under an assumed name so Storm can technically stay dead, he’s given
an assignment that at first seems routine. A powerful senator’s son
has been kidnapped, and strangely two different sets of ransom notes
appear. Storm has to fight the FBI, the CIA, and the senator to get
answers. Everyone seems to have secrets.
The author ghostwriting for Richard Castle has the formula down
cold. The narrative teeters between pulp parody and classic mystery
without going over the top. Readers might complain about how short
the story is, but to me it felt like the first episode of a
multi-story arc. Can’t wait for the second one.
Haddam's 27th mystery featuring Gregor Demarkian takes us
inside the nouveau riche, gated community of Waldorf Pines,
just outside of Philadelphia. Here among the mock Tudors that abut a
golf course, the residents like to think of themselves as wealthy
inhabitants of a small town. But they lack the self-assurance of old
money. Waldorf Pines' residents still fear for their reputations,
and they all have secrets and something to lose. Among the ladies
who lunch and ladies who committee, and the stockbrokers and girls
who appear on My Super Sweet 16, there is a murderer.
Demarkian used to work for the FBI, and now he's police consultant.
As he says, “people hire me when they know who committed the murder,
but it's somebody they don't want to take the responsibility of
arresting.” This time nobody knows who did it, and, at first nobody
knows exactly who's dead. One body in the clubhouse pool is the
ne’er-do-well, college-aged pool boy, but the second is that of
another man, not Mrs. Heinrich, with whom he was thought to have
been having an affair, and who disappeared when the pool house
caught fire. The story is told from multiple perspectives aside from
Demarkian, the most absorbing being teen-ager LizaAnne Marsh. The
quintessential Mean Girl, LizaAnne rules the cool table at the
cafeteria with an iron fist and uses the term “retarded” to refer to
anything of which she doesn't approve. And she doesn't approve of
much. From her lofty perch, she observes, but does not truly see.
The novel comes to a brilliant solution that, like all the best
mysteries, is obvious only in retrospect. Even those who read very
carefully are likely to solve only half of the puzzle.
There’s a lot to be said for an author owning a city. The way
Robert Parker does Boston, Carl Hiaasen for Florida in general,
Stephen King in Maine or how Robert Crais and Michael Connolly share
Los Angeles. Added to that list now is Bruce DeSilva who returns
the action to Rhode Island in Cliff Walk, a smooth and savvy
follow-up to his Edgar Award-winning Rogue’s Island that
further establishes DeSilva as a major crime writer. This as his
intrepid reporter hero Liam Mulligan once again gets down and
dirty. Literally this time when a child’s severed arm is found amid
that squalor of a local landfill.
Not long after the body of a murdered porno king is found at the
base of the majestic Newport locale of the title. Ugly things,
DeSilva (a former reporter himself for the Providence Journal)
is telling us, lurk in pretty places too, and it’s left to the
coffee-chugging Mulligan to make distinctions that involve an
Internet pornography ring. Seems like everything in the world
DeSilva expertly fashions, including sex, is dark and sordid and
that’s even before we meet a luscious array of colorful characters
like Attila the Nun, Blackjack Baldelli and Knuckles Grieco.
With Cliff Walk, DeSilva neatly carves out his own noirish
niche among the living legends with whom he is frequently compared.
A twisty, tightrope of a tale that satisfies on every level and
makes you wonder why some writer didn’t lay claim to Rhode Island
Mixing the end of the Vietnam War with a young woman’s paranormal
visions of a murder in today’s New York, Graham has created a modern
political thriller wrapped in a historical puzzle inside a tale of
redemption. The short chapters, told from the point of view of the
various characters, give it a cinematic feel and a break-neck pace.
Xandra Carrick is the daughter of a Vietnamese woman and an American
photojournalist who met during the war all those years ago. Like her
father, she’s a photojournalist. Xandra begins to see images of a
dead college girl whenever she’s in her darkroom developing
pictures. Richard Colson, a California senator running for
President, is a Vietnam veteran whose dying wife also has ties to
the girl’s death. To make matters even more eerie, the dead girl was
stalking Xandra for no reason she can fathom. After telling the
police about her visions, Xandra is soon arrested for the murder,
and that’s just the start of her troubles. Like Graham’s first
novel, Beyond Justice, this is a thriller threaded with
religious themes. Also like his first novel, and unlike most
“Christian thrillers,” Darkroom does not proselytize. The
faith comes naturally as part of the characters and situations,
and—most importantly—it doesn’t interfere with the characterizations
or pace of the story.
It's been eight years since Stephen King finished his magnum opus,
the seven-volume saga of The Dark Tower, the tale of Roland the
gunslinger and his quest through the Old West/fantasy setting of
Mid-World. This novel technically is set between the fourth book,
Wizard and Glass, and the fifth, Wolves of the Calla, but
because almost all of it actually takes place before the saga proper
begins, new readers don’t have to worry that they won't understand
what's happening. In fact, “Constant Readers” (as King calls his
fans) might be disappointed that Roland and the companions who make
up his “Ka-tet” appear only at the very start and very end, as a
framing device. As they hunker down to wait out a deadly, freezing
storm, Roland tells a story from his youth. When he was just
starting out as a gunslinger, Roland and his compatriot Jamie
traveled to a dusty frontier town to investigate reports of a
“skin-man,” a shape-shifter who could take the form of many a
monstrous beast and who was killing locals. But this story proves to
be only a longer framing device itself. While hunting the skin-man,
Roland tells a young boy a Mid-World fairytale, the eponymous The
Wind Through The Keyhole, and it's here that we have the bulk of
this novel. Wind concerns Tim, a woodcutter's son, whose
widowed mother marries a man who turns out to be an abusive lout.
This sets off a series of dark and mysterious events that will
eventually lead Tim on a quest of his own. His tale starts
prosaically, like many a Western, but it's not long before
Mid-World's patented mix of magic and technology come into play.
From a dragon to a Siri-like computer assistant, and through
encounters with a treacherous man in black who never ages and a
green fairy, Tim will learn that he is capable of more than anyone
might have expected. His adventure is laced with flashes of elements
from the rest of the series, and, though there's no Roland, we do
get to explore more of the strangeness that is Mid-World. King
remains a master storyteller who knows what his readers want, and he
Though they don’t realize it, high school
friends Azure (a lesbian) and Luke (a bi guy) have one major thing
in common: they’re both in love with their friend Radhika. When the
school principal asks Azure to lead a committee to transform senior
prom into something all students (rather than just the popular kids)
will want to attend, she convinces Luke and Radhika to help her—with
lots of unexpected results. Sparks fly, although seldom in the
directions that the characters hope or predict. Alternating between
Luke and Azure’s points of view, It’s Our Prom features lots
of wit and a diverse cast of well-rounded characters. High school
students getting ready for prom should add this to their must-read
Bonnie is a Scottish teen living in Thailand while her father serves
in the Vietnam War. She’s excited about the camping trip she’s
taking with a group of girls who also have parents serving in the
war, and a glamorous young woman who will be their leader. But when
a terrible storm blows their boat off course, they are forced to
land on an island that their boatman describes as “forbidden”—and
that is only the first of many things to go wrong. This
children-against-the-elements story will remind many readers of
Golding’s Lord of the Flies, although this story focuses less
on the girls’ potential cruelty to each other and more on the
worthlessness of the adult leader who should be caring for them.
Middle school readers looking for thrills will be drawn to this