But very well told and narrated. (A great Henry Fonda impression for Tom Joad and a passable Walter Brennan for Grampa.) 'Useful idiots' is purportedly the term used by Lenin to describe western leftist fellow-travelers like Steinbeck and many of his literary contermporaries such as Lincoln Steffens, John Reed, Sinclair Lewis, the early Dos Passos, Walter Duranty, et al. The tale is the eternal morality play of Pure Evil v. Pure Good, the oppressors v. the oppressed, naked greed v. noble self-sacrifice with the tacit promise that someday a righteous leader of the People will rise up ('I'll be there....'), Good will prevail, Evil will be banished and we will all live in natural, spontaneous communal bliss where all laws are wise and just, all wealth and power equitably shared, all leaders noble and altruistic and all human relationships built only on love, charity and good-will. It must have been especially pleasurable to be paid so well to tell and re-tell and re-tell this story by the very economic system they were all convinced is the true root of all human misery.
I agree with other reviewers that the harmonica is unnecessary and very annoying.
I bought this for two reasons: I'm planning a trip to Tuscany and was hoping for the sort of local color other mystery writers provide--Parker for Boston, Connelly for LA, Johnson for Wyoming, Sandford for Minneapolis and environs, for example. There's virtually none of that here and, except for the Mafia connection, it could have been set almost anywhere. Also, I like good mysteries, but this is not one. Finally, the narrator does all the Italian characters with something like either an Oxcam or Cockney accent, depending on their class and background. Cannot recommend.
If you like mysteries where almost all the essential information relevant to the crime is withheld until the very end, at which time the wily old detective gets everyone in a room and all the guilty ones readily confess and fill in all the details (a la Columbo, Poirot or Perry Mason), you'll probably like this. If not, not. There is a decent amount of clever British-style quips and banter and the narrator is ok but not exceptional.
I thought this was very well written and thought provoking. Assuming it is an accurate portrayal of Black culture (which I do), it demonstrates that the author is not afraid to show that Whites do not have a corner on racism, but also that he does not seem to understand Whites or White culture any better than Whites understand Blacks. Since all the White characters are either air-headed, condescending, 'bleeding heart' (one of his Black character's phrases) yuppies or unapologetic red-neck racists, I can only conclude, surprisingly, that even with his intelligence and experience as a respected journalist, he apparently has not encountered any who share the same values I'm sure he has--hard work, honesty, self-reliance, self-respect, personal responsibility--and who endeavor to judge others on those same grounds, not on skin color. If he has, I'm not sure why none were portrayed in his otherwise excellent novel.
The book was ok in terms of plot, character development, etc., but I found it very odd that the author chose to present it as a number of first person narrations. What are we supposed to think these are? They are not letters or diary entries. If we are supposed to think the all-seeing author is putting us inside the heads of these people as they muse, it strains credulity to think that anyone muses so articulately, whether a child, a nurse maid, an executioner or a queen. I don't recall ever reading a book like this and I think it greatly distracts from the overall work.
This may be my last Burke novel. The plot is preposterous in many places. (Warning: plot spoilers dead ahead.) Why would a German submarine have a 42 pound, jewel encrusted swastika and Hitler's 'plan for America' on board? Why would even a Neo-Nazi psychopath want the sub so badly? Would any real person risk his life to save a man (he thought) who had brutally tortured him or a woman (as it turns out) who terrorized his family? How can Clete continue to get away with his shenanigans (as much as I like them)? How many times can one novel contain some variation of 'Are we CLEAR on that now, podnah?" To top it all off, are Rush Limbaugh listeners (Burke makes a very thinly veiled allusion to them) really responsible for the Neo-Nazi movement and do they really not care about black people being slaughtered, as Burke clearly implies? I've contributed enough to the support of self-righteous liberals like Streisand, Baldwin, Penn and Damon. I didn't realize until this book that Burke has the same mind-set. I wish someone had warned me.
I gave it two stars instead of the one (or less) it probably deserves because there are some funny lines and, despite a great deal of over-elaborate description and psychological musing, it is pretty well written. Unlike many Burke reviewers, I think Hammer's narrations are excellent.
So I'm about 1/4 of the way through this and I'm not sure how much longer I can take it. I was hoping for an honest account of how a Christian sincerely combats atheist objections. (Maybe this is it. Maybe this is the best they can do.) He starts by saying again and again that even believers like him have doubts. (So?) He seems to go on (it's never very clear) by adopting Tertullian's claim that he 'believes because it is absurd.' An argument which is self-confirmingly absurd. He then claims to respond to Hitchens' challenge of 'tell me some moral shortcoming I have because I'm an atheist' by saying Hitchens wouldn't comply with the first three commandments (have no other gods before me, no craven images, honor the Sabbath), simply assuming without justification that anyone who does so is immoral. He asserts, with no real facts or argument, that atheism is self-contradictory. He cites many appeals to what the founding fathers believed (so?), but so far, he has not even attempted to answer why anyone should believe whatever he believes without any evidence whatsoever. I'm trying to keep an open mind, but I don't know how much further I can go in what seems more and more like a basic (unresponsive and irrelevant) claim that believing what he does makes him feel better about other people, himself and his place in the world. I may amend this review later if he ever comes to grips with the real issues atheists propound, but I'm having doubts about that ever happening.
I'm a big Estleman fan, but this one is not worth your time. It's a Scooby Doo/Hardy Boys plot, unworthy of him.
I've read 6 of Shaara's books (the 4 WWII ones and the last two on the Civil War) and liked them all, but I just couldn't get into this one. The characters seemed flat and the plot uninteresting.
I guess that's why I, like everyone I knew at the time, LOVED this book when I was a college sophomore in the late '60s. Yosarian was us. We were the only ones who saw through all the phoniness of the culture our parents had created. We were the only ones who realized that war is a bad thing. Everyone in any position of authority was a mindless buffoon, perfectly caricatured by Heller and his buddy, Kurt Vonnegut. We can now look around and see what my generation of know-it-alls baby-boomers has done to the world. Unfortunately, from the many rave reviews, there seem to still be a lot of that mind-set around.
I've got to stop buying books just because they are on sale and must start paying attention to the gender of the rave reviewers. Some of my favorite authors are women--Wharton, Eliot, Austen--and more recently Ruth Downie and Margaret George, but I'm always a bit leery of contemporary women writers--especially mystery writers--because all too often I find them, like this one, filling space with too much adolescent romance with 'dreamy' guys with tight buns. This one adds another 'bonus'--a bad-ass, karate chopping hell cat who is more than a match for any guy around. I'd had enough about half way through. I think I was probably generous in giving it 2 stars.
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