I have followed the case of Damian Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jesse Miskelley since 1996, when the documentary Paradise Lost came out. This memoir breaks my heart, as I listen to an innocent man go through the tortures of prison and death row- and before that of poverty and community ignorance. Through it all, Mr. Echols maintains poise and dignity. Listening to the story in Echols' own voice brought home the emotion and loss of the tragedy.
I personally was glad that there was little or no mention of the gruesome details of the murders and the new suspect arising from DNA tests, all of which is available in the many documentaries about the case and the websites supporting the West Memphis Three. This narrative is the story of Mr. Echols' life so far, which shines a bright light onto the inhuman conditions that we allow to exist in our prisons. A truly excellent memoir, which breaks your heart over and over again.
I recommend this book for anyone who is interested in learning about the origins and actual character of the group that goes by the name Anonymous and only really knows about the group through media about their 'hacktivism.' I knew almost nothing about methods of hacking or cyber attacks but am technically savvy enough to not need an excruciatingly simplistic explanation in order to grasp the necessary concepts. This book strikes the right balance. I understood everything without being either confused or bored. The story focuses mainly on the personal stories of several individuals, focusing a lot of attention on a few who got involved with 'Anonymous' and then formed a similar group and were eventually caught. The method works well because it illustrates the lack of cohesiveness in what the entity called Anonymous really is. The book makes it clear that 'Anonymous' is not an organized group with a singular vision but rather a name that can be claimed by anyone loosely affiliated when he or she wants to- which can work in its favor or against it. It also demonstrates the flip side of the social activism: the essential nastiness and lack of basic human empathy of many individuals in the group. It was also very interesting to see inside the methods used to target individuals or organisms who (sometimes randomly) fall within the cross-hairs of the technically knowledgeable. My first impulse upon finishing the books was to change all of my passwords and carefully think about anything I post anywhere on the internet: a lesson that we could all probably use.
I wondered when I purchased this whether it would feel 'gimmicky' based on the unusual form and hyperbolic tone, but I was surprised by how much actual story there is in this collection of letters. This is quite an accomplishment considering that most of the letters are not written to anyone the main character actually knows. At times I found Jason Fitger infuriating and narcissistic, but a real empathy for his students and for writers he admires slowly emerges through the misanthropy. Using this method of storytelling, Schumacher really does manage to comment on some very topical issues: the abuse of recent graduates and adjunct/non-tenure academics in the current university and college system, the transition from applicant to supplicant for students entering this economy, the strange politics behind what gets published and what doesn't, etc. It might be a short book and a highly stylized method of storytelling, but I liked it and recommend it especially to anyone who who is a writer, an academic, a recent student, or simply one of the millions who have been smacked in the face by the new economy.
I've read other reviews of this book and disagree on some of the points that have been made by those who disliked the book. I can see why people would not like the (spoilers) intimations about magic, but I actually liked that part- specifically because it's absolutely never explained. What this book captured for me was the sense of magic that comes from intense youthful attachments. That magic does feel real, and it's not something that you ever experience again once you've turned the corner into adulthood. I saw the 'magic' in this book (and also the similar hints of supernatural from the first book in the series In the Woods) as being largely metaphorical. The fact that it isn't really explained or dwelt upon is precisely why I liked it.
I have come to really like Frank Mackey, and I'm assuming that Tana French must also as he has now made three appearances in her novels. It was nice to see him again, and in his usual top form. Liking him made it a little harder to like Holly, though. I found her to be a troubling character in Faithful Place, and she still is now.
One piece of criticism I agree with is that the teen-speak got to be a bit much. First, if I actually had to listen to that I'd slap those kids silly after five minutes. Second, while I understand that kids can be bold and don't necessarily understand when to be serious, I felt that it was a bit unrealistic for girls being interrogated in a murder case to make no real attempt to drop the lingo for the sake of self-preservation. One thing I did think Tana French got right, though, was showing the convoluted thinking process that young people engage in- what many of the characters did seemed completely nonsensical, but that's very much how adolescents are. I would have liked a bit more follow up about what happened to everyone in the aftermath of the case. French normally provides quite a bit of this, but it sort of cut off sharply in this one.
I don't really agree with the many comments people have made that they could not understand the female narrator. I didn't have that problem at all. I thought both did a good job, and any annoyance I felt was just transference from the obnoxious people being narrated at times.
This book came highly recommended from a friend who is a big mystery reader, so I had anticipated that I would like it better than the average mystery. I thought the set-up was well-chosen, but then felt that the author made a crucial error in making the 1984 mystery FAR more interesting than the Devlin murder ever became. I was intrigued by every mention of the 1984 crime, but quickly figured out the likely culprit in the Devlin crime before even making it to the second half of the novel. Worse, I found myself becoming extremely irritated with the minute detail about every interaction between Cassie and Rob. Both characters come across as being absolutely thrilled with themselves, which made them off-putting in the extreme.
These little 'friend crushes' do happen, so it's not that it bothered me that they were constantly being depicted as being as in-tune to each other as a couple married for fifteen years. Both characters, however, came across as sneering at every other character and so absolutely sure of his/her own conclusions that the lack of humility was distasteful- particularly as it led to a very rough interrogation of a grieving family member based upon no actual evidence. Cassie is a sort of 'Mary-Sue' character, presented as a bit too perfect in every way to not be a thinly-disguised avatar for the author's idea of the perfect female character. Rob, on the other hand, is so absurdly self-involved (and frankly, a bit misogynistic) that I really began to dislike him once the story got rolling.
I'm an attorney, so maybe I am over-focused on the ethical lapses here, but I was horrified at how little concern Rob (and Cassie!) had for the fact that their concealment of his involvement with the 1984 case would have on any attempt to prosecute in the Devlin case. ANY defense attorney who became aware of what he had done could get the whole case dismissed faster than you could say "OJ Simpson" because of the substantial likelihood of evidence tampering. To continue working the case simply because he wanted to (and for Cassie to allow this to happen) alienated me from both beyond repair. Ironically, the characters I actually liked (Sam, for example) were often ridiculed by Rob and Cassie, which did not help me like them better. They came across as the snotty kids at the popular table in the cafeteria during middle school, so perhaps it was fitting that the relationship fell apart the same way a teen-aged romance might.
Many have commented on their dissatisfaction with the ending. Without giving too much away, I will simply say that this is likely to be more of a problem for people who like more formulaic mysteries. Since I don't read many mystery novels, the lack of resolution only made the story more believable for me. One of the reasons mystery novels are not always my favorite thing to read is precisely because of the neat, 'wrapped up with a bow' resolutions and lack of realistic ambiguity. I wanted more resolution at the end, but found it realistic that I couldn't have it.
A note on the performance: I found it a bit odd that the narrator was not Irish and none of the characters had Irish accents despite the whole thing taking place in Dublin. It's somewhat explained, but still a bit weird. The reason for my somewhat low rating of the performance, however, is because nearly all of the characters who were either female or children were given rather annoying characterizations. Even Cassie's 'voice' is done in a whiny, snotty way that I found grating. I don't expect a grown man to sound female or like a child, but the voices chosen made those characters sound whiny and irritating.
I followed the advice of reviewers for this book and listened to River of Doubt first. I agree that it is a more entertaining book, but after finishing it I was still sufficiently curious to pick up this one as well. The story is interesting, but I felt a bit mislead about what it was going to be about. The description bills the story as an investigative reporter trying to solve the mysterious disappearance of Percy Fawcett's party in the Amazon. The book is really more a detailed history of Fawcett and his motivations and then an exploration of the many people who subsequently tried unsuccessfully to find out definitively what happened to Fawcett over the years. This story was quite interesting, though Fawcett does not come out looking particularly well. However, the actual exploration of the author sort of concludes in an anti-climactic way because while he decides that he has learned the truth about what happened to Fawcett, it is based on a third-hand account that had been previously reported so it was not exactly new ground being covered. Honestly it seemed obvious from the outset that there was never going to be any way to prove what happened definitively without actually recovering Fawcett's remains (or those of his son or Raleigh Rimell), a task that seemed next to impossible due to drastic changes to the land in that area. It is interesting for the history of Fawcett and other Amazonian explorers, but River of Doubt is far superior for the description of the experience of exploring the Amazon.
This novel, while interesting enough to finish and in some places enjoyable, contains a few of the characteristic irritants I often find in Stephen King novels. First and probably foremost is his bright-line distinction between the good guys and the bad guys. In this novel as in others where the antagonist is human (Dreamcatcher and Firestarter come to mind), the good guys are so altruistic and willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good that they emerge as being someone flat and unreal. The villains, on the other hand, are so cartoonishly evil that I find myself frequently rolling my eyes- as if anyone ever nakedly thinks to himself "Aha, now for my chance to do bad things because I totally want to do bad things." Yet in this novel there are many, many characters who appear to think in just such terms and you find never a single twinge of discomfort or uncertainty among them even when they're all in a group. For example, a group of young people, literally as soon as they are made police officers, engage in a brutal gang rape, and none of them exhibit even a flicker of human feeling or guilt before, during, or after the nefarious deed. I certainly agree that people in groups do things that they might never do alone, but King's unwillingness to humanize any of his bad guys at all rings solidly false.
The second common King trope that was too annoying in this novel was having his good guys act in absurdly stupid, short-sighted ways that often lead them to their own deaths. Examples abound: the minister, outraged by the aforementioned brutal gang rape, confront the group of rapists ALONE, physically pushing them around, even though she could just as easily have gone directly to the police chief inside the building right behind them. Of COURSE, she gets beaten up and gets her poor dog's head blown off. Then the widow of the chief of police, despite being warned not to go alone, confronts the main town villain Big Jim about his criminal activities on her own and has her neck snapped within minutes. Next the secondary protagonist Rusty confronts Big Jim, also alone, with his knowledge that Big Jim has murdered his own minister. probably at least one other person, and possibly three. Unsurprisingly, he ends up being jumped by Big Jim's goons and then arrested. What is up with these freaking moronic acts of bravado? Since when is confronting dangerous people the only way to deal with them? Why didn't they publish this information in the newspaper, which clearly should have been operating from a secret location by the time these things happened, or do a word of mouth campaign? Our heroes acted with such reckless disregard for themselves and the town in general that I was disgusted with them all by the time the novel rolled into it's fifth part.
That's the other thing: I have nothing against long books, or even long KING books, but this novel takes place over the course of about a week and did not need to be over a thousand pages long. King needs to give his editor more authority, or he needs to reel himself in a little. There are many parts that drag, or where he takes far too long to complete a scene of marginal value to the plot and marginal interest to the reader. Did we really need chapters told from the dog's point of view? The work's pacing really suffers as a result. It meanders for days and then pounds the last ten pounds of plot into a five pound bag.
Finally, the narrator. I am a little on the fence about this and felt a bit guilty about the two-star rating because Esparza did a decent job of keeping the narration interesting and did voices and all that, which I normally appreciate. However, it was hard to get past some of his odd choices. This is a tiny town in Western Maine. Most of the characters have rarely ventured from the region. In spite of this, Big Jim is given a 'fat southern sheriff' drawl, a French Canadian character is given what can only be described as a bastardized Jamaican accent, and several of the teenagers and Rusty, the secondary lead, sound like Keanu Reeves in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Seriously, they really do. Most annoying to me was the narrator's voices for female characters, which fell along two lines. Either they were whiny and nasal (Sammy Bushey, Norrie Calvert, all of the female children) or they were old-timey accents of sophisticated affectation that sounded like Katherine Hepburn at her absolute snootiest (Julia, Andrea, the sheriff's widow). NONE of them rang true to me, and some of them I found downright hard to listen to. I stress that I have a pretty low bar for the narrator. I don't expect awesome voice performances, but am happy when I find them. I just got really tired of listening to these weird, out of place accents because they took me out of the story that I was having enough trouble staying engaged in.
I had never read a Sandford book before, but wanted to try one since I'm from the Twin Cities and he's a local writer. This didn't really do it for me, although I'm not traditionally a mystery reader and that is likely at least part of the reason. First, I didn't really like any of the characters- including the main character. I didn't hate him, but he didn't really make me like him either. The female love interest was at first very off-putting, and then just not particularly engaging. While her character did have a function in the story, she still felt 'planted' to be 'the love interest.' All of this is ok, as I don't expect stellar character work in a multi-book mystery series.
What I found more annoying was the set-up of the story- a conspiracy of several adults over a child sex ring. It felt like a late 80's or early 90's episode of Geraldo, frankly- back then, everyone thought there were large conspiracies of either 1) child sex or porn rings or 2) satanic murder cults- everywhere. Unfortunately for books like this, all of these rumors and stories turned out to be unsubstantiated. While obviously child sexual abuse is a real thing, the description in this book of this group of sleazy adults who pass children around for sex really just made me think of those rumors and the craze of accusing everyone in sight of being part of satanic ritual abuse (think McMartins daycare, Jordan, MN, etc.) It felt so dated to me that I couldn't get past it.
To be fair, my dislike of this book is really more a symptom of not really getting into mystery novels. Maybe I would try a Sandford novel that is more contemporary to see if my reaction is better.
I knew a little about this case from television, and was very interested to hear more about both the progress of the case and the lives of the victims. It was fairly depressing, but quite interesting, to hear the sad backgrounds of the women and how that played out in the aftermath of the discovery of their remains. The work Kolker did in investigating the residents of the Oak Beach area was quite informative and I was very glad it was included. Nothing like that was included in any television reports I saw of the case. My only real criticism of the book was that it focused very little on the unidentified remains. Whether or not the murders were all related, there must have been more information available (even if just the forensic reports) about these unidentified victims. I realize there could not have been much background information to find without knowing who the bodies belonged to, but it did feel that they were simply not a focus of the book. Yet it seems odd not to have put a little more into that aspect of the story. Still, it was detailed and well-researched. Well worth the credit.
This is truly one of the best novels ever written. The pacing is perfect, the characters are timeless, and it is one of the most quotable books I've ever read. The narrator was perfect for the text and did a great job bringing the characters to life.
I listened to this novel in Minnesota during the coldest, most bitter winter in recent memory. Reading the descriptions of the beach and the warm gulf waters made me sick with envy. I enjoyed King's setting in Florida- sometimes it gets a little repetitive to hear about another small town in Maine. (Not that I don't like small town Maine, but it was nice to read about a totally different place.) This novel has a deceptively slow pace, sort of a dreamlike quality, as it becomes obvious that Edgar is getting drawn into something. I thought it was an excellent choice King made that we don't know exactly what is happening until the end, and truly never do find an answer to the final mystery. Some things just are unknowable.
A cast of great characters combined with a truly original plot had me glued to my ear buds late into the night until I finished. Edgar's paintings sounded interesting enough that it made me hope that this gets made into a movie at some point so I can actually see them produced. My only complaint is that the ending of the novel makes living twenty minutes from St. Paul's Lake Phalen a very scary prospect!
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