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  • FREE: Ponzi Supernova

  • By: Steve Fishman
  • Length: 2 hrs and 38 mins
  • Original Recording
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 3,157
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 2,816
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 2,813

Free for a limited time. Ponzi Supernova is an original audio series that profiles Bernie Madoff, the Wall Street financier sent to prison for orchestrating the largest Ponzi scheme in history. The series, hosted by journalist Steve Fishman, includes hours of unheard conversations with Madoff behind bars, as well as interviews with law enforcement and the victims.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • wow the story is a deep one

  • By Josh on 04-19-17

Summary of better books

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-23-17

For the complete story, I recommend Harry Markopolous's book "No One Would Listen." This is a series of interview and news soundbites, with a bit of dramatization. The Madoff story is a fascinating and cautionary one - this series just scratches the surface.

  • The Tyrant's Law

  • By: Daniel Abraham
  • Narrated by: Pete Bradbury
  • Length: 15 hrs and 24 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,035
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 950
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 950

The great war cannot be stopped. The tyrant Geder Palliako had led his nation to war, but every victory has called forth another conflict. Now the greater war spreads out before him, and he is bent on bringing peace. No matter how many people he has to kill to do it. Cithrin bel Sarcour, rogue banker of the Medean Bank, has returned to the fold. Her apprenticeship has placed her in the path of war, but the greater dangers are the ones in her past and in her soul.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • When those who know the truth tell lies.

  • By Lore on 04-27-15

Plot keeps boiling

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-13-17

The second book in The Dagger and the Coin series continues Daniel Abraham’s Game of Thrones-like epic fantasy about politics and scheming in a low-magic medieval fantasy kingdom.

Abraham, one half of the writing team for the Expanse series, has a similar style in this series, though he has a few writing ticks that are so repetitive as to be annoying in dialog. People are always replying “You are,” or “It is” or just “Is” to rhetorical statements. E.g.,

“It’s raining.
“It is.”
“We’re going to get wet.”
“We are.”
“Bummer.”
“Is.”

Okay, that’s not quite an actual conversation from the book, but a lot of them sound like that.

The King’s Blood continues the story begun in The Dragon’s Path. Geder Palliako, a minor nobleman who through a series of unlikely events has risen to become Lord Regent of the empire, is now the most powerful man in Antea, and step by step (urged on by the sinister priests of the spider goddess), he continues taking situations that could have ended peacefully and reasons himself into turning them into bloodbaths. Never with any explicit malicious intent, and despite the hints of cruelty as the former abused fat kid begins reveling in his power, he almost seems to be stumbling towards the dark side without meaning to. Yet everything he does makes things worse and darker. Geder Palliako is the banality of evil.

The multiple POV style shifts between Geder Palliako, Cithrin Bel Sarcour, the banking prodigy who is one of the few to recognize how dangerous Palliako is; Marcus Wester, the ex-soldier who winds up being enlisted to save the world from the spider priests, and Clara Kalliam, wife of the disgraced Baron Kalliam. Much of the book is fairly standard epic fantasy, complete with Marcus’s quest for a magic sword. But Daniel Abraham is playing a bit with the standard tropes, leaving us in suspense as to which ones will be played straight and which ones are subversions.

This not a brilliantly original series, but it’s a long story with a lot of interesting characters and multitudes of plots and subplots being laid down to be developed later. So far, nothing really “epic” has happened - we’ve got hints of a dark goddess who may or may not be real, several wars brewing, and of course, the long-dead dragons who are constantly being referred to, and who may or may not show up before the end of the series. It’s enough to keep you pulled in and interested in the next book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • No One Would Listen

  • A True Financial Thriller
  • By: Harry Markopolos
  • Narrated by: Scott Brick, Harry Markopolos, Frank Casey, and others
  • Length: 13 hrs
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 2,535
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,757
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,753

No One Would Listen is the exclusive story of the Harry Markopolos-lead investigation into Bernie Madoff and his $65 billion Ponzi scheme. While a lot has been written about Madoff's scam, few actually know how Markopolos and his team - affectionately called "the Fox Hounds" by Markopolos himself - uncovered what Madoff was doing years before this financial disaster reached its pinnacle. Unfortunately, no one listened, until the damage of the world's largest financial fraud ever was irreversible.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Liked the story, but not the author

  • By Brock on 05-08-13

Why the SEC should be decimated

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-02-17

Harry Markopolos is seething with anger. You realize this by chapter two, and by midway through the book, he has fully given vent to his rage and contempt. If his version of events is correct, he has good reason. His anger is particularly directed at the SEC, which he repeatedly calls inept, incompetent, ineffective, inefficient, unqualified, corrupt, and just about every other insult he can think of, sometimes even descending to schoolyard zingers. But he also indicts the entire financial industry, which basically knew what Bernie Madoff was doing long before his scheme collapsed and nearly brought down the economy with it.

The short version, for those who only vaguely remember Bernie Madoff as a big Wall Street con-man: for many years (from the 90s to 2008), Madoff, an "financial wealth manager," ran a huge Ponzi scheme in the form of a hedge fund. He promised a 1% rate of return every month. Every month. Without fail. As Markopolos points out, this is essentially impossible. No fund, no investor, no financial analyst, can run a portfolio that never has a down month for ten straight years. Yet Madoff did it, and this incredible rate kept the money flowing in. He had the backing of large banks. It turned out later that entire funds were basically invested 100% in Madoff's fund. There was a huge amount of overseas investment from Europe, the extent of which we'll never know because much of it was money being invested by organized crime and rich tax evaders.

It was all a Ponzi scheme. Madoff was never investing anything. He was just taking money from new suckers and using it to pay returns to old suckers. It worked until the financial crisis of 2008, when suddenly his investors needed their money and he couldn't pay them all.

Ponzi schemes are nothing new on Wall Street, of course, but the sheer scale of Madoff's scheme is what made it remarkable. There were hundreds of billions of dollars invested in him, and when he went down, it was mostly rich people who lost their shirts, but not a few individual investors who'd invested their retirement savings with him. Pension funds were also destroyed. As a member of New York's wealthy Jewish community, he was trusted by everyone in that community and so he also shamelessly looted synagogues from New York to Florida.

Madoff, who is now serving life in prison without the possibility of parole, has in many respects done more damage to America, and the world, than Osama Bin Laden ever did.

How did he get away with it? A combination of trust, ineptitude, and greed.

Harry Markopolos was a small fish on Wall Street. He was a financial analyst for a Boston firm. He first became aware of Bernie Madoff when his bosses asked him to come up with a financial product that could compete with Madoff. All of their clients were looking at Madoff's returns and asking why they couldn't do the same thing.

(Incidentally, one of the things I find particularly telling about Wall Street is how all sorts of bizarre, complicated, and downright fraudulent investment schemes are called "products" - as Markopolos points out, anyone can create a "product" that you can get someone to invest in. People can invest money in your "product" that is based on trading according to the tides and astrological signs.)

Markopolos began looking at Madoff's fund, and the numbers didn't add up. The more he studied it, the more he became convinced that something fishy was going on.

It turns out that Markopolos wasn't the only one, though he was the only one who made a thorough, documented study of Madoff. Basically everyone knew that Madoff was running some sort of scheme, but they were okay with it as long as it kept paying them off. Most people did not think Madoff was running a Ponzi scheme - they thought he was doing something called "front running," which is a complicated form of a short-term "insider trading" that is technically illegal but almost impossible to catch.

Markopolos went to the SEC, multiple times, and each time the SEC blew him off. When the SEC finally investigated Madoff after he confessed to his sons what he was doing, it was far too late.

Harry Markopolos, who spent years being the boy who cried wolf in the eyes of Wall Street and the government, finally got his vindication, and he describes the utter delight he felt as Congress raked the SEC over the coals in the wake of Madoff's downfall. He ends the book was a set of prescriptions for reforming the SEC. As far as I can tell, very few of these have been implemented. All the SEC officials in charge at the time have resigned and "moved on to other opportunities," of course, but no one was fired, or went to jail (except Madoff), and the SEC of course made a lot of noise about reform and reorganization, but I have little confidence that anything has really changed.

The problem here is that while Markopolos, in his book, walks us through the reasoning he used and the evidence he gathered to prove Madoff was running a Ponzi scheme, it's not immediately obvious and intuitive to anyone except a financial analyst who's good with math. Markopolos had to convince people by showing them graphs, charts, and spreadsheets. The evidence was there, but as long as Madoff could confront his accusers with a plausible-sounding alternate explanation, it's all just a bunch of numbers. SEC investigators evidently do not have the background to crunch those numbers. And Madoff appears to have been a stone-cold sociopath who was unfazed by any accusations and able to placate anyone who questioned him.

No One Would Listen really is a fascinating and dramatic book, much more interesting than you'd expect from a book by a math geek about a Wall Street hedge fund. Markopolos gets personal quite often, and his anger and frustration is palpable. Although he is never directly threatened, some of his friends are, and he spends years fearing that Madoff might literally send hit men after him, or that the SEC would raid his house to confiscate his evidence proving their ineptitude. So when he finally gets to unleash in front of Congress, he tells us his goal was to make sure that the SEC had a very, very bad day.

Understanding what happened in the Bernie Madoff scandal should be a wake-up call to everyone involved in the financial industry (and we all are, one way or the other). Markopolos is quite sure there are other Bernie Madoffs out there, and the government watchdogs that are supposed to be protecting us aren't. And as with several other books I've read about Wall Street, this one leaves you with the unsettling realization that the biggest fish in the market, the people who handle billions of dollars and can shake the economy (and wreck your pension fund), more often than not are not the wise investors we'd hope, motivated to take some responsibility out of self interest if for no other reason. No, they are greedy, short-sighted, and sometimes downright clueless.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Fields of Fire

  • Frontlines, Book 5
  • By: Marko Kloos
  • Narrated by: Luke Daniels
  • Length: 10 hrs and 9 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3,147
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 2,926
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 2,926

Mars has been under Lanky control for more than a year. Since then, the depleted forces of Earth's alliances have rebuilt their fleets, staffing old warships with freshly trained troops. Torn between the need to beat the Lankies to the punch and taking enough time to put together an effective fighting force, command has decided to strike now.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Great continuation of the series!

  • By Mgarneau on 03-02-17

Good but starting to get old

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-01-17

I've enjoyed Marko Kloos's Frontlines series, but this book, while okay as a military-SF romp with lots of stuff blowing up, felt a bit like the author is just milking the ongoing war with the Lankies to keep the series going.

The first few books had more stuff about Earth politics, with the protagonist, Andrew Grayson, rising from a hard-knocks existence in future-Earth's city-sized ghettos to a senior NCO in the North American Commonwealth's space forces, fighting off both aliens and Russian and Chinese rivals. Eventually the Commonwealth, the Russians, and the Chinese ally against the common threat - a race of kaiju-sized extra-solar invaders who have been landing on Earth's colonies and terraforming the human inhabitants to extinction.

The fifth book in the series picks up where book four ended, with the Lankies occupying Mars. Book five is all about the campaign to retake Mars.

Aside from a brief excursion to Grayson's wealthy in-laws' home on Earth, where we learn that rich people are still living in comfortable upper-middle-class bubbles protected from both poor people and aliens, oblivious to the existential threat to humanity, Fields of Fire is basically one long war story. Kloos tells this story well, and he continues to keep us invested in SSG Grayson's life, as well as the growing cast of secondary characters, like his gay Russian counterpart and his fighter jock wife. But book five, despite its climactic ending, basically ended with the war against the Lankies being stuck in stalemate. Presumably it will continue in the next book, but there were no big revelations, no radical changes in the status quo, nothing to indicate that the series won't continue to be "Earthlings go fight aliens, blow 'em up, some of them die, wash, rinse, repeat."

I don't want to sound too negative as I still enjoy this series, but a bit of staleness is beginning to creep in, as is often the case with a series that goes on for book after book without bringing the main story arc to conclusion. Step it up, end the war, and begin another series, Mr. Kloos!

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • The Dark Forest

  • By: Cixin Liu, Joel Martinsen - translator
  • Narrated by: P. J. Ochlan
  • Length: 22 hrs and 36 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 4,082
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3,740
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3,733

This near-future trilogy is the first chance for English-speaking listeners to experience this multiple-award-winning phenomenon from Cixin Liu, China's most beloved science fiction author. In The Dark Forest, Earth is reeling from the revelation of a coming alien invasion - in just four centuries' time. The aliens' human collaborators may have been defeated, but the presence of the sophons, the subatomic particles that allow Trisolaris instant access to all human information, means that Earth's defense plans are totally exposed to the enemy.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Amazing

  • By Amazon Customer on 11-25-15

Epic space opera heavy on ideas and characters

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-26-17

A Big Ideas book that harkens back to authors like Niven, Pournelle, or Asimov, who created grand galaxy-spanning plots governed by hard science. Cixin Liu pays more attention to the people who inhabit his universe, though. Even though The Dark Forest spans centuries and involves a conflict between two civilizations that will literally engulf stars, the main characters are actually people, not the physics and technology.

That said, I was quite conscious throughout the reading of this book that it was translated from Chinese. The style, the way in which people are described, in terms of infinitely nuanced facial expressions, emotions conveyed through mediums not often emphasized in the Western literary tradition, was different, as was the pacing and dialog. Cixin Liu is obviously a aficionado of Western science fiction (there are numerous call-outs to Western literature in the book), yet this novel had a different "flavor" in the same way that I've noticed Russian science fiction and fantasy novels (of which I've read a few) are also recognizably distinct in character.

The Dark Forest is a sequel to the Hugo-winning The Three-Body Problem. That book ended with the Trisolaran invasion fleet heading to Earth from four light years away. Since their fleet is traveling at sub-light speed, that gives Earth several centuries to prepare. Plenty of time, right? Except that defense plans are complicated by the fact that thanks to quantum trickery, Earth is already monitored by omnipresent "sophons" that give the Trisolarans instant real-time intelligence on everything Earthlings do.

The one advantage humans have is that Trisolaran thoughts are transparent to one another, and thus they have a poor understanding of deception or hiding one's intentions. To them, to communicate is by definition to openly reveal all one's plans.

To prepare a defense that the Trisolarans can't anticipate, the UN institutes the "Wallfacer" project, in which four men are appointed to become Wallfacers. Given almost unlimited resources and authority, their jobs are to independently conceive and execute a plan to defend Earth without telling anyone what they're up to.

The Wallfacer storylines are strange but interesting, requiring a lot of suspension of disbelief even if the physics behind their schemes seems somewhat plausible. They develop grand plans to launch super-megaton stellar hydrogen bombs or robot space fleets, each of which is eventually revealed to be a devious scheme within a scheme, all of them extraordinarily unlikely and yet believable. Opposing the Wallfacers are human collaborators, who create a "Wallbreaker" assigned to oppose each Wallfacer.

The primary protagonist of the book, Luo Ji, is a lazy, greedy, gambler and failed academic who, quite to his own shock and dismay, is made one of the Wallfacers. Naturally, he becomes the Wallfacer upon whom the survival of the human race will ultimately depend.

There are lots of recurring themes in The Dark Forest that only occurred to me later in the book, and more that will probably occur to me as I think about it some more. The way in which the very act of communicating can be a threat, for example, is revealed in the climax of the novel, where the title is also explained, and then you will realize how cleverly the author foreshadowed this in the first book.

The Dark Forest is an alien invasion story, a space opera with epic spaceship battles, a far future scientific romance, and here and there a bit of modern political allegory. I enjoyed it more than the first book, and I quite liked the first book. This is the second of a trilogy, and given how this volume ends, I am really not sure what to expect in the third book. But I'll be reading it soon.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Loner

  • A Novel
  • By: Teddy Wayne
  • Narrated by: David Bendena
  • Length: 6 hrs and 7 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    3.5 out of 5 stars 564
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 513
  • Story
    3.5 out of 5 stars 516

David Federman has never felt appreciated. An academically gifted yet painfully forgettable member of his New Jersey high school class, the withdrawn, mild-mannered freshman arrives at Harvard fully expecting to be embraced by a new tribe of high-achieving peers. But, initially, his social prospects seem unlikely to change, sentencing him to a lifetime of anonymity. Then he meets Veronica Morgan Wells. Struck by her beauty, wit, and sophisticated Manhattan upbringing, David falls feverishly in love.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Creepy Inner Dialogue of a Psychopath

  • By Amazon Customer on 03-18-17

When Harvard boys go bad

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-23-17

This is one of the most cringe-inducing books I've ever read. You can almost feel sorry for the protagonist throughout his self-serving narrative as he describes his freshmen year at Harvard, increasingly consumed by his obsession with a hot Manhattanite older girl, except that he's such a complete louse.

David Federman is a perfectly dull, if smart, Jewish boy from New Jersey. He's already a walking cliche when he arrives at Harvard - he was the smartest kid in his high school class, and good grades always came easily to him, but he is unable to grasp the fact that in Harvard, he is no longer the smartest guy in the room. Everyone was at the top of their class. He settles in with an equally nerdy roommate, and almost immediately is introduced to Sarah, a nice Jewish girl who is obviously interested in him right away.

But Sarah's roommate is Veronica Morgan Wells - a gorgeous socialite from a wealthy Upper West Side family. David is smitten with her. Not just smitten, but obsessed. His life soon centers around impressing her, insinuating himself into her life, winning her.

Loner is full of painful episodes. Painful because you are wincing at the stupid stunts David pulls, the obliviousness with which he pursues Veronica (who, despite her seeming indifference, the reader is certain knows exactly what he's up to even before the final act). And as I said, one could almost feel sorry for David, the poor schmuck, lost in the pursuit of the hot, unattainable girl who is clearly manipulating him.

Except David is such a creep. He starts dating Sarah, and letting their relationship get serious, all the while viewing it purely in terms of leveraging him into a relationship with Veronica. He views all interactions in terms of how it will improve his standing with Veronica. He has some self-awareness, as when he describes with painful accuracy their likely future if he and Sarah get married, two dumpy middle-aged parents shuttling rugrats to soccer practice and living banal lives in suburbia. That's not for David - he wants the hot girl from Manhattan, who has cool, sophisticated friends, who brings him along to Final Club parties where he has his first taste of cocaine... whom he actually follows to Manhattan in his hapless pursuit of her.

At some point, David goes completely around the bend, and even though you still want to feel sorry for him, it just never stops being any less painful reading about what a creepy, obsessive headcase he becomes.

This was a surprisingly good book, with believable characterization and a story that zooms along comically and tragically to its finale. It is also believable as a glimpse of college life in the modern day (to those of us who were college students, ahem, quite a while ago).

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • On Such a Full Sea

  • A Novel
  • By: Chang-rae Lee
  • Narrated by: B. D. Wong
  • Length: 11 hrs and 8 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 312
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 271
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 272

In a future, long-declining America, society is strictly stratified by class. Long-abandoned urban neighborhoods have been repurposed as highwalled, self-contained labor colonies. And the members of the labor class - descendants of those brought over en masse many years earlier from environmentally ruined provincial China - find purpose and identity in their work to provide pristine produce and fish to the small, elite, satellite charter villages that ring the labor settlement.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Inventive, Engaging, & Surprising

  • By Dr. on 01-26-14

Literary dystopian fiction

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-18-17

Chang-Rae Lee's dystopian story of an America in decline, occupied generations ago by "New Chinese" who have displaced the Anglo and African-American residents of the major cities and pushed them out into the surrounding, anarchic "Counties," reads like one of those dystopian novels written by a literary author who's decided to try his hand at dystopian novels. I could compare On Such a Full Sea with Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, or Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, or Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower. All of these books are similar - they depict a world in which economic and environmental collapse has brought down the old governments, and new peoples, new orders, have filled in the gaps. The haves and have-nots are more sharply divided. Outside the enclaves of the privileged is lawlessness and a grinding fight for survival.

On Such a Full Sea is well-written literary fiction that covers all of this ground in an engaging story, but it never convinced me that Chang-Rae Lee is more than a visitor to the genre. There isn't a lot of imagination in his post-collapse story, no technological speculation, very little in the way of reimagined futuristic society, just some issues of identity and class and racial divides that still exist even in a reconfigured landscape, and a heroine who is an impressive, admirable, yet very ordinary young girl who sets off into the Counties looking for her boyfriend, who has disappeared.

Fan, the main character, is a diver for fish in B-Mor (formerly Baltimore). The story is ostensibly told after the fact of the events described, in which Fan has become a kind of legend, an inspiration for the people of B-Mor. The B-Morans, descendants of Chinese workers who came to the East Coast after an undescribed collapse of the United States, are the "working class" of this future. The "Charters" are the privileged wealthy who still live the equivalent of middle class to affluent lifestyles, though as the book progresses and Fan and meets several groups of people from various walks of life, it becomes apparent that even for the Charters, the economy is such that a fall from grace, consignment to the laboring class or even banishment to the Counties, is always a worrisome possibility.

Fan's adventures take her through some harrowing (but much less harrowing than some dystopian writers would depict) adventures in those Counties, which really aren't Mad Max wastelands but more like a Wild West in which some towns have well-regulated law and order, others are ruled by despots, and others have no law at all. Then she goes through a series of stays with Charter families, some of them kindly, some of them creepy, all of them a bit blinkered by the privilege of their own existence.

Then there is an ending, which was, I suppose, a literary ending.

It's a good book in the sense that it was well-constructed, with a lot of prose that waxes more elegiac than usual for sci-fi, and Fan is a likeable, sturdy, determined girl.

Still, I have a bit of a bias against authors who give the impression they are slumming with sci-fi. Cormac McCarthy did it with The Road. Kazuo Ishiguro did it a little with his book, whose science fictional premise was thin and nigh-on unbelievable. Margaret Atwood actually writes SF even if she's taken some flack for eschewing the label. David Mitchell is a literary author who embraces the genre.

Chang-Rae Lee seemed to be telling another story, with dystopian fiction as his medium. It's a good story, but it did not really embrace the elements of the genre, and so to me it lacked the imagination to be truly brilliant. It's a good book for those who like some literary-flavored speculative fiction, but it is not likely to impress veterans of the genre.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Hidden River

  • By: Adrian McKinty
  • Narrated by: Gerard Doyle
  • Length: 12 hrs and 36 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 1,921
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,482
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 1,465

Alexander Lawson is a former detective for Northern Ireland's police force. After a disastrous six-month stint in the drug squad, he became addicted to heroin and resigned in disgrace. Now 24, sickly, and on the dole, Alex learns that his high-school love, Victoria Patawasti, has been murdered in America. Victoria's wealthy family sends Alex to Colorado to investigate the case, and he seizes the opportunity for a chance at redemption.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • My favorite McKinty novel

  • By Dave on 04-04-11

Irish noir in 90s Denver

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-14-17

All of Adrian McKinty's novels are set in the 80s and 90s and contain copious references to the pop culture of the era, as if McKinty can't get over reliving his teenage years vicariously. But his books are gritty Irish noir, usually involving compromised cops, crooked politicians, the Troubles, and femme fatales.

Hidden River was one of his earlier books, written before the Sean Duffy series. It shows a slightly different style, occasionally jumping between different POVs and using heavy-handed foreshadowing as a literary device, but it's otherwise as solid as his later books.

Alexander Lawson is a genius, former wunderkind of the Northern Ireland police force with the highest clearance and promotion rate on record, being groomed for great things. Coming from an agnostic Jewish family, the sectarian troubles of Belfast leave him mostly untouched personally. His fall comes in the form of heroin - he is that great cliche, a cop on the drug squad who becomes a druggie. Caught stealing evidence, he is kicked off the force and is now an addict on the dole, when he gets caught between his dealer and a vengeful Special Branch agent who wants information from him that will cost him his life.

Conveniently, this is when Alex's old high school girlfriend, the lovely Victoria Patawasti, who went off to America to do great things, is found murdered. Victoria's family is not satisfied with the "killed by an illegal Mexican immigrant in her apartment" story, and so sends Alex to investigate. Alex is no longer a cop, but he does need to get the hell out of Ireland. His still-a-cop buddy John goes with him, eager to see the great big US of A.

Naturally, everything goes south. Alex infiltrates the conservative environmental PAC Victoria was working for, finds a suspect and a motive almost immediately, gets seduced by the main suspect's beautiful socialite wife, and then has to go on the run after another suspicious death.

The plot winds around a bit, taking Alex on detours that probably weren't necessary for the story, and it is pretty obvious right away who the real murderer is despite all the red herrings the author tries to drop. The real twist is the real story behind how Alex got hooked on heroin (it was, again, fairly obvious that the story he gives in the beginning of the book is just too pat).

This was a nicely executed bit of Irish noir mixed with pop culture and early 90s American politics.

  • Hard Times

  • By: Charles Dickens
  • Narrated by: Peter Batchelor
  • Length: 9 hrs and 56 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 169
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 149
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 149

One of Dicken’s best works appraising English society. Highlights the social and economic pressures of the times. A masterwork.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Gradgrind and M'Choakumchild

  • By David on 03-11-17

Gradgrind and M'Choakumchild

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-11-17

I first read this in high school - for some reason, our English teacher chose this rather than one of Dickens's better-known novels. I liked it well enough at the time but was not a huge Dickens fan, but some parts of it stuck with me all these years, and in many ways this is the most quintessential Dickens novel.

With such wonderfully Dickensian names as Thomas Gradgrind and Mr. M'Choakumchild, Hard Times begins by introducing us to Mr. Gradgrind's pedagogical philosophy:

“You are to be in all things regulated and governed,’ said the gentleman, ‘by fact. We hope to have, before long, a board of fact, composed of commissioners of fact, who will force the people to be a people of fact, and of nothing but fact. You must discard the word Fancy altogether. You have nothing to do with it. You are not to have, in any object of use or ornament, what would be a contradiction in fact. You don’t walk upon flowers in fact; you cannot be allowed to walk upon flowers in carpets. You don’t find that foreign birds and butterflies come and perch upon your crockery; you cannot be permitted to paint foreign birds and butterflies upon your crockery. You never meet with quadrupeds going up and down walls; you must not have quadrupeds represented upon walls. You must use,’ said the gentleman, ‘for all these purposes, combinations and modifications (in primary colours) of mathematical figures which are susceptible of proof and demonstration. This is the new discovery. This is fact. This is taste.”

Hard Times may also be Dickens' most karmic novel. Gradgrind, the extinguisher of fancy, imagination, and joy, raises two dour children on his regimen of facts and mathematical figures, and sees the results in a way that finally teaches him the error of his thinking, after his daughter has been unhappily married to a much older man and his son has become a dissolute wastrel forced into exile.

Hard Times refers, by its title, to issues that dominate Dickens's usual social commentary, here being the conflict between the haves (represented by Bounderby) and the have-nots. The main plot revolves around Stephen Blackpool, a decent uncomplaining man who falls afoul of his master, Bounderby, and then gets set up by Thomas Gradgrind junior as the fall guy for his embezzlement scheme.

Eventually, of course, everything is sorted out, good men are acquitted, nosy old spinsters and pretentious bankers get their come-uppances, pure-hearted Victorian maidens get their (eventual) happy endings, there are Dickens's usual tear-jerker deaths, and lots of wondrous Dickensian prose. Hard Times is one of the author's more obscure novels, but I think it ranks as one of my favorites, maybe just behind David Copperfield and Great Expectations.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Farewell My Lovely

  • By: Raymond Chandler
  • Narrated by: Ray Porter
  • Length: 7 hrs and 47 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 1,441
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,328
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 1,327

Eight years ago Moose Malloy and cute little redhead Velma were getting married - until someone framed Malloy for armed robbery. Now his stretch is up and he wants Velma back. PI Philip Marlow meets Malloy one hot day in Hollywood and, out of the generosity of his jaded heart, agrees to help him. Dragged from one smoky bar to another, Marlowe's search for Velma turns up plenty of dangerous gangsters with a nasty habit of shooting first and talking later.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • A Fond Farewell

  • By Ian C Robertson on 10-21-15

Second Marlow, maybe the best?

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-08-17

Chandler is a smooth writer who still delivers prose that lesser writers can't match seven decades later. Sure, Philip Marlow's cases all begin to run together... a dame, a tough guy, some mobsters, some crooked cops, a couple of murders that don't quite add up until Marlow begins poking around and finding angles on the angles... Yet Chandler always makes the plot wrap up neatly in the end. Usually Marlow gets roughed up a few times, some gorgeous dolls throw themselves at him, and for one reason or another he is unable or unwilling to take advantage, then he gets roughed up by the cops, then he gets taken somewhere for a private, ominous conversation with the local kingpin, and eventually the original murder turns out to be some tawdry affair of the heart, or jealousy. Dames are always dangerous in Chandler's world, cops are rarely to be trusted, and a PI who's a stand-up guy shouldn't expect to get thanked for his troubles.

If you haven't read any Chandler, you really should. I liked The Long Goodbye and The Big Sleep, but now I've really come to love his writing, even though I couldn't tell you which of his books is my favorite.