Saturday, September 13, 2014

Book Reviews: Mr. Mercedes, Dead Wrong

Mr. Mercedes
by Stephen King
I've been reading a lot of Stephen King's works lately. Someday I will get around to reading what some people say is King's masterpiece, The Dark Tower series, but I didn't have time for all that. So Mr. Mercedes it was. This book is about 400 pages. There are no supernatural elements so if you're unable to suspend disbelief to enter the world of vampires and curses, ghosts and multidimensional demons, then this might be safe reading for you. King called this book his first hardboiled detective tale. King provides some detailed descriptions and some very realistic characterizations, generally. He also stumbles in creating a black character. Here, the black character, despite being a teenager of very high intelligence, is a person who finds it amusingly ironic to speak to the white protagonist in 1930s Stepin Fetchit dialect. The teen claims to do this because he's upper middle class, likely going to an Ivy League school and worries that he's not really living the true "black experience". This is senseless. I grew up middle class. My brother is a Harvard grad. Last I checked there were about seven first or second degree family members on both sides who are attorneys or doctors. We rarely had doubts about who we were or what society was all about and if we did we certainly wouldn't have expressed them by speaking Amos-n-Andy dialect to a white man old enough to be our grandfather. NOBODY in either parent's family thought poverty or dysfunction was the real black experience. Also, my parents wouldn't have allowed me to hang around alone with any adult man, regardless of race. Alarm bells would have gone off. "So Shady, where do you think you're going? Oh Dad, I'm just going over to Mr. Hodges' house to hang out and do things I can't talk to you about". Right. Don't get me wrong. I know that good friends can racially or ethnically mock themselves and each other. I've seen/heard it. But my experience has been that such banter is done by long time intimate friends or lovers with enough history to know that no malice is meant. 

I just couldn't buy that a sixty something white retired cop and a black teenager would have had such trust and history. And certain black conservatives not withstanding I don't know any black people who would find it amusing to refer to their employer to his face and in front of other whites as "Massa So-and-So".

We learn the killer's identity almost immediately. The suspense is in whether the hero and his boy wonder sidekick, his younger love interest, and her OCD afflicted cousin will discover the bad guy's identity and/or protect themselves, the general public and their loved ones from the killer. It seems as if incest is becoming more popular as a literary marker of evil.
Brady Hartsfield, a nondescript looking computer tech, stole a Mercedes. For fun he ran over numerous people at a job fair. He was never caught. Brady is a sociopath. He considers other people cattle. He enjoys proving to himself daily that he is smarter than and thus superior to everyone else. He lives with his mother, Deborah Ann, an alcoholic former cheerleader who is losing her shape. Nevertheless, Deborah Ann, a racist like Brady, loves her son. She loves him so much that she provides Brady grateful "release" when he gets fierce intense throbbing... uh... headaches. They haven't done THAT final thing yet but they've done other things. They never discuss their sin with each other. King doesn't go into detailed specifics about what they actually do. The duo has even worse secrets.
Former police detective Bill Hodges was assigned to the case but could not solve it. Now retired, depressed, moving quickly from overweight to obese, and estranged from his remaining family he spends his days watching Jerry Springer, Judge Judy and contemplating suicide. Bill gets a note from Brady taunting him for not solving the case and threatening to cause more havoc. But Bill doesn't commit suicide as Brady intended. Instead Bill has found purpose. With the help of local teen computer genius Jerome Robinson and the sexy Janey Patterson, a relative of one of Brady's victims, Bill launches his own investigation. However Bill is limited because he's no longer a police officer. He may be a former brother in blue but there is very little active duty officers like less than non-cops interfering in their investigations, lying to them and withholding evidence. If his former co-workers find out what he's up to it won't be pretty. Over the computer and elsewhere Bill and Brady play out a deadly cat-and-mouse game. Each attempts to figure out what makes the other tick. Each tries to goad their opponent into making a critical mistake. You will enjoy how Bill picks up little bits and pieces of information from what Brady writes and what Brady does not write. Brady loves hiding in plain sight. He thinks he maintains a public persona of a helpful cheerful fellow. He almost never drops his masks. Speaking of masks there is a shout out to Pennywise in IT.

King's eye for phrasing is in full effect here. It's amazing how some writers can so easily and accurately describe things of deep mystery and complexity while others have great trouble informing you that the sky is blue. If you've ever had to attend a funeral of someone you cared for then King's description of a woman crying after her sister's funeral sounding like "the hoarse cries of a crow in a cornfield" may bring back some unpleasant memories. King flows so effortlessly that you don't want the story to stop. King also gives interesting insights into the challenges of aging. If you are fascinated by two men matching wits for all the marbles you may enjoy this story. Brady reminded me of a similar King character in The Stand, Harold Lauder. His final plans are almost exactly the same as Lauder's and for many of the same reasons.

Dead Wrong
by Richard Belzer and David Wayne
I am open to different explanations for key historical events. Some people would call these explanations conspiracy theories. I can pretty much detail when I became at least willing to consider alternative explanations. It all began when I was around eight or nine years old. I read in the World Book Encyclopedia that Jack Ruby was a nightclub owner who killed Lee Harvey Oswald, that disaffected Marine sniper who murdered JFK, because Ruby was distraught with grief and wanted to spare Jackie Kennedy the trauma of a trial. It wasn't until later that I learned that Ruby was actually a Chicago Outfit associate who ran strip clubs and prostitutes and had several contacts with Dallas police. It wasn't until later that I learned that the rifle allegedly used to kill JFK was a piece of garbage that couldn't consistently hit the broad side of a barn in a master sniper's hands, which Oswald was not. It wasn't until later that I learned that three bullets probably could not have caused the mayhem inflicted. It wasn't until later that I learned that people identifying themselves as Secret Service agents were on the grassy knoll but that the Secret Service said none of its agents were on the knoll. It wasn't until later that I learned of the calvacade of witnesses who had suspicious deaths shortly after November 22, 1963. It wasn't until later that I learned of various men calling themselves Lee Harvey Oswald were behaving oddly in 1962-1963. Most of these men looked nothing like Lee Harvey Oswald. So learning all of this and more in the years since reading the World Book Encyclopedia entry made me at least willing to wonder if the official explanation and the evidence for certain things added up. I suppose eventually either way you get to faith on some things but then again we know that officials lie. If the Chicago Police and FBI lied about their murder of Black Panther Fred Hampton, and we know that they did, what else are people in positions of power lying about? 

This book, written by actor, comedian, writer and gadfly Richard Belzer and investigative journalist David Wayne, seeks to show you exactly what else the powers that be are lying about or have lied about. I don't agree with all of their conclusions but as the old joke goes just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you. Dead Wrong examines and rejects the mainstream wisdom on some of the stranger mysterious deaths or assassinations over the past half-century or so. This includes the Kennedy Brothers, MLK ,Marilyn Monroe, Fred Hampton, and many more lesser known figures such as Henry Marshall and Frank Olsen. Investigator Marshall was a whistleblower on Department of Agriculture shenanigans that led to high ranking people, including LBJ. After Marshall refused a promotion, seeing it as a bribe, he was found dead on his farm shot with his own rifle. Marshall had been shot five times with a bolt-action rifle but the initial verdict by the local politically connected county sheriff and justice of the peace was suicide! They ordered the body buried without an autopsy. It wasn't until one of the LBJ associates was arrested and charged with fraud and conspiracy that a grand jury ordered Marshall's body exhumed. It was discovered that he had suffered a blow to the head and had had a high level of carbon monoxide in his body before being shot. The ruling of suicide was overturned. This book is stuffed full of facts and interesting allusions but is aimed at the skeptic or person who only has casual interest in these matters. It's an interesting read nonetheless and may make you excited to dig deeper into these matters. Are you ready to take the red pill?
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