Tuesday, October 25, 2011

FBI from Two Different Perspectives

Back in April I reviewed Gary Noesner's Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator. I talked to my son-in-law about how much I liked the way Noesner wrote about being a negotiator. He ran downstairs and came up with two novels: Black and White.

Chris Whitcomb wrote the novels from the perspective of an FBI sniper, the opposite role Noesner played. Both novels were well written and told solid tales filled with blood and guts, suspense, and a thriller pace. I noticed he had also written a memoir, Cold Zero: Inside the FBI Hostage Rescue Team.

The two memoirs couldn't be more different, yet both talk about the high-profile FBI hostage situations toward the end of the last century, Ruby Ridge and Waco. Noesner's account is about patience with both; Whitcomb's is much more the cowboy with a highh-powered rifle. Both situations came under intense criticism and scrutiny from Congress. Heads rolled.

If, however, you want to get a pretty good idea of what it was like at either sieges, read both books.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Book Review: The Armageddon Chord by Jeremy Wagner

The Armageddon Chord by debut novelist Jeremy Walker is a dark work with a fresh twist on the battle of good vs. evil.

A heavy metal musician himself, it doesn't seem much of a stretch for Wagner to cast the world's best guitarist as his protagonist, Kirk Vaisto. After Egyptologist Helmut Hartkopff discovers an unplayed piece of music that is over 3,000 years old, his benefactor Festus Baustone III hires Vaisto to play it. The catch: this music is supposed to have been written by the devil and will call forth his minions when played.

Vaisto plays the music after it has been transcribed by Hartkopff. The music fills his mind with such evil images that the "God of Guitar" doesn't want to perform it live. Human evil pressures Vaisto to play the work. The performance is the dream and nightmare of any heavy metal fan or musician. The final battle pitching the legions of the devil against the armies of Heaven is expected but rendered with new imagery and a pulse-pounding pace representative of a rock concert.

I encourage fans of heavy metal and dark fiction to check out this new writer. He has an interesting future.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Small Presses

I read a lot of books this summer that were released by small presses. I'm not quite sure how I landed on this path. Some of the books were really good. Some were less good. A couple, published only as e-books, were so badly written I couldn't finish them.

I learned a lot by this venture into small press publishing. One of the things most of these books had in common was a desperate need for solid editing. I don't mean "cut out the fat" or "kill your babies" editing. I mean basic line editing, checking for grammar and punctuation, etc.

I know for a fact that authors of three books I read paid a professional to edit the manuscript. Three authors, three different professionals. The authors got rooked. Two of these books were so badly edited that I was embarrassed for the authors.

On top of not having proper punctuation, spelling and grammar, two books, both written by so-called experts, had such glaring errors in the text that I almost set them aside.

We'll take one example. One writer professed to be very knowledgeable about dog breeds, yet she didn't know the difference between a sight hound and a scent hound. A central plot twist required an Afghan to sniff out a suspect hiding behind a pile of garbage. Afghans are sight hounds. She needed a blood hound or some scent other hound that uses its nose rather than its eyes to find prey. That fact alone soured the book for me.

If I have any requests for authors, it is this. Check your facts. If you are an expert on something, don't make boneheaded mistakes. If you are not good at grammar, have at least two different grammarians go through your manuscript. True, it's possible that the manuscript left the author's computer in perfect shape, only to be "fouled" by an editor at a publisher who messed it up.

Oh, one more thing. Seems like e-books are full of formatting gremlins. I've seen sections in a chapter suddenly have multiple lines centered, when all the rest is flush left. Or, I've seen changes in font. And I've seen sloppy mistakes in indentation, pagination, etc.

For me, as a reader that likes debut authors, lack of critical reading and editing turns me off. I probably won't buy another book from these authors. Sad but true. Their first impressions weren't all that good. IMHO.

Monday, October 3, 2011

An Egotistical Memoir

I actually bought In My Time by Dick Cheney. Not as a royalty-based book, but on the secondary market. Yes, I bought it used. And I'm glad I did. I wouldn't want my sale to add to his royalties or to his status on the New York Times bestseller list.

Cheney and his daughter Liz, his co-author, open the book on 9/11, when President Bush was reading to school children in Florida and Cheney was in the White House bunker. His memory is that he was virtually in control while Bush was in the air trying to get back to Washington. Cheney held the government and the American people together by the sheer force of his decisions and his will. He issued orders to shoot down airliners that didn't immediately land. Fortunately, his orders went to NORAD and were not passed along to the entire Air Force. We should be grateful that Cheney was on guard, a veritable Atlas with the world on his shoulders.

The memoir is more political than personal, no matter what the subtitle says. Cheney has no problem spinning his every action into one of personal success. Yes, he was the youngest White House Chief of Staff for Ford. Yes, he mentored under Rumsfeld. Yes, he was Secretary of Defense. Yes, he was an eight-year Vice President under Bush 2. And throughout his forty-year career, he only made one mistake. He shot his best friend with bird shot.

Cheney sets up scenarios. In many of the meetings, he sits silently, then would go to the President to get his message across. When the US was ramping up for Gulf 1, Colin Powell was to brief the Saudis on what was going to happen. Cheney replaces Powell with himself, because he writes he couldn't trust Powell to deliver a strong message. He trashes Condi Rice for not carrying out Bush 2's policy on North Korea. His position was right; hers was wrong.

Memoirs represent the memory of the author. In this one, the author is egotistical, self-centered and always right. Except he wasn't always right. He was often wrong, as other viewers of recent history have already pointed out. But Cheney's memory shows what a legend he was in his own mind.

It was a fascinating portrait of a flawed human being, who is incapable of knowing when he was wrong and when to shut up.

Time for me to shut up. Read the book. Form your own opinion. This one belongs to me.