The Grand Inquisitor's Manual: A History of Terror in the Name of God by Jonathan Kirsch

Having previously read Kirsch's The Harlot by the Side of the Road:
Forbidden Tales of the Bible
and Moses, A Life, I was fully expecting to immerse myself in a bok that would grab my attention and keep me interested. I had read both of those and thoroughly enjoyed them. I found Kirsch's style engaging and entertaining.

How can a writer go from good to worse? I don't know, but I was, by page 10, convinced that this was not the same author who had witten those two previous tomes. Not only did I find the whole thing a drag to keep focused with attention, the author's occasional slip into his own political view grated on me. Whether or not I agree with his stance is immaterial. To point out comparisons to past history to present may be acceptable. But to allow it to be the basis of a soapbox, however brief, is not.

Not only that, but it appears that all the author did was update (and codensation) an older tome on the subject. A great portion of his references are to one book (or books, as the case may be) in particular; Henry Charles Lea's 4 volume History of the Inquisition of Spain. There appeared to be more quotes from this source than all of the other sources combined.

Forgive him for his repeated comparisons of the terror tactics of the inquisitors to the Nazis, since I assume he is of Jewish origin, and would thus have a right to his stance. But driving home his point to include what is obviously a political agenda by comparing the tactics to those at Guatanamo is just a bit much.

Only 5 stars for this one.


Schemers by Bill Pronzini

The newest in the Nameless Detective series brings back a classic genre in the mystery detective novel; a locked room mystery. How did eight valuable first editions get taken out of a multi-millionaire's private library, and who is the guilty party?

Thats part one of the novel. As has been the case, however, in the recent run of the series, there is also a secondary story line, and this one is the source of the title. An unknown maniac has surfaced in the lives of two brothers, threatening them and causing wonton destruction to their property. Is this because of their deceased father, a pillar of the community, and supposedly without enemies, or is it something in one of the two brothers' past?

I think I have stated elsewhere in this blog that I much prefer the older stories, before the addition of secondary characters Jake Runyon and Tamara Corbin, and this one, despite the return to my favorite "locked room" mystery, just did not wholly add up to an enjoyable experience. I hope I am not tiring of "Nameless" himself (and I don't think I am), but I do grow weary of Jake and Tamara.

all in all, only 5½ stars for this one.


Why We Make Mistakes by Joseph T. Hallinan

No that's not a copying error. The most intersting part of this book is the cover, which is actually skewed like the picture to add some light-heartedness (or maybe just to be cute) to the book.

I found some of the material to be interesting, but to be honest, the author's writing style did not capture my interest, despite the fact that I was actually interested in the subject.

I didn't make it far enough into the book to give a fair rating, so I'll leave that part of the review out.


365 Four-Star Videos You (Probably) Haven't Seen by Leslie Hamilton.

Well, as it turns out, more like "200 Four-star Videos" in my case, since quite a number of them I had seen. And some of those were among my list of favorite movies, so apparently I have good taste. Or at least, have the same taste in movies as the author.

What you get here is an interesting collection of potential Saturday night time wasters (or whichever day of the week you prefer). There is a short synopsis as well as interesting tidbits throughout the book. Included in a sidebar for each pick is a suggestion for another movie to go along with the pick as a second feature. And, just in case you have seen the movie in question, and alternative that is along similar lines, although that line is tenuous in some of the entries if you ask me.

Added as an afterthought for each entry is a trivia question related to either the movie or one of the actors or even the director which you can have fun trying to answer, as well as look up the answer (the answers are interspersed on other pages, rather than conveniently located at the end)

Interesting reading, whether you are just ooking up one idea for a movie for the night, or are reading the entire book for entertainment. 7 stars.


Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary Wolf

I was intrigued when I saw this book, because I thought the movie, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, was an original. And after all, I am one who reads almost all of the opening credits, and my memory fails me that it was credited in them. Of course, its been a few years since I saw the movie.

The book that gave us that inspired movie is quite different, however. For one thing, the cartoon characters are not animated characters, but cartoon comic strip actors (two-dimensional as opposed to three). And they are not indestructible, as they are in the movie. They can be "censored" (which here means killed).

At the outset, Eddie Valiant, an alcoholic private investigator, is hired to look into some dirty double-dealings with Roger's employers. But soon thereafter Roger is "censored". Fortunately for Eddie, he has the help of Roger Rabbit to find out who censored him. What's that you say? How can he help if he has been killed?

Well, it turns out that just prior to that killing, Roger had created a doppleganger, which is a temporary version of himself, for purposes which the real Roger did not want to experience first hand. The doppleganger is on a limited time though, as he is due to vanish soon. Eddie has to work against the clock to solve this mystery.

This is a much darker, more film-noirish style than the movie, and should be approached as such. Going into it with hopes of re-experiencing the movie magic is only doomed to disappointment unless you are willing to change that attitude in mid-stream.

I give this one 6½ stars.


Spade and Archer by Joe Gores

Advertized as the "prequel to the Maltese Falcon", this book takes you back to 1921, when Sam Spade, the hero of that famous novel is just getting started in his own private detective agency. There are three separate stories here, beginning with 1921, and then four years later in 1925, and yet again in 1928.

Each story is a separate mystery in itself, but there is a running theme that connects all three. I won't give it away here, but it is probably the best part of what is really a rather mediocre output.

For one thing, the dialogue just doesn't ring true. Not to mention the fact that the author chose to use the word "of" in dialogues instead of "have", which, while maybe true to the way the people were talking, still was annoying to this reader.

Another thing is that, aside from Spade, and his woman Friday, Effie, most of the characters in the book are barely cardboard characters. Even the villain is barely drawn in the climatic scene at the end of the book. You want to care about the people, but are denied enough to actually care.

It is my opinion that the author did a fairly good job of imitating the style of Hammett, but as for crafting a story worthy of being called a "prequel" to such a classic is something I can't agree.

Give this one 5 stars


The Wicked Wit of the West! by Irving Brecher as told to Hank Rosenfeld

If you are like me, the first thing that comes to your mind when you saw the author of this book was "Who the $%&* is Irving Brecher?" Well, it turns out that he is one of the wittiest writers in Hollywood that you never knew existed. He wrote several screenplays, two for the Marx Brothers (At the Circus and Go West), and was influential in the early career of Milton Berle.

He was also the creator the radio show The Life of Riley, one of the classics of yesteryear. In essence, he was the behind-the-scenes man in Hollywood in the 30's and 40's. He ran into some trouble with the McCarthy Red Scare and the right-wingers who fingered him and other leftists in the 50's, but he did manage to get back in the good graces after that unfortunate period in history.

And he was funny. (I say was, because he was not fortunate enough to survive to see the printing of his autobiography, having died late last year.) The stories and anecdotes here are, for the most part, laugh out loud hilarious. Only when Brecher gets on his soap box about politics does it bog down, but that is rare in this book.

I rate it 7 stars.