Warrior Woman (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

Jane’s eyes open to the phone alarm. She pokes her nose out of the sleeping bag: Cold.

Just today off? Just one day? To lie around, to not strain her eyes at job listings, to not duck the judging eyes of the homed and employed. One day to pretend her life is good enough to relax into.

No.

One day of not trying leads to one missed opportunity leads to another damned lifetime of this life she’s lived too long already.

Growling, she flings back the top of the sleeping bag and jerks her legs out of the warmth.

WikimediaImages
WikimediaImages

Every week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about warrior women. It can be myth or everyday mothers and wives. Go where the prompt leads.”

 

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The Secret Place by Tana French (Book Review)

The Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad, #5)The Secret Place by Tana French

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: mystery, detective, psych-thriller, teenage-flashback, mfa-style, coming-of-age, ireland

I think I’ve figured it out, what I do and don’t like about Tana French.

I was disappointed with The Secret Place. It seemed to drag, then picked up about a third in, and the last quarter slogged again. It was bogged down by the same things I didn’t like about The Likeness: the miniscule description of each individual moment, done for moment after moment after moment after, every nuance of feeling and thought and spoken word between each and every character…it was too much. Both books had groups of characters who were close and constantly interacted, so that a two-minute conversation took 30 minutes to read. French’s ability to distill a flash of time into its essence is admirable and her writing is lovely, but I find that more enjoyable in small doses.

I loved the premise for The Likeness even if I found the execution lacking, but I found the gist of The Secret Place to be thin and unbelievable–you get to the solution of the mystery and it’s like, is that all? Somebody killed somebody else for that? If you removed all the flowery atmospheric description and rewriting the same thing from three or four different pov’s, you’d have 200 pages of nothing-much-of-a-mystery. And maybe this is a personal prejudice, but the teen-speak got old after so much of it. I mean, excuse me? It’s just so not totes amazeballs, hello?

In the Woods, Broken Harbor, and Faithful Place are much better bets.

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The Run of His Life: The People versus O.J. Simpson by Jeffrey Toobin (Book Review)

The Run of His Life : The People versus O.J. SimpsonThe Run of His Life : The People versus O.J. Simpson by Jeffrey Toobin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Mommy, please call me back. I want to know what happened last night. Why did we have to go to the police station? Please answer, Mommy. Please answer, Mommy. Please answer, Mommy. Please answer. ‘Bye.” ~ Eight-year-old Sydney Simpson on her mother’s answering machine the morning after

I like Jeffrey Toobin’s true crime. They are not merely recounts; they are in-depth analysis of entire cases, including enlightening portraits of the principals and with clear and engaging explanations of forensics, legal machinations, and jury dynamics.

Factoid 1: The O.J. Simpson trial was not the first to be live-broadcast as it happened, but it was the one that proved the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, that the very act of observation changes the outcome. Since this trial, judges have been much less inclined to allow the media to turn criminal trials into reality TV. Thankfully.

Factoid 2: This trial was the first big one to include DNA evidence, and the science was new and confusing, perhaps not to be trusted by a jury that, for the most part, was not educated beyond high school. Barry Sheck and Peter Neufeld, co-founders of the Innocence Project that has used DNA technology on old physical evidence to prove that hundreds of rape and murder suspects were wrongfully convicted, were the DNA specialists who effectively twisted the DNA science for the Simpson jury. Reading about their work for the Simpson defense cost them several notches on my esteem-o-meter.

Factoid 3: Pat McKenna, the lead private investigator brought in by F. Lee Bailey for the defense, later worked to help acquit Casey Anthony,* and is in fact now living with her. The elite world of criminal defense is a small one.

I found it helpful to supplement this book with interviews given by a couple of the O.J. Simpson jurors. Even without that, though, when you look at it from a point of view of what the sequestered Simpson jury was actually given to work with, without news reports and all the media sensationalism, without the back-and-forth between legal teams and the judge, without the 20/20 vision hindsight gives, then it’s a bit clearer how the verdict came to be.

The “Dream Team” ultimately managed to do what it was paid millions of dollars to do: plant reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury. But they did it in particularly slimy fashion. It is no longer permitted in criminal courts to slut-shame rape victims, but still almost de rigueur to defend a murderer by trashing the victim, in this case by intimating that Nicole Brown Simpson somehow deserved to be hacked to death on her own front walk with her children sleeping in the house. (And let’s not forget Ron Goldman, who is so often overlooked and whose grieving family has worked so hard to keep a murderer from profiting from his crimes.) The defense, principally Johnnie Cochran, very deliberately turned the “Trial of the Century” into a racial maelstrom. Robert Shapiro later stated, in what to me is a jaw-dropping admission, that they played the race card early, and they “dealt it from the bottom of the deck.” Ignore the veritable mountain of damning physical and circumstantial evidence, folks, and ignore his previous abuse of his ex-wife as well–O.J. Simpson is only sitting at the defendant’s table because he’s black. Was Simpson acquitted partially because his jury was preponderantly black? Almost certainly. But it’s disingenuous to dismiss the importance of race and the weight of entire lives shaped by being on the receiving end of constant and insidious institutionalized racism. A country that insists on marginalizing a good part of its population cannot pretend to be surprised when that population closes ranks to protect its own, particularly when the accused is a celebrity.

Still, in my view, the biggest factors in Simpson’s acquittal were the prosecution and the LAPD itself. Not only did the LAPD bungle some of the physical evidence–and their entry onto O.J. Simpson’s property amounted to a Fourth Amendment violation–they had spent decades engaged in a concentrated war against the people of color in Los Angeles. Without these factors, perhaps the defense would not have been able to weaponize them so effectively. As to the prosecution, it was outmatched in the talent department and often painfully bumbling, clearly unsuited for this particular trial. Marcia Clark was hot-headed and arrogant and convinced that black women on juries loved her despite a professional jury consultant telling her they actually thought she was an uppity white bitch. Chris Darden, who could have been particularly effective as a black prosecutor convinced of Simpson’s guilt, was too easily baited and given to childish outbursts and sulking. Prosecutors worthy of the name should have been able to demonstrate how, despite what a flaming bigot Mark Fuhrman actually was (and he was), he could not have planted O.J.’s right glove and smeared the victims’ blood around O.J.’s home and Bronco without being both a precog and a teleporter. Calmer heads more inclined to cool-headed strategy, damage deflection, and, you know, actual trial and witness preparation may have prevailed here. We’ll never know.

All of this is not to say O.J. was innocent. He was absolutely positively one hundred percent guilty, and if you still doubt it, read his memoir If I Did It, if you can stomach it. (Factoid 4: If I Did It was ghostwritten by Pablo Fenjves, who lived sixty yards from the Simpson murder scene and heard the mournful barking of Nicole’s dog that night.) But reading this book has helped me understand the verdict a bit better. But only a bit. When you can see the evidence and hear the testimony,** all of the various factors pale. “Not guilty” heard twice in that courtroom was abominable.

An eye-opening, highly informative read.

*I was in the small minority who, even without hindsight, believed the Casey Anthony verdict was correct. It was ludicrous for the prosecution to expect a jury to convict and impose a death sentence when they couldn’t even show exactly what crime was committed, when whatever-the-crime-was was committed, where whatever-the-crime-was was committed,  how whatever-the-crime-was was committed, and had virtually no physical evidence to support any thesis at all.

** I did not watch the FX dramatization based on this book. I’m not a TV watcher anyway, and I’ve seen several reviews of the book pointing out that the book is more accurate and complete. Hollywood liberties are the reason I read instead of watching.

Bookshelves: true-crime, in-the-news, lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous, misogyny -rules, racism, as-seen-on-tv, social-commentary, controversial, non-fiction

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The Boys from Brazil by Ira Levin (Book Review)

The Boys from BrazilThe Boys from Brazil by Ira Levin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“I say in my talks it takes two things to make it happen again, a new Hitler and social conditions like in the thirties. But that’s not true. It takes three things: the Hitler, the conditions, and the people to follow the Hitler.” ~ Yakov Liebermann, “The Boys From Brazil”

Eerie words to read from 1976, quite relevant in 2018’s Trumpmerica. This is not a book about the Holocaust per se. It is the story of a Jewish Nazi-hunter who stumbles upon a Kameradenwerk plot to kill 94 men, all around 65 years old, humble civil servants, in various parts of the world. His investigation leads him to an ongoing experiment by the fugitive Josef Mengele, Auschwitz’s “Angel of Death.”

This is a headlong, pull-you-in tale that stands the test of time. For some reason I had this marked as “read” even though I hadn’t, so I amended that. I recall I hadn’t liked Rosemary’s Baby all that much, am not much spooked by satanists (the ones I’ve run across have no idea what religion they’re perverting or how to do it correctly and their wannabe-ness really just cracks me up), but I loved The Stepford Wives when rereading it recently. I must now read the rest of Ira Levin’s books.

In reality, Mengele met his end in 1979 when he had a stroke and drowned while swimming in South America, where he’d successfully eluded capture by various Nazi hunters for thirty years. Rather anticlimactic, especially since the world didn’t even learn of his death until 1985. I promise you, you’ll like the ending of the book much better.

Bookshelves: thriller, nazi-hate, intrigue

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Property Value (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

“But I don’t want to sell my house,” Michelle says.

“Property values are up,” Caroline presses. “Now’s your chance to make a killing.”

“Just move for no reason? I like my house.”

“Roll it into a bigger house, with land.” Duh, says Caroline’s tone.

“Uh-huh,” says Michelle, “with an even bigger mortgage, double the payment.”

“Not if you buy farther out, get ahead of the next gentrification rush.”

“Yeah, so then my commute is two hours one way instead of one. No thanks.”

“But property values–”

Michelle holds her hand up: stop. “There’s a big difference between value and worth.”

scholty1970
Photo: Scholty1970

Every week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about property values. Perhaps its a home, business or pencil museum. What makes them go up or down? Go where the prompt leads.”

Cover Her Face by P.D. James (Book Review)

Cover Her Face (Adam Dalgliesh #1)Cover Her Face by P.D. James

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What is a to-the-manor-born family to do? Look at this housemaid, a charity case, an unwed mother, oh the scandal, the little strumpet! We took her in, gave her a job, gave her a chance to be respectable, and what do we get in return? She’s sly and manipulative and uppity with her betters, actually thinks she’s going to marry into this family! What are we to do?

Drug her cocoa and strangle her, of course. That’ll teach her.

Of course there is a tangle of suspects and motives and opportunities (not to mention a mystery baby daddy), but never fear. Inspector Dalgliesh will get to the bottom of it.

I read several, or perhaps all, of P.D. James’ mystery novels twenty years ago or more, and I remember that I absolutely loved Children of Men, but twenty years is long enough for them to read like new. I had forgotten how intricately plotted and well-written these books are. P.D. James is one of Britain’s four Queens of Crime for a reason. If you like period English mysteries — post-war, in this case — they are not to be missed.

Bookshelves: brit-lit, cozy-mystery, period-mystery, detective, mystery

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The Charisma of Cranes (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

Fresh to the city from her small hometown, she’d tilt her head back and get vertigo from the skyscrapers. First time she’d felt fear of heights looking up.

And the cranes. At first, she’d wondered when the buildings would be finished and she could get a pretty skyline photo without those unsightly cranes. Never, she eventually realized. The building never stops. She’d never thought of that, that cities are never finished. Bigger, better, faster, more.

She’s grown to appreciate having a skyline, but she surely does miss a horizon.

Although cranes strung with Christmas lights are kind of pretty.

webandi crane
Photo: webandi

Every week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story defining ‘the charisma of cranes.’ For centuries, cranes have inspired art and philosophy. You can write a crane story or create something new out of the phrase. Go where the prompt leads.”