I had doubts from the start: investigating a murder in which the main suspect has multiple personalities has got to create a pretty ridiculous story line. Add rival gang, more guns than I can imagine brought together, and a favorite PI of mine, and you get Hi Five, a disaster of a book. Read the earlier installments, they really are better!
Tag Archives: Los Angeles
I never quite know what to do with novels that are obviously fantasies: who could believe that a nine-year old child (the Frank of Be Frank With Me) dresses in morning coats, speaks in high falutin language, and has an extensive knowledge of classic movies — or that a book editor would send a round-the-clock nanny and housekeeper on an open-ended stay to help an author finish a book. But, on the other hand, many details such as the cruel school principal or the flaky handyman ring very true. Less drama and more detail would make the book much more enjoyable.
Overwhelmed Southern Californian woman hires young live-in-nanny to take care of her young son so she can write about the travails of raising her older one (whom she conveniently forgets to mention during the hiring process — but she also forgets to check references and other details one might think are important). Add a couple of strange mothers (the nanny’s and her employer’s), hidden agendas for everyone, and messiness ensues. There are enough deeper moments to enjoy the story, but it’s not much more than a book-length satire of upper-middle class Angelenos.
Be warned: the setup behind Dr Knox makes little sense, but it’s possible to mostly forget why the main protagonists, a physician who works on Skid Row in Los Angeles and his improbable ex-mercenary friend, not to mention the pro-bono lawyer for the clinic, dismiss the idea of calling the authorities and instead decide to save the day themselves. They use ample ammunition, mind games, and lots of luck to save a little boy and his mother from the clutches of a rich man who has an uncanny Trump-like manner. In the chaos of the rescue, glimpses of the characters’ past lives on several continents emerge, along with the complications of the lives of the rich. A fast-paced, unusual story.
Innocents and Others follows two filmmaker who started out as best friends but find themselves on different tracks. I expect that movie buffs and would-be filmmakers will like the story, which is told, overly preciously to my taste, partly in the form of scripts and blog posts for a film class. There are some lovely observations here and there: the mother who automatically accepts any scheme that stars a favored friend of her daughter’s, the woman who hopes her husband won’t get into a writing program that would require a long separation — but overall I felt the story was plodding, even aimless, although well-written and carefully unfolded.
Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing is the astonishing story of the woes of the Los Angeles police department through the 1990s, culminating in the riots of 1992, and the very bumpy ride to a much lower crime rate in the following decade. The book is written by a journalist and suffers from systematic cliff hangers and occasional rough grammar, but the story of the miliary-style, racist “old” LAPD is breath-taking — and the many failed attempts at reform mind-boggling. Even the seemingly happy ending is doubtful, as it appears that commanding officers took to massaging metrics when they would not fall as fast as demanded by the top…
The Drop (A Harry Bosch Novel) starts as a run-of-the-mill mystery about a detective who takes on an old rape case and a new suicide case with strong political tones, but the story soon turns into a much more interesting tale of the detective himself, a single dad who knows how to work the system. The political case is thrillingly complicated. The rape case horrific details could have been summarized a bit to spare the reader, but still, it’s a solid story with plenty of depth.
The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets starts auspiciously, with an apparently random kidnapping of a somewhat clueless mother and ex-wife of a game-show host by a reptile lover whose motives will become clear later in the book. The characters are a pleasantly eclectic bunch, including a spectacularly self-absorbed ex-husband and a rebellious daughter, not to mention the monster iguana the kidnapper has raised from infancy. Alas, midway through the book the zaniness of the situation starts to unravel and the reader is left silently encouraging the decidedly harebrained mom to make a decisive move, already, and get herself, and us, out of the claws of the kidnapper, pronto.
There’s plenty to like in The Barbarian Nurseries, starting with an interesting plot of an illegal, exploited Mexican housekeeper being left alone with the children of the family without notice. The true affection between her and the boys is also well captured, as is her uncertain relationship with the parents and the friends of the family, as she vacillates between being treated as family or as lowly hired help. The way the press exploits the incident, the mechanism of the legal system, the immigrant community’s response are also described with great success. And I just loved the wild imagination of the younger brother, who transforms the adventure into something the legal system can’t quite cope with.
But the book felt sloppy to me. The plot hinges on the parents unknowingly leaving the children with the housekeeper, but it seems highly improbable that they would not make more of an effort to ascertain that they are not alone. What high-tech manager would neglect to check his voicemail for days on end? And there’s more sloppiness throughout the story that makes the context feel wrong. Hedge funds don’t invest in technology startups. Families don’t explain they are away for a long trip on their home answering machine. Wronged housekeepers don’t drive away in peace. All that makes for a story that I could never quite believe, despite its strengths.
How did I manage to find a book whose hero proudly declares to have the name of Cleopatra‘s father (and her brother’s, and her son’s, I now know!) and invokes the Great Migration of African-Americans from the South to places such as California, neatly pulling together themes from two books I read recently? And, to boot, this is a very intriguing book. It’s the story of Ptolemy Grey, who for the first third of the book is unfortunately and not altogether convincingly in the fog of senile dementia but finds a mysterious doctor who pumps him full of illegal drugs so he can regain a clear mind and set his affairs in order, despite a complicated and messy family situation. So the situation is absurdly contrived, the first part of the book is confusing and disappointing, but I liked the book overall, especially the themes of how (badly) we treat the old, how children can survive tough childhoods, to a point, and how kindness can change people and situations. Keep going beyond the first 100 pages!