MEET FELIX CASTOR, EXORCIST BY MIKE CAREY

The Devil You Know | Mike CareyThere’s a rumor going around on Amazon that Mike Carey is going to publish another Felix Castor book. I hope it’s true. I’ll line up to be among the first to buy a copy. I love this series.

I discovered Mike Carey because I reviewed a Jim Butcher book and someone suggested I’d like the Felix Castor series by Mike Carey. I’d never heard of Mike Carey, but I was out of new authors to read at the time and I was ready to try anything that sounded good. I got what I hoped for plus a whole lot more.

Mike Carey is not merely a good writer. He is what I would term hyper-literate. He uses words like a rapier. His prose is beautifully crafted, often lyrical, yet never treacly or sappy. He is crisp.

He actually uses words I have to look up because I don’t recognize them. It has been decades since I learned a new word. Sometimes I don’t know the word because it’s British slang with which I’m just not familiar, but sometimes, it’s a word I’ve never seen before.

He does not repeat himself. He never uses the same descriptive passage more than once, nor does he — as many popular authors do — copy and paste sections from one book to another to (I presume) save writing time. Mike Carey doesn’t use short cuts.

The result is a style that is richly descriptive, a delicious combination of gritty street slang banging head-on into literary English. Guttersnipe meets Jane Austen in the streets of Liverpool. It gives the narrative a rare and rich texture.

What’s it all about? Felix (Fix) Castor is an exorcist. He sees the dead and the undead. They see him. He is no wizard who magics his problems away with the wave of a hand or wand. He can send the dead away when they linger and cast out demons who possess humans.

Where do the dead go after he sends them away?  He’s not sure, an issue that looms successively larger as the series progresses. His weapon is music in the form of a tin whistle, a thin armament in the face of some of the perils he faces. He has a few allies — human, formerly human plus one demon in recovery.

The series consists of five books, each building on the previous one to form what is essentially a single story in five parts. Best to read the series in order. All the books are now available on paperback, for Kindle and as an Audible download.

In order, the books are:

  1. The Devil You Know
  2. Vicious Circle 
  3. Dead Men’s Boots
  4. Thicker Than Water
  5. The Naming of Beasts.

None of the books are exactly a lightweight romp through a sunny meadow, but the first three books are much lighter in tone  … and funnier — Carey has a sharp, ironic sense of humor– than the final two, which are pretty intense.

Mike Carey (writer)

Mike Carey (author) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fix Castor works hard for short money, is rarely appreciated by the people he helps, has more than enough of his personal demons, not to mention some very real, otherworldly demons who are seriously out to get him.

It’s a unique series, unlike any other I’ve read. I wish there had been more of them, though I suspect the author is done with this series.

There are so many surprises in this series. The characters constantly surprised me by growing and changing, developing in unexpected ways and not doing the obvious. Characters make unique choices and don’t take the obvious or easy way out.

Mike Carey can be very funny. His subtle and elegant humor contains no belly laughs, but irony pervades his prose. None of the books are traditionally funny nor are the situations humorous or light-hearted, but the author’s writing style is wonderfully cynical. The stories, pun intended, are dead serious. Darkness notwithstanding, you can count on Mike Carey’s plays on words and twists of phrase to keep the dread from becoming too heavy to handle.

The plots are gripping and creepy. Any or all of the books would make great horror movies. I’m surprised no one has grabbed them yet. Maybe they will. Sooner or later, someone is bound to notice, right?

ARE YOU READY FOR THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE?

It has been two years since I discovered this fabulous piece of real estate. It’s still on the internet, but is it actually for sale today? No way to know, but no matter. I bet if you make the right good faith offer, you could snag this ideal piece of real estate for your anti-zombie compound.

- – -

Until I a couple of year ago, I never much worried about the zombie apocalypse. Was I merely naïve? Probably. After following a variety of blogs, not to mention social media sites, I have come to realize I’ve been failing to pay proper attention to this threat.

zombie-walking (1)

In my innocence, I worried about health care, the environment, extinction of species, loss of water resources and the fate of the Monarch butterfly. I spent far too much time trying to survive cancer and trying to keep a roof over my head. Someone somewhere said you can only worry about seven things at a time. If you add one more, one of the first seven disappears, drops off the list. It’s possible I didn’t have enough room in my brain to worry about zombies and thus failed to see the dangers of the looming Apocalypse.

That failure has been rectified. I dedicate an appropriate amount of mental energy towards planning against the attack of the brain-eating undead. Don’t ask me how much time that is. I won’t tell you.

As soon as I saw this property, I knew it was the solution. I can’t afford it on my own (I can’t afford anything at all) but I’m sure if we get together — maybe collect all the money Nigerian princes have been offering us — we could easily buy it. It would be the perfect safe haven. No zombies will eat our brains! 

It looks perfectly normal from above.

A second view of the house and it’s sub levels.

It’s when you start going down to lower levels that you realize what a peach of a property this really is — although it’s actually a gorgeous location, even if the zombies never attack.

Aerial view

Aerial view

A beautiful house in the Adirondacks is all you see from the air. Woods, lakes and streams, it’s downright idyllic. It’s got everything including a runway and hangar for private aircraft.

It gets better as you descend.

BelowGroundZombie

Underground, it’s a world of its own. How about that media room, eh? I’ve always wanted a room dedicated to electronic media. And maybe movies. Music, too. So maybe a little fixing up to make it perfect. It’s doable.

Really great media room!

Want to be safe? Secure? This is secure!

And, just in case the apocalypse never occurs, you’ve got a lovely estate not far from Saratoga with plenty of room for company.

EvenlowerZombie

DON’T DRINK THE KOOL AID – THE MASSACRE AT JONESTOWN

If you are my age or anywhere near it, you remember the Jonestown Massacre. Even if you are a lot younger than I am, if in 1978 you were old enough to watch TV news, you could hardly forget it. Now that fundamentalism is enjoying a rebirth and well-known political and religious leaders (who ought to know better) are urging others to murder or mayhem, it’s probably a good time to remind everyone where this kind of thing can lead.

There is nothing remotely amusing about this story. It was horrible when it happened and time hasn’t made it less so.

The Road to Jonestown

The phrase “drink the Kool-Aid” has become common parlance in American business and politics. Roughly translated, it means “to blindly follow.” It usually carries a negative connotation. The “Kool Aid” references go all the back to the 1950s when it was the typical drink for children on suburban summer afternoons. But the origin of the saying is something else, darker, and different. It has become the kind of bland rhetoric about which we don’t give a thought, but its roots lie in horror.

Before we talk about Kool-Aid, let’s take a brief trip down memory lane to that particularly horrible episode of American history.

Jim Jones, cult leader and mass murderer, was a complex madman. A communist, occasional Methodist minister, he founded his own pseudo-church in the late 1950s. He called it the “Peoples Temple Full Gospel Church,” known in short as the “Peoples Temple.”

The lack of a possessive apostrophe was intentional. The name was supposed to be a reference to “the people of the world.” While Jones called it a church, it was closer to a warped version of a Marxist commune. Initially, it was combined with a hodgepodge of Christian references that he used in his diatribes … supposedly sermons.

Regardless, it was never any kind of church. The Peoples Temple was a straight-up cult. It made serious demands in the way of personal committment and financial support from its members and a level of obedience that is the defining quality of a cult.

Jones was the cult’s leader — and a homicidal maniac — but he had positive attributes. Jones and his wife Marceline were strongly in favor of racial integration. They adopted a bunch of kids from varying racial backgrounds. They were the first white family in Indiana to adopt an African-American boy. Other adopted children included 3 Korean Americans, a Native American, and a handful of white kids. They also had one child of their own.

Jones called his adopted kids the “Rainbow Family,” and he made a name for himself desegregating various institutions in Indiana. Before you get all dewy-eyed about this, note this ultimately climaxed in the murder of these children by their adoptive parents.

The Peoples Temple continued to expand through the 1960s. Jones gradually abandoned his Marxism. His preaching began to increasingly focus on impending nuclear apocalypse. He even specified a date — July 15, 1967 — and suggested after the apocalypse, a socialist paradise would exist on Earth. Where would the new Eden be?

Jones decided on the town of Redwood Valley, California and before the expected Big Bang, he moved the Temple and its peoples there.

When the end-of-the-world deadline came and went without nuclear holocaust, Jones abandoned even the pretenses of Christianity. The cloak came off and he revealed himself as an atheist using religion to give legitimacy to his views. Jones announced that “Those who remained drugged with the opiate of religion must be brought to enlightenment — socialism.” Prophetic words in view of the fact that Jones himself was a drug addict who preferred literal to metaphorical opiates.

As media attention increased, Jones started to worry the Peoples Temple’s tax-exempt religious status was in danger of revocation. He was paranoid about the U.S. intelligence community — probably with justification.

jonestown massacre anniversary

Jim Jones, cult leader

In 1977, Jones moved the Temple and its people again. This was a major relocation, leaving the United States completely and settling on a site that Jones had been working on since 1974. Located in Guyana, a poor South American nation, he modestly named it “Jonestown.”

It was a bleak, inhospitable place on 4000 acres of poor soil with limited access to fresh water. It was much to small encampment, dramatically overcrowded Temple members were forced to work long hours merely to survive.

Jones figured his people could farm the land in this new utopia. He had put together several million dollars before getting to Jonestown, but his wealth was not shared amongst his followers. He barely used any of the money for himself and lived in a small, bare-bones shared house.

All Hell Breaks Loose

U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan visited Jonestown in November of 1978. Rumors of peculiar goings-on were leaking out of Jonestown. Ryan decided to investigate the allegations of human rights abuses in Jonestown.

Ryan didn’t go alone. He took a contingent of media representatives including NBC News correspondent Don Harris and other reporters, plus relatives of Jonestown resident. During his visit to Jonestown, Congressman Ryan talked to more than a dozen Temple members, all of whom said they wanted to leave. Several of them passed a note saying: “Please help us get out of Jonestown” to news anchor Harris.

If the number of defectors seems low considering the more than 900 residents of Jonestown, keep in mind the congressional party had not been able to talk to most of the “fellowship.” The number of those who might have wanted to leave could have been much more. We’ll never know.

Ryan began processing the paperwork to repatriate Temple members who wanted to go back to the States. In the middle of this, Ryan was attacked by Don Sly, a knife-wielding Temple member. This would-be assassin was stopped before injuring Ryan.

Eventually the entire Ryan party plus the group of Jonestown defectors drove to a nearby airstrip and boarded planes, intending to leave. Jim Jones had other plans. He sent armed Temple members — his “Red Brigade” after the Congressional party  These creepy “soldiers of the Temple” opened fire on them, killing Ryan, one Temple defector,  three members of the media, and wounding eleven others. The survivors fled into the jungle.

jonestown massacre anniversary

When the murderers returned to Jonestown and reported their actions, Jones promptly started what he called a “White Night” meeting. He invited all Temple members. This wasn’t the first White Night. Jones had hosted previous White Night meetings in which he suggested U.S. intelligence agencies would soon attack Jonestown.

He had even staged fake attacks to add a realism, though it’s hard to believe that anyone was fooled by the play-acting. Faced with this hypothetical invasion scenario, Jones offered Temple members a set of choices. They could stay and fight imaginary invaders. They could take off for the USSR. Another tempting alternative would be to run off into the jungles of Guyana. Or they could commit mass suicide as an act of political protest.

On previous occasions Temple members had opted for suicide. Not satisfied, Jones had tested their committment and gave them cups of liquid that they were told contained poison. They were asked to drink it. Which they did. After a while, Jones told them the liquid wasn’t poisonous — but one day it would be.

Indeed Jim Jones had been stockpiling cyanide and other drugs for years. On this final White Night, Jones was no longer testing his followers. It was time to kill them all.

Don’t Drink the Poisonous Fruit-Flavored Beverage

After the airstrip murders outside Jonestown, Jim Jones ordered Temple members to create a fruity mix containing a cocktail of chemicals that included cyanide, diazepam (Valium), promethazine (Phenergan — a sedative), chloral hydrate (a sedative/hypnotic sometimes called “knockout drops”), and Flavor Aid — a grape-flavored beverage similar to Kool-Aid.

Jones urged his followers to commit suicide to make a political point. What that point was supposed to be is still a matter of considerable conjecture.  After some discussion, Temple member Christine Miller suggested flying Temple members to the USSR.

Jones was never interested in escape. There was only one answer that he would accept. Death and lots of it. He repeatedly pointed out to his followers that Congressman Ryan was dead (and whose fault was that?)  which would surely bring down the weight of American retribution in short order. An audiotape of this meeting exists. It is just as creepy as you’d expect.

Then it was time for the detailed instructions which — still baffling to me at least — the followers did as they were told. I will never understand why. Probably that’s a positive sign indicating I’m not insane.

Jones insisted mothers must squirt poison into the mouths of their children using syringes. As their children died, the mothers were dosed as well, though they were allowed to drink from cups. Temple members wandered out onto the ground, where eventually just over 900 lay dead, including more than 300 children. Only a handful of survivors escaped Jonestown — primarily residents who happened to be away on errands or playing basketball when the mass suicide/massacre took place.

Jones, his wife, and various other members of the Temple left wills stating that their assets should go to the Communist Party of the USSR.

Jones did not drink poison. He died from a gunshot to the head, though it’s not clear if it was self-inflicted. Jones likely died last or nearly so and may have preferred the gun to cyanide, having just seen the horrendous effects of death by cyanide.

What’s With the Kool-Aid?

In the wake of the tragedy at Jonestown, the phrase “drink the Kool-Aid” became a popular term for blind obedience, as the Temple members had apparently accepted their cups of poison without objection. According to various accounts, the primary beverage used at Jonestown was actually Flavor Aid (sometimes “Flav-R-Aid”) — although there is evidence both Kool-Aid and Flavor Aid were used.

Kool-Aid was better known than Flavor Aid. Kool-Aid was introduced in 1927 in powdered form. When Americans thought about a powdered fruity drink mix (other than “Tang”), “Kool-Aid” came immediately to mind.

So, although Kool-Aid and Flavor Aid were both present at Jonestown, the phrase “(don’t) drink the Kool-Aid” has become entrenched in popular lingo.

Personally, I never touch the stuff.

IN THE ZONE AND OUT AGAIN

In 1965 when I was first married, we lived in an apartment in one of two identical brick buildings. Our flat was 2 Q at the far end of the hall. A corner apartment, nice because we had better than average light.

I didn’t drive yet, but it wasn’t a problem. There was a bus stop right in front of our building and the university was just a 5-minute walk. When I wanted to go into town, I just hopped a bus. No parking problems, either.

One sunny day, I felt like going shopping. I did. Had lunch, bought a few things. Having taken the bus home, I took the elevator to the second floor, balancing my packages. I walked silently down the long carpeted hallway to apartment 2Q.

I tried to put my key in the lock, and it didn’t fit. Odd. Hmm. A nameplate was firmly attached to the middle of the door.

2 Q

KINCAID

My name was not Kincaid. I didn’t even know anyone named Kincaid. It was Apartment 2 Q. But not my place. Or maybe it was, but what was with the nameplate? Hmm.

Feeling increasingly dazed, I made a quick u-turn and walked back to the elevator. I pressed the button and rode back down to the lobby. I stood there for a few minutes, breathing. Then got back into the elevator back to the second floor. Should I have taken the stairs?

96-CityNight-BWSQ-93

Ding! I arrived. Clutching my packages against my chest, I — slower than before — walked down the hall. The pattern in the paint on the wall paint seemed cleaner and brighter. I was feeling a bit light-headed when I got to the end where that pesky nameplate still read “Kincaid.”

There was no question in my mind what had happened. I’d expected it all along.

I had slipped through an invisible wormhole. I was now in a parallel universe, another dimension. Everything was identical in this dimension to the world I knew except that in this place — I didn’t exist. Where I had been, someone named Kincaid was living. Maybe Kincaid was my husband. Perhaps I did exist and Jeffrey had gone missing.

I stood there. Breathing. Staring at the nameplate. Pacing a little down the hall and coming back.  Until finally, I looked out the window. And realized I was in the wrong building.

I’d made a simple mistake and gone into the wrong building.

I have forever since harbored a sense of disappointment. However weird, I wanted the magic to be real. I wanted an adventure in The Twilight Zone.

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IN MEMORIUM, MARIA VON TRAPP

See on Scoop.itMovies From Mavens

Maria Von Trapp died today at the age of 99. Here’s a bit of her real story.

Prologue Magazine: The real story of the  Von Trapp Family. The real story is a lot less sweet than “The Sound of Music,” but far more interesting and believable.

English: The Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe.

English: The Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you enjoy history and like to know the real story behind the Hollywood version, this is wonderful information that will make “The Sound of Music” more than just a pretty movie with nice music.

If you just happen to  live in New England, you may already know most of this since the Von Trapp family settled in Vermont and were/are well-known local celebrities.

See on www.archives.gov

WHAT A GUY! DAN BROWN’S INFERNO

Dan Brown’s Inferno is a page turner. The author has created a highly successful formula for his best sellers. They are entertaining, fast-paced. Inferno is no exception. In this adventure sent in Italy and loosely following stuff drawn from Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, he offers readers a sense of inclusion, as if we are all reading something that contains Truth and Meaning, but without requiring we perform any real mental exercise.

It’s a formula that works. Inferno – all 560 pages — whisks you along while feeding you tantalizing tidbits of apparently arcane knowledge. You feel you’ve been let into an exclusive club and taught the secret handshake.

Cover of "The Inferno (Barnes & Noble Cla...

As with all of Brown’s novels, Robert Langdon — my pick for The Most Interesting Man in the World – is hired (hijacked?) to unravel a mystery wrapped in an enigma, to follow a trail, find and stop a catastrophe on which the fate of humankind hinges. Which is what he does in every book in which he appears. There is (of course) a beautiful woman of mystery. In this case, two. There are dangerous men of questionable loyalties, dreams and visions of death and plague. There is the inevitable evil genius who has constructed a terrible mechanism of ultimate destruction (or is it?) and the clock is ticking.

Only Robert Langdon, of all the professors in all the universities in all the world could possibly unravel the knot. This is made more difficult because, for much of the book, Dr. Langdon is suffering from amnesia and doesn’t remember several critical days and events. Not that this will stop the intrepid professor.

It’s almost as good as a trip to Italy, without the expense and stress of physical travel. Whatever Dan Brown may lack as an author, he has a remarkable gift for description. He brings his locations alive. You see them through his eyes in all their glory and it is, in my opinion, what raises his books above the ordinary and makes them memorable. You probably only remember the outline of the plots, but you remember the places because he describes them so vividly.

It’s something of a scavenger hunt. Langdon and his companion(s) follow the bread crumbs (clues) to the ultimate destination. Will he get there in time? Can he stop it from doing the evil thing the madman who set it in motion planned?

Titans and other giants are imprisoned in Hell...

There’s a bit of a surprise ending to the book. A few extra plot twists leave the story wide open for a sequel. Inferno is a much better story than The Lost Symbol (probably because Florence trumps Washington DC) though he has not topped The DaVinci Code. As far as stories, got, Angels and Demons (the book, not the movie) was almost as silly as Harrison Ford surviving a nuclear explosion by locking himself in an old refrigerator. Nothing will ever top the nuke vs. the refrigerator for the “surely you don’t expect me to believe that” medal … but Langdon’s parachute jump using his jacket comes pretty close. He didn’t even sprain an ankle. What a guy!

If you examine it closely, you will notice more than a few parts don’t make sense, but it’s fiction. Do not take it seriously. If you read it just for fun and don’t think too hard, you’ll enjoy it. Not only is Dan Brown the master of non sequitur, but his hero, Robert Langdon makes leaps of logic that go far beyond impressive, They are absolutely psychic. The cherry on top is Langdon does most of this while suffering from amnesia! Again all I can say is, what a guy!

It’s not great literature — maybe not even good literature — but it is great recreation. It’s all action, sexy without anyone having sex, no small achievement. And, if there’s a trip to Florence in your future, it’s a must-read. It’s better than any guide-book.

Inferno is available in bookstores everywhere and of course on Audible.com and Kindle. I listened to it as an audiobook and it was excellent, so if you prefer listening, this is a good one.

THE NEIGHBORHOOD

I grew up in a semi-rural nook in the middle of Queens, New York. The city had surrounded us leaving a tiny enclave walking distance from the subway.

The house was more than a hundred years old. It had been changed by each family who had lived there, so much that I doubt the original builder would have recognized it. From its birth as a 4-room bungalow in the 1800s, by 1951 it had become a warren of hallways, staircases and odd rooms that could be hard to find.

96-Holliswood1954

It sat at the top of a hill amidst the last remaining mature white oaks in New York city, the rest having fallen to make masts for tall ships. The shadows of the oaks were always over the house. Beautiful, huge and a bit ominous. Some of the branches were bigger than ordinary trees. I remember watching the oaks during storms, how the enormous trees swayed. I wondered if one would crash through the roof and crush me.

I was four when we moved into the house, five by summer. When the weather grew warm, I was told to go out and play. Like an unsocialized puppy, I had no experience with other children, except my baby sister and older brother and that didn’t count. Now, I discovered other little girls. What a shock! I had no idea what to do. It was like greeting aliens … except that I was the alien.

First contact took place on the sidewalk. We stood, three little girls, staring at each other. First on one foot, then the other, until I broke the silence with a brilliant witticism. “I live up there,” I said. I pointed to my house. “We just moved here. Who are you?” I was sure they had a private club into which I would not be invited. They were pretty — I was lumpy and awkward.

“I’m Liz,” said a pretty girl with green eyes. She looked like a china doll, with long straight hair. I wanted that hair. I hated mine, which was wild, curly and full of knots. She gestured. “I live there,” she pointed. The house was a red Dutch colonial. It had dark shutters and a sharply pitched roof.

A dark-haired, freckle-faced girl with braids was watching solemnly. “I’m Karen,” she said. “That’s my house,” she said, pointing at a tidy brick colonial with bright red geraniums in ornate cement pots on both sides of a long brick staircase. I’d never seen geraniums or masonry flower pots.

“Hello,” I said again, wondering what else I could say to keep them around for a while. I’d never had friends, but something told me I wanted some. We stood in the sunlight for a while, warily eyeing each other. I, a stranger. I shuffled from foot to foot.

Finally, I fired off my best shot. “I’ve got a big brother,” I announced. They were unimpressed. I was at a loss for additional repartee. More silence ensued.

“We’re going to Liz’s house for lemonade,” Karen said, finally. Liz nodded. They turned and went away. I wondered if we would meet again. I hadn’t the experience to know our future as friends was inevitable.

Summer lasted much longer back then than it does nowadays. By the time spring had metamorphosed into summer, I had become a probationary member of The Kids Who Lived On The Block. I did not know what went on in anyone else’s house. I imagined lights were bright and cheerful in other houses. No dark shadows. No sadness or pain except in my scary world where the scream of a child in pain was background noise, the sound of life going on as usual. Behind it, you could hear my mother pleading: “Please, the neighbors will hear!” As if that was the issue.

Across the street, Karen’s mother was drinking herself into a stupor every night. The only thing that kept Karen from a nightly beating was her father. He was a kindly older man who seemed to be from another world. As it turned out, he would soon go to another world. Before summer was ended, Karen’s father died of a heart attack and after that, she fought her battles alone.

Three friends

October 1952

In the old clapboard house where I thought Liz led a perfect life, battle raged. Liz’s father never earned enough money and their house was crumbling. It legally belonged to Liz’s grandmother. Nana was senile, incontinent and mean, but she owned the place. In lucid moments, she always reminded Liz’s dad the family lived there on her sufferance. Where I imagined a life full of peace and good will, there was neither.

A lovely neighborhood. Fine old homes shaded by tall oaks. Green lawns rolling down to quiet streets where we could play day or night. I’m sure the few travelers who strayed onto our street, envied us.

“How lucky these folks are,” they must have thought, seeing our grand old houses. “These people must be so happy.”

I have a picture in my album. It’s black and white, a bit faded. It shows us sitting in Liz’s back yard. I’m the tiny one in the middle. A little sad. Not quite smiling.

We envied each other, thought each better off than ourself. It would be long years before we learned each other’s secrets. By then, we’d be adults. Too late to give each other the comfort we’d needed as we grew up. Lonely in our big old houses, all those years ago.

DAILY PROMPT: EXPECTING THE UNEXPECTED

dark cemetary

Death takes us by surprise. Even when someone is terminally ill, the end is a shock.

In the darkest part of a winter night, a blizzard on the way, my phone rang. I knew. I could feel it. Death was calling.

I expected the call, yet it hit me like a bludgeon. My father was dead.  I hoped he’d gone to a better place, though I felt the odds were against it. There would be no reconciliation, no happy ending for father and daughter. Ridiculous as it was, as long as there had been life, a semblance of hope flickered. Edith, my father’s companion for the past 5 years, was on the phone. “Your father passed during the night,” she said. Her voice broke. “He went in his sleep,” she added.

“A mitzvah,” I said reflexively. To die quietly in your sleep is considered a gift from God. My father had been suffering from congestive heart failure.

“He was a good man,” Edith said, tearfully.

“Uh huh,” I muttered, my voice flat. The good man she knew was not the man who raised me. “When and where is the funeral?” I asked. Jews don’t embalm and don’t view remains. We bury our deceased with all due haste. And missing the funeral doesn’t mean you miss out on the festivities. We include a whole week of sitting Shiva – a Jewish wake. This offers family and friends ample opportunity to participate in ceremonial grieving. Interment is quick, but what follows is long enough to make up for it.

I hung up the phone. I’d have to find a flight to Florida in the morning. There was no logical reason for me to go. For the last five years, my father and I had not talked. An improvement, from my point of view. No matter. I had to go. Violence, sexual abuse, mental abuse was his legacy to me and my brother. Lucas was gone, so only I remained. I had to be there.To remember. Me and dad had history. This was our final chapter.

“Are you sure that you are up to doing this alone?” Gabe questioned. “That’s a lot of hauling through airports.”

“I know,” I said. “It’s just one day. One small bag, taxi to the funeral, taxi back, then home. I’ll be tired, but I’ll survive.”

“I could come. I think I should be with you.”

“No,” I said. “I want to do this by myself.”

“Why?” Gabe was puzzled.

“I don’t really know why, but I have to do this on my own. Closure,” I said, and I laughed. Closure is such a cliché.

“Closure,” Gabe echoed. “Okay, closure it is,” but he smiled too. A private joke.

“The only thing that could really mess up my plans is if I can’t get out of Logan before the storm hits. I need to get moving. I’ll call you when I get there,” I promised. “I’ll take you up on getting me to the airport and picking me up. If the weather socks me in, I’ll find a motel and stay over until I can get home. Logan’s usually cleared pretty fast and I doubt this is the storm of the century.”

- – - – -

My father’s funeral was strange. I was the only family member attending.  Not  his family, not mine. No one else came.  Aside from Edith, I didn’t recognize a single face. “Alfred was a gentleman,” intoned the rabbi. “Always ready with a joke, gallant, preparing feasts for his friends even as his debilitating illness progressed. He was,” the rabbi assured us, “Loved by all. He charmed all those around him,” the rabbi continued, “He will be greatly missed.” After that, Edith spoke of his kindness. Generosity. Warmth.

Who was this guy?

No one asked me to speak. Fine. What could I say? Was this the place to explain he was a child molester, a violent sexual predator? It might have been interesting — perhaps a bit much. Let sleeping demons lie.  When the service was over, I ran. I’d born witness. Closure eluded me and I left wondering — whose body was in the casket?

Tidy conclusions elude us. Simple answers don’t apply. Life is complex, chaotic and sometimes weird. Time for me to go home and begin to live. Without my father.

A BIZARRE ANNIVERSARY – THE JONESTOWN MASSACRE, NOVEMBER 18, 1978

If you are old enough, you remember the Jonestown massacre on November 18, 1978. Today’s the 35th anniversary of a tragic event that shocked the world.

If you could read a newspaper or watch TV, you couldn’t forget it. With fundamentalism enjoying a rebirth, with people urging others to murder or mayhem, it’s a good time to remember where this kind of thing can lead. More and more, disagreements that should be arguments result in the ugliest hate-spewing rhetoric. Lest we forget, there was nothing amusing about Jonestown.

The Road to Jonestown

The phrase “drink the Kool-Aid” is commonly used in American business and politics to mean blindly follow. “Kool Aid” references go back to the 1950s when it was the drink for children on suburban summer afternoons.

Before we talk about Kool-Aid, let’s take a brief trip down memory lane to this gristly event.

Jim Jones, cult leader and mass murderer, was a complex madman. A communist, occasional Methodist minister, he founded his own pseudo-church in the late 1950s. He called it the “Peoples Temple Full Gospel Church,” known in short as the “Peoples Temple.”

The lack of a possessive apostrophe was intentional. The name was supposed to be a reference to “the people of the world.” While Jones called it a church, it was closer to a distorted version of a Marxist commune. Initially, it was combined with a hodgepodge of Christian references that Jones used in his diatribes, aka sermons.

Regardless, it was never any kind of church. The Peoples Temple was a straight-up cult. It made serious demands in the way of personal committment and financial support from its members and a level of obedience that is the defining quality of a cult.

Jones was the cult’s leader — and a homicidal maniac — but he did have some positive traits. Jones and his wife Marceline were strongly in favor of racial integration. They adopted a bunch of kids from varying racial backgrounds. They were the first white family in Indiana to adopt an African-American boy. Other adopted children included 3 Korean Americans, a Native American, and a handful of white kids. They also had one child of their own.

Jones called his adopted kids the “Rainbow Family,” and he made a name for himself desegregating various institutions in Indiana. Before you get all dewy-eyed about this, note this ultimately climaxed in the murder of these children by their adoptive parents.

The Peoples Temple continued to expand through the 1960s. Jones gradually abandoned his Marxism. His preaching began to increasingly focus on impending nuclear apocalypse. He even specified a date — July 15, 1967 — and suggested after the apocalypse, a socialist paradise would exist on Earth. Where would the new Eden be?

Jones decided on the town of Redwood Valley, California and before the expected Big Bang, he moved the Temple and its peoples there.

When the end-of-the-world deadline came and went without the holocaust, Jones abandoned even the pretense of Christianity. The cloak came off and he revealed himself as an atheist using religion to give legitimacy to his views. Jones announced that “Those who remained drugged with the opiate of religion must be brought to enlightenment — socialism.” Prophetic words in view of the fact that Jones himself was a drug addict who preferred literal to metaphorical opiates.

As media attention increased, Jones started to worry the Peoples Temple’s tax-exempt religious status was in danger of revocation. He was paranoid about the U.S. intelligence community — probably with justification.

jonestown massacre anniversary

Jim Jones, cult leader

In 1977, Jones moved the Temple and its people again. This was a major relocation, leaving the United States completely and settling on a site that Jones had been working on since 1974. Located in Guyana, a poor South American nation, he modestly named it “Jonestown.” It was bleak and inhospitable, on 4000 acres of poor soil with limited access to fresh water. It was dramatically overcrowded and Temple members had to work long hours to survive.

Jones figured his people could farm the land in this new utopia. He had put together several million dollars before getting to Jonestown, but his wealth was not shared amongst his followers. It doesn’t seem to have served anyone since he barely used any of the money for himself.

All Hell Breaks Loose

U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan visited Jonestown in November of 1978. Rumors of strange goings-on were leaking out of Jonestown. Ryan decided to investigate the allegations of human rights abuses in Jonestown.

Ryan didn’t go alone. He took a contingent of media people, including NBC News correspondent Don Harris and other reporters plus some relatives of Jonestown residents. During his visit to Jonestown, Congressman Ryan talked to more than a dozen Temple members, all of whom said they wanted to leave. Several of them passed a note saying: “Please help us get out of Jonestown” to news anchor Harris.

If the number of defectors seems low considering the more than 900 residents of Jonestown, keep in mind the congressional party had not been able to talk to most of the “fellowship.” The number of those who might have wanted to leave could have been much more. We’ll never know.

Ryan began processing the paperwork to repatriate Temple members who wanted to go back to the States. In the middle of this, Ryan was attacked by Don Sly, a knife-wielding Temple member. This would-be assassin was stopped before injuring Ryan.

Eventually the entire Ryan party plus the group of Jonestown defectors drove to a nearby airstrip and boarded planes, intending to leave. Jim Jones had other plans. He sent armed Temple members — his “Red Brigade” after the Congressional party  These creepy “soldiers of the Temple” opened fire on them, killing Ryan, one Temple defector,  three members of the media, and wounding eleven others. The survivors fled into the jungle.

jonestown massacre anniversary

When the murderers returned to Jonestown and reported their actions, Jones promptly started what he called a “White Night” meeting. He invited all Temple members. This wasn’t the first White Night. Jones had hosted previous White Night meetings in which he suggested U.S. intelligence agencies would soon attack Jonestown.

He had even staged fake attacks to add a realism, though it’s hard to believe that anyone was fooled by the play-acting. Faced with this hypothetical invasion scenario, Jones offered Temple members a set of choices. They could stay and fight imaginary invaders. They could take off for the USSR. Another tempting alternative would be to run off into the jungles of Guyana. Or they could commit mass suicide as an act of political protest.

On previous occasions Temple members had opted for suicide. Not satisfied, Jones had tested their committment and gave them cups of liquid that they were told contained poison. They were asked to drink it. Which they did. After a while, Jones told them the liquid wasn’t poisonous — but one day it would be.

Indeed Jim Jones had been stockpiling cyanide and other drugs for years. On this final White Night, Jones was no longer testing his followers. It was time to kill them all.

Don’t Drink the Poisonous Fruit-Flavored Beverage

After the airstrip murders outside Jonestown, Jim Jones ordered Temple members to create a fruity mix containing a cocktail of chemicals that included cyanide, diazepam (Valium), promethazine (Phenergan — a sedative), chloral hydrate (a sedative/hypnotic sometimes called “knockout drops”), and Flavor Aid — a grape-flavored beverage similar to Kool-Aid.

Jones urged his followers to commit suicide to make a political point. What that point was supposed to be is still a matter of considerable conjecture.  After some discussion, Temple member Christine Miller suggested flying Temple members to the USSR.

Jones was never interested in escape. There was only one answer that he would accept. Death and lots of it. He repeatedly pointed out to his followers that Congressman Ryan was dead (and whose fault was that?)  which would surely bring down the weight of American retribution in short order. An audiotape of this meeting exists. It is just as creepy as you’d expect.

Then it was time for the detailed instructions which — still baffling to me at least — the followers did as they were told. I will never understand why. Probably that’s a positive sign indicating I’m not insane.

Jones insisted mothers must squirt poison into the mouths of their children using syringes. As their children died, the mothers were dosed as well, though they were allowed to drink from cups. Temple members wandered out onto the ground, where eventually just over 900 lay dead, including more than 300 children. Only a handful of survivors escaped Jonestown — residents who happened to be away on errands or playing basketball when the mass suicide/massacre took place.

Jones, his wife, and various other members of the Temple left wills stating that their assets should go to the Communist Party of the USSR.

Jones did not drink poison. He died from a gunshot to the head, though it’s not clear if it was self-inflicted. Jones likely died last or nearly so and may have preferred the gun to cyanide, having just seen the horrendous effects of death by cyanide.

What’s With the Kool-Aid?

In the wake of the tragedy at Jonestown, the phrase “drink the Kool-Aid” became a popular term for blind obedience, as the Temple members had apparently accepted their cups of poison without objection. According to various accounts, the primary beverage used at Jonestown was actually Flavor Aid (sometimes “Flav-R-Aid”) — although there is evidence both Kool-Aid and Flavor Aid were used.

Kool-Aid was better known than Flavor Aid . Kool-Aid was introduced in 1927 in powdered form. When Americans thought about a powdered fruity drink mix (other than “Tang”), “Kool-Aid” came immediately to mind. So, although Kool-Aid and Flavor Aid were both present at Jonestown, the phrase “(don’t) drink the Kool-Aid” is popular lingo.

Personally, I never touch the stuff.

EVIL DREAMS

There is a herd of elephants in my living room. Sometimes there are so many elephants lolling about that there is hardly enough room for me to settle down, have a cup of tea and watch the Red Sox on a warm summer evening.

They are the elephants of my childhood. Snidely grinning elephants. Scary elephants. One pachyderm carries a belt. I know he’s going to beat me. Others smile sweetly. I don’t to trust those smiles. These are not real. The smiles are camouflage to hide an evil so deep it makes my blood turn watery.

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For most of my life I had a recurring nightmare. I would be sitting in the middle of some particularly bucolic setting, a field, meadow or alongside babbling brook. The day would be perfect. Blue sky, puffy clouds and sunshine. I was happy. Content to sit and watch the birds, bunnies or butterflies. In the midst of this bucolic setting, the cute little creatures would transform into flying or crawling little monsters that would swarm over me. I’d wake up screaming, drenched in sweat.

The monsters were never the same twice. Sometimes they looked like spiders or snakes; other times, they resembled nothing in the real world. Perhaps they could have emerged from the primordial ooze or a sleazy horror movie.

Always there were many monsters attacking simultaneously. Escape was impossible and in any case, I was paralyzed with terror unable to run, barely able to scream. Only waking ended the attack. But not the fear. The fear stuck around.

The dream sometimes went away for a few months, but inevitably returned. And so it continued for more than forty years. Finally — a lifetime later — all the little monsters came together and formed a face. My father.

My eyes snapped open. I was fully awake and understood.

I never had the dream again.

BEST BOOK EVER ON TIME TRAVEL AND THE KENNEDY ASSASSINATION: 11/22/63, STEPHEN KING

Don’t let the headline fool you. It’s about a lot more than either time travel, the Kennedy Assassination or any other single thing. It’s about life, loss, change and human relationships. What makes it so brilliant is that all of these elements are bundled together into a book that will make you laugh and cry and think. And remember.

11/22/63 by Stephen King is so good it took my breath away. I’m not a Stephen King fan all the time, although several of his books and stories are among my favorite works of American fiction. I never have a problem with his writing. It goes from good to amazing, but his usual genre (horror) is not among my favorites.

11-22-63 king

This book is not horror. Although small sections of the book touch on it, they merely graze the edge of familiar King territory. He never dives into it. This is science fiction, as good an example of science fiction time travel as I’ve ever read and I’ve read pretty much every book in the genre. To say I’m a time travel junkie would not overstate it.

Stephen King does the genre proud. Beyond that, this book is beautiful. It is not merely well-written. It is eloquent, poetic, lyrical. I do not say this lightly. My husband, who is usually not a King fan — with the exception of his stories about baseball and the Red Sox – was dubious when I handed him the book and said “Read it. You’ll love it, I promise!”

Typically, he makes faces and argues with me, but this time, he listened and read the book. Once he began, he couldn’t put it down. He read portions of it out loud because he felt they were so perfect they deserved to be read aloud, like poetry.

The plot is simple to describe, though enormously rich and complex in the telling. A writer determines to go back in time and prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. His attempt and travels in time produce many repercussions both for him personally and for our world. The “Butterfly Effect” has never been better illustrated.

Whether or not you usually like Stephen King, if you are a reader of science fiction and/or time travel, you owe yourself a trip through this wonderful book. Like many authors, King dodges the technical issues of time travel via the tried-and-true “hole in the time-space continuum” ploy to move his characters to a particular time and place. King does it well and makes it an interesting part of the journey.

Many, if not most readers apparently agree that this is the best book King has written in many long years, perhaps the best since “The Stand” and in my opinion, better. Granted that this is a subjective statement, but I guarantee if you read this book, you will not be disappointed.

This is a master story-teller at the peak of his abilities: Stephen King with emotion, poetry, depth, beauty, intelligence and finally, without taking any cheap or easy ways out of the complexities he creates. An amazing book. If you are any kind of science fiction reader, it’s a must-read. And if you’re a history buff, it’s interesting alternate history.

A Candle in the Darkest Age – Worlds of Arthur by Guy Halsall

Oxford University Press384 pages, Publication date: April 4, 2013

King Arthur is by far the most popular and most written-about king of England who never was. Legends of Arthur have multiplied not only in the British Isles, but in France, in other European countries and more recently, in North America. Tales of Arthur began appearing in the early ninth century and continued to appear through Victorian times to the present day. In fable and books, around medieval campfires and flickering on the silver screen and TV sets of the 21st century, King Arthur and his Knights of the Round table are ever with us. On the literary scene, recent years have produced a virtually continuous flow of books about Arthur,  each “scholarly tome” claiming to have unlocked the truth about the “once and future king.” We apparently have an insatiable appetite for these stories.

The author of Worlds of Arthur is Professor Guy Halsall. Halsall joined the History Department at the University of York (UK) in January 2003. His doctoral research — carried out at York — was on the archaeology and history of the Merovingian region of Metz (north-eastern France and southern Germany), c.350-c.750. It was perhaps inevitable that his researches and the putative world of King Arthur would collide. And so they have. Worlds of Arthur is the result.

Guy Halsall makes a valiant and largely successful attempt to sort through the evidence — reality and myth — as it pertains to the Arthurian legends. He bravely takes on both the “historical” Arthur — the man waging a glorious but doomed struggle to save civilization from the incoming Anglo-Saxon tide — and the mythical King accompanied by his legendary retinue: Lancelot, Guinevere, Galahad and Gawain, Merlin, Excalibur, the Lady in the Lake, the Sword in the Stone, Camelot, and the Round Table.

Knowing in advance that no one wants their favorite stories debunked, he starts with a cold splash of reality. In all likelihood, “King Arthur” never existed. In the unlikely event he did exist on some level somewhere — even as a prototype — we know zilch about him and thus no one, including the author, is going to reveal any exciting new evidence of Arthur’s existence. There is no evidence to reveal. This position is driven home repeatedly, so if you are waiting for an Arthurian revelation, you are bound to be disappointed.

Arthur is a literary and mythological figure, not a real one. Not even loosely based on an historical person(s). Halsall states up front any book claiming to know the real Arthur is bunk. Merlin, Lancelot, Guinevere, Arthur and all his knights did not exist. Guy Halsall makes it absolutely clear and repeats his position over and over: There is no evidence supporting an historical Arthur.

“The Death of King Arthur”

Having put up front, Dr. Halsall sets himself a rather difficult literary task. How can you keep a reader’s interest for the remainder of the book? Before you have gotten a quarter of the way through, he has declared his position, debunked what is currently the only “evidence” on the “proof” side of the Arthurian equation. What is left?

Halsall writes with humor and wit. Academic though this book is, he tries hard to be understandable by those who are not Ph.D. levels in archeology. In this, he is modestly successful. I’m fascinated by archeology and have read a great deal of archeological stuff over the years. I understood most (not all) of the technical terminology. I’ve explored ruins and attended lectures, but this is dense material. No matter how light-hearted and humorously approached, there is no avoiding the essentially academic nature of the book. It’s not for everyone. You need a background in archeology to understand the author as well as significant personal interest in the subject to stay with the book.

If you have the interest, there is much to learn. Worlds of Arthur is a thorough examination of the evidence and more to the point, a thorough dismemberment of what has been called evidence by other authors. Ironically, one of the unintended results of reading this book was it piqued my interest in reading the books the author is debunking, not because I think they contain “real evidence” but because they sound intriguing as fiction.

If you are passionate about Camelot, Arthur and the gang, this is a thoroughly researched, well-written book that picks apart all previous writings on the subject with minute care. It belongs on the bookshelf of anyone who claims to be a fancier of medieval British archeology. It’s not a riveting tale with lot of surprises. There is no question about where the author is heading since he lays out it all out in the introduction.  The author is a better writer than most academics and makes the going easier with a light touch and a sense of humor. But in the end, this is an academic treatise.

I enjoyed it. Having read many books of this type over the years, I knew what to expect and was prepared to do some mental calisthenics. Give my brain a bit of exercise. There are no revelations in the book. From a broad perspective, I knew at the end of the book what I knew at the start —  that there never was a real King Arthur or Round Table or any other of the well-loved mythical characters. Since I never believed the characters were real in the first place, it was no shock. There is nothing shocking in Worlds of Arthur. It allows no wiggle room to find a real Arthur somewhere in archeological or historical data. But if you are genuinely interested in the early medieval period in England, there’s a lot of well-presented information to digest about a time about which little is known and less has been written. The Dark Ages are dark. Worlds of Arthur: Facts & Fictions of the Dark Ages lights a candle in that darkness.

The book is available on Kindle and hardcover. There are illustrations that might benefit from viewing on paper rather than the smaller format of a Kindle, but the Kindle version does include them so the choice is yours. If you’re an armchair archeologist or medievalist … or just fascinated with the world of Arthur, give this a read. It’s worth your effort.

PROMPTS FOR THE PROMPTLESS – LIFE IS A LIST

And as we head off on vacation, there are so many things to remember …

shopping list

YEAR ZERO – ROB REID – GET IT FOR 99 CENTS (KINDLE) NOW!

What with the NSA XBox and spying thing — and now the shut down and who know what else coming to get us, Year Zero gets more and more relevant … and hilarious. And right now, you can grab a Kindle copy for 99 cents from Del Rey via Amazon! If you have not read this gem — grab it now!

Truly one of the funniest, smartest pieces of science fiction in many years. I don’t merely like this book. I really LOVE it!

When in 2012, Rob Reid wrote Year Zero, a science fiction novel about the music business and its impact on the universe, many people sat up and took notice. Who better to write about the Byzantine complexities of the music business than Rob Reid?

The author of Year ZeroRob Reid does not have the kind of bio one would expect of a science fiction author. In fact, he was and is an entrepreneur and multi-millionaire, the kind of self-made multi millionaire who makes many of us realize what failures we are.

Born in New York City, raised in Darien, Connecticut, got his undergraduate degree at Stanford University in Arabic and International Relations. Earned an MBA from Harvard. In 1994 he moved to Silicon Valley where he managed Silicon Graphic’s relations with Netscape. In 1999 he became a founding member of IGN Entertainment which went public in 2000. IGN was acquired by News Corp in 2005 for $650 million.

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Reid was the sole founder of Listen.com for which he served as CEO and Executive Chairman. Listen.com launched Rhapsody, a music streaming service, the first legal service of its kind. Rhapsody was bought by RealNetworks in 2003 and Reid continued to serve as one of its vice president until MTV purchased it for $230 million.

Year Zero is one of the funniest, scariest, weirdest science fiction novels I’ve ever read — up there with Jasper Fforde and the great Douglas Adams and certainly the only book of its kind that includes footnotes. They are hilarious too.

The scary part of the novel is not the story but how it mirrors the realities of the music business. The music business is scary.

It turns out that Earth is the only planet in the universe that can create music worth listening to. It is not merely the best music in the universe. For all practical purpose, it is the only music. Other worlds have made something that had been called music … until the discovery of Earth’s music. From the moment our music was heard by the highly advanced sentient cosmos, there was no turning back. The year of the discovery of Earth’s music was Year Zero, the dawn of a new era for every planet in every galaxy everywhere. It also signaled the likely end of life on Earth unless some legal loophole could be found in our insanely punitive copyright laws.

If not, the combined amount of money owed to Earth’s music corporations would be so monumental it would bankrupt the entire universe. Unable to pay the bill yet obligated by inter-galactic law to pay it, the easier choice would be to destroy Earth, eliminating the problem and de facto, canceling the debt.

Whether or not you will find the book as fascinating and funny as I did is probably a matter of what you find funny. No one knows the intricacies of law as it pertains to the music industry better than Rob Reid.

English: 42, The Answer to the Ultimate Questi...

The humans are funny and oddly heroic, each in his or her own way. People rise to the occasion. The aliens are deliciously bizarre and some of them also rise … or fall … to the occasion. The combination of law and the ridiculousness of the situation is hilarious.

Although Year Zero is every bit as weird as any of Douglas Adams’ books to which it has been compared, the strangeness of the story is based on facts of law. Douglas Adams created the Improbability Drive from his own imagination. Rob Reid only has to quote the actual laws — every bit as bizarre as anything you could imagine. That’s scary.

I loved this book. I read it, read it again. Then I bought the audio book and listened to it twice more. I’ll probably read it several more times.

There is no sequel. It’s the only novel Rob Reid has written. Otherwise, he is the author of two non-fiction books: Architects of the Web about Silicon Valley, and Year One about life as a student at Harvard Business School.

This is a great book and I bet you’ll love it too. Give it a read. If nothing else, you’ll learn everything you never wanted to know about the music business!

“Moe” Berg: Sportsman, Scholar, Spy — Central Intelligence Agency

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See also on Scoop.itForty Two: Life and Other Important Things

“Moe” Berg: Sportsman, Scholar, Spy

Morris “Moe” Berg, a professional baseball player who also served his country as an intelligence officer, lived a life many can only dream of. A true Renaissance man, Berg graduated from Princeton University, passed the New York State bar exam and learned eight languages.

Moe Berg - Catching for the Senators, 1932-1934

Moe Berg – Catching for the Senators, 1932-1934

After graduating from college in 1923, Moe played 15 seasons of major-league baseball as a shortstop, catcher and coach. Pictured are his cards as coach of the Boston Red Sox in 1940 and as catcher for the Washington Senators (from 1932 – 34).

Mixing Baseball and Intelligence

Berg’s entrance into the field of intelligence began when he, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and other baseball greats formed an all-star team and traveled to Japan in the mid-1930s for exhibition games.

Proficient in Japanese, Berg talked his way into one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo. He climbed to the rooftop alone and used a movie camera to film the capital city’s shipyards. Reportedly, the US used Berg’s footage to plan bombing raids over Tokyo in World War II.

OSS Intelligence Career Highlights

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Berg initially joined the White House’s new Office of Inter-American Affairs but left for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in 1943. He became a paramilitary officer and carried out various intelligence operations in Europe, including parachuting into Yugoslavia to evaluate resistance groups there.

Moe Berg, coaching for the Red Sox, 1940

Moe Berg, coaching for the Red Sox, 1940

By 1945 Berg had been tasked to determine whether Nazi Germany was close to having a nuclear weapon. Using his language skills and charm, he managed to locate and chat with Werner Heisenberg, a top physicist in the Third Reich. Berg accurately determined that the answer was “no.”

Berg stayed with the OSS until it dissolved in 1945. Afterward, he served on the staff of NATO’s Advisory Group for Aeronautical Research and Development.

A Word from Berg

Before his death in 1972, Berg said, “Maybe I’m not in the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame like so many of my baseball buddies, but I’m happy I had the chance to play pro ball and am especially proud of my contributions to my country. Perhaps I could not hit like Babe Ruth, but I spoke more languages than he did.”

The baseball cards pictured here are held in the CIA Museum’s collection.

Afterward

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once described Moe Berg as a most unusual fellow.

When the war ended, Moe Berg found himself unemployed. He did receive occasional intelligence assignments, including a visit to the Soviet Union, where his ability to speak Russia was valuable. Traveling with other agents, when asked for credentials, by a Soviet border guard in Russian-dominated Czechoslovakia, he showed the soldier a letter from the Texaco Oil company, with its big red star. The illiterate soldier was satisfied and let them pass.

He lived with his brother Samuel for 17 years and, when evicted, spent his last final years with his sister, Ethel. A lifelong bachelor, he never owned a home or even rented an apartment. He never learned how to drive. When someone criticized him for wasting his talent, Berg responded: “I’d rather be a ballplayer than a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

I thought maybe this was urban legend, but this is from the C.I.A.’s own website, so I guess not! How come this hasn’t been made into a movie? It reads like one!

See on www.cia.gov

MURDER AND MURK – THE BONES OF PARIS, LAURIE R. KING

BonesOfParis

The Bones of Paris
A Novel of Suspense
By Laurie R. King

Random House Publishing Group – Bantam Dell
Publication Date: September 10, 2013

Set in a strange world of weirdos, artists, authors and perverts in post World War I Paris, this Jazz Age murder mystery has some of the creepiest characters I’ve ever encountered in a long time. Historically, this was indeed a strange time. The Lost Generation of Hemingway, Fitzgerald in a Paris seething with new art forms and angst.

Flappers meet  old aristocracy. Painters and photographers hook up with roaming flotsam and jetsam of a displaced generation. These are people well and truly lost in time and space.

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Amidst this odd collection of geniuses and madmen, comes private investigator Harris Stuyvesant, an American ex-FBI agent. Down on his luck and much in need of a paying  job, he’s gotten the plummy assignment of finding Philippa “Pip”Crosby, a young American woman.

She’s been missing for months, last seen in the company of some of Paris’ more dubious denizens. Harris has previously met Pip, albeit briefly, and wonders if his knowing her was how he got the job in the first place.

At first, Harris assumes she has gone off to do whatever young women do when they want to have a good time. Perhaps the Riviera or some other resort. She has nothing to hold her in any particular place. Inquiries lead nowhere. Her trail stops abruptly at the Théâtre du Grand-Guignol in Montmartre. Harris Stuyvesant finds himself in a world in which art and sexual depravity are indistinguishable. His fears for the young woman grow increasingly dark.

Because she’s not the only one who has gone missing in this murky society of the talented and the strange. In fact, more than a dozen missing women may have fallen victim to the same killer … and the number of suspects keeps multiplying. Somewhere, a savage killer is roaming free and he’s isn’t finished yet.

I’ve read a lot of Laurie King’s Sherlock Holmes books and enjoyed them very much. This was not at all the same. In the end, I liked the book, but it took me quite a while to really get into it. The problem was, I didn’t like any of the characters. They were smug. They may have been the élite of the art world, but they were also bores, boors, braggarts and self-absorbed snobs — the kind of people I make it my business to avoid. Eventually, as relationships began to sort out, I grew to like the detective and the French policeman with whom he is working … and even develop a mild affection for some of the women, though they will never be my kind of gal pals.

This is a work of fiction, so despite the familiar names — Hemingway pops up a lot as well as Cole Porter — they are not real, though I suspect they were modeled on real people.

It’s a good mystery and Harris Stuyvesant is an interesting guy. I didn’t love the book, but it’s well-written. If you like your villains insane and creepy, you have a whole slew of them to choose from. Harris Stuyvesant is a sturdy character with plenty of back story. I think he will grow up to be likeable and interesting. However, he isn’t there yet.

Laurie King is an exceptionally literate writer. She uses lots of big words, so if you like your reading easy, this isn’t the book for you. The elegance of her language is one of her most attractive qualities as an author. I would have read to the end for that alone.

On the plus side, the Parisian setting is well-drawn. You can virtually see and smell the city as you read. Especially smell.

The Bones of Paris is worth your time, though how much you like it is a matter of personal taste. I prefer more modern settings and people to whom I can better relate. If you really like a bit of Poe-esque creepiness in your mysteries, The Bones of Paris has it.

Available on Kindle, audiobook, paperback and hardcover.