Ed Murrow (1908-1965) did much to create, found, and shape broadcast news on radio and later television for two generations. His imitators have been many but none had the gravity and grace of the original.

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Son of a lumberjack in Washington, Murrow worked his way through college as a sawmill hand. He became active in student politics with the quiet fervour of his Quaker upbringing in the belief that the educated must serve the community and each individual must strive to leave the world slightly better.

He was tall at 6 feet 2 inches and in college developed a command of the language and a speaking voice that compelled attention.  His major was speech and his teacher was a gnarled and crippled woman who was nearly a dwarf.  He saw the light in her demanding eyes and she saw the future in this gangly youth.  Even at the height of his fame she wrote to him with critiques of his work which he integrated into his approach.  

Why dwell on his college speech teacher here at the outset?  Because many years later when Murrow was instrumental in the final downfall of Senator Joseph McCarthy, the junior senator from Wisconsin, that specimen would imply an unholy union between the boy Murrow and this teacher.  McCarthy was a twit but at least he did not tweet.

Murrow became student president and represented his college, Washington State at Pullman, at meetings of such student leaders.  Though personally shy and diffident, at the podium he made a mark, and soon became national president.  

He organised a national meeting of students in Atlanta and went to great lengths with some sleight of hand to ensure it was colourblind.  There was resistance but he had thought it through and had adequate counter-measures, one of which was the press and publicity.  

Radio was new and to fill up the air, a program was offered to the National Association of College Students, and its president, Murrow, began his broadcasting career.  He filled the space by asking leaders to use the hour to address the youth of the nation, like Albert Einstein, like the Soviet ambassador, like Joseph Kennedy, like John Dos Pasos....  Murrow was twenty-one at the time. Some preferred question and answer and so he began to interview them.

When he graduated he went to work for the International Institute of Education in New York City in what was in effect an unpaid internship that offered room and board. This Institute ran student exchange programs between the United States and Europe.  He proved invaluable and money was found to pay him.

As the field representative of the Institute he travelled the United States promoting international exchange, and to Europe to recruit students and see the conditions for American students.  

So what? In Germany he saw Adolf Hitler speak in 1931. While he understood little German, he felt the rage, the palpable hatred, and the spewed malevolence and was repelled.

When Hitler became a force Murrow tried to exclude German students who were Nazis coming to the United States on exchange.  When the purges of German universities began, the Institute became a fundraiser and placement bureau for intellectuals, like Thomas Mann, Herbert Marcuse, Hannah Arendt, Paul Tillich, Reinhold Niebuhr, and more than three hundred others. Better than nothing but there were 6,000 others. He was a callow twenty-five.

He solicited funds from the large foundations like Ford, Sage, and Rockefeller to support the intellectuals and then convinced universities to take them with their salaries paid by the foundations. Harvard refused, but most others were only too glad to have the free gift of their services.  

Thereafter the volume and pace of the work he did re-doubled never to abate until the cigarettes killed him. 

He reported the Battle of Britain from London rooftops, inspiring the bold souls among subsequent generations of journalists to imitation. Some called him the poet of pain for his vivid descriptions of death and destruction for the radio audience in the States. All stated calmly and clearly as the rain of bombs drew ever nearer.  He endured the Blitz along with Londoners from whom he took his signature phrase 'Good night, and good luck.'  The 'good luck' referred to surviving the night's bombs.  

Murrow at BBC.jpg At work in a BBC studio.

A few of his rooftop broadcasts can be found on You Tube.

He flew as an observer on twenty-five RAF combat missions on some of which the plane was shot up and crewmen wounded and killed, yet he was disturbed, and said so, by the policy of city bombing.  

Murrow plaque.jpg A plaque in London.

He stood and watched as U.S. Army Rangers shot the padlocks off a gate of a death camp at Bergen-Belsen and with the medics walked through it in stunned silence.  He knew of the Holocaust and had spoken of it on the air but seeing is ....... [unspeakable].  He did later do a broadcast about Buchenwald.

In the 1950s he forced CBS Television to line up against the egregious Senator McCarthy while 'I Love Lucy' dominated the other networks.  Having once refused Hoover J. Edgar's demand for airtime, Murrow went on the FBI’s long Enemies List and an FBI file was generated out of mist: Murrow was friend to Harold Laski, had interviewed Earl Browder when he was on the presidential ballot in thirty-nine states, employed journalists who had once gone to communist talks, the college speech teacher was a second-generation Russian, refused censorship about lynchings, spoke at civil rights rallies, hired women to broadcast and not to answer the telephone, had been to Moscow, emphasised the Soviet war effort, and other thought-crimes.  

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Murrow reciprocated, and opened a file on Hoover J. Edgar and the FBI. He turned loose his own investigators to compile an exposé on the corruption, nepotism, and incompetence of both. It was never made or aired but the file existed and was known to exist. (See Fred Cook, 'The FBI Nobody Knows' [1964].) FBI innuendo campaign abated.

While the sunshine patriots like several recent Presidents of the United States remained Stateside, Murrow went to South Korea and walked on one night patrol. Back in D.C. Hoover and his puppet in the Senate continued to denounce him, the more so when Murrow interviewed black GI’s and compared their service in Korea to the racism at home.  

Murrow korea.jpg Frontline interviews in Korea.

As executive producer at CBS Television Murrow had complete control of ‘See It Now,‘ a weekly current affairs program at prime time, and he dedicated one episode to demolishing the Junior Senator from Wisconsin. Whoa!  CBS management ran a mile to disown it with a display of corporate cowardice familiar to anyone who has worked in a large organisation full of self-proclaimed leaders who disappear at the first rumble, leaving Murrow and his team out in the cold. Most of them, including Murrow thought it was a suicide note. This episode can be found on You Tube.

In the swirl that followed President Dwight Eisenhower said in a press conference that Murrow was a personal friend whom he admired. This was the beginning of the end for the Wisconsin midget.

In 1961 Murrow sat in President John Kennedy's cabinet as Director of the United States Information Agency. Senate confirmation was vexed but successful.  Quoting Rudyard Kipling, Murrow said, he reported things as they were, good and bad.  News, not propaganda.  That riled many a senator but they stayed their nays. Why such restraint is not specified. The first test was The Bay of Pigs and Murrow lived up to his motto.  

He respected President John Kennedy but distrusted Robert Kennedy for his past affiliation with McCarthy. In both cases the feelings were reciprocated.

These are the high points; the details are many.  He interviewed Fidel Castro with sympathy but later reported the barbarity of the Castro regime in murdering its defeated foes and their families through show trials, thus Murrow alienated both the regime's enemies and its apologists. 

When CBS management claimed sponsors did not want to support his critical programs, he went directly to the sponsors to explain and justify his subjects, wInning the life long friendship of some like the president of ALCOA who thereafter stood by him when the CBS management did not. So many leaders and so little leadership as on most larger organisations.  

Well into the 1970s CBS News still basked in the reputation Murrow had created for it.  In those days news and public affairs dominated the prime time programming of CBS. Fearless and factual in deed as well as in word. Against that standard the cartoons of Fox News are trivial, trite, and tiresome.  

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The cigarettes -- sixty a day -- killed him.  In 1963 he had major surgery, but he 'had absolutely no hope,' as he said, and was largely incapacitated thereafter. The book closes with the funeral without any summing up.  Too bad, because some effort to conclude would have been welcome.  What was the major formative experience in his life?  What was his legacy in the profession?  Will we see his like again?

Ever the realist, Murrow expected the worst from the development of the mass media, and often said so. Those fears are now reality. Fact and fiction have blended in an opinion soup made by the hot air of rumour.  Entertainment dominates all.  Think of those people who say they know an historical event or person because they 'have seen the movie.'  Dr Goebbels wins again. Journalists will happily assert there is no truth. Another win for Goebbels.

It is a large book only available in print, not Kindle, and only second-hand, running to eight hundred pages.  His life and times are fascinating and the prose is clean and clear just like Murrow himself, as they used to say in the newsroom, 'a straight lead.'  

I could not find a photograph of the author. But Sperber has at least one other title on Amazon.

Pascha the unwanted ghost is still about, annoying the only human that he can contact, Dr Martin; the Goose, as Pascha calls him.  Martin has taken extreme measures to control, if not rid himself, of this apparition by installing all manner of electronic gear in his home, offering feeble explanations to his long suffering girl friend about why he has an electronic net over the bed.  Martin goes to endless lengths to conceal the fact that he is haunted by Pascha, though his one and only friend Gregor knows.  Gregor is a man who can keep a secret.

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Gregor is Herr Detective Inspector Kreidler whom Pascha rather grudgingly admires.  Gregor is an action man and that appeals to Pascha, the one time car thief.

But then then two police officers appear with a warrant and arrest Gregor, who lapses into an uncharacteristic passivity.  Pascha is outraged and is determined to spring him.

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He needs Martin for that but Martin is completely preoccupied with his girlfriend who is pregnant.  Martin spends hours supervising her, arranging her diet, instructing her in exercises, telling her when and how to sleep, to rest by sitting such-and-such a posture.  Martin is a health fanatic and this he imposes on her, well, he tries to do so but Brigit has a mind of own and the appetite of more than two. She may eat as he asserts when he is there but when he is not let the chocolate cookies, fruit bars, potato chips, anything and everything roll.

The only way Pascha can mobilize Martin is by claiming to be in contact with the soon to be born child.  A lie but Pascha is a much-practised liar. 

For her part Brigit is bored by Martin's Regime and she wants to help Gregor, not sit quietly inn a dark room listening to soporific music eating lettuce leaves for six more months. (By the way, this sounds pretty much Martin's idea of heaven.)

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Martin, of course, does too but not at the expense of leaving Brigit's side. He ends up towed along in her wake. 

Loved the deal Brigit makes with the sleazy night club owner. How will she explain it later to Martin?

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This title is fifth in the series. What a hoot they are. Keep it up Jutta!

Henry Ford decided to produce the rubber for Ford vehicles. East Indian rubber from Ceylon and Malaya was too expensive and controlled by Britain. Much of that rubber had come from trees seeded from Brazil a hundred years before. Ergo Ford turned to Brazil, while he also invested heavily in Thomas Alva Edison's research to synthesise rubber in the United States.

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This novel is set in the deep Amazon jungle where the Ford company created a vast rubber plantation. It is told from the perspective of a new employee whose job it is to recruit labor for the colossal work of producing a quarter of the world's supply of rubber. He is an Argentine, neither European, American, nor Brazilian, and so at a distance.

His journey upriver through the morning mists, the afternoon miasmas, and the ominous nights reminded this reader of Captain Willard's trip to find his Mr Kurtz. (You either get it or you don't, Mortimer.)

The enormity and eternity of the Amazon are described along with the many locals whom our protagonist meets as he seeks employees. Against the relentless pressure of the jungle, the efforts of the Ford officials decay from idealism to pragmatism to despotism. Their mission to bring civilisation to the jungle reduces them to lesser men.

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There is woman from the Ford Company's sociology department researching the project and she provides our hero with a love interest in a small aside.

The tension in the novel is encapsulated early by one of the local Ford executives who said, 'we work twelve hours a day to civilise the land and the jungle works twenty-four hours a day against us.' It wins in the end.

The rubber trees flourish in the jungle in part because they are at distance from one another, whereas in the plantation they are closer together. When a fungus assails one tree in the planation it passes to the others in a flash. In a day a thousand treees have it. Over night ten thousand. Worse the diseased trees attract pests from the jungles that speeds the rot and carry diseases that effect humans. The only treatment if to burn the infected trees.

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The fungus does not exist in the East Indies, so says the botanical expert brought in to consult far too late in the piece. That is why Brazilian trees taken there a century before have prospered.

To admit defeat would be to admit that Ford might, ingenuity, machines, money, and enlightenment science cannot tame nature. It also spells the end of several careers.

Before the crisis there is some travelogue up and down the river where many different types are encountered.

Interspersed with the Amazon chapters are some from Detroit featuring Henry Ford. I found those interesting enough to consider finding a biography of him. In these pages he is reasonable, patient, and more willing to face reality than his subordinates. He is also obstinate and treats his only son Edsel like a puppet, and a hypocrite, yet he shows avuncular patience with a worker on the assembly line at Rogue River. His anti-semitism is iterated but mechanically.

Despite the glowing reports from the executives in Brazil, Ford reads between the lines of the reports and visits the place himself. It takes him a few hours to realise that the jungle has won and the best thing is to declare victory and leave. To hide the defeat he buys off the parties involved, rather than punishing them and admitting the failure.

The period seems to be between the middle of 1929 and say 1932 or 1933 to judge by the passing references to world events.

The novel is easy to read with a well judged combination of description, dialogue, and some action. The cross cutting between the corporate jungle of Detroit and the wilds of the Amazon are in proportion, though it is a technique that I do not like.

While it is clear the author found the whole idea of the plantation repellant, the book lets the events and characters act it out, leaving the reader to draw conclusions. There are no sermons nor are there any one-dimensional characters. The author is an historian and this is his first novel. Whether there is second I do not know.

Eduardo_Sguiglia_2.jpg Eduardo Sguilia

There were a couple times when I thought the translation clanged; don't know why, but it did not sound quite right.

I also have a book about Fordlandia by a historian to read. Since it was published later I read the novel first.

A wide-ranging and informative account of Fordlandia by an historian.  There is much about Ford the man and Ford the company at the outset that was new to me but not altogether necessary to the story of Fordlandia, leaving me with the feeling that everything the author found was forced into the book relevant or not.  For a book about the Jungle City more than half of it is about Dearborn Michigan.  

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That Ford came to replicate Dearborn in the Amazon may be true but we did not need quite so much background for that point to be made.  

Ford's proselytising efforts to mould new industrial men, my phrase, in his workforce is interesting.  Like other paternalistic employers, Ford thought that if he paid well and supported clean living, the men will be responsible employees and that is that.  Fordlandia became a laboratory test of that proposition on a green fields site far away from the temptations of Detroit.  

The size of Ford's industrial empire was enormous in the 1920s.  Seventy-five thousand employees in Michigan and a like number elsewhere.  

Ford had long believed in vertical integration.  Growing its own rubber fit with that approach.

Settling on the Amazon was fraught for many reasons.  There was much corruption in doing the deal, though Ford did not know it.  There was much incompetence in the management and constant blame shifty and backbiting among the managers. Ford did know some of that.  

To compress a longer story.  None of the managers sent there knew anything about the tropics, the local people, or rubber trees.  

Instead they were enjoined to replicate Dearborn there.  To wit the buildings were planned in Dearborn for Michigan conditions and built there.  These building were all wrong for the climate and terrain but it had to be that way for the press photographs.  

When the rubber market changed, Ford pressed on in part simply to show that with enough effort it could be done.  Climate, jungle, tropical pests, Brazilians, they would all yield to the genius of science, engineering, rationality, and logic.   And money.

The original contract that ceded the land called for planting of a thousand trees by the end of the second year. To meet that deadline planting started in the wet season when it should have started in the dry season. Most of the plants were washed away even as they were planted. Those who managed knew nothing about wet and dry seasons in the Amazon jungle. But they had a can-do attitude learned in Dearborn and they set about replicating Dearborn in the jungle with brick houses and metal roofs that made them sweat boxes.   But such will power cannot overturn nature.

The jungle prevailed. While the Brazilian rubber trees seeded in South East Asia flourished because they had no natural predators, in the Amazon there were many fungi and insects that feed on the rubber tree. When planted close together in a plantation, the rubber trees perished easily and readily. The Ford company took no advice from botanists, though some did try to tell it.

Fordlania remenants 1.jpg What remains.

There are many similar stories where the assumption was that if enough money was spent, enough equipment deployed, enough men employed, then it could be done.  But there was never enough to overcome the Amazon.  Think Fitzcarraldo.  

With age Henry Ford became more and more stubborn and less and less reasonable.  What started out as good intentions in paternalism became despotic.  

There was also a good deal of mission creep. The stated goal changed and changed again to avoid admitting defeat. First it was to grow rubber. Then it was to develop the Amazon interior as a philanthropic gesture. Then it was to support the Brazilian government through investment. Next it was to export the American model of community. Finally it was to hang on to American interest in Brazil to keep it on the Allies’ side in World War II.

Fordlania remenants 2.jpg Ruins.

I learned a lot from the book but I found the author's didactic tone irksome.  Rather it than informing the reader and then letting the reader decide, the moral is asserted early and often.  Because of all the extraneous material as mentioned at the outset, I found the book hard to follow, though I already knew some of the story.  Reading all this detail, makes me appreciate the way the novelist distilled enough for the story he told out of the morass of facts.

The obvious comparison, not made by the author, is with the building of Brasilia a generation. Although Brasilia was not built in the Amazon jungle but on a high, arid plateau in the middle of nowhere.  

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I found nothing that relates to utopian theory or practice.

This is the ninth title in the tales of Commissar Adamsberg, the vague, unkempt, inquisitive detective, played in a film adaptation superbly by Juan Garcia.

Garcia.jpg Juan Garcia as Adamsberg.

There are also television episodes that have all-star guests like Charlotte Rampling. In the following picture from the television production we have Adamsberg, Danglard, and Retancourt.

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The characters are varied and amusing; the dialogue is human and humane; the situations stretch from the mundane to …. Iceland and back.

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How does she do it, Fred Vargas, one time professor, now full time writer? Well, I hope she is at it full time because it is a big world and more of it needs Adamsberg, Danglard, and company to resolve its mysteries.

The setup in this title?

An elderly woman is found dead in her bath with slashed wrists. She had terminal cancer and the gendarmes call it suicide, and following procedure they photograph the scene and present it to the station chief to sign off and close the file. Bored, he reads the file and looks at the pictures.

Odd that symbol drawn in lipstick on the side of basin.

He calls Danglard, Adamsberg’s number two, famed in the small world of plod for his vast knowledge, retentive memory, and capacity to solve puzzles. Danglard has to see it for himself in situ, and being bored, Adamsberg rides along with Danglard for an outing. The symbol baffles even Danglard and once baffled he cannot quit. Adamsberg is indifferent as they return to their desks.

Then, by chance, a woman comes to the front counter of the nick to make report, but she finds the cop shop all rather distressing and turns to leave, her mission unspoken, but Danglard passes through the lobby and he, of unfailing courtesy, addresses her with great civility. She responds to his politesse, and in short order she reports…. It ties in with the ostensible suicide.

Now Adamsberg reads the file and the plot thickens. Terminally ill or not, why would such a formidable woman lay down fully clothed, hair done, perfumed, nails polished in the tub full of water and cut her wrists? Why would a woman described as determined and self-sufficient, give way? Why is there no suicide note? Why did she struggle in her Zimmer Frame to mail a letter that afternoon?

It all does not add up to zero. There is something more to do it and it meets the eye in the symbol that even Danglard cannot decode.

As ever there are tensions among the officers, numbering about twenty, in this unit. Adamsberg’s loyal number two is Danglard, and there are others who also suspend disbelief in order to be loyal to him, too. It takes suspension because he does go off on tangents, and some do not work, but others do. The tangents come from his intuition which he seldom can explain. Adamsberg is not articulate or learned.

Against this are the positivists in the squad who want facts, finger prints, DNA samples, eye-witnesses before making a move. The metaphysical cloud shovelers who follow Adamsberg are tested in this title, and even Danglard wavers. That phrase ‘cloud shovelers’ was hung on Adamsberg and his deputy in Quebec in an earlier title, but it sticks.

Characterisations are one of Vargas’s strong points. She differentiates her characters and gives them each space, in the way Frank Capra gave character actors camera time, believing it enriches the story, rather than detracting from the protagonist. It sure does. (There days most of the diminishing breed of character actors could be, and sometimes are, replaced by CGI. [Computer Generated Images, Mortimer!])

In this tale there is a thuggish stable man with a police record, who dotes on his horses while imposing discipline on them with whistles and words of kindness that abash both Danglard and Adamsberg. There is a retired nurse who dithers, but is incisive when it counts. There is a spoiled and petulant young man of twenty who has depths none anticipated. Then there are the history re-enactors, some of whom are even odder than Adamsberg.

Most of all there are the regulars, starting with Adamsberg wearing clothes that looked slept-in and probably were, again. Danglard who will never be promoted because he is an alcoholic, a single parent with a brood that takes up a lot of time and energy, and a walking encyclopaedia as far as colleagues can tell. There are many others on the team, like the Amazon Retancourt, who are all watched over the in the office from atop the photocopier by Snowball who figured decisively in one of the earlier tales.

In this title the plot is, as always, complicated, convoluted, and obscure. Yet when it is nailed, it all hangs together. Of course, it is far fetched and some of the touches of the bizarre are, well, bizarre, and probably unnecessary but they have become the decoration on Vargas stories. The bizarre touches, the boar, the mysterious island, are well judged, if distractions.

Vargas mug.jpg Fred Vargas

Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau (1957-), archaeologist by day and krimiest by night. At the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and then the Institut Pasteur she specialises in epidemiology, particularly the Black Death in Europe. Her authoritative study is 'Les chemins de la peste' (2003). Some dinner table conversation there I expect.

A new locale, a new investigator, a new approach for this jaded reader of police procedurals.

The protagonist, Owen Irvine, was once in policing and then spent a decade investigating social benefits fraud for the local council in Cumbria.

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His past in policing is murky, and no doubt more of his backstory will emerge. Ho, hum. Backstories do not a front story make.

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Tracing penny-ante fraudsters is not much fun for Owen but there are challenges. Mostly though his prey are single mothers trying to squeeze a few more quid from the system for their kiddies, or so they say despite the new car in front, the satellite dish on the roof, and the ashtray full of St Tropez cigarette stubs on the table.

Owen is numb, having heard all the lamebrain excuses before, each told as if unique.

Not only does the council squeeze the pounds it pays to claimants, it also squeezes those it pays to the investigators, and the chopping block has Owen’s name on it. While his record is the best, it is too good, because he has banged up more than one relative of a councillor. In this and several other ways, the plot is leaden.

Then he meets one fraudulent claimant who is different. It is another woman, but one without excuses to offer, who seems educated, and smart, and who admits her crime, and yet …. she was desperate enough to pull a stupid stroke for a few hundred quid.

Owen breaks his own rule and asks why? He has never had to ask before. Always before he is told an avalanche of reasons he does not want to hear, because he is only serving the injunction, not making the decision. This one, Clare, tells him reluctantly a story about a man who deceived her, took advantage of her, and drained her bank account.

He passes the story onto a comrade in arms at his old nick, and, by the legerdemain of crime fiction another similar case arises, and the chase is on. Well sort of.

There a reality check in this book. Time is budgeted and for a crime without violence, for a crime where there is no evidence of a crime apart from the drained bank accounts, the time allocated is half a day. Imagine what a Star Trek film would be like if there were a Star Fleet budget. No more warp engines, Captain, we are out of dilithium crystals and do not have the gold-pressed latinum to pay for more until the end of the space-year.

Ah but the recently sacked Owen, who is more or less financially independent (because he owns his home, has a vegetable patch, a trout stream, an eternal Land Rover, and few needs), has plenty of experience in finding people who do not want to be found and time on his hands.

That is the set up. A pretty good one, if only it had been told with some élan or wit.

This reader felt the boxes being ticked. Perhaps that is inevitable in the first title of the series. Owen’s backstory is forced into the foreground. To do so makes it very wordy and slow. Though Owen is supposed to be laconic and reserved, but he talks about himself incessantly to get that backstory out. To enhance Owen he is made a victim in the dismissal by the council and by implication in his earlier dismissal from the plod. A poor put-upon hero, yet again, martyr to his virtue. All of this background interferes with any interest in the foreground. The time and place are described but they take a distant second place, and that is a shame, because the regional setting is what I found attractive at the outset.

Among the compensations are some lively scenes. The puzzling interview with Clare is one. Another is with a fraudster who seems to have done it just for fun and enjoys discussing it with Owen. Then there is the police officer who is uninterested in the information Owen passes on. They have a pissing contest, as they say on Channel 7Mate. Predictable but well done.

Regrettably, but perhaps inevitably in this kind of context, all the characters sound alike, use the same speech mannerisms, idioms, and vocabulary. All the police officers sound alike, even the educated Asian woman. Indeed, Clare is only distinctive voice in the early going, and that is a plot device, to be sure, and a good one, but it emphasises how monotonic the rest are, including Owen.

Salkeld.jpg J. J. Salkeld, a very industrious writer to judge from the array of titles on Amazon. Strength to his arm.

It is the first in a lengthy series and perhaps things come together. Time will tell, if I get back to it. I found it easy to put aside.

A noir krimi with quantum physics!

I selected it for the Kindle because I smiled at the title on the cover. Wait! There is more. It is a krimi based on quantum physics. Yep! (It also represented light relief from reading Nietzsche.)

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Huh?

That is how our protagonist reacts. ‘Huh?’ He is Paul, one very depressed loser in San Francisco whose path crosses that of Tali, who saves his life but she runs away when he tries to thank her.

A chartered loser, he is used to people avoiding him, but not quite like this. He pursues her, and, without breaking stride, she promises to explain all, but first he has to grasp some quantum physics.

Huh? Well, all right.

But before she can explain much, she first has to do a few things, and, well, seeing is believing, and Paul sees enough to … believe, a little. She arranges to met him for a further explanation but she is a no-show.

Huh? (Paul has a small vocabulary.)

What is a fellow to do but Google it; he reads up on quantum physics, advising readers in direct address to skip that part of the book. I should have, but I didn’t. Had I, that would have been in total about three-quarters of the book. Of course the cat comes up.

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During this ersatz research he comes across the name of a Stanford scientist, the summaries of whose work on websites sound like Tali’s interrupted exposition. While the scientist seemed to have had a fine career strewn with publications and accolades until a few years ago when he, too, seems to have disappeared. Huh. (See!)

But even a loser can use the telephone book and Paul finds a street address that might be that of the professor. Hey, presto!

Well, that’s a lead. What would Philip Marlow do? Doh! He would go see the professor.

It is a mile-a-minute, except for the asides on matters quantum physics, and is it droll. dry as dust. Regrettably the asides on QP increase, and go on and on. The mile-a-minute stretch like a Salvador Dali watch.

Oh, and the cat. Did I mention the cat? Well, there is neither a cat nor a gat. Which word I always assumed was derived from Gattling gun, the rapid fire weapon developed in the Nineteenth Century, precursor to the machine gun. Another weapon so deadly that its inventor thought it would end war.

The set-up sounds better than it reads. It takes a quarter of the book to get the characters lined up around all the lectures on QP. There is so much preliminary fussing that it reminded of those dreadful Sunday lunches where the fussing over nothing is continuous so that the food does not appear until 4 pm by which everyone has had too much alcohol and a headache either from the drink or lack of food.

Then Paul inadvertently, if you can believe it, drops a homemade bomb into the fountain at a shopping mall and it kills a great many people. The cops arrest him and in his cell he reads Kant on metaphysics and shares it with the reader. Which is harder to swallow the bomb at the mall or Kant in the clangour? What is worse is reading it.

By this stage three-quarters of book has elapsed without any further sighting of Tali, and no explanation of events that this reader can follow. Where is that damn gat? Where is Schrödinger? Or even the cat?

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Eventually this mass murderer is sprung on bail. What! Fire that DA and get one keeps capital criminals in the slammer.

There is a final confrontation of sorts but mostly it is like one of those post-modern conference presentations where the words flow but the meaning does not. The characters talk each other to death, or something. Hard to tell through my glazed eyes. Since this is San Francisco there is an ever handy earthquake to settle matters.

There is a long afterword with more QP. Enough, already!

Kroese.jpg Robert Kroese, who has many other titles on Amazon.

Following the afterword is a biography in which we read that the author wrote his first novel in second grade. Is this it?

I did make it to the end, but only with quick thumb work flipping the pages with very little reading and less pleasure.

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Thoughts on the canon of poltical theory and life.
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