If my rating for this latest in the Amos Decker series seems a bit bipolar, it’s that my reasons for not enjoying it as much as its predecessors has nothing to do with the actual quality of the story and everything to do with politics.
I’ve noticed an annoying trend in thriller fiction I can’t mention in detail without it being a spoiler. Mr. Baldacci handles it with a bit more finesse than some, but the result, for me, still came off more like propaganda than good fiction. Other readers and fans of Mr. Baldacci and Amos won’t be bothered by it at all, and the overall plot is both an excellent mystery and a superb voyage into the protagonist’s history and its effect on his character. As the acronym says: YMMV.
I’m partial to this series because watching Amos Decker deal with his condition—which reminds me again our language lacks a decent word to describe those for whom a disability is also their best asset—and how Mr. Baldacci develops him is always a pleasure. Walking the fine line between empathy and sympathy is hard, but Mr. Baldacci manages it with skill. In this book, Amos returns home and interacts with those who were once his friends, enemies, and colleagues, in the process coming to grips with the tragedy that, despite everything, remains the center of his life.
So, yes, if you’re an Amos Decker/David Baldacci fan, you’ll definitely want to read this new installment. If you haven’t met Amos, I recommend reading the other four books first, beginning with the introductory Memory Man, for the simple reason that watching him emerge from his chrysalis of despair step by step is part of what makes this series unique.
I read an op-ed this morning in which the author said that despite the bumps in the road we’re currently experiencing, our federal democracy is nevertheless working as intended.
Sorry, but anyone who thinks government in the US is “working as intended” isn’t paying attention. If it were, one individual Senator would not be able to block every single bill his party objects to that was approved by the House from even reaching the Senate floor for discussion. If it were, Congress would not have, over the last three decades, handed more and more of its responsibility over to the Executive such that we now have a president with the ability to rule like an autocrat.
The author began by noting that being politically involved in the governing of our localities, states, and the federal government is a never-ending task. On that, we agree. There is no moment where the majority can sit back, prop its collective feet up, and assume everything will go on as desired. That is, in fact, the reason we now live in an oligarchy. As long as everyone was doing okay, being willing over-consumers, they had no desire to dip into the messy realm of politics, so they simply voted for whomever their party of choice put on offer. Those who weren’t doing okay gave up any hope of being heard, since they were told over and over it was their own fault they weren’t doing better. I’m the first to confess I wasn’t paying nearly enough attention for way too long.
Now, though, I am paying attention. I know that team-player mindset that afflicts the voting public isn’t an accident but something that has been carefully designed and nurtured to maintain status quo. That public education has been corrupted from a means by which people become informed and able to apply critical thinking skills to a system for churning out “employable consumers”. That the media supposed to ensure we know all that’s necessary to make informed choices is instead a megaphone for the narrative approved by those in power.
In other words, rather than a byproduct, the condition of the people you’re talking about is a feature, not a bug. Those in power consider the rest of us stupid and easily manipulated, and have been acting on that belief for at least the last 40 years and probably longer. It worked well, until a few people woke from their stupor and began asking questions.
We’re awake now. And we’re watching. And talking to each other. We know now how our small differences have been deliberately exaggerated to keep us divided when the problems we share are larger and more numerous. We’re shaking off the idea we can’t change anything, discovering as we do that the reason we thought that is we’ve been told it so often we came to believe it—Propaganda 101.
There will always be those who think the most complex issues can be rendered down to either/or, right/wrong, win/lose. Those people can be weaponized by the oligarchs to try silencing the voices of those who understand life and people are more complex than a game where all that matters is whose team wins. Like Martin Luther, we say “Here I stand, I can do no other”, and like Martin Luther King Jr., we believe “A man dies when he does not stand up for what is right.”
If it takes a Second American Revolution, so be it.
Which it does. Always. Without exception. Any time the opportunity to discuss sexual assault, and our culture that vocally condemns it while refusing to do anything to mitigate it, arises. Instead, the conversation invariably diverges from the real root of the problem — power and the privilege it gives — to sex. Don’t take my word for it. Take the time to review the matter and watch it happen.
The real cause of sexual assault and rape culture is simply this: a society that encourages anyone with a degree of power to view anyone not of their own power level as personal property.
The basis of this goes bone deep, and is ingrained from childhood by child-rearing methods that allow parents to not only dictate how their children are to behave but still, in what is supposed to be a civilized society, allows them to beat their children when they don’t. Despite our much-vaunted insistence on our having a “moral compass,” that compass seems to be too easily deflected by a concept of individuality that has become what can only be described as a religion.
As a result, the next generation, barring enlightenment, has absorbed the idea that anyone in a superior position of authority is entitled to treat those of lesser authority as objects.
There are even bodies of law to protect a parent’s right to do to their child what any other adult would be arrested and jailed for. It echoes the idea that one can do as one likes with one’s property.
How often do you hear of an upper-middle class family having their children removed because of abuse? Could that be because our body of law is written to mainly protect the property of those with the wherewithal to own property? Or are we to believe that only poor people are lousy parents?
Well, yes, based on observation, we are supposed to believe only poor people are lousy parents, despite ample evidence to the contrary. The misdeeds of children of privilege—and by that I do not mean the advantages of being White, which is a rant for another time—make it into the media every now and then, lest they be accused of class bias. Incidents of abuse among the lower classes, though, are regularly reported, and the first response by the system always seems to be removing the children from their home.
Don’t get me wrong. I fully believe any child in a dangerous situation needs protection. However, there seems to be no distinction made between situations where the danger arises from a complete lack of support for the parent(s) and those where the parents are themselves the danger. In the former instance, one might suggest the children are being treated not as people with feelings but objects—property—that can be shifted from one shelf to another with no regard for how that might impact them.
Even cursory research shows that most abusive situations, regardless of income level, have one big thing in common: they result when parents view children as they would a pet, i.e., property. That is, they see child-rearing not as encouraging their children, as small people, to become individuals but rather as training them to obey and conform to whatever the familial boundaries are.
There’s an active movement to bring back the concept of “free-range” child-rearing. That is, of allowing children to explore their world and interact in ways that kids used to do as the natural order of things. It’s in opposition to several fairly recent developments, the two most insidious of which are the ideas that the world is a dangerous place, and that unsupervised children are being neglected by their parents. “Helicopter parents” are a subject of scorn, yet our entire culture not just encourages but even demands that kind of constant, hovering supervision.
Human beings don’t handle constant supervision well. It’s dehumanizing, because it implies we aren’t intelligent creatures capable of making decisions and grasping the meaning of the results. It suggests that, absent that watchful eye, we might behave in some manner outside the subscribed boundaries. Might I suggest the operative term for that is “slavery”? And slaves are—wait for it—property.
So, having seemed to wander a bit from the original topic, I will wander back. Observe the various reports of sexual assault since the rise of the #metoo movement. At least, observe them up to the point where the discussion diverges from the point where all the unrepentant perpetrators are clearly people in positions where they manipulated the lives of others on a daily basis.
Now consider that most cultures train us to admire those in power. How many times have you heard that we should respect X because he or she occupies some such position of power? Respect the boss, or lose your job. Respect your parents, because they’re your parents. Even if they’re toxic or even brutal, we’re told they deserve some respect because of the label they wear and the position they occupy in the system.
That’s why the reporting process is such anathema to many victims of sexual assault. It’s constructed such that whether one is believed depends on what level of the power structure one occupies. Add in the dynamic that bad things only happen to bad people that permeates most cultures, and where is the incentive to tell the truth?
So, the victim decides to just let the incident go, because no one will listen anyway. Years pass. Personalities grow and change, for good or ill. An opportunity to finally report the incident arises, and the victim gathers courage and does. Only to be told that, by waiting so long, he or she can’t be believed because there’s no evidence. Which brings up another matter for consideration.
Might it be argued that the difficulty of providing decent evidence long after the fact is the reason why the system makes it so hard for victims to come forward? Those in charge know the longer they can prevent an accusation from being made, the less likely it can every be proved. In other words, again, victims aren’t people, just objects to be moved about to keep the status quo firmly in place.
So, they are property, this time of the so-called “justice” system. The victim becomes the only evidence, and evidence is sealed into bags and tucked into boxes to be set on shelves in storage rooms.
If we truly want to end rape culture, we have to stop allowing the Power People to change the subject, to prevent them from making sexual assault and harassment about sex and gender dynamics instead of the real root cause. And we need to stop allowing them to use it as a weapon in political conflicts before we reach a point where even highly qualified, ethical individuals are blocked from office solely on the basis of an allegation. Do we really want someone’s lifelong sexual history to become the most important criterion for their ability to perform an important public office?
That would be just another way those in power would be able to screw the rest of us over.
(The opinions expressed as A Piece of My Mind are my own, and should not be considered those of Zumaya Publications or its authors. They are also subject to change in light of new evidence. Should you wish to contest any of them, please do so like an intelligent human being using supported facts.)
Rendezvous with Oblivion: Reports from a Sinking Society is a collection of essays from 2011 to the present that provides a travelogue of the downward journey of the US. Not that it starts at the top of the hill, because for the bulk of the population that’s been forbidden territory for several decades—only the nobility gets to occupy the castles.
That’s sort of the metaphor used in title of the first set of essays, “Many Vibrant Mansions,” and the subject of the second piece, “The Architecture of Inequality.” Describing his trek through the world of the McMansion, he observes they are “houses that seemed to have been designed by Stanford White after a debilitating brain injury.”
Those unfamiliar with Mr. Frank’s work should consider reading his earlier books The Wrecking Crew and Listen, Liberal! before joining him on this trip. The former answers the question many who only became politically involved during the 2016 election keep asking, which is “What are the Republicans doing?” The latter explains that it isn’t just the Republicans, and why.
In politics, of course, the scam and the fib are as old as the earth itself. Even so, the past decade has been a time of extraordinary innovation in the field…Millions of Americans came to believe that everything was political and that therefore everything was faked; that everyone was a false accuser so why not accuse people falsely; than any complaint or objection could ultimately be confounded by some clever meme; that they or their TV heroes had discovered the made-up argument by which they could drown out that still small voice of reality.
So, the first part describes how we came to accept escalating inequality, encouraged by politicians on both sides of the aisle who lied and obfuscated to ensure we stayed convinced there was really nothing wrong. That if the benefits of the tax cuts and the trade deals and the bank deregulation somehow missed us…well, it was our fault for not working hard enough, or for making bad choices, or not getting the proper education. Supported by news media and TV and movies that bombarded us with the message that the billionaires were the above-mentioned heroes we must needs struggle to emulate.
Meanwhile, the first African-American president, who promised us hope and change, saved the banks and the Wall Streeters while millions of the middle-class lost their homes and/or their retirement funds.
The one percent got the of both [“a brief experience with deficit spending” then President Obama’s “famous turn to austerity”]: not only were they bailed out, but the also chalked up some of their best years ever under Barack Obama, taking home 95 percent of the nation’s income growth during the recovery.
And speaking of not getting the proper education, that’s the topic of Part 2: “Too Smart to Fail.” This section covers the encroachment of neoliberalism on campus, which has led to a decrease in the number of tenured professors and an increase in the number of adjuncts most of whom can’t live on what they’re paid and don’t know from one week to the next if they’ll even have a job. In fact, a writer I know who works as an adjunct had a class he was counting on to pay his living expenses cancelled four days before it was scheduled to start, with no compensation.
And then there is soaring tuition, which more and more goes to pay inflated salaries for legions of unnecessary administrators while services (and those tenured professors) are cut back. Four-year college graduates are re-entering the world carrying a massive load of debt, which is not just stressful but a major drain on the economy both because wages and salaries have stagnated or actually declined in the last four decades and because money that goes into the vaults of lenders isn’t being spent in the economy.
[E]very democratic movement from the Civil War to the 1960s aimed to bring higher ed to an ever widening circle, to make it more affordable. Ours is the generation that stood by gawking while a handful of parasites and billionaires smashed it for their own benefit.
Part 3, “The Poverty of Centrism,” traces the path by which, beginning in the 1980s with Ronald Reagan and continued unabated by those administrations that followed him, the rich got filthy rich and the 90% were tricked into believing keeping them that way was good for us.
To a Washington notable of the pre-Trump era, a team of rivals was a glorious thing: it meant that elections had virtually no consequences for members of the consensus. No one was sentenced to political exile because he or she was on the wrong side; the presidency changed hands, but all the players still got a seat at the table.
The only ones left out of this warm bipartisan circle of friendship were the voters, who woke up one fine day to discover what they thought they’d rejected wasn’t rejected in the least.
In this section, Mr. Frank also talks about the role the news media have played in enabling this mess. I don’t share his admiration for the Washington Post, but I have to wonder if his informal analysis of the way they undermined Sen. Bernie Sanders during the 2016 primaries wasn’t a bit painful. Or even disillusioning. He also seems unwilling to admit the collusion between the DNC and the Clinton campaign and the news media to achieve that goal; he avoids referring to the email leaks that revealed just that, and sadly, he seems to at least partly believe the so-far unsupported insistence on “Russian influence.”
Even so, his criticism of the Democrats was apparently sufficient to get him blackballed by those major news media he tries hard not to accuse of bias.
The final section, “The Explosion” addresses the why of the election of Donald Trump and why it was the direct result of the Democrat Party’s refusal to accept that they could no longer take their traditional working-class and minority base for granted. Which brings us to this year.
Trump succeeded by pretending to be the heir of populists past, acting the role of a rough-hewn reformer who detested the powerful and cared about working-class people. Now it is the turn of Democrats to take it back from him. They may have to fire their consultants.
As I said earlier, I wouldn’t recommend this as an introduction to Thomas Frank’s work. The broad scope of the subject matter is easier to take in context if one has a background in what he’s written at length. For those familiar with that body of writing, these essays are sharp-tongued snippets of the history of the last seven years, with reference to those that preceded them. They do require personal honesty, in that we who allowed this mess to come as far as it has must take the responsibility for not paying attention and staying informed.
Well done, Mr. Frank. May we please have some more?
It’s always a little difficult reviewing a book from a series you haven’t previously experienced. On the other hand, it allows one to see how well the author handles backstory without interrupting the flow of the story.
So, Jack Frost is the eighth adventure in Mr. Greyson’s Jack Stratton series about a PI who’s both a veteran suffering from PTSD (a trope that has been popular of late but is coming to border on cliché) and a former police officer. Jack is also an orphan (another popular trope) who spent many of his formative years in foster care, and his fianceé, Alice Campbell, likewise. One of the subplots, which reaches a degree of culmination in this book, is her search for the truth about the accident that wiped out her parents and younger brother.
The book also includes a mysterious Asian woman of dubious career who nevertheless has an unbreakable bond of loyalty to Jack and, by extension, Alice. So, all the standards of what the mainstream publishers seem to consider necessary in current popuar mystery fiction are met. And yes, I am being a bit sarcastic, but only because I find it disappointing talented writers seem to be stuck writing to those criteria instead of developing characters that don’t rely on the same elements over and over.
Anyway, in this tale, Jack is hired by an insurance company to go undercover on Planet Survival, an ultra-challenge reality TV show set on the top of a mountain to find out whether there’s anything nefarious going on. This because one of the crew died in an avalanche, the pilot of the helicopter that allegedly started said avalanche later died in a climbing accident, and now someone is painting threatening graffiti all over the mountainside.
Jack Frost is an entertaining thriller with a well-executed twist ending and an entire school of red herrings. It’s definitely plot-driven, but the characters are well-developed; in some cases, Mr. Greyson takes what could be a stereotype and skillfully adds touches that not only avoid that pitfall but creates someone one wishes had a larger role. He has also achieved the preferred goal of having a series book that, if it’s the first one read, may entice the reader to go back and catch up on history. If you enjoy Clive Custler, you’ll probably enjoy Christopher Greyson as well.