Public Enemies by Bryan Burrough

“In 600 days the modern FBI was born. This is the story of how it happened.” (page 9, hardcover.)

This is a very dense book. Burrough’s provided us with a glut of information - using overlapping timelines to keep it straight. It’s probably the most efficient way to get the story across and create tension and suspense...Bonnie's dying from a car-fire and across the country four other Yeggs (what the FBI called Bank Robbers) are doing dastardly deeds including kidnapping, springing their buddies from jail, gunning down lawmen, and taking vacations. (Who knew Hot Springs Arkansas used to be where all the Cool Kids went?) Burroughs has also given us copious bibliographical references and footnotes to ensure no stone is left unturned. And no stone is - we even get childhood backgrounds where they’re available.

There are awesome facts that you might never know, given the way Hollywood likes to spin things. For instance: Bonnie and Clyde were nowhere near as cute as the movie made them out to be. They never earned much fame when they were alive and many of their “peers” felt they didn’t deserve it after they died. I actually believe that if it weren’t for Bonnie’s poetry, they might have faded into obscurity outside of Dallas. Ma Barker was *not* the Criminal Mastermind the FBI made her out to be. And it was the FBI that did it. They needed someone people could throw stones at and they chose her (something that I suspect the government has done many times - before and since Ma Barker had her 15 minutes.) And that’s just the first 60 pages.

At the beginning of the book - before the prologue - there are timelines, family trees, and maps. You’ll need those. In the middle of the book are a bunch of photos, which is handy and enlightening. Burrough covers everyone from little known petty thieves to Machine Gun Kelly to Pretty Boy Floyd to John Dillinger…there’s even a brush with Murder, Inc.

Confession: every time someone mentions Dillinger I go to this quote from High Fidelity:

“John Dillinger was killed behind that theater in a hale of FBI gunfire. And do you know who tipped them off? His fucking girlfriend. All he wanted to do was go to the movies.”

Like any good gangster buff I knew of Dillinger before the movie came out, but that phrasing resonates.

Sometimes it reads like a gossip column, sometimes like a history text, and often like a how-to manual: How to Rob A Bank/Stage a Kidnapping in the Days Before Television, Amber Alerts, Motion Censors, Mobile Phones, and a Budgeted FBI. It’s chock full of information that criss-crosses the country. Try not to be too amused at an essentially impotent FBI, although some of the “Truth” about our Notorious Heroes did make me laugh out loud. This book is well worth reading, but it’s an investment in your time, and it’s hard to hold up in the bath.

I can’t wait to see how it translates to the big screen.


Public Enemies, the Trailer

I'm about a third of the way through this bad boy...and if the movie is half as good as the book (and with that cast, how can it not be?) it's going to be AWESOME.


I think I'm going to add another facet to this. Actually, I already have. It's still primarily books, but since movie adaptions are sometimes awesome (Fight Club, Archangel) and sometimes horrifying (Starship Troopers)...they deserve their own reviews.

So, my self-imposed rules are:

1) I'm only reviewing movies based on books that I have reviewed on this site.

2) As soon as a book that I have read or am planning to read has a trailer, I'll post it so that if you are - like me - a Read The Book Before Seeing the Movie person, you'll have a heads-up.

3) The only tags said posts will get is either "movie" or "trailer" and then in the post I will link to the original book review.

I think that covers it.

Any other requests?

Archangel, the movie

When I finished the book, one of the first things I did was check imdb to see if there was a movie. And, yes. There is. Made for the BBC and starring Daniel Craig. It came out in 2004, which meant that Netflix could provide me with my very own DVD to watch. So husband and I settled down with some dinner to watch.

The casting is spot-on. The story follows the book closely enough that I had no problems where it diverged...ok, a little at the end, but when the movie wrapped I was good with it. The crew tweaked what they needed to for purposes of continuity, time, and probably budget. You can tell when they move from "on location" to a soundstage. It's not bad, though. It's BBC.

I lied a little about the casting. Daniel Craig as Fluke Kelso is excellent. A little prettier than the Fluke in my head, but they "normalized" him so I feel like it was a nice compromise. Yekaterina Rednikova is a million times prettier than I imagined Zinaida. Not that I thought Zinaida was ugly in the book, not by any means. But she is, essentially, an orphan who spends half her time pursuing her law degree and the other half of her time being a high-class whore. If anything she should have been more tired.

And also - the guy who played Stalin. Creepy. Scary. Spot-on. The man was insane and the actor captured it. Shudder.

So, it's a movie-based-on-a-book that's worth watching, in my opinion. But read the book first. Because Harris is a genius, I tell you. A GENIUS.



Remember Me: A Lively Tour of the New American Way of Death by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen

Death: the goodie bag everyone gets for attending the party of life. And we are, every single one of us, slightly obsessed with it. This is the second nonfiction death book I’ve read, the first being Stiff by Mary Roach (read that one. Read this one, too.)

Cullen (and the irony of her last name is not lost on me) treats America’s relationship with death the way a theology student treats religions. They are almost all reputable and respectful and beautiful... and eventually, you’re going to have to pick one. Unlike Stiff, Remember Me steers clear of the science of death - concerned only with what happens to the body as affects the living, and only with history when it shows up as tradition in modern practice - from the guy who is mummifying people in a pyramid in Utah to the first person to have a loved one’s ashes turned into a diamond. She takes us to a funeral directors convention where we learn that directors are starting to call themselves “planners” as more and more people request parties rather than the traditional, somber services. (In fact, what becomes a recurring theme is that Americans have lots and lots of postmortem requests. Just as we strive in life to set ourselves apart from the crowd and mark our individuality, we are doing the same in death - in greater and greater numbers.) And then we go to Colorado to celebrate Frozen Dead Guy Days. You’ll have to read the book for details...but I’m planning a trip next year, if only for the coffin races. The book takes us all the way through plastination and aerial ash-scattering to the education of the next generation of funeral directors and then one last traditional ceremony.

Cullen doesn’t just focus on the extremes - very traditional and very wacky - she also introduces us to the sweet, simple alternatives. In South Carolina there is a land preserve run by a single couple, where the recently deceased are placed in biodegradable cardboard boxes and buried three feet deep, so as to act as actual fertilizer as they decompose. On either coast there is a company that will take your cremains (industry-speak for ashes) and mix them into concrete molds and place them in rebuilding sites to become artificial reefs. And yes, you can even have your cremains turned into diamonds.

To temper the reactions to such unorthodox burial practices, Cullen introduces us to the people who chose these paths. She gives us touching obituaries that read like mini-biographies. When told from that point of view, these after-life options seem, if not the right choice for you, at least palatable and respectful.

Cullen leaves us with a few well-chosen thoughts on how her own life was touched by the life celebrations she witnessed on her tour. Not just her life, though, I felt enlightened and moved, and full of the conviction that I will live another seventy years (deathclock.com, if you want her other resources, read the book) but when I go, I know exactly what is to be done with my remains so that my loved ones will be reminded not that I am gone, but that I lived. Which is really what we all want, isn’t it?


Triple Witch by Sarah Graves

The second book in the Home Repair is Homicide Series opens with a homicide, which is always a nice way to start a murder mystery, in my opinion. It goes on to reintroduce us to all of the people we got to know in the first book, including Jacobia’s delightfully hateful ex-husband. I don’t know about you, but I like a good character that you’re allowed to just outright hate. Obviously, we’re allowed to hate outright the murderer...but that’s not nearly as fun.

Triple Witch finds the tiny town of Eastport, Maine preparing for a fourth of July celebration and a visit from a woman who will determine whether or not the town gets a grant based on it’s level of historic integrity. So in between finding bodies, snooping about with best-friend Ellie, dating Wade, counseling her son, Sam, and fighting with ex-husband Victor, Jacobia is rescuing and repairing shutters in an attempt to get them hung before the grant benefactor arrives.

A note - Graves switched up her writing style a bit for this one. It’s choppy, which is sometimes disorienting, but not overly detracting from the story. Since the first book I read in the story came at the end of what has been published I can say with confidence that this choppiness smoothes itself out, so don’t let it detract you.

The plot - the murder plot - is pleasantly thick and complicated enough that when it all drops into place you are surprised that you missed some of the blatant hints she dropped. But glad that you did because if you’d picked up on it you would have just been frustrated at how daft everyone was being. The moments of suspense are satisfying, particularly the one at which everything comes rushing together. It was one of those times when the bath water had gotten cold but rather than get out and pause reading I reached up with one hand and turned the hot tap on and then settled back to finish the book. You’ve had that moment, too. Don’t lie.

The b-plot, the home repair, is always interesting to me. Satisfying even in the moments of destruction because there is information seeping off the page. Read enough of these books and you, too, could rehab an 1823 Federal clapboard in Maine. And you probably want to, anyway. I do.

Of course, there’s also ex-husband Victor to consider. Vile Victor who will manipulate, lie, cheat, throw temper tantrums, disappear...basically whatever it takes to get his way. He shows up as an unwelcome houseguest and sticks around to be a thorn in everyone’s side. Like I said, he’s fun to hate...even when Graves shows us a bit of his genuine vulnerability and gives us the sense that maybe he’s not a complete sociopath.

We’re also getting to watch Sam grow up, now he’s considering colleges and careers and having to figure out how to stand up to his father, protect his mother, and keep himself happy. A tall order for even an adult but Graves writes him with such honesty and complexity that it’s as if she’s just recording the actual life of a teenage boy and inserting it into fiction. Who knows, maybe she is.

Graves wraps the novel with a lead-in to the next, and if I didn’t have the self control I do have, I’d be running out to pick it up to read. But I’m doling these out slowly to myself, so I don’t run out.


The Exchange by Graham Joyce

The Exchange is Joyce’s second Young Adult novel, and as much as I liked his first, this one is better. All of his novels, for both adults and young adults, fall into what is commonly considered “fantasy.” Don’t let that scare you off, though. There are no vampires, no elves, and very rarely is there even any outright magic. Instead he leads you into the realm of possibility where you can argue that the main characters are just hallucinating and that there’s a scientific explanation for whatever has happened to them. It’s much more fun to just accept it as supernatural and enjoy the story.

This story, The Exchange, focuses on Caz, a fourteen year old girl (Caz is short for Caroline) who spends her life getting up to mischief with her best friend Lucy while her mother sleeps away in a pill-induced haze. Even at the beginning you get the feeling that Caz is restless and not certain that this is the way her life should be going. She meets Lucy late at night to break into people’s homes and do what they call “The Creepy” which is never fully explained but which amounts to hovering at the nose of a sleeping person for fifteen seconds before bolting from the house and laughing maniacally. It’s all becoming routine until one night when the old lady wakes up and curses Caz with a silver bracelet that locks on Caz’s wrist and won’t come off.

It slips off in the night, but it leaves its mark - both on her wrist as a tattoo and in her psyche as hallucinations. She is terrified, a feeling only exacerbated when she is dragged to the “Crazy Jump Around” evangelical church of her mother’s boyfriend. Here, the “Elder” places his finger on her forehead and pronounces that she is possessed by demons. Caz faints dead away and when she wakes her life takes a noticeable turn. Her relationships falter, her sleep is disrupted which makes her appearance decline, and she starts to question what will become of her life -- will she become like the sad old lady who cursed her? An old lady with rotten luck and no friends? Or will she pass it off on someone before too much damage is done and then go on to lead a normal life?

In what can only be described as a coming-of-age story, Joyce has given us a young woman with too much on her fourteen year old plate: a single, chronically depressed mother who has a new and potentially humiliating boyfriend, a best friend who is being abused by her parents, a boyfriend who isn’t sure if he wants to be involved in all that Caz has going on, and a job that forces Caz to toughen up so that she can survive each evening. By the time it comes to its satisfying conclusion you’re rooting for Caz and for every life she touches, and you’re grateful for another amazing Graham Joyce novel.


Point of Law by Clinton McKinzie

Clinton McKinzie’s Antonio Burns is a Special Agent with the Narcotics Division of a Wyoming Police department. That doesn’t matter in Point Of Law, however, because not only is he on his second suspension in three years, but he’s on a climbing vacation with his father in Colorado. His father is a Colonel in the Air Force, also special forces: Pararescue. The Burns men have been climbing together since the sons were children which makes this excursion - in the canyons of their father’s heyday - the perfect place at which to stage an intervention. Antonio’s older brother, Roberto, is a drug addict on probation. He is not clean and he is not in any way even remotely careful: he is often seen in Climbing Magazines soloing walls that other climbers consider suicidal.

McKinzie proceeds to spin out a complicated plot - many layers that come together to form a very compelling tale. Environmentalists, Developers, vaguely corrupted lawmen (of all levels), and Hired Thugs tangle over the fate of Wild Fire Valley - located in Tomichi County, Colorado and the site of the Colonel’s climbing glory days. Though at times menacing, and sometimes violent, behavior on all sides is above board until a young environmentalist is discovered - by Anton - having been beaten to death. This poor soul, named Cal, has been spouting off about a previously undiscovered cave that will save the valley from the developers. The Sheriff takes the easiest route through the situation and arrests Roberto based purely on his record and not on any of the facts. To make matters worse, the Colonel is called back to duty and the judge sets bail at the exorbitant rate of half a million dollars and Sunny, the only witness to the murder, has disappeared.

So it is up to Anton and Kim - the leader of the environmentalist group and a good friend of Sunny - to find the girl, spring the wrongfully jailed brother, and reveal the cave to the Forest Service before the bad guys kills all of them and blow up said cave. They chase Sunny down to Lake Powell, Arizona, where she has stolen her stepfather’s boat, hidden on the lake, and ultimately kidnapped. They race back up to Wild Fire Canyon to a (I know, it’s cliched, but true) thrilling climax.

Because McKinzie is a climber himself, the book is sprinkled with jargon, tips, and general information. Anton’s character - true to the nature of the climber - has a beastly dog who hovers at the base of routes. He sees every wall as an opportunity to climb up, and has very little fear - a benefit of the confidence the climbing instills. Maybe it’s because I climb already, but the book makes me want to get a dog and go loll about on the rocks for a day or two...excluding the part about the murder and kidnapping, of course.

I find myself in the very nice spot of having found a series long after the author began it so that I can read every book without the immediate fear of running out of them. I look forward to it.



I'm currently reading Point of Law, which I thought was the first in the series, but is actually the second and a prequel. So I'm out of order, but I think I'm ok with it. I'm about halfway through. Review forthcoming.
Related Posts with Thumbnails