Tuesday, April 4, 2017

My Last Lament: A Novel by James William Brown

My Last Lament: A Novel.  James William Brown. Penguin Publishing Group. April 2017. 352 pp. ISBN #: 9780399583414.

Aliki is a young girl when she sees her father shot during WWII; because of this tragedy she is unable to speak for years.  The only noise she can make is that of a Greek lamenter.  This art is more than just wailing and involves putting on the shoes of the dead person and uttering the dirge poems that rise from that person’s ghostly presence.  It might seem to be a bit of far-fetched nonsense but in this story it’s a vibrant part of Greek culture.   Thereafter, Aliki is taken in by a neighbor, Chrysoula and her son Takis, who become main characters in this tale.

Takis is what we now called mentally challenged.  He becomes irate when anyone pays too much attention to Aliki and then commits horrific acts.  As the war continues, German soldiers come into their Greek town and take over homes, food, and everything Greek.  Chrysoula takes a great risk by hiding two Jews, Sophia and Stelios.  Stelios is a character possessing great culture.  He claims that The Iliad is the only novel one might read as it possesses everything one needs in life.  Aliki and Stelios fall in love. There is a wonderful segment in the story where Stelios teaches his protectors everything there is to know about the art of shadow puppetry.  Stelios teaches them how to write these plays, create the appropriate puppets for each story and then teaches them to act out each drama.  This fills many hours that otherwise would have been dwelt on hunger and fear of exposure. However, their town is about to suffer a terrible blow when the Germans discover Stelios hiding. 

The family escapes and the remainder of the story is about their journey to Crete and the establishment of shadow puppetry performances.  Takis is accused of exposing the family and causing much destruction.  However, Aliki is bound to him and feels responsible for protecting him as his family once took her in.  The truth about each horrific event they experience eventually will come out, shocking the reader and making this an unforgettable story.  Despite the repetitive and disorganized quality of some pages, this is a novel reflecting what average, ordinary Greek and Cretan citizens suffered during and after the terror of the Second World War!  Interesting addition to war and historical fiction!

Where the Dead Lie: A Sebastian St. Cyr Novel #12 by C. S. Harris

Where The Dead Lie: A Sebastian St. Cyr Novel #12. C. S. Harris. Penguin Publishing Group. April 2017. 352 pp. ISBN #: 9780451471192.

It’s 1813 and the tastes of some of the upper class in London, England tend to the propensities of the depraved.  When a young, 15-year-old boy is found dead, a rudimentary investigation finds he has been beaten, tortured, raped and then strangled by his killer.  It also turns out that his younger sister is missing, and Viscount Devlin, or Sebastian St. Cyr, is absolutely horrified.  Viscount Devlin is newly married to Honor and they have a child who is going through a stormy teething period.  However, the deep love and contentment Sebastian feels for them make him even more horrified about the fact that so many children, including this latest murder of Benji Thatcher, have been disappearing.  Sebastian knows that this is so because they are poor and of no concern to any of the middle or upper class.  However, Sebastian also knows he and others like him are determined to stop this child trafficking depleting London of its youth.

As Sebastian begins to investigate, he finds one of his relatives engaged to marry someone of a dubious reputation regarding children or teens. The story is horrifying but because the perpetrators are upper class and the victims are poorer than poor their outcome is ignored. 

An interesting subplot provides more fuel for riveting interest, that which concerns Sebastian’s true origins.  The reader feels compelled to pay attention to details about Sebastian’s background, but the truth of the matter defies one’s best efforts at exploring and predicting the truth.

Another interesting side line involves the high trade of pornographic works of literature, the most famous being by the Marquis de Sade of ill repute.  These books are bound in beautiful cover and considered works of art, while the producers of such works ignore the sordid application that such education leads to eventually.

The investigation behind this mystery goes forward in spite of the denial of many characters and eventually threatens the life of  many prime characters!

All in all, this is a sordid story that enables the lives of many poor children to be saved.   Sebastian is clever, practical and yet also idealistic, believing he can and does make a difference in this old mystery!  Nicely crafted, C. S. Harris!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Sub Rosa: The O.S.S and American Espionage by Stewart Alsop and Thomas Braden

Sub Rosa: The O.S.S. and American Espionage. Stewart Alsop and Thomas Braden. Open Road Media. June 2016. 237 pp. ISBN #: 9781480446014.

The O.S.S. was the spy agency that enabled many of the victories in WWII in Europe and the Far East.  This is the story of how the institution began, its creation by William J. Donovan, its policies and practices.  Learning from the British, Donovan realized what was needed and set about picking prime candidates to supervise the practices of resistance, find and communicate information about planned attacks, and spread propaganda to frequently spread false information that would cause the Germans and Japanese to change their plans of attack.  

A lively account of a certain spy, “Billy,” provides the reader with the mystery behind each mission.  Every spy had certain reasons for his or her total dedication to the cause and Billy was no different.  Without giving away the entire story, suffice to say that at certain times, leaders were uncertain as to whether Billy spied on the right side or even was a double agent.  Communication often faltered or was delayed because of unforeseen circumstances and this was the case with Billy who manages to complete his job and return unscathed and confident, leaving his superiors with an increased understanding about all the obstacles that could and did arise in each delicate circumstance. 

We read about how many of these men and women lost their lives and the realization is stark in learning about the relentless and formidable dangers ever-present for those who succeeded and failed.  The latter are honored as much as those who succeeded.

Many more Operations are described and the OSS was placed under the Army but the records of these notable operations was kept and has provided much material for those carry out similar roles in different conflicts and wars.  More notes are added such as the fact that the information from OSS – 60 per cent to be precise – enabled the eventual invasion of Southern France that led to the end of the war.  The reality is that OSS members were deeply tied to the military events that changed the course of what might have been a German and Japanese takeover of the world.  This weapon of warfare, OSS, is still being evaluated and appreciated in diverse ways. 

Stewart Alsop and Thomas Baden have described a wartime group that was more than worth the money spent, recounted actions that were worthy of decoration but more often were silently allowed to pass into the annals of history but are now being noted for their intelligence in both peace and war.  Nicely done and recommended reading!