Truman Capote's In Cold Blood Review

Haunting, chilling, inconceivable, In Cold Blood, thanks to Truman Capote’s creativity, reads like fiction. If the killings hadn’t happened, the book would have required great imagination. Indeed, in this case, the truth is stranger than fiction.

The Clutter Home at Holcomb, Kansas (Photo: Spacini at Wikimedia Common)

Charming, gregarious, streetwise, Richard Eugene Hickock couldn’t empathize; others only existed to satisfy him. He enjoyed food, women and other pleasures in life. He passed bad checks to support his ideal lifestyle. He wanted to rob the Clutters for the same reason and even if he didn’t get the money, he wanted to rape the girl.

Moody, shy, erratic, Perry Edward Smith reacted against imagined slights toward his victims as if he were avenging himself of his father or mother who had abandoned him or of the nuns who had abused him. He never felt comfortable in his skin or in the world and he found solace in his dreams where a yellow bird would save him from his abusers. He agreed to rob the Clutters so he could get enough money to go to Mexico and hunt for treasures. He could be sentimental as when he prevented Hickock from raping the girl but he was the one who slashed Herbert Clutter’s throat. Not because there was no safe or money, but just from impulse that he seemed unable to control.

Lansing Correctional Facilities (Formerly Kansas State Penitentiary) (Photo: Americasroof at Wikimedia Common)

Together, these two criminals slaughtered the Clutter family for less than fifty dollars and a radio. They changed the lives of the Clutters’ relatives, friends and acquaintances, and shocked the nation. Cold-blooded they were indeed.

Truman Capote (Photo: Eric Koch / Anefo; Nationaal Archief)

Capote presented the events surrounding the killings with such details that we might wonder whether we’re indeed reading fiction. But these details impress upon our minds the brutality of the crime and the criminals’ lives on the fringes. Capote profiled these criminals’ backgrounds and thoughts with such clarity that we could only marvel at these twisted minds. From the tragedy of the Clutter family, Capote has created an American classic.

Wittgenstein

Ludwig Wittgenstein turns philosophy from searching for knowledge of reality to exposing and challenging the shared presuppositions of the disputing parties, particularly the problems of language. To him, philosophical problems arise through the difficulties and misleading features of language. And the purpose of philosophy is to find those conceptual confusions in language and clarify them. The philosophical problem will then dissolve.

For Descartes, the I in “I think therefore I am” refers to the mind. But Wittgenstein attacks this Cartesian idea of mind-body duality. For him, neither the mind nor the body experiences pain, but the entire person. Our thoughts and feelings are logically connected to our behaviors and therefore behaviors provide the logical criteria for saying a person is thinking or feeling such and such.

By rejecting the mind-body duality, he also questions the private ownership of experiences. For example, he considers the phrase “I have a pain” problematic. Being in pain is a condition of the suffering person and she does not own it as she would a pen.

"The limits of my language means the limits of my world." Ludwig Wittgenstein

He exposes the language-game, where “I have a pain” becomes a description like “I have a pen.” And he points out that the statement is an expression (the person proclaiming his condition) rather than a description (the person describing his characteristic).


This book glimpses at some of Wittgenstein’s basic ideas. But to understand his method (the slightly Zen-flavored thought experiments), we have to delve into his works.

"Having an enemy is important not only to define our identity but also to provide us with an obstacle against which to measure our system of values and, in seeking to overcome it, to demonstrate our own worth. So when there is no enemy, we have to invent one."

Photo source: Ufficio Stampa Università Mediterranea di Reggio Calabria

Umberto Eco, Inventing the Enemy

Noam Chomsky’s Language and Thought

In the Anshen lecture, Noam Chomsky’s lays out his basic thoughts and concept on linguistics. For him, language isn’t communal. For example, a lay person’s conception of water is different from that of a chemist. Language is an agent’s perspective on the things of the world, rather than a reference to them. A many-to-one mapping of representations or symbols to an object. As such, he believes that we should focus on syntax rather then semantics to understand the nature of language. “In the study of language, there is new understanding of the computational systems of the mind/brain, including those commonly called ‘phonetic’ or ‘semantic,’ though in fact, all are ‘syntactic’ in the broader sense that they have to do with mental representations.”

"Chomsky" by Duncan Rawlinson - http://flickr.com/photos/thelastminute/97182354/in/set-72057594061270615/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chomsky.jpg#/media/File:Chomsky.jpg

In the language faculty, “the cognitive system stores information that is accessed by the performance systems, which use for articulation, interpretation, expression of thought, asking questions, referring, and so on.” For Chomsky, the linguist should identify the principles of languages underlying grammatical constructs, principles that may be reduced to more general ones. And we can learn from those principles and construct systems based on them.

This lecture introduces Chomsky’s thoughts and concepts and I recommend it to anyone who wants to dig into linguistics.

Podcast of Black-Naped Oriole in Hokkaido Snow

For those of you who are interested, the podcast of Black-Naped Oriole in Hokkaido Snow is available at Pilcrow & Dagger. Enjoy.

Mikhail Bulgakov's Novel: The Master and Margarita


Woland (Satan) and his crew come to 1930s Moscow and wrecks havoc on the city, targeting the MASSOLIT (Moscow Association of Writers) and the Variety Theater. He enlists Margarita as hostess of his Grand Ball. But her only wish is to find her lover, the Master, who wrote about Pontius Pilate’s trial of Yeshua Ha-Notsri and whom the secret police has taken away.

The Master and Margarita is a slapstick comedy worthy of Albert and Costello, but also a social satire that targets not only the artistic establishments under the Soviet Union but also of our entire modern society. Woland (Satan) comes to Moscow to punish Berlioz, Likhodeyev and other literary and artistic figures for their greed and cruelty. The Master wrote about the meeting between Pontius Pilate and Yeshua Ha-Notsri to seek spirituality amid the Marxist materialist culture but ends up in jail and then the lunatic asylum.

The Master and Margarita is about good and evil, where one evil overcomes another, but is also about love beyond life. Even when Margarita wasn’t sure whether the Master was dead or alive, she devoted herself to him. And in the end, they both die from the poison wine, but their spirits spend eternity together in limbo, eternal love in the wasteland of existence.

The Master and Margarita is magical realism but also a grim depiction of life where the wicked is punished by a greater evil. We are amused when Woland punishes Berlioz and his colleagues, but we couldn’t find light amid the darkness.

Mikhail Bulgakov

We may laugh at the absurdities that befall Belioz and his friends; we may tremble at the ways Woland and his gang punish the wicked; we may lament that Ivan gives up writing poetry; we may shed tears when the Master and Margarita die and we may cheer when they can spend eternity together. We can read The Master and Margarita at many different levels and can reflect on the starkness in our modern society but at the same time we can enjoy the amusing and moving story.

Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum

Casaubon, Belbo and Diotellevi become bore with reading occultist manuscripts, and decided to connect various documents to create the Plan, a Knights Templar conspiracy to take over the world. According to the Plan, the Templars have found the Telluric Current’s source, the center of earth’s energy, and they partitioned a map of its location into six pieces. When placed under Foucault’s Pendulum in Paris’s Conservatory at a specific time, the intersection of the pendulum’s arc and a light beam would reveal the location.


When Belbo disappears and then calls Casaubon for help, the latter realizes the Diabolicals believed in the Plan and kidnapped his friend to find the map. As he searches for his friend, he learns about Belbo was obsessed with a magical moment during his childhood and wanted to relive it helping to create the Plan.

Foucault's Pendulum in Paris

In Foucault’s Pendulum, “the thinking man’s DaVinci Code,” the three friends remake history by manipulating texts and Eco satirizes the search for knowledge through historical documents. In his manipulating and interpreting historical texts, we can see Jorge Luis Borges’s influence, particularly his short story "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius." In this novel, Eco sows the seeds for his later novel The Prague Cemetery, where Simonini forges “historical documents,” particularly the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. To read Foucault’s Pendulum is to journey into the occultist society and to understand the how unreliable historical texts may be.

Foucault’s Pendulum is an Indiana Jones adventure without the snake pits, rolling stones, or Nazi treasure hunters, but with plenty of secret societies and conspiracies. I recommend this novel for the intellectual thrill and for the reflection on how we understand the past through historical documents.

Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We


We came before Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984, and Yevgeny Zamyatin proved himself a master of the dystopian novel so popular today. The novel tells of the protagonist D-503 coming-of-age, becoming more and more aware of his desires, imagination and individuality, until the Operation returns him to the collective.

In We, the One-State removes its citizens’ individuality by assigning alphanumerical designations to them and so it dehumanizes them more than the governments of 1984 and Brave New World their citizens. The mathematical-speak throughout the narrative adds to the sense of alienation. For example, the spaceship is called the Integral. “Integrating the grand equation of the universe: yes. Taming a wild zigzag along a tangent, toward the asymptote, into a straight line: yes.” This is poetic science.

D-503 dreads the square root of –1 because the imaginary number doesn’t relate to any quantity in real life and it symbolizes the imagination, as opposed to facts and analyses that one can grasp and control.

Throughout the journal, D-503 mentions Frederick W Taylor and his Scientific Taylorism in which he applies mathematics to production (ex. linear programming to achieve operation efficiency) and Behaviorism to management (X style of management). The One-State guarantees its citizens’ “happiness” by removing their desires and imaginations but turning them into means of production and cogs in the bureaucratic machine, no longer humans but robots that follow the Table of Hours and repeat the tasks day after day.


Yevgeny Zamyatin reveals to us a possible future where efficiency and precision trump creativity and emotions, a future that haunts us to this day.

Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore

To read Kafka on the Shore is to weave through the malleable boundary between reality and fantasy, to meet philosophical prostitute, talking cats, and characters like Johnny Walker and Colonel Sanders, to dream of the dialectics of Hegal and the continuous time of Bergson converging with the Oedipal complex, to journey into Haruki Murakami’s imagination.

I want to know whether Kafka killed his father, whether the librarian was his mother, and whether he was dreaming when he met his mother. I want to know whether Nakata was just fantasizing that he could talk to cats. But as in Murakami’s other two novels, The Wind Up Bird Chronicle and Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World, reality and dream synthesize into a world that transcends truth or illusion. And Murakami takes us along his wonderland and shows what we too could imagine if we free our minds from the biases, the limits, and the cannots we have accepted as truth.

Reality almost seems sterile when we immerse ourselves in Murakami’s surrealism. And I invite you to dream along with Murakami on a shore far into the sea of imagination where a song’s lyrics echo back into reality.


Book Review of Michael Tanner's Schopenhauer

Michael Tanner in Schopenhauer introduces the philosopher’s idea for readers who may want to read The World as Will and Representation.


Like Kant, Schopenhauer believes that through our senses we can only experience the representation of the world, in Kant’s words, the phenomenal world. But he departs from Kant in his concept of will and willing. For him, willing is the root of all suffering. We seek to satisfy our needs, but once they are met, we become disillusioned and seek to satisfy greater needs and the process never stops. The most common example is that we eat to satisfy our hunger, but having eaten we would feel hungry again. For Schopenhauer this never ending striving and the swing between hope and disillusionment create suffering. His ideas has influenced thinkers like Thomas Mann whose novel The Magic Mountain reflects that search and striving and the resulting suffering and disillusionment.
The World as Will and Representation

For Schopenhauer, the Will, as the summation of individual wills, is a unified cosmic principle under all representations, a mindless urging toward no definite end. And such an idea had influenced thinkers like Hartshorne and Whitehead.

Arthur Schopenhauer

But Schopenhauer not only influenced thinkers, but even more so, artists and perhaps musicians. The ideas of ceaseless striving and the cycle of hope and despair appears to lend expressions to the various arts.

However, as Michaal Tanner points out, Schopenhauer’s thought process is not as rigorous as philosophers like Kant and at times, the philosopher makes claims without leading the reader through the logical links.

 I recommend this book for readers interested in surveying Schopenhauer’s ideas before diving into The World as Will and Representation.

Shakespeare's Hamlet

In Shakespeare's Hamlet, though the prince struggles to answer the ghost’s call to avenge his father, once he has decided to kill Claudius, he doesn't hesitate to eliminate those against him.

The Legend of Amleth

Claudius sends a letter to the King of England through Rosencrantz and Gildenstern to eliminate the Hamlet. When Hamlet discovers the letter, he forges another one, calling on the King of England to kill instead the messengers, his boyhood colleagues. He could just have them jailed, but eliminating them would probably delay the news from reaching Cauldius, giving Hamlet enough time to crush his enemy. And he used the hands of the English king to eliminate his enemy’s lackeys. The Hamlet who forged the letter has evolved from the one questioning whether the ghost was lying to him and he changed from a bystander in royal politics to a key player. The Hamlet at the beginning of the play has disappeared and a more decisive and perhaps ruthless one takes his place. We can only speculate on what he would have done if he has survived. He may have ruled Denmark ruthlessly.

The Grave Digger

But he dies because he lacks a politician’s experience and doesn't anticipate Laertes plotting with Claudius. He should have understood Laertes’s feeling because he was also trying to avenge his father. But perhaps he believed Laertes was too upright to poison him. Yes, he, unlike Claudius who sets up a second offense with the poison wine, lacks a politician’s experience and instinct. And we wonder how Hamlet would have maneuvered Denmark against Fortinbras, and for that matter, England.


Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment Book Review

An idea possesses Raskolnikov. He believes there are supermen, Newton’s and Napoleon’s, who transcend ordinary men and women, who can act without moral constraint to judge evil and levy punishment, and to determine whether he belongs to this superior race, he kills the greedy and usurious pawn-broker. But unlike Napoleon in Austerlitz he doesn't execute his plan coldly and tactically. Rather, he nauseatingly dreams his way into a double murder, the pawnbroker’s sister having returned because he tarried. And, the sight of blood terrifies him to the extend his hands could not stop trembling. He discovers that he isn't upright or courageous, that he could not transcend the law, and that he is just a louse, a member of the inferior class. 


Crime and Punishment showcases Raskolnikov’s contradictory actions and emotions and reveals a split psyche fighting for wholeness. He despises others but dreams about saving the world. After reading his mother’s letter about his sister’s misfortune, he sheds tears but also sneers. He gives the little he has to help the Marmeladovs but then regrets helping them. He kills the pawnbroker to prove an idea but takes her money and valuables. He avoids the head detective Porfiry’s questions in the first interview but in the second falls upon the man. The psychological tensions grasp the reader and move the story forward.


Raskolnikov’s punishment begins not in Siberia after the verdict, but immediately after killing the pawnbroker, his irritability, nervousness, suspicion, delusion, and mania tormenting an already fragile psyche, not allowing him to eat, drink, sleep, work or socialize, and pressing him to hide in his coffin-like apartment trying to curl up under his blanket, feverish and delusional and escape from reality. His conscience torments and implicates him even before the law does so. Only through Sonya’s help and guidance could he find strength to confess his crime.


This novel’s conclusion reveals that Dostoyevsky rejected any social system that tries to replace the jagged path of life with linear reason and save people from their predicament. Although his moral heavy-handedness in Raskolnikov’s repentance and redemption seemed to scar the artistry of the mental battle, Crime and Punishment is psychological novel at its best.

Prayers for the Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston

Prayers for the friends and families of the victims in the South Carolina shooting and for the church where the shooting took place.

Soren Kierkegaard’s Sickness Unto Death

For Kierkegaard, “the self is not the relation (which relates to itself) but the relation’s relating to itself.” From the start, he shifts from a Cartesian or essentialist view of the self to an existentialist one. Whereas for Descartes “self” is a common noun, for Kierkegaard, it is a gerund. And the embedded verb, to relate, points to the dynamics of the self. In this case, relating to itself.


The first despair is that “which is ignorant of being in despair, or the despairing ignorance of having a self and an eternal self.” Similar to the “unexamined life” of Socrates, this is the unexamined self. And for Kierkegaard, this is the most common despair, though the individuals involved aren’t aware of it. In the Christian worldview, “a human being is a synthesis of the infinite and finite,” and therefore the tension between these poles becomes the source of next two types of despair: “wanting in despair to be oneself” and “not wanting in despair to be oneself.”


For Kierkegaard, despair is the sickness unto death, one different from an ordinary sickness that leads to physical death. Within the Christian framework, physical death may be a path toward eternal life and a dying person may hope for the life after. But despair, as the sickness unto death, is when one hopes for death as a resolution, but the person cannot die. Hence, the despair. Such despair presupposes life after death. For the atheistic existentialist, such as Sartre or Camus, death is the ultimate end and creates the despair by nullifying hope and achievement and life.

Faith, the interacting with the “power which established it,” is for Kierkegaard the only way the self can overcome despair.

Kierkegaard contributes to Christianity by reformulating faith as the dynamics between the believer and the “power that established it,” in overcoming the ignorance of a self, and in reintegrating the self with this power so as to resolve the tension between the two. Not longer is faith accepting a set of doctrines and carrying out the rites and rituals of the Church.


And he contributes to our understanding of human beings by modeling the self as the relating to itself and others, rather than as static stuffs: bodies, minds, souls and spirits, etc. So the focus shifts from being to becoming.

James Ellroy's L. A. Confidential

No redemption in James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential

More corrupted cops, conniving DAs, ruthless gangsters, psychopathic killers. Less truth and even less justice in the City of the Angels. Welcome to the world of James Ellroy. More setups, more cover-ups, more fall guys, more hush-hushes. Likeable characters? Not in this novel. Heroes and good guys? Sure, plenty in the news (besides here at Hush-Hush). Just don’t look in the closet or underneath the carpet. Redemption? Only if you’ve been living under a rock. This is La La Land, Hollywood Land, Dream-a-Dreamland.
The main event: Night Owl Shooting, 1824 Cherokee, 6 dead in food locker, gore, mutilations, blood two-feet deep. Spotted: purple ‘48-’50 Merc Coupe outside the shop. Make: three black young men discharging shotguns into the air in Griffith Park. Fall guys for a cover-up.

L.A. City Hall

Lieutenant Detective Ed Exley--ambitious, straight shooter, son of real estate magnate and former police detective--intends to solve the case, his meal ticket up the ladder to captain, then inspector. Eclipse his dead brother: competing with the dead, a sure loss, to seek his father’s approval, the great man who solved the famous Atherson case (hush-hush on the cover up). Never mind Ed faked his heroism during W.W.II to get a medal. Very hush-hush.

Officer Wendell (Bud) White--speaks with his fists, speaks with fists again before speaking with his mouth, watched his father beat his mother to death while chained to a bed, then watched her rot--intends to solve a string of prostitute killings: his obsession, his search for redemption. If only his brain could react before his fists do. Not in this novel, not in Ellroy’s world.

Sergeant Jack Vincennes aka Trashcan Jack--celebrity cop, self-interested, killed an innocent couple while on dope, but hush-hush--investigates the making and distribution of pornography. Sets up the D.A. for a scandal during a campaign so his friend wins the election, in exchange for favors. Feeds dirt to Hush-Hush for sin-sational news (thanks, Jack).

Disneyland

Likeable they aren’t, but colorful and struggling for their souls. And losing. In the end, they go to hell, literally or figuratively. You may want them redeemed, but remember, this is the world of James Ellroy.
All the slurs against blacks, Mexicans and gays, all the blood and gore for realism, they could be too much. Sure, James Ellroy was building a canvass: pornography, prostitution, heroine trafficking, police extortion, political corruption--a dark portrait of the City of Angels in the 50’s. But the excesses can be a turnoff.

What keeps the readers turning the pages? The plot, the plot, the plot. Multiple cases converge, involving the cast of criminals--cops, gangsters, production cast, psychopaths. Main plot and subplots interweave to form a tapestry of crime and sin and corruption and conspiracy. One of the most satisfying plots in a mystery/crime novel, complex enough to keep the reader from dosing.

James Ellroy (Photo: Mark Coggins)

Just too bad about not having a shootout between Ed Exley and Bud White. The quick and the dead. Would’ve been the pivotal scene.

Still, all the details that’s fit to print, in a fast-paced writing style, minimalism to the Nth order. Yes, style, style, style, either you love it or you hate it. Or you love it but hate it. But it fits well with the plot and theme.
And lad, even after Trashcan Jack kicks the bucket and Bud White becomes a cripple, your beloved Captain Dudley Smith is alive and well though he couldn’t become inspector. Containment. Contained. Wink, wink.

Remember, dear reader: you heard it here first, off-the-record, on the Q.T., and very Hush Hush.

Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolution

Thomas Kuhn, through the concept of paradigm shift, has demythologized science as an accumulation of knowledge through smooth progress. That, for Kuhn, is just normal science, the incremental progress within the limits, biases and assumptions of a paradigm. For him, a paradigm is a set of accepted practices within the scientific community, the scientific traditions the scientists have grown up with. For him, “The success of a paradigm… is at the start largely a promise of success discoverable in selected and still incomplete examples. And “Normal science consists in the actualization of that promise.”

Though Thomas Kuhn focused on the Copernican Revolution, for me the Quantum Revolution is a more poignant example of paradigm shift. And the latter, like the former, starts with inexplicable phenomena. When the traditional electromagnetic theory of Maxwell’s Equations couldn't explain black body radiation, Boltzmann and then Plank developed a set of equations with quantized energy levels to explain the phenomena. Later, Niels Bohr formulated the quantized levels of atoms to explain their discrete emissions.



Johannes Kepler                  Isaac Newton

As Kuhn says, “When, in the development of a natural science, an individual or group first produces a synthesis able to attract most of the next generation’s practitioners, the older schools gradually disappear.” In this case, Bohr persuaded his colleagues about the new view and pushed quantum mechanics into the forefront, securing it as the dominant theory in modern physics. But there were oppositions. Even Einstein, who proposed the quantization of light, could not accept the probabilistic nature of matter-energy as described by the Uncertainty Principle. For him, “God does not play dice.”



Max Planck                                 Niels Bohr                  












Albert Einstein

The shift from Newtonian mechanics to quantum mechanics is a shift from a deterministic view of the universe to a probabilistic one, a change of beliefs and values. For Einstein and others, accepting quantum mechanics seemed like returning to the pre-scientific age, where a person, even a scientist, couldn’t quantify and analyze and predict natural events. When the way of doing science changes, so do the tools. Whereas calculus was the mathematical tool of Newtonian mechanics, statistics and transforms, Fourier or others, and the related group theories are those of quantum mechanics. And we know, even outside of science, that using different tools creates different results.



Erwin Schrodinger                Werner Heisenberg              Richard Feynman

For Kuhn, “Paradigms may be prior to, more binding, and more complete than any set of rules for research that could be unequivocally abstracted from them.” So the preferences toward a deterministic worldview and the corresponding tools predisposed scientists to solve those problems with a well-defined solution. Motion under gravitational and electromagnetic forces in the macroscopic world. On the other hand, the preference toward a probabilistic worldview and the corresponding tools predispose scientists to focus on the uncertain boundaries between matter and energy, space and time, position and momentum, and energy and time. And so, “one of the things a scientific community acquires with a paradigm is a criterion for choosing problems that, while the paradigm is taken for granted, can be assumed to have solutions.” Following the Quantum Revolution, scientists developed quantum electrodynamics (QED) and quantum chromodynamics (QCD) through normal science. But when string and other theories begin to emerge, scientists must again reevaluate their models and even more importantly their practices and worldviews.

                                                                 Thomas Kuhn

Through The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, we begin to see scientific progress’s jagged path and appreciate the subjective parts of doing science. And instead of worshiping science, we take on the scientific mindset of observing phenomena and analyzing data and revealing biases and modifying models.

Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men

Choice and destiny at the crossroad?

When Moss comes upon a drug deal gone bad and takes the $2.4 million, he sets in motion a chain of events that neither he nor Sheriff Bell could stop. And the psychopathic killer Chigurh, who follows a universal code of conduct and tries to control every event, believes he is taking the only possible course: to eliminate Moss and retrieve the money. He gives Moss the choice to surrender and die or to fight and risk his wife’s life also. After Moss died, Chigurh arrives to kill his wife Carla Jean. When she persuades him not to kill her, he says he gave his word to Moss that he would kill her. He believes that killing her is the only “justice,” the only destiny for him and for Carla Jean. Except he allows her to pick heads or tails on a coin toss. She picks the wrong side and he kills her. The irony is that a drunk driver runs a red light and smashes the car into Chigurh’s truck and severely injures him. A random event. Neither he nor the driver planned it. Chigurh is one of the most eerie and enigmatic characters in fiction. He retrieves the money and returns it to the drug dealer, taking only a percentage as a fee. Because he believes he is “making things right.”


And Bell, a local sheriff used to helping old women get their cats off the trees, can only watch the events unfold, watch the shootouts in the motels and watch Chigurh kill Moss and then Carla Jean. He realizes the drug deals are beyond him and Chigurh is certainly beyond him and the land that he lives in is changing and he no longer understands it. He feels he is getting old and he quits and retires and spends his time with his wife.

McCarthy’s writing style empowers the novel and pushes No Country for Old Men beyond just a crime drama, a cop and robber story. The bare dialogues sustain the tension and push the plot forward. The barren sentences reflect the harsh Texas-Mexico border and the rugged and relentless characters and the bloody and grim scenes. To create an austere beauty that saddens yet mesmerizes the reader.


The world of No Country for Old Men, like the worlds of McCarthy’s other novels, is harsh and cruel and its inhabitants must struggle to survive, and when they fail they perish. No redemption through courage and heroism. Moss struggled and lost and he lost his life and his wife’s life. Bell retreated and he didn’t lose but didn’t win either. Choice and destiny?

No Country for Old Men is an essential American novel by an essential American writer. And despite the blood and gory, I recommend it as a reflection on our changing times.



James Ellroy's The Big Nowhere

Deputy Danny Upshaw investigates a brutal sex crime and hunts the gay middle-aged killer, not knowing that from the beginning he’s been led to implicate the wrong man. So he could lead the investigation, he agrees to infiltrate a labor union, search out communists and uncover their “un-American activities.” But all he cares about is to find out why a killer was mutilating other gay men.

Zoot Suits

Lieutenant Mal Considine, on the other hand, agrees to work with power-hungry prosecutors, corrupted cops and gangster union bosses and hunt communists only to get promoted and win custody of his adopted son. To work with mob boss Mickey Cohen, Considine enlists “Buzz” Meeks, a less than ethical cop, who only wants the money to retire with his mistress in a place far, far away. Together these men would dig out as much dirt from the communists as possible and help Cohen’s Teamsters replace the rival union in the studios.

LA City Hall

Corrupted cops, manipulative prosecutors, greedy union bosses, bloodthirsty cutthroats, delusional psychopaths, they populate The Big Nowhere, James Ellroy’s novel of greed, power and lust. Besides these colorful characters, the intrigue plot of manipulation and one-upmanship also powers the novel and leads the reader on a journey through the “dark night of the soul.” When we realize the witness was giving Upshaw clues to lead him down the wrong path… When we realize the horrible crimes committed… When we realize Meeks would never get away with stealing Cohen’s mistress… When we realize they’re all going to hell… Ellroy’s noir is not only a delicious crime novel, but also a poignant social commentary. Writing in the language of 1950, Ellroy portrays men and women racing toward hell and a society on the verge of exploding. We can only wonder how much filth a writer is able to expose. Powerful, gritty, and unforgettable. Prepare your stomach for it.

James Ellroy (Photo: Mark Coggins)

Carlos Ruiz Zafón's Mystery Romance: The Shadow of the Wind

On a summer day in 1945, Daniel Sempere’s father took him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. He chose a book called The Shadow of the Wind, which turned out to be the last copy. One night, when a faceless strange asked to buy that copy and he refused, he found out that it was the last copy of the book. And someone had been burning all the books by the same author, Julian Carax. As Daniel probed into the life of the author, he began to uncover secrets that should be kept in the dust of time. He discovered a conspiracy to bury the events of the past. He discovered the love affair between Carax and the beautiful Penelope. And he began to step deeper into danger as the evil Inspector Fumero sought to settle an old score…

The Shadow of the Wind is a historical mystery that takes us into post Civil War Barcelona, where the residents tried to return to a normal life. The intertwining events around Julian Carax draw us into love and lost and regret. Although there is a parallel between the Julian-Penelope and Daniel-Bea love affairs, the former outshone the latter as the sun that of a sparkle. And Fermín is as lovable as Fumero is detestable. A mystery as enjoyable as Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose.


Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time


Mark Haddon, through the protagonist’s obsession with prime numbers, his aversion to people and yellow and brown objects, succeeds in writing from an autistic person’s point of view. The drama around his family unfolds as Christopher, the protagonist, obsessively searches for the dog’s killer and when he finds out what happened to his mother, the “skeletons” in this dysfunctional family overwhelms him. Christopher’s mother left because she couldn’t deal with the drama around him. So he travels to London to look for her.
London Underground ("The Tube")

After he visits her, she argues with her new lover and breaks up with him. So, Christopher remains the central character around his parents’ lives. The dynamics between Christopher and those around him keeps the story moving forward and grips the reader’s interest. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a novel unlike others and through it we begin to appreciate an autistic person’s mindset.