Review: Findo’s Mousetrap

Findo's Mousetrap by Graham Paskett

Findo’s Mousetrap is the debut self-published novel from Graham Paskett. Set across rural Scotland, London and New England, it tells the story of an aristocratic heir, Findo Gask, his childhood friend Andrew McCubbin and Dympna Doyle, an Irish-American radio producer. The titular Mousetrap is the invention of Gask and McCubbin, and is a device capable of using energy, data and historical details to replay significant moments that have taken place throughout history.

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Good Reads: ‘Councilor: A Life at the Edge of History’ by Ted Sorensen

Theodore C. Sorensen, Special Counsel to U.S. ...

An excellent book, and a detailed view into one of the most famous periods of American history, without bravado, bluster or pretension.

Ted Sorensen was President Kennedy‘s speechwriter and one of his closest advisers. Councilor is his autobiography, and one of the most interesting and readable non-fiction books I have ever read.

The book covers Sorensen’s birth in Lincoln Nebraska, through his time in the Kennedy White House and, after the assassination, his work on Robert Kennedy’s campaign as well as his own campaign for the US Senate.

I found it to be an incredibly accessible book, written with clarity and focus – much as one would expect from a speechwriter. Of course, much of the book involves the Kennedy administration, from the early days of campaigning to the “deeply traumatic experience” of the events in Dallas. This is a period of history that has always interested me, since I was curious to know whether or not much of the positive thought towards Kennedy was genuine, or due to his untimely death. This book, with its obvious and understandable appreciation of the man, does not shy away from some of his failings, and reveals that there were times when he disagreed with his staff – as well as acknowledging some of JFK’s more personal mistakes.

The insight that Sorensen provides, along with his reflection on how things could have been done differently, makes the events of Kennedy’s time in office much more understandable, and even if you do not agree with the decisions made, it is much easier to see why and how those choices were made. This, I think, is the key to biographies. Not to excuse or cover up events, but to explain the process that went into them.

In particular, the sections on the Cuban Missile Crisis, McCarthy and Civil Rights are most fascinating. Sorensen recounts the meetings, strategies and different forces that played into the response to Khrushchev – a letter that Sorensen himself wrote – and it is startling to realise just how close the world came to disaster. On McCarthy, there is the admission that while not voting for censure was politically beneficial for Kennedy given his ties to McCarthy and the support he enjoyed from the Irish population in New England, it is described by Sorensen as one of his, and the Presidents failings.

When it comes to Civil Rights, it is clear that there were concerns about pushing too hard, or making decisions that could not be clearly supported, but also a desire to improve the situation. Understanding and learning from previous confrontations in Mississippi meant that the handling of George Wallace in Alabama (allowing him to be photographed outside the school door so that his constituency could see him protest) was done shrewdly and with some care.

These and similar insights into the Kennedy presidency make Councilor a worthy read on their own, but the rest of the story of Ted Sorensen is equally fascinating and provides a balanced and thorough view of historical events, whether they were experienced first hand or happening on the edge of Sorensen’s own life.

Good Reads: Matthew Reilly’s Schofield Series

One of my main concerns with action movies is that they are too concerned with set pieces and CGI, rather than the excitement of the characters in high pressure situations. Those situations are certainly not lacking in the books of Australian author Matthew Reilly.

The series that really grabbed my attention first was the Shane Schofield series – revolving around the central character of Shane “Scarecrow” Schofield, a member of the United States Marine Corps.

The first of Reilly’s Schofield books I read was Ice Station, based in Antarctica. The combination of mysterious technology trapped in ancient ice sheets, evil French and British military forces and some really sea mammals pretty much had me hooked. What I really enjoy about Reilly’s work is that there is never just one thing happening at once. Keeping track of events in a submerged cavern, in the research station where much of the action takes place and also in the States made it such a hard book to put down, because there are never any breaks from important things happening. A willingness to kill off likeable characters also really keeps the reader on their toes.

This high paced style and complex plot continues into the rest of the Schofield series. Area 7 sees Schofield and the survivors of his team on presidential protection duty while visiting military bases in the Utah. On arrival at the top-secret Area 7 base, they are trapped by former General, Charles “Caesar” Russell, and challenged to keep the President’s heart beating, since if it stops a signal will be sent to several nuclear warheads hidden in cities across America. Not only are they pursued by Russell’s personal army, there are also the criminals kept below the base in the chemical weapons testing facility – volunteers who would never see the outside of prison, given the heinous nature of their crimes. International and race relations, politics and the morality of chemical weapons are all tied into the fighting, running and tension.

The third book in the series (my personal favourite), and the last one that I have been able to read, is Scarecrow. A shady group of the richest men in the world, Majestic-12, issue a list of 15 bounties that need to be collected by October 26th. On that list is Shane Schofield, who, along with his team, is chased all over the world by a variety of dangerous and inventive bounty hunters. While trying to find out why he is on the list, as well as attempting to save any of the other 14 names, Schofield is helped by the mysterious Aloysius Knight – who, it is revealed has been hired to keep the Marine alive. For fans of conspiracy theories about business magnates taking over the world or a new world order, this is an excellent book. It also keeps up the Reilly staple of having many of the bad guys being French.

Each of my copies of this series also contains a small interview with the author at the end of the book, and I would also recommend giving these a read – though not until after finishing the action: Spoilers!

I have yet to get hold of a copy of Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves, but it is on my list of must reads. I would also recommend the Jack West Jr series. There will be a Good Reads post about those books coming up in the future.

Good Reads: The Sweet Forever, by George P. Pelecanos

As a big fan of The Wire I thought I might like something by one of the main writers on the show. I loved it.

The Sweet Forever is one of the D.C. Quartet, along with The Big BlowdownKing Suckerman  and Shame The Devil. This is the first of the four that I have read, though I am planning on getting hold of copies of the others as soon as I can. It is actually the third book published out of the group, but I could not tell this until after I had finished it and looked to see what other books were available by the same author. It was not as if I was joining part of the way through a series.

The book follows Marcus Clay and his friend Dmitri Karras through a few days in early 1984, in Washington D.C. Clay is the owner of Real Records, and has just opened a new store in a neighbourhood filled with guns, drugs and failed dreams. In this world we also find Donna Morgan, one of Karras’ former lovers, her current boyfriend Eddie Golden, Tyrell Cleveland and his crew of drug dealers – including the young and hopeful Alan Rogers, and two crooked cops, Richard Murphy and his racist partner, Richard “King” Tutt.

Much like with The Wire, the book moves around in the neighbourhood, each day looking at the different struggles and problems that confront its inhabitants, whether it is young love, corruption, developing a conscience or just trying to earn a living. Given the detail and depth of their lives, it is easy to forget that the events of the books cover only a few days – with the exception of the last couple of chapters, set later in the year.

The backdrop of the NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament, and the performances of Len Bias are a running motif throughout the book, with basketball often being a way of people to relate to each other. That Bias was killed by the same addiction that affects many of the characters adds another layer of tragedy to the end of the book, and shows that drugs can affect anyone, not just the poor.

Given that Pelecanos was responsible for writing the biggest episodes of The Wire, and often wrote the scenes where characters were killed, it is no surprise that there are deaths in the book, and that they aren’t solely reserved for the most unlikable of characters. While it can be a bit frustrating when a character you like gets shot in a corner shop, much as with the TV show, it demonstrates how dangerous the characters lives are.

If you are a fan of crime novels, The Wire (or much of David Simon’s work) then I think that this will really appeal to you. It does not just create a very realistic and wonderfully textured world, but it is also very well paced, with the momentum of the book slowly building to an incredibly dramatic but wonderfully written ending.

I also recommend that you listen to the Grantland Network Hollywood Prospectus Podcast interview with Pelecanos from a couple of months ago.