Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Club Dumas, by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

The Club Dumas, by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

Dumas is one of my favorite classic authors; when I saw this novel about an investigator trying to authenticate some handwritten pages from the original manuscript of The Three Musketeers I couldn’t resist. And I was very glad I didn’t—this was a fantastic read! During the course of the book the investigator found himself not only chasing Dumas, but also a hidden book of the occult; in addition to being chased, our hero also found himself pursued by a man that strongly resembles Rochefort, a villain from The Three Musketeers. It isn’t often that I find an historical fiction novel I can’t put down!

The twisty plot was both exciting and intelligent. I love books that don’t talk down to the reader, and this one doesn’t stop to explain much. My favorite example of this was a mysterious ingenue who gave her name as Irene Adler; a throwaway comment that she was the woman that out thought Sherlock Holmes is the only explanation given. Many chapters later, her home address is recorded as 223B Baker Street which causes the protagonist to guffaw. Why he laughs isn’t explained, but bibliophiles will recognize this address as being next door to Homes himself. Another section finds us in a discussion of seventeenth century writers, where the author’s preferences are made very clear. “Verne’s cold, soulless heroes had no place in a discussion of passionate tales of cloak and dagger.” Clearly, Dumas was chosen not only as a plot device, but because he is a favorite of Pérez-Reverte.

One of the most interesting statements was that d’Artagnan is the only French character familiar to the world at large even without most people having reading the book. I’m not sure I agree with this sentiment, as both the Phantom of the Opera and Jean Valjean have made appearances on Broadway and Quasimodo was immortalized by Disney. Plus, an informal survey shows that while the Musketeers are very well known, the names of the famous troupe (or the fact that there are actually four of them) are not. Regardless, this kind of highbrow discussion I found thought-provoking. This is an excellent novel that I recommend to anyone that truly loves books.

First Sentence:
My name is Boris Balkan and I once translated The Charterhouse of Parma.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Strip Poker, by Lisa Lawrence

Strip Poker: An Erotic Thriller, by Lisa Lawrence

I hadn’t read an erotic novel since I was in junior high and there was one being passed around the school. When I saw this in a bargain bin, I thought I’d see if the same naughty thrill exists twenty-five years later. While it was less exciting, less forbidden this time, I still found this an enthralling book. As one character says, “The most underrated sexual organ is the imagination.” This book certainly stimulates... the imagination.

There is plenty of sex here; one or two scenes in each chapter. The episodes are both steamy and widely varied, like separate letters to Penthouse Forum. Stitching together the scenes is a fairly silly plot: a private investigator looking into threats made against members of an underground strip poker game. The rules of the game are vague; instead of money the participants use sexual favors as the stake, but the relative worth isn’t explained which makes the betting hard to follow—especially when players can check after a bet has been placed. Clearly though, an entertaining card game is not the focus of the book, the sex is! This is the first of a series, with the main character set up to apparently be some sort of sexual detective. Sherlock Holmes this isn’t, but I might give the next chapter a shot!

First Sentence:
Stretch limos don’t normally impress me.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Johnny U, by Tom Callahan

Johnny U: The Life and Times of John Unitas, by Tom Callahan

“Big hands and feet. Long arms and legs. As bowlegged as a ranch hand. Somewhat sunken chest. Slightly rounded shoulders.” Not what you would expect for a description of one of the best quarterbacks the NFL has ever seen! Johnny Unitas was known as the Golden Arm and holds the greatest record in the leagues history: 47 consecutive games with a touchdown pass. (For comparison, only Brett Favre has come close to this mark and he was stopped at 36.) He is also famous for claiming only to be a Baltimore Colt; when Irsay moved the franchise to Indianapolis in 1984 Unitas led the way in boycotting the team, going as far as requesting that his statistics be removed from the Indy books.

Written by a sports columnist, this could have easily devolved into a list of facts and records, but instead was much more interesting. Included are interviews with many of U’s teammates and contemporaries, recaps of big games, and because of the nature of the subject, the story of the NFL itself. Callahan has a good sense of humor, too—especially if you are a football fan. “Compared to [Steelers coach in the 1950’s Walter] Kiesling, Woody Hayes at Ohio State had a devout and sentimental attachment to the forward pass.” My kind of wisecrack! While the writing at times is a bit choppy, rapidly jumping between players and anecdotes, overall this was a great biography and a fun read.

First Sentence:
“My father’s name was Leonard Unitas,” states the autobiography of Johnny Unitas, Pro Quarterback, published in 1965 by Grosset and Dunlap.

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