River of Death is not my favorite Alistair MacLean novel but I like it enough to recommend it. I read it not long after that first wave of the Indiana Jones craze. Certainly River of Death has key plot elements that are reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark starring Harrison Ford, such as the Amazon jungle locale, giant snakes and those stinking Nazis. The novel opens in 1945 with some German officers from Wilhelmshaven. Fast forward forty years and John Hamilton is hired by millionaire Joshua Smith to lead his team to an ancient lost civilization. Hamilton and his team will encounter a group of old Nazis who still dream of the Third Reich, which quite naturally makes them unfriendly. The novel has most everything you want in this type of adventure – a city of gold, natives with poison tipped arrows, an anaconda, and a vengeful plot twist that gets tied off perhaps a little too neatly in the end. In many respects this is all typical of MacLean who was the master of the plot twist. There are several groups of characters involved in locating the lost city of gold, and this is where I thought the book became bogged down somewhat with its complicated plot and some bland dialogue. His characters here are not as fully realized as in previous novels, coming across almost as caricatures. And yet I enjoyed it even though as I read it I knew it wasn’t up to the same standard MacLean had set with great books like Where Eagles Dare or The Satan Bug, two of my favorites. Truth is, being an Alistair MacLean fan means that I am predisposed to find merit in anything he published. The 1983 Fawcett Crest paperback shown here has that Indiana Jones look to it which was no mistake by the publisher.
Friday, April 29, 2016
Thursday, April 21, 2016
This 1967 Scholastic paperback appeared during a time when television shows like Star Trek, The Outer Limits and Lost in Space were helping to introduce another generation to science fiction. The cover by Wayne Blickenstaff fit right in to the concept of exploring new worlds, talking machines, and alien adventures. Lester del Rey had established himself as a writer of pulp stories years earlier, and Scholastic was publishing quality reprints or soliciting new novellas to fatten their catalog. The Runaway Robot is a solid story, fondly remembered. As a kid I was mesmerized by it, and as an adult I enjoyed the novel’s intelligent structure and solid writing. The story plays into the set-up from Lost in Space, the adventures of a young boy and his robot friend. Paul, at sixteen years old, was born and raised on Ganymede and learns that his family is about to relocate to earth. Paul and all of those colonists born on Ganymede have long dreamed of going to earth where humanity originated. The problem is Paul won’t be allowed to bring Rex the robot with him. Rex is Paul’s best friend and he can’t imagine living without him. His tribulations are at the heart of this novel, which holds up well. The Runaway Robot is out of print. Lester Del Rey wrote a few really tight “juvenile” thrillers like this one. In other posts I have mentioned the viability of these mid-60s books from Scholastic so I’m adding this title to my list of Scholastic books worthy of a re-discovery.
Thursday, April 14, 2016
John Bingham worked with John le Carré at MI6 during the Cold War and Bingham’s success as a mystery novelist was partially responsible for inspiring le Carré when he later became a novelist himself. Bingham was reportedly the direct inspiration for le Carré’s famous character, George Smiley. I’ve never been much of a le Carré fan although I acknowledge his appeal. Murder Off the Record is a 1960 Dell paperback with a cover painting by Robert A. MaGuire. Bingham writes with a steadfast assurance that propels the action with enough gusto to make it work. Edging dangerously close to the parlor room mysteries of the Victorian era, Bingham manages to avoid clichés although it all seems a bit pretentious at times. There are some clever twists and lively dialogue. Told in the first person by a reporter named David, the tale involves a murderer named Leslie George Arnold Braithwaite. In the ensuing months David unravels the tale of Braithwaite’s life, eventually coming to understand him as a monstrous killer. Bingham lets the suspense build as David goes through his motions. A seeming coincidence might have dire ramifications and so on. Murder Off the Record is solid, suspenseful and satisfying. This is the only book by John Bingham I have ever read. The cover blurb reads: “Beneath her mask of beauty lay a web of violent death.” A key plot twist lies in discovering who precisely that woman is. I wasn’t disappointed and the conclusion ties it off in a stiff-upper lip fashion
Thursday, April 7, 2016
This 2006 hardcover is an indispensable history and overview of Freemasonry, illustrated with 386 plates, most of which are in color. The volume is valuable not only to historians, but to layman interested in learning the craft. The book is sub-titled “Symbols, Secrets, Significance,” although very few secrets are revealed, and they don’t need to be. Everything you need to know is already in plain view, and awaits your discovery. W. Kirk MacNulty is, according to the jacket copy, himself a Freemason for over thirty years. His research for this book was extensive and he views Freemasonry objectively from every possible iteration and angle. I was impressed by the depth of his knowledge and the high quality of his prose. This book is far more than a traditional “coffee-table” hardback. What we are presented with is a fair and dedicated history of the craft. The book is divided into seven sections. The first section traces the origins and influences that may have inspired Freemasonry and the second section offers an historical overview. The third and fourth section cover the various Freemason degrees. The fifth section discusses Freemasonry in our society, and the sixth section tackles the secrets, symbols and rituals. The final section discusses the cultural aspects of Freemasonry, including its prominent historical members. Author W. Kirk MacNulty has written an excellent book that never divulges any blood oath secrets but rather indulges in a public explanation of Freemasonry that helps put the craft into perspective. The positive influence of Freemasons on our culture is far more profound than most people realize, and the illustrations and text of MacNulty’s book are insightful.
Saturday, April 2, 2016
Photo courtesy of Sturm, Ruger & Company
Although this website is primarily devoted to promoting literature and the creative arts, I occasionally indulge in other past-times as you’ve seen with my posts about firearms. I am an avid firearm enthusiast, gun collector and part-time competition shooter. I have two gun cabinets in my home, both packed. My newest firearm is the Ruger American Pistol, .45 caliber automatic. The clip holds ten rounds. The grip is made from hardened nylon. The finish is black, and the overall weight is about 31.5 oz. The length is about eight inches. The case comes with an extra, smaller ergonomic grip and two clips. There is a standard three-dot sight that is adjustable. The interior striker replaces the traditional hammer, which means you had better learn to safely handle the slide mechanism for loading and unloading. A “striker” firing gun means there is no protruding hammer. The “striker” is the part that strikes the cartridge and ignites the interior primer, rather than the traditional exterior cocking hammer. This pistol has the standard knock-down power of a .45 but Ruger’s design and craftsmanship make firing this gun enjoyable. The slide mechanism is smooth, the ejection of the brass is clean. The recoil is what you should expect from a .45. Taking the American Pistol apart, cleaning it, and putting it back together again is a breeze. This is a nice gun to shoot. I’m a fan of Ruger firearms and I think I own at least seven or eight. I use Ruger Vaquero model revolvers in Cowboy Competition shooting. The suggested retail price for the Ruger American is $579.00. Please practice all safety rules when handling a firearm. If you’re interested in firearms please work with a certified instructor for professional training. Buy American.