Monthly Archives: April 2015

All Involved by Ryan Gattis

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…this whole entire scene says the same to me as it says to every other knucklehead who ever thought bad thoughts across this whole city: now’s your fucking day, homie. Felicdades, you won the lottery! Go out there and get wild, it says. Come and take what you can, it says. If you’re bad enough, if you’re strong enough, come out and take it. Devil’s night in broad daylight, I call it.

At 3:15pm on April 29, 1992, a Simi Valley jury found the police officers who had beaten the crap out of Rodney King, on what was certainly one of the first viral videos, not guilty. At 6:45pm, as news of the verdict spread, Los Angeles exploded with rage. For most of the next week large swaths of the city burned, almost four thousand buildings, with property damage in excess of a billion dollars. Stores were looted. Dozens died, and when the LA Police Department was unable to stem the violence, the National Guard was called in. In many cases police and security personnel stood around as stores were torched and/or looted, a close-to-home reminder of what US troops in Baghdad had done in 1991 when the locals were making off with sundry public property and untold national treasures. Rioting is messy. Stuff happens. The prolonged unrest, called an uprising by some, was a reaction not only to the jury’s decision, but, for many, to a lifetime of duress.

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Cops beating Rodney King – from the Guardian

Ryan Gattis, who, among other things, is part of a street art project in LA, got considerable insight into what had gone on in 1992 from other members of that group, folks who had been present for the experience. The result is a stunning piece of work, as Guernica was for the Spanish Civil War, so All Involved is for the LA Uprising, a complex, horrifying, moving portrait of a city at war with itself.

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Picasso’s world-famous mural depicts the horrors of the Spanish Civil War

The book is divided into six parts, one for each day of the riot. Each part is sub-divided into two or three chapters, one for each the 17 characters whose tales are told. The primary character in each chapter is presented in first person, and Gattis does an excellent job of preserving their individuality.

Ernesto Vera, a food worker with a sophisticated palate, aspires to opening his own restaurant. Straight arrow. Keeps his nose clean. Is kind to the less fortunate. A good, no, a very good guy. That does not matter to some. What matters is that he is brother to Ray, aka Lil Mosco, who is very much not a very good guy. Ray managed to shoot a woman while trying to kill someone else. Since Ray cannot be found, since direct revenge cannot be taken by the woman’s family, Ernie will have to do. From this spark the fire grows.

Ernie lived with his sixteen-year-old sister, Lupe, and Big Fe, the leader of a local gang. Big Fe is the general, the warlord, and justice for killing Ernie will be meted out. We see each of the players as they wend their way through this six-day-long drama. A bit player here is featured there. The parts connect. We get to see events from several angles. It is like looking at a holographic image. As you change perspective the image shifts. We are shown individual motivations. This event takes place because of a prior event, but the new event results in subsequent ripples. And on it goes.

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Ernie’s Last Ride – from Gattis’s site

The primary media focus for the events concerned black rage at injustice. But the Latino population in 1992 was almost as large as the black population. Gattis focuses primarily on the former community here, in the Los Angeles County city of Lynwood. Add to the problems blacks have with the police the potential for many Hispanics who are in the country illegally to be deported. In The Divide Matt Taibbi offered a pretty detailed look at how the unequal treatment dealt out by the criminal justice system has created a large segment of America that has a lot more in common with the West Bank than it does with Beverly Hills. It is not surprising, that a prolonged violent reaction might take place in response to a dramatic legal slap in the face. But the conflagration of violence offered cover to many with other motivations.

They think it’s sad, some kind of thoughtless, primal rage thing. It’s not. It’s mostly planned and it’s one of three things—grudge, mayhem, or insurance…It’s grudge if one guy doesn’t like the other guy for whatever reason, so he takes advantage of the chaos to do something about it, so even the race stuff, like what the blacks are doing to the Koreans, goes here. It’s mayhem if you’re deliberately setting it for the heck of it, or if you’re trying to cover a crime, or using it as a distraction to draw emergency assistance elsewhere so you can commit a crime somewhere else, which the gangs definitely do…. The last and likeliest, it’s insurance of you’ve got a business in a run-down part of the city and it’s not making as much money as you want but you do have fire insurance and you’ve been paying hefty premiums on that policy for damn near too long and then one day the racist cops get acquitted and all of a sudden up pops the opportunity to torch your own premises and get away with it—all you have to do is blame gangs or looters, so why not?

Wars are fought in the smoke-filled nights, personal, gang-related, mindless-rage-based. Ordnance fills the air like Beirut during the Lebanese civil war, L.A as Walpurgisnacht, with witches and demons of all sorts throwing flames, dousing with accelerant, and casting dark spells. A place where it is not uncommon for firefighters to find bullets on their rigs, where a police escort is needed to keep them from being shot while putting out fires. There are scenes that are reminiscent of Mad Max, as those driving fire-trucks know better than to stop when someone walks into their lane. Any rig that does will come under immediate assault. One attack on firefighters is resonant with the real world attack on Reginald Denny. You are there.

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So how, in all the mayhem, in all the violence, in all the death and destruction can we find some humanity? Gattis may have created a dark portrait of a time and place, but his people are much more than kindling. He takes time with each of his many characters to build, to show where they came from, how they got to where they are, to understand their motivations, their dreams. It is true that for some, all they want is to become even more dangerous than they already are. But there is profound humanity on display as well. A tagger is shown as an artist, a nurse dreams of love, a gang member with CSI skills wonders what else there might be for him in the world. Other gang members connect with old cinema, surprising music, one with his cat, Teeny. There are plenty of pure black hats to go around, but Gattis mixes large dollops of color as well. There are people you can feel for here, and not just the studly Dudley Do-right fireman, or the compassionate nurse. Not all the burned can be healed. Some, as awful as they seem, shouldn’t be. Others might be true citizens if given a chance.

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Ryan Gattis – from his site

Gattis drops in relevant information through various means. Intel on the number of guns in L.A. is truly alarming, or should be. Information on the number of gang members versus the number of police is frightening. Gangs do not come into existence in a vacuum. Where safety is assured, and enforced, where the population feels protected, attended to, respected, gangs cannot flourish. It is when there is inadequate protection that people turn to other forms of self-preservation. The growth of gangs in Los Angeles and other cities is a testament to the failure of law enforcement to do what is needed, and reflects also the failure of political leaders to provide the resources public safety departments need to do their jobs, the failure of leaders to nurture a vision of the future with educational and career opportunities of the legal sort.

There’s a helicopter overhead—looks like Channel 7—shining a light down on us like we’re at the bottom of a deep, dark hole. The people who live around here, they know what that actually feels like. They know how ugly life can get. Everybody else, the people sitting at home, watching this unfold on television, they have no idea. Those are the people shocked by the riots. They can’t comprehend them because they don’t understand the other side. They don’t understand what happens to people with no money who live in a neighborhood where crime is actually a viable career path when there are no other opportunities, and I’m not excusing it or condoning it or saying it can’t be avoided, but I’m saying that’s how it is.

Ryan Gattis has written a masterpiece. A soldier-by soldier, bullet-by-bullet, Molotov-by-Molotov look at a recurring tragedy in American history. You will smell the smoke, feel the heat and get an urge to bolt the doors and slip into some Kevlar. All Involved is one of the hottest books of the year. It is not to be missed.

Review posted – 4/24/15

Publication date – 4/7/2015

======================================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal and Twitter pages and to his transmedia work

There is a bounty of musical links on the author’s site, but you will need to be signed in to spotify to listen. Here are a couple from that list available on youtube:
Ride of the Valkyries
Star Wars – Burning homestead on Tattooine

These were not among the items on the author’s playlist
Disco Inferno
I Love LA

You can see 1:23 of the 12 minute Rodney King tape on George Holliday’s (the guy who shot it) site

The NY Times review by Michiko Kakutani is worth a look

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Darkness the Color of Snow by Thomas Cobb

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I mean how much of any one guy belongs to himself and how much belongs to the team? I mean we’re all free individuals, only we’re not. We can’t just do what we want, I mean, look, I can drive a hundred and ten down the wrong side of the road because I’ve got free will, no? No. Something of me belongs to the world or the country or the town or something. I mean I have to do what’s best for it. I mean I have to. I’m not a hundred percent free. Add that part of myself that is free is that way because of the town or country or whatever.

When rookie cop Ronny Forbert pulls over his old buddies for speeding, it should have just been a pain in the neck. Instead, the leader of the pack, well past inebriated, refuses to accede, struggles to avoid being cuffed, falls into the icy road and winds up a prime sample of road pizza when a speeding vehicle launches him head-first into the back end of his own jeep. The cop did nothing wrong. The road stain created his own demise. Scratch one asshole. Addition by subtraction. Right? Not so fast. Righteousness be damned. There are opportunities to be seized, agendas to be taken care of, and if a decent rookie officer is in danger of being gutted in the process, well, hey, that’s just business, nothing personal.

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Thomas Cobb – from The Examiner

Lydell, New York is a remnant of what once was, an aging rust-belt town with its best days in the rearview. Local manufacturing has left for cheaper pastures, taking with it large volumes of hope.

The mother’s house is a little north of the grandmother’s. That makes it a little more upscale. When he gets there, there’s a car parked in the middle of the front lawn, minus hood and engine, and the shingled house is in need of paint or stain, but the porch isn’t buckled. It’s what passes for upscale in these parts.

Police Chief Gordy Hawkins may be a bit of a relic as well. Not just for being a prime candidate for retirement, but for maintaining some sense of honor, decency and community in a world of me-ism and values that do not look past the next quarter. He had brought Forbert in to the force, rescuing him from a youthful wrong turn, and maintains a fatherly connection to the young man. Chief Gordy is an extremely engaging character. I was very much reminded of Robert Taylor as Longmire, or why not double down with Jeff Bridges?

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Martin Glendenning, president of the town council, a lawyer, and as oily a character as you are likely to encounter, is a different sort. Police? We doan need no steenking police. He has been trying to get rid of the local PD for some time, and turn over policing responsibilities to the state. He worships at the altar of tax cuts, and not having too much local police authority around, poking into his questionable business dealings would be a lovely part of that.

“We’ve become the enemy,” Pete says. “They resent that our service isn’t free. They don’t see what we do for them. They only see that they have to pay us. We’re so far below cable TV and Internet porn, they can’t even see us anymore.”
“There’s a whole new ideology that government, in any form, is an unnecessary evil,” Gordy says. “There’s nothing that’s looked at without suspicion. Used to be, everyone kind of pulled together. Now it’s everyone pulling in separate directions.

The story of Officer Forbert’s travails, particularly his growing self-doubt, and the portrait Thomas Cobb paints of this small town, are compelling in and of themselves.

Cobb, the author of Crazy Heart among other works, knows how to make characters real, knows how to make you feel for them, and knows how to portray place. This is a very moving tale. He is most at home writing about his beloved southwest and has great affection for the cowboy. It is not hard to see in Darkness… a small town sheriff up against the corrupt eastern bankers, particularly when the baddies employ local thugs to do some of their dastardly deeds. But the location speaks to a more contemporary form of conflict.

The larger element here is Lydell as a microcosm of the nation and the time, the conflict between individual wants and civic, communal responsibility. How do communities respond to tough times? Where does community end and the individual begin? Cobb is not offering solutions to what ails. He has written a story about how an unfortunate event is twisted by the unscrupulous, vain and greedy to serve their own ends, to the detriment of the rest of us. He offers praise of honor, seeing clearly that the values of a bygone age are threatened by the new age of self. Chief Gordy is a beacon of light in a bleak landscape, a true hero in place where winter has already arrived.

Review posted – 4/17/2015

Publication date – 8/18/2015

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal and FB pages

A short story by Cobb – I’ll Never Get out of This World Alice

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The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

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I’d taken enormous risks in the past two weeks, and I was lucky to have gotten away with them. But now I was done. It was over. I would live a quiet life and make sure that no one could hurt me again. I would continue to survive, knowing, as I’d known that night in the meadow, the stars pouring their light down on me, that I was special, that I was born with a different kind of morality. The morality of an animal—of a crow or a fox or an owl—and not of a normal human being.

Peter Swanson, author of The Girl with a Clock for a Heart, has a twisted mind, not that there’s anything wrong with that. He seems to think in curves, bends, dips and sudden, hairpin turns. The feeling is a bit akin to being here, or maybe here. The sudden changes in direction may generate a bit of screaming, but it’s all good.

It starts with a nod to, well, a bit more of a full body embrace of, Strangers on a Train, a 1950 psychological thriller by Patricia Highsmith, in which two men who meet while traveling get to sharing their troubles and decide that permanently eliminating each other’s problems might be the perfect solution. Hitchcock made a beautiful translation of the book to film in 1951. Swanson is a big fan of both Highsmith and Hitchcock.

I like the idea of sudden change. That you or me or anyone could go out to a bar one evening, and the random stranger who sits down beside you changes your life forever. It’s actually something that Hitchcock liked a lot himself. Most of his protagonists are accidental ones, just ordinary people who wind up in extraordinary circumstances.

In his version, Ted Severson a wealthy corporate raider (formerly a dot.com millionaire sort), at a Heathrow bar pre-flight, is approached by Lily, a lovely young thing. They strike up a conversation, and, as strangers might be better able to manage than people who actually know each other, (a theory titled The Rules of Airport Bars) they agree to tell each other the whole truth, and continue their truth-telling all the way back to Boston. The truth is gonna hurt…someone. Seems that Ted spotted his wife en flagrante with the contractor who was working with her on Ted’s Maine McMansion. Not good.

”How long ago was this?” asked my fellow traveler after I’d told her the story.
“Just over a week.”
She blinked her eyes, and bit at her lower lip. Her eyelids were pale as tissue paper.
“So what are you going to do about it?” she asked.
It was the question I’d been asking myself all week. “What I really want to do is kill her.” I smiled with my gin numbed mouth and attempted a little wink just to give her an opportunity to not believe me, but her face stayed serious. She lifted her reddish eyebrows.”
“I think you should.” She said.

And the game is afoot.

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Peter Swanson

An earlier title for this book was The Lonely Lives of Murderers, which, personally, I prefer. We are treated to multiple narrators, not all of whom are psycho-killers. These serve not only to bear witness to events from diverse perspectives, but to bring in the back story as well, offering a sliver of understanding about how at least one of the psycho killers might have become that way. This is a considerable stylistic switch from Swanson’s previous book, which was written in the third person. It is, however, entirely consistent with the madcap dashings-about of that earlier work. Detective Rebecca James carries over from The Girl With A Clock for a Heart, but that did not seem a significant connection between the two books.

One soft spot of note is that it can sometimes be easy to mistake the voice of one sociopath for another. There could have been more of a tonal difference made between Lily and Miranda’s narration. This is not literature, and makes no bones about it. Swanson considers himself a failed poet, and teases himself a bit in the book by giving Ted an urge to write bawdy limericks. It’s cute. But poetry major or not, he has proven, again, that he can write a wonderful, slick entertainment. No sophomore jinx here. If you are the sort who objects to excessive reliance on the sociopath as a crutch, you may have a point, but then you would probably not be reading this sort of book anyway. Peter Swanson has written a twizzler of a novel, a sweet morsel with surprising and satisfying twists that will, when you are finished, leave you wanting more. It is a gripping read, fun, fast, and furious. The Kind Worth Killing is most definitely a psycho logical thriller worth reading. You might pick this up at an airport or rail terminal or maybe take it along for a day at the beach. You will be glad you had. But while you are sitting at that bar, killing time in a waiting room, maybe lounging under a palm tree or an oceanfront umbrella, be careful who you talk to and what truths you tell.

Review posted – 4/10/15

Publication date – 2/3/2015

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s Tumblr, Twitter and FB pages

Swanson’s web site has a cornucopia of samples of his Hitchcock poems, other poetry, short fiction and non-fiction, and is well worth checking out. Armchair Audience is Swanson’s site for writing on “Books read. Movies seen. TV Watched”

He writes 500 words a day, in the morning, then it is off to his paying gig, as a product manager for a non-profit. Hopefully The Kind Worth Killing will bring in enough scratch that he will have the luxury of writing full time. Early results are encouraging. Foreign book rights have been sold in eleven territories, and a film option has already been bought, by Nick Wechsler, producer of Magic Mike and The Road.

Free download of Strangers on a Train , the book

The film of Strangers on a Train can be seen here. The script was written by Czenzi Ormonde and some up-and-comer named Raymond Chandler, and if it is of interest, you can see the script here

I came across a couple of interviews you might like. Nicola Mira’s interview with Swanson for Thriller Book Journal was the source of Swanson’s comment about sudden change that I included in the review. Another is from the Dead Good site, which, while a Random House property, was not half-bad.. No specific interviewer is identified.

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Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

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The fate of peoples is made like this, two men in small rooms. Forget the coronations, the conclaves of cardinals, the pomp and processions. This is how the world changes: a counter pushed across a table, a pen stroke that alters the force of a phrase, a woman’s sigh as she passes and leaves on the air a trail of orange flower or rose water; her hand pulling close the bed curtain, the discrete sigh of flesh against flesh.

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown…but really, crown-wearers seem to have little difficulty with fabrication. Do they mean lie, as in lying down? I mean I would take it off before going to bed. It might get pretty uncomfortable trying to sleep with that thing still on. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say uneasy “sits the head that wears the crown,” although that creates in my tiny mind an image of Mister Potato head, with legs and feet.

Well, I could not find one with legs but you get the picture.

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His and Hers

How about uneasy stands the head… , but, oh, see Mr Potato head referred above. So I guess we will leave that one alone, as, clearly, it could be worse. In any case, as uneasy as that head might be, it is clearly more dangerous to anyone who has anything at all to do with the head that has the crown on it. Chopped tops are practically bounding down the streets like bulls in Pamplona. Of course there is the attraction of the power that emanates from the golden circlet. It seems to radiate a glow and a hum that attract the dishonest, the rapacious, seducers, flatterers, scoundrels and hypocrites in far greater numbers than the sort of person Diogenes was looking for, and many of them make moth-like crackling noises as they drift in a bit too close.

One struggles to come up with a contemporary point of reference to help us grasp who Cromwell was. I suppose one might consider Thomas Cromwell to be a royal bug-zapper. There are other ways to see him of course. He was one of the greatest political fixers of all time. Think Olivia Pope as, say, Chief of Staff to the President. But whereas the fictional Olivia occasionally manifests the odd scruple, the real-world Thomas appears to have manifested fewer. In a similar vein, I suppose we might see him a consigliere to H8’s Don Corleone, or maybe Tony Soprano. Maybe Kissinger to Nixon?

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Cromwell by Holbein and Mark Rylance as TC – from the Guardian

We meet Thomas as a lad, suffering abuse at the hands and boots, of his drunken father. Thomas is clearly a young man with an elevated spirit and he leaves his bloody home in Putney for a world of adventure and diverse experience. He reappears decades later, the person he had become. I could not help but be reminded of another famous personage who vanished from sight for a couple of decades, only to return from his journeys, possibly abroad, to flash across the pages of history, leaving a very large result. Cromwell was involved in a revolution of a religious sort as well, throwing out the money-changers, but with, perhaps not quite the personal up-side of his predecessor.

He is considered to be one of the most ruthless human beings of his time, in seeing that the king’s word was made flesh. Already married, but wifey does not pop out a male heir? What’s a king to do? Why, twist, turn, beg, borrow, steal, threaten, intimidate, and murder until you get your way. Spoiled children with their own states are fond of such behavior. Of course, to a large extent, one must engage in these forms of feces flinging and head-lopping at one remove, as kings are too proud to be seen with their hands so filled, whether with their own droppings or axe handles. Thus the presence of people like Thomas Cromwell. Thank you, your majesty, I’ll take that now.

Since the Catholic Church was all that stood in the way of Henry VIII getting what he wanted, H8 sought to remove it. Seizing the church’s real estate and other holdings would be a nice bonus. And setting up his non-ecclesiastical self as the head of his own sort-of Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, meant that, in addition to visiting horrors on the RC he would be claiming even more divine rights. Sheesh!

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H8 by Holbein – from Wikimedia — and Damian Lewis – BBC

So, you would expect that in Hilary Mantel’s rollicking tale of Tudor England, Cromwell would be painted in rather dark shades. The author offers something other. Hogwarts DA Masters notwithstanding, the darkest of the dark arts is the power of manipulation. The proper words tossed near the proper ear can wreak devastation no less awful than an armored division. Cromwell is portrayed as a practitioner of 16th century RealPolitik, someone who uses his rapier wit, his power, his capacity for manipulation, his wide knowledge of the world, and his deep intelligence to serve his king. Is he in it mostly for himself? Maybe. Probably, but he is shown in small bites, talking to this one, planting spies, chatting with that one, nuancing everyone within reach to see things his way, the king’s way, and he sees that more direct action is taken when words alone will not do.

Cromwell, both the real one and his fictitious doppelganger, is a pretty interesting guy, rising from modest (and, if Mantel does not mislead, abusive) origins, dashing off to soldier for hire, becoming expert in international trade of various sorts, making very useful friends and connections along the way, becoming a lawyer, and with his contact list and rep for discretion, rising as far as a low-born can rise in Tudor England. I am sure that, had he shown an inclination towards the culinary arts, he might have been considered a Man for All Seasonings. (sorry)

He is our window on the Tudor era. Regardless of the accuracy of the portrayal, as a literary device, Cromwell is ideally placed to allow us a look into many of the machinations of the era. Questionable prophetess, the Holy Maid of London, making life uncomfortable for a wandering king? Cromwell is there. Both to hear her speak and see her burned. Anne Boleyn plotting to get around the Church’s refusal to annul H8’s marriage? Yep, TC is right in the middle. The population being laid waste by a plague sweating disease? He loses family. Cromwell was a real-life Zelig of the era, with a hand in every historical pie.

What motivates Thomas Cromwell? He moves through the novel like an avatar of the author, a witness to the things the author wants us so know, but lacking much of a personality himself. The delightfully acerbic wit he manifests is hardly unique to him in this telling. One might point to his ambition, and there are certain decisions he makes or directions he takes that offer some guidance, but I never really got much of a feel for what really makes Thomas tick. Is Thomas Cromwell Horatio Alger, an exemplar of hard work, smarts and ambition paying off in the end? Is he a model for the notion that power corrupts? Does he really have morals, or merely goals? Is he a religious extremist or a technocrat? In the second volume of her series Mantel points us to Cromwell’s quest for vengeance on all those who had seen to the toppling of his mentor and father figure, the larger-than-life Wolsey. But that is only hinted at in Wolf Hall (I absolutely see Sidney Greenstreet in my tiny mind as Wolsey) That makes a lot of sense, lending a core of cohesion to a sequence of loose scenes, a lot of this-happens-and-then-that.

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Anne Boleyn by unknown and Claire Foy in the role

Well, Thomas is only one element here, albeit the largest. It is the era that Mantel brings to life. It was a time of big change. H8 may be established in our 21st century minds as a solidly placed monarch, but the security of his line was very much in question, thus the freaking out about producing a male heir. The Protestant Reformation was underway and the world was in flux. Plagues…um…plagued Europe and the enlightenment was far in the future.

While this look at the Tudor era is gruesome, enlightening and fun, it also shines a light, as good historical fiction does, on contemporary concerns. Torture? Check. Religious extremism? Check. TC is seen by at least one writer as a Tudor version of ISIS. Privacy concerns? Check. Government abuse of authority? Check. The one percent riding roughshod over the rest of us? Check. National wars for private purposes? Check. Issues of separation of church and state? Check. So, for those of you who have not yet taken on this large novel, and it’s younger siblings, one born, the other gestating, keep an eye out for how the Tudor era contains many of the same conflicts we endure today. Of course one might despair by doing this. Really? We have learned nothing in five hundred years? But one might also see some universality in the human condition, across time and space.

There are many, many characters in Wolf Hall. Mantel has included a nice list of them at the front of the book. I found I needed to refer to it frequently. It can be a bit daunting to keep track of what is going on, or to discern who is talking to whom, particularly when so many of the names are used by multiple characters. Most particularly, there are more Toms here than at a convention of male cats held in a turkey farm, enough Johns to construct a considerable public lavatory, as well as herds of Harries and Henries, Annes, Katherines and Marys, and probably a few more household names that repeat uncomfortably often. You will be needing that chart. That said, realizing that TC is the author’s and thus the readers’ eyes on pretty much everything helps.

There is a very different take here on Thomas More than the one we are accustomed to. A Man For All Seasons presented More as a moralist, one who stuck by his principles in opposing H8’s desire to be rid of wife #1 in favor of wife #2. In this version we are shown a Thomas More who is much more an Ayatollah than a serene wise man, as much a political player as a man of the cloth. He happily sends to the torturer and the executioner those who oppose his views. Mantel shows a bit of sympathy for H8 trying to dismantle an organization that includes such dark prigs.

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Thomas More by Holbein and Anton Lesser in the role

The novel does not tie up neatly. There are two more volumes after all, and those who remember their history, or who, like me, are memory-challenged and need to look such things up, know how it ends, anyway. It is the journey through this often dark age that is the treat. The wit alone would have been enough for me. The feel for the time adds depth.

The novel and it’s younger sib have become the source material for both a BBC miniseries and stage productions in Britain and the USA, and seems to be gathering cultural strength and presence as more branches extend from the Wolf Hall tree. Can the graphic novel and the Barbie Anne Boleyn be far behind? The series from the Beeb has already aired on the east side of the pond, and is scheduled to begin on Easter, April 5, here in the states.

In short, for book with a considerable page count, and covering thirty five years of English and European history, the results of most of which we already know, Wolf Hall is an engrossing read, rich with all-world-large personalities, bristling with sharply barbed wit and intelligence, richly appointed with intrigue and betrayal, red with blood, and great fun to read. There are sections that sag a bit, but keep on, there will be another scene just around the bend that will make you smile and sometimes even laugh out loud. And there are passages that will transport you with their beauty and insight.

BTW, the title, Wolf Hall refers to the residence of the Seymours (the family serving up one of theirs to be counted among the many wives) and is a takeoff on a Latin saying, homo homini lupus est, or ‘man is a wolf to man.’ He is indeed, and what big teeth he has.

Review posted – 4/3/15

Publication date – 4/30/2009

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, Twitter, Google + and FB pages

A nice article from the Telegraph about the historical TC

Another

Fab item by Mantel in the NY Review of Books on how her characters should be played

Interview with Mark Rylance , who plays TC in the BBC production.

He has no doubt there are parallels between Cromwell’s time and our own. “Although we’re not ruled by a sociopathic 14-year-old king, we seem to be ruled by a group of people who are completely in the service of corporations as much as the kings were in the service of the pope before Cromwell and Henry VIII changed the times.”

I included a link in the body of the review, but in case you missed it Dominic Selwood of the Telegraph has a dark view of TC – Thomas Cromwell was the Islamic State of his day

Martin Kettle of the Guardian has a more positive take – Cromwell, the fixers’ fixer: a role model for our times

An article from the NY Times about the upcoming mini-series

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