Stuff I’ve Been Reading: first post of 2015

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I’m not dead, just lazy enough to appear to be so. Sorry I haven’t kept up with all of you. But I have been reading and here is what I’ve been reading:

The Way of the Knife: The CIA, A Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth by Mark Mazzetti

★★★★✩

A fascinating look at the CIA and it’s shift in orientation from a straightforward intelligence agency to a paramilitary outfit running its own ops. During the Cold War the CIA took its cue from the OSS, running all kinds of crazy stuff, but it sort of took it down a few notches from the ’70s on. After 9/11 it took a more operational role, harkening back to the OSS days. Also of note is the shift of the Defense Department into the intelligence game, running it’s own networks of soldier-spies.

Mark Mazzetti does a great job documenting the recent history of the CIA, which, of course, is no easy task since, you know, this is Secret Squirrel stuff. Published in 2013, it is fairly up-to-date, which is important because if you look at world events since the year 2000 this stuff changes quickly. Particularly of interest was the CIA’s changing relationship with Pakistan, which, considering we caught Osama bin Laden in Pakistan is kinda weird.

Full of colorful characters, interesting insights and real-life spy drama, The Way of the Knife is as exciting as any spy novel. It’s too bad that…

The Last Man (Mitch Rapp #13) by Vince Flynn

★★✩✩✩

…was not. After reading Mazzetti’s book I was still on a spy kick, so looked to Vince Flynn‘s series featuring terrorist hunter, tough guy and generally angry man Mitch Rapp. I’ve read a couple in the series and they are decent, quick reads, but after a couple of them I think the appeal is waning. I mean, I really like the idea of Mitch Rapp, a loose-cannon-who-doesn’t-play-by-the-rules and his relentless pursuit of terr’ists at any cost. Also I find it notable and refreshing that Flynn has avoided becoming a right wing nut, something that his peers (*cough cough* Brad Thor *cough cough*) are wont to do. So kudos to Flynn for that.

Unfortunately, after reading three novels, Rapp becomes less and less convincing as an effective covert operative. I mean, he’s just so angry and reckless that he loses his head and frequently goes off the res. I know, I get that he’s a loose cannon, but come on. Going nuts has consequences. Also, I think Flynn falls back on certain plot devices too frequently. Specifically, in every novel I’ve read someone big gets captured by the bad guys and they have to be recovered because they know stuff, man. Lastly (and I sort of hate to say this about any author), I just don’t find Flynn to be a very good writer. I mean, his writing is kinda bad. Don’t get me wrong, it’s serviceable, it just lacks finesse.

Before you Flynn fans start up fanfic in which Rapp hunts me down, I didn’t find The Last Man all that bad. Flynn does have a talent for creating memorable and sympathetic supporting characters. Also, Flynn seems to do some very good research on foreign intelligence services (in this case Pakistan’s ISI).

You probably know that Flynn passed away in 2013 from cancer and he was far too young for that. I think I read somewhere that the Mitch Rapp series will be continued by another writer. Anyhow, I didn’t find The Last Man to be very good, but it was an okay, quick read (I finished it, at least) and I’d still be willing to check out the others in the Mitch Rapp series.

Then came…
The Inhumans: By Right of Birth by Ann Nocenti, Bret Blevins, et al.

★★★★✩

This volume collects Marvel Graphic Novel: The Inhumans and the Marvel king-sized special Inhumans: The Untold Saga. To be honest, I never really knew much about the The Inhumans, but, as a bonus entries, from The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe are included to to fill you in! A great blast from the past for these old-skool Marvel characters.

And somewhere along the line I tried to read…

The Equalizer by Michael Sloan

★✬✩✩✩

…but man, oh, man. I just couldn’t finish it. Bear in mind, I was a huge fan of the show with Edward Woodward as retired spy Robert McCall. Author Michael Sloan, as I understand it, was one of the creators of the original TV show and wrote this to coincide with The Equalizer motion picture starring Denzel Washington. I haven’t seen the film, but the trailers looked pretty cool and I think Denzel Washington would make an interesting McCall with a more “everyman” take. So I was eager to get my mitts on this but, geez, I just couldn’t finish it.

The Equalizer was so boring, the writing filled with such inconsequential detail and trivialities. It would just wear me out after a few pages. And a day in the life of Robert McCall seems highly improbable. Go out to a cafe. See a pimp turning out his ho on the way. Beat up pimp. Go to cafe. Waitress notes McCalls mysteriousness. McCall makes a few cryptic remarks. Waitress notes that McCall must be lonely. McCall plays the noble loner card. All the neighborhood shopkeepers love McCall and try to give him extra stuff, which he, of course, turns down. Goes to his job as a bartender where he is again the mysterious loner with a quiet nobility who is also kind of attractive for being an older guy. It was kinda like that. Give me a break.

I quit after about a hundred pages. I don’t know, maybe it got better after that but I wasn’t going to read 486 pages of this stuff to find out. Sloan worked on a great show, but the book? Not so much. 1.5 stars.

Next up, I started on John Sandford‘s Prey series, starring Minneapolis tough guy Lucas Davenport. I picked up a bunch of these for cheap at a library surplus book sale once and that turned out to be a good move since these book are like crack. I can’t stop. So far I’ve read:

Rules of Prey

Shadow Prey

Eyes of Prey

Silent Prey

Winter Prey

Night Prey

and
Mind Prey

And I’m gonna keep on goin’ until I’ve read them all. Fortunately, Sandford appears to still be churning them out, so there’s a lot of fun yet to be had.

I probably don’t need to tell you the premise: Lucas Davenport is a tough-guy cop who’s not afraid to bend the rules–and sometimes break them–to get the badguy. Oh, he’s also a multi-millionaire who earned his fortune by writing role-playing and war-games in his spare time. Yeah, sounds kind of improbable, like a nerd’s (my) daydream, but Sandford makes it work. And despite the fact that Davenport’s nemeses in each novel are truly vile monsters, there’s no dark and dreary vibe. Davenport has his demons and dark moods, but he gets over them. Also, I love the way cop life is presented, particularly with his buddies Del and Sloan, my favorites, who are hilarious.

Speaking of detectives, I’ve just seen the show True Detective and seeing as how this is Valentine’s Day, here are some words of romantic wisdom from Rust Cohle:

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