Swan Peak

[Amazon Link]

Amazon helpfully informs me that I bought this with a Christmas gift card on December 26, 2008. So I'm slightly less than 4.5 years behind in reading James Lee Burke novels. Got to pick up the pace!

Burke's hero, Dave Robicheaux, has taken a long overdue break from his beloved Louisiana, which is struggling to recover from Katrina. He, his wife Molly, and good friend Clete Purcel are up in Montana, determined to be uninvolved with their usual assortment of bad guys, moral degenerates, and folks down on their luck.

It's nice to wish for things like that, but trouble follows Dave and Clete like a too-loyal dog. They are beset by a strange conflation of circumstances: first, their vacation spot is near the dwellings of the very rich Wellstone brothers. One of whom is married to the former Jamie Sue Stapleton, ex-country singer. Whose former beau, Jimmy Dale Greenwood, has made his own share of mistakes, one of which was defending a hooker from her pimp, who just happened to be the nephew of the meanest judge in Texas. Jimmy Dale escapes from his intolerable imprisonment, but not without making an implacable enemy of guard Troyce Nix, who pursues with bloody vengeance on his mind. But while on the quest, runs into ex-Roller Derby skater, ex-junkie, bosom-tatted, Candace Sweeney. And they develop a complex relationship.

Complicated enough? But then a couple of bodies turn up, murdered in a fashion most gruesome. Local law asks Dave and (reluctantly) Clete to help out. Which sets everyone on a collision course. The course of the plot is somewhat surprising, hearkening back to the first couple of books in the series. Did not see that coming, although I should have: if there's a theme to Burke's work, it's that the past is always returning to haunt everyone.

I can't say enough about the evocative beauty of Burke's writing. And (I've said this before), some TV genius should turn his books into a Justified-style series, where the overall plot plays out over the course of the season.

The Food Police

[Amazon Link]

In my long association with the University Near Here, I had never before used its Interlibrary Loan service to get a book. Guess what? It's easily accomplished online in these days of modern times, and (although it took longer than promised) I was able to check out The Food Police by Jayson Lusk, magically transported from the B. Thomas Golisano Library of Roberts Wesleyan University, Rochester NY. Win!

Lusk is a professor in agricultural economics at Oklahoma State. And he, like many of us of a libertarian bent, is dismayed and outraged by the nannies, blue-noses, and noodges that have taken it upon themselves to alter the diets of the tubby American people. In his sights are NYT food writer Mark Bittman; journalist/activist/Berkeley prof Michael Pollan; NYU prof Marion Nestle; NYC's Mayor Bloomberg; and their ilk.

Lusk is unsparing, showing how his opponents' elitist values are backed up with nothing more than shaky science, bad economics, and (above all) an overweening craving for reshaping the diets of the little (or, considering their waistlines, not-so-little) people. Among the topics considered: locavorism (eating food produced within N miles of your table), organics, "Frankenfood" (genetically modified eats), farm regulations and subsidies, and efforts to impose taxes and onerous regulations on "bad" food.

Lusk's heart is in the right place, and I'm in total agreement with his general thesis. If I had to quibble, it would be with his tone: it's very much preaching to the choir, not likely to persuade anyone who isn't already likely to agree with him.

It's a short book, and you might get some ammunition for your next debate with a "food activist", should you get into that sort of thing.

It's A Disaster

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

It's kind of a slack time at Netflix, not a lot of new good movies coming out on DVD. We zipped through 13 episodes of Kevin Spacey's series House of Cards pretty quickly, and otherwise have been dipping down pretty far into the queue, a lot of older movies that slipped through the cracks, a lot of arty stuff, a lot of low-budget stuff.

Like this movie, It's A Disaster: a low-budget comedy. There are a few actors you may have seen in something else: David Cross, Julia Stiles, America Ferrera. But otherwise, the biggest budget expense might have been the hazmat suit someone shows up in.

Eight folks get together for a periodic brunch in Los Angeles; Tracy (Ms Stiles) is bringing along new boyfriend Glen (Mr. Cross). What ensues is the usual: behind-the-back sniping, warnings not to bring up certain topics with certain people, hidden romantic strife, conversational cul-de-sacs, etc. This is occasionally amusing, because the writers are clever.

But then (see the movie title, folks), it becomes apparent that all is not well in the outside world. First the Internet goes out, then phone service, then electricity. Then the guy in the hazmat suit mentioned above. And the eight sorta-friends have to deal with the fact that their lives are in mortal danger, and there's not a lot they can do about it. Things get a little crazy, and much funnier.

This is not an awful way to spend a Netflix pick.

Evil Dead

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Another useful guide, in case you ever find yourself in a remote cabin in the dark forest with a bunch of your 20-something friends, gathered to wean one of your buddies off of a nasty substance-abuse habit: if you find an ancient book, bound in human skin, written in human blood, amidst a bunch of sacrificial animals, do not start reading it out loud. In fact, maybe you should just get in your car and drive until you find a Holiday Inn or something.

Needless to say, the young folks in this movie do not follow this advice. Instead, they (and their dog) find themselves visited with all sorts of horrors. (MPAA sez: "strong bloody violence and gore" and that's kind of an understatement.)

Jane Levy, who I like as Tessa in the TV show Suburgatory, plays the primary character here, saying and doing things that will not appear on primetime broadcast TV anytime soon. (The rest of the cast are generically pretty actors and actresses who aren't asked to do much besides scream and die.)

It's actually a remake of Sam Raimi's cheapie made in 1981 with Bruce Campbell. I dimly remember seeing it, but the IMDB raters have it a full point better than this effort.

Last Modified 2013-07-28 12:30 PM EDT

Here, There & Everywhere

[Amazon Link]

Readers of National Review will know Jay Nordlinger as one of their Senior Editors; he's also a prolific contributor to their website. (I've long suspected he also has a major hand in the unsigned "The Week" snippets at the front of each dead-tree issue.)

This book (published by "National Review Books" in 2007) is a selection of some of Mr. Nordlinger's essays and articles from the late 1990's and early 2000's. Confession: it was a freebie, in return for some past renewal or contribution, and I probably wouldn't have it otherwise. But it's an interesting and enjoyable read. I suggest small doses: I read it in 20-page chunks over the span of slightly over three weeks. Too much of even a good writer's style can get tedious after a while.

The entries are arranged into broad sections: there is, of course, the meat-and-potatoes political stuff, which, given the timeframe, is more than slightly dated. (There is, for example, no entry for "Obama, Barack" in the index, but dozens for Dubya, the Clintons, Gore, etc.) But it's worth remembering the issues from back then, who were the heroes, and who were the weasels. More often than not, I was reminded of that "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose" thing.

In addition to Mr. Nordlinger's take on politics generally, he has also taken on more special fields as his own. One is the continuing horror of Communist tyranny in Cuba and China; he knows, and keeps track of, the major opponents of the regimes and the abuse that's visited upon them. (He also keeps score on the outrageous American apologists for Castro.) This is important stuff, and nobody covers it as well.

Other topics: golf (with much appreciation for Tiger Woods, which is probably the most dated thing in the book); classical music of all sorts; some personal anecdotes.

All in all, good stuff. I can't recommend you run out and plunk down the $24.95 cover price, but if NR offers it in exchange for renewing your subscription, go for it.