Three Weeks to Say Goodbye

[Amazon Link]

A non-Joe Pickett novel from C. J. Box. Also (somewhat surprisingly) Mr. Box moves out of his wheelhouse, the great Western outdoors, and tells a tale mostly set in the city (Denver) and mostly indoors.

The plot springboard is one that will set a chill through the spine of any adoptive parent: Jack and Melissa McGuane have had their daughter since birth, nine months previous. Unexpectedly, through a botched adoptions process, the bio-father shows up to demand the child back. Worse, he has the law (and his father, a powerful Federal judge) on his side. Worse, bio-dad is weird and off-putting, in a sociopathic sort of way. And (yes) even worse, he enjoys playing mind games with Jack and Melissa, jerking them around in hopes that he'll relinquish his parental rights.

Bottom line: well, see the title.

Since the psycho has the law on his side, it's not surprising that Jack and Melissa turn to shady, extralegal tactics to prevent the child-snatching. They turn to their longtime friends for assistance: a semi-rogue cop who's overfond of booze and tobacco, and a gay real estate developer. Jack himself is not perfect: he admits to having a volatile temper and occasional violent fantasies. Melissa starts hitting the vodka bottle pretty heavily. And the more they push, their story gets more sordid and bloody. It all serves to put the final outcome very much in doubt.

Coolidge

[Amazon Link]

I very much enjoyed Amity Shlaes' previous book on the Great Depression. This one, a biography of our 30th President, not quite as much, but that's OK.

Coolidge's life (1872-1933) is set against the background of a dynamic period of American history, of course. Growing up in remote Plymouth Notch, Vermont, he attended Amherst College, and settled down in Northampton, Massachusetts, where he became a lawyer and got started in local Republican politics. He held a variety of elected posts in Massachusetts, eventually becoming Governor. His handling of a police strike proved immensely popular, and he got the Vice Presidential spot on the 1920 GOP ticket with Harding. And then became President when scandal-ridden Harding died a couple years later. Elected in his own right in 1924, he chose not to run in 1928, giving way to technocratic Herbie Hoover, who presided over the beginning of the Depression. Coolidge passed away from a sudden heart attack, just a few weeks after FDR came into office in 1933.

Ms. Shlaes lays things out in strict chronological order. This can be a little jarring at times, juxtaposing (for example) a discussion of farm subsidies with a discussion of how Coolidge's wife got on with then-President Harding's wife (not well), then a description of "incoherent and hostile" articles Coolidge wrote for a women's magazine,… I know: life is like that, things jump wildly from one thing to another. Still, I would have appreciated a smoother flow.

Coolidge started out as a "progressive" Republican in the Teddy Roosevelt mold, but gradually became the penny-pinching fan of limited government we libertarians hold dear. His efforts to cut spending while cutting tax rates, extracting the US from the fiscal disaster of World War I, were remarkable then and now.

A few random notes:

  • Coolidge's Veep, Charles G. Dawes, was a pretty colorful guy. He (apparently) badly damaged the Coolidge Administration's relationship with the Senate by giving a needlessly fractious inauguration speech in 1925. Shlaes notes that Dawes was also "a gifted musician and had composed a tune, "Melody in A Major," that would later be heard in a popular song. I was disappointed that Ms. Shlaes didn't name it: "It's All in the Game". (Mark Steyn claims, not implausibly, that that could be the "most enduring vice-presidential legacy of all.")

  • Floods. Lots of floods back then. No wonder dams were so popular.

  • I was somewhat surprised by the pro-war fever that preceded WWI. Example: in 1916, the Amherst College student newspaper advocated that the school form "its own battalion" in preparation for conflict, something that other colleges had already done. That sort of thing happening today is unimaginable. Given the immense human and fiscal cost of the war and its dismal results leading to even worse carnage a couple decades later: it's just another item on the list of "when America got it wrong".