Broken Harbor by Tana French read by Stephen Hogan

It takes you by the throat and starts squeezing from line 1. The Irish voice muscles out a story about post-bank crash Ireland: an out of work family living in an Unfinished family development when the money and the economy run out.

And why the economic woes of the Irish always seem so much more desperate than any other English speaking people? And why the Irish family is always already broken, always already crap?

And why the detective assigned to the case is always already bitter, depressed, hateful ….even as he searches for clues on google? Think: one dry, blood-encrusted leather glove pulled off the typing hand…

A gorgeous, wealthy language spread against the background of a greed gutted Ireland and the entire internet community of gun-nut castratos.

Read with: michael Lewis, Maeve Binchy.

Bait by Kenneth Abel read by Frank Muller

When and if you have to describe beauty don’t do it from the front. Do it against the public eye, and against the visual. This is a book not a movie, so listen:

He felt her looking at him, her eyes amused behind those little round glasses like the hippies used to wear, blond hair pulled back into a thick braid… He watched her walk back into the file stacks… her legs taut beneath the faded jeans.”

A description is born from an interested perception, inside a relationship, between people or between a person and a thing. Even a measurement is born of a relationship. The blond hair is pulled back, touched, handled by particular hands. Part of what makes this woman a woman Jack meets behind a counter. She is a counter girl, and eventually that counter is bedded down along with the girl, her thighs, her glasses.

No need to use the brand of the jeans — the jeans are not the characters in this book. The characters are cops and the girls they love or fuck, all kinds of cops, old cops, ex-cops, bent cops, divorced cops, cops behind desks and cops in cars, listening in on smart guys-turned-businessmen they are trying to put away…cops in the small towns of Massachusetts.

A description can also be a back road to the mind.

He watched her as she watched back into Electrical… across to Aisle Four … He’d seen women with shorter hair in Harvard Square, maybe Jamaica Plain, even bald, in recent years… When he was in uniform they’d give him hostile looks, waiting for him to make a comment… He’d just shrugged. No stranger than being a cop, walking the streets in a uniform all summer, 15 pounds of gunbelt dragging at your hip. Harder, maybe. All the stares. Her hair was like the crewcuts they used to give kids, but soft, so you want to run your hand over it…

Not visual, not really: a haircut. Not in a book.

Blood in the Water by Jane Haddam read by David Collacci

A delightful, witty murder mystery about a small-town gated-community studded with the usual sociopathic suspects, albeit wealthy, and gorgeous social commentary. Waldorf Pines is an exclusive ex-1920’s ex-golf-course on which marbled kitchens and bathrooms have been built, bricked over with Tudorish frontage and populated by odd, classless, moneyed characters badly acting out their reality-tv-prototypes.

She’d once thought that all that mattered to them was money, but this wasn’t true. All that mattered to them was to be seen by other people to have money. They had not learned- if they were lucky they would never learn — that money is never enough if that is all you have.

And then there is Gregor Demarkian. A retired FBI officer hired by police departments to help them with their inquiries…..

Watergate by Thomas Mallon read by Joe Barrett

Imagine yourself in every drawing room of mature Washingtonian society, amidst the pouffy hair, the polka dot dresses, the over-used jokes, and the starchy  defensive hawkishishness of 1973. The wives, too, are overused. Pat Nixon is brittle; Dorothy, wife of the ex CIA agent and Watergate burgler E. Howard Hunt, is venomous, and Alice Longworth, the grand dame of political salons, is too old to fail, having known everything and outlived everyone.

Indeed, in a Washington where the only thing that glitters are Mrs. Longworth’s yellow teeth, “like the ruins of the ripples at twilight”, the political plotting is staged as a vague shadow dance of female opinion. Nixon’s confidante, Nixon’s wife, Nixon’s secretary position the dark, vague heavies surrounding the President along their personal moral continuum.

Nixon is, for Alice Longworth, “the darkest of dark horses”, a

…misanthrope in a flesh-presser’s profession, able to succeed from cunning and a talent for denying reality at close range.

For Rose Mary Woods, who never wanted anything but “what Ann Whitman, Ike’s head girl, had once had,” Nixon’s downfall began in the elevator of the Waldorf the morning after the ’68 election.

Riding down to his press conference, the boss had told her that Haldeman would control all access to him after the inauguration. She’d practically seen stars when he said it, ….he never budged from the structure Haldeman had sold him on, a chain of command that made sure he never had to hurt anyone’s feelings at least face-to-face…

This is why by 1972, the White House is

crawling with a second generation of admen and junior executives… good-looking dumb-bunnies like Magruder who provided Richard Nixon with a whole new cloud of insulation, like those little Styrofoam peanuts Rose’s mail-order knick-knacks came packed in.

Ah, Treachery! by Ross Thomas read by Frank Muller

The salad dressing was the only one Partain ever used: “9 parts olive oil, one part red wine vinegar, vinegar soaked salt, ground black pepper and more garlic than most people liked.” Write this down. Ross Thomas’ recipes are rare, legendary and authoritative. As are his stories, his characters, and his dialogue.

‘What did you do in the army for fun when you weren’t soldiering?
‘I read a lot.’
‘What?’
‘European history. When I got to World War I, I always stopped.’
‘Why?’
‘Because I already knew how it would end  in 1945.’
‘That was the end of World War II, not I.’
‘Was it?’

Not only authoritative but establishing authority, establishing themselves as authorities.

When he was soldiering, Edd (“Two-Dees”) was Infantry in Vietnam, then the States, then Germany, then Central America (“…not dangerous for an observer.”).  After 19 years he beat up his superior officer and was discharged for the good of the service without a pension or PX privileges. The loss of PX privileges was annoying.

Now Two-Dees is staying in a condo on Wiltshire Boulevard, where he is observing the pretty daughter of Millicent Altford in between jobs and/or lovers. Ask any political geographer to map out D.C. in L.A, and he’ll draw you the route to the 86 volumes of Who’s Who in Millicent Altford’s study, in a luxury building named after a failed British prime minister.

The very femdom, very wily, not so old political rainmaker Millicent Altford is however hiding out in her own ‘significant money salon’ in the extravagantly elegant wing of the exclusive “Olympia” Hospital a few blocks east of Century City, for which she herself raised the seed money. Gourmet meals  and a French menu every morning.

Partain entered Millicent Altford’s hospital room and found her sitting in an armchair, wearing a smoke-grey silk suit, herlong legs tucked back to the left and crossed at the ankles. On her feet were black suede pumps with two inch heels that matched her purse. Next to her feet was a worn black leather suitcase with silver fittings that looked both old and expensive.

Edd Twodees gets shot just before they’re scheduled to fly from LAX. Millicent buys him something temporary to wear at the airport; he takes off the nice blue suit with the bullet holes and says:

‘What I do with my shirt, tie and coat?’
‘I’ll take care of them.’
He handed them over and watched with dismay as she dropped all three into a nearby trash container.
‘That coat could have been re-woven,’ he said when she returned.
‘I told you; we’ll buy you new stuff in Washington. A nice top coat from Burberry’s, some suits and a couple of jackets and pants from Brooks Brothers or Niemann’s.’
‘You ever been inside a J.C. Penny’s?’
‘Not in 42 years,’ she said.

When she is not giving orders, putting together “soft money” and “bundling”, Millicent Altford gives congressmen lectures in the ancient history of campaign financing.

It was a typical campaign office for the times. One big room, lots of desks, typewriters, ringing phones, hot as hell, noisy… and then there was this 50 year old slob sitting behind one of the desks..and a red headed guy. I tell the slob my name and that I want to help out in the campaign and he tells me that they aren’t hiring…The red head of course is Joey Sizemore. He takes me outside where we catch a cab and head for the old Morrison Hotel that they tore down years ago. We ride up to the 11th floor and go into a big room that has two desks, two phones on each desk, a secretary called Norma who’s at least 60, and nothing else. Joey introduces me to Norma. Tells me that she used to be a senior long distance telephone operator with SouthWestern Bell, uses a key to open a desk drawer and hands me a typewritten list of names with addresses and phone numbers thats about an inch thick. It was the fat cat list. Every Democrat in the country who had an estimated net worth of $100,000 or more.. which would be around a million today… All I had to do was call each name and talk whoever answered into contributing a minimum of $1000 to the Stevenson campaign. Norma had this sexy contralto voice and placed each call person to person working east to west — all operator assisted then, no touch tone, no direct dialing.. ancient times. I asked Sizemore what to say. He said since I was in the ad business I’d think up something. There were almost 2000 names on that list and we called every damn one of ’em. A lot of ’em twice.
‘What was your batting average?’, the congressman asked.
‘.593′ That’s when I learned what makes people give money to politicians.
The congressman smiled: “is it a secret?’
She shook her head, “Fear. And Flattery.”
Still smiling, the congressman said: “What about hope for a better tomorrow?”
“Forget hope,” she said.

 

Escape by Robert Tanenbaum read by Mel Foster

On the sidewalk outside of The Kitchennette on West Broadway, the old men are debating the apologetics of New York Liberals bending over to receive  Islamic sensitivity training.

One famous lawyer takes out the day’s NYTIMES,  which reports that: “The Islamic Society of America is complaining that television shows portray Moslems as ‘the bad guys’. …”

“Oh, please…” moans the former US attorney for the Southern District of New York: “It’s not like we’re at war with Blonde Swedish Catholics. I haven’t noticed any Episcopelian Icelanders becoming suicide bombers and charging into any synagogues….”

“They claim to be Islamic to a man and they are terrorists therefore they are Islamic terrorists….

“Bullshit!”, exclaimed Saul Silverstein, an ex-Marine who survived Io Jima, and then made a fortune in women’s apparel. “Six months after a bunch of terrorists who claim to be acting in the name of Islam murdered a few thousand people in the World Trade Center, Columbia University held a one day in service training center for more than 100 NYC high school teachers… its like we’re apologizing because some of their fellow Moslems declared war on us…. ”

This is The Sons of Liberty Breakfast Club and Girl Watching  Society, which meets to haggle over the politics, the rumours, the news … and of course.. the pretty girls walking past, with and without summer dresses.   This is as good as Paris in the 1920s, except that the intellectuals are lawyers, not artists,   they’re chewing  peach pancakes, not brioches… and they’re probably not smoking.

 

Robert Tanenbaum Malice read by Mel Foster

A girl detective who can speak a thousand languages, with her own personal Saint,  New York City’s District Attorney as her father, and an ex Viet-Cong guerrilla as a nanny — only Robert Tanenbaum (and the City itself) could conjure up the sad, inscrutable Lucy Karp. As always when we step into Karpland we are stepping into the heart of  Law,  which is not only the territory of language, but the inherited traditions of men and the relationships these traditions imply.

Where men talk privately, they sit; where they sit, they eat and drink and cross identities. Over Marlene Chiampi’s kitchen table, we find lawyers, detectives, Indians and journalists…A student of Karp’s comes to him for help in defending a coach who has been debunked by his Association, robbed of the liberty to ply his trade. And as always in a Christian kitchen,  food and tragedy mix. At the end of the second bottle of Chianti, the phone rings with news that Ariadne Stupenegel is injured in the bombing of a restaurant — where she was mixing food and words, food and information, food and secrets.

A Friend From England by Anita Brookner read by Cherie Lunghi

Rest, it seems, is a peculiarly English thing. Restfulness in all its timorous, melancholic glory cushions the indoor lives of Oscar and Dorrie Livingstone, in a peculiarly English way. Not as the accidental sidebar of an otherwise busied existence but as an aspiration, a calling, a rigorous end in itself.  Oscar is

…a bulky soft-voiced man with beautifully cared for hands. Something about him broadcasting the resignation of a schoolboy who has to submit to an inspection before he is allowed to leave the house.

All in all they are a placid wistful couple, resigned and melancholy by themselves and for each other. Well fed, well napped, well sheltered they form a restful destination for the nervous, ambitious, insecure and disinclined Rachel Kennedy who would have liked to see herself in this pink shell of kinship and central heating. Miss Kennedy takes up a remote and impassive alliance with Heather, the passive offspring of this mildly inert, mildly well off couple who accommodates her parents imagination by pretending to manage her own clothing shop in London, a Daisy Miller with short hair, unexcitable and worrisome.

She would glide from virginity to matronhood with no sense of a change in her condition. She would duplicate her mother, succeed her, and no doubt become the center of the family circle in her own home with the full approbation of that mother whom she planned so closely to copy… As she sat there emotionless and smiling in the midst of this agitated assembly,  she looked like the bride in a Breughel painting, as if she were already at her own wedding breakfast.

Rachel Kennedy lives a perfectly balanced and satisfyingly sombre life, too glad to come to rest at the Livingstone family home, to inhabit the functionary role of ‘friend’, to perform the duties of that functionary, like a glum, gloved observer at a greenhouse of rest. Here she studies English life, exacting a micro-analytics of personality and sensibility and mood as meticulous as a clinical formula.

This is where I leave you by Jonathan Tropper performed by Ramon de Ocampo

If you’re Jewish and you have a brother and he’s still married, this is NOT how he will sound after he divorces his goyishe wife who you’ve never liked anyway. Because the person reading this acid-funny tale doesn’t have the nasal force or the resentful irregularity or that specific Jewish brand of ironic despair in the face of public failure that dunks every insult, every complaint, every abusive remark (“This is my brother Judd… Judd is recently cuckolded.”) in borscht-belt tenderness.

When this brother is summoned home to your father’s funeral, he will be driving forward but wishing in reverse.

When people give directions to any home or business in West Covington they use [my parent’s house] as a negative landmark. If you see the big white house then you’ve gone too far. Which is precisely what I’m thinking.

Your sister will have installed a high tech baby monitor in the front hall, so you can all hear the baby screaming in amplified stereo as you eat lunch but

…she doesn’t seem at all inclined to go upstairs and quiet the baby. “We’re letting her cry” she announces, like it’s a movement they’ve joined.

If you’re Jewish, this imaginary brother is sitting shiva in hell, i.e. surrounded by his family, thinking about his divorce from a beautiful woman who he had once been able to make laugh. Once, he’d

read enough Playboy … to know that beautiful women want a man who can make them laugh. Of course what they really meant was a man who can make them laugh after he delivered multiple orgasms on his private jet with his trustee 9 inch cock.

If you’re not Jewish, you already knew this. But you may be interested in this unhappy family’s way of being unhappy. I doubt it.

The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch by Michael Wolff read by Paul Boehmer

“The thing you have to understand and understanding this explains so much about Murdoch’s success is that happy newspaper families are alike and unhappy newspaper families are, well, quite alike too: in the end they all lose their papers. As cautionary tales go you could hardly find a more hothouse example of families gone awry, of genetic dumbing down, of the effect of idiot-son primogenitor, and of the despairing results of idle hands than newspaper families…The Bancrofts are ridiculous.”

The use and abuse of genealogy as evidenced in old world newspaper families told fetchingly, by a bitchy, fact-loving gossip.

Wolff reads Murdoch against his century, against his country, against his father and delivers a kind of King Solomon saga, with the years of degeneration yet to come….