Wednesday, July 3, 2019

A book review...

Casey Dorman is back in his wheelhouse with The Oedipus Murders. Dorman is to psychological mysteries what John Grisham is to legal thrillers, and he is nearly as prolific. The book will be released by Amazon in September. In the meantime, you can preorder at
Orange County, California, is the setting for The Oedipus Murders. Dorman describes the setting and his characters with impeccable detail. Dr. George Farquhar is a practitioner of Freudian psychotherapy. After a twenty-year lapse, he is once again experiencing fugue states—periods of cognitive dissociation, lasting minutes or hours—in which he cannot recall where he’s been or what he’s done. He takes on a patient, Lucas Bonaventure, seeking help under suspicious circumstances. Bonaventure’s wife Regina has gone missing and is found murdered. Farquhar discovers her body on his own property. 
George and Lucas both emerge as suspects. Is Lucas seeing Dr. Farquhar to establish a diminished capacity defense? Or, did Farquhar murder Regina Bonaventure during a fugue state? The story unfolds through the eyes of several well-crafted characters: veteran detective Abe Reynolds; Susan Lin, a young psychologist assisting the police; and Ben Murphy, a legendary retired police chief from Santa Barbara. 
One of my favorites is Madeline, George's wife, whom I think of simply as The Emasculator. Madeline contributes some of the sharpest dialog in the book. For example, George discusses writing a paper analyzing Lucas Bonaventure's psychosis. Madeline replies:
          "Write a paper? Nobody would read it but your group of deluded colleagues in the Analytic Institute. You're practicing in the dark ages, you and the rest of your Analytic Society. I still can't believe people pay you for doing this stuff."
And later:
           "...If there was ever proof that your method doesn't work, you're it. You play all day at being a doctor, and then you come home and carry on juvenile, competitive conversations with me."
Dorman keeps us guessing until the final chapters as George’s anxiety overwhelms him. The Oedipus Murders is well-paced, tightly crafted, and grounded by Dorman’s long career as a psychologist. I’m a big fan of Casey Dorman and this is one of his best. 

Sunday, June 2, 2019

A book review...

Brian M. Biggs has published a book titled, Prove My Soul: Another Side to the Vietnam War. It is a great story, well-told. Biggs presents a unique perspective of his service in Vietnam and the lasting friendships he formed there. He has a gift for description and can put you on the ground in Danang amid the dust, heat, and humidity; or at a family dinner savoring the spices, textures, and flavors of Vietnamese food. And he does it in elegant prose that makes a writer stop and say, “Damn, I wish I wrote that.” Here is an example:

Splashes of cold mist washed over my face as I rode the landing craft across Danang Bay and up the River Han but the sense of anything cold vanished when we docked at Museum Beach where the humidity, like a vacuum, sucked away the air. My sea bag thunked onto the ramp when I stepped out of the boat with thirty other Marines. My T-shirt, utility jacket, face, arms, and crotch were soaked with sweat and the air smelled musty, like festered seaweed, russet and dry and lifeless on a beach.

And another, describing the taste of Mi Quang, a favorite Vietnamese dish:

I dipped my spoon into the broth with my left hand, brought it to my mouth, and swallowed. The nectar flowed over my tongue and its kingdom of sensations stimulated the taste of chicken and pepper and shrimp. My right hand used the dua to shovel in a cluster of bun noodles, dripping with broth and infused with pork and shrimp and chicken and all those spices.

Biggs tells his story in a unique way, alternating chapters from his service in Vietnam in 1966-67 with chapters from his return visit in 2001. It is not an easy structure to pull off, but the author handles it with skill. The juxtaposition of the chapters is very effective.

There are important lessons in this story. One is the quote Biggs uses to lead into the Epilogue:

Think of no one as “them”
Honor everyone’s Holidays
Imagine other cultures through their poetry and novels
Listen to music you don’t understand –
Dance to it

But the one that resonates for me is the Buddhist philosophy of living in the moment. As one Vietnamese friend puts it, “…your past is gone and your future is not here yet. You must spend your precious time to live with your wonderful reality.” This helps me understand how the people can be warm, welcoming, and forgiving toward U.S. soldiers who fought in what the Vietnamese call the “American War.”

There are many moving moments in Biggs’s story, and a misunderstanding that is not resolved until the final pages. Prove My Soul made me laugh and cry and learn. Highly recommended!