When I started this blog I tried to review a book or two a month, I called it Thriller Thursday. Remember that? Go on, click on the label, you'll see.
Well guess what? It's Thursday! Only now I'm doing something different in that I wanted to let you know about a non-fiction book I just read. In truth, it might just be the best non-fiction book I've ever read. Seriously.
It's called: DEAD WAKE, The Last Crossing Of The Lusitania, by Erik Larson. Here's a cute girl holding my copy:
The Lusitania is one of those things we learn about in history, and vaguely connect it to America's entrance into WW1. But what makes this book so incredible is that Larson tells the story from ground-level, from the perspectives of those involved. Sure, world events are wrapped around those tales but for goodness sake, we even see things from the view of the submarine that sank the ship! Not to mention the Lusitania's captain and numerous passengers and crew.
Anyway, here's the Amazon summary:
"On May 1st, 1915 the Lusitania set sail on its final voyage. That
it was sunk by a German U-boat will be news to few—and Larson’s
challenge is to craft a historical narrative leading up to the
thrilling, if known, conclusion, building anticipation in his readers
along the way. To his credit, he makes the task look easy. Focusing on
the politics of WWI, on nautical craftsmanship and strategy, and on key
players in the eventual attack and sinking of the “fast, comfortable,
and beloved” Lusitania, Larson once again illustrates his gift for seducing us with history and giving it a human face. Dead Wake
puts readers right aboard the famous Cunard liner and keeps them
turning the pages until the book’s final, breathless encounter."
And look, you can go a million places to read reviews of it. I'm posting my own few words because I was so blown away by the book. Only twice in the past few years have I read an entire book in one weekend, and in fact DEAD WAKE took me slightly more than a day.
Not only is it immaculately researched but it reads like an adventure novel. Which, in fact, does it a disservice because it's also emotionally compelling. When I finished reading about the sinking itself, the lives lost and the descriptions of those in the water, the portrayal of that horrible twenty or so minutes, I had to put the book down and walk away.
Only for about ten minutes though, the story is so powerful I had to get back to it.
So if you're looking for an amazing non-fiction read, heck even if you're not, get this book. You won't regret it. Bloody marvelous.
A month after Austin Police Officer Russell Smith was in a near-fatal car
crash on his way home from patrol, I reached out to a community of
people for help.
People who, on an a normal day,
create the kind of mayhem and madness that Officer Smith deals
with on a daily basis. People with evil in their minds, people who deal
out death and destruction to the innocent and guilty, to the young and
the old. Ruthless, murderous people.
People, quite frankly, who possess ginormously loving hearts and incredibly generous spirits.
Oh, let me back a moment and introduce you to Russ. My family had lunch with him and his wife today and he let me take his pic, neck brace and all.
I've had the pleasure of seeing Russ on the job and he's so
professional, so respectful when he deals with members of the public, and
I'm proud to call him a friend and colleague. You guys don't know him,
but trust me when I tell you the world needs more police officers like
Russell Smith, and whether he's back on patrol or behind a desk he'll make a difference to our community.
other thing to know about Russ is that he's an avid reader. Fiction,
non-fiction, history, crime, he loves it all. I found that out over
several ride-outs in his patrol car, and over several meals we've
shared. Right now he's on a Hemmingway kick, just so ya know.
it struck me that a reader who's facing a long lay-off and a lot of
rehab could almost certainly use a few more books. Just a few. So I put out one, solitary appeal on Facebook to see if a writer friend or two might be able
to sign and send a book.
Yeah, well, this happened:
save you having to count, that's fifty-three novels, from more than
twenty writers, readers, reviewers, and my own wonderful publisher,
Seventh Street Books. And that was in just two weeks, I know there are
more on the way. As well as books, people sent get-well cards, a coffee mug, and
several gift cards.
Oh, and a copy of Playboy. Seriously. My friend Steve Weddle has an article published in this issue so he kindly mailed it for the collection. Which will make Russ the first person to say, "I'm reading this for the articles," and not be a big, fat liar.
Now, I have the pleasure of interacting
with my colleagues in the crime fiction community at a conference every
year, and sometimes our paths cross on the book-signing trail. Every
experience has been a wonder, their kindness and generosity has always
blown me away but never more so than in their rush to help Russ Smith.
to you all, my thanks. And to anyone who reads, especially crime
fiction, know that every time you buy a book your are supporting a
wonderful community of kind and generous people. So thanks to you, too.
There's a lot of bad news in the world these days. And I'm sitting in my local library while a storm rages outside, which should portend evil. But not today. Today I loaded three boxes of books into the trunk of a friend's car, books written by other friends.
We had an interesting experience recently that made very real the problem with eye-witness testimony, and shows why I rarely rely on it as a prosecutor unless there's some very good corroborating evidence.
One weekday evening, my son and three friends were in a nearby park (he and the two girls were eleven, and another boy was eight). They encountered two boys who identified themselves as 8th graders at a nearby middle school. Unfortunately, these boys began throwing rocks at the younger kids, and threatening to kill and rape them.
My son is a tough lad but had no desire to stand his ground, so took off running. He fell and did this:
We reported the incident to the police, who can't do very much without an identification of those boys. So on Friday we rendezvous-ed at the elementary school to look at a yearbook from the middle school, to see if the kids could recognize the two boys. Actually, the kids and one parent, who'd gone to look for her daughter in the park and encountered them.
So, four kids and one adult.
They took turns leafing through the yearbook, so as not to influence each other. The photos weren't divided up by year, but by alphabet, so they had to look through several hundred pictures of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders to find the stone-throwers.
How hard could it be?
I'll tell you: very.
By the end of an hour, we had eleven suspects. The identifications varied from fifty percent to eighty percent certainty, but the interesting thing to me (apart from the number eleven) was that we had zero crossover. In other words, none of the five people perusing the book had chosen the same kid.
I'm delighted to be able to show off the cover art for my next Hugo Marston novel, The Paris Librarian. As you can see, it's a little different from the previous Hugo books and I absolutely love it.
And it's especially appropriate that I get to reveal it this week of all weeks, simply because it's:
There are many people in my life who make it possible for me to write, people who have supported me in various ways and allowed me to act and feel like a real author.
Well, thanks to them, that's what I am.
There are the usual suspects, those I thank at every opportunity, like my wife and kids, my parents, my close friends. Folks like Scott Montgomery at BookPeople here in Austin, my agent and the great people at Seventh Street Books (Jill , Dan, and Jon, I'm looking at you...!).
But what about the unusual suspects?
In 2009, I started going to my local library, the Will Hampton Branch of the Austin Public Library system. Here she is:
I went there every weekend and some afternoons, whenever I could, to write The Bookseller. Took me about eight months and all that time I'd stroll in, nod politely to whoever was at the circulation desk, find space at a table, and get on with it. When that novel was done, I started on the sequel at the library as I waited for my agent to find me a publisher.
Then, in October of 2012, the book was published and one of the first things I did was take two copies to the library manager and hand them over.
"This book was written right here," I told him. "Thank you for helping me get it done."
He was delighted, and admitted that they'd wondered a little about the guy who came so regularly and typed so intently. So I made the rounds and introduced myself to the other staff who were there. Most of them have moved on since but I get to know the new folks who come in, and they are always thrilled that a real-life author wrote (so far) seven novels in their library.
And I still do.
The current WIP is also being sweated over and thumped out amid the stacks. The staff are always happy to see me, to stop for a quick chat, but they also respect my time and are plainly hesitant to interrupt -- how perfect is that?
Sometimes I get to give back a little. For example, the Hoover Public Library in Alabama invited me (and half a dozen other authors) to their Southern Voices Festival. Talk about an impressive library and staff... But there I was able to meet with and talk to hundreds of readers, tell them in person why I love (and need) libraries. They even filmed a chat between myself and fellow author Jamie Mason (of Three Graves Full and Monday's Lie fame). Check that out here.
I'm sometimes asked why I write at a library, and there are several reasons. For one thing, I'm surrounded by books, and there's nothing more inspiring than that. I also like the ambient noise of the place, people murmuring and browsing the shelves, the occasional too-loud kid who's excited about this book or that video.
And now, of course, it's also about the people. I still have questions they can answer, usually something like: "Hey, Eric, what do you Americans call such-and-such?" But more than that, I enjoy having friendly and familiar faces around me as I work. (I know I have familiar and friendly faces at home, but they are much smaller and usually need things from me.) Here I am with some of my librarian friends:
The moment I pass through those sliding glass doors a kind of peace settles over me (unless I'm returning an overdue book, then I whistle innocently and point in the opposite direction as I drop it in the return slot).
I'll be back there this Friday, on most Fridays in fact, it's as close to an office as this writer has. But it's not your usual office - the commute is five minutes, the welcome is genuine and warm, the hours are short, and I get a ton done.
So thank you to my friends at the Hampton Library. And thank you to all the librarians out there, you probably have no idea how much we writers need and adore you.
This hasn't been in the news for some reason, but now that the case is over I can publish the transcript of a trial in which presidential candidate Donald Trump played a small role, right here in Austin. This happened when he was campaigning in Texas -- as part of his pro-law enforcement platform he rode out with APD, in Nigel Sector.
About halfway through the evening the officer he was with, Officer Dover, pulled over Christopher Paul Bacon for failing to maintain a single lane (aka weaving). Mr. Bacon took the case to trial, and because Mr. Trump was present he was called as a witness. He testified right after the officer, as the State's second, and final, witness. (The prosecutor was assistant county attorney Gowan Gether, the defense attorney was Susan Yoo.)
Let's begin with how the officer came to pull the defendant over that night. What happened?
I'll tell you what happened. I was there and saw everything. Saw it all, and you better believe I can tell the heck out of what happened that night. The officer was terrific.
Thank you. Please go on.
Oh, I will. See, I was in the police car. Super car, too, had great lights on
the top. Best police car I've ever seen, Officer Ben can drive as fast as he wants. It's
got lights. Sirens. The works. We could drive the wrong way down a street if we wanted, no one would say anything. Anyway, we see this guy, the drunk guy
who's sitting by that horse-faced lawyer over there. He's driving but he's also
drunk, so we arrest him.
OK, but why did you guys pull him over? What was your probable cause for the stop?
Cause. The reason for the stop.
What, are you kidding me? He was drunk. Look at the guy, he's probably drunk now. He looks drunk to me, sitting there like a loser.
I object, Judge, this isn't evidence, it's insults.
Hey, I got evidence. The best evidence. Evidence like you've never seen.
Beyond all absolutely reasonable doubt, that's how good my evidence is. It's terrific.
Then let's hear it.
Be quiet. I bet you paid for his drinks that night, didn't you? In fact, I
bet you're probably hammered right now, too, aren't you? Who else is a drunk gonna hire for a lawyer? Like for like. You're both losers.
Officer, stick to the facts please.
Fine. You want the facts? You better believe I'll show you facts. Big ones. Huge
facts, ones you won't even believe exist until I tell you about them. [Pointing]
Drunk. This guy, while he was driving. Shocking, I don't know what this
country's coming to. But here I am, testifying. My testimony, it's great.
Perhaps we could hear some of the specifics.
You did. I said it. And just for you, so we're clear, I'll say
it again. That guy was drunk while he was driving. Drunk like a skunk,
and believe you me I know my skunks. Especially the ones who are drunk.
Did the officer you were with perform any SFSTs?
Any what, now?
Standardized field sobriety tests.
That's a great question. A fine question. And yes he did. All of
them. He performed all of the tests that we know about, that you're
talking about. Great tests, super ones. Every single test that there is,
those are the ones he did.
Were they passed or failed?
never failed a test in my life. Any test. Never. You can go back and
look, Donald Trump hasn't failed a single test, it's right there you
just have to look. Quite clear.
What about blood or breath? Did the defendant give up any of those?
Are you kidding? I could smell his breath a mile away. No test
needed. Clear and unequivocal. Drunk. That's the problem with policing
these days, people like you expect all their fancy-shmancy scientific
tests when some common sense will do. I'm a businessman,
successful, millionaire businessman. Billionaire, even. I know wasted
when I smell it, even if you don't. That's your problem, right there.
What about a blood test?
What? Of course not. No one's taking his blood. I'm not taking anyone's blood. That's disgusting. Who would do that? Where
are you from that you'd do that? Disgusting. I bet you're not even from
here, are you? In fact, why don't you who us your birth certificate? See, you probably don't have one. Not even born yet.
Err, thank you. I pass the witness. And abandon the case.
Abandon? No, I'm not done, loser. You know what I'm gonna do? When I'm president I'm gonna keep arresting drunks, and make them prosecute themselves. Next one I catch, just you watch. Take him to jail and make him prosecute himself. I'm just saying. Too many of them in this town. Now, I'm sure they're not all bad, some are probably good people. But yeah. Just you watch.
You're excused. Case dismissed.
No it isn't. Does this case look dismissed to you? All these people, this yuge courtroom. I'll tell you this, there's no problem with this case. It's solid. The best evidence, not dismissed. No problem at all.
I'm running for President of the United States of America.
I need to begin with an admission: I had believed that you need to be born on U.S. soil to be eligible but I now know that's not true. If Ted Cruz is eligible, as a Cuban/Canadian/American, I realize that I am, too.
Also, if Ted Cruz is a viable candidate, I can be, too. I mean, seriously.
As a prosecutor I have years of public service under my belt, and have accepted and executed the demands of this office with diligence and determination. Not executed literally, you understand, that's not my job.
As a former journalist I am up-to-date on current events and will be able to step into the White House and know what I'm talking about, be it the Russian invasion of Ukraine (and I know enough not to call it "the Ukraine"), climate change (and I know enough about science to accept this as fact), or the Keystone pipeline (ok, I don't know so much about that one).
As an author I wear tweed jackets and smoke a pipe occasionally. That is the perfect visual image of a President.
As an Englishman I will be able to take tea and play cricket with the English and Indian Prime Ministers. And continue to not take Australia seriously as a nation.
My political platforms:
Healthcare -- single payer system. I say make the Australians pay.
Gay marriage -- my wife would be most upset if I was in one. Kids would be kind of shocked, too. That said, I've noticed no detriment to my own vows or the fabric of society resulting from other people gay-marrying, so I'm all for it.
Military action overseas -- not really working out too well, so I say either (a) pull back the troops and reallocate money to make our own society more equal and just, or (b) invade a sleepy unprepared, and ultimately easy-to-conquer nation. May I suggest New Zealand? I know, you thought I was going to say Australia but that place is full of snakes, spiders, crocodiles, and wombats. And Australians. New Zealand is like the Canada of Australia, but warmer. And not as combative. An easy invasion followed by gentle walks in the sheep meadows. That's some foreign policy for you.
Climate change -- as a former ski instructor I'm a little miffed about this turn of events. And I hate the way sand gets in your sandwiches and crotch at the beach, so don't try and tell me that's a benefit. Consequently, I'm opposed to climate change. Plus, I feel bad for the penguins.
Taxes -- more. Locally and nationally. Although I'm in favor of alternatives like Uber. Oh, wait, you said "taxes" not "taxis." In that case, fewer taxes. And fewer tax dodgings (I'm looking at you, rich people; caveat: if I become rich, I will revisit this policy).
That's enough to get started on.
Oh, you're wondering which party I'm running with, Democrat or Republican. Answer: neither, which tells you that I have more self-respect and dignity than the vast majority of my opponents.