The Blog's Mission

Wikipedia defines a book review as: “a form of literary criticism in which a book is analyzed based on content, style, and merit. A book review can be a primary source opinion piece, summary review or scholarly review”. My mission is to provide the reader with my thoughts on the author’s work whether it’s good, bad, or ugly. I read all genres of books, so some of the reviews may be on hard to find books, or currently out of print. All of my reviews will also be available on I will write a comment section at the end of each review to provide the reader with some little known facts about the author, or the subject of the book. Every now and then, I’ve had an author email me concerning the reading and reviewing of their work. If an author wants to contact me, you can email me at I would be glad to read, review and comment on any nascent, or experienced writer’s books. If warranted, I like to add a little comedy to accent my reviews, so enjoy!
Thanks, Rick O.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

I, The Jury

Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer transcends toughness in his 1947 debut novel that sets the tone for this vigilante Private Investigator. Hammer’s attitude towards criminals is defined on page sixteen when he says, “They crack down on society and I crack down on them. I shoot them like the mad dogs they are and society drags me to court to explain the whys and wherefores of the extermination.” Is he tough are what? Clint Eastwood’s movie character, Dirty Harry , is close, but no cigar. Sam Spade in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon (1930) is strong, but fair. Philip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep (1939) is resilient, but not a wrongdoer. Basically, Hammer displays a vicious rage against any violent crime. This 190 pound P.I. loves a brutal, vomit inducing stomach punch as much as he loves his sexy secretary, Velda. Although Hammer chooses to take the law into his own hands, he does respect the police, especially his best friend, Captain Pat Chambers of the NYPD Homicide Department. Hammer is very patriotic and an anti-communist. Okay, now you know what makes Mike Hammer tick.

In the opening chapter, Hammer finds out that his World War II Army buddy, Jack Williams, has been killed with a shot to the gut in his apartment. Williams saved Hammer’s life in the war by sacrificing his arm in a fight against a Japanese soldier in the Pacific Ocean Theatre. Hammer swears that the killer will die the same way Jack Williams did. The suspects were all at Jack’s apartment for a party on the night of the murder. Someone came back after the party and shot Jack to death. Why? The murder suspects include Hal Kines (supposedly a medical student), George Kalecki (a ex-bootlegger), the twins, Mary and Esther Bellemy (Mary being a nymphomaniac), Charlotte Manning (a beautiful psychiatrist), and Myrna Devlin (Jack’s fiance). In the ensuing chapters, some of these people will be killed and one is the killer. Now I was fortuitous, because I figured out who the killer was, but I chalk it up to beginners luck. The text and terms was very reflective of the times; such as, the automat (the coin operated eatery), a divan (a couch), a wench (a girl), a fin ( a five dollar bill), dames (ladies), and of course everybody is smoking cigars and cigarettes. This was special reminiscing of the times, but not the racism of the period. The terms “darky” and “colored” are not endearing words. On page 62, Big Sam, a bartender says to Hammer, “Howday, Mistah Hammah. Glad to see yuh. Long time since yuh done been in dis part of town.” Did Spillane have to use that lingo? Unfortunately, it was common for those times. 

The 1920s-1950s produced many detective novels, featuring (other than the above mentioned), Lew Archer in Ross Macdonald’s The Moving Target (1949), Hercule Poirot in Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920), and Nero Wolfe in Rex Stout’s Fer-de-Lance (1934). But none of these P.I’s had Mike Hammer’s unforgiving attitude. It’s best displayed on page 73, when talking to Charlotte Manning, he says, “I got an obsession though.” She says, “You have? I can’t imagine what it is.” Hammer says, “I want a killer. I want to shoot a killer.” There you go, that’s Mike Hammer. This novel was recollective of the times, even though some of the text was chauvinistic. I enjoyed this novel and recommend it to any reader who wants to be a student of the different genres and times in American literature.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Mickey Spillane sold over 225 million copies of his novels, and although his novels were a world away from Ayn Rand’s thoughts (Atlas Shrugged ), they were great fans of each other. Go figure!

Mickey Spillane, as Mike Hammer, courtesy of

Critics were not always nice to Mickey Spillane. According to wikipedia: “ When literary critics had a negative reaction to Spillane's writing, citing the high content of sex and violence, Spillane answered with a few terse comments: "Those big-shot writers could never dig the fact that there are more salted peanuts consumed than caviar... If the public likes you, you're good." Russian-American author Ayn Rand publicly praised Spillane's work at a time when critics were almost uniformly hostile. She considered him an underrated if uneven stylist and found congenial the black-and-white morality of the Hammer stories. She later publicly repudiated what she regarded as the amorality of Spillane's Tiger Mann stories. German painter Markus Lupertz claimed that Spillane's writing influenced his own work, saying that Spillane ranks as one of the major poets of the 20th century. American comic book writer Frank Miller has mentioned Spillane as an influence for his own hard boiled style.” Avant-Garde musician John Zorn composed an album influenced by Spillane’s writing titled 'Spillane’ consisting of three file-card pieces, as well as a work for voice, string quartet and turntables.”

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Winter of our Discontent

The Nobel Prize winning novel (1962) examines this question: Can one take a respite from good morals, do things totally out of character, and then switch back to good? That is the dilemma our protagonist, Ethan Allen Hawley, faces as he struggles to regain past family wealth and prominence. Published in 1961, this was the last novel that John Steinbeck finished. As with most of his novels, he was initially criticized for ‘making a mountain out of a molehill.' Steinbeck stated that he wanted to expose “the moral degeneration of American culture." He was later exonerated when the details of Watergate and Richard Nixon proved his point. This is the writer that also wrote The Grapes of Wrath (1939), displaying capitalism in a negative way and Of Mice and Men (1937), emphasizing man’s inhumanity to one another. If you haven’t read a Steinbeck novel...start with this one.

The novel’s time period is from Easter to the Fourth of July (1960) in the fictional town of Baytown, NY. Steinbeck fashioned this town out of his own hometown of Sag Harbor, NY. We find ex-GI, Ethan Allen Hawley, working as a clerk in Marullo’s Fruit and Fancy Groceries. While Ethan was fighting overseas in World War II, his father lost all the family’s wealth via wild wartime investments. The language of the times is sometimes offensive, such as, Ethan referring to his boss as the guinea, wop, or dago. Two other families of prominence in the novel are heading in different directions. Mr. Baker is the town’s banker and future political power, while Danny Taylor (from a good family) is now the town drunk. Ethan’s wife, Mary (of many cutesy names), has been putting pressure on Ethan to improve the family’s position.

His children, Allen and Mary Ellen, have entered a ‘I love America’ essay contest and also champion for a better life. Mary’s friend, Margie Young- Hunt, has read her fortune cards and states that Ethan is going to be rich. Mr. Baker wants Ethan to start investing in the town, and Ethan’s friend Joey Morphy (a bank teller) informs Ethan how the perfect bank robbery could be done. Ethan learns that Marullo might have come to the USA without papers (thus the term WOP). Can he get the store for himself, if he ‘rats out’ Marullo? Should he follow Mr. Baker’s seemingly wrong and nefarious advice? Are the kids writing their essays on the up and up? Why is Mr. Baker bribing Danny Taylor with booze and what is that paper he wants Danny to sign? Does Margie have a crush on Ethan? Is Ethan contemplating a bank robbery?

Since this is a story of the decline in American morality, there are many flaws in the eight main characters. Ethan is not the only one with morality issues, but he is the only one with a guilty conscious. On page 201, Ethan thinks to himself, "Temporarily I traded a habit of conduct and attitude for comfort and dignity and a cushion of security.” He thinks he can change back to a good guy, since he killed people during the war and didn’t become a murderer when he was discharged. The only shortcoming I found with this novel was that too much was packed into the last 59 pages. If he could have added a hundred pages, or so, the reader would have time to savor the many twist and turns that come at you one after another. The title of this classic comes from William Shakespeare’s Richard III . On page 264, Ethan toasted his son by saying, "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York.” He will think different in a few pages. All in all, this is a marvelous story, so typical of a John Steinbeck novel.

RATING:  5 out of 5 stars

Comment: According to Wikipedia: In 2012 (50 years later), the Nobel Prize opened its archives and it was revealed that Steinbeck was a "compromise choice" among a shortlist consisting of Steinbeck, British authors Robert Graves and Lawrence Durrell, French dramatist Jean Anouilh and Danish author Karen Blixen. The declassified documents showed that he was chosen as the best of a bad lot, "There aren't any obvious candidates for the Nobel prize and the prize committee is in an unenviable situation," wrote committee member Henry Olsson. Although the committee believed Steinbeck's best work was behind him by 1962, committee member Anders Osterling believed the release of his new novel The Winter of our Discontent in 1961 showed that "after some signs of slowing down in recent years, [Steinbeck has] regained his position as a social truth-teller [and is an] authentic realist fully equal to his predecessors Sinclair Lewis and Ernest Hemingway." I find this interesting, but I’m sure there is a unique story behind every Nobel Prize award.

Steinbeck’s first success was Tortilla Flat (1935): A story of a group of Paisanos enjoying life and wine drinking after World War I. As usual he was criticized, this time for writing a novel about bums. Critic Arthur C. Pettit said “Tortilla Flat stands as the clearest example in American literature of the Mexican as a jolly savage.” Oh well, this reviewer is still a fan of Steinbeck’s 27 books.