Reader’s Notebook, 3/6/18

My torrid pace of reading in 2018 continues. I knocked out two more books in the Y: The Last Man comic series and am still enjoying it. And I’m still working through Nick Hornby’s Ten Years in the Tub. And then I knocked out a few other books over the past couple weeks.

End of Watch – Stephen King “End of watch” is the term used when a police officer is killed in the line of duty. So King is kind of telegraphing how this book, the final one in the Bill Hodges trilogy, is going to end. But you still want to read to see how he gets there.

This book ties back more directly to book one, and Brady Hartsfield, that book’s evil centerpiece, than book two did. Hartsfield has been in a hospital brain trauma wing for years after Hodges’ partner bashed him in the head repeatedly before he could trigger a bomb that would have killed hundreds of teens at a concert. But Hartsfield is not as feeble as he seems. He has gained the power to enter other people’s bodies and control them. He uses this ability to attempt to finish his concert bomb plan and gain revenge over Hodges and the others who stopped him.

As always, King makes it an entertaining and spooky trip to get to the inevitable end. But I kept feeling like he had done variations on this theme better in the past. As it was a quick and generally entertaining read, I’m not going to complain too much. I will probably not read any more of King’s new work, unless word reaches me that he’s rediscovered the zip on his fastball again.

IQ – Joe Ide Isn’t there a saying about not picking up a book and making assumptions about it based on its title, the cover art, or the author? Gosh, I can’t think of what that would be, but it seems like there should be one…

Whatever it is, that certainly applies in this case. Joe Ide is an Japanese-American author who was raised in South Central LA. Thus I assumed this book would be about a Japanese-American community that was wedged into that predominantly African-American part of the city.


Ide writes about black folks in the ‘hood, and there’s not a Japanese character anywhere in it. The central character is Isaiah Quintabe, who goes by the nickname IQ. He’s a literal genius who uses his intelligence and powers of observation to help people around South Central with problems. Basically, he’s a private detective, but will take just about any job for someone who needs help.

The book is split in between a tale of IQ’s current life – helping to discover who is trying to kill a famous rapper – and an origin story of how he came to be IQ – a story involving the death of his older brother and him hooking up with a small time drug dealer and robbing stores for very particular items. Ide goes back and forth between the two stories, and both are excellent. There is an especially brilliant section near the end where, over the course of ten or so pages, we see how IQ transformed from being a directionless criminal to being the Black Sherlock Holmes of LA.

I think it was an interesting choice to provide so much of IQ’s origin story here. The book being almost evenly split between old and new makes me wonder if Ide can pull off an entire book that is centered on one IQ story (he is working on book two currently). Could he have offered up less of IQ’s background here, stretched out the rapper-killer section, and maybe done a full book about IQ’s past down the road?

That’s the most minor of quibbles, though. IQ is fresh, exciting, smart, deeply funny, moving, and captures the language and culture of its setting perfectly. IQ was on many Best Of lists for 2016 and shortlisted for several awards. I’m excited to see where Ide takes IQ next. He seems like an author poised to do amazing things.

Anatomy of a Song – Marc Myers This is another book I discovered wandering through a bookstore while waiting out a volleyball practice. Based upon a series Myers wrote for The Wall Street Journal, he looks at 45 songs that, as the subtitle states, “changed rock, R&B, and pop.” Each song is explored via an oral history from the performers, producers, songwriters, and record execs, depending on who was available to Myers. You can never go wrong with an oral history of pop culture, so that element of the book works quite well.

I would argue he doesn’t make the best choices in songs. There is an Elvis song, but no Beatles, Michael Jackson, Prince, or Madonna. He ties some songs that were not big charting tracks to technological changes, which I can get on board with. But I would also argue there were better choices in those places. But he does do a nice job of hitting a wide variety of genres. There are several country songs, a Jimmy Cliff song, and a couple songs that are more representative of an era than something that is a permanent part of the cultural memory.

Despite those minor flaws, this was a fun read.

(Crap: I forgot to include a link to the Spotify playlist for all the songs in the book. This playlist is a little out of order, but you get the idea.)

Since We Fell – Dennis Lehane. I picked this up Saturday afternoon, thinking I would knock out 20 or so pages to get a decent start for the coming week. Next thing I knew it was about 11:30 and I was setting it down with my bookmark at the book’s exact midpoint.[1] I kept at it Sunday and read the final page around 7:45 that evening. So before I get into the details, that should tell you something about this book.

Despite racing through it that quickly, this book has a solid density to it. Lehane takes us through almost the entire life of the main character, Rachel. She is raised primarily by her mother, a best-selling author of self-help books who kept the identity of Rachel’s father secret. After her mother’s death, Rachel seeks to find who her father was. It takes years of work, both on her own and with the help of a private investigator, but eventually she finds that man that lived in her home the first three years of her life. But that discovery leads to more questions.

By now Rachel is a big time news reporter in Boston, first for the paper and later for a local TV station, and is poised to move to a national network thanks to her work in Haiti following a massive earthquake. But an incident in Haiti fundamentally alters who she is, and she soon is crippled by occasional panic attacks that prevent her from leaving her home. Even a marriage to a seemingly amazing man can’t pull her from her depths: she spends nearly 18 straight months holed up in their Boston condo.

Eventually more questions of identity force her back into the world, though. This time the questions are about her husband and his work associates. This leads Rachel on a wild chase through the book’s final third that is full of twists, turns, double-backs, and all kinds of plot goodness. Lehane knows how to write a thriller, and he shows off all his best tricks here. There is a long series of “Holy crap” moments that keep building upon each other.

It was good for Lehane to get away from the two series he’s cranked out in recent years. While I enjoyed both the Kenzie-Gennaro and Coughlin series a lot, I think his best works have been Shutter Island and Mystic River that were free-standing novels. This compares quite well to each of those.

For some reason, I kept thinking this book felt more like Gillian Flynn novel, and I don’t really understand why. Could it simply have been the power of suggestion, as Flynn has the top blurb on the back cover? Or was it Lehane focusing on a strong, but emotionally damaged, female character that make it feel more like a Flynn novel? Regardless, the two authors have a lot in common – both write literate, smart, yet accessible books that keep you turning the pages – so I doubt Lehane would be upset by the comparison.

Spring break is right around the corner. If you’re traveling somewhere where you will be sitting in the sun, sipping on tropical beverages, I highly recommend this as the book to help you pass the time. Or just pick it up this weekend and read it at home. It’s tremendous.

  1. Not I did not read straight though during this time. We ate dinner, I ran an errand, watched a little TV.  ↩