Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Mary Queen of Scots - the Movie: Shame on you, John Guy. I read your book.


When I heard John Guy was going to consult on the script for the 2018 version of the life of Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots, I was a pre-determined fan.  I should have known better when I heard the movie included a scene portraying a meeting of the Queen of Scots and her cousin Elizabeth Tudor, Queen of England, an event that never happened.  I considered an argument offered by the filmmakers that the scene could be interpreted by historians as a dream sequence and in any case, what transpired between the royal cousins could be excused because the views and sentiments expressed at the mythical meeting were consistent with their letters and public declarations.  Nevertheless,  a generation who learns its history at the cinema will be left with an impression of an encounter that is at best a fantasy, and at its worst, inaccurate.
When Elizabeth removes her wig in the presence of a rival queen whose legendary beauty was a thorn in the hand that held the scepter, I wanted to scream aloud.




















The fictional meeting of the queens is not the movie's only sin nor the fatal one: I am only one among the several people who know their history who applaud the cinematography, the casting and the costuming, but are left wondering if the movie somehow missed the point. Others who saw it felt the scene portrayed Marie as the stronger character,  which was never the case. The queens came from the same bloodline but as very different women. Marie was a divine right monarch and upon her father's death did not need a husband to hold a throne given her by God, but during a childhood spent in France, her country was ruled by others in her stead. By the fall of her mother's regency, the Reformation had altered the political thought of those left behind in Scotland, bringing changes Marie never entirely grasped. However, upon Henry VII's death, Elizabeth, grew to womanhood third in line to the English throne at best and disqualified by bastardy in the eyes of many.  Her survival and ascendancy required an entirely different skill set, one necessarily sensitive to the Winds of Change.  The movie attributes more progressive thought to the Queen of Scots than it's co-screenwriter Guy reports in his excellent history.  During the early months of her personal rule, she accepted the guidance of her brother James Stewart, known to history as the Earl of Moray, and her foreign secretary, Sir William Maitland.  Their influence kept her ardent Catholicism in check, and allowed her to achieve a strained but working relationship with Scotland's firebrand Reformer, John Knox, but not for long.
(David Tennant, John Knox in the Queen of Scots film.)

The Mary Queen of Scots screenplay is not the 'True Life of Mary Stuart' of John Guy's book.  In a sense, the title of the movie is itself a misnomer.  Those who have read Guy's stellar biography of Marie Stuart and followed his lectures will have come away with two strong messages to help us understand the tragedy of the iconic queen: 1) The youthful queen who returned to her birthplace to begin her six years of personal rule was a French girl; and 2) her marriage to her English cousin Henry Stuart, commonly known as Lord Darnley was her downfall.   The movie makes neither of these points apparent, and thus, the Marie Stuart in the movie, however superbly acted by Saoirse Ronan, is not the queen in Guy's  history, The True Life of Mary Stuart, QUEEN OF SCOTS, first published in the UK as ''My Heart is My Own' - The Life of Mary Queen of Scots.  I concede the commercial necessity of making the cinematic Mary Stuart a construct fashioned to please an audience, a premise with which I have no quarrel. Focusing on her relationship with her regal English cousin makes good sense if the objective is box office appeal. There is something almost magical about the Tudors. However, I do take issue with a script that needlessly distorts or omits portions of a history every bit as dynamic and intriguing as the fictionalization that displaces it.

Marie Stuart did not wish to return to Scotland when her husband Francois II died.

I should have sensed problems from the first scene, which is not at all what happened when the Queen of Scots returned to Scotland to occupy the throne. The truth was far more humiliating to the Queen than merely being cast from a landing craft into kneedeep water at the tideline. After surviving a brutal North Sea Crossing, the Queen of Scots was faced by a colossal snub that would have played every bit as well as the fiction scene of Ms. Ronan on hands and knees in murky water.

Marie Stuart was more than the French Dowager. In her own right, from the time she was six days old she was an anointed queen. As such, she enjoyed a position at the French court that even the consort Catherine de Medici could not claim, and indeed, she rubbed it in. Adolescent Marie Stuart was said to have called the French king Henry II's consort 'the Italian shopkeeper's daughter.' Also, her display of the English Arms at the French Court while Dauphiness and Consort left no question she considered Elizabeth a bastard, an inferior and a usurper. All of modern Europe knew she claimed the English throne, a claim she never abandoned although at one point after her imprisonment in England, she agreed to do so if Elizabeth named her son James VI her heir.  When her sickly husband Francis II died, Marie did not decide to return to Scotland until her European marriage prospects failed to materialize.  Her first choice and that of her powerful French family, the Guises, was Don Carlos, the eldest child, and heir to the King of Spain.  The fact he was known to be mentally unstable and likely homicidal did not matter.  He had the proper pedigree. Contrast this with the disaster of Elizabeth's sister Queen Mary Tudor, a lesson of which her younger sister Elizabeth took heed. However, the King's Mother, Catherine d' Medici, as Regent for her son, Charles IX, jinxed the marriage because it threatened the position of Catherine and the late King Henry's daughter Elisabeth, who had married Phillip in 1560.  The Queen of Scots deemed all other candidates inferior, including those advanced by her uncles, the Guise. With a suitable European marriage thwarted, the Queen on Scots looked favorably on a return to Scotland because she had run short of choices. She may have considered her return a temporary measure until she could place one of her Guise uncles' probably Renee, as Regent. Catherine must have been delighted to send the Queen of Scots and several of her Guise male relatives on their way to Scotland.  And since Marie was Dowager Queen of France, she embarked on the journey with considerable pomp and circumstance and a sizeable French fleet. The question was the route.

Elizabeth and her chief minister William Cecil were not unmindful of the threat of having a committed Catholic on the neighboring Scottish crown. When negotiations between  Cecil on behalf of the English Queen, and William Maitland of Lethington on behalf of Marie Stuart, failed, dashing hopes of smoothing over issues caused by the Queen of Scots publically flaunting her claim to Elizabeth's throne, the English retaliated. Elizabeth refused to grant safe conduct to the Scottish queen's party, which would have permitted her to sail from Calais to Dover.

By the time Elizabeth's temper cooled, and the passports were issues, a formidable French fleet carrying the Queen of Scots and her household had embarked on the perilous route to Leith.  But, Marie Stuart left France with trepidation and a heavy heart, with expectations of a warm welcome from Elizabeth and the English dashed.  And the disappointment was not over yet..

The Queen of Scots was not dumped in knee-deep water on a deserted beach as if she were a homeless refugee as depicted in the movie. She arrived at Leith in full regalia aboard a  French flagship commanded by Nicholas Villegagnon, the same notable admiral who had piloted the ship carrying her from Dumbarton thirteen years earlier. Nevertheless, it had not been an easy crossing. They had lost the ship carrying their horses and another bearing their household accouterments in a North Sea storm. The survivors had fallen behind the flagship, which entered the harbor alone. Admiral Villegagnon ordered his flagship to fire its cannons to announce the queen's arrival, but no one of consequence came. Her principal Scottish ministers were at Saint Giles listening to a sermon, no doubt delivered by John  Knox or his protegee John Craig, both committed anti-Marians.  The crestfallen queen rested in a house commandeered by her attendants while the Four Maries found someone who would provide horses for the journey to Edinburgh.
The Lamb House. Leith



After a brief rest at what is known as The Lamb House in Leith, with evening approaching, the queen left for Holyrood Palace on a borrowed horse and simple saddle. And thus, the first hours of her personal rule of Scotland began with an insult, not a mishap.






What Happened to Scotland in this Story?

The fast and loose historical treatment of Scottish history does not end with the queen's arrival, although many of the oversights and errors are sins of omission rather than significant deviations from the truth.  For example, the Queen's arrival at Holyrood Palace was not the first meeting between Marie Stuart and her half-brother James Stewart.  He had traveled to Scotland with the five year old queen in 1548 and had attended her wedding at Notre Dame de Paris in April 1558, as a member of the Scottish delegation. Later when his half-sister's husband Francois II died, and Marie had despaired of husband shopping, he spent five days in closed conference with his sister with an aim to persuade her to return to Scotland on terms agreeable to the Protestant lairds rather than sailing to Glasgow where the rival Catholic faction lead by John Leslie and the Northern Catholic promised their support and a Restoration of Catholicism.  By omitting the competition between the factions, the scriptwriters write Scotland and the Scottish Reformation out of the story.

While some writers suggest Marie was anxious to please her brother and not that committed to her Catholic faith, her decision was likely made to avoid escalating hostilities between the religious factions on the brink of civil war until her position could be secured.  It also bought her time to establish better relations with Elizabeth and the Protestant government in England. This required a level of statecraft requiring her to balance the power of her Reformation government and the Northern Catholic Earls.

James Stewart, Earl of Moray


The political quagmire in which she found herself is reasonably accurate. She could not have achieved any degree of success without the support of her powerful brother James Stewart and  Secretary William Maitland of Lethington, who Elizabeth I dubbed 'the flower of the wit of Scotland and who had the best chance of affecting a meeting of the queens.


Marie Stuart had a good sense of theatre, and she made her self visible when her subjects serenaded her on the evening of her arrival, even though she was thoroughly exhausted. The movie accurately displays her personal charm and her popularity with the people. The Scottish court was probably not as austere as portrayed, thanks to Marie's mother Marie d' Guise, a member of the powerful House of Guise and the Queen's father James V, who had improved his southern castles to please his French-born wives. Holyrood was not at all like a chateau on the Loire, nor was it as opulent as the convent of Saint Pierre les Dames du Rheims where she spent much of her time after her husband Francois's death but it was not a carved out bat cave as portrayed in the movie.

The confrontation between the Queen and John Knox is one of many that occurred soon after her arrival, and it is reasonably well done. Knox was one of the few people who could bring Marie to tears in a public setting. It is reasonable to believe the conduct in the queen's apartment was far too relaxed to please the Calvinist lords and clergy.  The authenticity of the frolicking is documented. The scene between Marie and Knox is a reasonable portrayal of what transpired between them, enhanced by the strength of the actors. David Tenant's Knox is a good match to Ronan's Queen of Scots, but both are cinematic constructs.  Knox was indeed a rabble-rouser, but he did trim his beard and behaved with some restraint when it behooved him. As for other members of the Scottish powers of the time, I find the lumping together of bitter enemies such as William Maitland and his arch enemy James Douglas, Earl of Morton, an offense to most Scots.



Switching mid-scene from the Scottish to the English court may seem awkward to the general audience, but allows for parallel glimpses of Elizabeth and Marie and is easy for the experienced Marian historian to follow. The influence of William Cecil on Elizabeth's actions and in engineering the execution of her cousin is underplayed but present.  Elizabeth and Leicester provide the only viable romance in the story.  The killing of Davie Rizzio places the wrong people present but does display Darnley's complicity and Marie's shock and horror. But from that point to the death of the Queen of Scots many the most poignant pieces of 16th Century Scottish history are omitted in favor of dwelling upon dialogue between principals that is unnecessary to the plot. The details of Darnley's murder,  two military confrontations between the Marians and the Rebels who base their legitimacy on the pretext of avenging the infant prince James, and ensuing Douglas Wars are excised to allow screen time for a fabricated meeting of the queens. The political climate and factionalism that resulted in Marie Stuart's death require at least some attention to the circumstances of her flight from Scotland after two military confrontations --the first in 1567 at Carberry Hill, and the second, at the Battle of Langside following nearly a year of incarceration and a miscarriage at Lochleven Castle. Unfortunately, omitting them leaves the viewer with little understanding of Marie's abdication in the late summer of 1567 or her flight to England after  Langside.  Her abrupt fall from favor of her people after Darnley's death, the controversy over the marriage to Bothwell and the dynamic of their relationship are all left out of the story, when in many respects, they are the story.  Also, we are left knowing that Darnley was a drunken rake, which is accurate, but the impression that Marie despaired of her marriage because of his possible sexual relationship with Davie Rizzio, perverts the story.  The queen who once sought to wed the mentally deranged and homicidal Don Carlos would not have dumped Darnley for a homosexual encounter with her favorite.  She dumped him because he was conspiring with her enemies with an eye to seizing the Scottish throne in a coup.  The Scots would have overlooked Darnley's faults if he had been malleable and controllable.  What finished Darnley was his intriguing with the militant Catholic factions in Europe when Marie refused to convey a grant of the crown matrimonial to her increasingly dissipated and probably syphilitic spouse. What killed him was his thirst for power and his unsuitability to wield it. If truth be told, Bothwell did not fare much better.   For those who controlled the infant king, Marie as a widow was easier to manipulate, at least until Bothwell made his move.  But the film wastes no time on Bothwell or explaining who he was, nor does it allude to the many months of her imprisonment at Loch Leven while the Queen reflected on her fall from grace. After fleeing the battle at Langside without a definitive defeat, Marie Stuart refused to risk another imprisonment like the one she had escaped. She believed  Elizabeth would place their positions s sister monarchs above their politics, a decision that spelled her doom.

Minor Issues:
For acting, the movie gets a five-star review based on the performances of actors Saoirse Ronan  and Margot Robbie as the queens, with strong support from Guy Pearce as Elizabeth's minister William Cecil, David Tennant as a sufficiently odious Knox, and Ishmael Cruz Cordova as Davie Rizzio, the queen's lutenist and correspondence secretary. The casting has raised an issue in some quarters as to how far filmmakers should go to achieve ethnic diversity. I applaud the concept when it is done without adversely affecting historical authenticity.  The major complaint seems to focus on the casting of Adrian Lester, a Jamaican, as ambassador to Scotland, Sir Thomas Randolph, who historically had an affair with Marie Beaton, one of the Scottish Queen's Four Maries. Both queens were offended and worked together to solve the problem.  Elizabeth had him recalled and sent to Russia to the court of Ivan the Terrible. Beaton was quickly married off to one of Marie Stuart's lesser courtiers. Sir Thomas Randolph did not return to Scotland until James VI began his personal rule in the mid-1570s.  I do not see the distinguished Shakespearean actor Lester's presence in the film as an issue.  Audiences are aware they are attending a display of Twenty-First Century cinematic art.

CONCLUSION:

A viewer with a keen eye to what it is and is not, and able to sympathize with the filmmakers acknowledgment of ethnic diversity and political correctness by making Elizabeth Tudor's ambassador to Scotland a man of color, and framing the story as a feminist dialogue between two powerful women, neither of whom were feminists, and finally, by realizing that the principal force at play in the plot--Reformation Scotland--is omitted altogether, then by all means enjoy the scenery and the costuming and the stagecraft. The movie is well worth the price of the ticket and the time.

Visitors to my post who are familiar with my studies of the life and times of the Queen of Scots and who know my interest in all things associated with Marie Stuart have asked some penetrating questions about the film.  One is whether Marie Stuart was progressive and tolerant of religions other than her own, as depicted in the film.  My answer has to be, no.  Her last words, as translated from the letter she wrote to her brother in law, Henri III, King of France, paints her as being strong in her Catholic Faith and in the legitimacy of her claim to the English throne. Her actions in her later years indicate she was willing to endorse a regicide to achieve a Restoration of Catholicism.

However tolerant she chose to be during her years of personal rule and during her almost twenty years of imprisonment in England, the Queen of Scots still prayed for a  Catholic Restoration in Scotland, if possible, with herself holding the scepter, and if that could not be affected, with it in the hand of James. If her acts sometimes masked that purpose, I believe it to be more a matter of timing than one of tolerance. She had, however, learned some temperance of her Stuart impetuousness as she aged, and was careful not to endorse lost causes.  Early in her life, she watched the slaughter of Huguenots at Amboise with reluctance. During her own personal rule, she witnessed the execution of the heir to the Huntly earldom and the desecration of his father George Gordon, Earl of Huntly's body after the battle of Corriche Burn, a striking down of one of the principal Northern Catholic Earls.  In that battle, she rode beside her protestant champions, her brother James Stewart, soon to be declared Earl of Moray, and a longtime knight-at-arms  Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange.  That did not make her a champion of Protestantism or a warrior queen, and she lost nights of sleep because of it.  She was compelled to mask her Catholicism in dealing with Elizabeth at first, but when their meeting  never happened, and  Elizabeth sought an English marriage for her defiant cousin--one that would guarantee an English succession to the Scottish throne, Marie Stuart continued to hope for the Catholic powers of Europe to come to her rescue before the English prevailed. These were not fly-by-night episodes of wishful thinking.  Her nephew Francis Stewart, 5th Earl of Bothwell and the exiled Northern Catholic Earls vigorously campaigned for such an outcome in France, Spain and the Hapsburg Netherlands.

What Marie did not appreciate, and she was not alone in her miscalculation, was the atmosphere of change rising on the Continent, especially in what is now knows as the EightyYears War.  The volatile developments in France during the Religious Wars and the rise of independence in the Low Countries made an invasion in Britain less likely with every passing year. Whether it was frustration with her son's politics, her continuing restricted freedoms or natural aging, the Queen's discretion failed her with the Babington Plot and unfounded hints of support from Hapsburg Spain. In essence, she deceived herself in looking to France and Spain for a military solution.

A second question I have been asked concerns her relationship with Darnley and whether Elizabeth was behind his trip to Scotland.   Evidence on that score supports the idea that the Queen was infatuated with Darnley when she maneuvered a meeting when she was visiting Weymms Castle in Fifeshire. They had probably met earlier in France when Francois II died, but it was a state visit of no consequence.  At the time, Marie was husband shopping, and the English had suggested Leicester, who Marie found beneath her station.  Darnley, however, was another great-grandchild of Henry VII, a bonafide Tudor, son of Lady Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox, Marie's Aunt.  As a couple, they would have a double claim to the English throne.  Add to that the fact he was taller than she, well-mannered when it suited him, and an elegant dancer.
No matter how much Elizabeth might have savored placing a rake like Darnley in her rival's bedchamber, it is disingenuous to think she would have hatched a plot against her own throne.  I do, however, suspect Margaret Douglas was delighted to send her mollycoddled son Henry to Scotland to join his father. Elizabeth probably had her own suspicions about her Cousin Margaret's motives and sent her to the Tower. By the time of the marriage, Marie was viewing Darley somewhat more objectively but proceeded with the wedding.  When we recall her earlier hopes of marriage to insane Don Carlos because of his pedigree, it is not hard to imagine the Queen of Scots going forward with a marriage to a rakish man with a claim to the English throne equal to her own.  Guy's book and lectures pinpoint that decision as her downfall, which is not quite so evident in the movie.  In essence, there was more to Marie Stuart's destruction than her rivalry with her cousin. The tragedy was her reliance on Elizabeth on saving her crown.

Those who have seen the film often ask is if the Queen of Scots considered Elizabeth her inferior, as indicated in the dialog of their non-existent meeting.  The answer, of course, is yes. She was born to a station Elizabeth had struggled to attain and fought to keep. In Marie Stuart's mind, only God could create a Queen. and Marie Stuart's God was Catholic. In the long view, it is hard to determine which of the queens won. Marie Stuart has the larger tomb, but  Elizabeth has an age named in her honor, and the many European monarchs who have a Stuart in their ancestry also have a Tudor in the shadows.  The most notable among them are buried in the Henry VII Chapel.

In closing, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and will no doubt acquire a copy when it becomes available. I grew up wishing I had been Elizabeth and only marginally familiar with the Queen of Scots. That all changed when I read Antonia Fraser's book, but it was John Guy who gave me the Marie Stuart of my novels. I am a member of the Marie Stuart Society and venerate her memory, but I do not consider her a warrior queen. Nor do I not consider myself a militant feminist, but a vocal feminist when it comes to social causes.  To me, the contrast between the queens in Marie Stuart's story highlights the feminist dilemma presented to competent women in a world controlled by men. Perhaps neither of the cousins were truly free.  Perhaps that is the true story of the Queen of Scots, and if so, it gives the film its modern significance as a story which remains a work-in-progress.

RECOMMENDATION:  See the movie for its elegance, but also read John Guy's book.  I make the same suggestion to Professor Guy, not entirely in jest. I am thoroughly enjoying his 2016 biography ELIZABETH The Later Years, and he remains my favorite historian.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

My laptop computer just bought me curtains on Amazon one-Click.

There is something very wrong with the computer industry--not just hardware but software as well. I have been using computers even before they were a household item. In the past two weeks I have purchased two-- a desktop and a laptop--one a Dell Inspiron Touchscreen which cost slightly over a grand, and the other a bare bones Lenova. Both have the same problem of a random shifting of the zoom on the display. Visiting the community groups and the tech support convinces me the issue 1) is common, and 2) no techs at Microsoft, Lenova or Dell know what causes it or how to fix it, unless the computer has the wrong driver, which is their universal solution, which does not work if you number among the many who have the driver designed to come with the machine. Then the solution changes to a casual, Gee Whizz, or a Go Figure, I had myriad other problems with the Dell which kept losing its hard drive, and it has been returned. That leaves me with a three year old Lenova I resurrected from the dead computer bin, wiped it clean and tediously loaded enough software to allow me to use my bill pay program on payday. The other one-- an inexpensive Lenova which I bought last week and dedicated exclusively to my fiction writing, zooms even when my hands are not making contact with the keyboard. It just ordered a pair of curtains on Amazon One Click without clicking anything. Apparently I hovered. I really wish I had my long dead Toshiba with Windows 7, or a legal pad and a box of pens. Maybe I will splurge and try a Mac, since I do not have the problem on my iPhone 6.5. 😝😡 But have you ever tried to write a 90,000- word novel on an iPhone?

Saturday, June 23, 2018

BEYOND MY LATEST NOVEL, DELIVERANCE OF THE LAMB ~~A LOOK AT LIFE, LOVE AND DEATH by Linda Fetterly Root





This was a tough book to write.   In the autumn of 2015, I finished my novel dealing with the Gunpowder Treason, In the Shadow of the Gallows, and within days, I began its sequel.  For 'Gallows', there would be no book launch, no parties, no weekend getaway to celebrate the completion, no hiatus in my writing, because my husband was confined to the other half of the mechanical bed in our house in the Morongo Basin, and he was dying. And if at all possible, he wanted to pass on with me beside him.  A commitment to togetherness was part of the deal we made when we married, and for us, it worked.  He was my fourth husband, and I was his sixth wife, and when he died, we had been married thirty-five years. Obviously, we had learned some poignant lessons from our failures.  Their implementation was not always easy., but it had been worthwhile.  Even during the last weeks, we shared an enviable romance.

I remember finalizing the cover of 'Gallows'.  Chris had a very critical eye.  I was the one with artistic talent, but he was the one with taste.   So we cranked his side of the bed up so he could see the screen on my laptop, and with the aid of Picasso 3, we took the photo I had selected and ran it through numerous edits and enhancements until he asked me if he could play with my laptop and I passed it to him.


He took the photo I wanted to use and cropped it and edited the image, Next, he changed the lighting and the colors to a two-tone red and black that conveyed the feeling of the novel.  'I like it when I can be of some help,' he said, and he lowered his side of the bed and went to sleep.   At first, I wasn't sure I like what he had done to my creation, but I was determined not to tell him, and by morning I could see how much better it was than the one I had struggled to perfect. That is the way things were with us. And that is why I immediately began working on 'Deliverance.'  Both of us needed me to be near his side of the bed. Two months later, Chris died peacefully in his sleep.  His last words were to our aging malamute:  'You'll always be Daddy's good puppy, Maxx.'

There are always chores and duties associated with a death in the immediate family, but I was not new to them.  I had buried my third husband and my first-born son within six months of one another during my third year of law school.  Both of my parents passed in the next decade, and my baby sister died of a brain tumor in 2008 while I was beginning my first and favorite novel, The First Marie and the Queen of Scots.  She did not sleep well at the end and would email me at all hours, and if I was awake and writing, I would send her what I had produced that day. In many ways, her passing was more difficult than Chris's, because he was ready, and she was not.  She missed the birth of the last six of her eight grandchildren. Hers was a short and unforeseen illness, but, Chris's last illness was not his first illness and, in spite of brief periods of reprieve, it lasted for ten years. By 2013, he was entirely bed bound, and from there, he proofed my second novel, The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots, from his side of the bed as I wrote it. When he passed, my enthusiasm for writing also passed. Those who have read the novels in my Legacy series know they have a large romantic component beginning with The Last Knight's Daughter when I introduced bastards Daisy Kirkcaldy to Will Hepburn and let them fall tumultuously in love.  Perhaps I abandoned them because with Chris gone from my daily life, I was jealous.

As soon as the wake was over and the cloisonne urn was on its shelf, I embarked upon other things.  I traveled to places on my Bucket List: the Ferniehirst in my novels; Saint Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh where my hero Kirkcaldy worshipped and his sometimes friend Knox preached;  the Brandenburg Gate which I had wanted to visit since 1958 when it entered a conversation I was having with the distinguished architect Richard Neutra at the Claremont Inn when his son and I were classmates at Pomona College; a trip to Philadelphia to attend my first Jewish wedding and to meet my special friend Jan Abraham, who I had met at the Marie Stuart Society. Chat group on Yahoo--all fulfilling experiences that assuaged my grief.  But I did not write.  I remodeled the interior of my house, installed over 500 feet of interior base moldings, installed ten interior door casings, repainted cabinets, patched drywall, but still, I did not write.  My family dynamic changed as others moved on with their lives, and suddenly I was alone.

Chris and I had closed out much of the world around us, and our own relationship was so intense and compelling that I hadn't noticed.  Then came a family rift, the shock of the 2016 election, stagnant book sales and a minor financial reversal, and I was forced to face them without a soul mate, or a hero or a fellow traveler on the shortening road of my life.  And then, I remembered my co-protagonists Will and Daisy whom I had left stranded in London in the midst of a rescue mission of a cleric whose beliefs were inapposite to all they stood for.  During my nearly two year hiatus in my writing, I had forgotten why they'd bothered.

Late this winter I reviewed what I had written in a single setting, knowing I either had to scrap my manuscript and stop fooling myself into thinking I was a writer, or I had to bring Will and Daisy home.  I had no idea which. but it was too cold to paint ceilings or repair damaged walls.  For want of a better alternative,  I began to write myself out of my dilemma, and in doing so, I interjected hints of the romance missing from life into the story.   I am not a romance writer,  If I were, I would have been thrilled with my creation, but the orthodox historian that is my alter ego had trouble dealing with it. After all. my fugitive was a well-known Jesuit, and in the words of one of my principal characters, 'the Church cannot tolerate another Luther.'  Who was I, a lapsed Episcopalian turned agnostic, to even consider the Jesuit John Gerard might have had more than a desire to follow his colleagues into martyrdom keeping him in England?

Out of frustration, I closed my Word processor and went back to Google's scholarly sub-site and my personal research library. The Jesuit's own work, The Autobiography of a Hunted Priest, skirted the tensions in his personal life with finesse, but then, his ultimate sponsor was the Vatican. Other sources suggested I may have uncovered a historical truth. Perhaps John Gerard did not wish to be rescued.  I relaxed and let Daisy and Will solve the mystery, and they engaged Will Shakespeare and the notable Vaux family of Harrowden to help.

My own life is neither better nor worse than it was six months ago.  I still struggle with the American political climate.  I still have walls to paint, flooring to repair, cabinets to resurface.  I am working on a new Bucket List:  I want to travel wherever I need to go to hear Yevgeny Sudbin play Rachmaninoff and I want to sit on the beach at Monterey one last time. I would like to visit the Opera House in Manaus and pretend I am Clarice Starling with emerald studs in my ears and  Dr. Lechter at my side (a romance less likely that the one I shared with Chris, but not by much); but none of those are essential.

This is the week of the Solstice.  Tomorrow the sun will rise beyond a certain notch in the hills above the Combat Center at 29 Palms, and in November, behind a house on a ridge to the Southeast.   At the end of the last millennium, while our son still lived with us, Chris had taken to getting us out of bed early and marching up a dirt trail that leads to the BLM land just beyond the ridge on the border of Joshua Tree National Park.   One of the homeowners had set out a water trough on the wild side of his property and we could see the footprints of the goats and occasional Bighorn sheep that watered there.  While it would be nice to walk that way again, it is an excursion best left to someone with a Jeep.  A knee transplant is not on my Bucket List. More frequent visits from friends and family would be nice but I am neither housebound nor alone. From my patio at sunset, I can look beyond the hills where wild things roam and see all the way to the Borders of Early Modern Scotland.

Friday, April 20, 2018

'A Higher Loyalty' by James Comey ~ a review with commentary from the point of view of Linda Fetterly-Root


 In his controversial book 'Higher Loyalty,' former FBI Director James Comey identifies ego as his fatal flaw: in attempting to write an apolitical review of Comey's book,  I share his curse. It is hard to take a neutral stand on a report of the political events of 2015-2018 without interjecting a piece of oneself.  When JFK was assassinated, I wrote a poem which was read into the Congressional Record and was republished in numerous metropolitan dailies.  Those who commented on it, and there were many, did not address the literary merit of the piece, and I am likewise reviewing Comey's best seller with a similar omission.  I do not seek to judge his prose.  I did detect some head-hopping back and forth from one James Comey --the public servant who functioned as Director of the F.B. I., and another--The James Comey who is suddenly a private citizen with an ox to gore.  I do, however, admit to viewing both from the viewpoint of an aging  woman who lived through most of the events discussed in Comey's book, some of which at first glance seem to have a very tenuous nexus to the political upheavals of 2015-2018, but which make the back story interesting.

However, when I stepped back for a second look at the items I had considered window dressing, their relevance became apparent, for they contained the key to the  making of a man not always wise, sometimes arrogant, and utterly driven, and as miscast as the Good Cop to Donald Trump's Bad Cop, as Luke would have been against Darth Vader, had he not possessed a Light Saber. Comey seems to realize as much and thus invents a weapon forged of Truth, Justice, and the American Way.  It does not always work, and therein lies the tragedy.

The Young James Comey:

 I was 21 years old when James Comey was born.  John F. Kennedy was President-elect of the United States. J. Edgar Hoover had been the Director of what became the FBI, since 1924, and remained its Director until his death in 1972. Robert F. Kennedy was soon to become Attorney General and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was, with his father, co-pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, and leader of the Civil Rights Movement.  The timeline cited here is relevant, because all of the men named above were influential in shaping James Comey's character, but none of them were living by the time he reached adolescence.  Thus, in the middle pages of Comey's book when he speaks of his reverence or his reservations about these icons and other men and women of similar fame or infamy, he is speaking as a youthful historian, rather than a spectator.  These were heroes of his childhood, just as FDR was one of mine.  And even the most precocious child's perception of the make-up of a hero is inherited from those who influence us.  Perhaps this is why we look around at today's American and see ourselves locked in battles belonging to our ancestors. 


Comey and the Bullies:

When James Comey's father moved the family from Yonkers, where James had been a popular elementary school student, to Allendale, New Jersey, where he was the unimpressive new kid,  Comey was ridiculed and bullied for his home-done haircuts and unfashionable clothes, and because he spoke with a New York accent.  The bullying ranged from humiliation to physical assault. and because of his past popularity, he was unequipped to meet it.  He he had not yet enjoyed the growth spurt that topped him out at 6'8".  He endured three painful years holding his tongue and avoiding the bullies as much as he could, but they left their imprint on him. And they brought with it an enduring guilt, when he discovered one defense to bullying was to take part in it, and another was to cut and run. It is no surprise that he devotes pages in the later chapters of his book discussing the bully mentality of men like Dick Cheney's henchman David Attington, Cheney himself, and at times, Presidents George W. Bush, and Donald Trump, and why he had an intense reaction to issues regarding torture and water boarding. When the scandals of Guantanamo and secret rendering of suspected terrorists made the headlines and he was struggling to do the right thing without losing his influence on the administration, his wife brought him back to earth with a comment, 'Don't be the torture guy.'  He followed her advice, which did not endear him to Bush and Cheney and eventually  drove him to return to the private sector.

The Years with Rudi Giuliani and Martha Stewart:

When Comey moves his dialog  to his years as a  Deputy United States Attorney he speaks perhaps a bit too idealistically about the pursuit of justice.  Working under Rudi Giuliani was a challenge. There was a saying in the US Attorney's office that the most dangerous place in federal prosecution was standing between Giuliani and a microphone. I was intrigued by Comey's  recap of the prosecution of Martha Stewart, in which he played a principal role. Comer does not dodge the issue of the relative triviality of the crime in comparison with most occurrences involving inside trading violations. A woman with a net worth of hundreds of millions of dollars had bailed out of a stock in which she sought to loose  somewhere in the neighborhood of $70,000, not because she had inside information of an adverse decision about licensing a wonder drug, but because she and the CEO who was about to bail were not only personal friends but had the same broker, and there had been a series of communications between the broker and her offices just prior to her stock sale.  Even if she had learned something alarming in those communications,  under those circumstances, the likely outcome would have been a fine. But then Martha Stewart lied about it when her name appeared on a list of persons who had sold their stock in haste. She claimed she had left a short sell order with her broker that pre-authorized the sale, and laughed to a friend about getting away with it.  In any event, the prosecution was unpopular, and her imprisonment did little to enhance the reputation of Comey. Ironically, while she was incarcerated, her net worth grew like Jack's beanstalk.  Was the prosecution cost productive?  Not at all. But if Comey's goal was as stated in his book, it sent a message that no matter who you are, you cannot ignore the law and lie about it to the FBI.

The Martha Stewart's
prosecution tells us something important  if we wish to understand the case of Hillary Clinton's emails.  I have always considered the matter poorly handled at best, an unforgivable misuse of the federal police power at its worst, and to prove a point, just look  at where it got us. But after reading Comey's book and reflecting on my own life experience, I am no longer  sure my wrath is justified.  I have no doubt whatsoever that the email crisis was exploited  to the fullest by Hilary Clinton's enemies and especially, by the Trump Camp. But not all of the fault is Comey's.


The Incredible Story of the Emails :

When I was a student at Pomona College in 1958, I was a finalist in the General Dynamics-Convair Management Club Scholarship competition, in which a significant prize included summertime employment in a high paying air-frame industry. Most of the winners were science, math and engineering standouts, but I had no such claim to fame. I became the department clerk for the Administrator of the Physics Section, and one of my duties was security.  I was charged with erasing equations on chalkboards,  making certain no documents were left on desktops at the end of the day, and testing to make certain the padlocked on each scientist's file were actually closed.  To do my job, I needed a Secret (and later, a Top Secret) clearance, and to get it, I took a couple of hours of training and a simple test. I knew penalties attached to leaving the premises with raw data and memos in a briefcase in order to work at home on nights and weekends. I kept tally of the violations, which became job-threatening at number three.  There were way to get around the rules for a Ph. D. with two violations, and the most popular method was to pass the fatal third off to someone expendable, very often, a clerk or a lab. tech.   From the lowly college kid like me to the Chief of Physics, we all knew taking paperwork home or discussing work product over cocktails were verboten.  Arguably, we thought the penalties would be work related and potentially severe: there isn't much demand for a theoretical physicist without a security clearance.  In retrospect, I suppose some of us knew criminal penalties might attach.  I know I did. because of an incident involving my father, whose paperwork revealed an arrival date in California that was two days different than mine. I was the kid with the journal, and Dad had filled out the DOD form from memory.  No one went to jail, but it was scary.

Thus, even before reading Comey's book,  I was utterly convinced  Hillary Clinton violated the Securities Act by dealing with classified materials on her personal email server, just as I knew my favorite physicist at Convair violated the Securities act by taking his rough drafts home at night.  This is no longer a disputed fact, and in the case of Secretary Clinton, once that threshold had been breached, the question facing the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and its Director,  became whether or not it was done with criminal intent.  I am a lawyer, and I have a good understanding of the law o circumstantial evidence.  It is  an elusive concept sometimes easiest proved by a course of conduct.  And in the case of the emails on HRC's server, there was much to look at.  But, in July 2016 when Comey's first 'final' decision was announced, there was no proof at a reasonable doubt standard that Mrs Clinton knew what she was doing was criminal--in other words, after isolating the memos that were either rightfully or wrongfully still classified, none had been shared with anyone who was not cleared to deal with them.  The G.O.P.'s mammoth  security breach of Rosenbergian proportions was a political red herring.  Mrs. Clinton was reprimanded for implementing a sloppy practice fraught with danger, and was put in a similar position as Martha Stewart Stewart would have been had she sold her stock because other people in her circle who might know something were selling.  Clinton supporters, myself among them, were outraged at Comey for going public in the manner in which he did, Trump supporters were outraged because Clinton was not indicted for something, but the election was still several month's away, and life went on.


Then, 12 days before the election, Comey learned that hundreds of thousands of Clinton's emails had been discovered on the laptop of former Congressman Anthony Weiner, estranged and disgraced husband of Clinton's close aid and personal friend Huma Abedin. In any event, Weiner had used his computed as a repository for dirty pictures.  Comey's book is vague as to how this horror was detected, and at first, it was not clear to him how this impacted the initial determination closing the agency's file.  But when it was disclosed that emails from Mrs Clinton had made their way to Weiner's server, the initial closure could not stand. Weiner's file turned the findings upside-down.  At this point, there was no evidence the Trump camp knew what was happening, but  little reason to believe the information would not leak.  At this point, Comey could have dumped the dilemma in the lap of President Obama's Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, but he did not do so.

There were high level discussions within the agency of what would happen if criminally actionable activity was  uncovered involving a president-elect.  Only one person interjected the possibility of a Trump victory into the equation.  Once the facts were on the table, only one option was discussed, and that was reopening the investigation. The integrity of the F.B.I was at stake. Justice was still in the dark. No one in the Obama administration was apt to applaud Comey or the F.B.I. The next step was  the tricky one: should they conceal or disclose the decision to reopen the investigation. Since Comey had been advised there was no way the investigation could be concluded before the election, Comey decided concealment would be a fraud against the American people. At that time, according to his book, Comey conceded whatever the outcome, he was 'screwed'.  While I accept Comey's assertions regarding protocols that disfavor interviewing a person of interest in an investigation until the fact-finding is essentially complete,  in a situation involving a presidential candidate in an election year, it might have served the Bureau and the American people to have made an exception to the rule and interviewed Mrs. Clinton earlier in the game.  And as the new phase of the investigation played out, thanks to new technology, the huge number of Clinton emails was culled to a few thousand, and no criminal conduct was disclosed.  An announcement was made, but by then, it was too late to unring the bell. The email controversy was a major issue.

And then came Donald J. Trump:





The last portion of the book, the pages dealing with the Trump Presidency, are sparse, through no fault of the author's. His dealing with Trump as told in the book were few and strange, and document the President's  unwarranted and inappropriate rather medieval demands for a pledge of loyalty which Comey never gave.

At the onset of the Trump presidency, Comey was viewed by many White House staffers  as the man who delivered the election to their candidate.  It was a label he abhorred. His objective had been to insure an enduring, independent  Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Trump's objective was to assure the F.B.I. Director's unwavering and absolute fealty.

Some critics of Comey's book accuse him of getting down and dirty with Donald Trump, disrespectfully remarking on the length of his ties, the size of his hands, the tanning booth white circles around his eyes. It has been mentioned he should have followed Michelle Obama's advice, that when 'they go low, we go high.' It is true at times Comey's childish, petulant remarks creep into his narrative to detract from the seriousness of his message.. Considering how he was treated, how he learned he had been fired in a streamer on a muted television left running while he conducted a recruitment seminar in California,  small wonder he let his stoicism slide. The letter firing him had not been delivered and he was blindsided.  I have read the letter, and it is a one paragraph self-serving letter oddly worded. It might as well have been a Tweet.



Conclusion:

Even if there were no Russian Investigation, the bizarre events surrounding Hillary Clinton's emails alone make this an important book.  Although James Comey fails as his own apologist, his story is one that must be told.  However, I also believe it should not be taken in a vacuum. I suspect there will be a large body of literature dealing with the 2016 election and all that has followed. As for Comey's role, I cast him as a honest man of great integrity who has difficulty confronting evil, a tragic character whose fatal flaw may not be his ego as much as it is his desire to be liked and understood.  He wanted his agents to have fun.  He made a point of never wearing his suit jacket when he was not in a formal setting.  He ate in the cafeteria and never 'took cuts in line.'  He told his agents to never put their loved ones on the back burner, to eat well and get lots of sleep--advice commendable in a friend, but perhaps not enough from a leader at a time when extraordinary leadership skills were required.   But the question remains unresolved as to whether in spite of 6'8" frame, his shoulders were broad enough to carry the weight of the job. When the boss is Donald Trump, the job description and requirements change.

Thus, whether you like Comey or not, Trump or not, Hilary or not, consider if you will, how the means of Comey's dismissal may have affected his audience of would be recruits and sworn agents who watched their leader sacrificed on national television.  I wonder how many in the audience signed on to follow in his footsteps. This is not the only story of its kind likely to emerge to tell the tale of a nation being culled of its best and brightest by men and women whose goals are wealth and power, in whatever branch of government, whichever side of the aisle, or from the shadows.  That is the message I draw from A Higher Loyalty.  I suspect many readers will find similar or opposing messages, all of which make this a compelling reading experience for those of us who care how the story ends. I recommend this to anyone curious as to where and why our government disappoints us.  

April 20. 2018, from Yucca Valley, California

                                                                         Linda A. Fettterly-Root, J.D.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

MARCH 24, 2018 - WHY I AM NOT MARCHING: A Personal Manifesto of an Aging American Woman with Cheek.

I did not sleep well last night.  And then, the epiphany.  I cannot march today least someone of my friends or neighbors might mistake my presence as a statement against ownership of firearms.  While I abhor the indifference of a government I no longer consider mine to the unfettered spread of methods of mass murder, I abstain today, for my own personal and emphatic reasons. Consider this my Manifesto.

March 24, 2018 - The day the student marched on the Capitol of what until recently was the United States of America.:

 I SUPPORT THE STUDENTS MARCHING TODAY. I URGE SENSIBLE GUN CONTROL. I BELIEVE THE DEMONSTRATIONS ARE HONEST STATEMENTS OF SINCERE AND TENACIOUS YOUNG AMERICANS AND THOSE WHO SHARE THEIR FRUSTRATION AND THEIR GRIEF.  I HOPE THERE ARE A FEW SOULS IN WASHINGTON WITH THE SENSE TO LISTEN.

SO, WHY AM I NOT MARCHING? PERHAPS, BECAUSE MY DAY HAS COME AND GONE, AND DAVID HOGG IS RIGHT:  THE ADULTS OF AMERICA HAVE ABANDONED THE DREAM, AND THUS,  WE HAVE LOST OUR VOICE. APPARENTLY, HOWEVER, I HAVE NOT ABDICATED THE POWER OF THE PEN.

 AS A FORMER AWARD- WINNING CONSTITUTIONAL SCHOLAR AND A SWORN MEMBER OF SCOTUS, I SPENT MOST OF YESTERDAY REVIEWING THE SECOND AMENDMENT AND THE CONSTITUTION AS A WHOLE.  IT IS NOT TOO CHALLENGING A READ AND I COMMEND IT TO THOSE OF US WHO PRETEND TO LEAD US TO GIVE IT AN OCCASIONAL GLANCE.  HOWEVER, I DOUBT THEY WILL BOTHER.  PERHAPS BECAUSE WHILE THEY DO NOT KNOW ITS WORDS, THEY ARE AWARE OF ITS NATURE: 

THE U.S. CONSTITUTION WHICH HAS GUIDED US THROUGH MANY DIFFICULT TIMES, IS NOT A DOCUMENT OF EMPOWERMENT BUT A DOCUMENT OF LIMITATION ON THE POWER OF GOVERNMENT. 

THE U.S. CONSTITUTION AS RATIFIED IN 1787 AND ENHANCED BY INCORPORATION OF THE BILL OF RIGHTS IN 1791 WAS NEEDED THEN AND  IS  IS SORELY NEED NOW. IT IS A DEFENSE AGAINST EXCESSES OF GOVERNMENT BY SYCOPHANTS AND TYRANTS AND IS AT THE CORE OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY.

MY WORLD AND THE SECOND AMENDMENT:

I AM AN OLD WOMAN. AS A SMALL CHILD, I WALKED THROUGH THE PARK WITH MY PARENTS AMONG YOUNG AMERICANS WHO COULD NO LONGER WALK, OR SALUTE,  BUT THEY COULD SIT ON A PARK BENCH OR LEAN AGAINST A WALL OF BRICK AND SMILE AT THEIR OWN SURVIVAL AND RETURN TO THE LAND OF THE FREE AND THE HOME OF THE BRAVE, ALBEIT MANY WITHOUT ARMS OR LEGS. I HAVE MARCHED NOT SO MUCH AGAINST THE WAR IN VIETNAM AS THE MANNER IN WHICH ARE SERVICEMEN WERE TORTURED AND VILIFIED THERE AND SCORNED  WHEN THEY CAME HOME, AND I HAVE CRIED AND I HAVE HELD HANDS WITH THOSE OF A DIFFERENT COLOR AND PUBLICLY SUNG 'WE SHALL OVERCOME.'  I BELIEVE THE YOUNG PEOPLE OF AMERICAN WILL HELP US OVERCOME THE OBSTACLES FACING US NOW. I MAY NOT HAVE MUCH OF A FUTURE, BUT I PLACE IT THE HANDS OF DAVID HOGG AND OTHERS LIKE HIM.  MOST OF THEM WILL BE OLD ENOUGH TO VOTE IN THE NEXT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. MANY WILL BE OLD ENOUGH TO RUN FOR CONGRESS IN 2025.

BUT I  CANNOT SUPPORT ANY EFFORT THAT MIGHT BE MISCONSTRUED BY FACTIONS I ABHOR AS DENYING STABLE AND LOYAL  AMERICAN CITIZENS THE RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS, BECAUSE LIKE THE FRAMERS, I NO LONGER TRUST A GRANT OF UNBRIDLED POWER TO MY GOVERNMENT.  WE DO NOT NEED TO TRASH THE SECOND AMENDMENT OR ERODE IT UNTIL ONLY SOLDIERS AND POLICE HAVE GUNS, BUT A RESPONSIBLE COALITION COULD  LEGISLATE RESTRICTIONS THAT WOULD LIMIT IT AS AN EXCUSE FOR THE PERVASIVE SPREAD OF WEAPONS OF MASS HOMICIDE. UNFORTUNATELY, A RATIONAL, BI-PARTISAN APPROACH TO GOVERNING SEEMS TO HAVE BECOME A RELIC OF BETTER TIMES. WE ARE LET WITH A LEADERSHIP INCLINED TO ABANDON PRINCIPLE AND FOLLOW THE MONEY.

I CAN LIVE WITHOUT THE RIGHT TO MOUNT AN UZI ON MY ROOF.  I ALSO SUSPECT THERE ARE A FEW POLITICIANS IN THE  COMEDY OF OUR CONGRESS WHO ARE CAPABLE OF DRAFTING PROPOSALS MAKING OUR SCHOOL SAFE WITHOUT CONVERTING OUR EDUCATORS INTO AN ARMED MILITIA. INTERPRETING THE  SECOND AMENDMENT IN A MANNER SUITABLE FOR OUR TIMES IS NOT A PERVERSION, BUT A CELEBRATION OF THE LIVING NATURE OF OUR CONSTITUTION. BUT THAT REQUIRES A RATIONAL SUPREME COURT WE ARE UNLIKELY TO RETAIN IN THE CURRENT POLITICAL CLIMATE.

ON THE OTHER HAND, EMASCULATING THE SECOND AMENDMENT LEAVES THE OTHERS OPEN TO ATTACK, AND IF WE SERIOUSLY STUDY WHY THE AMENDMENT WAS INCLUDED IN THE BILL OF RIGHTS IN THE FIRST PLACE, WE WILL SEE WHY IT IS NEEDED NOW. THE CONSTITUTION AS A WHOLE IS OUR DEFENSE AGAINST TYRANNY. AFTER TWO HUNDRED AND TWENTY YEARS FROM THE PASSAGE OF THE BILL OF RIGHTS, ONE MIGHT THINK ITS PROVISIONS ARE ANACHRONISMS UNTIL THEY LOOKED AROUND.

WHEN WE RETURN NOBLE MEN AND WOMEN TO LEADERSHIP ROLES IN A TRULY UNITED UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AS I FERVENTLY HOPE WE WILL, I MAY RETHINK THIS STATEMENT OF MY CORE BELIEFS, SHOULD I LIVE SO LONG. AT PRESENT, I  DO NOT TRUST MY GOVERNMENT.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Cary Allen Stone Wins the Bet - A review of After the Evil

A Review by Linda Root



A few months ago author  Cary Allen Stone's publicist sent me a challenge.  She attached a copy of the second book in his mystery series with a bet I would want to review it.  Then I heard from Stone, who thought it might be my kind of mystery. He was right. I ended up reading each of the four books in the series. This is the first one in the chronology and the second one I read.

Those who know me personally are aware of my professional history as a prosecutor. The men and women I worked with on the Homicide Detail knew I made a practice of visiting crime scenes. There was a reason for this.When I became a supervisor, I urged others to do so.  In essence, crime scenes speak. Every scene I ever visited had a message. Some screamed.

I am absolutely candid in saying I never once visited a scene that made me physically sick. Maybe I was just lucky. The most startling of my observations from the first scene to the last one --a triple shortly before I retired--was always the same: the absence of life. Stone captures it in his writing. The surprise came in discovering Stone was not a veteran detective, but a retired pilot flying corporate jets, another career which cultivates an awareness of issues of life and death and a unique glimpse of the dynamics of power. Applying the adage 'write what  you know', Stone picks his serial killer from his experience with the airline industry.  Nothing else about her is Orthodox.

Obviously, the profilers' classic definition of a serial killer is not set in granite: if it were, they would be easier to spot.  The one word that seems to fit them all is 'driven.'  Stone's killer is not a thrill seeker or megalomaniac.   A federal agent trained at Quantico might poke holes in Stone portrayal, claiming the character is not a true serial killer, just a twisted soul who kills a lot of people. The profile at issue in Stone's novel is the killer's profile of her victim. In her eyes, she is an Avenger.  On the other side of the battle, we have hard-boiled Homicide Detective Jake Roberts and FBI Profiler Mika Scott, and a host of characters, most of them exceptionally well-drawn. The combination of a sympathetic serial killer and a flawed law enforcement professional, each obsessed by demons of their own construction,  provides a satisfying reading experience for anyone who sees the line between Good and Evil as having a jagged edge.

Stone writes with a touch of Spillane but in a contemporary style hinting of Nelson Demille. Jake Roberts reminds me of DeMille's John Corey, but with a touch more pathos. At times, I was turned off by what I considered unlikely homespun dialog from Lori, but overall it fits the plotline, especially after we realize she is not the only killer in the mix. If the copy has a few rough spots, my advice is to forgive them.  This not a book to read while holding a red pencil. The novel earns the label 'mystery thriller.' And the series gets better as Stone's style evolves.



Author's Note:

Stone's JakeRoberts books are senstibly princed and can be seen on Amazon:http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_16?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=cary+allen+stone&sprefix=cary+allen+stone%2Cstripbooks%2C219&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Acary+allen+stone


Saturday, May 14, 2016

A review a week - and this one is terrific: The Newest in the Roma Nova Series and a very 2016 theme

I fervently hope that Alison Morton is busy writing the next book in her Roma Nova series. I have just finished Insurrectio, but Insurrectio is not finished with me. While it is the most recent of the five books to date in Ms. Morton’s Roma Nova series, it is second in the chronological order of the series. When I opened it, it was the first Alternative History I have read in recent memory. I no sooner put it down before I moved on to the boxed set Inceptio, Perfiditas, and Successio, and ordered Aurelia.  In five days, I had read them all.
The concept of Roma Nova differs from most alternative histories.  Many begin at a definitive moment in the past, but proceed with a different outcome: What if the Russians had been colonizers instead of fur traders, or if Napoléon had won? What would Europe look like if Hitler’s nuclear programs had progressed a tad faster?  Morton’s alternative histories begin in the1960’s (Aurelia), in a small country about the size of Luxembourg, crowded in between what we call Austria and modern Italy, but which happens to be the remnant of Roman civilization, hence, Roma Nova, the New Rome. In a sense, the book is a time slip in reverse.  In the first five books of the series, the reader is not troubled by the roughly fifteen hundred year history of civilization since the Fall of Rome and the Rise of Donald Trump. Hopefully, Morton is saving that for later. What we experience in Insurrectio is a small nation with a vestige of Roman society and values occupying a small corner of a modern 1980’s world complete, with late Twentieth Century technology and institutions including, for example, the CIA.
This is not a book for those who are addicted to the history of the Dark Ages.  The citizens of Roma Nova are moderns, but with a twist. Nevertheless, Morton, who is a student of Roman history, gives her novels and authentically Roman flavor that edifies and entertains.  Her Roma Nova is an oligarchy ruled by The Twelve Families, each headed by women, under the titular governance of an Imperatrix.  In Insurrectio, the female figurehead is gullible and weak. Our protagonist, Aurelia Mitela, is the leader of the most powerful of the families. The antagonist is a handsome and utterly amoral Cauis Tellus, scion of another of the ancient families, who has been serving prison terms for a variety of crimes against the state and Aurelia in particular. 
The stage is set when the hesitant imperatrix, who is unable or unwilling to address the corruption and injustices in the society she rules, welcomes him back into the fold. .As Aurelia fears, Count Tellus has an entirely different view of how and by whom Roma Nova should be governed. While his early goals are achieved through charm and manipulation, Aurelia is not fooled. He is setting up a power play. Eliminating or incapacitating Aurelia is part of his agenda. He first strikes out at her fragile daughter, but he also moves against others who oppose him including his brother Quintus and his newly acquired stepson, child of the Imperatrix. But Aurelia is more than a skilled stateswoman. She is a former member of the Praetorian Guard and a combat veteran, and she has already experienced Tellus at most ruthless. Nevertheless, her enemy has spent well more than a decade in prison plotting the overthrow of his country’s government and the personal destruction of the woman he has loathed since childhood. His initial successes leave her spearheading a faltering resistance. When she cannot prevail against Tellus’s meticulously planned insurrection, she concentrates her efforts on survival. Morton has framed the final chapters of Insurrection in a manner assuring her readers that regardless of the fate of Aurelia Mitela and Cauis Tellus, the struggles of Roma Nova are not over yet. 
From a purely analytical point of view, this is an intelligently conceived and meticulously researched and written action book that will not disappoint the most discriminating of readers. While others disagree with me, I am happy to have read the series in the order in which they have been written.,