THE BORDER by Don Winslow

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(The US-Mexico border)

After completing THE FORCE, the second installment of Don Winslow’s THE POWER OF THE DOG trilogy that encompasses the narco-drug world that resides in Mexico, but also a symbiotic relationship with areas of the United States, I looked forward to seeing how his fictional account with elements of fact would resolve itself.  The concluding volume, THE BORDER has just been released and it will not disappoint as it maintains Winslow’s breadth of knowledge of the purveyors of the drug trade, the intricacies of how it operates, the violent battles among the cartels, the relationship between the Mexican and American governments, and how corruption and death pass back and forth over the Mexico-United States border, themes that seem to overlay each chapter.

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(Mexican border with El Paso, TX)

Art Keller is once again the main protagonist and he maintains his ability to make enemies among key characters in the cartels, as well as members of the American government whose job it is to create and enforce drug laws.  In THE FORCE Keller’s ability to create enemies reaches new heights as he manages to alienate his own Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the United States Senate, the Mexican drug cartels, and the President of the United States.  It seems Keller has triggered a scandal that results in an investigation that spreads from Mexican poppy fields to Wall Street, all the way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  Keller has been fighting the drug war for decades, but his focus was across the border in Mexico.  When he shifts his strategy the war on drugs will be impacted inside the United States as it rolls up several interesting individuals.

The key event takes place in Guatemala on November 1, 2012 at a supposed peace conference involved rival cartels, the Zeta and Sinaloa.  However, instead of peace it turns into a bloody shootout that results in the death of the Zeta leadership, and Adan Barrera, the head of the Sinaloa cartel, a man whose history with Keller goes back decades and as delineated in the first two books of the trilogy.  Barrera’s death cannot be confirmed for over a year, but once it conclusive the question that dominates Keller’s mindset is who will replace him, how that individual or individuals will carry on the cartel’s drug empire, and what are the implications for a drug trade with the United States that sees the volume of drugs arriving in the United States expanding, and the resulting explosion of deaths from drug overdoses.

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(The wall that separates El Paso and Juarez)

Keller’s imprint on the events in Guatemala are a well-kept secret, an operation that was rogue within American drug enforcement, though it had the President’s approval.  Keller, who will be appointed the head of the DEA because of the machinations of Texas Senator Ben O’Brien wants to radically change the DEA’s approach but he must deal with Washington’s bureaucracy, an assistant head of the DEA who opposes him and wants his job, and a presidential candidate for the 2016 election who wreaks of Donald Trump.  Further, the prison system in the United States  has a privatization component, therefore if policy is changed it could cost people in high places billions.  For years the American approach was to try and deal with the drug problem inside of Mexico.  Since the Mexican government was in bed with the cartels, with Washington’s pseudo cooperation, in order to maintain political stability, it is not surprising that the DEA and other agencies made little headway.  Keller’s new strategy is to focus on what was occurring inside the United States which leads to numerous roadblocks and an approach that had not really been implemented previously.

As in all of Winslow’s books there are layers to the overall story, and THE BORDER is no different.  Once the cartels decide to shift their export focus to heroin resulting in a major increase in drug related deaths Keller decides to do something to curtail demand in the United States and make it unprofitable for Americans involved in the trade.  The key for Keller is how does the cartel launders its drug money which leads Keller’s investigation to Wall Street.  Keller’s work is further complicated by the upcoming presidential election, an operation designated “Agitator” that calls for an undercover agent penetrating America’s finance system at a high level, and trying to implement much of his strategy in secret, away from elements in the DEA and other agencies who have a separate agenda from what Keller is trying to achieve.

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(Don Winslow, author)

As Winslow unveils his diverse plot lines characters from previous books reappear, but he also creates new ones who have a major impact on the course of the novels.  First, Dr. Marisol Cisneros, badly wounded in a previous cartel attack and the love of Keller’s life; Ignacio Esparza, Barrera’s brother-in-law; Elena Sanchez Barrera, Adan’s sister; Sean Callan and his wife Nora, Sean a former hit man for Adan Barrera and Nora his mistress; Raphael Caro, a Sinaloa god father figure who wields a great deal of influence and other narco types from the two earlier books.  Next, we meet John Dennison, who might as well be Donald Trump, candidate for president; Jacob Lerner, the second coming of Jared Kushner who is Dennison’s son-in-law who has major real estate investment issues.  The cartel figures abound, Tito Ascension, known as El Mastin who at one time was head of Esparaza security and now heads the New Jalisco cartel; Belinda Vatos, La Fosfora, in charge of security for the Nunez faction of the Sinaloa cartel; Ricardo Nunez, the head of the Sinaloa cartel; “Little” Ric Nunez, Barrera’s godson who tries to step into his empty shoes; Damien Tapia and the Renterias brothers who also try to take advantage of Adan Barrera’s death; and Darius Darnell, a black ex-con who is trying to carve out his own nitch in the drug trade centered in New York.  Keller’s allies include; Hugo Hidalgo, the son of a murdered DEA agent and assistant to Keller; Brian Mullen and Bobby Cirello, NYPD detectives working on Operation Agitator; and Admiral Roberto Orduna, Mexican Special Forces, an ally of Keller.   Chandler Clairborne is a different type of character, white collar, a syndication broker for the Berkley Group, who has links to money laundering; and Denton Howard, assistant head of DEA who supports Dennison and wants Keller’s job, among many others who impact the story.

Winslow repeatedly brings out the inequities in the war on drugs and changes that are needed as a disproportionate number of poor Hispanics and African-Americans get ensnared by the mandatory minimums endemic to the legal system.  Winslow’s views are brought out through Keller’s appearance before a Senate Committee and other avenues.  The number one reason for the increase in the heroin trade that has reached epidemic proportions is the poverty in the United States that has moved from large urban areas to small towns and rural regions. Keller, a.ka. Winslow argues the real source of the opiate problem is on Wall Street.  Corporate America ships out shops overseas, closes factories, which destroys people’s hopes and dreams resulting in pain for significant numbers of Americans.  For Winslow what is the “difference between a hedge fund manager and a cartel boss?”

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Winslow provides numerous descriptions and insights into the narco culture as he describes family life, education, funerals etc.  He takes the reader inside the US prison system and explains the daily existence of inmates  and the socio-economic hierarchy that exists and how the cartels are run from prison and how the narco types outside the prison influence what happens behind its walls.  Winslow creates characters like, Jacqui as an example of how a little girl grows up to be an addict, providing gruesome details of her acquisition of and use of drugs.  This is played out in Staten Island, NY, not Mexico.  He also creates the characters of Nico Ramirez and Flor, a nine and ten-year-old who escape Guatemala and make their way through Mexico to the US border.   The entire political culture of the cartel’s places Keller in a double bind situation.  The Sinaloa cartel is the key to the heroin trade.  If he destroys the trade the Pax Sinaloa for Mexico will end resulting in chaos and instability in the daily lives of Mexicans.  However, if he does not destroy the trade, the heroin epidemic in the United States will continue to explode.  Further the US bureaucracy is split on how to deal with the situation; the CIA and State Department collude with the Mexican government in dealing with the drug trade, while the DEA, Justice Department want to take the cartels down.

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The back story that exists throughout the novel apart from Keller’s war against the cartels are the cartels themselves.  Once Adan Barrera is dead the wars to control the Mexican drug trade recommence and the results are brutal as individuals try to make a name for themselves, and others try to recapture reputations and territory that they had previously lost to Barrera’s cartel.

The degree of financial and moral depravity described by Winslow is beyond the pale.  The inroads of the cartels into American politics and power is how the author derives his title.  The financing of the drug trade was usually in Mexico, now it has crossed the border.  By reading Winslow’s trilogy, three books in quick succession made me feel I was partaking in a penetrating journey – a voyage to many dark places that produce horror, depravity, disgust, and shame.  But the trip is one of necessity as Winslow has educated the reader, and at the same time he has produced a narrative that is a compelling view of reality even though it is supposedly a work of fiction.

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(US-Mexico border [El Paso and Juarez])


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On September 9, 1971 the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York forced its way into newspaper headlines across the United States.  On that day roughly 1300 prisoners took control of the facility in response to years of mistreatment and harassment.  In American history there have been many violent protests that have led to the death or wounding of those who took part.  Whether they involved Native-Americans, Vietnam anti-war demonstrators, organized labor, or Afro-Americans the causes and results of these events were documented and analyzed carefully by historians.  In the case of Attica, where 40 individuals, prisoners and hostages were killed and hundreds wounded, government officials placed immediate road blocks to thwart an objective investigation.  Government officials did not want the truth to come out, particularly New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller and his administration because of errors in judgement and outright incompetence when hundreds of poorly trained New York State troopers and prison guards were sent into the facility with shotguns blazing.  The Rockefeller administration immediately put out misinformation about what occurred, particularly when autopsies showed that the hostages were killed by indiscriminate gun fire, and not by prisoners.  Coroners were pressured to bury the truth as were other officials who disagreed with prison administrators and Rockefeller and his cohorts. It took many years to overcome the opposition to releasing what actually took place.  Finally historian Heather Ann Thompson in her comprehensive history, BLOOD IN THE WATER: THE ATTICA PRISON UPRISING OF 1971 AND ITS LEGACY has addressed all the major issues and individuals involved through her doggedness and refusal to accept no for an answer as she rummaged, researched, filed numerous freedom of information requests, interviewed participants and survivors in her quest to uncover the truth.

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(Bodies and wounded hostages and prisoners after New York State troopers and Correctional guards stormed the prison)

According to Thompson the gap in the historiography pertaining to Attica existed because of the obstruction by those who knew what really occurred and were concerned with the backlash that would result if the truth came to the fore.  Part of that truth were the conditions that existed in Attica as well as many other prisons nationwide.  Thompson describes a system overseen by Attica’s Superintendent Vincent Mancusi that suffered from overcrowding, lack of medical care, poor training of correctional officers, using prisoners as free labor to the tune of $12 million per year, no visitation for common law families, which effected one quarter of the inmate population, a capricious and arbitrary parole system, censorship of reading material and letters, medical experiments, and an overall atmosphere of racism.  The prison itself was built in 1930 and by 1971 its facilities had never been updated to accommodate an increasing number of prisoners whose racial makeup was no longer predominantly white, and the crimes they were incarcerated for did not fit the patina of the 1930s.

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(Prisoners  vote on whether to accept demands of prison officials after riots)

Thompson’s book is very disturbing and the events of September, 1971 were greatly affected by the political climate of the 1960s. At that time politicians moved toward “law and order” planks as demonstrated by the Nixon administration in 1968 and as the 1972 election moved closer.  The “law and order” approach greatly affected the funding and operation of America’s prisons.  As politicians in the north and south saw crime as the greatest problem in society, they decided to wage war against it.  This would lead to the imprisonment of more inmates than in any country in the world.  In New York state Governor Rockefeller, known as a “liberal Republican saw Nixon’s crime agenda as an impediment to his own quest for the presidency.  By 1970 he began to change his image to a more conservative politician who was tough on crime.

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(the remnants of Yard D after the prison was retaken by troopers and guards)

An uprising at the state prison at Auburn, NY was a precursor to events at Attica.  What occurred at Auburn should have served as a wakeup for New York State Prison Commissioner Russell Oswald to investigate inmate grievances, because prisoner reform advocates, New York ACLU lawyers and others were becoming very involved and wanted to investigate prisoner complaints.  The prison population was younger and more politically aware than previous generations.  Members of the Black Panthers, Young Lords, Black Muslims, and Weather Underground placed an emphasis on acquiring knowledge as they worked for improved educational programs.  For them, knowledge meant power and it was used to convince prisoners that what occurred to them on the inside mirrored what was occurring in the outside world.  From that perspective Thompson is correct that Attica was a prison that was about to explode in September, 1971.

The first half of the narrative concentrates on prisoner frustration concerning their treatment and the lack of response by prison officials to their concerns, the seizure of the facility by inmates, the negotiations that were conducted to try and resolve the situation, and the final storming of the facility by New York State troopers and correctional officers.  In so doing Thompson provides intimate details of every important aspect of the crisis.  Thompson takes the reader inside the lives of inmates, negotiators, administrators, correctional officers taken hostage, and individuals brought in from the outside to try and alleviate the situation.  In each section Thompson introduces important individuals to highlight what was about to be covered.  A few of the most powerful are portraits of Michael Smith, a correctional officer who is severely wounded by gunfire; Tom Wicker, a New York Times reporter who was brought in as an observer; Tony Strollo, a New York State trooper whose brother Frank was a correctional officer inside the facility; Elizabeth Fink, a lawyer who defended the prisoners and tried to gain compensation for them and their families; and Malcom Bell, an investigative lawyer who turned whistleblower against the state.   The reader will witness the motives that laid behind the actions of the major participants and how it influenced their behavior.  Thompson leaves no rock unturned as she explores every aspect of her story and reaches the conclusion the massacre that takes place at Attica did not have to happen, but for Rockefeller’s selfish concern for his political career and the party line that “black revolutionaries” and outside agitators were responsible for the uprising, the lack of training provided for the New York State Police for this type of operation, and the seeming stubbornness and vindictiveness of prison officials and many correctional officers in dealing with a situation that had gotten totally out of hand.

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(New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller who refused to entertain prisoner demands)

The second half of the narrative encompasses the attempts to cover-up the truth by the Rockefeller administration and statewide prison officials, the brutal treatment of prisoners by correctional officers following the retaking of the prison, the attempts by inmate families, and families of correctional officers (hostages) that were killed to learn the truth.  The obfuscation, misinformation, direct interference to learning the truth, and outright lies dominate the experience of anyone who disagreed with the findings that the leaders of the cover-up who feared what would happen should the truth emerge dominates the narrative.  The atmosphere that the different investigative commissions operated under created a very difficult situation as Thompson is correct in pointing out that “the nation’s most powerful politicians viewed Attica as part and parcel of a revolutionary plot to destabilize the nation as a whole would have profound consequences for how officials, both state and federal, handled official investigations.” (267)  A further impediment to learning the truth were the actions taken by Governor Rockefeller, his staff, prison officials, New York State Police officials and correctional officers to corroborate their stories to make sure they would achieve the outcome they desired from any investigation.

Thompson examines each investigation and then goes on to the legal effort by the families involved to learn the truth and gain compensation and better treatment for those who perished and those who survived.  Overall, it took three years for the state to bring inmates to trial for the uprising.  The most common theme dealt with those who were prosecuted, those who was not, the coercion of inmates to testify, and the uneven field that was created for prisoner defense lawyers.  As Malcom Bell, a lawyer recruited to Special Prosecutor Anthony Simonetti’s team pointed out when he became a “whistle blower” after experiencing the abuses of the prosecution, “it struck [me] as odd that so much effort was going into prosecuting prisoners from Attica when the officers had killed ten times as many people as the inmates had.” (403)  Bell tried to gain support for his findings, even writing a report for Hugh Carey, then the recently elected governor of New York.  After waiting months Bell grew tired and contacted Tom Wicker and the story ran in the New York Times  creating a firestorm.   The overall approach was clear, the prosecution of inmates was of the utmost importance and the case against law enforcement was a much lower priority.  What followed was an investigation of the investigation and perhaps Thompson’s best chapter.

Thompson discusses the prosecution of the prisoners in a very clear and concise manner.  The key conviction that Simonetti’s team sought was the murderer of corrections officer William Quinn.  The Quinn case as with other prosecution cases produced witnesses that were not very credible.  Most had not even been at the scene of the supposed crimes, they had been coerced into testifying, or they were promised early parole, reduced sentences, or total release.  Prejudiced judges in the first two cases gained convictions but once Bell became a whistle blower prosecution tactics began to change particularly when going after New York State police officials where increasing evidence that they interfered with the collection of materials and issued orders designed to protect troopers and themselves emerged.  Men in Simonetti’s office were fully aware that the top brass in the NYSP were hiding and destroying evidence.  Bell grew angrier and sent numerous letter to Simonetti pressuring him to go after State Police officials like Lt. Colonel George Infante, Captain Henry Williams, and Major John Monahan, but the Special Prosecutor chose to ignore Bell’s requests over and over.

The theme of culpability for the Attica uprisings pervades Thompson’s narrative, and like a fish that rots from the head down we see the interference and strategy of the Rockefeller administration throughout.  By the time a number of these cases finally reached trial, Nelson Rockefeller was undergoing Congressional hearings to be approved as Vice President once Richard Nixon resigned.  Angela Davis made the correct comparison when she pleaded before the committee not to approve Rockefeller.  Here was a man who refused any empathy toward the prisoners.  He would not go to the prison, he would not grant any paroles or pardons.  However, President Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon for his crimes, why couldn’t the Governor of New York do a little of the same?

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(New York Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz

Thompson completes her history of Attica by exploring the long road taken by inmates to seek redress in the New York State courts.  Led by attorney Elizabeth Fink they fought for years to overcome a new round of legal stalling and machinations as inmates, and families of inmates who had passed away fought “the system.”  As in other parts of the narrative Thompson provide minute details as the years passed until the trial of prison administrators in the early 1990s.  Partially successful the next battle would be over monetary damages to the inmates.  Fink led the former prisoners through the labyrinth that was the New York court system and finally in 2000, almost thirty years later a settlement was reached.  This created tension with the families of the forgotten hostages who received nothing from the state despite promises.  They would begin their own war to receive compensation that was somewhat successful, but just as with the prisoner settlement New York State refused to grant them an apology or any admission of wrongdoing for the massacre at Attica.

Reading Thompson’s study can be exhausting due to the detail and the emotion in which the author presents her material.  However, she has done a wondrous job of research and picking apart the documentation that she uncovered.  For those who lived through the Attica uprising you will be amazed at what Thompson has uncovered.  If you are younger and have never heard or thought about Attica and prison reform this book will be a revelation.

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(1964 voter registration demonstration in MIssissippi)

Greg Iles’ fourth novel in his Penn Cage series, NATCHEZ BURNING takes the reader back to a time period in American history when the civil rights movement was gaining its footing expressing the needs of black Americans as they had to deal with the daily injustices and violence that existed in large segments of American society.  Denied their rights as citizens, black Americans turned to organizing themselves for political action which did not sit well, particularly in the Deep South.  Iles begins his story in 1964 in a Louisiana parish where Klansman burned down the music store of a black citizen, and murder its owner, and a young man suspected of dating the richest man in the parish’s daughter.  At this point the leader of the KKK faction decides that the Klan was not going far enough to maintain “white society” and form their own more radical and violent faction labeling it “the wrecking crew,” made up of World War II and Korean War veterans who were facile with explosives and weapons.  As usual Iles’ mastery of American history stands out as he weaves in historical events as Klan members discuss the killing of three northern civil rights workers in Philadelphia, MS, the training of Cuban refugees for the Bay of Pigs, and commentary about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and plans to kill Martin Luther King, and possibly Robert F. Kennedy.  Iles flashes forward to 1968 and we learn that the “wrecking crew,” named, “Double Eagle” carried out the murder of a former navy and civil rights worker who is working to register black voters in Mississippi, among eleven others.  In addition, the Klansman have gang raped his sister, who happens to be Violet Turner, Penn Cage’s father, Dr. Tom Cages’ nurse.

As the reader becomes more engrossed in the plot, Iles’ pushes forward to 2005 and a phone call from Natchez, MS District Attorney, Shadrack Johnson who despises, Penn Cage, now mayor of Natchez, and informs him that his father is being accused of carrying out the physician assisted suicide of Violet Turner.  Cage, aware of his history with Johnson is wary, but once convinced the threat is real as Turner’s son, a Chicago attorney, wants to prosecute Dr. Cage, Penn confronts his father whether the charges are accurate.  Dr. Cage refuses to answer questions and cooperate and the reader wonders what do events dating back to the 1960s have to do with the charge against Dr. Cage.  Iles, as he has done in all his previous novels has lured the reader into his story through the characters he develops, a number of which have appeared in previous novels.  Iles has the knack to fill in events from previous books so the reader is brought up to speed so references to earlier situations make sense.  Now that the reader is hooked, Iles takes the reader on an interesting journey as the plot unfolds.

The plot itself is very complex involving a corrupt and savage billionaire named Brody Royal who had strong links to mafia types like Carlo Marcello and Santo Traficante; Royal’s son-in-law, Randall Regan, a violent and sadistic killer; the Knox family, that includes Forrest Knox, the Director of Louisiana State Police Investigation Bureau; Claude Devereux, the lawyer for the “Double Eagles; Henry Sexton, a local newspaperman who has been tracking the civil rights murders for decades, and numerous savory and unsavory characters.  Iles provides a wonderful history of Natchez, MI as well as an overview of the corruption of Louisiana politics.  A number of racist and crooked characters from the past are mentioned including former governor, Edwin Edwards and white supremacist, David Duke.  Iles’ integration of the history of the region is highlighted by Hurricane Katrina as we witness the devastation of the storm and the attempt by Brody Royal and his henchmen to rebuild the city in their own image by forcing blacks citizens out of areas destroyed by the storm, and implementing the reconstruction of valuable real estate to remake the city of New Orleans.

The core of the novel centers on Penn Cage’s crisis of conscience in dealing with his father, a man who he respects greatly.  Penn has difficulty accepting the accusations against his father and what it is doing to his family, but Tom Cage has grown very recalcitrant as he refuses to cooperate with his son’s inquiries.  The question at the forefront is what is Tom Cage hiding, and how can his son save him from himself.  Along the way witnesses to the civil rights murders of the 1960s die off, and others disappear as Penn gathers his forces and assets to try and vindicate a father.  For Penn, the most ethical man he had ever known may have withheld critical evidence for over forty years, and he begins to wonder whether his father’s life story may have been a lie.

The book never disappoints, and despite its length (it is almost 800 pages) it keeps the reader riveted to their seats and wanting to push further and further to see how all the corruption and murder that are discussed come together and work themselves out.  What is important about Iles’ effort is that it exposes the racial hatreds that dominated the south for what seems like an eternity.  It provides the book’s audience with an audacious history from a period that many would like to forget; in addition to the motives, weaknesses, and strengths of the characters portrayed.  NATCHEZ BURNING is a powerful story that will continue in the second installment of Iles’ trilogy, THE BONE TREE.

(Freedom Summer, 1964 Mississippi)

THE HANGING GIRL by Jussi Adler-Olsen

The Hanging Girl (Department Q Series #6)

(the site where most of the novel takes place)

In his sixth installment of the adventures of Department Q, Jussi Adler-Olsen presents his main protagonist in the series, the incorrigible detective, Carl Morck with a very unusual case.  The Hanging Girl centers around the obsession of Sergeant Christian Haberstaat, a detective on the island of Borholm in Denmark.  It seems that almost two decades ago, Haberstaat found the body of a young lady, hanging from a tree branch, in what appeared to be a hit and run accident.  Haberstaat could not accept that outcome and spent years investigating what he knew was murder, sacrificing his own family and ending his marriage.  Right before his retirement party Haberstaat reached out to Morck, a former colleague, for help leaving the message, “Department Q was his last hope,” which Morck ignored.  At the retirement party, Haberstaat, again obsessed about the long forgotten murder, took out a revolver and committed suicide.  Morck, Rose, and Assad, his trusted colleagues in Department Q head to the island of Bornholm to investigate the original accident and determine whether in fact Haberstaat’s conclusion was accurate.  Upon arriving in Bornholm a number of important things occur.  First, the police really do not want to revisit the case, second, Haberstaat’s son, now thirty-five years old commits suicide, and thirdly, his ex-wife is still bitter and blames her ex-husband for her ruined life.  Once Adler-Olsen has set the stage for the novel, the plot line moves smoothly and immediately catches the interest of the reader as all the previous Department Q novels have done.

Adler-Olsen also develops a parallel plot that involves a cult figure named Atu Abanshamash Dumuzi who heads a guru type of spiritual school called the Nature Absorption Academy that recruit’s both woman, and to a lesser extent men.  One in particular emerges as very important, Wanda Phinn, a divorced former Jamaican long distance runner who was living in London and is recruited by Atu to come live on the island of Oland in Sweden.  It turns out that another woman, Pirjo, who has been working with Atu for twenty years and is very protective of him, creates an environment where any woman who she deems a threat to her position will encounter grave difficulties.

As the story evolves, Adler-Olsen integrates the latest member of Department Q, Gordon into the mix of those trying to figure out what happened to the victim that Haberstaat had tried to uncover for so many years.  Gordon, according to Morck was thrust on the group by the new Chief of Homicide, Lars Bjorn, a former colleague that Morck had clashed with many times in the past and who exiled Department Q’s offices into the basement of Police Headquarters.  It is interesting to speculate about the murder victim, Alberta Goldschmid, who grew up as an orthodox Jew, limited by a kosher diet and strict parents.  Alberta was a beautiful young lady who drew the attention of all the boys at the Folk High School, creating extreme jealousy and hatred on the part of numerous girls toward her.  It is interesting how Adler-Olsen is able to take the two major strands of the novel and bring them together.  We witness good police work, an exploration of the word of the occult, and Morck’s personal demons all interacting.

The Hanging Girl, though a strong novel in of itself, it does not measure up to Adler-Olsen’s previous work.  For example, the storyline is too drawn out.  The novel starts out strong by drawing the reader in and about a third of the way, the author seems to get bogged down in certain details that become monotonous.  However, Adler-Olsen recovers to provide a fascinating ending that will keep the reader glued to the narrative for the last fifty pages of the book.  The inclusion of the new member of the team, Gordon is not very consequential and does not bring anything to the table.  Lastly, Adler-Olsen repeatedly returns to aspects of previous novels in the series without providing enough background for the reader to understand.  It would have helped if Adler-Olsen would have provided a little more information, particularly when he tries to integrate Morck’s relations with his ex-wife and girlfriends, the shooting that took place seven years earlier that resulted in paralyzing his colleague and his own injury, and why his relationship with Lars Bjorn is so poor.

On a more positive note, Adler-Olsen continues to develop the character of Assad in a very meaningful way.  We learn further about his past life as a member of the secret police in Syria, and his character is still used as a vehicle to quash stereotypes concerning the Muslim world, including his past family life.  The growth of his relationship with Morck is also poignant, and their constant banter back and forth is a highlight of the book.  Adler-Olsen leaves us a nugget concerning Assad in that his real name might be “Said,” and this could be a building block for future novels.  Though the novel is somewhat strong in its own case, it has certain limitations, and does not measure up to the previous entries in the series.  One caveat, if you are a fan of Adler-Olsen, as I am, you will give him a pass, and hopefully when book number seven appears in the series it will return to its usual quality.


Anders Behring Breivik

(Anders Behring Breivik the right wing extremist convicted of killing 77 people and wounding 244 in Oslo and Vtoya, Norway on July 22, 2011)

On May 15, 2015 the jury in the Boston bombing case voted the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for his role in the massacre at the April 15, 2013 Boston Marathon.  Tsarnaev acted out of an ideology that was the antithesis of Anders Behring Breivik, the self-proclaimed commander of the Norwegian anti-communist resistance movement who in July, 2011 sought to rid Europe of what he perceived to be its Islamization and, secondly to make a statement about what cultural diversity, and the feminist movement were doing to Norwegian society.  By blowing up the Norwegian Parliament building resulting in 8 deaths, and massacring 69 teenagers and wounding 244 more at a Labour Party youth gathering at its Vtoya camp retreat, Breivik hoped to rally Europe to his demented cause.

The use of hindsight as a lens to dissect human tragedy is very common.  Twenty-twenty hindsight exposes errors in judgement and outright mistakes.  What took place in Norway probably could have been avoided or at least the casualties could have been markedly reduced.  The warning signals seemed to be in plain sight and were overlooked, resulting in a disaster that could have been mitigated and was not in the case of Anders Breivik’s horrific actions on July 22, 2011 in Oslo and Vtoya.  The planning and execution of this atrocity and the life stories of the perpetrator and many of his victims have been extensively researched and chronicled in Asne Seierstad’s 2013 book, recently translated into English, ONE OF US: THE STORY OF ANDERS BREIVIK AND THE MASSACRE IN NORWAY. The book is a powerful story of how the development of hatred in one person can expose an entire society to his violent agenda.   Seierstad’s book begins with Breivik having already killed 22 people, coming upon 11 other teenagers, and how he proceeded to shoot them one by one.  Every few seconds a gun blast was heard, and as Breivik moved on to complete his task he said, “you will die today Marxists.”  Later, Breivik would explain that he wanted “to kill the party leadership of tomorrow.”*

Norway Terror

(The bomb blast at the Norwegian government building site on July 22, 2011)

There are a number of chapters in Seierstad’s narrative that stand out.  The discussion of Breivik’s upbringing and the dysfunctional nature of family life greatly contributed to his lack of self-confidence and loner lifestyle.  His mother, Wenche suffered from mental illness and abrupt mood swings, and when Anders was four she yelled at him that she “wished he were dead.”  As a little boy Anders tortured pet rats and little girls were afraid of him.  His inability to gain acceptance as a teenager, young adult, and adulthood was manifested in trying to make a reputation for himself as a “graffiti artist,” the inability to gain support for a position with the right wing Progress Party, the failure of his e commerce business, rejection for a city council seat nomination in his home town, and inability to become a Freemason all reflect a pattern of failure.  He spent a great deal of his time playing hardcore computer games like “World of Warcraft” and “Call to Duty: Modern Warfare,” in which his violent nature was refined.  The author integrates the political changes in Norway, the rise of the Labour Party and its left wing social agenda and how it provided a scapegoat for Breivik who develops a strong resentment for the number of “brown” refugees that are accepted by the Norwegian government.  As Breivik’s ideological views evolve he becomes convinced that the problem for Norway and Europe is the infiltration of Islam and his belief that what stood in the way of their deportation was in large part the Labour Party and its “feminist leadership” under former Prime Minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland. Seierstadt’s chapter “Patriots and Tyrants,” delineates Breivik’s ideas in a 1,518 page written manifesto, much the same way as did Hitler in Mein Kampf, and in retrospect it is a scary document.

Seierstadt’s chapters dealing with the families is both endearing and poignant.  The Rashid family emigrated from Iraq to escape the mounting sectarian violence after the American invasion.  Their story and how they tried to integrate into Norwegian society is important and sad as in the end their children found themselves in a situation that could only mirror their experiences in Kurdistan.  The Saebo family were native Norwegians whose children continued their parent’s liberal beliefs and their son Simon became a leader in the AUF movement (the youth wing of the Labour Party).  The family typifies the liberal sector of Norwegian society and how they worked with refugees and the poor.  Other personal biographies are presented and when the reader is confronted with the massacre on Vtoya Island they feel as if they know the victims of the terror.

Norway Terror

(The carnage at Vtoya Island, Norway on July 22, 2011)

What is most disturbing about the book is the discussion of what can only be described as police incompetence in many instances as the terror situation began to unfold.  The lack of equipment, poor communication, and overall weak preparation for a disaster of this kind probably substantially increased the death and wounded totals.  I realize it is easy to connect the dots after the fact, but in this case misplaced messages or ignoring important information are directly responsible for a great deal of what occurred after the Parliament building bombing.  The fact that only one helicopter was available at the time and the lack of water transport was appalling.  In reading the author’s description one wonders how safe Norwegian citizens were in 2011.  The Norwegian police response in the immediate aftermath of the Parliament building bombing looked as if the “keystone kops” were in control.  For those who were in charge of keeping Oslo safe, the events of July 22nd are scandalous, as a “2012 official investigation found that the police and security forces’ response during the attack was seriously flawed.”*

In addition to the personality portraits and defense strategies, Seierstadt provides a unique opportunity into the mind of Anders Beirik, especially in her discussion of his trial and sentencing.  Beirik believed in a three step plan, the bombing, the massacre at the island, and a trial that would serve as his platform for his ideas. He repeatedly stated that he expected to be caught, and tried to surrender a number of times during the massacre (another blot on police procedure) so he would not be killed, thus preserving his opportunity to educate the public about Islamization.  He achieved his goals as the Norwegian legal system worked to his advantage.  First, his message was broadcast nationwide.  Second, the court had to determine if he was sane or a political terrorist.  Third, no matter the verdict, he could only be sentenced to twenty one years in prison, and possibly more if he was still deemed a threat to society after his sentence was served.  Two teams of psychiatrists examined Beirik, one found him to be insane and suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and the other found that he suffered from a “dissocial personality disorder with narcissistic traits….with a grandiose perception of his own importance…. possessing a vast appetite for praise, success and power….totally lacking in emotional apathy, remorse or affective expression.”  At trial he was deemed to be sane, something that Beirik desperately wanted so his “movement” would gain legitimacy in his own mind.

Norway Terror

(The arrival of Norwegian swat teams at Vtoya Island….too late)

The author’s exploration of Beirik’s motives, preparation, implementation, and post-massacre thought processes is reported to the last detail and provides insights into the most horrific domestic event in Norwegian history.  The book reads like a novel, but it is not.  The translation by Sarah Death is flawless, and after reading the narrative the reader will gain tremendous knowledge and insights into the events of July 22, 2011, and how most or at least part of what took place may have been avoided.

Norway Terror

(What hatred in one man’s mind can lead to)

*”Norway: Two Faces of Extremism” by Hugh Eakin, New York Review of Books, March 5, 2015, 55-57.

WHITEY by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill

On a day when the US Senate has bowed to the pressure of the NRA and turned its back on making our world a little safer I find it apropos to review a book that deals in part with gun running and murder. I am not going to suggest that these esteemed politicians are in any way are as morally corrupt as some have suggested in the media, but when first responders in Boston run toward an explosion to save people, can’t our elected officials take “the risk” of opposing the NRA and do what is right and is supported by 90% of the American people, in addition to over 80% of NRA members…..come on, get real, they could not pass a watered down bill to enhance background checks that still makes it illegal to create a national gun data base! Now that I have had my rant here is an interesting book;

In Black Mass Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill recounted the deal between James “Whitey” Bolger and FBI agent John Connolly that resulted in the unprecedented relationship that saw the nation’s leading law enforcement agency in bed with Boston’s Irish mob leader. In their new book WHITEY, Lehr and O’Neill cover similar material in the context of a biography of Bolger bringing the story up to his arrest in 2011 and the onset of his prosecution in federal court. The book is well researched and rests on strict documentation enhanced by numerous interviews. The entire gamut of Bolger’s life, from his beginnings in crime in “Southie,” through his nine year imprisonment, and emergence as the top crime boss in Boston whose tentacles reached throughout New England and further south is presented. Bolger’s relationships with loan sharks, drug runners, hit men, etc. are discussed in detail as are his relationships with his own family and women. What is especially interesting are the author’s attempts to analyze Bolger and his criminal mind and behavior attributing it to his relationship with his father and other causes. Also of interest is his relationship with his brother Billy who presents himself as the epitome of the law abiding politician, educator, and family man, but based on his actions he should probably have been prosecuted for base his work behind the scenes in support of his brother. Another startling angle deals with John McCormack, a Boston Congressman, who later became Speaker of the House of Representatives during the John Administration who worked the levers of power to assist Bolger during his prison stay and ultimate release. The book reads like a crime novel, but in the end it is the true story of an unrepentant murderer who ruined the lives of many and dominated the Boston crime scene for decades.