Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A fast-paced tale of vengeance and courage

C. J. Martin has written a thriller of a story about vengeance with a long memory, a man's checkered past revealed, and his daughter's life threatened. Fast-paced and loaded with action and very believable characters including Kazuo Tanaka (if that is his real name) and his daughter, this short story is a teaser for what is sure to come: a full-length novel that, if it is anything like this story, is sure to keep readers awake at night.

Having spent time in Japan, C. J. Martin knows Japanese culture and its players very well. Available in Kindle format. I look forward to reading the novel when it's out.

A definite ***** effort.

Deconstructing the Goose and living to tell about it.

In 2001, pharmaceutical giant Hoffman-La Roche was making billions from its acne medication Accutane. Over the next few years disturbing news began to surface about its possible side-effects, the chief of which was its effect on the brain, evidenced by between 300 and 3,000 young people whose only problem was acne began to experience depression, suicide and violent behavior. Psychiatrist and medical researcher J. Douglas Bremner (author of Before You Take that Pill: Why the Drug Industry May Be Bad for Your Health and other books on medical subjects) began to research the matter. What he discovered – that there appeared to be a verifiable correlation between the use of the medication and depression, suicide and acts of violence from young people who had no history of depression or violence.

What happened from there is material for a good crime – suspense novel as Hoffman-La Roche came after him like a swarm of angry hornets. What Dr. Bremner's book exposes is how an addiction to profit has changed medicine, medical research and the pharmaceutical industry from a focus on patients and medical service to a focus on money and lifestyle. What they did was declare total, no-holds-barred war on him with the end in mind of protecting their money stream and destroying him.

Following his course through the years of depositions, trials and threats is a dramatic and painful one. As a retired mental health professional myself, I am familiar with the way Big Pharma works, and was delighted to see them taken down a peg when they lost the fight and withdrew Accutane from the marketplace. When marketing and profit become a major focus, the whole purpose of both is turned on its head. “People in the healthcare system say they want to help people,” Dr. Bremner writes, “but the for-profit healthcare system drove doctors and hospital administrators to try to make money. A for-profit healthcare system is unethical.” I couldn't possibly agree more.

An “unadvertised” bonus is the story of Dr. Bremner's long personal struggle over the sudden death of his mother when he was a little boy. It is poignant and heart-wrenching and very familiar to me. It took courage for him to include it. Psychiatrists, like other mental health professionals (I was a clinical social worker) are just humans like all the rest of us. This is something we know or sense, but not something that is often shared. My hat is off to Dr. Bremner for sharing it.

A definite ***** read.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

As boisterous, hair-raising and funny a crime novel as you're likely to read

The title alone was enough to convince me that I’d found a book I wanted to read. What Robert Adams says in his brief introduction clinched it. “The real experts on crime are not the professionals but the criminals themselves. The Really Dreadful Crime Company sets out to fill the gaps left by the police and carries out its own unique, if not always strictly legal, methods of crime intervention. The next best thing to crime prevention is crime reduction, but if you can’t actually reduce it, at least you can try to bring about a better class of crime.”

Middle-aged Joan Johnson, a part-time private investigator, is mugged one day in her hometown of Hull, England. Getting absolutely no satisfaction from the excuse-making, “too busy” police, she sits down with her good friend Muriel and hatches a plan to make Hull a safer place for all its citizens. Reasoning that criminals know more about crime than the police, and that many criminals might want to leave crime, she proposes the following plan. She will found The Really Dreadful Crime Company and use criminals to investigate muggings, break-ins, harassments, crimes against women and other crimes the local police seem too busy to bother with. Though Muriel is dubious, the idea intrigues her. To Joan’s husband Harold, it is an accident waiting to happen.

The result is one of the most rollicking, hair-raising, funny crime novels I’ve read in many a year. Filled with plenty of action, two rival crime families – the Sleights and the Fiddlers – a bakery that employs ex-cons and serves as a front for the Crime Company, a host of loopy characters and incompetent cops, murder, romance and … The best thing to do is get yourself a copy, sit yourself down and enjoy a great adventure that will have you laughing throughout. I can see this yarn as a wonderful adventure / comic movie or TV series. I’d watch it, more than once.

For you Yanks, one of the crime bosses drives a luxury car called a "merc"; that's a "Mercedes", not a Mercury. I can't imagine anyone mistaking a Mercury (called a "Merc" in the USA) for a luxury car. It's (or was) the Ford product positioned between a Ford and a Lincoln.

A clear ***** read.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Street-centered poetry from a tough part of town

I’ve read enough about Hull, England, to know that it has gone through some rough times, has some mean streets and probably more than a fair share of drugs and too much booze to lubricate and sooth the experience, and has experienced a creative renaissance since the arrival of poet Philip Larkin some years ago. As his publisher says, Mike Watts writes poetry that “looks like Hull, it sounds like Hull and it smells like Hull, a place we are all proud to come from, even if we don't always enjoy the experience of being there at the time.” I can think of any number of cities in the U.S. and elsewhere that fit this description. Though I’ve never lived in one, from reading Mike Watts’ fine book, I can imagine what it's like.

There are some gritty poems in this book, like Cider Barry, “Two Things”, “Chaos Magnet” or “Me”. in Cider Barry, “My mate’s a boozer,/ Always smashed on cider,/ Always lost in space,/ Wind milling/ All over the place./ And it troubles me./ It’s horrible./ … He’s no different from me;/ Good home,/ Good family,/ No trauma,/ No tragedy.” Puts a fellow in an awful dilemma. “Come on just a fiver/ You know I’d do the same for you.”/ I know I shouldn’t,/ But tell me,/ What would you do?”

In “Me”, “I’m afraid of change,/ I’m afraid to change,/ I can’t explain why./ Perhaps this life will do./ Perhaps this life will have to do.” “You want to see angry?” he asks in “Chaos Magnet”; “I’ll show you angry./ Try spending a day in the life of me,/ Try fighting chaos constantly.”

Did I say “gritty”? Gritty and hopeless when faced with a life that looks dead-ended in a dead-end kind of place. But is life limited to that? No, but circumstances can make it seem as though it is, especially when booze and drugs are stirred into the mix.

Mike Watts is one of the leaders of the ThisisUll stable of poets, writers and musicians in Hull, England. You can check them out at

Five stars for this one.