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- March 18, 1991
- Vol. 35
- No. 10
Picks and Pans: Pages
New in Paperback
Set aside for a moment the problems that remain. This book of photographs of the civil rights movement from 1958 to 1965 is a testament to how much has changed.
Moore, a white Hackleburg, Ala., native, began working as a Montgomery newspaper photographer and got caught up in events he recorded so vividly that LIFE magazine often assigned him to cover civil rights stories. His photos from the era document one frightening confrontation after another, from a white man in Montgomery cocking a baseball bat to club a black woman to Martin Luther King Jr. being manhandled at a Montgomery courthouse.
After photographing his way through such stories as James Meredith's matriculation at the University of Mississippi, the brutality of Birmingham police chief Eugene "Bull" Connor and the Selma-to-Montgomery march in 1965, Moore was burned out. "I had seen so much violence," he says in the text by Michael S. Durham accompanying his pictures, "and I had been involved in so much ugliness, and I realized that I needed to do something else."
He has spent most of the last 25 years as a free-lancer based in Southeast Asia, but it's a safe bet he has never taken any pictures more consequential than these—crucial evidence of what was happening at the time, historical documents now.
Says Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young in his introduction to the book: "There are many more battles in which to engage as we approach a new century. All of us must hope and pray that the lessons learned and the lives lost during the first years of the movement will be remembered and honored to infinity." (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, paper, $24.95)
by Dean R. Koontz
Jim Ironheart is an ex-teacher living in Laguna Beach, Calif. Now and then, for no apparent reason, he utters the words "life line" and sets off for parts unknown. Guided by an unseen hand, he thrusts himself into situations where someone—usually a child—is in mortal danger. With an uncanny knack for knowing when a drunk driver is going to lose control of his car or when a 17,000-volt power line is about to explode, Ironheart swoops onto the scene and neatly performs a heroic last-minute rescue.
So far, so good.
As usual, fright novelist Koontz has an intriguing premise. But wait. Recovering from one very harrowing Good Samaritan gig, Ironheart gets a horrible feeling—you know, one of those feelings people in books like this often get—that "something hideous and merciless had been hovering near, something infinitely more savage and strange than anyone in recorded history had ever seen, dreamed, or imagined."
No point setting one's sights too low, but after a buildup like that, Koontz is hard-pressed to deliver. With the help of a reporter named Holly Thorne, Ironheart battles demons—both internal and external—to get at the root of his mysterious powers. The initial explanation is so prosaic that it can't possibly be true, and of course it isn't. But the eventual solution isn't much better.
In Koontz's better efforts, like Watchers and Lightning, the plots are sufficiently compelling, the protagonists so sympathetically drawn, that the reader can overlook the characters' ridiculous names or the many infelicitous phrasings, such as "traffic still clogged all lanes and moved like a snail herd being driven toward a gourmet restaurant." Here, that is harder to do.
In the end, Koontz's 55th novel is not unlike a cold fire: There's the glimmer of an idea, but it doesn't generate much heat. (Putnam, $21.95)
by Susan Isaacs
When Seymour (Sy) Spencer, a lunch-meat mogul turned movie producer, is killed on his pool deck in Southampton, a luxe Long Island beach community, there are several obvious suspects: his current girlfriend, a beautiful, blond, body-to-die-for actress named Lindsay; a Mafia buddy who had invested heavily in Sy's current bad movie, Starry Night; Sy's cook; Sy's second ex-wife.
But according to that wife, Bonnie Spencer, the circle of possibilities is a lot wider. "Sy cheated people on money, he lied to them about opening credits, he humiliated them in front of fifty people. So there are seventy, eighty people right there in East Hampton who you'd think had a motive to kill him. And another five or six hundred people he'd hurt or insulted over the years. What do you do in a case like this, where the murder victim is an SOB?"
In what is for Isaacs (Compromising Positions) only a routine crime novel, the detective on the Spencer case is Steve Brady, a local boy born on the wrong side of the beach, a Vietnam vet, a recovering satyr as well as a recovering alcoholic: "I spent my days off in Bridgehampton, picking up women and getting laid or watching the Yankees. (In an ideal world, it would have been both.)" Steve begins the murder investigation and learns that he wants to investigate prime suspect Bonnie Spencer more and more: the glossy hair bundled into a ponytail, the smile that reveals one crooked front tooth, the gold-medal thigh, "one of those girl-buddy types...broad-shouldered and clean." Turns out—this is an especially deft twist in a book of deft twists—that during Steve's days of wine and roses, he met Bonnie in a bar, and the two had an explosive one-night stand, an episode of which he has no recollection until Bonnie's lawyer reminds him of it. Then Steve slowly puts the event together piece by passionate piece.
What keeps this entertaining book from being anything profound is that the late Mr. Spencer is not nearly as interesting a figure as he might be (being a cheat and the sort who enjoys humiliating others is the absolute minimum one expects of a movie producer) and that the denouement unfolds rather clumsily. There is too much dialogue as the reader gets closer to learning who-dunit, rather as if Isaacs had lost her energy for the narrative. It's up to the wayward, I waylaid romance between Steve and Bonnie to provide whatever magic there is outside the title, and they do it only fitfully. (Harper Collins, $21.95)
Edited by Marie Cahill
Let us celebrate the diversity of America, where even African-American men (check Clearance Giddens on page 58), Hispanic boys (note Miguel Quintana, 4, on page 97) and women (Janice K on page 68) can be Elvis Presley impersonators.
Such representatives of the Elvis Wannabe Rainbow Coalition are included, along with 60 white guys, in this compendium of amateur and professional performers who believe they sing and/or look like the late Minstrel of Memphis.
I Am Elvis is billed as a guide but it's more a catalog, since Cahill makes no judgment calls about the talents of her subjects. Rather, she culled the responses of 64 hard-core would-be Elvises to questionnaires and interviews about how Elvis touched their lives and why they persist in squeezing themselves into spangled jumpsuits.
This is not a group to hold back its enthusiasm. Take, for example, Janice K, who bills herself as the Lady Elvis. A blond from Nebraska who looks more like a vintage 1950s country-music singer than the King of Rock and Roll, Janice knew as far back as high school that "the trail that I must blaze would be the Elvis Trail, however right or wrong that might be." Janice also reveals that back in 1983, as she finished a phone conversation with Elvis's Uncle Vester, she saw a man looking through her kitchen window: "It was Elvis's image! It was his forehead, cheekbones and nose on the window screen," she says. Elvis fans will be gratified to learn that the Screen of Elvis imprint remained for four years.
Although I Am Elvis includes its share of professionals for whom impersonating Elvis is more a living than a calling, even they sound excessively enthusiastic. Gary Wayne Bridges travels with a display of memorabilia, including Elvis's shaving kit; Dave Carlson conducts seminars on aping the King; Dennis Wise, an ex-car salesman, has had Elvis-enhancing plastic surgery.
The most purely devoted of these guys is Rob Dye of Cresthill, Ill., who doesn't even try to sing. As the book explains it, Rob is "a guardian of Elvis's memory rather than a performer, [he] is spiritually involved with Elvis." What does this mean? "He simply dresses like Elvis so that people won't forget about the King of Rock and Roll." With books like this one, how could we? (Pocket, paper, $8.95)
by Christopher Buckley
On one level this is an adventure novel about a very rich old man, Charley Becker.
He is on a vendetta against the Peruvian drug lords who supplied the cocaine that killed his only living relative, a beautiful 22-year-old granddaughter, Tasha. Along with his bodyguards and henchmen, Becker tracks down every operative in the drug chain, travels to South America and does them all in, using a variety of sometimes inventive, always superviolent methods.
The whole second half of the book is so heavy on the setups and shoot-outs, in fact, that it is (a) often hard to follow and (b) to be expected that the story has already been purchased by Paramount Pictures. (Too bad that neither Stallone nor Willis is old enough to play the lead.)
Unlike your average shoot-'em-up, however, Wet Work also aspires to satire—of the drug culture, of the government, of religion. At that, it at times succeeds brilliantly. In one effective scene, Becker, a Catholic, insists that one of his goons let a drug dealer speak to a priest before the goon blows the dealer's head off. There's also a high-level government official whose stumbling syntax is reminiscent of Ronald Reagan.
But too often, Buckley—author of The White House Mess, son of William F. Buckley and a speechwriter for then Vice-President George Bush—falls back on one-liners and inside jokes. Given his background, it's not surprising—and not unfunny—that he names Becker's henchmen Bundy, Rostow and McNamara (after famous Cabinet members of recent history). But when Buckley starts dropping such names as those of Von Bülow counselor Alan Dershowitz and columnist William Safire, his I-was-there-and-you-weren't attitude begins to grate. (Knopf, $19.95)
>Keeping up with the onslaught of new and reprinted titles related to the war in the Persian Gulf is a battle in itself. Publishers are aiming stacks of books (some rushed into production in a few weeks) at the insatiable American curiosity about the war. Below is a sampling of the recently published—and republished—books related to Operation Desert Storm.
DESERT SHIELD: THE BUILD-UP How do you move 240,000 troops thousands of miles in 10 weeks, not knowing if the enemy will strike? Robert F. Dorr, a career U.S. Foreign Service officer, chronicles the U.S. deployment in photos and in 119 cluttered pages of information. (Motorbooks International, $12.95)
WEAPONS OF DESERT STORM Maybe it's the euphemisms, but much of the technology used in the gulf seems surreal. This book by retired Air Force Col. Walter J. Boyne explains what these terrible machines do—from Patriot missiles to Iraq's T-62 tanks—in clear text and photos. (Signet, $7.95)
DESERT SHIELD FACT BOOK Here is a detailed book on gulf tensions from last July 31 to Jan. 2, 1991. Author Frank Chadwick (head of a company that designs military board games) includes a discussion of both allied and Iraqi weapons, likely military objectives and more. (Berkley, $10)
FROM BEIRUT TO JERUSALEM First published in 1989, New York Times writer Thomas L. Friedman's book is an absorbing view of recent and historical Israeli-Arab tensions; it's an above-the-fray approach to understanding the Middle East. (Anchor, $12.95)
REPUBLIC OF FEAR This insightful study of Iraqi politics by Iraqi exile Samir al-Khalil details Hussein's use of violence. (Pantheon, $12.95)
SADDAM HUSSEIN AND THE CRISIS IN THE GULF Written in three weeks by Judith Miller, a New York Times correspondent, and Laurie Mylroie, a Harvard expert, this volume zips through U.S.-Arab relations and Iraqi history before concluding that the war is designed to satisfy American oil interests. (Times Books, $5.95)
THE RAPE OF KUWAIT This quicky title, by Jean P. Sasson, once a hospital administrator in Saudi Arabia, is a propagandistic account of iraqi atrocities in Kuwait. (Knightsbridge, $4.95)
HOW TO DEFEAT SADDAM HUSSEIN These plans date from testimony before the House Armed Services Committee in December. But retired Army Col. Trevor N. Dupuy says he and his coauthors feel "no need to change our estimates and forecasts." (Warner, $4.95)
DRAGONS AT WAR How America's army fights in the desert—based on war game reports from the Army National Training Center in the Mojave—is the focus of this jargon-filled 1987 book by Army Maj. Daniel P. Bolger. (Ivy, $5.95)
- Ralph Novak,
- Mark Donovan Joanne Kaufman,
- Leah Rozen,
- Sara Nelson.
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