Category: "Books: Read"

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey

January 12th, 2006

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken KeseyIn this classic novel of the 1960's, Ken Kesey's hero is Randle Patrick McMurphy, a boisterous, brawling, fun-loving rebel who swaggers into the world of a mental hospital and takes over. A lusty, life-affirming fighter, McMurphy rallies the other patients around him by challenging the dictatorship of Big Nurse. He promotes gambling in the ward, smuggles in wine and women, and openly defies the rules at every turn. But this defiance, which starts as a sport, soon develops into a grim struggle, an all-out war between two relentless opponents: Big Nurse, backed by the full power of authority...McMurphy, who has only his own indomitable will. What happens when Big Nurse uses her ultimate weapon against McMurphy provides the story's shocking climax.

Another book that so many people read in high school that I somehow never had to read; I was hesitant, yet excited to read it all at the same time. I am glad I did.

The story is told by Chief, the Big Indian. Through his eyes we see the ins and outs of life in the mental ward. The author uses the Chief's own inadequacy to set the tone for the other patients in the hospital; each goes through life with the pace of a crawl. The processes and procedures are in place to help them acclimate themselves to life outside the ward in hopes that some day they may rejoin society. Or that is what the staff tells them anyway.

We are introduced to a few figures with relative authority over the goings-on within the hospital walls, though their power is usurped by one woman. The head nurse. Over years she has manipulated the people around her, scaring off doctors and ward staff that she did not feel she would be able to control. As we join the story, her pieces are in place. She has a doctor overseeing the ward that is too timid to deny her control and three hospital attendants that are as immoral as she.

She has her way with the patients' minds. In group therapy sessions she asks the men to point out the shortcomings of others thus reinforcing their insecurities. These same insecurities are the reasons that for many of the men are in the mental hospital in the first place.

She keeps them weak and afraid, exerting her control until one new patient comes along and begins to question authority. R.P. McMurphy has bucked the system in every environment he has entered. As a result he had seen every form of punishment except one: the mental hospital. He was, maybe for lack of a better excuse, labeled a psychopath and duly committed. Now he has a new set of rules to break.

McMurphy may be euphemized as out-going, though others may prefer to call him obnoxious, pushy and loud. He is, in all respects, both the complete opposite of every other patient on the ward and the exact thing the nurse has worked so hard to avoid. With relative ease she has broken the spirits of every man before McMurphy and they both get creative as their rivalry grows.

She has control over the men's daily routine and has guided their thoughts as well for so long. McMurphy obtains control over their sense of freedom, but will that be enough?

The mental hospital was a great microcosm for society at large. The patients are everyday people. The nurse, more abstractly, is societal expectations and normal, "acceptable" behavior. The Chief could be you or me. He, more than the other patients, has acted in a way that is in line with what others have assumed about him and not how he wants to act. He conforms to what people tell him he is. McMurphy represents the small portion of the population that thinks outside the box. He is the free thinker who teaches us that it is ok, and should even be encouraged, for us to question authority.

Too often we do things because that is...just what you are supposed to do. We get out of bed, get dressed, go to work, go home, have dinner, kiss our spouse and go do bed. We are "grown ups" now and that is what grown ups DO. But why? Why not shake things up? We have the ability to carry ourselves with the integrity of adults though we live freely from others' expectations of us.

McMurphy champions the mentality (to keep with the setting of the book) that we need to maintain some sense of autonomy. You can control where I live and you can control what I do during the day, but I will not let you control how I think and feel. And most importantly the lesson he focuses on is that no matter how tough the going gets, never forget out to laugh. This is an incredibly powerful tool we can use to avoid being swept under the control of societal pressure and expectation. With our laughter we show others that we are still in control, but you have to mean it.

This may be completely off base with what Kesey had hoped to portray in his book, and it may mean something else entirely to you. But that is, after all, the beauty of it. I am not head nurse. I am not here to tell you how to think and feel about this book. But I do recommend you read it and find out for yourself. As I got into the book it was good, but not great. By the end I was pleasantly surprised by how much I really enjoyed One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

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Blink - Malcolm Gladwell

January 6th, 2006

Blink by Malcolm GladwellIn his landmark bestseller The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell redefined how we understand the world around us. Now, in Blink, he revolutionizes the way we understand the world within. Blink is a book about how we think without thinking, about choices that seem to be made in an instant -- in the blink of an eye -- that actually aren't as simple as they seem. Why are some people brilliant decision makers, while other are consistently inept? Why do some people follow their instincts to win, while other end up stumbling into error? How do our brains really work -- in the office, in the classroom, in the kitchen, and in the bedroom? And why are the best decisions often those that are impossible to explain to others?

In Blink we meet the psychologist who has learned to predict whether a marriage will last, based on a few minutes of observing a couple; the tennis coach who knows when a player will double-fault before the racket even makes contact with the ball; the antiquities experts who recognize a fake at a glance. Here, too, are great failures of "blink": the election of Warren Harding; New Coke; and the shooting of Amadou Diallo by police. Blink reveals that great decision makers aren't those who process the most information or spend the most time deliberating, but those who have perfected the art of "thin-slicing" -- filtering the very few factors that matter from an overwhelming number of variables.

Drawing on cutting-edge neuroscience and psychology and displaying all of the brilliance that made The Tipping Point a classic, Blink changes the way you understand every decision you make. Never again will you think about thinking the same way.

This book has become widely popular, even to the point where stores were selling out of copies before the holidays. People have been flocking to this title with anxious anticipation. My pre-read mentality was slightly different because of what I thought about Gladwell's other book, The Tipping Point, but I will go into more depth on that later.

I cannot explain why my expectations were what they were, but whatever the reason(s) behind them, they were not met. I happened to believe that this book, as different from the author's other, might actually be about skills and techniques to practice in an effort to better one's self in the art of making snap decisions. That is the premise of the book; ideas around making educated decisions quickly rather than after exhaustive research efforts.

As I began the book I became increasingly afraid it would simply be a collection of anecdotes about people who are able to make smart decisions in the blink of an eye. You have to figure that no one would buy a book that was just stories about people who are better at what they do than you are at what you do, right? ...Right? Or maybe such a book would fly off the shelves. Weird.

Where I looked to find examples of what other people have done in their lives to better prepare themselves to make decisions I found story after story about experts in respective fields. These people have not trained in some strange Zen custom to be able to focus their mind on the correct decision; they have simply spent countless hours at their craft. The only reason these people can make snap decisions and eliminate the time otherwise spent on researching the situation is because they devoted the earlier portion of their lives to that research.

The idea of the book, from how I interpreted it may be summed up as this: If you want to be able to decrease the amount of time it takes you to make a decision, whether it be in your business life, your personal life, or your spiritual life, all you need to do is know your product. Take time with each and every aspect. With time you will by default become so experienced with most situations that making decisions will be relatively routine.

The subjects of Gladwell's examples are the tops in their industries because they have become experts in what they do...over time. And there is the key point. You, too, can make snap decisions if you become knowledgeable on the topic. But that takes time.

The issue from The Tipping Point that I found had reincarnated itself in Blink was depth. Malcolm Gladwell writes, in both books, about what I consider to be good ideas. He has my attention. I desire to read what he has to say on the subjects. The level of his research is never questioned. I can tell that he is very thorough as he gathers the information for his books. He falls short, however, in analysis. The ideas are great, and the information is there, but at the end of both books I felt wanting for more expansion. Maybe it was a flaw in my reading that I felt some topics could have used more elaboration, but then again maybe you will agree.

I sound as if I am down on the book, and for how it contrasted with my expectations of it, I am. I am not, however, completely dissatisfied with it in its entirety. I found the details of how people have carved out their particular niche very fascinating. The research done by the author was impressive. The variety of examples he brought together under the umbrella of decision making was what interested me most. If only knowing the many different categories that food experts use to rate mayonnaise could help me in my life's pursuit...

As a short book that can be read rather quickly, even by slow readers such as myself, I still think Blink is worth reading if only from the perspective of the curious. I believe the book has more to offer than that, but it is a good starting point in your motivation to read.

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The Moviegoer - Walker Percy

November 11th, 2005

The Moviegoer by Walker PercyWhen The Moviegoer was first published in 1961, it won the National Book Award and established Walker Percy as one of the supplest and most deftly modulated new voices in Southern literature. In his portrait of a boyish New Orleans stockbroker wavering between ennui and the longing for redemption, Percy managed to combine Bourbon Street elegance with the spiritual urgency of a Russian novel.

On the eve of his thirtieth birthday, Binx Bolling is adrift. He occupies himself dallying with his secretaries and going to movies, which provide him with the "treasurable moments" absent from his real life. But one fateful Mardi Gras, Binx embarks on a quest -- a harebrained search for authenticity that outrages his family, endangers his fragile cousin, Kate, and send him reeling through the gaudy chaos of the French Quarter. Wry and wrenching, rich in irony and romance, The Moviegoer is a genuine American classic.

It is always nice when you happen upon a good book for reasons different from usual. I was playing around on the internet, as I have been known to do, and followed a trail of "if you like this, try this....if you like that one, try this one" and that lead me to Mr. Walker Percy. The man has written a plethora of books, why did I choose this one? Why did I choose a book called The Moviegoer? I am not even going to dignify that with a response.

I liked it, but not as much as I feel I could have. I need to apologize to Mr. Percy for not giving his book the attention I feel it deserved. Weighing in at fewer than 250 pages, the book is not a long one. I think this book is best served up to someone who has the time to read this in no more than just a few days. I have been quite busy of late and have not had the time to allocate to reading. My schedule did not do the book justice. Some readers will be able to finish it in just a few short hours, I am slower; a few days is more realistic.

I found myself picking up the book and having no idea what had just happened before the last time I put it down. That is to no fault of the author. In reality the book flowed very well. I have had too much on my mind. Save this one until you have the appropriate time to read, but it was very good and I think you should read it.

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A Game of Thrones - George R. R. Martin

October 7th, 2005

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. MartinIn a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom's protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win the deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

I am typically a Mystery/Suspense novel snob. Rarely have I varied my path from those books, but more and more recently I have been making the switch. At a time when mystery novels have nearly ceased to excite me, I have needed to look elsewhere. I would have never expected to find comfort in the arms of Sci-fi/Fantasy, yet here I am before you.

I have read The Lord of the Rings, but my experience beyond has been disappointing. A few years ago, at the urging of a friend I picked up a copy of The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan, Book 1 of the Wheel of Time series. My first non-Tolkien Sci-fi/Fantasy experience was a bust. It probably took me a week if not more to read the first 13 pages. Try though I might, I could not find myself lost in Jordan's world. At 832 pages, it was not a book I wanted to take my time and give a truly fair chance.

Needless to say that I was hesitant when the recommendation came to try the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. Same friend as before to make the recommendation, but this time he let the book speak for itself. A Game of Thrones spoke loudly to me. I actually read the first however many pages right from Amazon.com and before I knew it I had bought a copy.

Martin's writing style, in respect to different chapters, was very interesting. He titled a chapter as the name of a key character and then the subsequent pages would be some unfolding of the story from that character's perspective. This kept the story fresh at all times; ever-changing.

I will warn you that if you are a reader who likes to see each character to whom you become attached remain unharmed, this may not be the series for you. Martin dares to allow the big name(s) to die. Not all authors will take this step, I like it. It makes you realize that at any time, any one of the characters in the story could be killed. Not that this book needed help creating excitement, but this element certainly added to it.

In true Sci-fi/Fantasy style, A Game of Thrones was a long book (Book 2, A Clash of Kings is even longer). When I would normally expect relief at the end of such a long book (807 pages), here I found actual goosebumps and the burning desire to continue the series.

I applaud the author for his writing; his mix of sci-fi/fantasy with mystery and romance and everything in between, I thank Thomas for his recommendation which I pass on to you, and I order my copy of Book 2.

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Everything is Illuminated - Jonathan Safran Foer

July 7th, 2005

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran FoerWith only a yellowing photograph in hand, a young man--also named Jonathan Safran Foer--sets out to find the woman who may or may not have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Accompanied by an old man haunted by memories of the war; an amorous dog named Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior; and the unforgettable Alex, a young Ukranian translator who speaks in a sublimely butchered English, Jonathan is led on a quixotic journey over a devastated landscape and into an unexpected past.

As stated in the synopsis of the book, a young American (Jonathan) flies to the Ukraine in search of a woman who allegedly saved his grandfather from German soldiers. While in country he meets up with his translator (Alex) and driver (Alex's grandfather).

The book is laid out in what I understood to be three different formats. The first of which was Jonathan, the American's book which is a work of his family's history. There were some extraordinary happenings in his ancestry; many of them are then detailed on paper. The second style that at first glance may seem to be actual events as they occurred as if Alex were the main character recounting them; I interpreted as Alex's book. Both characters, then, are young authors. The third and final format (italicized) is Alex's letters to Jonathan.

The back and forth between the three different formats was annoying at first. The hardest part was Jonathan's family history. Before you realize it you are plunging generations into the past to a small village in Eastern Europe to follow the lives of characters that ultimately have little to do with the plot. Next you have Alex's narration and perspective both in his letters to Jonathan and also his telling of the story. Alex speaks English, though he struggles. Certain things he says, like many (in my experience) who are branching out into a language other than their primary, are too literal in their translation. This is funny at first as my American arrogance allows me to laugh at Alex, which is fine. I believe it was put in to be funny. After it was funny, it became tiresome. The gimmick of having someone who speaks broken English try to express himself as he tells tales of his sexual prowess only goes so far. It wore thin.

Like almost every other book, Everything is Illuminated has quotations of praise from "respectable" members of the media. There was some very high praise for author Foer. I had no problem with my expectations, they were not exalted due to the praise, but as I read I did remember the praise on the back and was disappointed...to a point. That point came with about 100 pages to go. When young Jonathan has reached his grandfather as he digs through layers of genealogy, specifically once his grandfather meets the gypsy girl, the book was transformed.

To be fair, I do need to circle back and discuss the relationship between Alex and Jonathan. The timeline of Alex's letters was: funny - tiresome - worthwhile. There is a turning point in his correspondence with our young protagonist that beyond which I viewed Alex in a new, significantly more positive, light.

(I am not positive which happened first, this specific happening or the introduction of Jonathan's grandfather to the gypsy girl. I apologize if Alex changed first, for my above comment about when the book "got good" is inaccurate.)

I had a slow time through the beginning of the book, but I was captivated towards the end. The remaining pages were though they were written by someone else. My thought was that the story was in that final 100 pages and what came before it was filler. The author had an idea and had to wrap it in story. When I saw author John Sandford speak he advised that, when writing, your last four chapters would be your best writing and it would take much editing so the level was that throughout. Maybe Sandford is right, maybe Foer just did not go back and edit. Who knows? At this point it does not matter. Foer earned his praise with Everything is Illuminated.

I was worried when I read that the book was about an incident that happened during the Nazi regime. I became apprehensive of a book that would then be too deeply rooted in the historical significance of the war. I did not want to read a book like that. As it turns out, I did not have to. The war is mentioned; but it comes to light in a way that made me wish for more.

The author set the hook and reeled me in. I recommend this book, but do ask that you be patient.

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When the Wind Blows - James Patterson

May 17th, 2005

When the Wind BlowsFrannie O'Neill is a talented Colorado veterinarian haunted by her husband's murder. But the course of her life is about to change again. After another bizarre killing, Kit Harrison, a troubled and unconventional FBI agent, arrives on her doorstep. And late one night Frannie stumbles upon a strange, astonishing phenomenon.

Her name is Max. Only eleven years old, she will lead Frannie and Kit to uncover one of the most diabolical and inhuman plots of modern science.

With this now being a three part series, I decided it was time for me to get my feet wet. It has to be decent to warrant a second and third installment, correct? That is what I found. It was decent. In no way would I call this Patterson's best, but it was good enough. I will read The Lake House and Maximum Ride to see how the story plays out. I will admit I am curious to see where the author is going with these characters.

The author speaks of the importance of this book in an introduction. He mentions that ideas he thought were an act of fiction may be more real than we want to believe. Then again, I am sure that helps book sales. Either way, here is another quick read from James Patterson. Pick it up if you have a free weekend.

Buy When the Wind Blows $7.99

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As Simple as Snow - Gregory Galloway

April 27th, 2005

As Simple as Snow by Gregory GallowayIt is said that Anna (Annastasia) Cayne was born in a thunderstorm. A slightly spooky and complicated high school girl with a penchant for riddles, shortwave radios, Houdini tricks, and ghost stories, Anna spends much of her time writing obituaries for every living person in town. She is unlike anyone the narrator has ever been with, and they make an unlikely, though happy, pair.

A week before Valentine's Day, Anna disappears, leaving behind only a dress placed nearly near a hole in the frozen river, and a string of unanswered questions.

Desperate to find her, or at least to comprehend what happened and why, the narrator begins to reconstruct the past five months. And soon the fragments of curious events, intimate conversations, suspicious secrets, and peculiar letters (and the anonymous messages that continue to arrive) coalesce into haunting and surprising revelations that may implicate friends, relatives -- or even Anna herself.

A mesmerizing labyrinth of art, magic, and cryptic codes that sparks the imagination and teases the intellect, As Simple as Snow is a mind bending mystery, as well as a poignant and wise look at young love, loss, and family.

Visit AsSimpleAsSnow.com

An eccentric girl comes into the life of our narrator. She, through her mysterious means, turns his life upside down. How could this girl, so different from the rest, have such an impact? How could she burn an impression so deep into his soul?

Galloway had the narrator mesmerized by Anna, but he was not the only one. I, too, was fascinated by this character.

I am very impressed with the story and the writing. The situation is one which has me torn on my opinion of the author. I am torn between the idea that I would not want to read another book by him and that I cannot wait for him to write many more so I may read them all. The only reason I would not read his other writing is I would be afraid it would not be as original; not as good. It is an odd feeling, one I am not used to, to finish a book and be left with this strange appreciation for the author because of the work he completed. The book was not the best I have read, but Gregory Galloway took me in directions that are usually left untraveled in my literary adventures and for that I thank him.

Of course I have a few complaints with the book, more loose ends than anything; a few points with which I would like closure. Other than those, I really enjoyed this book. It is not often that I read something other than a mystery. Sure there was mystery wrapped up in this piece of fiction, but there was also much more.

...There's a whole world all around more interesting, wonderful, terrifying, mysterious, amazing than any novel ever written. Pay attention. Take a chance. Dare life. (p.19)

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Gideon - Russell Andrews

April 18th, 2005
Gideon by Russell AndrewsWriter Carl Granville -- down on his luck personally and professionally -- is approached one day by a hotshot publisher who says she'll pay him a startling amount of money to turn a top-secret diary into a novel. Gift from God or devlish trap? ... The conspiracy he gets tangled in plays on some seriously topical fears.

A starving author is asked to ghost write a political memoir and disguise it as fiction. He is given no details. He is, however, given a sizeable sum of money. Too good to be true? Well yeah, no one would read this book if there was an absense of conflict. What this young author does not anticipate though, is helping facilitate the most dangerous political scandal in the history of the United States.

I bought this book near when it was released in paperback nearly 6 years ago. It was not until I finally got enough of a recommendation from a friend that I got around to reading it. Surprisingly, it is not too often that anyone recommends books to me, though I wish they would (not that I don't have a big enough "to read" pile as it is).

Towards the end things get a little out of hand. Events seem a little too far-fetched in the interest of keeping some characters alive and making other characters less alive. It was a work of fiction, so I guess things like that are allowed, just not too often.

Gideon was a good book. It was a recommendation that I pass on. Protagonist Carl Granville is very likeable. Sometimes main characters are tough to follow; that was not the case in this book.

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The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership - James C. Hunter

March 27th, 2005

The Servant : A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership by James C. HunterIn this absorbing tale, you watch the timeless principles of servant leadership unfold through the story of John Daily, a businessman whose outwardly successful life is spiraling out of control. He is failing miserably in each of his leadership roles as boss, husband, father, and coach. To get his life back no track, he reluctantly attends a weeklong leadership retreat at a remote Benedictine monastery.

To John's surprise, the monk leading the seminar is a former business executive and Wall Street legend. Taking John under his wing, the monk guides him to a realization that is simple yet profound: The true foundation of leadership is not power, but authority, which is built upon relationships, love, service and sacrifice.

Along with John, you will learn that the principles in this book are neither new nor complex. They don't demand special talents; they are simply based on strengthening the bonds of respect, responsibility, and caring with the people around you. Perhaps this is why The Servant has touched readers from all walks of life--because its message can be applied by anyone, anywhere--at home or work.

If you are tired of books that lecture instead of teach; if you are searching for ways to improve your leadership skills; if you want to understand the timeless virtues that lead to lasting and meaningful success, then this book is one you cannot afford to miss.

This was now the second time I have read this book. In terms of a simple reading that helps to keep things in perspective, this is a fine book. The impact from the first time around was lessened, but the message is still potent.

My first read was powerful. I finished the book with an extremely positive outlook. I really felt good about myself. Sure it was a time when I needed a pick me up as I was unemployed and looking for some strength to help me start my post-college life, but I felt good just the same.

After time the second, my situation, now different, affected my response to the book. The result was still a positive one, but I am now working so the leadership suggestions had new meaning.

As unemployed, I focused on the lessons toward improving my interpersonal relationships with family, friends and those around me.

As employed, I focused on the lessons toward improving my interpersonal relationships with coworkers and gaining efficiency at work. It was then a refresher course for me on improving interpersonal relationships with family, friends and others.

I still recommend this book to anyone who finds themself in a leadership role. This can be management at work, mother or father, coach of a team, or even as just a friend. We always have influence with other people and this book serves as a guide as to how to maximize return on it. There is no attempt at personal gain, there is only a collection of stories to help you gain or increase the happiness in your life through a servant-style leadership.

You've all heard the statement, 'I will change when...' and you can fill in the blank. Perhaps the statement should be turned into a question: 'I will change...when?'

This is just one of many conversations had by fictitious participants in a leadership retreat. Whether the events in the book happened as stated or not is irrelevant. The message is important.

But where do I begin?
You begin with a choice.

Buy The Servant $13.60

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Mystic River - Dennis Lehane

March 8th, 2005

Mystic River - Dennis LehaneWhen they were children, Sean Devine, Jimmy Marcus, and Dave Boyle were friends. But then a strange car pulled up to their street. One boy got into the car, two did not, and something terrible happened--something that ended their friendship and changed all three boys forever.

Now, years later, murder has tied their lives together again...

Good book. I am glad I finally read it, I had heard such good things about it before and after the movie became so popular. I am yet to see the movie, but I am actually looking forward to it more now that I've read the book. That is not usually the case with me, I tend to avoid movies for books that I have read. What is different this time is that I feel that Lehane put too much into this one. I think there was just too much going on; too many characters to keep track of from start to finish. I think truncating the story a bit, in movie form, could really make this story shine.

This being the first Lehane book that I have read, I am unfamiliar with whether or not he continues characters Sean Devine and/or Jimmy Marcus in later novels, but he certainly set himself up to do so. Sure you could call it a nice unsettling finish to end his novel, but I think there is more he could do with it.

I might like to see a first person follow up from the perspective of Jimmy Marcus more so than Devine. Do that with Devine breathing down his neck, but as a support character.

Mystic River was a good enough book, however, to keep me interested in Lehane's writing. I will be sure to check out some of his other work. Just what I need, another author to track...

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