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The Blue Knight
The Blue Knight
by Joseph Wambaugh
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.99
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wambaugh's reputation is well earned, January 20, 2013
This is Joseph Wambaugh's second novel (first published in 1972) and it serves as a bookend to his debut novel The Last Centurions, which followed three LAPD recruits. The Blue Knight follows Bumper Morgan's final days on the beat after 20 years.

Bumper Morgan is 50 years old, overweight, out of shape and weary. He has two days to go before he retires after 20 years on the beat and earns his pension which will pay him 40 percent of his salary. He has a job lined up and he plans to marry his 44-year-old teacher girlfriend Cassie, a divorcee. Bumper wants to retire quietly and without any fanfare.

Here are some of the insights and wisdom Bumper shares throughout the book:

"I always tried to learn something from the people on my beat."

"My advice to rookies: Shut up and listen."

"Beat cops rule by fear and force. If they stopped being afraid of me--I was through and the streets would be a jungle."

"The job gets to you...The way you see everyone so exposed and vulnerable."

"It's always best not to ask too many questions of people or get to know them too well; you'll save yourself disappointment that way."

"I was getting out while I was still a man alive, with lots of good years ahead. And, with somebody to care about."

Here's another observation from Sgt. Cruz, Bumper's best friend on the force: "You grow up fast out there and learn too much. It's no damn good for a man to learn as much as you learn out there. It ruins the way you think about things and the way you feel."

Will Bumper be able to ride off quietly in the sunset and leave the beat behind? Will he be satisfied being anything but a cop?

I first read this book nearly 40 years ago, and it has lost none of its impact over the years. And, it serves as an ageless reminder of how Wambaugh earned a reputation as one of America's best writers and the master of the police novel.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 23, 2013 3:12 PM PDT

Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics
Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics
by Jeremy Schaap
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.14
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the greatest Olympic performances of all-time, January 12, 2013
Jesse Owens is considered to be the greatest track star ever by many people. Certainly his performance in the 1936 Olympics (four gold medals) is upon the top Olympic moments. Owens refuted the Nazi's venomous theories with his awesome deeds.

Author Jeremy Schaap points out that in the 1930s, track and field was still a sport of the masses. The top runners and jumpers were on par with the biggest stars in baseball, boxing and football. In 1950, an Associated Press poll of the greatest athletes of the first part of the 20th century listed six track stars among the top 18 athletes, the most from any sport.

Owens commanded tremendous media attention while competing for Ohio State. In 1935, he set two world records and tied a third in one meet. Two-time Olympian Frank Wykoff said about Owens, "I never saw a man run with such ease." Owens was described as "running like a thoroughbred, effortless and emotionless."

For Owens, who was 22 and married, his entire future rode on the 1936 Olympics. It was either Olympic glory and a potential financial windfall or pumping gas. Yet, Owens' future was in jeopardy as there was serious talk of boycotting the 1936 Olympics, which were to be held in Berlin. It would be an obvious showcase for Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. And, there were no guarantees that blacks and Jews would be able to compete or that they would not be discriminated against. Although no one knew it at the time, 1936 would truly be Owens' only shot at Olympic glory since the Olympics were not held in 1940 and 1944.

Schaap devotes nearly 50 pages to discussing the controversy that surrounded boycotting the Olympics. Although the NAACP voted against participating in the Olympics, Owens the rest of the top black trackmen such as Ralph Metcalfe, Eulace Peacock, Ben Johnson and Cornelius Johnson favored competing. They just wanted a chance to prove what they could do.

In the end, Schaap writes that if it was not for head of the Olympic Committee Avery Brundage's "pigheadedness, cunning, Germanophilia, anti-Semitism and deep-rooted bigotry, Jesse Owens would never have become an Olympic star."

Owens, who was favored to win three gold medals, was embraced by the Olympic crowd and the Germans, who constantly asked him for autographs. Owens did not disappoint, winning the 100, 200 and broad jump. Controversy, however, surrounded his fourth gold medal in the 4 x 100 relay. The projected four-man U.S. squad was altered, leaving off two Jews, Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller. Another controversy concerned whether Hitler snubbed Owens or not. Owens originally said he didn't, while others thought he did. In later years, Owens changed his story and said Hitler did snub him. Interestingly, President FDR never congratulated Owens or sent him a telegram.

Despite his four gold medals and stirring performance in front of Hitler, Owens never experienced a financial windfall from the Olympics.

Schaap does an excellent job of presenting Owens' story leading up to the 1936 Olympics and the event, including the multitude of controversies. This is a well-written, face-paced book, one worth reading.

The New Centurions
The New Centurions
by Joseph Wambaugh
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.99
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5.0 out of 5 stars A powerful classic about police work, January 5, 2013
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I read this book more than 40 years ago when it was first published in 1970. It made a strong impression on me, and made me a life-long Joseph Wambaugh fan. Re-reading it just reinforced how great a novel it is (and unbelievably a first novel) and why it's a classic. Many times when you look back at an author's first novel, particularly after more than four decades, it pales in comparison to his later works. That's certainly not the case with The New Centurions. It's an incredibly well-written and deep novel.

Wambaugh follows three LAPD recruits--Roy Fehler, Sergio Duran and Gus Plebsley from police academy in the early summer of 1960 through the end of the Watts riots in the summer of 1965. The three recruits go their separate ways after the police academy, but are reunited at the tail end of the Watts riots.

Wambaugh, a 14-year veteran of the LAPD, pulls back the multi-layered veil of the police officer to reveal the doubts, fears, uncertainty and frustrations they experience on a daily basis. Being a LAPD cop is an "often thankless" job, and getting a daily dose of the worst of society takes its toll. Reality is often the opposite of what police officers and the public believe it to be.

Here are some insights from the characters in The New Centurions:

Veteran police officer Kilvinsky: "Police work is 100 percent common sense. That's about what makes a policeman, common sense and the ability to make a quick decision. You've got to cultivate those abilities or get out."

Supervisor Milton: "This is a brutal business...if you learn something about yourself that you'd be better off not knowing, well, just slide along, it'll work out."

Officer Plebsley: "All my life I believed what people told me was the truth, and I was a lousy policeman until I got over that mistake. Now I know they'll lie when the truth would help. They'll lie when their lives depend on the truth."

From Wambaugh: "Policemen have a secret which seemed to unite them more closely than normal friendships and that was the knowledge that they knew things, basic things about strength and weakness, courage and pain, good and evil, especially good and evil."

The New Centurions provides a realistic view of what it's like to be a member of the LAPD and how police duty changes men. It's a powerful novel.

King of the Night: The Life of Johnny Carson
King of the Night: The Life of Johnny Carson
by Laurence Leamer
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beloved entertainer who no one knew, December 26, 2012
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Johnny Carson was arguably the greatest entertainer in the history of television. He was not, however, the greatest husband, father or friend. Author Laurence Leamer paints an in-depth portrait of a man starkly different than his on-air personality. Although millions of viewers thought they knew the host of The Tonight Show, no one really did.

Carson, who spent nearly forty years on the screen, was one of television's pioneers. He got his start on WOW TV in Nebraska and later moved to KNXT TV in Los Angeles. Talented, ambitious and inpatient, Carson got his first shot at network television in May 1954 as host of the game show "Earn Your Vacation."

Leamer does an excellent job of detailing Johnny's childhood, his demanding and unloving mother, his emotionally and physically absent father, early days in television and his disastrous first marriage, which produced his three sons. The early years were difficult for Jody, his first wife. Johnny was constantly working with his eye on making it to the top. When he wasn't working, he was drinking, partying and chasing other women. He neglected his wife and his family. On several occasions, he beat his wife.

Johnny was described as "cold, self-involved and the worst kind of drunk." He said his first divorce was "the worst experience of my life."

After subbing for Jack Paar, host of The Tonight Show, for two weeks, Johnny became a favorite to replace Paar. He became host of The Tonight Show on Oct. 1, 1962, at the age of 37. He entertained millions of views from the late-night time slot until May 21, 1992.

As beloved as Johnny was on the screen, he was very different in real life. Leamer writes that "to his colleagues, Johnny was an distant as the outer reaches of Tibet. He never seemed comfortable with them."

Shelly Shultz, Johnny's talent coordinator, said, "Johnny wasn't great talking to people; he didn't like meeting new people and he wasn't a great conversationalist, but he had America on its knees because he was coming off right on the tube. He knew what mid-America found funny."

Producer Art Stark said, "I'm Johnny's best friend because I'm not interested in his friendship."

Truman Capote added, "Johnny has no friends, nobody knows him. The only time he comes alive in on TV."

Johnny was aloof, uptight, nervous, short-tempered and subject to dark moods.

It's no surprise that he was a difficult man to work with, much less be married to. Leamer sheds a lot of light on his four marriages, three messy divorces and strained relationships with his sons.

He also covers the numerous, unsuccessful attempts by rival networks to knock Johnny off the No. 1 perch. But they all failed--Joey Bishop, Dick Cavett, Alan Thicke, Pat Sajak, Joan Rivers and Arsenio Hall.

Johnny kept a low profile after retiring from The Tonight Show and he died on Jan. 23, 2005.

This is a very informative and interesting book. Leamer interviewed more than 700 people, and it shows in the book's depth.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 2, 2013 8:26 PM PST

Twilight of the Long-ball Gods: Dispatches from the Disappearing Heart of Baseball
Twilight of the Long-ball Gods: Dispatches from the Disappearing Heart of Baseball
by John Schulian
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.11
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Baseball when it had a soul, December 16, 2012
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Twilight of the Long Ball Gods features 35 articles by John Schulian, one of this generation's most gifted sportswriters. The pieces, ranging from a couple pages to 16, are from Chicago Sun Times, Philadelphia Daily News, Philadelphia Magazine, GQ, Sporting News and The National Sports Daily, dating from 1977 through 2000.

Schulian grew up in Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, following the exploits of "dreamers, bust-outs and hard-luck cases" in the Pacific Coast League. He writes, "They showed me how wonderful the game could be and I would never forget them."

Schulian says he always had the habit of identifying with obscure ballplayers. Most of his subjects were culled from the minor leagues, Negro Leagues and sandlots. "Maybe it was an unconscious acknowledgeable of my own limitations."

He is attracted to men who "lived on nothing but dreams and train smoke." Men, who no matter how many times baseball broke their heart, kept coming back for more." He focuses on "Baseball when it had a soul, when it was played for a few bucks and a lot of laughs by men who had survived the Depression and World War II."

Josh Gibson, "the black Babe Ruth;" Russ Morman, who spent 17 seasons in the minor leagues while getting just 490 at-bats in the majors; and Rocky Bridges, a major league utility player, are the types of players who attract Schulian.

Whether he's profiling a player, writing about asking his wife for a baseball bat for his birthday or recalling his days playing American Legion baseball, Schulian reveals the heart of baseball and its lifelong pull.

If you're a baseball fan or someone who loves good writing, you can't go wrong with this collection of articles.

The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War
The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War
by Daniel Stashower
Edition: Hardcover
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4.0 out of 5 stars Pinkerton uncovers plot to assassinate Lincoln in 1861, December 16, 2012
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Three months after his election to the presidency, Abraham Lincoln traveled 2,000 miles across the country on his inaugural train trip, delivering 100 speeches designed to offer calming words to the North and words of reconciliation to the South. Seven states had already seceded at this point.

From the beginning of the trip, there were warnings of danger. There were rumors of an assassination bounty on Lincoln's head. Lincoln refused precautions for his safety and downplayed the possibility of danger.

Samuel Felton, president of the Pennsylvania, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad hired detective Allan Pinkerton to protect the railroad. There were rumors of a plot to destroy the railroad, which needed to be maintained as a vital conduit for troops and ammunition.

While working for Felton, Pinkerton uncovered a plot to assassinate Lincoln when his train arrived in Baltimore. Maryland was a slave-holding state with Southern sympathies. Lincoln's presence as an open challenge to Southern supporters--like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

Lincoln was scheduled to arrive in Baltimore around 12:30 p. m., Feb. 23. Since he was traveling by train, his itinerary was well-known by friends as well as enemies. Lincoln, who was expected to make a short speech like he had at the other stops, would have to take a brief carriage ride to switch railroad lines. This made him even more vulnerable to attack. His previous stops had been marked by huge crowds, chaos and pandemonium.

Pinkerton and his men (and women) sought to infiltrate local Baltimore groups to confirm the plot and learn of the details. It was clear Lincoln was not welcomed in Baltimore. Pinkerton suggested that Lincoln pass through Baltimore in the middle of the night and go directly to Washington, D.C. His opponents and some newspapers would see this as a cowardly act. Would Lincoln agree to the plan?

Pinkerton devised a plan that was carried off without a hitch, and Lincoln arrived safely in Washington. Later, Lincoln said he didn't think he would be assassinated and that he regretted not stopping in Baltimore as scheduled.

Helping keep Lincoln safe was the highlight of Pinkerton's professional career. He was later criticized as having a pre-conceived idea of a conspiracy. Pinkerton labeled the charge as "absurd," but his critics pointed to the fact that no one was ever arrested for their involvement in the plot to assassinate Lincoln.

Author Daniel Stashower does a commendable job of bringing the details of the story together. There are lots of characters involved. Since we know there was no assassination attempt on Lincoln in Baltimore, there's little suspense in the book. The work of Pinkerton, the tension and animosity facing Lincoln as well as Pinkerton's efforts to convince Lincoln to go along with his plan create the book's interest. "The Hour of Peril," however, may offer too many details without enough suspense for the casual history or Lincoln fan.

The Third Bullet: A Bob Lee Swagger Novel (Bob Lee Swagger Novels)
The Third Bullet: A Bob Lee Swagger Novel (Bob Lee Swagger Novels)
by Stephen Hunter
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.14
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10 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting premise, but bloated, December 16, 2012
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Author Stephen Hunter delivers a novel involving the JFK assassination in "The Third Bullet." Hunter uses Bob Lee Swagger to look at the case from a ballistics standpoint, and raise a series of interesting questions. Swagger gets drawn into the JFK assassination conspiracy when he investigates the vehicular homicide of an author who had returned to Baltimore after traveling to Dallas to research the assassination. Swagger's investigation takes him to Dallas and Russia, where he tangles with the Russian mafia.

Who was behind the assassination and how did they pull it off? Was Lee Harvey Oswald really just a patsy as he proclaimed? Swagger raises lots of interesting questions. Why didn't Oswald take his shots while the presidential limo was headed toward the Texas School Book Depository instead of going away from it, creating a much tougher shot? Why did Oswald leave his revolver at home on the day of the assassination. And, why did he return home to get it at great risk? Why did he go out of his way to shoot police officer J.D. Tippit in the head, execution style? Were there professional hit men firing from the Dal-Tex Building?

From a ballistics perspective, Swagger said the assassination was all about angles, not distances. He explains how the ammo could have been altered so the third bullet would have exploded and it couldn't be traced back to any gun. Swagger also offers his opinion of what Oswald did on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository on Nov. 22, 1963.

One of the co-conspirators in the book says the assassination was a "highly professional, small-scale enterprise that is the only hope of success, that needed no documentation, no vetting committee, no supervising, no cliques with their concomitant resenters and traitors, no office politics, no budget, no nothing--it could only be betrayed from the inside."

I wanted to like this book more than I did. While it has an interesting premise and some thought-provoking points, I felt the book was bloated--about 100 pages too long. At times, I found myself skimming the pages, something I seldom do.

Rebel Island
Rebel Island
by Rick Riordan
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lots of questions and suspense during a hurricane, November 25, 2012
Private investigator Tres Navarre and his eight and a half months pregnant wife, Maia, honeymoon on Rebel Island. Tres' brother, Garrett, came up with the honeymoon idea, and he decided to accompany them. Tres and Garrett used to vacation on Rebel Island as youngsters.

It turns out to be not much of a honeymoon as the trio arrives during a thunderstorm and an impending hurricane. Shortly after their arrival, a U.S. Marshall is killed and the motel manager goes missing and is later found dead. It seems as if a missing fugitive is on the loose.

There are only a handful of people on the island, but there are lots of questions. Did the same person kill the U.S. Marshall and the motel manager? Someone leaves Tres a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about Calavera, a professional killer who killed a lawyer's wife and two children when he set their home on fire. Tres is urged to find Calavera, who is suspected to be on the island.

Author Rick Riordan does a good job of keeping the reader guessing and building the suspense during a hurricane. This is a fast-paced and engaging mystery.

Mission Road
Mission Road
by Rick Riordan
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.99
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4.0 out of 5 stars Riordan's growth as an author shows, November 16, 2012
Ralph Arguello, husband of San Antonio police officer Ana Leon, shows up at private investigator Tres Navarre's office after his wife has been shot. Arguello has blood on his hands and is the major suspect in Ana's shooting. He's also a suspect in an 18-year-old murder case that Ana had reopened as a cold case. Her mother was a police officer involved in investigating the murder of Frankie White, the son of a mobster. Navarre and Arguello go on the lam, evading the police.

Navarre along with his girlfriend Maia Lee, a lawyer, work to unravel the 18-year-old murder case, hoping to keep mobster Guy White from taking matters into his own hands. Seems, however, that a number of people had a reason for wanting Frankie White, a suspected murderer and rapist, dead.

Author Rick Riordan presents a lot of possible scenarios for who the killer might be. He keeps the reader guessing and the plot moving quickly. Riordan's growth from his first book Big Red Tequila is easily noted. Riordan is a talented author and Navarre is a likeable character. The result is an interesting book and series.

The Good Son: The Life of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini
The Good Son: The Life of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini
by Mark Kriegel
Edition: Hardcover
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A champ whose burden was too heavy to bear, November 16, 2012
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Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, a lightweight boxing champion, was one of the most popular athletes in the early 1980s. Mancini was driven to win a boxing title, something his father, Lenny, a lightweight contender, never had an opportunity to do. World War II interrupted his father's promising career.

Mancini, from Youngstown, Ohio, turned pro at age 18. Although he never had a surplus of talent, his greatest assets were his unmatched work ethic, his intense desire and his refusal to back up. When he defeated Jorge Morales in May of 1981 on CBS, a star was born. Ray was the son everyone wanted to have and his father-son story resonated with viewers.

Although he only had 20 pro fights at age 20, he got a WBC title fight against the seasoned Alexis Arguello (72-5). Arguello KO'd him in the 14th round. Undeterred, Mancini went after Arturo Frias, the WBA lightweight champ. When Mancini defeated Frias for the title at age 21, the New York Times wrote, "Mancini has the ebullient boy-next-door personality and exciting non-stop punching style to be a superstar."

Mancini's fight against Duk Koo Kim, an Asian and Pacific lightweight champ, in November 1982, however, would change everything. Kim, like Mancini, refused to take a step back and was willing to take a beating. Prior to the fight, Kim said, "One of us will die." Unfortunately, Kim did die as the result of the beating by Mancini.

In the 13th round, Mancini delivered 44 consecutive punches; Kim grabbed him and after they were separated, Mancini pounded him with 17 more punches. The fight was called 19 seconds into the 14th round.

After Kim's death, Mancini's marketability plummeted and a national debate raged about abolishing boxing. After the fight, Mancini was changed in every way--physically, emotionally and mentally. He was called a murderer by many people. He tried to deal with Kim's death, but he never seemed to be able to cope with it. Mancini seemingly lost his desire after Kim's death and his heart wasn't in the sport anymore.

After losing to Livingston Bramble, Mancini announced his retirement in 1983 with a 29-3 record to go into acting. He came out of retirement in 1985 and lost to Hector Camacho, and again in 1989 when he lost to Greg Haugen. Author Mark Kriegel chronicles Mancini's life after his boxing career with his wife and three kids.

One of the special parts of the book is the background on Duk Koo Kim, his wife and the aftermath and consequences of Kim's death on his family and his country. Eventually, Mancini was able to meet Kim's son, who was born after his death, and Kim's wife. It was a touching meeting where they were able to share their love, understanding and respect for Kim and each other.

Although this book lacks the depth of Kriegel's previous biographies on Peter Maravich and Joe Namath, it is still an excellent biography.

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