Thursday, July 28, 2005
Mission Road By Riordan, Rick
A BookPage Notable TitleWhen homicide detective Ana DeLeon is shot, her husband, reformed criminal Ralph Arguello, becomes the prime suspect. With the full force of the San Antonio police department on his trail, Ralph must turn fugitive to find the real gunman and clear his name.
Mystery of the month
Review by Bruce Tierney
Kudos to Texas mystery writer Rick Riordan for the darkly satisfying new Tres Navarre novel, Mission Road. Private investigator Navarre plies his trade in Austin, Texas. Like most of us, he has grown older and settled down a bit over the course of the past several years. He has taken up with a young Chinese-American woman, and they seem to have fashioned a pleasant and workable living arrangement. So it is something of a surprise when Navarre's boyhood friend, Ralph Arguello, shows up on his doorstep, bleeding profusely. It seems that Arguello was about to be fingered by his policewoman wife for a murder that had taken place some 20 years beforehand. To make things worse, someone has shot Arguello's wife (he swears he didn't do it), and she is hanging on by a thread in the intensive care unit. The cops think Arguello was responsible. Arguello enlists Navarre's help in searching for the current-day killer and resolving the major inconsistencies surrounding the decades-old case. As the dragnet closes in, the tension becomes palpable; there is really nowhere for the beleaguered duo to turn, except to Navarre's competent girlfriend, who stage-manages brilliantly from the sidelines.
Riordan uses the plot device of the flashback, cutting between the present and the mid-1980s, to excellent effect. Although the reader will have a pretty good idea of the identities of the bad guys (and/or women) fairly early on, Mission Road doles out its surprises sparingly, saving the best one for the final page (no kidding!). Riordan, whose first book for young readers is reviewed in this issue, is a triple-crown award winner (the Shamus, the Edgar and the Anthony, the three most prestigious awards in mystery circles), one of only a handful of contemporary authors accorded all three honors. With books like Mission Road to his credit, it is easy to see why.
© 2005, All rights reserved, BookPage
Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief By Riordan, Rick
A BookPage Notable TitleClassic Greek mythology is mixed with modern adventure in this brand-new, action-packed series. After learning he is a demigod, Percy Jackson is sent to a summer camp on Long Island, where he meets the father he never knew--Poseidon, God of the Sea.
Hard-wired for an epic quest
Review by Linda M. Castelitto
Middle school is no picnic, especially when peer pressure, galloping hormones and embarrassing adults collide. And what if, on top of all that, you've been diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD, and your math teacher turns into a monster who wants to kill you? Such is the plight of 12-year-old Percy Jackson, protagonist of The Lightning Thief, the first book in a new series by award-winning mystery writer Rick Riordan. In his first novel for the younger set, Riordan has mixed Greek mythology and the vagaries of modern-day childhood—with fun, fantastical results.
Not long after the unfortunate incident in which he vaporizes his math teacher, Percy has an avalanche of shocking realizations, including the truth about his parentage (mom is human, and dad is, um, Poseidon) and a little-known aspect of the Empire State Building (take the elevator to the 600th floor, get out at Olympus). And the reason Percy has trouble reading? His mind is hard-wired to read ancient Greek.
Even as Percy reels at his new demigod reality, he is given an assignment of grave importance: he must travel across the U.S. to retrieve Zeus' master lightning bolt, the recent theft of which threatens to start a civil war among the gods. Grover, a kind satyr and staunch environmentalist, and Annabeth, daughter of Athena, join Percy on his journey to the Underworld (it's in Los Angeles).
Riordan creates rich characters and puts a slyly humorous, contemporary spin on the classic quest storyline. During their journey, Percy and his friends develop a strong bond—and realize that being different is something to be celebrated. Their battles are epic, their encounters with angry gods frightening, and an act of betrayal nearly fatal. In the end, though, good prevails and Percy learns the importance of responsible, wise choices. Bring on book two!
© 2005, All rights reserved, BookPage
Monday, July 04, 2005
'Songs on Bronze' brings life to legends
Author's fresh take on Greek tales brings forth their enduring power
07:25 PM CDT on Saturday, July 2, 2005
By DAVID WALTON / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News
Songs on Bronze, Nigel Spivey's plain retelling of the classics of Greek literature, is exactly what its subtitle promises: the Greek myths made real. There is no single book or collection of Greek mythology as there is the Koran and the Judeo-Christian Bible.
The Greek tales have been told and retold in countless works of Western literature over the centuries. But these are stories many people don't know nowadays, and the first thing that ought to be said about Dr. Spivey's book is that it is an excellent choice for readers who want to brush up on classical mythology. These "Songs on Bronze," forged by the god Hephaistos onto the shield of Achilles, are the foundation stones for Western literature, language, codes of war and daily conduct in ways that have become largely invisible in modern life.
Dr. Spivey, a professor of classics at Cambridge University, has effectively compressed the stories of the Greek gods and goddesses, Herakles, Jason and his Argonauts, the war against Troy, Odysseus' travels, and the tragedies of Oedipus and the House of Atreus, into contemporary language and storytelling style. From creation, through the age of heroes, to the final tragic resolution of the gods' relations with men, these stories unfold realistically and dramatically as the world's first, most enduring novel.
In his preface, Dr. Spivey says that he set out to write these stories for his young children, "with due regard to their delicate sensibilities."
However, he says, his children grew more quickly than he wrote, so he "accepted" the violence and sensuality of the myths. In doing so, he has conveyed something of the grasping, fearsome world from which they came.
Dr. Spivey's style is simple, engaging, contemporary. His description of Jason sowing a field with dragon's teeth sounds very much like a paragraph out of Stephen King:
"It was someone in the crowd who spotted the first sprout – a shiny crested thing, soon recognizable as a helmet. Similar pointy objects began to proliferate all over the sown field. Then heads appeared – angry, bristling heads, twisting this way and that, as if impatient to begin a fight."
Retellings are an old form of literature, and many have achieved honorable standing: Chaucer, Charles and Mary Lamb, Bullfinch. Dr. Spivey doesn't impose his personal stamp on these stories or unite them with any overarching theme or vision. His style is positively Chekhovian in its directness, economy and transparency of authorship.
The power is in the stories themselves, underscored by periodic reminders that these stories, these names and deeds, will sound down through posterity. Engaging and gracefully written, often surprising and fresh when retold in a contemporary realistic style, these stories express a vision of a world strangely alien from, and at the same time strangely close, to our own.
Author and reviewer David Walton lives and teaches in Pittsburgh.
Sunday, July 03, 2005
A great article about Roman civilization being alive and well in modern times. As Dionysus says in The Lightning Thief, the three greatest games invented by humankind are pinochle, Pacman and gladiator fighting. (That's Dionysus's list, not mine!)
By DALE GAVLAK, Associated Press Writer Sun Jul 3, 7:25 AM ET
JERASH, Jordan - After a 2,000-year lull, games have again hit the sands of Jordan's famed Roman-ruin city of Jerash, 30 miles north of the capital, Amman, as a group of Jordanian investors and a Swedish history buff are re-creating gladiator matches and chariot racing at Jerash's 2nd Century hippodrome.
It's a tamer version, admittedly — no lions, no lethal blows when the audience of tourists gives a thumbs down.
"We who are about to die, salute you," some dozen gladiators, clad in tunics and clasping silver swords and wooden poles bark out in Latin. The crowd goes wild as the strongmen fight, dust flying, heaving groans with every thrust of the sword.
The cheering audience issues a thumbs up or down for the victor and suddenly they are regaled with the thunderous clap of horse-drawn chariots circling the hippodrome.
"I thought it was great," Christine Nimer a tourist from Southport, Conn., said after a show Thursday. "We're headed to Rome and know we won't be seeing anything like this there. The re-enactment really brings people back in time."
Sporting a white toga bordered with a distinctive purple stripe, Stellan Lind — the Swede who had the idea for the games — serves as master of ceremonies.
"Our motto is to make the ruins come alive," said Lind, a former pharmaceutical chief and driving force behind the Roman Army and Chariot Experience, neatly dubbed "RACE."
Former Jordanian police and soldiers from the Jerash area play the Roman soldiers and gladiators. They were trained by British stuntmen for the fights.
"Not everyone can do this kind of work because it's dangerous," one the "legionnaires," Adnan Abbabneh, said after a match this week. "This is not child's play."
The gladiator matches started in mid-June. Chariot races are planned to begin later in July, with competitors running seven laps around the hippodrome, decked out in red, white, blue and green streamers. The chariots that thundered in during a show Thursday were just for dramatic effect, not to race.
Besides the gladiatorial exploits, the Roman legionnaires clad in brown tunics and bearing colorful red and gold shields and swords showcase training exercises with their weapons.
Jerash — Gerasa, to the Romans — is one of the best preserved Roman cities. It had its heyday in the first and second centuries, a major trading stop in the eastern reaches of the Roman Empire. The largely restored hippodrome — or "Circus Gerasa" — has a high stone structure seating 15,000 spectators on stone bleachers at one end. The oval track, some 244 yards long and 52 yards wide, is ringed by stone columns.
The city went into decline, finally hit by earthquakes in the seventh century. It was buried for centuries until a German traveler discovered it in 1806 and excavation began in the 1920s.
"This is where it really happened," Lind said. "There is no other place in the world where you can see performances of Roman legionnaires, gladiators and chariot racing in a genuine Roman setting."
The film "Ben Hur" inspired Lind with the vision for re-enacting chariot racing. He came to Jordan five years ago and teamed up with Englishman Jeff Cullis and Jordanian engineer Fawaz Zoubi.
The games' official opening is expected in late September and King Abdullah II, Jordan's ruler, himself the owner of two suits of Roman legionnaire armor, is expected to preside.