“Evil Town” A Quick Beach Read

Evil Town
John David Bethel
Tell-Tale Publishing
2015

In March of this year, I read and reviewed John David Bethel’s Blood Moon, a fictionalized account of a brutal Miami extortion attempt. Mr. Bethel was also kind enough to do an interview with me, the inaugural interview of this blog.

Evil Town is Bethel’s first novel, set in Washington, D.C. and inspired by his long career in political communications. The book bears both the signs of a first-time novelist and an experienced political operative.

The novel begins in haste–two murders in the first few chapters. Rather than a ‘whodunit,’ this is a ‘whydunit.’ I found this refreshing, and I did very much want to find out the full extent of the antagonist’s villainy. This was not so much because of my care for the victims, who were dead before I even got to know them, or for the hardly-characterized “good guys,” but because I was wondering how such bold crimes would unfold without the story becoming totally unmoored from reality. That likeness to reality is one of the book’s strengths.

Evil Town has been lavished with praise by those who have spent their careers in D.C. as an accurate–and condemning–portrait of how business goes down in Washington. While I have only visited Washington as a tourist, Bethel’s description of the view across the Potomac from Virginia brought me right back to the city.

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West side of the U.S. Capitol, some weeks after first Obama Inauguration, January 2009. Photo courtesy of eighth-grader version of me.

It is these shining moments, found in descriptions and dialogue, that carry the reader’s interest through a jumbled middle. Staged suicide, war crimes in Vietnam, and sugar cane are compelling–if only readers had a better grasp on the information at hand, so they could begin speculating about the full extent of the conspiracy.

There is a plethora of characters, introduced and re-introduced rapidly. Three characters share a last name, but are referred to as “Bremen” sometimes interchangeably in a passage. The nomenclature–switching between names, surnames, professions, and nicknames to describe characters–remains a nagging annoyance for the reader throughout, though by the end of the book readers have gotten to know the most important players well enough to have the names down.

The ending saves the book, bringing compelling exchanges between characters closer together and faster. In these dialogues, the confusion of the middle third of the book is dispelled. Bethel provides a conclusion to the book that is just improbable enough to thrill readers without earning Evil Town classification as a “fantasy” novel.

In light of the ending, I would recommend my readers pack Evil Town in their beach bags. Given that the drama in Washington now reads like a thriller, it may hit a little too close to home. At least there are no Russian agents.

The weaknesses of Evil Town reveal Bethel’s development as a writer by the time of Blood Moon. I criticized and praised Blood Moon for many of the same things I noticed in Evil Town: lack of exposition on characters with whom we are supposed to sympathize; satisfying, intense dialogue to satiate your vigilante justice fantasies; endings that are both unpredictable yet well-suited to their respective plots.

Blood Moon is a much tighter novel, and much easier to follow. This is perhaps in part to the smaller cast of characters and much more intimate plot, but also must be attributed to the author’s increasing focus on his strengths. These strengths are his understanding of readers’ frustrations with the slowness of “the System,” his resolving of plots in ways that deliciously compensate for “the System,” and his warning that quick-and-dirty justice is not, in fact, preferable to the inefficiency of “the System.”

 

3/5 stars: Not literature, but it sure is fun.
2/5 ‘fraidy cats: Only scary because, if it was reported in the paper, you would believe
every d–n word of it.
1/5 ick-factor: It is the Swamp, but descriptions of literal ooze are hard-to-come-by.

Happy Memorial Day–Belatedly

Memorial Day is more than the unofficial beginning of summer. With roots going back to the Reconstruction period, the holiday honors all those who have given their lives for the United States in the armed forces.

I must agree with the Poet:

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori
“Sweet and proper it is to die on behalf of one’s homeland”
-Horace, Odes

To all who sacrificed, thank you.

Police Scanner Tuesday–23 May 2017

Police Scanner Tuesday makes its triumphant return this week, only to bring you the latest and most visible in human depravity.

  1. Manchester, U.K. Bombing: On 22 May, as an Ariana Grande concert was ending, a Briton of Libyan heritage detonated himself in the crowd of exiting fans. Of the 22 killed, many were teenage girls or younger, including an 8-year-old girl. Many of the younger casualties were accompanied by their mothers.

    The so-called Islamic State has taken responsibility for the attack, but it is unclear if they coordinated it or are piggybacking on the actions of someone radicalized remotely. Police say the suicide bomber acted alone, but they are not sure if he may be part of a larger network bent on carrying out follow-up attacks.

    British PM Theresa May raised the country’s terror alert to the highest level and has deployed soldiers to the streets to forestall further attacks.

    According to Adam Chaikof, a public policy student at Brandeis University’s Heller School, the attack is likely to bolster Prime Minister May and her Conservative Party ahead of next month’s snap elections. The Labour Party’s weakest area is national security, and Labour was not expected to do well as things stood before Monday.

  2. Since the beginning of May, 66 civilians have been murdered in Syria, as documented by the University of Syracuse College of Law’s Syrian Accountability Project.
  3. In Maryland, family and friends are mourning the loss of Second Lieutenant Richard Collins III, who had just been commissioned as an officer and was set to graduate Bowie State University  earlier today. Adding to the grief of his loved ones is that he was murdered, and his murder seems to have been motivated by white supremacist ideology.

    Lt. Collins was black and Bowie State is a historically black university. The white twenty-two-year-old male being held without bond for Collins’ murder belongs to a Facebook group called “Alt-Reich Nation.” While saving room to disparage women, Jews, and Latinos, the preferred target of this group’s venom are African-Americans.

    In the early morning hours of Saturday, 20 May, Lt. Collins and two friends were leaving a party at the University of Maryland. While waiting for their Uber at a campus bus stop, they were accosted by the alleged perpetrator, who was screaming at them from a distance before approaching the friends and demanding they move under threat of physical harm. Collins refused to be bullied and flatly said “No” to the disorderly man’s demands he move. The white man then stabbed him repeatedly with a four-inch knife.

    At the Bowie State University Graduation ceremony, Collins’ gown and cords were draped over a chair at the front of the Commencement assembly. His father received his posthumously conferred degree.

    By all accounts, our country has lost a man who would have done great credit to the military and served this nation well. My thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Lt. Collins.

 

 

Teaser: Evil Town

I’ve meant to get to my next book to review, John David Bethel’s Evil Town.  I featured Mr. Bethel’s Blood Moon earlier this year, and he was good enough to do an interview with me.

With graduation coming Monday, and with the Comey scandal turning into a real-life political thriller, I plan to sit down next week and report back.

Thank you for your patience. I was more tired from college than I thought.

Are You Dizzy Yet? The Hand-Held Guide to Comeygate

In literary studies, story is the sequence of events in chronological order. Plot is the same sequence of events, presented to the audience in a non-chronological order.

The plot of the ongoing controversy involving James Comey, former head of the FBI, widely reviled for his perceived influence on the outcome of the 2016, who has now been fired by the winner of the 2016 election:

  1. 9 May: Comey is fired by the President. This is within the president’s rights, but the optics look very bad. See below.
  2. 10 May: Media reports Comey had asked for more resources towards the FBI’s investigation of Russian influence in the 2016 election, which would include possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.Many members of the campaign and now presidency have been found to have unreported ties to Russia, most notably former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign after revelations he made money through an unreported Russian connection.
  3. May 11: Media reports that Comey had a tense and strange meeting with President Trump in February. The President demanded a pledge of personal loyalty. Comey refused. Comey documented this in conversations to confidantes shortly after the fact, for fear of being fired.Newsflash: FBI’s loyalty is to the law, not a particular office, nor its holder. See here for more details.


  4.  May 12: President Trump courts comparison to Nixon with this beauty of a tweet:
    Trump Tweet Tapes
    Too young to remember Watergate? Not sure why every scandal is now called X-gate?
  5. May 15: Throwback to that time James Comey’s testimony buried Alberto Gonzales’s Justice Department career.
  6. May 16: Media reports that Comey actually wrote a memo about his meeting with the President. More juicy memo details come out: the President allegedly asked Comey to end the FBI investigation into Flynn for collusion with Russia, as a personal favor. If true, this could constitute obstruction of justice, an impeachable offense.
  7. May 17: More juicy memo details: Comey wrote that the President encouraged him to jail journalists using leaked information, which has not been the practice of American law enforcement. See the Pentagon Papers.
  8. May 17: Robert Mueller, FBI director under Presidents George H. W. Bush and Barack Obama, is appointed special counsel on the Russian election meddling investigation.The appointment was made by Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the same guy who allegedly recommended Comey’s firing even though he knew Comey would be fired before writing the memo to the president.

    Mueller is widely respected in both parties and perceived as independent. A special counsel is appointed by the Justice Department when it believes in-house officials may have too much of a vested interest in an investigation. A special prosecutor differs in the manner in which he or she is appointed.

 

The story:

  1. Comey has a history of devastating testimony before Congress.
  2. In February, President Trump and Mr. Comey had a meeting which Comey alleges involved
    1. demands of personal loyalty
    2.  requests to end an investigation into one of the President’s close associates
    3. hostile plans against journalists
      None of this is illegal, but it betrays an un-American authoritarian worldview.
  3. Comey documents this meeting in a memo
  4. Comey asks for more resources on the Russia investigation
  5. Comey is fired shortly thereafter
  6. The President tweets about possible secret recordings of the February meeting.
  7. The media learns about the memo and its contents.
  8. Mr. Mueller is appointed special counsel.

Things to watch for:

  1. Comey to testify before Congress? Reportedly, he will only do so if public. That would make for juicy television.
  2. Subpoena of the White House tapes? Do they exist at all? Will these ones have mysterious, minutes-long gaps in them?

 

Still dizzy?

Understandable.

Nervous yet?

You ought to be.

Police Scanner Tuesday–25 April 2017

THE NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE IS AVAILABLE 24/7/365 AT 1-800-273-8255. IF YOU ARE CONSIDERING HARMING YOURSELF, PLEASE CALL THIS NUMBER OR CONFIDE IN A TRUSTED FRIEND OR MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL. 

In place of the police scanner today, a public service announcement.

It’s not often that I issue my opinion on a book  or show solely by what other people say or write about it. Today I make an exception.

Let us be charitable and say that Netflix’s Thirteen Reasons Why and the book on which it is based were made with the best intentions. Yet, this story of a teenage girl’s suicide has received widespread condemnation for violating every one of the recommendations for reporting on suicide. These recommendations are important because of “the Werther effect”–graphic or detailed depictions of suicide in media can contribute to copycat suicide attempts.

Maggieinboston is my friend in real life and wants to pursue a career in public health. She watched Thirteen Reasons Why and thought it was not a helpful portrayal of this public health issue that would encourage people (especially young people) to seek help.

I’ve seen enough people in my life struggling with mental illness (which is NOT mentioned in the show, though it contributes to 90% of suicide attempts). I don’t plan on watching, let alone reviewing, a program that does a disservice to them or could possibly harm them.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website offers tips on getting help for yourself or a loved one, warnings signs of suicide, and much needed myth-busting. bethe1to.com has a plethora of resources addressing what YOU can do to keep your loved ones safe and help them heal.

THE NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE IS AVAILABLE 24/7/365 AT 1-800-273-8255. IF YOU ARE CONSIDERING HARMING YOURSELF, PLEASE CALL THIS NUMBER OR CONFIDE IN A TRUSTED FRIEND OR MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL.  

For anyone who needs to hear it:
I swear to God, it does get better. 

Police Scanner Tuesday–4 April 2017

This week’s installment of Police Scanner Tuesday takes us once again to the vicious world of authoritarianism.

Western governments report that Syrian president (read: dictator) Bashar al-Assad’s forces have used a chemical weapon against civilians in a rebel-controlled area this morning. The early-morning attack likely involved a nerve agent, based on the agonizing deaths witnessed by survivors and aid workers. Some aid workers fell ill or passed out due to second-hand exposure to the agent while handling corpses.

Assad previously used chemical weapons in August 2013. As the civil war drags on       into its sixth year, Assad seems to plan on regaining control over the ruined shell of           the country once known as Syria by either killing or forcing to flee everyone within           its borders.

One hopes that there is a much higher court than the ICC, one which will extradite            us all in the end..

 

In St. Petersburg, Russia, on Monday, a suicide bomber killed 11 on one of the city’s busiest subway lines. Russian authorities say the suspect, who for obvious reasons is not expected to be arraigned, is a Russian citizen born in Kyrgyzstan. I suspect there is a connection to Daesh, given that group’s heavy recruitment efforts in former Soviet republics in Central Asia, but no group has claimed responsibility at this hour.

I spent one of the happiest months of my life in St. Petersburg. My host family, luckily, was not affected by this attack, though a second device was recovered from a Metro station not far from their apartment.

My condolences go out to the people of St. Petersburg. I found them to be overwhelmingly kind and welcoming of strangers, even someone whose Russian language was saddled with a horrendous American accent.