Tag Archives: Bruce Willis

Shootout in Chinatown

Red Jade: A Detective Jack Wu Investigation by Henry Chang (Soho Crime, $14.00, 248 pages)

“Killing two bad guys, taking a cold-blooded murderer home.   Not bad for a few days in Seattle, huh?”

Reading Red Jade by Henry Chang is like being on a diet of tasteless fiber before enjoying a fine helping of spicy Mongolian Beef.   The vivid cinematic ending is literally preceded by a couple of hundred pages written in a dull and plodding style.   In fact, make that plodding, plodding, plodding.

The reader will need to take a suspension-of-reality pill before accepting the story that’s told here.   New York Police Detective Jack Yu is an Asian quasi super-hero who can solve multiple crimes while spending a weekend in Seattle, Washington.   It’s so hard to believe that Yu can solve a murder that took place in New York City’s Chinatown while in Seattle that the author asks of his male protagonist, “How much destiny could he take?”   Indeed…  Wherever Detective Yu goes, the evil people he needs to find just happen to be right down the block.

It may or may not be worth mentioning that the book starts with the bloody murder of a young man and a young woman in the Big Apple’s Chinatown.   This precedes Jack’s traveling to Seattle with his sometime girlfriend (she’s there attending a legal conference), where he not only solves the case in chief, but another quite big one while he’s at it.   Yes, the world is just a convenient stage for Detective Yu.

One might be tempted to think that there’s going to be some interesting scenery covered in a tale set in Seattle.   Instead, except for a few walks on very mean streets, the majority of the tale involves Jack’s stay at the Marriott Courtyard near Sea-Tac, while his girlfriend beds at the far more impressive Westin downtown.   Jack has an entire extended weekend to work his magic, which sometimes involves beating up two foes at once using his very impressive kung-fu style skills.   Sometimes, though, Jack falls back on simply shooting the bad guys when he’s not getting the best of things.   Yippee Ki-yay!, as Bruce Willis might say.

Still, credit has to be given to Chang for fashioning a surprisingly energetic and involving ending.   It’s a shame it takes one such effort to get to it.   This reader felt worn down by the telling, as if the reading took away more energy from me than it could ever hope to repay.   Chang writes in small bits and bites (some chapters covering only a single page), which makes me think his skills might be better applied to very short crime stories.   Let’s just hope that he comes up with leads that are more reality-based than Detective Jack Yu.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Red Jade was released in trade paper form on November 8, 2011.   “Chang fails to make Chinatown engaging…  What started out as a promising series has devolved into something quite run-of-the-mill…”   Publishers Weekly

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Doctor Wu

Red Jade: A Detective Jack Yu Investigation by Henry Chang (Soho Crime; $25.00; 256 pages)

“Killing two bad guys, taking a cold-blooded murderer home.   Not bad for a few days in Seattle, huh?”

Reading Red Jade by Henry Chang is like being on a diet of tasteless fiber before enjoying a fine helping of spicy Mongolian Beef.   The vivid cinematic ending is literally preceded by a couple of hundred pages written in a dull and plodding style.   In fact, make that plodding, plodding, plodding.

The reader will need to take a suspension-of-reality pill before accepting the story that’s told here.   New York Police Detective Jack Wu is an Asian quasi super-hero who can solve multiple crimes while spending a weekend in Seattle, Washington.   It’s so hard to believe that Yu can solve a murder that took place in New York City’s Chinatown while in Seattle that the author himself asks of Jack, “How much destiny could he take?”   Wherever Detective Yu goes, the evil people he needs to find just happen to be in the neighborhood.

It may or may not be worth mentioning that the book starts with the bloody murder of a young man and a young woman in New York’s Chinatown.   This precedes Jack’s traveling to Seattle with his sometime girlfriend (she’s there attending a legal conference), where he not only solves the case in chief, but another big one while he’s at it.   Yes, the world is just a stage for Detective Yu.

One might be tempted to think that there’s going to be some interesting scenery covered in a tale set in Seattle.   Instead, except for a few walks on very mean streets, the majority of the tale involves Jack’s stay at the Marriott Courtyard near Sea-Tac, while his girlfriend beds at the far more impressive Westin downtown.   Jack has an entire extended weekend to work his magic, which sometimes involves beating up two foes at once using his very impressive kung-fu style skills.   Sometimes, though, Jack falls back on simply shooting the bad guys when he’s not getting the best of things.   Yippee Ki-yay!, as Bruce Willis might say.

Still, credit has to be given to Chang for fashioning a surprisingly energetic and involving ending.   It’s a shame it takes one such effort to get to it.   This reader felt worn down by the telling, as if the reading took away more energy from me than it could ever hope to repay.   Chang writes in small bits and bites (some chapters covering only a single page), which makes me think his skills might be better applied to very short crime stories.   Let’s just hope that he comes up with protagonists that are more reality-based than Detective Jack Yu.  

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Said Publishers Weekly of Red Jade:  “What started as a promising series has devolved into something quite run-of-the-mill…”

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Every Story Tells A Picture

When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead: Useful Stories From A Persuasive Man by Jerry Weintraub with Rich Cohen (Hachette Audio, Unabridged on 8 CDs; $29.98).

“I’ve never been afraid to fail.”   Jerry Weintraub

If you’re going to experience a book based on an “old man’s” stories of his life, you might as well hear them in the voice of the man himself, Jerry Weintraub.   Weintraub, now 72, has worked with the biggest of the big in the music and movie businesses.   Yes, everyone from Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley to Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan – who wrote the introductory poem – and Led Zeppelin in music; Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Bruce Willis and Gene Hackman (with whom he attended acting school) in film.

Weintraub was also the Zelig-like figure who befriended the biggest figures in politics including a young John F. Kennedy, CIA Director George Herbert Walker Bush, and a peanut farmer by the name of Jimmy Carter.

I first attempted to read the standard book version of Talking, but something was missing.   The stories were entertaining but I couldn’t get a feel for the narrator, the person telling the stories.   This all changed when I began to listen to the audio book.   Initially, Weintraub sounds every year of his age and I began to wonder if a young actor should have been hired to voice the tales.   But within just a few minutes one becomes mesmerized by his voice.

Weintraub likes to say that there are differences between a person’s appearance and his/her behaviors and true personality; but it takes some time to learn about the individual’s soul.   The same is true here…  Only by spending time with the man do you get past his appearance as one of “the suits” in New York City and Hollywood/Los Angeles.   Eventually you get to the man and his soul – what makes him tick, what really drives him, and what he thinks life – success – is really about.

Jerry Weintraub takes the listener on a journey which begins with him as a poor Jewish kid on the streets of Brooklyn.   In his early twenties he becomes the most ambitious young man working in the mail room at the famed William Morris Agency in Manhattan.   After a couple of very quick promotions, he quits William Morris – now who would do that? – as he has the idea of taking Elvis on his first nationwide concert tour.   In order to do this he needs to come up with a cool $1 million deposit to hand to Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’ manager.   How does he come up with the money?   This is just one of the many great, highly entertaining, stories told in this anthology of true tales.

“While we’re here, we may as well smile.”   Armand Hammer

It comes as a surprise that the most fascinating stories are about the secondary figures, such as John Denver, George Burns, Dean Martin, Dorothy Hamill (who married Dean Paul “Dino” Martin), Colonel Parker (who was originally a carnival barker), and Armand Hammer.   But Weintraub saves the very best for last, when this very mature man touches upon spirituality, religion, mortality and family.   By his own admission, Weintraub has never been religious and yet he has come to work closely with Catholic charities and Jewish congregations.   It is all very personal, as he explains in Talking and some of the connections have to be heard to be believed.   (Yes, real life is so much stranger than fiction.)

It is when he talks of the death of his parents that we come to feel the emotional soul of Mr. Weintraub.   His voice breaking, he tells us that “everything changes in life when you lose your parents.”   Materialism takes a sudden back seat to memories, to one’s basic values as one comes to realize that we’re all renters in this place.

Jerry Weintraub, we come to know, was proud of his success but so much more so because he could share it with his parents – such as with his skeptical father who came to doubt that he “really knew” President Carter and the First Lady until the Weintraubs were invited to a State Dinner at the White House.   (Weintraub’s father once wondered aloud if his son had made millions as a Jewish member of the Mafia.)

By the end of Talking, you’ll come to feel that Jerry Weintraub is a very nice man, one you’d be happy to invite to one of those special “10 people you would like to have dinner with” events.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Risky Business

Risk: A Novel by Colin Harrison

Risk is a crime novel, it might be said, that is not what it purports to be.   It is the story of one George Young, a lawyer at an insurance firm, who is asked to solve a mystery.   The mystery has to do with how and why the son of the firm’s late founder was killed in an apparent accident in New York City.   Young feels that he owes his good fortune in life to the late Mr. Corbett who rescued him from a lackluster existence as a prosecutor.   Therefore, he agrees to try to solve the mystery without a fee.

But Young is actually less a lawyer than an insurance fraud investigator, so investigating a suspicious death would appear to be right up his alley.   Then there’s the fact that this is actually a 174-page novella, or a two-thirds scale novel.   It often reads like a movie manuscript, quick with easy-to-visualize scenes and light on character development.

Risk would be a perfect book to read while commuting since the story is not too complex or demanding.   Harrison’s style as an author calls forth James Scott Bell (Try Fear), who writes of crime and dark figures with tongue a bit in cheek.   George Young, like Bell’s lead figure Ty Buchanan, plays investigator with a smirk and sometimes a joke.   He’s a bit too relaxed to be real and would probably be played by a young Bruce Willis-type in a film version.  

Come to think of it, the plot of Risk has some parallels to Try Fear, but we’ll put that aside…   In the end, Risk was less satisfying for two reasons.   First, the editing/proofing could have been better.   It was unsettling to come across mixed tense sentences, as in this example:  “All I wanted to do was go home and have dinner with Carol, maybe sit out on our balcony and drink some cheap wine while we ate.   Usually I ask if she’s heard from our daughter, Rachel, who was in her first year of college then.”   I think these sentences would have been correctly written as, “All I wanted to do back then was go home and have dinner with Carol…  I usually asked my wife if she’d heard from our daughter Rachel, who was in her first year of college.”   (Another sentence refers to, “…leaving life itself altogether.”   That’s about two words too many.)

More troubling was the implausible ending – a movie script cliché – which tied things up neatly but turned the tale into a shaggy dog story.   I’d stay away from this one unless you’re the type of reader who enjoys chasing his or her own tail.

A review copy was supplied by Picador and Library Thing.

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Try Fear & Have Fun

Try FearI’m usually not a fan of crime novels.   Maybe it’s because I spent a decade visiting criminal courtrooms, about 35 of them in all, and got a feel for life in the justice field.   It’s a field that is tough, gritty, not TV-glamorous, filled with personality conflicts and with people who are amazingly talented (prosecutors, defense attorneys, public defenders, law enforcement officers).   This is not the world I find in most crime novels which tend to divide between 50’s retro-breezy crime tales (like Denis Johnson’s Nobody Move) and stories in which you can predict every bend in the road to come.

Attend a real-life criminal trial sometime and try to predict what’s coming…   Good luck.

Then there’s author James Scott Bell who seems to get it.   In Bell’s world, “…(a witness) sits on a wooden bench outside the courtroom.   She looked like the rest of the multi-cultured family members scattered around the hall.   Tense.   Uncertain.   Half suspecting the wheels of justice to be more like the Jaws of Life – cutting, crushing, grinding.”   Bell should know as he worked for a major law firm in Los Angeles before working out of “an independent office.”   It’s the latter set of experiences he seems to call upon in taking us along on a fun and fast journey through the world of criminal justice in the City of the Angels.

Bell writes of L.A. as someone who has clearly loved it his entire life.   What seems to distress his characters the most is that the old L.A. appears to be gone; only Dodger Stadium seems to survive.   In one scene, the main character wants a good steak and so meets his date at Morton’s on Figueroa.   Perino’s?   The Brown Derby?   All gone.

Bell even turns negatives about the city into positives.   In his L.A., the smog creates strange but beautiful orange-hued dusks and purple night skies.

I should briefly set the stage for this story, the third in a series.   Criminal defense attorney Ty Buchanan, down on his luck and living like an orphan in a trailer, is asked to defend a young man accused of killing his own brother.   Once the story starts, it speeds along faster than a ride in a Ferrari down Sunset Boulevard.   You won’t be able to see what’s around the next turn, and during the pivotal criminal trial things don’t move forward logically (this is not Law and Order).

Making this story even more enjoyable is that Ty is a unique main character…   His conversations call to mind Bruce Willis in Moonlighting.   He’s funny but self-deprecating and seeks to help others to make up for some troubles in his past.   It seems that when Ty was working for one of L.A.’s finest law firms he managed to get himself accused of murder.   So long big law firm.

There’s also a love story here:  in fact, two very different women have entered Ty’s life.   One works for him (as a volunteer) and the other (a woman of some prosperity) seeks to work with him.   It’s doubtful that Ty will love either the way that he loves his city – it’s no accident that L.A.’s City Hall is pictured on the cover – but on the final page of this story he makes a unique commitment to one of them.

Do I think I can predict what will happen in the next chapter of Ty Buchanan’s life?   Absolutely not.   Do I want to read the next crime novel in the Ty Buchanan series?   Absolutely!

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