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AN UNKINDNESS OF RAVENS

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AN UNKINDNESS OF RAVENS by Ruth Rendell

Fawcett (September 12, 1986), 352 pages

This is the 13th Inspector Wexford adventure, who with his side-kick Inspector Mike Burden, solves crimes – usually murders – and keeps the citizenry of Sussex, England safe and sound. Although these books are murder mysteries at their core, the author excels - and where she differentiates herself from the “pack” - in painting psychological dramas. The term thriller is a bit overblown, as Rendell’s tales proceed much too slowly for that label. (Not a knock just a description, and enjoyment of this series will depend on a reader’s preference, i.e. adrenaline drenched action versus the cerebral/analytic approach utilized by Wexford/Rendell.)

The author’s books are very reminiscent of the Adam Dalgliesh series by P.D. James – I understand the two authors are buddies – and Rendell has influenced the likes of Minette Walters. Rendell blurs the line between victims and villains, and has an uncanny ability to populate her stories with very real, but also very unpleasant/unlikeable characters. Our two heroes, Wexford and Burden, wade through the damaged psyches of their suspects to solve the crimes, piecing together past history and motives, rather than uncovering inanimate clues, i.e. connecting the dots of fingerprints, ballistics and DNA. And there’s usually a Wexford/Burden personal situation, which one or both of our protagonists is wrestling with while pursuing their police work.

An Unkindness Of Ravens follows this formula when a neighbor of Wexford’s - a “family man” - disappears. Reluctantly our hero begins to investigate – a simple missing person case not being part of his job description nor his preference. Over the ensuing months – the case drags on that long - he uncovers a very tangled web indeed; interviewing and re-interviewing concerned parties, all of whom are more than a little annoying i.e. self-centered, overly-dramatic and/or sullen. In the background side-kick Inspector Burden and his new wife are expecting their first-born – a first class soap-opera in and of itself – and the point of which I missed.

When all is said and done – with a lot more of the former versus the latter - Wexford solves the mystery and Burden becomes a new daddy. I don’t mean to sound overly-critical, but this tale drags on and on – even more so than the past books. Not a bad Wexford addition, just by no means the best.



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Comedy Clips of the Week

KEVIN SPACEY

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Producer, director, screenwriter and Oscar award winning actor Kevin Spacey Fowler was born on July 26, 1959 in South Orange, New Jersey. He has starred in such movies as The Usual Suspects, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, L.A. Confidential and American Beauty. One of his many talents is uncanny impersonations of famous people. The clip below is from Inside the Actors Studio as he runs through his repertoire for James Lipton. Highly entertaining and what a mind Mr. Spacey has.

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HERMAN CAIN IS A VERY FUNNY FELLOW….RIGHT!

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If nothing else Mr. Cain has a future in improvisational/sketch comedy.

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Sports

JESSE OWENS

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On August 3rd, 1936 Jesse Owens won the 100 meter sprint in the Summer Olympics held in Berlin. This was the first of his four Gold Medals, which included the Long Jump, 200 meter sprint and as a member of the 4x 100 meter relay team. A record that wasn’t equaled until Carl Lewis did it in 1984.

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JOHNNY EVERS

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Second baseman John Joseph Evers was born on July 21st, 1883.  Known as “The Crab” for his style of play in the field, Evers is also remembered as one of the smaller players to make it in the major leagues, weighing in at 100 lbs as a rookie and never topping out at more than 130 lbs during his career.

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Classic Movies

UNFORGIVEN

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Directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, Jaimz Woolvett and Saul Rubinek, the film Unforgiven premiered on August 7th, 1993. So often with classic movies the plot here is a simple one, an aging and retired Old West outlaw/gunslinger takes on one more “job” to avenge the brutal beating and disfigurement of a prostitute.

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HANG ‘EM HIGH

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Directed by Ted Post and starring Clint Eastwood, Inger Stevens, Ed Begley and Pat Hingle, the film Hang ‘Em High premiered on August 3rd, 1968. Fresh from filming the Dollars Trilogy with Sergio Leone in Europe and known to the American TV viewing public from his time on Rawhide, Clint made this movie – which really wasn’t much of a stretch. Playing a man wrongfully lynched – he’s rescued by a US Marshall just in the nick of time – Eastwood goes to work for the “local” judge, (Hingle), as a Marshall with the goal of “finding” the men who strung him up. This theme of frontier revenge/justice one that Clint would “revisit” several more times in his career. In this movie we meet Alan Hale, Jr. – the skipper from Gilligan’s Island – and a young Bruce Dern and Dennis Hopper. And even this early in his career Eastwood had an eye on the future; this movie was the first to be produced by Eastwood’s Malpaso Company.

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Dates In History

GULF OF TONKIN RESOLUTION

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On August 7, 1964 Congress passed what is now known as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, giving President Lyndon Johnson “the power to take whatever actions he deems necessary to defend Southeast Asia, including the use of armed force.”  Although not a formal declaration of war, the Resolution was used by the Johnson Administration as the legal basis for the future conduct and escalation of the war in Vietnam.

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PT-109

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On August 2nd, 1943 the Patrol Torpedo boat skippered by future President John F. Kennedy was rammed and split in half by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri. The PT-109 sank within minutes taking two of its crew with it. The remaining 11 survivors grabbed what they could and began swimming the 3.5 miles to the deserted Plum Pudding Island - in the Pacific among the Solomon Islands. Two of the crew members were badly injured, Kennedy towing one to safety by taking the injured man’s life preserver strap in his teeth while swimming. The crew was rescued six days later after a coconut with the crew’s location carved into it was passed along to a Solomon local who passed it along to the US Navy. The coconut with its SOS message was preserved and adorned the JFK Oval Office as a paperweight.

 

Music

LOUIS ARMSTRONG

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One of the founders of jazz; musician, singer, entertainer, and trumpeter extraordinaire, Louis Daniel Armstrong was born on August 4, 1901, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Much has been written and said about “Satchmo” – genius, friend to many but close to few, comical, optimistic – whatever – to appreciate the man and his legacy listen to his music. Louis Armstrong was one of a kind.

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ADAM DURITZ

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Lead singer and founding member of The Counting Crows, Adam Duritz was born on August 1st, 1964 in Baltimore, Maryland. The son of two Jewish doctors Adam admits he is “impersonating African-Jamaican”, starting with the dreadlock hair extensions. In articles I’ve read Adam described as morose, tortured, melancholy and pretentious. And maybe he is. All I know is that when he and his band mates get together and make music something happens and it’s a good thing. The Counting Crows are still one of the best bands to see live for my money.

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Political Clips

HUNTER S. THOMPSON

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Hunter S. Thompson, the father of gonzo journalism, counter-culturalist, iconoclast, and someone who seemingly took Richard Nixon’s existence on this earth personally, was born on July 18, 1937, in Louisville, Kentucky. He was a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone, it was his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas that combined all that made Thompson either loved or reviled – Drugs, alcohol, guns and contempt for authority – as the protagonist and his attorney make their way through Sin City. His follow up book, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign trail ‘72, tracked that year’s Presidential election and Thompson’s ever growing hatred of President Nixon.

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NOT THAT JOE WALSH …THE CRAZY ONE

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I’ve mentioned our local (Illinois) collective Congressional embarrassment before –

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Crime

WILD BILL HICKOK

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On August 2nd, 1876, James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok was shot and killed while playing poker in a saloon in Deadwood, located in the Dakota Territory. Prior to his final stop in Deadwood, he’d been a Union soldier during the Civil War, specifically as a scout and a marksman. After the war he became a stagecoach driver and then a lawman in Nebraska and Kansas. After turning in his badge Hickcok had toured the East with Buffalo Bill and after giving an interview with Harper’s magazine was now famous as a gunslinger – Wild Bill claiming that he had killed at least 100 men. If the number seems preposterous, it should be noted no one argued with Hickok’s claim.

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PUBLIC ENEMY #1

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On the very warm Chicago evening of July 22, 1934, John Dillinger exited the Biograph Theater after watching “Manhattan Melodrama”, (a gangster movie), starring Clark Gable, William Powell and Myrna Loy. With Dillinger was his new girlfriend, Polly Hamilton, and her “landlady” Anna Sage—“The Lady in Red”—who was actually clad in orange that evening.

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