Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Poet by Michael Connelly


(pb; 1996: prequel to The Scarecrow)

From the back cover

“Death is reporter Jack McEvoy’s beat: his calling, his obsession. But this time, death brings McEvoy the story he never wanted to write─and the mystery he desperately needs to solve. A serial killer of unprecedented savagery and cunning is at large. His targets: homicide cops, each haunted by a murder case he couldn’t crack. The killer’s calling card: a quotation from the works of Edgar Allan Poe. His latest victim is McEvoy’s own brother. And his last. . .may be McEvoy himself.”


Review

Poet is an excellent, fast-paced and often hard-to-set-down thriller with a relatable protagonist. Its finish is a flourish of mostly-effective twists. While Poet works as a standalone work, it also sports a set-up for possible sequels─and one later did, its title The Scarecrow.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

The Money Trap by Lionel White


(hb; 1963)

From the inside flap

“Take an honest police detective─devoted both to his job and his wife.

“Take the fact that his wife has money, likes to living up to it─and doesn’t like living on a policeman’s salary.

“Add to the fact that our honest detective, Joe Baron, has a partner with a much more cynical view of life─and the stage is set for trouble.

“Especially when to that setting is added seemingly the best of opportunities─the chance to get a million dollars from a  man who could not admit to its existence.

“Here, then, in Joe Baron’s own words. . . is the suspenseful  tale of how the lure of money became the trap for an honorable man.”


Review

Money is an excellent, waste-no-words pulp novel, with quick-effectively-sketched characters, heart-pounding intensity and equally masterful pacing. If you enjoy pulp stories, chances are you will deem this worthwhile entertainment─worth owning, this.

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The film version was released on February 2, 1966. Burt Kennedy directed the film. Walter Bernstein wrote the screenplay.

Glenn Ford played Joe Baron. Elke Sommer played Lisa Baron. Rita Hayworth played Rosalie Kenny. Joseph Cotten played Dr. Horace Van Tilden. Ricardo Montalban played Pete Delanos.

Tom Reese played Matthews. James Mitchum played Detectice Wolski. 


Starr Creek by Nathan Carson


(pb; 2016: novella)

From the back cover

“. . .Set in 1986 rural Oregon, Starr Creek features heavy metal teens, Christian biker gangs, and hopped-up kids on three-wheeled ATVs. They all collide when strange occurrences unveil an alien world inhabiting the Oregon woods.”


Review

Starr Creek is a fun, fast and solid read. It is a heady mix of sketched-out characters, Satanism, biker violence, strange aliens, heavy metal, street drugs and Oregon-style weirdness. Other reviewers have mentioned how the writing─especially the climactic ending─feels a bit rushed. I can see why they might feel that way, but I was okay with it. Given the swiftness of the events, the ending still works, as does this novella. Above-average and worth owning, this.

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Figure in the Shadows by John Bellairs


(hb; 1975: second book in the Lewis Barnavelt mysteries. Drawings by Mercer Mayer.)

From the back cover

“Lewis is sure that Grampa Barnavelt’s 1859 lucky coin is really a magic talisman in disguise. With its power, he could do anything he wanted─like get back at bully Woody Mingo, but as soon as he begins wearing the coin around his neck, strange things start to happen. Mysterious letters arrive in the dead of night. A strange, shadowy figure seems to be tracking him. And when Lewis finally gets his revenge on Woody, he feels as if someone else is in his body, urging him to go even further. Has Lewis awakened a force beyond his control?”


Review

Like its predecessor work, The Clock With a House in Its Walls, Figure is a fun, fast-paced tale of magic, familial warmth and spookiness. It is darker and more scary than Clock, but that does not detract from its excellence, and the addition of Rose Rita made this even more worthwhile. Followed by The Letter, the Witch and the Ring.

Coyote Blue by Christopher Moore


(pb; 1994)

From the back cover

“As a boy, he was Samson Hunts Alone─until a deadly misunderstanding with the law forced him to flee the Crow reservation at age fifteen. Today he is Samuel Hunter, a successful Santa Barbara insurance salesman with a Mercedes, a condo, and a hollow, invented life. Then one day, destiny offers him the dangerous gift of love─in the exquisite form of Calliope Kincaid─and a curse in the unheralded appearance of an ancient god by the name of Coyote. Coyote, the trickster, has arrived to reawaken the mystical storyteller within Sam. . . and to seriously screw up his existence in the process.”


Review

Coyote is a laugh-out-loud and fast-moving, with an anything-could-happen urban-fantasy plot and characters worth empathizing with or hissing at. This is an excellent, not-for-children read, worth owning.

Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut


(hb; 1997)

From the inside flap

“Kurt Vonnegut caps his mind-bending career of unconventional attitudes and fiction and lectures with this new book. . . The three protagonists are the author, the unappreciated, long-out-of-print science fiction Kilgore Trout, who is the author’s second self, and a seriously dysfunctional universe.

“On February 13, 2001, according to Vonnegut, the universe will tire momentarily of expanding forever. What’s the point? Maybe it would be more fun to shrink for a change and have a reunion of all the stuff back where it began. Then it could make a big BANG again.

“It will shrink back to February 17th, 1991, but will then decide that expansion is the way to go, after all. As time marches on once more to 2001, though, Vonnegut and Trout and everybody else will have to do exactly what they did the first time through the decade, for good or ill: marry the wrong person, bet on the wrong horse. Whatever! Ten years of déjà vu all over again! At least déjà vu doesn’t cause physical injury and property damage.

“But all hell cuts loose when the rerun is over and fee will kicks in again. Everybody is so used to being a robot of the past that almost nobody is prepared to think of new things to do and then do them, in order to avoid accidents or whatever. Off-balance pedestrians will fall down and not get back up. Unsteered motor vehicles will slay them by the millions. Factory workers will allow themselves to be gobbled up by their own machinery!”


Review

The first half of Timequake is classic Vonnegut: audacious, ironic, sly, funny, science fiction-ish and distinctive. The first half is a joyous, occasionally chatterbox read. It is during the second half that Timequake becomes overlong, with chapters that seem to do little more than elongate this fractured and barely-plotted meta-tale.

Bottom line: Timequake is rambling and flawed, but memorable and worth reading if borrowed from the library or bought for cheap─not Vonnegut’s best work, but not a waste of time, either.

Essential Marvel: Spider-Woman Vol. 1 by various authors and illustrators

(pb; 1977–1979, 2005: graphic novel. Collects Marvel Spotlight #32, Marvel Two-in-One #29–33, and Spider-Woman #1–25.)


From the back cover

“Before she was an Avenger, she was. . .a Hydra agent?! Witness the Arachnidian Adventuress’s dire debut against Nick Fury, agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and a follow-up arc alongside the ever-lovin’, blue-eyed Thing! After working out a few bugs out of her origin, she set up shop in California and faced an array of eccentric enemies rarely equaled to this day! Featuring Shang-Chi, the Werewolf By Night, the Shroud and more!”


Overall review

Spider-Woman is a fun read if you can get past the initially awkward, fumbling-to-define-the-title-character plotlines of early issues─the first six issues of this collection─as well as Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman’s initial romantic, childish neediness with her early male date-mates. Part of this latter complaint can be explained by Jessica’s traumatic childhood (stemming from Hydra-forced experiments upon her, and her expulsion from her village of Wundagore, in the country of Transia─also the birthplace of the Scarlet Witch and her brother Quicksilver). But Spider-Woman, being a comic book character, has these attributes exaggerated a bit too much.

Despite these rough-start nits─the Seventies and early Eighties were not a politically correct period─Spider-Woman has flashes of action-punctuated and character-building excellence, and by the eleventh issue, the writers and artists have worked out most of the glaring-even-for-the-Seventies sexism to a time-appropriate acceptable level.

If you are a patient reader with a presentist mindset and an appreciation for pulpy, supernatural-fringed storytelling, this back-then incarnation of Spider-Woman might entertain you. (Presentism: “The notion that we should not judge the actions of people in the past using modern-day standards.” Definition provided by dictionary.com.)


Issues / story arcs

Marvel Spotlight”─‘Dark Destiny’ (#32): Spider-Woman’s first appearance in comics. Recruited by and experimented on by Hydra after being driven out of her village, she is sent on a mission to kill Nick Fury (Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.). Her Hydra name: Agent Arachne.


Marvel Two-in-One Presents: The Thing and Shang-Chi–Master of Kung Fu”─’Two Against Hydra’ (#29): The two heroes battle Hydra minions in order to rescue a scientist, Dr. Louis Kort. They are unaware that a bigger threat─a brainwashed Spider-Woman─looms in their future.


Marvel Two-in-One Presents: The Thing and Spider-Woman”─’Battle Atop Big Ben!’ (#30): Spider-Woman, still brainwashed by Hydra, clashes with Ben Grimm. Meanwhile, thieves hit the famous clock tower.


Marvel Two-in-One Presents: The Thing Alone Against the Mystery Menace─’My Sweetheart─My Killer’” (#31): Ben Grimm and Spider-Woman fend off the Hydra-mutated Alicia Masters (Grimm’s kidnapped girlfriend), trying to stop her without killing her. . .a near-impossible feat.


““Marvel Two-in-One Presents: The Thing and Invisible Girl”─’And Only Invisible Girl Can Save Us Now!’ (#32): Spider-Woman, Ben Grimm and Invisible Girl try to contain Alicia Masters, mutated into a giant eight-legged creature.


Marvel Two-in-One Presents: The Thing and Mordred the Mystic”─’From Stonehenge. . .with Death!’ (#33): The thieves from issue #30─now four elemental demons─hold human hostages at Stonehenge. Mordred, Ben Grimm and Spider-Woman attempt to defeat the elementals and free the hostages.


Spider-Woman─’. . .A Future Uncertain!’ (#1): The first issue of Spider-Woman provides more information about her origins. She is now knows her non-hero name, Jessica Drew, and her inhuman powers are revealed. She also attracts the unwanted attention of a police officer, Jerry Hunt, whose intentions are unclear to her.

All following issues are also Spider-Woman issues.


A Sword in Hand” (#2): Spider-Woman confronts Excalibur, a thief possessed by Morgan La Fay, in a museum. She also meets Magnus─an old man with mystical powers. S.H.I.E.L.D. associate/lawman Jerry Hunt continues tracking our titular heroine.


The Perils of Brother Grimm” (#3): In L.A., Magnus tells Jessica (a.k.a. Spider-Woman) that her father was murdered two months prior. While investigating the traumatic mystery of who did it, she tangles with Brother Grimm, a constumed odd character, and Congressman James T. Wyatt, who is somehow linked to the death of her father, John Drew.


Hell is the Hangman!” (#4): Spider-Woman is trapped between Brother Grimm (who continues to kill people) and the Hangman, a vigilante who seeks to bring Grimm to justice. . .Also: Spider-Woman gets a new lead in her investigation into who murdered her father. And, beknownst to her, Jerry Hunt─S.H.I.E.L.D. associate─arrives in L.A., teaming up with Bill Foster, an employee of Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man.


Nightmare” (#5): Spider-Woman, prisoner of violent hallucinations, tries to escape what appears to be a sorcery-ruled house.


End of a Nightmare!!” (#6): Jack Russell, a.k.a. Werewolf By Night, is drawn into a battle with Morgan La Fay and Magnus. . .Also pulled into this conflict is Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman and Jerry Hunt, who has fallen for her. Their mutual, wild attraction is sudden, plot-convenient and not well-explained at this point.


July 4, 1978. . .” (#7): Jessica and Jerry discover what happened to her father, why he died and who killed him. They, once again, face off against Brother Grimm, Congressman James T. Wyatt and minor bad guys. . .Magnus reveals that his not Merlin, Morgan La Fay’s teacher, but her student.


The Man Who Could Not Die!” (#8): Jessica rescues Samuel Davis (a man doomed to eternal life), and finds herself in a strange, sympathy-tinged fight. . . There is a second, separate story in this issue: “The Suit!”. In this second tale, a haunted suit brings about a case of mistaken identity. This is an especially oddball mini-work, one that requires more than the usual suspension of disbelief.


Eye of the Needle” (#9): Spider-Woman and Jerry Hunt try to end the nighttime terror of the Needle, a silent and vengeful stitcher of his victims’ lips.


Things That Go Flit in the Night” (#10): Gypsy Moth─a winged mystery woman with a penchant for weaving people in gossamer cocoons─attacks the attendees of a party Jessica is at. Magnus, now a celebrated magician, is also there. . . Jessica and Jerry Hunt have a melodramatic tiff over her focus on her alter-ego’s activities.


And Dolly Makes Three” (#11): This is an especially fun issue. Jessica Drew and Jerry Hunt are assaulted by Brother Grimm─who looks like two dolls Jessica’s landlady owns. . . these dolls were glimpsed in issue #10. The landlady’s name: Priscilla Dolly.

Meanwhile, Magnus returns to Priscilla Dolly’s boardinghouse, where he also lives, pretending to be Jessica’s uncle. Of course, he walks into a trap. This excellent issue has a cliffhanger finish.


The Last Tale of the Brothers Grimm!” (#12): Magnus─full name Charles Magnus─is forced to perform a ritual to resurrect Nathan Dolly, Priscilla’s husband, from his possession-slumber. It seems his spirit is split between the man-sized doll forms of their sons, Jake and William, a.k.a. Brothers Grimm. . . Magnus does this because Priscilla holds Jessica/Spider-Woman and Jerry Hunt hostage.

Like the previous issue, there are effective twists in this one. This is one of the more fun issues in the series, thus far.


Suddenly. . . the Shroud!” (#13): Jessica gets a receptionist job at the Hatro Institute For Emotional Research, an organization─unbeknownst to her─with a secret agenda. When the Shroud, a villain-turned-hero, sneaks into their headquarters, Jessica’s alter-ego is there to stop him.


Cults and Robbers!” (#14): Jessica, with the Shroud unconscious and in her custody, is confronted by knife-wielding thugees (cultic devotees of the dark goddess Kali).

After the Shroud is kidnapped by the thugees, Jessica tries to  track down the thugees’ lair to rescue the Shroud.


Into the Heart of Darkness!” (#15): The Shroud─whose powers stem from the positive aspects of the goddess Kali─and Spider-Woman further investigate the in-name-only cult of Kali. The head of the cult, unknown by the heroes, is headed by Jessica’s reclusive boss, Adrienne Hatros, a.k.a. Nekra.


All You Need is Hate” (#16): Spider-Woman fights Nekra. Nekra’s source of invincibility is her hatred, a weapon that may or may not help her defeat Jessica/Spider-Woman. . .There are lesbian overtones to this issue.


Jessica’s Night Out” (#17): Jessica, depressed about breaking up with Jerry Hunt, goes to a disco─a place she’s not been to before─to lift her spirits. Result: a theft, a rescue, and a meeting with a questionable, strangely-afflicted man.


Sins of the Flesh!” (#18): Spider-Woman tracks the “Melting Man” who attacked her in issue #17.


The Beast Within” (#19): Continuation/crossover of Werewolf By Night (issues #42 and #43). . .Spider-Woman and Jack Russell, a.k.a. Werewolf By Night, repel The Enforcer, a silver-pelt-shooting and bolt-throwing masked villain.

Russell last appeared in Spider-Woman issue #6. The Enforcer previously appeared in Ghost Rider (issues #22—24).


Tangled Webs” (#20): Spider-Woman and Spiderman meet under semi-friendly circumstances.


Beware the Spider-Woman─Bounty Hunter!” (#21): Taking Spider-Man’s advice (from the previous issue), Jessica focuses on her strengths and goes high-tech, with help from her wheelchair-bound neighbor (Scotty).

As this issue’s cover noted, this is a positive turn-about for Jessica Drew─and this series.


Bring On. . .the Clown!” (#22): A greasepainted misogynist terrorizes women, drawing Spider-Woman’s ire.


Enter the Gamesman” (#23): Spider-Woman meets─and is romanced by─Tim Braverman, a reporter who may be more than he says. She also stalks and battles the masked thief (Gamesman), whose gang has been stealing high-profile jewels. Silly, romantic melodrama in this one, given how fast certain characters connect.


Trapped in the Doomsday Room!” (#24): With Tim Braverman (a.k.a. the Gamesman) in prison professing his love for her, Spider-Woman deals with Braverman’s old gang, who are still on the loose─and perhaps more dangerous.


To Free a Felon!” (#25): Spider-Woman continues to thwart the Gamesman’s gang as they try to get the loot that Braverman stole from them.

There are some ill-timed inner-dialogue plot explanations in this issue, but it is otherwise okay.

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On August 30, 2018, Marie Severin, co-creator of the Marvel comics character Spider-Woman, “died at age 89, following a stroke”. The “longtime Marvel Comics artist and colorist. . . was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 2001”. Severin designed Spider-Woman’s “iconic costume. . .in 1976”.

I got this from Brian Cronin’s online/CBR article “Spider-Woman Co-Creator Marie Severin Dies At Age 89” (posted 8/30/18). The article also said: “Severin broke into the comic book industry in the early 1950s when her older brother, comic book artist John Severin (1922—2012) asked her to color one of his stories for EC Comics. She did such a good job that she was soon the regular colorist for EC Comics. When EC Comics’ comic book line went out of business following the institution of the Comic Code Authority (which seemed almost specifically designed to put EC Comics out of business), Severin worked for Atlas comics a little bit before leaving comic books entirely to go work at the Federal Reserve.

“In the late 1950s Severin began to get back into comic books, working for Atlas again doing some production work. As Atlas turned into Marvel and began to expand, Severin’s work for them expanded as well. By the end of the late 1960s, Severin was the main colorist at Marvel while also doing the occasional penciling job. When the Hulk gained his own series, Incredible Hulk, Severin was the penciler for the first five issues. . .

“In the 1980s she began working in Special Projects (again, her likenesses were always amazing). She was let go by Marvel during their restructuring following their late 1990s bankruptcy. She continued working as an artist until retiring in the mid-2000s.”

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Freak by Eleanor Robinson

(pb; 1980 ─ a.k.a. The Silverleaf Syndrome)

From the back cover

“He was born monstrously deformed, a freak of nature. Possessed of supernatural strength, he committed his first murder at the age of five and escaped from the institution to which his mother had abandoned him.

“Terror swept through the town of Silverleaf, as the citizens scoured the countryside in a desperate search for the missing child, hoping to capture him before he killed again─and again.

“But he had retreated to the swamp, the place of his birth, where amid the mire and the reeds lay a secret so astonishing, that it could well change the ultimate destiny of the human race.”


Review

Freak is a solid, hybrid-genre novel with relatable, worthwhile characters and fun, sometimes-effective mini-twists. Its back cover description makes Freak seem like a monster-stalking-people-in-the-swamp story, but it is more of a science fiction-ish, man-wrongly-accused-of-murder tale─one that entertains, for the most part. My only nit about Freak is the unrealistic, plot-convenient the way two of the characters fall in love. Aside from that, this is a fun, fast read, worth your time, or purchase for a few dollars.


Widows by Lynda La Plante


(pb; 1983)

From the back cover

“When a security van heist goes disastrously wrong, three armed robbers are burnt to death─and three women are left widows.

“Then gang boss Harry Rawlins’s wife, Dolly, discovers his bank deposit box. It contains a gun, money─and detailed plans for the failed hijack.

“Dolly has three options: she could hand over Harry’s ledgers to Detective Inspector Resnick; she could pass them to the thugs who want to take over Harry’s turf; or she and the other widows could finish the job their husbands started.

“As they rehearse the raid until it’s pitch perfect, the women realize that Harry’s plan required four people, not three. But only three bodies were discovered in the carnage of the original hijack. So who was the fourth man and where is he now?”


Review

Widows is a good heist story with effective twists, solid characters and pacing and an ending that suggests a possible sequel (but does not necessitate one). It is worth borrowing from the library, owning if purchased for a few dollars.

#

It has been filmed three times.

#

The first filmic version is a British television/ITV six-episode miniseries that aired in 1983. Ian Toynton directed it, from a screenplay by source-book author Lynda La Plante.

Ann Mitchell played Dolly Rawlins. Maurice O’Connell played Harry Rawlins. Maureen O’Farrell played Linda Perelli. Fiona Hendley played Shirley Miller. Eva Mottley played Bella O’Reilly. Stanley Meadows played Eddie Rawlins.

Michael John Paliotti played Joe Perelli. Terry Stuart played Terry Miller. John Rowe played Brian Miller.

David Calder played D.I. George Resnick. Carol Gillies played Alice. Paul Jesson played D.S. Alec Fuller. Peter Machin played D.C. Robin Andrews.

Jeffrey Chiswick played Arnie Fisher. George Costigan played Charlie. James Lister played Carlos Moreno. 

Eddie Meadows played Eddie Rawlins. Catherine Neilson played Trudie Nunn. Thelma Whiteley played Kathleen Resnick. Judith Fellows played Mother Superior.

Its follow-up miniseries, Widows 2, aired in 1985. A second follow-up, She’s Out, aired in 1995. These sequel “series”─as they’re called in England─cover material not shown in the first book.






#

An American remake-miniseries aired in 2002. Geoffrey Sax directed it, from a screenplay by Lynda La Plante. The plot in this version is notably different than its British counterpart.

Mercedes Ruehl played Dolly Rawlins. Brooke Shields played Shirley Heller. Rosie Perez played Linda Perelli. N’Bushe Wright played Bella.

Nigel Bennett played Harry Rawlins. Roman Podhora played Joe Perelli. Neil Crone played Eddie.

Jay O’Sanders played Detective John Maynard. Aidan Devine played Mike Resnick. Jayne Eastwood played Audrey. Colm Feore played Stein.





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The American theatrical film version is scheduled to be released stateside on November 16, 2018. Steve McQueen directed and co-scripted the film. Gillian Flynn was the other co-screenwriter.

Viola Davis played Veronica Rawlins [cinematic stand-in for Dolly Rawlins]. Michelle Rodriguez played Linda. Elizabeth Debicki played Alice. Cynthia Erivo played Belle.

Liam Neeson played Harry Rawlings. Jon Bernthal played Florek. Manuel Garcia-Rulfo played Carlos. Coburn Goss played Jimmy Nunn.

Robert Duvall played Tom Mulligan. Colin Farrell played John Mulligan. Lukas Haas played David. Kevin J. O’Connor played Bobby Welsh.

Jacki Weaver played Agnieska. Carrie Coon played Amanda. Ann Mitchell, who played Dolly Rawlins in the British miniseries versions, played “Amanda’s mother”.


Wednesday, November 07, 2018

The Late Show by Michael Connelly

(pb; 2017: first book in the Detective Renée Ballard series)

From the back cover

“Renée Ballard works the midnight shift in Hollywood, beginning many investigations but finishing few as each morning she turns everything over to the daytime units. It’s a frustrating assignment for a once up-and-coming detective, but it’s no accident. She’s been given this beat as punishment after filing a sexual harassment suit complaint against a supervisor.

“But one night Ballard catches two assignments she doesn’t want to part with. First, a prostitute is beaten and left for dead in a parking lot. All signs point to someone with big evil on his mind. Then she sees a young waitress breathe her last after being caught in a nightclub shooting. Against orders, Ballard works both cases by day while maintaining her shift by night.

“As the investigations entwine, Ballard is forced to face her own demons and confront a danger she could never have imagined. To find justice for these victims who can’t speak for themselves, she must put not only her career but her life on the line.”

Review

Late is a beach read of a police procedural novel, an occasionally dark, otherwise lightweight offering for its genre. Connelly has written a cinematic-vivid, predictable and chatty tale here, something that is not great or memorable, but─like I said─something to pass the time with, if you want something relatively light and entertaining. This is best borrowed from your local library or purchased for a few bucks.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Before the Chop III: LA Weekly Articles, 2014–2016 by Henry Rollins



(pb; 2017: nonfiction)


Review

Like previous Chop collections, the articles in this third volume read like tightly edited versions of Rollins’s spoken word shows: blunt, provocative, smart, self-effacing, humorous and enthusiastic about stuff he likes (listening to music on vinyl; acting and media gigs; traveling the world as often as possible; etc.). Underlining Rollins’s recollections and observations is a sense of upbeat wisdom regarding restraint and knowing one’s place in the world, even as we try to improve it.

This is an excellent collection, one worth owning.

<em>The Poet</em> by Michael Connelly

(pb; 1996: prequel to The Scarecrow ) From the back cover “Death is reporter Jack McEvoy’s beat: his calling, his obsession. But th...