Winnipeg Free Press Newspaper Archives Jul 11 2015, Page 95

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Winnipeg Free Press (Newspaper) - July 11, 2015, Winnipeg, Manitoba C M Y K PAGE 1 BOOKS D24 Winnipeg Free Press, Saturday, July 11, 2015 ON THE NIGHT TABLE Terry David Mulligan Host/ producer, Tasting Room Radio/ Hollywood and Vines TV ( Vancouver) “ At the very top of the stack is Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads by Greil Marcus, the best living pop culture writer. The year is 1965, and a young Bob Dylan is in New York trying to find a musical answer to the Beatles; as soon as he heard their first singles he knew the music world was changed. This book is about all that was going on in the world, both inside and outside of the studio. Did you know that the finest single ever recorded was done in one take? Fifty years later it’s never been equalled or duplicated. A brilliant read.” an St Ma D URING the Second World War, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s principal economic adviser was the Hungarian Eugene Varga, who envisioned a “ general crisis of capitalism” and “ capitalist stagnation.” Ironically, this concept of capitalism was influencing Stalin precisely when he was relying on massive largesse from capitalist America to rebuild his devastated country. This is one of several ironies in American historian Susan Butler’s well- written and absorbing account, although she doesn’t always seem to grasp the irony she describes. This is essentially a narrative of wartime diplomacy among the “ Big Three”: American president Franklin D. Roosevelt, Soviet premier Stalin, and British prime minister Winston Churchill. In particular, Butler recounts the famous conferences held by these leaders at Tehran and Yalta. In a work of history the author should, in a preface or introductory chapter, outline the purpose of his or her book and indicate how that purpose is going to be achieved, i. e., the structure of his or her argument. At no point does Butler state an overarching thesis she is trying to develop; she just plunges into her narrative of events, leaving the reader to figure out her themes and their significance. What emerges from Butler’s account is that Roosevelt wanted to succeed where one of his predecessors, Woodrow Wilson, had failed and create an international organization to enforce world peace. In order to realize this dream he needed to enlist Stalin’s cooperation. Thus he worked relentlessly to cultivate and appease Stalin, often at Churchill’s expense. There are so many ironies in this book. For example, Roosevelt was hostile to the British Empire, which he wanted dismantled, yet had no reservations about America’s own colonialism in a country like Iran: “ An American general had been made chief of staff of the Iranian army, a top U. S. policeman was adviser to the Iranian gendarmerie, and another American was the Iranian government’s chief financial adviser. In addition, the Persian Gulf Service Command, consisting of some 30,000 American soldiers, was bivouacked in two camps on the outskirts of Tehran.” Another irony: Stalin, attempting to extract concessions in return for a Soviet declaration of war against Japan, said to Roosevelt that, without the concessions, “ it would be difficult to explain to the Soviet people why Russia was entering the war against Japan” — as if Stalin ever had to worry about public opinion. It is annoying to see how leaders and their entourages stuffed themselves on haute cuisine at various conferences at a time when a war was going on and many were barely subsisting. Finally, a word should be said about the amorality of American business. The president of the U. S. Chamber of Commerce visited Stalin, assuring the dictator American capitalists were eager to access Soviet markets. Apparently they were only concerned with profits, oblivious to the Soviets’ woeful record on human rights. Butler has written a stellar narrative of relations among the Big Three during the Second World War, but it would have been even better if she had formulated her objectives and explained how she was going to achieve them. Graeme Voyer is a Winnipeg writer. S HE’S built a successful crime- writing career on crafting characters, clues and murder plots through the magic of fiction, but bestselling Scottish author Val McDermid has eschewed creative liberties for a truthis- stranger approach in her latest book, an ambitious look at the advances of forensic science over the past 200 years. In Forensics: What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA and More Tell Us About Crime , McDermid aims to deliver a comprehensive, and comprehensible, account of the evolution of forensic specialties and their influence on the criminal- justice system, drawing on some of the reallife experts she has used to inform the characters in her 29 novels. A former journalist, McDermid has an eye for authenticity, “ but when I get stuck,” she writes, “ I generally make something up. So when it comes to writing non- fiction, I need a lot of help. Thankfully, it was forthcoming.” McDermid interviewed more than a dozen professionals in subjects such as fire investigation, DNA matching, blood- spatter analysis, entomology, toxicology, anthropology, psychology and more, and dug into the archives with a group of researchers to unearth historical crimes, their perpetrators and their victims. The result is a straightforward yet intriguing work laid out from crime scene to courtroom that melds bite- sized history lessons and the reconstructed narratives of scientifically significant cases — both modern and ancient — with explanations of the technologies that were crucial in their prosecution. Sprinkled throughout are chatty contributions from those aforementioned experts, for whom Mc- Dermid clearly feels deep admiration. She gives the reader quick glimpses into their lives. There’s the facial reconstructionist, insufferable at the movies because of her constant comments on actors’ bone structure, who was called upon to rebuild the face of a murdered girl the same age as her own daughter. Or the self- described “ weirdo” digital forensics expert who gathered evidence against a pedophile using one of his own computer programs: “ They simply automate things and allow me to sleep occasionally,” he candidly explained. Then there’s the forensic chemist whose childhood dinner- table conversation was always sparked by her fire- investigator parents’ line of work, and who triggered McDermid’s own memories of reporting from the front lines of a tragedy, recalling an investigation into a fatal Dublin fire. It’s here, in these behind- the- curtain moments, where the author’s relationships with the experts whose work so inspires her own shines through. This is how Forensics sets itself apart from the tedious parade of police procedurals that inspire armchair crime- scene investigators — a popculture phenomenon some of McDermid’s quoted experts bemoan, but one the book’s concept seems to bank on nonetheless. The “ CSI effect” to which McDermid refers has raised public expectations of forensic experts to the point “ we end up feeling like the bad guy because we can’t deliver what they’re expecting,” a U. K. forensics manager shares in Forensics . As to whether McDermid’s second non- fiction book lives up to her readers’ expectations and delivers on her prefaced promise to present stories from scientists that are “ among the most fascinating you will ever read,” the answer depends on who you are. Fans of the genre will appreciate this plain- language tribute to the trials and triumphs of forensic science. Trivia aficionados will appreciate a source from which to rattle off true- crime facts, such as the date of the first- ever conviction based on fingerprint evidence ( summer 1892 in Argentina for killer Francisca Rojas) or the name of the world’s first medical examiner ( New York City’s Charles Norris in 1918). Those who just love a good story will appreciate the heart McDermid injects into this collection of the clues revealed by corpses. Katie May is a Winnipeg Free Press reporter covering the crime beat. W HILE the latest from Irvine Welsh is likely not for everyone, A Decent Ride hits all the marks that make the best of Welsh’s work enjoyable: ribald low- lifes from Edinburgh’s seedy underbelly racing through a plot built around scamming, hustling and violence while navigating disaster after disaster. A Decent Ride ’s protagonist is one Terence Lawson, a. k. a. Juice Terry, who first made his appearance in 2001’ s Glue and then shortly thereafter in 2002’ s Porno , a sequel to Welsh’s breakout bestseller Trainspotting . A sex addict, Internet porn star and deadbeat dad to a number of known children across Edinburgh, in A Decent Ride Terry, newly a grandfather, is a cab driver and two- bit coke dealer. Post Alec, his old pal, partner in break- and- enter schemes and father- figure, has just died. Terry’s deadbeat father is on death’s door, and his own health is put into question. When a rich American developer and reality TV star by the name of Ronnie Checker rolls into town just ahead of a hurricane, Terry sees an opportunity to fleece the Yank, setting in motion one of a number of scams that draw the action along. Without giving away too much, the grief that Hurricane Bawbag hammers the port city with sets in motion terrible scenarios that tangle Terry, Checker and wee Jonty MacKay together. The reader watches as Terry grapples with himself to overcome failure after failure. The various scams are played out against the dark backdrop of a working girl gone missing, whom Terry feels somewhat responsible for tracking down. In Glue , Juice Terry was a narcissist, and arguably a misogynist, who betrays pretty much everyone close to him at one point or another in his constant pursuit of sex. In Porno , Lawson remained an unrepentent shagger, but his ugly side was less prominent. With A Decent Ride , Terry has become one of Welsh’s most enduring and compelling characters as he comes to terms ( or fails to) with many of his own failings as a father, friend and lover. Wee Jonty MacKay is a more difficult character. Jonty is a “ slow lad” just trying to be “ kind” and do what’s right in whatever crappy situation life hands him, but engages in some truly disgusting, despicable behaviour along the way. In many ways, he’s akin to Lester Ballard from Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God — he’s more or less lost in a violent world with nobody to steer him in the right direction. And while it’s hard not to root for him to make it out the other end of the disturbing gauntlet of sexual horrors Welsh runs him through, Jonty remains unsavoury at the best of times, repulsive at the worst. But that’s classic Welsh. Few, if any, of his characters have many redeeming qualities, apart from being well- written portraits of the punters and low- lifes prowling the depths of Scottish society. Welsh’s characters are selfish and vile, though uniquely so and generally so well- conceived that despite their laundry lists of faults, it’s hard not to kind of like them ( or at the very least wonder how they’re going to get out of the impossible mess they’ve made for themselves). And then there’s the issue of telling the story largely in the first person by way of thick Scottish brogue and obscure Edinburgh street slang. If you’re familiar with Welsh’s material, this might not pose a problem. However, if you’re coming into Welsh unprepared, the style can be jarring or offputting. If you have a dark sense of humour and a strong stomach, working through the phonetic spellings and sussing out the weird rhyming slang is worthwhile. Despite its faults and shortcomings, A Decent Ride is a decent read and a welcome addition to the expansive Edinburgh- based world of wasters and losers Welsh has created. Just when you think he can’t get more twisted and depraved, Welsh finds new ways to elicit belly laughs and disturbing groans in equal measure. For some of us, that’s the spice of life. Sheldon Birnie is a reporter for The Herald. Reviewed by Graeme Voyer Allied leaders’ tale rife with irony Roosevelt and Stalin: Portrait of a Partnership By Susan Butler Alfred A. Knopf, 594 pages, $ 41 Reviewed by Sheldon Birnie Familiar brash blokes in Irvine Welsh’s latest A Decent Ride By Irvine Welsh Random House, 483 pages, $ 25 Reviewed by Katie May Getting a clue Fiction author talks true crime with forensics experts Forensics: What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA and More Tell Us About Crime By Val McDermid Grove Atlantic, 310 pages, $ 36 JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Val McDermid delivers an ambitious look at the advances of forensic science over the past 200 years. D_ 24_ Jul- 11- 15_ FF_ 01. indd 1 7/ 9/ 15 5: 49: 26 PM

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