Saturday, November 29, 2008

Books I Buy

Since I buy far more books than I ever have time to read (though I do plan to get to them all eventually), I figure it might be fun to catalogue them. I'll start with my most recent purchases over the last few weeks, and post new books as they hit my shelves.

THE EIGHT by Katherine Neville
THE WHITE TIGER by Aravind Adiga
INKHEART by Cornelia Funke
HOMICIDE by David Simon
THE ROAD HOME by Rose Tremain


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Greatest Thing Ever:
Thanksgiving Day parade gets Rickrolled

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Shield
Season 7--The Final Act
Episode 13: Family Meeting
Series Finale

"Who you got, Vic?"

--The end of the end begins with Vic being forced to lie to Ronnie's face about the ICE deal. Ronnie is all goofy smiles, as he believes he'll get off the hook with Vic. There is a palpable difference in Vic when he lies to a friend as opposed to someone he doesn't care about, but survival trumps all and he makes Ronnie believe that as soon as Beltran goes down the two of them will have their lives back. They meet Beltran and tell him to meet the black "Board of Directors"--or BBOD--to finalize their drug distribution deal (sadly Dick Parsons is not on this board). Beltran is hesitant, but eventually convinced.

--Cathy Cahlin Ryan has really stepped up her game as Corrine the last few episodes. Now that she knows who Vic is, she's more terrified of him than ever. And when Dutch tells her about Vic's deal, she freaks out. Would this man who's killed and hurt so many hesitate to hurt a woman he maybe never truly loved?

--Shane and Mara finally seem to be realizing that they're not destined to run like wolves. Or something like that. Mara, seeming to realize the end is near, decides that she and Shane should name their unborn daughter before she's taken into foster care and named by strangers. Actually rather sad. So they name her: Frances Abigail Vendrell. Kind of a cute name. Mara is in bad shape, can't even go to the bathroom by herself between the pregnancy, and broken collarbone. Plus Shane seems to be doping the hell out of her. Shane having to wipe Mara sitting on the toilet while Jackson plays in the tub is kind of another road from their fun and games in the squatter's house.

--Claudette tells Olivia that the Feds need to put Corrine and the kids into protective custody. She agrees. And so Vic goes to visit his family, thinking everything is about to go back to normal. He plays with Matt, wishes Cassidey luck in her soccer game, does everything a doting father should. Little does he know this is the very last time he'll ever see them.

--Shane tracks down Billings (probably the easiest cop ever to tail), and tells him to makes Claudette an offer: Shane comes clean on everything and takes the rap for all their new crimes, provided Mara walks. Claudette's disease is getting to her, exacerbated by the stress of everything going on.

--The Lloyd Dressler case takes an unexpected turn, as Lloyd shows up to report his mother missing--while pointing his finger at Dutch as the suspect. I definitely thought Lloyd was going to ambush Dutch, but this is perhaps even smarter since Dutch had something of an improper relationship with Rita and everyone at the barn knows Dutch can get to close to cases. Plus the little smile from Billings when he hears about this is priceless. For a moment, I thought Dutch just might have killed Rita. We know he has that gene in him, and that if he weren't a cop he could very well be Lloyd Dressler.

--Robert Huggins is back! Huggins (Andre 3000 of Outkast), last seen as a crusading comic book store owner ("Just hosin' down the hos!") is running for mayor of Farmington. Great continuance of a great storyline from earlier in the series. Huggins is tired of corruption and sweetheart deals between cops and criminals, and to Aceveda's chagrin Huggins is connecting with real folks far better than he does. Aceveda is the older establishment man with years of experience, Huggins is younger, more charismatic and passionate and gives the people hope. Wow, what are the chances of a political race like that happening? Huggins is arrested for disorderly conduct (though the cops smile as they handcuff him), and when Huggins later asks for the standard police protection given to mayoral candidates, Tina blows him off. Huggins is later shot and killed, and yet another leader in the black community dies before being able to turn things around. Was Aceveda behind it? Wouldn't surprise anyone.

--The meeting between the Mexicans and the blacks couldn't go worse. Beltran is a no-show, and the blacks want to know what happened to their $200,000 (of course the Mexicans only got $100,000 of it since Vic stole the rest to try and pay off Shane). Everything goes to hell and they're about to walk away, so ICE decides to take what they've got and arrest the BBOD and Mexican lieutenants. Vic storms off pissed that Olivia missed out on Beltran just to rid herself of his task. Vic decides he has to take down Beltran anyway, but Olivia wants nothing to do with it. And when Aceveda seems to pass as well, Vic and Ronnie are left all alone to try and take down Beltran. Here's where I definitely thought something was going to go terribly wrong.

--When Shane finds out that Claudette won't give Mara immunity (she freaking killed two people), Shane is left with only one card to throw in: Vic. Shane calls Vic from a pay phone, threatening to tell everything if Vic doesn't aid him. Of course Vic already has his immunity, so Shane has lost all his leverage. Vic lets him know this with glee. What Vic doesn't know, and what Shane is happy to inform him of, is that Vic's own family turned on him. Vic's reaction is devestating, and his only response is to lash out at Shane, who gladly returns fire. "Who you got, Vic?" This is one of Walton Goggins's best moments, as he hangs up the phone, crying, knowing his family is out of options and out of time. Vic goes to Olivia, who confirms that they've taken Corrine and the kids. Vic is destroyed, but has no leverage over Olivia, who despises him. Duh. "I...I never got to say goodbye to my kids," says Vic. Replies Olivia, "You said goodbye to them the moment you shot another cop in the face." For the first time, Vic has no power to change anyone's mind, and his despair is just wrenching. Olivia has no sympathy for him, and he has no leverage over her. For perhaps the first time, Vic Mackey has no options.

--Shane returns home from the store (after given the young clerk a nice tip, a sign that he doesn't think he needs money where he's going), and waves hello to his neighbor. Of course the neighbor, scared witless, calls the cops. Shane calls for a "Family Meeting" as the police surround the Vendrell house, and break down the door. Suddenly a gunshot is heard, and the cops find Shane having put a bullet through his head--and Mara and Jackson laid out on the bed, having been poisoned by Shane. Their bodies posed in beautiful harmony, Mara holding a bouquet of flowers, Jackson a toy truck. Just awful, awful, awful. And Shane's family meeting is a reminder of the Strike Team, four men who once called themselves a family, now all of whom are either dead or broken. In this family, loyalty results in the darkest betrayal of all.

--Vic and Ronnie track down Beltran, and manage to get the drop on them, taking out several soldiers before the cavalry arrives. Beltran is shot in the leg and Vic is forced to use him as a human shield (love the image of Vic using other people to deflect fire aimed at him) before cops swarm the place and arrest all the bad guys. Turns out Olivia and Aceveda were in on it all along, but wanted to be sure Vic and Ronnie got the goods before moving in. So Vic and Ronnie make one of the biggest drug busts in Farmington history, Aceveda gets his great press coverage, and Vic and Ronnie are heroes. For now. Gotta say, I was shocked nobody bit the bullet here. And at this point, I had an idea of how the show would end. Shane is dead, Beltran is in custody, Corrine taken away. Vic's list of enemies--and friends--is shrinking.

--Cute moment when Billings's lawyer hits on Dutch, who's nearly oblivious to it until Danny reminds him. Which of course reminds us of their unresolved kiss at the end of last season, but also shows how much Dutch has grown. Danny: "Looks like someone's been working on their game." Dutch: "Oh yeah, what game?" Danny: "See, that's what I'm talking about." Claudette seems to have broken Lloyd Dressler (though this could have been better explained since he never confesses and they never find his mother), but then lays down the bombshell we all knew was coming. Claudette is dying of Lupus. Dutch is shocked, and they have a wonderfully tender moment as we're reminded that despite all their differences, despite Dutch's issues and Claudette's tunnel vision, that they compliment each other perfectly. They did their best work when partners, and Claudette's eventual death will affect few people more than Dutch.

--And then we reach the climax, as Ronnie and Vic are called to the barn. Vic doesn't know why he's been summoned, but he walks into the police station to a reception chillier than an Eskimo's fridge. Vic, who used to rule this place through sheer force of personality, who was once respected for bringing in some of the best collars the city, is now seen by his colleagues for what he is: a cop-killing, drug-dealing criminal. Ronnie, in tears, informs Vic of the death of the Vendrell family. Vic is taken aback. Not so much for Shane, but for Mara and Jackson. Claudette calls Vic in to speak to him about it, and Vic takes his normal seat on the interrogator side of the table. Wrong side, Claudette informs him. That's her chair. Claudette doesn't ask him any questions, just lays it out. After all his busts, after everything, his legacy boils down to a wife and son killed by Shane who was Vic's surrogate son. Claudette reads Shane's suicide note, then leaves photos of the dead family for Vic to see. Vic comes ever so close to breaking down, but channels his grief into rage and rips the camera from the wall. "Bill me for it," he says. "Fine. First payment is due now." Then it happens. The rest of the barn surrounds Ronnie and arrests him for about 87 different crimes right in front of Vic. Ronnie finally learns that Vic left him in the dust, and Vic can do nothing as his only remaining friend is dragged away in handcuffs. Ronnie's surprised reaction is great, as is Dutch's bewilderment that Ronnie could even ask what the charges were. 

--Vic, knowing he has nothing, left, goes to Olivia to try and trade intel about a Vietnamese drug crew for the whereabouts of his family. Not only will Olivia have none of it, but she informs Vic just what his role will be at ICE. He will not be on the street. He will be in the office. Writing reports. Sitting at a desk. Any violations, he goes to jail for the rest of his life. Oh yeah, and he has to wear a suit.

--Corrine and the kids see their new home, shown to them by a fed agent played by Clark Johnson (Gus from "The Wire" in a nice cameo).

--And so here comes Vic Mackey, seen in a suit for the first time since before taking over the Strike Team. An ICE employee tells him about office hours, makes sure he knows to label his food in the kitchen, tells him how to use the phone. Everything a good employee needs to know. Vic takes a seat at his new desk, and carefully lays out photos of his three children, and one last photo: Vic and Curt Lemansky, in happier days. Chills. Later that night, Vic hears a siren, goes to the window to see a police chase. Now the sheriff, the gunslinger, the rogue, has to watch as his former life passes him by. Vic once wanted to keep the peace, to be the man criminals bowed to. Now he must watch from behind venetian blinds, his tie tightly knotted around his clean white shirt. What Michael Chiklis has accomplished in this episode without words in this scene and his scene with Claudette is simply breathtaking. A mail carrier drops papers in Vic's inbox. Vic's eyes well up and then...the lights go out. Vic snaps out of it. Removes his gun from the lock box and walks away.

The End

I will try to do a greater analysis of the final episode, as well as the whole series once I have a chance to digest everything. Suffice it to say this was a fantastic final episode, and even though it might not have ended the way many thought it would, it ended in a way most true to its central character. Sure Vic could have gone out in a hail of bullets, but that would have been the hero's death, the death deep down Vic might have always wanted. To Vic Mackey, his whole life was his family and reputation, knowing his was the alpha dog of all alpha dogs. His survival instinct kept him alive, but in a prison he'll never be able to escape. And for Victor Samuel Mackey, his final fate is perhaps the only one worse than death. What becomes of Vic? Does he take Shane's way out? Does he look for Corrine? Continue to bust heads on his own time? As series creator Shawn Ryan said in a interview, "I do think the sharks swim forward."


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The End of the Line

"Look, you think you're looking through some window, but all you're really doing is looking in a mirror."
"I would have spared Lem."
"And I stepped up and put Lem down so you could go to bed at night believing that."

Tonight is the final episode of "The Shield". I'm both excited and sad about this, as "The Shield" is one of the greatest police/crime dramas ever (at least in my lifetime), and Vic Mackey undoubtedly has a place among the iconic characters of all time. Never has there been a character so adept at pure survival, at finding the tiniest chink in the armor of anyone he meets and exploiting it, wedging a crowbar in there until he exposes the person's heart. If Don Corleone said to keep your friends close and your enemies closer, Vic would have mad the Don proud. And tonight, it all comes to a close. Will Vic die? Live? Go to prison? End up a broken down nobody like his ex-partner? Tonight's 90 minute episode will bring to a close seven seasons of brilliance, and thankfully, like "The Sopranos," the final season of "The Shield" has not missed a beat (ignoring the pooping in the shower episode of Sopranos).

Check back tomorrow for a recap and analysis. For now, here are a few of my favorite scenes (unfortunately YouTube doesn't have a lot of them):

The end of season two. Just wrenching, as Julien is nearly beaten to death, Aceveda is elected to city council, and the Strike Team enjoys the spoils of the Money Train heist. Until, that is, they realize just what they've done.

Kavanaugh lets loose on Claudette and the chief. Kavanaugh was the antagonist to Vic, though ironically everything he says is completely true.

The final scene of the first episode ever, Vic Mackey's original sin. Not many shows can say that the beginning of the end came in the first episode. And yes, when this episode aired "Bawitdaba" was still a bad ass song.

In order to protect the team, Shane tries to antagonize gang kingpin Antwan Mitchell (the awesome Anthony Anderson) into giving Shane cause to shoot him. And he does it in the lowest way possible--by going after Antwan's son.

Vic finally learns the whole, hard, devastating truth about the death of Curtis Lemansky. 


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Books Spread Holiday Cheer 
(and they're easy to wrap)

We all know that we're in difficult times right now. Many people are struggling to make ends meet, and according to Noted Financial Analysts the economy is headed straight into the seventh circle of hell (of course these are the same analysts responsible for said crisis, but who's keeping track). And with the holiday season around the corner, every penny matters. Your budget is stretched tight as it is, but you still want to give your loved ones something that will make them smile. Thankfully, there is a very simple solution.

Buy Books.

Books are the perfect holiday present. A brand new spiffy hardcover will likely run you between $20-$25, and you can pick up an author's entire backlist for less than the price of one cheesy tie or terrible sweater that will never be worn. Not only that, but books are literally the gift that keeps on giving. 

If you buy a non-fiction book, you'll give the reader knowledge. Entertainment. A glimpse into history, or possibly the future. You'll give them something to talk about long after the last page is turned. Does a sweater do that? I think not.

If you introduce a loved one to a novelist, you could be giving a lifetime of reading enjoyment in one small package. There's no better feeling than hearing someone say they loved an author's most recent novel, knowing you were the one who set them up on that blind date. Then you can let them know they're indebted to you for life--just like a real relationship!

If you have a younger family member, a niece, nephew, or grandchild, give them the gift of reading. They'll have plenty of time for Playstation and Xbox, so don't worry, their hand-eye coordination is well taken care of. Give them something that will nourish their mind. Even the most jaded teenager (and I was one) will lose themselves in a fascinating book. 

Of course, I'd be thrilled if you considered giving my books as gifts. You can buy the entire Henry Parker series, THE MARK, THE GUILTY and THE STOLEN, for less than $24. That's well over 1,000 pages of suspense for the price of just two movie tickets. And I guarantee you'll have a lot more fun curled up in your favorite chair with a Henry Parker novel than listening to cell phones chirp while unsticking your feet from the butter-covered floor of your local multiplex.

Even if you don't buy one of my books, there are thousands out there that your loved ones (and even people you have to get gifts for anyway) will undoubtedly enjoy. Just spend a few moments browsing your local bookseller, and you're sure to find one if not many, many more books that fit the bill. Please take a moment to visit your local bookseller and spend a few of your hard-earned dollars on a few books. The publishing industry has been hit hard lately, and a lot of people who are passionate about books will undoubtedly feel the pinch. By giving the gift of a great read, you'll make someone's holiday season brighter without making your wallet much lighter. (slogan copyright Jason Pinter, 2008)

Please visit one of these fine bookselling establishments or the local bookstore near you:


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Shield
Season 7--The Final Act
Episode 12: Possible Kill Screen

Wow. I'm shaking from the ending of this episode. It really feels like we're at the end of the line, and everything is finally coming together. The climactic scene between Vic and Olivia was just stunning. We'll go with another random thoughts style post because my brain is too fried for anything else.

--He might not have made a good cop, but it's safe to say that Shane has made an even worse criminal. After the ridonkulously dunderheaded real estate holdup last episode, Shane ratchets things up to an eleven by attempting to stick up some old CI informants after a poker game. He ends up back in some sketchy apartment, doing coke with two knuckleheads who look like they came straight from the Michael Cera coke/singing scene in "Superbad." Shane has to do a few lines to keep up appearances, but then things really go to hell. One of the guys suspects that Shane might be a cop, and a struggle ensues. Mara busts in with Shane's gun, and shockingly kills two people, including an unarmed woman. Plus she breaks her collarbone in the scuffle. Shane steals the money, and manages to get the injured Mara out. The wheels are officially off the Vendrell train, and the anti-Bonnie and Clyde are now skittering all over the road on hubcaps. Side note: I don't believe we've seen any of the Strike Team guys do drugs before, so Shane snorting a few was quite surprising. Not as surprising as 99% of the things he's done, but still surprising.

--It was good to see Danny back, but she didn't do anything of note. Still, I was worried they were going to ditch her altogether. She deserves a better going out. Maybe some sort of knock down, drag out fight with Tina once and for all. Sadly, it does not look to be in the cards. Though with Vic (and perhaps even Corrine) going down, it would be ironic if Danny ends up looking after all of Vic's biological children.

--Shane and Mara are quickly fingered for the robbery and murders, and Vic knows Shane will be caught any moment now and he has to get his ICE deal in place. He manages to get Beltran to push up the big shipment before Shane goes down, so he can get immunity before Shane spills the beans. The ICE deal is the only thing Vic can rely on, and he even tells Ronnie they have to leave Shane alone and put all their eggs in the ICE basket. When Olivia balks at making the deal happen so quickly, Vic threatens to leave the bust. Plus he works Aceveda over to the point where the mayor-in-running comes to Vic's defense. The degree to which Vic has played Aceveda over the years is just frightening. Is Aceveda George W. Bush and Vic Karl Rove? Maybe, though Rove has more hair than Vic. Vic looks like he's out of options without ICE, that he might have pushed too hard, but then Olivia calls to officially offer the deal. Vic feels like a free man, and maybe it's time for that cup of tea and Nicholas Sparks novel to cool his jets. Oh, just wait.

--Shane, the idiot savant, gets spotted by the cops and nearly kills Tina. He apparently did some drugs to "even himself out" after the coke. Yeah, that'll work. Sure. Sadly, he lets Tina live. Poor Julien, after last week's episode he's back to role player status, and lets Shane slip out right through his fingers after spotting his car. I still feel that some of the regulars--Dutch, Danny, Julien--got shafted with good storylines to make room for the Cartel angle. And did they really need to introduce Beltran? Couldn't they have just kept Pezuela as the point man? That's the one dark spot on this season, the convoluted ICE investigation/Cartel operation that took the spotlight off characters we cared about. But I'm nitpicking.

--Shouldn't Shane at least ditch that brown leather jacket? I mean the guy is wandering around Farmington in basically the same clothes he ran in.

--Something's going to happen between Dutch and Lloyd Dressler. I get the feeling that Lloyd is setting Dutch up to ambush him  and make the detective his second victim. I also hope Dutch learns the whole truth about the Money Train heist, since he suspected Vic all along. At least stray neighborhood cats will be safe from Dutch's wrath if this happens. Plus, now Dutch's relationship with Billings seems permanently fractured after Dutch's half-assed statement and his pressuring to have Billings release the sex offender. Will this factor into the final episode?

--Great scene when Vic and Ronnie go to sign their deals, only to be informed the deal is only for Vic. Vic was a fool to think they'd sign Ronnie over right away considering he'd been working for ICE for all of five minutes. You can see the fight leave Vic for a moment when he hears the news, and you can see he was salivating to sign that thing and leave Ronnie in the dust. Still, Vic shuns the deal unless Ronnie's involved too, though it seems like he did it more for showmanship to let Ronnie believe he's on his side. Vic wins bigtime points with Ronnie for that, but he's second guessing himself before the door closes.

--So Claudette tries to set Vic up again by having him meet Corrine to aid and abet Shane, but Vic spots the cops (who are practically holding road flares) and warns Corrine (whom he still doesn't know is working with the cops). Claudette is forced to arrest Corrine for appearances, and Vic sees his whole plan falling apart. Vic nearly has a panic attack in his car in a great moment. Vic never lets on any hint of weakness, but Corrine's arrest was not only unplanned but against a member of his family, and Vic is just stunned. In Vic's mind, not only is he jeopardizing his freedom but now Corrine's as well. She's the only one in this game who's really innocent.

--Wow. So the inevitable happens. Vic goes back to Olivia, and says he'll sign the deal as long as ICE gives Corrine immunity. No mention of Ronnie, who will have to wait indefinitely for his deal. Vic has officially thrown the last member of the Strike Team under the bus. "I'll string him along until we're done," Vic says later. And after seven years, the Strike Team, in word and in deed, is no more. Vic's family has turned against him. He has nothing left. And when Ronnie finds out, and you can be sure he will, I doubt he'll be polite about it. Olivia agrees to the terms. And this brings us to one of the best scenes in series history, perhaps the most tension-filled scene in any show I've watched since the Soprano family dinner at Holstons.

--As part of his immunity deal, Vic must come clean on any and all criminal activities. He spends nearly a full minute gathering himself for this moment, the moment the whole series has led up to. The range of emotions Vic goes through here is riveting, and for a moment I thought he was simply going to walk away. Finally Vic musters the strength to talk. And he finally admits to murdering Detective Terry Crowley in cold blood. Wow. The look on Olivia's devastated face is just chilling, as she had no idea the degree of Mackey's evil. Not only that, but now she's given federal immunity to an admitted cop killer. "Is that it?" Olivia says, after Vic's confession. Vic nods at the recorder. "How much memory's that thing got?" This is Michael Chiklis's Emmy scene. Just beyond chilling, especially as the scene goes on and Vic admits to the Money Train heist, Margos's murder, setting up O'Brien to be murdered by the Armenians, Lem's death, his torturing and killing of Guardo. Everything. Vic goes from remorseful to cocky to sad to cathartic to...I don't know what. And when Olivia tells him their meeting with Beltran is soon, Vic refuses to leave, saying he needs to get every last bit on tape to make sure he's granted immunity from all of it. Even as his soul goes down in flames, Vic is still watching his own ass.

--Vic was aware that both Aceveda and Kavanuagh knew he killed Crowley. "I was too good," he says. Wow. I don't think I took a breath during this entire scene. And Olivia's look of utter me Dianne Wiest, because I can't speak.

--Claudette and Dutch are tipped off about Vic's deal, and enter just in time for Vic to reveal more misdeeds. Claudette nearly has a nervous breakdown, unwilling to believe that after all the atrocities Vic has committed the man is about to walk. She goes nuclear and fires Dutch for his silly beef with Billings, but calms down when she realizes she's acting out. Things still have yet to play out fully, but Claudette's anger is just palpable as Claudette realizes that the stain she thought she was going to wipe from the barn is going to get away clean. 

--Mara can't take it. She's got a broken collarbone and she's a murderer. Not a whole lot going for her. She wants Shane to take her home. Do they even still have a home? Not quite sure what she's asking of him, I guess to give themselves up. I think Shane and Mara give Dina Lohan and Lynne Spears a run for Worst Parents of All Time.

--Great end scene between Olivia and Vic, as she's just overwhelmed by what's taken place. "You're a sick, twisted man," she says to him, knowing her career is likely ruined for recruiting Vic. "Do you have any idea what you've done to me?" Vic replies, "I've done worse." We know it, he knows it, and whether he's remorseful or not, he thinks he's getting away with it. Thus we see the tragic rise and epic fall of Victor Samuel Mackey. Yes, we learned that Vic has a middle name. Samuel. Hee hee.

--Whatever happens next episode, whether Vic lives, dies, goes to jail...something tells me it will all fit. If Vic dies, he will deserve it. If he ends up in prison, he becomes another criminal. If he gets away with it, it will be the perfect coda to a career spent somehow finding the smallest hole through which to wriggle out of. Without a doubt, Victor S. Mackey is one of the most brilliant minds in television history. Whether or not his past has finally caught up to him is something we'll learn next week. And on Tuesday, December 2nd, at 10:00 pm, when I realize that "The Shield" is no longer on, I will definitely miss one of the greatest cop dramas of all time. One week until Vic Mackey's farewell ride.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

School Daze

In the last two and a half years, I've participated in about a dozen book conferences and spoken on about twenty panels. I enjoy these engagements, mainly for the audience. The people who come to conventions simply love books. They travel great distances and pay for hotels, airfare and ungodly expensive meals for the chance to rub shoulders with their favorite authors (usually not me) and hear about the vague word that is 'writing.' As authors, we survive on readership.

Yesterday, though, I had a chance to speak somewhere a little different. THE MARK was selected by a high school for their book club, and they asked me to come speak to the students about the book. I've done about four or five of these kinds of talks, some high school and some middle school, an I hope I don't offend any convention attendees when I say that these are by far the most fulfilling speaking engagements I could imagine.

Aside from walking into the school's library to see between 40 and 50 high school students with well-worn copies of my book in front of them (a really humbling feeling) there's nothing quite like the genuine excitement and slight embarrassment of young readers. (How many people hesitated to ask questions of guest speakers in high school because they were embarrassed? Besides me?)

When you're at a book conference, you inevitably spend a great deal of your time talking about publishing, marketing, everything that goes on once you close the word processor, and everything you'd prefer not to deal with. But, they want to know everything about the books themselves. They want to know where ideas come from. Where you get your inspiration. How much of the characters are based on you, and how many are based on other people. It's everything a writer really wants to talk about, to the hungriest audience there is. 

Students don't care about co-op. They don't give a damn about genre wars, review space, or sales meetings. All they care about is what is between those two covers, how it got there, and for some of them, how they can do it too. You can always tell who the writers are in these groups. They're the ones who ask question after question. At first tentative, hand raised just barely above their head, perhaps wondering what their fellow classmates will think of them. But as time goes on, the hands eventually raise higher and higher, they become more confident, more open. You have to purposefully call on other students sometimes because, near the end, that hand refuses to stay down.

Thank you to the great students at W.T. Clarke high school. I know there are hundreds of school around this country with students just as eager as you were to know just how books are written. And I hope you get a chance to hear about it from writers just like me, who probably enjoy speaking to you even more than you do listening to us.

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Monday, November 17, 2008


Sorry for the lack of posts that aren't either BSP or "Shield" recaps, my wife and I have been living something of a nomadic existence over the last month and a half. So between a whole lot of travel, working on the next book(s) and now prepping to be out of commission for most of December, things have been a bit hectic.

There are some major developments in regards to 2009, all for the good, and information will be dispersed at an appropriate time. I can reveal that there will be two Henry Parker books published in 2009, but what's very cool is that the two books are really two halves of one epic storyline that I'm insanely excited about. I think the next Henry Parker novel, THE FURY, is the best one yet and I'm trying to top that one with the book I'm working on right now, THE DARKNESS. The story arc for these two books are thrilling to write, but along with that they are also the most personal Henry Parker novels yet. We'll learn a lot more about Henry, and at the same time he'll learn a lot more about himself. Those of you who've read the excerpt for THE FURY at the end of THE STOLEN have a glimmer of insight as to what's in store.

I consider these two books my L.A. CONFIDENTIAL in a lot of ways, not in that I could ever reach the achievement of that brilliant novel (one of my all-time favorites), but in that I tried to develop these two stories in similar fashion to how that book unfolds. It'll make sense when people read them.

So stay tuned, more information will be coming shortly. Plus recaps and analysis of the final two episodes of "The Shield." Don't think you'd get away from those.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Shield
Season 7--The Final Act
Episode 11: Petty Cash

We'll do this in a more "Random Thoughts" style:

--This might have been Cathy Ryan's best episode yet. To say I've been underwhelmed by her past performance as Corrine is a massive understatement, but she did a terrific job of conveying her fear of being placed smack in the middle of the Vic-Shane-Ronnie-Dutch-Claudette trap, while also showing her emotional conflict in selling her ex-husband down the river. Corrine knows what she's doing is the right thing, but has a hard time reconciling the fact that she'll be an accomplice in putting the father of her children in jail. At the same time, she also seems to have finally realized just how far Vic and Shane are willing to go to protect their own necks, and her fright is multiplied tenfold by the possible repercussions of her working with the cops. Would Vic turn on her to protect himself? I think Corrine believes it's possible.

--It was nice to see Julien with a meatier role in this episode, and I think his strongest moments have come when forced to straddle the line between being a cop who must see the world in a colorblind way and being a black man who grew up and keeps the peace in a city in which seemingly every young black man ends up in prison or a morgue by age twenty five. We've seen that there are black heroes in Farmington, but they're either gunned down (like Cervantes in season 6) or turn out to be a wolf in sheep's clothing (Antwan Mitchell), making it even harder for Julien to believe he's making a difference. An interesting arc this season could have been Julien himself filling that role, but sadly he's taken a backseat to the Cartel storyline.

--A Danny mention! Hooray! It seems that with Vic out of the barn, she's thinking about returning. Though I doubt we'll see her again, at least they finally acknowledged that one of the show's stars had in fact left.

--Even though Vic seems convinced that his plan will work out perfectly, the others aren't so sure. Ronnie clearly has serious doubts. "The wheels are coming off," he says, and Vic can only placate him. The wheels are coming off, and fast, but Vic just doesn't notice it.

--I do wish Dutch and Claudette did a little more investigating into Mackey, it seems they're kind of sitting back and waiting for new info to smack them in the head. I do love how Claudette is totally focused on bringing down Vic, as she feels he's tainted the barn for years without any push back. Vic is Claudette's White Whale, and she'll bring him down even it it means her health.

--The Cartel subplot is making a little more sense, and Vic brokering a deal between the Mexicans and the Blacks was an interesting development. It also shows that even though Vic might not have a badge, he's the most persuasive force in the city and can get his claws into his enemies even deeper than his friends.

--My favorite line of the show? When Vic tells Beltran that Pezuela never realized what he had in him. "He had an action hero on his payroll," Vic says with a sneer. This is how Vic sees himself now. Whereas once Vic truly did care about making wrong things right, truly did care about justice, now he's totally 100% looking out for his own ass. And he also knows that he can get things done to a degree that nobody else can. Pride comes before the fall, and Vic's ungodly huge ego (which has served him well in the past) will bring about his undoing.

--Though Shane's trap to snare Vic would have worked if not for the unforeseen snag of Ronnie having to step in, the Real Estate heist might have set a new level for Vendrell incompetence. First he goes in without a mask. Then he forgets how to open a safe lock. Then he brings his pregnant wife and young son in to help, and lets a hostage hold his son while he and Mara steal the money. Just wows all around. Sometimes I wondered how Shane manages to get his pants on in the morning.

--I got chills when, during Ronnie's introduction to Beltran, he said about Vic, "He taught me everything he knows." And Vic's cocky smile...just chilling. We've seen just how far off the rails Vic has gone this season, and Ronnie seems to have taken Vic's path rather than Lem's.

--But on a better note....WE HAVE A CLETUS VAN DAM SIGHTING!!! Woohoo! Shane used his famous nom de plume on the package sent to Claudette, which of course turns out to be a big F.U. to Ronnie and Vic. Priceless.

--The true extent of Vic's ability to become a chameleon was on full display this episode. Part of his brilliance is his ability to tailor his personality to any person in any situation. He's a doting husband with Corrine, an empathetic mentor with Ronnie, a loyal soldier with Beltran, a trustworthy friend to Olivia, a dominant master to Aceveda, a pragmatic businessman to the blacks, and a proud father to Cassidey. Who exactly is the "Real Vic Mackey?" I wonder if even he knows.

--I do wonder how the two main storylines--the Cartel and the Vic/Shane/Dutch/Claudette confrontation--will be worked out in just two more episodes. But this season has done just a fantastic job of keeping tension throughout, and whereas Vic has always done a good job of keeping his friends close but his enemies closer, he's finally allowed his enemies to learn the truth. Just so we're keeping tabs, here are the people who have it out for Vic:

Shane: For any one of a million reasons.
Ronnie: Because he doesn't trust Vic anymore, and realizes that if Vic is caught he'll bring Ronnie down with him.
Dutch: He's always suspected Vic for the money train heist, and taking down the city's most notorious cop would be a big feather in his cap.
Claudette: She believes Vic is the antithesis of everything a cop should be, and her ability to truly turn things around in the Barn (and in Farmington) rests on cleansing the stain of its worst legacy.
Aceveda: If Vic is caught, he could expose Aceveda's numerous shady dealings and end his political career once and for all.
Beltran: If the Mexican Cartel ever finds out that Vic has been playing them to ICE, he'll be found in a million pieces which will be ground into paste and sold in little bags of heroin.
The black gangs: If they find out that Vic has stolen $100,000 from them (the payoff money for Shane) they'll have 100,000 reasons to see him very, very dead.
Danny: If she realizes that her son will never be safe as long as Vic is alive...well, Danny has killed in self defense before.
Olivia Murray: Her potential deal to get Vic into ICE would go haywire if her bosses knew just how dirty he was. And if Vic is caught and starts talking, Olivia might go down for working with him.
Mara: She would tear Vic limb from limb before letting anything happen to Shane.
Corrine/Cassidey: Being taken down by his own family might be the most poetic justice Vic could ever face.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

Happy 29th Birthday to Me

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Shield
Season 7--The Final Act
Episode 10: Party Line

Vic and Ronnie are getting desperate in their efforts to track down Shane. They know it's only a matter of time before he and Mara are caught, and when that happens Shane will spill his guts to make a deal (remember when Vic threatened to "scorch the earth" with what he knew about Aceveda). It's scary that Vic seems completely prepared to kill Mara. Ronnie is tired, desperate, and on top of that he's getting scared. Vic seems to be deluding himself into thinking everything will work out, but Ronnie is more realistic. After he and Vic get nowhere with one of Mara's relatives, Ronnie mentions he's thinking about the big R: Running. Vic talks him down, not for Ronnie's sake but because if Ronnie runs even more suspicion will be on Vic. Vic admits he's considered running in the past, but isn't willing to give up his family. Sadly, they've already given up on him and he just doesn't know it. Vic asks Ronnie for a little time to find Shane, and if they can't track him down, he says they'll both run.

So what is Vic's brilliant idea for finding Shane? Putting a $10,000 bounty out on him with numerous gangs, the caveat being that they must deliver him alive. This is very un-Vic to put so much stake in his enemies, but shows just how much of a bind he's in. This is a similar tactic to Shane hiring Two-Man; sloppy and impetuous. The Torucos are hardly trustworthy, but since Vic's out of a job and Ronnie is chained to a desk, the gangs have far more reach than they do and Vic is running out of options.

Shane comes home(?) to their squat to find Mara swimming naked. He joins her (Walton Goggins tushee sighting--aagghhh!!!), and they have some kissy kissy time. I officially have the maturity of a toddler. They have a tender moment in the pool, and later we see Shane playing piano--neither we nor Mara knew he had this talent--while Mara dances and plays hide-and-seek with their son Jackson. These intimate family scenes are actually rather touching, as we see the kind of life that Shane and Mara wish they led and misguidedly still think they can. As Mara says later, the last few days made her forget everything that's going on around them, and she was, for once, truly happy. Needless to say this happiness doesn't last as a broker arrives to show the house they're squatting in and Shane is forced to pull a gun on her. I thought for a moment he might kill her, but the Vendrells simply flee to live another day. Again we're reminded that Shane is not the brightest tool in the shed. Did he really think they could live in that house and barbecue and nobody would ever notice? Yet for all the wrongs Shane has committed, like Vic there is a part of Shane that is a dedicated family man, perhaps to an even greater degree. There has been more passion in his relationship with Mara than Vic has had with anyone, save perhaps Danny, but even that was fleeting.

Corrine summons Dutch and Claudette to the hospital, and after being granted immunity tells them about Shane and Mara contacting her, and how she thinks Vic tried to kill them. After Two-Man fingering Shane, this is probably the most important development yet as far as the cops learning the truth about Vic. For years they've always known Mackey was dirty, but they never knew just how much so. And when Corrine mentions "something to do with the Armenians," Dutch's eyes go wide since he long suspected the Strike Team for ripping off the money train. They plan to tap Corrine's phone to try and catch Vic talking to Shane, as well as getting a lead on Shane's whereabouts.

Vic, finding that his shot to land with ICE is going down the drain, realizes that as long as Aceveda is their go-to guy he'll be out of a job. Vic confronts Aceveda, telling him to back off the case so that Vic can be the primary. Vic then goes to Pezuela and Beltran, trying to convince them to give him more duties (so he can get cozier with ICE). Suddenly Aceveda shows up and gives Pezuela a verbal dressing-down, leading to a fight which Aceveda (shockingly) wins. He has correctly assumed that Beltran is in town because the Cartel isn't happy with Pezuela's public crimes (the Cartel knows there's more money in drugs than in real estate), and by belittling Pezuela in front of his boss Aceveda knows he will be elevated in the eyes of Beltran. This was perhaps the ballsiest stunt Aceveda has ever pulled (except for the, you know what in season 3), to the point where even Vic is stunned.

Vic tracks down Beltran, desiring to replace Pezuela in the Cartel and refusing to submit his position to Aceveda. Turns out they're correct about Beltran's fondness (or lack thereof) for Pezuela, and Beltran tells Vic that if he kills Pezuela, he's in. Vic confronts Pezuela, but instead of killing him tells him that he's a marked man. Vic then brings Pezuela in to ICE, and Olivia offers to protect him if he turns on the Cartel. Pezuela holds out, figuring he's a dead man either way, to Vic's delight, because it gives him more time to get closer to Beltran.

Meanwhile, Vic's bounty pays off as two gang members recognize Shane and pull guns on him and Mara (and Jackson). They're ready to bring him in to Vic, until Shane offers them $20,000, doubling Vic's offer. They accept the double bribe, but then see the rest of the $100,000 Shane stole from the Armenians and take it all. Shane convinces them to finally leave with the money, which they do, but now Shane and Mara are hunted and broke and even more desperate.

Thanks to Billings having a man crush on Ronnie, Ronnie learns that Dutch and Claudette know more than they're letting on. Man, David Marciano's Billings is just perfectly played. Dutch and Claudette listen in on that evening's phone call from Mara (after narrowly missing Vic finding out earlier. Mara is in near panic when she calls, and Claudette can sense it. Meanwhile Shane calls Vic, telling him that as payback for the bounty he's sending a letter to Claudette confessing to one of the Strike Team's many nefarious deeds. He correctly assumes that Vic will have to leave Shane alone while he tries to intercept the letter, and by the time he does Shane will have a chance to flee the state. Shane also tells Vic that he needs to bring them $100,000 (to replace the money the gang took) by tomorrow afternoon, and that Corrine must bring it. The penalty if he does not? Shane tells Claudette the truth about Terry Crowley. 

Then Claudette takes a chance, and picks up the phone to talk to Mara. She offers Mara and Shane the chance to make a deal if they turn on Vic. She presses all the right buttons, telling Mara to think about her children. Mara sounds like she's about to agree, but when she hangs up, she immediately tells Shane that Corrine is working with the cops. Shane deflates, as he knows tomorrow is his last chance.

The last few shows have been more about setting the stage for the end than really progressing the plot, as we get little moments like Shane and Mara playing family that are slow yet poignant. Corrine looks like she's finally turned on Vic for the last time (we'll see how long that lasts), though as Claudette observes, "Who knows how deep Mackey has his claws in her?" It's very interesting to see just how much Shane and Mara love each other, and it's safe to say that even though they're both pretty rotten, they have a bond that Vic and Corrine never did. Vic will claim to his dying breath that everything he did he did for his family, but he has barely any family left. Corrine is about to turn Vic in, while we have no doubt that Mara would take a bullet for Shane.

I also got to thinking about the parallels between Vic and Shane and another crime drama pair: Tony Soprano and Christopher Moltisanti. Like Tony, Vic was always the mentor, the father to Shane's Christopher. One of my favorite scenes is from season 2 when Vic is shot and Shane comes to visit him in the hospital. Vic, lying there drugged up after surgery, tells Shane he wants to play golf with him. Shane breaks down in tears, says that's all he ever really wanted. That scene was perhaps the closest he and Shane have ever been, Vic was always the more cautious, the more thoughtful one, whereas Shane is more impetuous, more emotional. If Vic saw ten steps ahead, Shane saw one. There are also similarities between Mara and Adrianna. Both women simply dream of a happy, normal life with their men, whom they know are dirty but love anyway (Mara is more complicit than Adrianna, but they have both pulled the wool over their own eyes). From the beginning, there was no sexual chemistry whatsoever between Vic and Corrine (though I did wonder how much of this might have been the awkwardness of Shawn Ryan not wanting his wife to do anything risque). They were husband and wife in word, but not in deed, whereas Shane and Mara are very much in love in every way. It's impossible to picture Vic playing piano while Corrine plays with Cassidey. While Vic considers himself a family man, he has really never been there for his children, except to make money or in cases where their lives have been threatened.

I'm really annoyed that they still haven't mentioned Danny's departure, and at this point Julien is basically window dressing. The cartel subplot gets more convoluted by the week, but the drama between Vic and Shane (and now Corrine, Mara, Dutch and Claudette) is simply fantastic. We're still not quite sure just what the Cartel's plans are exactly, but I imagine that will be revealed soon enough. And it's only a matter of time before Dutch and Claudette learn the full, nasty truth about the Strike Team, about Lem, and about Terry Crowley.

I do wonder how it will all end, and what the most satisfying and appropriate conclusion might be. There's certainly a chance Vic will die, but there would almost be more poetic justice in his being incarcerated, or even becoming another Joe Clark, losing everything and everyone and being forced to live a life totally alone. Death and jail just feel too simple for Vic. Shane, on the other hand, seems to be running on borrowed time. But what happens to Jackson, Mara and her unborn child remains to be seen.

Still, this season has been unbearably good, each episode tense and fulfilling. There are few wasted moments, and nobody knows how things will end. Only three episodes to go...


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Strand likes THE STOLEN, and R.I.P. Michael Crichton

I'm thrilled to say that The Strand magazine has selected THE STOLEN as one of the best mysteries of 2008. I'm thrilled and humbled by this considering the talent on the list. THE MARK was on their best of '07 list, and it feels wonderful to know that the Henry Parker series, though young, is still going strong (though I truly feel what's in store for 2009 raises the bar). Special thanks to Andrew Gulli, managing editor of The Strand for his support. Here's the whole list:

1. THE MURDER NOTEBOOK by Jonathan Santlofer
2. CHILD 44 by Tom Rob Smith
3. THE WHOLE TRUTH by David Baldacci
4. MASTER OF THE DELTA by Thomas H. Cook
5. BETRAYAL by John Lescroart
6. CARELESS IN RED by Elizabeth George
8. THE BROKEN WINDOW by Jeffery Deaver
11. THE LIKENESS by Tana French
12. THE STOLEN by Jason Pinter

And I'm so saddened to hear about the passing of Michael Crichton. He was so much much more than a thriller writer, he was a novelist who created some of the most popular books and scenarios in the last half century and inspired an entire genre unto himself. There are few novels that were more influential to a genre than THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN and JURASSIC PARK. And many of his other novels, CONGO, SPHERE, DISCLOSURE, were simply terrific stories that pushed the boundaries of what science could do to make a fantastical realty seem that much more possible. He was not afraid to challenge dogma on many issues within his books, including global warming and cloning (which was hardly a blip on the radar until JP was released). He will be missed.

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Tomorrow this blog will return to book talk and recaps of "The Shield" and stuff like that, but for To know that you witnessed history is an awe-inspiring thing. Here's to a better tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Rock. The. Vote.


Sunday, November 02, 2008

Affleck does Olbermann

This is the funniest thing Affleck has done since Gigli. He seriously looks like his head might explode.