Tom Cooper Brings The Bayou To Life In ‘The Marauders’

the maraudersIn 2010, the BP oil spill brings new disaster to the small bayou town of Jeanette, Louisiana, as it still reels from Hurricane Katrina, five years earlier. Tom Cooper’s The Marauders is a cataclysmic caper tale of this time, with the capers here being those of simple Southern men trying to survive when smarter folks have fled their seemingly cursed region.

In Jeanette, men get addicted to the hard stuff early, backbreaking work equating with muscles that call out for whiskey, and later oxycontin. Shrimpers find three-eyed catches in their nets, or no shrimp at all, and wonder if they should take the settlement money BP is offering, and give up trawling for good like so many of their friends and neighbors. Fancy New York restaurants are advertising shrimp from China–it is, perhaps, the worst of times to be a small town shrimper in the Gulf Coast.

The story rounds through a group of out-of-luck men, each character brilliant in their peculiarities, their regional drawls, their singular and often circular big dreams. Circuits cross between plot lines, friends are made, identities mistaken, lives lost.

Gus Lindquist is a one-armed shrimper, he lost his arm stoned in a boating accident and now he’s misplaced his fancy, fake prosthetic arm as well. But never one to be discouraged, Lindquist pops pills from a pez dispenser and tells knock knock jokes almost continuously, and at inopportune moments. He tirelessly scavenges the bayou for pirate treasure in his spare time, metal detector in his one good arm, dreaming of the secret stash he’ll someday find and the riches that will bring back the wife who has left him and the daughter who doesn’t visit.

Wes lost his mom in the hurricane and never quite forgave his father for insisting that the family stay put in the storm. He goes out with his dad on the shrimping boat despite shrinking catches and shrinking pay.

Cosgrove and Hanson are easygoing misfits. They meet on a community service detail, fixing up an old woman’s house so the city can seize it as soon as she dies. They reunite at a sweet gig cleaning birds drenched in oil for $15.

These are all lovable, and deeply flawed, characters, which makes their forward motion towards disaster all the more painful to read. As someone who has never visited this area of the country, Cooper brought the area to life with lush, striking descriptions of a landscape hostile enough that only the craziest of men try to access its bounties.

I often get so caught up in my mystery novel obsessions I forget what a pleasure humor is in novels. This isn’t a light book, but it is incredibly funny. The Marauders is a tragicomedy that managed to dismay me and still end on a triumphant, movingly positive note. And especially for a first novel, this is a big reach towards all the stars in that inky bayou sky. Cooper nailed it, and he’s definitely a name to watch in the future.

The Marauders on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org

No Secrets Are Safe In Harlan Coben’s The Stranger

We get mad at someone for cutting us off in traffic or for taking too long to order at Starbucks or for not responding exactly as we see fit, and we have no idea that behind their facade, they may be dealing with some industrial-strength shit. Their lives may be in pieces. They may be in the midst of incalculable tragedy and turmoil, and they may be hanging on to their sanity by a thread.

― Harlan Coben, The Stranger

the strangerHarlen Coben’s newest thriller, The Stranger, is a book about the secrets we keep, and what happens when they get spilled all over our usually well-kept lives.

Adam lives the American dream, settling in the posh but cozy town of Cedarfield, New Jersey, with his two lacrosse-playing boys and beautiful wife Corinne. Adam has it all. Or he had it all, until a stranger walks up to him in the local dive bar, where banker dads are gathering to form teams for sixth grade lacrosse, and reveals a bizarre and life-shattering secret. The stranger walks away, and when Adam steps out of that bar he steps into a new world, where people keep secrets and loved ones have double lives and justice takes strange forms that often get out of hand.

This sort of opening is Coben’s trademark–he’s a great fisherman and he’ll hook you every time. Although this could be considered a guilty pleasure, this is an example of a guilty pleasure done right. It doesn’t read like a script for a movie, as some fast-paced thrillers do. This type of book is Coben’s jam, and he has totally mastered his craft.

The Stranger on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org

If you like Harlen Coben, also try reading:

In Ghettoside, Jill Leovy Reveals The People Behind The Statistics

This is a book about a very simple idea: where the criminal justice system fails to respond vigorously to violent injury and death, homicide becomes endemic. African Americans have suffered from just such a lack of effective criminal justice, and this, more than anything, is the reason for the nation’s long-standing plague of black homicides.

–Jill Leovy, Ghettoside

ghettosideGhettoside might be one of the most important books published this year. As the news covers murder so disproportionately, Jill Leovy addresses the issue of high rates of violence within African American urban communities with intelligence and empathy. She embedded with the Los Angeles Police Department, following the homicide detectives, some dedicated, some overwhelmed, many there and then gone, and she kept her own statistics logs.

The statistics themselves are shocking, staggering, unlike anything I’d heard before although I’d lived in Oakland and seen brief news articles covering weekends of violence, summaries of staggering crime statistics that never went national. African American men are “just 6 percent of the country’s population but nearly 40 percent of those murdered.”

Leovy’s answer to this staggering statistic, especially affecting Los Angeles, was a Los Angeles Times blog called The Homicide Report, an attempt to give a story to each victim in LA. The intention here was to honor victims that often went nameless and faceless, when suburban white female victims captured so much of the news cycle.

At the LAPD, Leovy followed one case from the murder itself to its successful prosecution. This case, the murder of yet another young black man, Bryant Tennelle, is notable in that Bryant Tennelle was a respected detective’s son. Walking his bike, wearing the wrong color of hat, he was shot and left for dead. Tennelle’s death isn’t the only chronicled in Ghettoside. Focusing on the Watts area of South Los Angeles, the deaths come continually, providing just a glimpse, the tiniest blink, of what residents and police assigned to the area must feel, a continual wave of death followed by waves of retribution as communities seek their own justice through violence.

Leovy also introduces John Skaggs, a lanky white detective with ADD and a coffee addiction that allows him to work what seems like continuous overtime in an underfunded homicide department. The descriptions of Skaggs often gush, as he is the hero of this story. Never jaded in a department of exhausted officers, able to connect with victim’s mourning families and witnesses alike, Skaggs seems like a character pulled out of a novel. With so many videos released recently of police brutality, so many police gone wrong in current events, I was hesitant to trust this man. But this is part of Leovy’s argument–Skaggs is rare, and we need more like him.

Ultimately, a dedicated investigator like Skaggs is required to solve Tennelle’s murder, as the case is going cold until he takes it over. Solving a case takes good police work. It takes knocking on doors, and interviews, and gathering evidence. Just like any other criminal investigation. And this is the argument of Leovy’s book–there is an epidemic of street justice where the criminal justice system is lacking. The police just aren’t good enough in these high crime areas, she says. By the end of the book, Leovy chronicles a gang banger convincing friends to give the police a chance, knowing one of Skaggs’s team will be on the job. Knowing a good cop might offer justice, she convinces her friends to pause on seeking vengeance themselves.

This book is at times exhausting. It shines light on our country’s bleakest moments, things no one wants to look at and the media chooses not to discuss. It takes a hard look at America’s overtly racist history, from slavery onwards. But this is a book about making black crime into crime like any other–something that can be reported on, talked about, and ultimately solved by the police.

Ghettoside on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org

Further reading:

A Brain Full Of Crime-Solving Crayons: The Kalireads Interview With Colby Marshall

Today marks the release date for Colby Marshall’s Double Vision, the second book in her Dr. Jenna Ramey series. Colby took some time to answer my questions about sensing colors, women in mysteries, and what she’s reading.

In Until You’re Mine, All That She Wants Is Another Baby

I’m at that age, early thirties, where everyone is getting married and getting pregnant. So are the characters in this thriller, but with much deadlier results than an avalanche of wedding invites and adorable Facebook photos.

Getting Clarity In A Post-Going Clear World: More on Scientology

You watched HBO’s documentary Going Clear and it blew your mind. Scientology is sneaky and corrupt and David Miscavige is a tiny, tiny man. But wait, there’s more. Books about Scientology have been blowing people’s minds for years with their crazy, crazy information.

1. Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

going clear

This is the book that the documentary was based on, and author Lawrence Wright worked with filmmaker Alex Gibney. Lawrence Wright is legit, and seeks to understand how the church can keep intelligent people within its grasps. He seeks to explain the effects of belief, he says in his introduction. Full disclosure, I tried to read this before the doc aired so I could give you a nice compare and contrast with other scientology books out there, but once it embarked upon L. Ron Hubbard’s history again, I just.. couldn’t.. do it… Because it was discussed so throughly in:
 
 
2. Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secret Religion by Janet Reitman

inside scientologyThis book is horrifying. I read it in bed when I wasn’t feeling well, and would switch from laying on one side to laying on my one side to laying on my other side, equally horrified on both sides, like a horror pancake. It covers everything from Hubbard’s wacky time at sea, to Miscavige’s coup of church leadership, to Lisa Mcpherson’s death under church supervision. At the time I read this, I knew Scientology was odd, but I just had no idea how far things had gone.

 
 

3. Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill

beyond belief large w borderBut maybe this memoir was the scariest of all, as it chronicled the experiences of Jenna Miscavige Hill, a child raised in the church (and relative of David Miscavige). I’ve also reviewed this previously on the blog, with a quoted example of the insanity she went through. Hill went through everything from indoctrination to manual labor to separation from her family. Now, she’s started an organization for kids trying to leave the Scientology.

 
 
 

4. Battlefield Earth: A Sage of the Year 3000 by L. Ron Hubbard

This cover though!!

This cover though!!

In my Intro to Science Fiction class, we learned about L. Ron Hubbard for his writing in old school magazines like Astounding Science Fiction. Before he created a religion, he created Battlefield Earth.

5. Them: Adventures with Extremists by Jon Ronson

them adventuresI mentioned this last week, but I guess it seems more timely now. Ronson doesn’t visit with Scientologists, but he does embed himself with and get to know all sorts of other people we consider to be on the peripheral of life, with radical, offensive, and sometimes dangerous beliefs. If you’re interested in Scientology, you will probably find this to your liking as well.

 

Jon Ronson, Monica Lewinsky, And The Fierce Twitter Avalanche of Snowflakes

Jon Ronson comes to the realization that online, we are a vicious lot: “I suppose when shamings are delivered like remotely administered drone strikes nobody needs to think about how ferocious our collective power might be. The snowflake never needs to feel responsible for the avalanche.”

What We Talk About When We Talk About Vaccinating: Eula Biss’ On Immunity

In Eula Biss’ short On Immunity: An Inoculation, she lays bare the fears of being a mother today. As the mother of a young son herself, Biss takes a step back from the vaccine debate and looks at its framing, its history, and the concept of the self as impermeable by society.

William Gibson’s The Peripheral: The Past Is The Playground For The Future’s Rich

William Gibson is a master of near-future science fiction, he’s a speculative fiction genius who has been called a noir prophet, and The Peripheral is another example of why he gets all these accolades.

An Untamed State: Roxane Gay Stares The Violence Down

But another way of smashing the stereotype is leaning full in, like a twisty Sheryl Sandberg. This seems to be Roxane Gay’s approach, as her debut novel An Untamed State leans full in to the experience of a woman who is raped and tortured and used by men as a thing in her novel.

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