Read Recently — April 2014 — Wicked Death

Wicked City by Ace Atkins

Atkins is the writer selected by the estate of the late Robert B. Parker to continue the Spenser series. IMHO, so far he’s done okay. Not great, but Parker himself didn’t do great all the time, so I’d say good enough. Anyway, I thought I’d check out his own novels.

Wicked City is the “based on true life” story of Phenix City, Alabama, which apparently some called “the wickedest city in the world”. It certainly seems to have been a wicked enough city, selling booze, drugs, women, and gambling, as well as robbery, murder and human trafficking. In the mid 1950s a reformist attorney is gunned down, leading to martial law and eventually the reform of the town. Atkins doesn’t pretend that ends the problems, of course, since vice employed far more people than virtue could sustain.

The main story is seen through the eyes of first-person narrator Lamar Murphy, part of the local reform committee. There is a sub-plot involving a teenage boy who falls in love with a girl who turns out to be an underage prostitute; complicating things is the fact that the boy’s father is one of the leading mobsters in town.

Tell the truth, I thought the city would turn out to be alot wickeder than it was, so that was disappointing. I did like Lamar; he’s a Parkerian hero, a self-made man and a former boxer with a sense of his own integrity. The teenage hooker in the subplot, disappointingly, serves as nothing more than a damsel in distress. I’d have liked to see more agency from her.

Overall, while this was an interesting read, I don’t really recommend it. A better choice for those curious about Atkins would be his Quinn Coulson series, starting with The Ranger.

Death From The Skies! these are the ways the world will end . . . by Philip Plait, Ph.D.

Plait writes the Bad Astronomy Blog and had a brief TV miniseries called “Bad Universe” a few years back, based on this very book. In each chapter, he discusses a different threat from space, ranging from asteroid/comet impacts in chapter one, to the heat death of the universe in chapter nine. While he discusses the odds of each one happening and our chances of survival, I’m afraid that for the last one our chances don’t look good.

Plait writes engagingly and often humourously on rather grim subjects. And of course, in order to set up the threat, he has to explain quite a bit of astronomy along the way, so there’s a general education in the subject a well. All things considered, highly recommended.

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