Sunday, October 22, 2017
Act of Betrayal: A Will Cochrane Novel by Matthew Dunn (William Morrow, 2017, 320 Pages, $18.35/12.99) is a spy thriller from the macho, uber male, perspective of super-spy Will Cochrane, who, for reasons I can't understand, has reached the seventh volume of an apparently popular series. After reading the first few chapters of this book, I decided it wasn't for me. I don't generally read thrillers heavy on the U.S. spy system, special forces, or other gung-ho, macho adventures featuring shooters, shooting, and graphic violence. Nevertheless, I asked myself, why don't you consider continuing to read, mostly in order to affirm your preconceived ideas about this kind of novel. Surprise! While still not finished and having reached the "desire to see how this all works out" stage, I started to became really engaged by the ambivalence and complexity of this novel, so that around 25%, the beginning of Chapter 11, into the book, I decided to stay to the end. However, by the time I finished, I was sorry to have given so much time and credability to a world view I abhor.
Act of Betrayal is filled with action, lots of heroics, and, particularly lots of spy, CIA, and FBI talk. Also, featuring unlikely heroics, and an increasingly awkward convoluted plot that becomes too garbled with characters and too violent to approach plausibility, the novel begins to drag. Never having read a novel focused on this particular audience before, I wished better to understand the appeal beyond the action. It seems to engage the orientation towards conspiracy, admiration for doomed assassins working for “truth” and willing to use huge amounts of violence to achieve it. Also, the character of Will Cochrane stands beyond any sort of verisimilitude. Alliances extend to men (and women) of achievement beyond reasonable alliances, as a secret power within the CIA, a former Israeli agent, and a Russian, combine their efforts to stop the villain(s). The evil encountered rises all the way to the oval office.
The story opens as Will Cochrane, the finest shot of any assassin in the world, undertakes, successfully, to shoot at 3000 yards,a mysterious, but certainly evil, uber spy traveling along the autobahn at high speed. Of course, his head shot obliterates with one shot the man identified to him, and then he disappears. Three years later he appears to have committed suicide by jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge after having murdered a number of “innocent” people. The top agents of both the FBI and the CIA have long since stopped seeking him, until certain familiar habits begin to re-assert themselves, and it becomes obvious that Cochrane is, indeed, alive and back at work. There follow 300 pages of twists and turns as Cochrane seeks to set matters right with little concern for his own life, committed to exposing the “truth.”
In the world of Act of Betrayal the ends always justify the means, even when they include the violent death of ill doers without anything approaching due process. The hero, no... protagonist, is the purest of the pure. Comments about him by others point to his always doing “what's right.” Will Cochrane is beyond competent, a deadly killer with a perfect body, super reflexes, and completely under his own control. He never hesitates to instantly obliterate every person he concludes is guilty. His actions are justified because they are “right.” Legality has little or nothing to do with his choices, because his own motives are “pure.” He's accountable to no one but himself.
The following profile of Matthew Dunn is provided by the publisher: “As an MI6 field officer, Matthew Dunn recruited and ran agents, coordinated and participated in special operations, and acted in deep-cover roles throughout the world. He operated in highly hostile environments, where, if compromised and captured, he would have been executed. Dunn was trained in all aspects of intelligence collection, deep-cover deployments, small-arms, explosives, military unarmed combat, surveillance, and infiltration. Medals are never awarded to modern MI6 officers, but Dunn was the recipient of a very rare personal commendation from the secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs for work he did on one mission, which was deemed so significant that it directly influenced the successful conclusion of a major international incident. During his time in MI6, Dunn conducted approximately seventy missions. All of them were successful. He lives in England.” Wikipedia, however, places this description into doubt by preceding it with, “according to his publicity agents,” casting the entire bio into question.
Act of Betrayal: A Will Cochrane Novel by Matthew Dunn (William Morrow, 2017, 320 Pages, $18.35/12.99) portrays a perfectly corrupt government salvaged only by a few hidden “true” rebels who, deeply embedded in various agencies, manage to save us from our own self-destruction. In this fictional world, there are a few “good” men and women with incomparable skills willing to endure the privation and suffering necessary to save the rest of us from the worst of us. I cannot recommend this novel to any reader save those already addicted to such tripe. I read the book in digital format supplied to me by the publisher through Edelweiss on my Kindle app.
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Monday, September 25, 2017
Cab Calloway School of the Arts
The Cab Calloway School of the Arts is an arts magnet school located in nearby Wilmngton, DE. Their bluegrass band is a club effort spearheaded by Stephen Field who also acts as emcee. As always, they presented a delightful show with kids of a variety of skills but no shortage of enthusiasm.
Delaware Valley Kids Academy
Kids Academies at bluegrass festivals provide young musicians to get to know each other and to begin to grow into the music under the supervision of skilled and able musician/teachers. Here some pictures of the Delaware Valley Academy, and this link provides you with access to a larger portfolio of photos from this year's group. Enjoy them!
Tuesday Mountain Boys
The Tuesday Mountain Boys are a local band of members of Brandywine Friends of Old Time Music who play covers of classic bluegrass and a few of their own songs. Just right for an early Sunday appearance. Apologies to guitarist Jeff Spencer.
Bob Amos & Catamount Crossing
Bob Amos has staged a regional comeback after the disbanding of Front Range, a fine band which toured in the 1990's and early 2000's. Based in far northern Vermont, this band has the discipline, fine writing, and taste that Amos is known for. Furthermore, his daughter Sarah adds vocal color and a winsome personality to the band. It was a delight to see this fine band out of its usual New England haunts. It deserves wider national attention.
The Vocal Trio
Amos, Amos & Wright
Paul & Maria
Big Country Bluegrass
Big Country Bluegrass, from western Virginia and founded during the 1980's serves up hard driving traditional bluegrass without a lot of frills but with plenty of quality. Their name is a reference to Jimmy Martin. Founders Tommy and Teresa Sells, as well as the other members of the band, come from the Blue Ridge region. Singer Eddie Gill has the characteristic high lonesome tenor voice of old-time bluegrass.
Lapp's Cafeteria - Good Food
The Foghorn Stringband Arrives
The Foghorn String Band comes from Oregon, where it has established itself as the gold standard for old time string band music, while not sounding or appearing old fashioned. While celebrating old-time music, Foghorn is uniquely contemporary in its look and feel. They received a standing ovation.
Buddy & Charli Robertson
With Kelsi Harrigill on a brief maternity leave, twins Charli & Buddy Robertson have had to carry more of the responsibility for fronting the band. Charli, particularly, has come into her own serving as band emcee. Already noted for her singing, and showing marked improvement in her fiddle play, Charli has stepped up and proved herself to be able and personable at the job. Buddy and Charli each took a stronger solo responsibility in addition to their brother/sister harmony songs. Charli's rendition of Darrell Scott's "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive," haunts a listener long after the last plaintive note has faded.
Labor Day weekend provides a huge feast of events. Two premier ones, Delaware Valley and Thomas Point Beach lie a seven and half hour drive (461 Miles) apart, and several bands played both venues, in addition to Junior Sisk's going even further to get to Fort Fairfield in far northern Maine. Because of a breakdown, some members of Blue Highway, a band which travels in separate vehicles, was forced to be late. However, rescue was at hand when Danny Paisley and his band, augmented by Eddie Gill from Big Country Bluegrass, stepped up for an impromptu set, really a jam, to more than adequately fill the time, allowing Blue Highway to arrive and organize for their excellent closing performance, at many festivals often presented to a vastly diminished audience, but not at Delaware Valley.
For over twenty years Blue Highway has been at the forefront of contemporary bluegrass bands. As their new CD puts it, they are both traditional and original. With three talented singer/song writers and every member able to hold his own vocally, the band delivers a variety of combinations creating unique and pleasing sound. From traditional a capella sacred harp music through new songs written by Tim Stafford, Shawn Lane, and Wayne Taylor examining bluegrass music's big themes, Blue Highway stands out. Gaven Largent, the newest and youngest member has taken on the almost impossible job of replacing Rob Ickes on Dobro and is establishing his own independent instrumental voice and physical presence. Blue Highway continues its high standards and continues to explore new ground.
And so a magical holiday weekend ends with excitement and wonderful music. Next year's Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival will run from August 31 - September 2, 2018. Don't miss it!