Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Rosarito Beach (A Kay Hamilton Novel) by M.A. Lawson - Book Review

Rosarito Beach by M.A. Lawson (Penguin: Blue Rider Press, 2013, 352 pages, $26.95) is an interesting and problematic novel. M.A. Lawson is a pseudonym for Mike Lawson, author of the well regarded nine volume Joe Demarco series, and is the first in a projected Kay Hamilton series. Although written from a third person perspective, this book purports to present Kay Hamilton from her own point of view, with a male writer interpreting it. The selection of the pseudonym M.A. seems to be a thinly veiled effort to suggst a woman writer, perhaps named Mary Ann, as the author, in order to give it added legitimacy. In this, despite some other very good plot elements, Lawson fails to convince. Kay Hamilton, the beautiful, sexy, smart, ambitious supervisor in the San Diego DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) office is an action oriented, take no prisoners person who does not suffer fools gladly, who would often rather act than think, and who seems to go out of her way to alienate her co-workers and subordinates. She struck me as a male agent with the wrong plumbing. Until the daughter she had given up for adoption at birth fifteen years before shows up in need of a place to stay....

Kay Hamilton has risen to her current status in the DEA because of a successful under-cover (double entendre intended) operation whose ending required a change of venue as well as a promotion for her. Now in San Diego, she is dedicated to bringing down the American branch of the Olivera drug cartel located in Mexico. Early in the narrative, she engineers the arrest of Tito Olivera, the younger brother of drug lord Cesar Olivero, whose power and influence have helped corrupt almost the entire Mexican political, judicial, and enforcement branches of government. The elder Olivera has become a worldly and skilled political figure, overlaying his essentially brutal self. There follows an exciting and disastrous set-piece as Tito is transported to a safe confinement at Camp Pendleton, necessitating a plot to break him out before his sure conviction in federal court. Just as all this is being set up, Kay's long lost daughter,Jessica, whom she has hardly ever given a thought to before, appears, prepared to stay. Kay has no idea how to be a mother, nor any interest in being one. The story moves on from there with Jessica being kidnapped and held for ransom in Mexico, as Kay discovers her maternal instinct, long dormant, now awakened.

Most characters in this sometimes exciting thriller conform to common stereotypes for gender, ethnicity, role, and so-on. There's nothing much surprising in their responses to situations or their approaches to life. I was interested that Lawson has Kay Hamilton thinking about her casual sexual encounters with a married lawyer friend as “playing” together, something like kids in a sandbox, with always satisfactory orgasms. This struck me as the way a man might want a desirable woman to think about sexual activity, but maybe not in congruence with the way many women actually think. This led me to ask why a previously published male writer, whose previous successful series features the male investigator for the Speaker of the House of Representatives, to write in the guise of a woman using a female central character for, perhaps, woman readers. The web site Marketing Charts.com posted some results of a poll of readers recently. The results indicated that female readers in the 18 – 33 demographic as well as among older women read more than men do, and by a margin of 57% to 39% enjoy mystery/thriller/crime books. Men prefer science fiction, literature, and graphic novels (comics). Older readers prefer the mystery/thriller/crime genre to an even greater extent than do younger ones. While there have long been successful woman writers writing about both men and woman detectives (Agatha Christie, P.D. James, Sue Grafton), I've become increasingly aware that many of the first novels I'm reading lately are by women, and many of them are about women solving crimes. I'm not particularly aware of successful efforts of male writers to feature women detectives as protagonists. So two questions arise: is Lawson making a cynical play to capture woman readers, and is this a successful effort to do so?

M.A. Lawson
Mike Lawson says he “was raised in Pueblo, Colorado with a passel of brothers and one sister, then attended college at Seattle University and got a degree in engineering. After college, I went to work for the U.S. Navy as a nuclear engineer and spent about thirty years working for the Navy’s nuclear power program. I spent some time in Washington D.C., but most of my career was at a large naval shipyard in Bremerton, Washington. At the shipyard I managed a number of different organizations related to overhauling nuclear powered submarines, cruisers, and aircraft carriers. I ended my career as a member of the government’s Senior Executive Service and as the top civilian at the shipyard responsible for navy reactor plant work on the West Coast. The influence of my former career on my writing is discussed briefly in the “Behind the Books” section of [his] website. Regarding my personal life, let’s just leave at: I’m married, live in the Pacific Northwest, and when I’m not writing I mostly play golf and just goof around.”

Rosarito Beach (An Agent KayHamilton Novel) by M.A. Lawson (Penguin: Blue Rider Press, December 2013, 352 pages, $26.95) is the first in a projected series with DEA agent Kay Hamilton as the protagonist. Written by M.A. Lawson, a pseudonym for successful crime novelist Mike Lawson, it's a somewhat predictable drug cartel tale set in the environs of San Diego and nearby northern Mexico. There are plenty of plot twists to help the reader maintain interest, and Agent Hamilton shows some growth through her experiences, but there's no telling where Lawson will take the story of a career mother whose new-found domestic responsibilities may jeopardize both her sex life and her career. Rosarito Beach was provided to me as an electronic galley by the publisher through Edelweiss. I read it on my Kindle.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Looking Back at 2013 (4) - Fall

We left early this year for our Fall trip to attend our friend Bob Cook's eightieth birthday party in Wilmington, NC, a glorious affair in a city park with a bluegrass band and friends from all the elements of his life. Then we headed west to attend The Mountain Song Festival in Brevard, NC for the first time in several years.

Mountain Song Festival

Mountain Song Festival, hosted by the Steep Canyon Rangers and held on the campus of the Brevard Music Center, is a total delight. The performance shed is spacious, comfortable, and has fine acoustics. The grounds are landscaped around the modern design of the shed. Vendors offer everything from barbecue to wine and cheese. It's always been a good time for us.

Nicky Sanders - Steep Canyon Rangers

Mike Guggino - Steep Canyon Rangers

Tim & Molly O'Brien

Rhiannon Giddens - Carolina Chocolate Drops

Emcee Dennis Jones (WNCW-FM) and Marc Pruett (Balsam Range)

Tim Surrett - Balsam Range

Steve Martin & Marc Pruett

Larry Attaminuik & Mike Bub (Shawn Camp Band)

Shawn Camp

Bѐla Fleck & Abagail Washburn

 Bѐla Fleck, Steve Martin & Abigail Washburn

Dumplin Valley - Kodak, TN
Home Sweet Home

Dumplin Valley is located in a simple and comfortable commercial campground just off I-40 at the Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg exit just west of the Smokey Mountains. Hosts Joe & Mitzi Soward provide an almost ideal environment for jammers, campers, bluegrass music lovers, and friends to gather for a week in early September each year. It's one of the highlights in our year.

 Donna Ulisse

Mitzi Soward & Granddaughter

Matt Leabetter & Jimbo Whaley

Jerry Salley

The Spinney Brothers - Rick & Alan

 Little Roy Lewis & Lizzy Long

Josh Williams - Rhonda Vincent & the Rage

Rhonda Vincent & Fletcher Bright

Buddy Melton (Balsam Range)

The Great & Fun Rivalry
Rhonda Vincent & Lizzy Long 

 The Crowe Brothers - Wayne & Josh

 Brandon Rickman - Lonesome River Band

IBMA - World of Bluegrass
Raleigh, NC
Sir Walter Raleigh Welcomes IBMA

2013 Banjo Player of the Year - Mike Munford
at WAMU's Bluegrass Country Studio 
in the Convention Center 

WAMU's Bluegrass Country.org hosted four days of showcases in a series of live broadcasts (also streamed worldwide) from the Convention Center to which they brought an entire studio to spread the word about IBMA and its World of Bluegrass. Irene served as "official" photographer for this event, providing some wonderful shots.

Katty Kallick

Katy Daley hosts

Dustin Bencon & Greg Cahill - Special Consensus

The Steel Wheels at the Lincoln Theater

Claire Lynch

Doyle Lawson,  Lee Michael Demsey, & Katy Daley
at NC Public Radio having a Whale of a Good Time

Lily Pavlak & Al Hawkes with Sir Walter Raleigh

Kitsy Kuykendall - the Queen of Bluegrass

Eric Gibson - Songwriter of the Year

Eric Gibson & Katy Daley

Jacob, Shelley & Jason Burleson

Jerry Douglas at the Awards Show

 The Gibson Brothers - 2013 Entertainers of the Year

Tony Rice Speaks
Tony Rice Inducted Into Hall of Fame 

Marty Raybon - 2013 Male Vocalist of the Year

Joe Dean watching Jens Kruger

Mark Newton & Steve Thomas
at the Street Stage 

The Crowds Came 
Free Outdoor Performances 

Patrick McAvinue - Audie Blaylock & Redline

 The IBMA Fan Fest has been reconfigured as Wide Open Bluegrass, held for the last two days of the World of Bluegrass and including massive concerts in the Red Hat Amphitheater, shows in the Convention Center Ballroom, open access to the Exhibit Hall, a huge street fair (including a statewide whole hog cookoff), workshops, and showcases at six remote local music hot spots within walking distance of the headquarters hotels. It was a remarkable event, providing a capstone for a hugely successful week in Raleigh.

 Tony Rice at the Red Hat Amphitheater

Pete & Joan Wernick Workshop on Jammings

Phil Leadbetter - Welcome Back

Eric Gibson in Front of the JumboTron

Jenni Lynn Gardner - Della Mae
2013 Emerging Artist

 Peter Rowan

Kids on Bluegrass - The Future

Bѐla Fleck

Danny Paisley

Ronnie Simpkins - Seldom Scene

Chris Pandolfi - The Infamous Stringdusters

Travis Book - The Infamous Stringdusters

Charles Humphrey IV - Steep Canyon Rangers

Steve Martin

 With Judith Burnett in WMRF Studio

At Wayne Henderson's Workshop

Rockahock Bluegrass Festival - Lenaxa, VA
Promoters Brenda Lawson & Him (Calvin)

Lorraine Jordan

Dave Adkins

Larry Stephenson

The Malpass Brothers

Mickey Harris - Rhonda Vincent & the Rag

Russell Johnson - Grass Cats

Randy Barnes - Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers

Aaron McDaris - Rhonda Vincent & the Rage

On the Martha White Express
w/Rhonda Vincent & the Rage 
Newell Lodge - Folkston, GA
Katie Elizabeth Wilson - Wilson Family

The Bankesters - Doreen & Phil 

The Bankesters - Alysha, Emily & Melissa Triplett

Cody Farrar - Breaking Grass

 Ryan Paisley - the Third Generation

Jr Davis - The Bridge

We finished our bluegrass year with a three day banquet of Gibson Brothers' concerts in three different locations near their homes in northern New York. Rochester, NH, Plattsburgh, NY and Saratoga Springs, NY represented three different kinds of venues, but the same enthusiastic responses to this finest bluegrass band ever to come out of the northeast.

The Gibson Brothers Onstage at SUNY Plattsburgh

Clayton Campbell

Jesse Brock

Mike Barber

Eric Gibson

Leigh Gibson

Eric & Leigh Gibson
The Gibson Brothers

 2013 may have been the busiest and most fulfilling year we've had on our Bluegrass Adventure. We leave for the South two weeks from today. Bluegrass is growing, and even the down time between Thanksgiving and Christmas seems to be filled with bluegrass opportunities. We look forward to the coming year, and invite you to join us and introduce others to us online. We also look forward to meeting you face-to-face on the Bluegrass Trail.