Jeb! and the Bush Crime Family by Roger Stone & Saint John Hunt (2016, Skyhorse Publishing)
First things first: Don’t buy this book new. If the book intrigues you enough that you want to look through it, go to the library and read through it or buy it used. (Checking it out from a library will register with their internal usage systems and increase the likelihood they will purchase other Roger Stone books with their tax money.)
With that set aside, this book has significant educational value. It is virtually a tutorial on how to conduct a character assassination via book.
Everything about the book is dishonest. It lends itself credibility by cover blurbs from the NYT, The Atlantic, The Village Voice and more. It does so under the header of “Praise for Roger Stone and Jeb! and the Bush Crime Family”. Of the blurbs, only the one from the East Orlando Post is actually talking about the book, and the rest, talking about Stone, aren’t complimentary but were clipped to sound positive.
The book opens with a story from Congressman John LeBoutillier about Jeb running a booze and drug ring at college, only to shift the blame to one of his roommates when the ring was busted. The Congressman, now a pundit, talks about how he gave the story to a reporter who didn’t even bother to talk to his sources.
“A few weeks later he called me back and said, “John, it never happened. There was no drug and booze ring at Andover at all.
“When I asked him if he had talked to my sources, he told me that he had never talked to even one of the guys I mentioned who were at Andover with Jeb when it happened!
“Who would know better than they would? Is it possible that four separate guys are all making up the same story over the course of three decades? Or instead, is it possible – and in fact, very likely – that the Bush Machine scrambled to debunk this story before it took hold?”
The key to the story is that the reporter who investigated the purported bust found no evidence that a ring of any sort existed. Nobody was charged, nobody was disciplined, nothing. Bush couldn’t have passed the blame, because there was no blame to pass. It didn’t happen.
What the Congressman – who only served one term after being caught taking illegal campaign contributions, which might call into question his integrity – encountered was called a “rumor”.
This is typical of the construction of this book. I confess, I did not read through it. What I did was open it at random more than twenty times, found the first charge being addressed, and tried to verify it. Each time I either came up with no corroboration or with a history of the rumor being investigated and dismissed.
It’s quite possible there are valid charges found somewhere within the pages – few politicians are completely clean of associations with bad actors and have avoided all personal controversy – but the vast majority of the allegations here are invalid.
There are many, though. The book runs to 400 pages, and has end notes to lend it the air of credibility. Allegations fly throughout the work, and a reading by anyone inclined to trust Stone would be enough to convince them that Jeb – and, in fact, all of the Bushes – are among the dirtiest politicians on Earth.
As a hit piece, it’s great. As a work to be taken seriously, it’s a pollution on the bookshelf.
Burglars Can’t Be Choosers by Lawrence Block (1977, Random House)
Bernie Rhodenbarr is a burglar, and he’s very good at it. He has also been caught before, which means that a local detective keeps his eye on Bernie to make sure he doesn’t return to his life of crime.
Well, kind of. The local detective, Ray Kirschmann, is corrupt and is willing to ignore most of the things Bernie does if he can safely make a profit out of it. He won’t abide violence or murder, however, which is both a good and a bad thing. Good, in the Bernie is staunchly against performing violence of any sort – he’s a burglar, not a robber. Bad, in that the book begins with Bernie being stuck in a situation with a dead body and apparent culpability.
The remainder of the book involves Bernie attempting to stay one step ahead of the official murder investigation, so as to avoid being successfully framed as the killer. He’s starting with three distinct advantages: he knows he’s not guilty; he knows some things about the person who hired him to steal something from the murder scene; and he can break into most residences and offices without needing a search warrant.
The book, like most of Block’s work, is engaging and well paced. Unlike his Keller or Matthew Scudder series there’s little in the way of personal darkness; if anything, Bernie’s life gets consistently better throughout the series, eventually opening a bookstore and developing both a strong friendship with the lesbian dog groomer who owns the store next to his and, ultimately, Kirschmann.
It’s a fun series, and a good fiction-based way to wash away the real-world unpleasantness of Roger Stone.