Sunday Book Reviews – 12/01/19

Bookshelf books, photo by Alien Motives

My Friend the Fanatic by Sadanand Dhume (2009, Skyhorse)

While there are many books about the encroachment of Islamism, few are as effective as this one. The author is obviously very concerned about the subject, but he is not prone to hyperbole, instead simply reporting what he encountered during a trip through Indonesia with his guide, an Islamist reporter.

Dhume is an Indian atheist who had been attached to the Wall Street Journal’s Asia department before deciding to research this book. He traveled through the country after striking up a friendship with a strong Islamist, who believed that Dhume was a potential convert. Their similar experiences as journalists allowed them to gel despite their strong philosophical differences.

Dhume mixes his travel experiences with history lessons about Indonesia, allowing the reader perspective about what he finds and rebutting many of the Islamist positions and arguments.

The book’s focus necessitates a slew of unfamiliar names, and English speakers may have difficulty keeping track of the various places and people. It also has a very racy opening chapter, which may be off-putting to some, but it is important; the same pop star who was effectively the Indonesian Madonna is met later in the book, now submissive and subservient after embracing Islamism.

The book presents a thoughtful, on-the-ground analysis of how radical Islam can grow without making the people involved into cartoons. In so doing, he provides an opportunity for thoughtful people to push back against it before it erupts into violence. He also challenges the reader to distinguish exactly what they mean by “moderate Islam”, positing that the strains of Islam which accept universal human rights are the true moderates, while those who want Sharia but are trying to attain it peacefully are merely carriers for the violence inherent in Sharia and are not moderate at all.

The version to purchase is the updated trade paperback. It contains a new preface and some notes at the end recognizing the continued changes which were seen by Indonesia in the years from 2009 through 2016. The author points out that the book could likely not be written today, and presents his former friend as a man who has abandoned journalism in favor of writing anti-Jewish, anti-Christian screeds exhorting others to action.

The Adventures of Ellery Queen by Ellery Queen (1934, Stokes)

One of the delightful aspects of modern publishing is the advent of print-on-demand and e-books. It renders thousands of old books available for readers who might otherwise have difficulty finding copies.

This is the case for most of the Ellery Queen stories. They were among the most effective of the “classic” American mysteries, presenting the clues to the reader amidst an engaging story, then slowing to allow the reader to deduce the culprit before the end, should they wish to challenge their wits against the fictional detective.

They were translated to radio and television successfully, and they remain enjoyable period pieces as well as puzzle stories. They are also a great bridge between the pre-teen mystery stories of Sobol’s Encyclopedia Brown and “Five Minute Mysteries” and the modern works found on most bookstore and library shelves.

In the Ellery Queen stories you’ll find some archaic terminology and some of the social viewpoints of the time, but you won’t find any of the sexuality, excessive violence and moral ambiguity which are omnipresent in modern mystery fiction. This is not a condemnation of current work, but the effort to present either socially conscious or darkly realistic fiction makes choosing introductory work for a teenager a challenge. Ellery Queen meets that challenge admirably, and this early collection of short fiction presents bite-sized stories which serve as an approachable introduction to the character.

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.