Sunday Book Reviews – 2/16/20

Bookshelf books, photo by Alien Motives

A Very Stable Genius by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig (2020, Penguin)

After a while, the White House expose books start to run into each other. It becomes very easy to view new releases with the question: “What’s new here?”

That’s the wrong attitude. Each book should be approached on its own merits, and this one is excellent. If anything is achieved by comparing it to other works, it’s a recognition that there is little deviation in the general picture. Insider books both anti- and pro-Trump alike paint the picture of a chaotic White House with a President who is uninterested in learning anything new, does not have competent people advising him, nurses grudges and is guided by his gut reaction as opposed to information.

The positive books hold the attitude that Trump’s rise to the Presidency demonstrates that his gut instincts are consistently wonderful and that, if he were simply left to his own devices instead of being hounded by the Democrats and investigators, he would prove his excellence.

Other books, grounded in reality, point out that many of his instinctive decisions have had terrible consequences and that he may have violated the law dozens of times… and that even setting aside the potential felonious actions, his embrace of ignorance and his adoration for dictatorial leaders are a constant danger to the country.

This is one of the latter. It’s abnormally well presented. They make a strong case that Trump views his position as identical to that of a mob boss rather than a President, and provide a narrative that extends through the length of his Presidency. The authors use extensive interviews with more than two hundred sources both confidential and open to present a generalized constant look at the Trump Presidency.

Most of it has been stated in prior books or has been widely speculated in places like this board, but there is value in having corroboration from people who were present at the time, and the fairly comprehensive look at the entirety of the Presidency to date results in a sequence of reminders for readers who have been following politics. There are many “Oh, yes, I remember that” moments in this book… and for that reason alone, it’d be worth picking up.

If you’ve already burned through things like Fear and A Warning, you may be able to wait for the paperback edition. If you haven’t gotten any of the other insider accounts of the Presidency, this should be purchased and read before the election both to steel your resolve and to provide arguments for those who would consider voting for Trump.

Frost by Donald Wandrei (2000, Fedogan & Bremer)

This is a collection of novellas which originally appeared in issues of the pulp magazine Clues Detective Stories in the 1930s, all starring Professor I.V. Frost and his assistant Jean Moray. Many urban heroes and villains from the pulp era have retained some level of fame through the years… The Shadow, Doc Savage, The Spider, Fu Manchu, and lesser lights such as The Spider, Operator 5, Jules de Grandin and The Black Bat.

The main reason pulp heroes were forgotten seems to have been their lack of distinction; in many cases, one hero could be swapped for another with no significant alteration to the story. Frost was different, and deserves another look.

Frost was a scientific detective in the mold of Sherlock Holmes, with Moray as his Watson. He was utterly brilliant and capable of deducing a person’s history from tiny clues in their clothing and mannerisms, and he enjoyed helping local law enforcement with unusually difficult crimes. Mundane issues bored him and sent him into a period of ennui during which he would lose himself in research projects.

There were a host of Holmes imitators, though, just as there were many Doc Savage imitators. Frost was unique in that he combined the two. His best analogue would probably be Batman during one of the periods when Batman writers were focused on his detective work, but unlike Batman (who appeared five years after Frost), villains who crossed Frost rarely lived. A body count of ten or more opponents was not unusual in a typical Frost tale.

Jean Moray was also a standout. Far from being witty but helpless like most regular characters in the 1930s pulps, Jean was often given tasks to perform in places where Frost’s distinctive presence might cause suspicion. She was a good shot with strong nerves and a quick mind, and on many occasions was able to escape deathtraps without any aid from Frost.

All of the usual pulp aspect are still present… the villains have over-the-top plans and ridiculously complex assets (one example is a fifty-person crime gang that has huge poisonous spiders, nerve toxins and a panther available to kill Frost, and a hideout that includes multiple trap doors), nobody ever gets tired and everyone is beautiful except for the strikingly hatchet-faced Frost. It’s not serious, but it is very fun reading and a pleasant throwback to times when villainy was expected to lose and heroism always won.

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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.