Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Spy Who Couldn't Spell

As I mentioned in my recent blog, I do read books I receive as gifts and try to read books that have been recommended to me. There are so many books out there and so little time.

In March 2013, I wrote a blog about Tolstoy and the Purple Chair. The author, Erin Sankovitch, mentions that she learns something from each book. I find that true also.  In my recent blog, I mentioned that I learned about forensic anthropology, websleuthing, and life and death on Mount Everest in Kathy Reichs books.

We may learn more from non-fiction books, than from fiction, but both can teach us things we don’t know.

I decided to write about another book, non-fiction this time, that I received as a gift recently. Yudhijit Brattacharjee’s The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell, about "a dyslexic traitor, an unbreakable code, and the FBI’s hunt for America’s stolen secrets."

My friend assured me I would enjoy the book and she was right.

It was rewarding to see the various intelligence agencies working together to catch this spy.

I was lost reading a lot of the information about secret codes, in which I have little interest. You might find that challenging.

I did find myself wanting to learn more about this spy who was dyslexic, but had a credible military career and then worked his way up in the intelligence community. He was able to view highly classified information, use secret codes that were difficult to break and hide classified documents that threatened America’s security.

This was the largest theft of government documents before Edward Snowden’s data breach.

The book has us follow the successes and frustrations of those who are trying to catch this mole, who they can tell has top secret clearance. But, besides catching him, they need enough evidence that will hold up in court. Even after the capture and conviction, the agencies still had to find the hidden documents.

The author also helps us understand what motivated this spy who couldn’t spell. He was a family man, active in the community, with a good military record. Bullied as a child, able to overcome handicaps because of his dyslexia, and underestimated, he…..

Oops, I don’t want to give away too much. If you are interested in espionage, government agencies or just learning new information, I think you will enjoy this book. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Bones in books

Recently, I read two books by Kathy Reichs. I had heard that she was a good writer and sometimes watched the TV show Bones (trying to avoid the gorier scenes).  Normally I read more cozy mysteries, but gifts from friends and family often lead me to read books that normally would not be on my “to read” list. Seldom am I disappointed.

Reichs really is a forensic anthropologist, one of only 111 people certified by the Board of American Forensic Anthropology. She has worked in forensic facilities in North Carolina and Quebec.

She has identified remains of victims of the genocide in Rwanda, victims of the World Trade Center attack and other victims of disasters or in mass graves.

In the first book I read, Speaking in Bones, a websleuth asks Dr. Temperance Brennan for help, saying “Lost. Murdered. Dumped. Unclaimed. This country’s overflowing with the forgotten dead. And somewhere someone’s wondering about each and every one of those souls.”

The book provides various red herrings, false leads and plenty of suspense. I was sure I knew “who done it” early, but like Dr. Brennan, I would discover I was wrong.

Luckily, unlike Dr. Brennan, I wasn’t in danger as we looked for clues in a rural mountain area that was home to a secretive religious cult. Her investigation led to exorcism and even more murders.

The second book, Bones in Ice, also offered plenty of intrigue. Dr. Brennan is asked to verify that a woman who died several years ago on Mt Everest is actually the daughter of an influential family. It seems this should be easy. But, the condition of the bones, lack of teeth and other inconsistencies make this more difficult and leads Temperance into a dangerous situation.

She wanted this book to honor those lost on the mountain and to direct attention to organizations providing disaster relief, after the terrible earthquakes in 2015, as well as groups dedicated to improving long-term conditions of the Sherpas, the guides and porters on Everest.

In this book, she gives information about Mount Everest, with more than 200 bodies frozen in its death zone. This is the area above eight thousand meters, where bodies are not recoverable

In her Authors Notes, she wrote, “The body of the legendary mountaineer George Mallory has remained intact on the peak since 1924. Others have evolved into more recent climbing landmarks, such as “Green Boots Cave,” or “Rainbow Valley,” named for the multicolored down jackets and climbing gear of corpses dotting the hillside.”

Horrified and yet fascinated by what she had read about high altitude climbing, like most writers, she asked herself that “what if” question. She wondered, “What would happen if one of those bodies came down and revealed unexpected secrets.

Kathy Reichs’ books may not be for the squeamish, but they are well written and interesting.

Her first award-winning book, Deja Dead, was published in 1997. She is the author of at least 17 books since then as well as scripts for the television series Bones. However, don’t expect the same characters in these books as you watch on television.

For more detail and a list of her other books, check out kathyreichs.com.