Book Briefs – Something new, something old – Baldacci and Chernow

The Last Mile - 3-31-16
Baldacci comes to Texas for his latest Amos Decker adventure. Five out of five stars

New York Times best-selling author David Baldacci’s new novel, “The Last Mile,” opens on death row at the walls in Hunstville.

Former UT football star Melvin Mars has been sentenced to die for the murder of his parents.

Mars is just steps away from getting  the needle when everything stops. It seems another convicted killer three states away has confessed to the brutal murders of Roy and Lucinda Mars in their isolated farm house more than 20 years ago.

With the confession comes confusion. What, if any, connection did the Alabama killer have to Mars’ family? Why was he in Mars’ hometown the night of the murders? Why was law enforcement so quick to arrest Mars for the crime. Why didn’t they follow other leads?

Enter Amos Decker, Baldacci’s cop from “Memory Man.” Decker and Mars have a lot in common. They were football greats, their families were murdered and, years later, someone confessed to the crime.

Decker has been hired by the FBI as a member of a special task force that takes on cold cases. Decker’s synesthesia diagnosis brings a unique quality to the table – as the result of a head-on tackle on his first play as a professional, Decker’s brain was rewired so that he does not forget anything.

The similarities of Mars’ case catch Decker’s eye and soon he and his team are off to Texas to  revisit the case.

Although another man has confessed, Mars is not off the hook for the crime. It’s up to Decker and his team to find new evidence.

What they uncover is a trail of mysterious coincidences, leading Decker to believe Mars was framed for his parents’ murders.

How Baldacci brings all the loose threads of this tapestry together offers up some pretty exciting storytelling. Although Decker is determined to get to the truth, he must first determine what’s real and what’s been fabricated. When other members of his team are ready to give up, Decker marches on, never wavering in his mission to prove Mars’ innocence.

I like Amos Decker and am happy Baldacci decided to make him a recurring character. He’s prickly, unpredictable, dangerous and tenacious – just the guy you’d want on your side if you’re facing the death penalty for a crime you know you didn’t commit.

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Alexander Hamilton - 3-31-16
I can’t remember when I’ve enjoyed a biography more than this one. Five out of five stars.

Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda owes biographer Ron Chernow a enormous debt.

Chernow’s book, “Alexander Hamilton,” inspired Miranda to create the hip-hop Broadway smash, “Hamilton.” The show is  sold out through the end of the year.

Miranda picked up Chernow’s 731-page book prior to going on vacation, came home and spent the next six years writing the musical.

First published in 2004,  the biography was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award and was named as the winner of the inaugural George Washington Book Prize for early American history, according to Wikipedia.

It remained on The New York Times best seller list for three months.

Biographies aren’t usually described as page-turners, but in Chernow’s capable hands, Hamilton’s story becomes just that.

Born in Nevis in the British West Indies to parents who had both fallen from grace in “polite society,” Hamilton’s dad left the family when he was just a boy. His mother died soon thereafter. He was sent to live with a cousin who committed suicide. He went to work for a trader, learning all he could about currency and exchange rates.

Mostly, self-educated, he read voraciously and began writing for the island’s newspaper.

Some of the island’s landed gentry took up a collection to send him to study in New York. The young man never looked back.

He attended college, fought with George Washington in the revolution and worked his way through law school in record time.

While he was climbing the social ladder in the new world, he met and married Elizabeth Schuyler, daughter of a wealthy farmer from Albany. The couple had eight children.

He became Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury, creating a national banking system and establishing the U.S. Mint.

Hamilton was always somewhat of a ladies’ man. Chernow examines that part of his life, including a particularly thorny affair with Maria Reynolds which caused quite a stir among his political circle.

Every student of American history knows the story of Hamilton’s fatal duel with Aaron Burr. Chernow goes into great detail to explain the complex, competitive relationship between the two men.

He also examines Hamilton’s legacy in depth.

Chernow has done his research, as shown by the extensive notes, bibliography and index.

The author took the extensive information he collected and created a thoroughly engaging story of one of our country’s most brilliant founding fathers.

Long a footnote in history, Chernow’s work moves Alexander Hamilton to the forefront, where he can take his rightful place – on center stage.

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