Tag Archives: Lee Child

The Dark Web

Let me preface this post by saying this is not only an extremely well written piece by Jason Smith, but one of the most important articles I’ve come across in recent memory. I strongly encourage you to read the link below.

I’m posting to this article about the dark web (aka Darknet) for a couple of reasons, one of which has to do with literature. I recently read a novel called Make Me about this very subject and was curious whether Lee Child was exaggerating for the sake of the “tension” of the plot, or whether this stuff was real.

Turns out Mr. Child was actually pussyfooting around the subject. Gulp.


Jason Smith has a more detailed answer to my question about whether this whole dark web thing is the real deal, and it’s not pretty. In an article titled “Journey Into the Dark” he actually tracks down someone who has operated extensively on the dark net, and the stories that follow have left a hollow feeling in my stomach.

To begin:

“There’s some awful shit on here,” he warned me. “In the old days, if someone was kidnapped, they asked for ransom. Now, these teams in South America abduct kids and women from areas that are poor, knowing the media won’t give a shit about them, and then hold them in dungeons with webcams. People then make requests using Bitcoin, as to what they want to see happen to the person. It’s fucking sick.”

Jim says he never ventured into that more insidious, disturbing side of the dark web because it scared him. But he has plenty of acquaintances who did, he says. He claims it changed them. He couldn’t say how, exactly. Or maybe he could but didn’t want to. Regardless, Jim said, they weren’t the same after.

The above is pretty much the plot of Make Me, and now I’m convinced there’s got to be some kind of solution we have to seek to the dark net – because if not, I’m pretty sure the Wild West is going to return like nothing we’ve seen in modern civilization.

Image result for fentanyl crisis

One case in point is the spread of drugs in Western society, which is facilitated in large part through the dark net. For those of us who live in Canada and the U.S., drugs like Fentanyl have taken over the streets in many cities. Both governments agree there is a national health crisis with respect to this. And the dark web is playing a significant role.

Per Mr. Smith’s article once again.

It’s a clusterfuck. People are dying, prisons are filling up, and nothing changes. More people died last year than at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

More Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016 than died during the entire duration of the Vietnam War.

And we’re not even close to getting a handle on this thing.

I don’t pretend to have any answers (I only learned what Tor, the onion router, and VPN were today), but I’m a little scared. I’m glad the feds are getting involved, though it seems to no real avail. A few high-profile minnow snags here and there in an ocean of corrupt whales.

For my own sanity, I think I’ll just stick to the surface web and continue to pretend the dark web doesn’t exist.


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A Little Fluff Never Hurt Nobody

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Let’s be clear here. A little literary fluff, in moderation, is a good thing. Like drinking a case of beer (without anyone else’s oral assistance) while watching Hockey Night in Canada. Or reciting poetry to sharpen your addled brain. Or indulging in poutine after said night of debauchery and preparing for the poetics part the following morning (a person needs energy!).

That’s all chicken noodle fluff for the soul.

Whatever the hell it is that made it onto this post as the Pic of the Day is not a good thing, in moderation or even once in your life. REPEAT: If you see the above product while shopping, call in a Code Blue, throw yourself in a tent, and rub those rosary beads you carry with you for good luck. Oh, and pray the jar doesn’t consume you.

Last week, I finished this month’s book club novel, Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach, an impressively researched story about a young lady coming of age in New York City in the late 1930s and early 1940s,  freeing me up for a bit in between Curling Was Full choices. (Spoiler alert: Everyone dies at the end of Manhattan Beach when the Manhattan Project goes south and wipes out all the main characters, who’d taken refuge on a beach. Kind of a lame ending.)

Obviously I reached for the marshmallow fluff next, and just finished my latest Jack Reacher book (#20 in the series), Lee Child’s Make Me. I am now as content as a pig in…umm…a blanket?

Anyway, one of the reasons Mr. Child has my eternal love is that he doesn’t pretend to be anyone he’s not (or should I say JR doesn’t?). He has you hanging from page one, kicks some ass along the way in Nowhere, USA, then brings everything all together with a little bow on top. Nice.

But Lee Child’s real “piece of resistance” is the way he throws in facts, figures and stats. Unlike the Dan Brown Paradox, Mr. Child is not pretending to solve a centuries-old clue (except how some guys are always jacked up on testosterone maybe) when he discusses heavy subjects like suicide, the Gettysburg Address, and the dark web, all three of which he addresses in Make Me. More than that, he somehow makes it relevant to chasing bad guys around places like Mother’s Rest, Nebraska.

This got me to thinking, though. Trusting Goodreads as I do, I was curious what readers around the world considered the biggest pile of fluffy fluffiness. Well, I – and by extension you – now have the answer. Here’s the full list, but the Top 10 Most Popular Fluff Books goes like this, with Stephenie Meyer wearing the Empress’s New Clothes, Sophie Kinsella donning the queen’s crown, and Stephanie Perkins taking home the raciest title award.

1. Confessions of a Shopaholic, Sophie Kinsella

2. Twilight, Stephenie Meyer

3. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding

4. The Devil Wears Prada, Lauren Weisberger

5. New Moon, Stephenie Meyer

6. Can You Keep a Secret?, Sophie Kinsella

7. One for the Money, Janet Evanovich

8. Eclipse, Stephenie Meyer

9. Breaking Dawn, Stephenie Meyer

10. Anna and the French Kiss, Stephanie Perkins

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Lee Child: Brain, Meet Candy

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In between sweeping fictional epics and treatises on a broad range of subjects, from the origin of modern phytoplankton to explaining theories of economic growth, I like to get my inner Child on. Lee, that is.

As I await my Amazon order due next week (Manhattan Beach, Don Quixote), I have a few days to let my mind wander, so I let it wander all the way to the local library yesterday, where I picked up Make Me, Lee Child’s 8 millionth addition to the Jack Reacher Library for Altruism, Public Safety & Community Affairs.

And for reasons that escape me, I can’t get enough of JR/Lee Child. Or, as Murakami Haruki is super-enthusiastically quoted as saying on Mr. Child’s website, “I like Lee Child!” Good on ya, Haruks! Talk about a ringing endorsement. Maybe someone should have looked at “The Language of Love” before translating that one.

I tried explaining the appeal of Lee Child to my mother last night, but fear I didn’t do a very good job.

“So I’m about 120 pages in,” I began, “and essentially nothing’s happened so far. JR’s in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma, there’s been one minor fight, no deaths, one gun scene, a complete lack of blood, and a mystery tied to the evolution of wheat.”

“Weak?” she asked.

“Nope. Wheat”

“Like a Tweet?”

“Similar, but totally opposite. Like shredded wheat, yet not yet shredded yet. Anyway, Lee Child’s greatest description thus far into the book is of a train station and a mahogany bench. In a town called Mother’s Rest.”


“Not who. Where.”


“Anywho, I’m not kidding about the slowness of it. Best of all, if you asked Matt to edit this as a manuscript, he’d have a heart attack and lose much of his head hairs; there’s alliteration all around, poor man’s poorly punctuation, dialogue bleeding from one character to the next (how many people really say ‘a million to one gets you…’ so often?), and so on and so forth.”

“So why do you like him so much?” my mom asked, equally fascinated and repulsed by my answer.

“I dunno, but I do!”

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Crack for the (Literary) Soul

Image result for boy and father reading, looking serious

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.

(Therefore, I read Sidney Sheldon with reckless abandon.)

When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.

(Ergo, I switched over to Lee Child.)

Thank godness (sic) for Corinthians! Like many readers, I have fond memories of reading as a youngster. When I wasn’t dining on chicken noodle soup to fortify my soul, I was either playing hockey or video games, reading, or volunteering my time at one of 23 nursing homes/shelters/soup kitchens in the pre-GTA (i.e. Toronto Toronto).

I read Watership Down, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, the Hardy Boys, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and…get ready…Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. (“Hey, Mom,” I’d later say, “I thought a period ended a sentence.”)

But it was Sidney Sheldon whom I fell in love with as a young teen and consumed like cotton candy dipped in a sumptuous 151 proof rum & crack sauce. (“Whoa,” I’d later think – but not verbalize because it sounded sacrilegious, “You can put creams down there to do that?!?!?)

As I grew older, school MADE ME read novels about boring subjects like communism and totalitarianism as seen through the eyes of farm animals, orphans who like hanging around graveyards, and teenagers in a pre-Survivor scenario who kill instead of show off their naked upper bodies, etc.

Aside from a few girly rags in between during this academic period of my life (Hey, man, Stephen King publishes in Playboy! So does Margaret Atwood, Murakami Haruki, Norman Mailer and Ray Bradbury – so back off!), I didn’t have much of a chance to read anything except what was prescribed to me by all my Doctors of Literature.

Once I got out of school, though, I started reading what I wanted to read once again, and soon my literary boundaries began growing in leaps and bounds. I started my first book club in 2004 and my current one in 2009. Whether fiction or non-fiction, whether written in English or translated, whether a male or female/young or old author – I didn’t care. Soon I was slurping away on literature like a kid attacking a Slush Puppy after a hockey game. (Or Alberto Manguel walking around a library with a grocery cart big enough to hold all the books of Alexandria.)

Although I tend to read more serious literature these days most of the time (because I lost my sense of humour somewhere around Yonge and Lawrence a while ago, I’m told), I still succumb to the Lee Child virus every now and then. Which is what I did last week. Which is why I feel a bit lighter in the brain, but a bit sturdier in the happiness index.

I don’t read a lot of thrillers, but something about Mr. Don’t-Call-Me-a-Child, Asshole! resonates with me like, oh, I don’t know, how certain people feel upon getting a little blue box from Tiffany’s for Christmas or someone else being handed the keys to a muscle car and told to drive it hard into the ground.

Jack Reacher is not remotely human, a perfect soul in many ways yet has no sense of commitment. But still.

But still I can’t get enough of him. If you’ve only seen the recent Tom Cruise Jack Reacher series movies, do yourself a favour. Go to a hospital and get a brain scrub. Have those memories completely erased from your brain and then start at square one: pick up ANY Jack Reacher novel (there’s no real thread through them except the brother who comes and goes and a few other small details), find a comfortable place to read, and strap yourself in for a wild ride. You won’t regret it.

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Monkey Hunting (novel)

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When you hear the words “monkey” and “hunting,” what comes to mind? Searching through forests, rifle in hand, as you keep an eye  out for primates swinging from tree to tree so that you can kill them with one decisive pull on the trigger of your 12-gauge pump shotgun, blowing said Curious George to smithereens?

No, no, no. Obviously you are not a monkey hunter. That is your bad.

In her 2003 novel Monkey Hunting, author Cristina Garcia tells the story of four generations of a Chinese family, the patriarch being Chen Pan, a 19th-century immigrant to Cuba. In case you didn’t know, Cuba had a sizeable ethnic Chinese population until Fidel Castro came to power in 1959 and said, “Thanks for your years of service (i.e. slavery), but your mother country is beckoning (i.e. get the hell out of our country, you dirty slaves).” Today, there are still remnants of a Chinatown in Havana, I’m told, minus the ethnic Chinese people themselves.

Although the novel starts on a page-turning note – we follow the struggle of Chinese immigrants to Cuba on their horrific journey across the world in much the same conditions as slaves brought to the Americas from Africa – the author soon loses the plot, literally and figuratively, and we start bouncing around the world at different periods in history, which in and of itself is always cool, but ends up being disjointed, fragmented and at times hard to follow in this particular case.

More specifically, the reader is not given the opportunity to form any real bond with the characters, as they fail to evoke even the slightest amount of empathy. The general rule to a decent novel is that it’s either highly plot-driven and the characters are one-dimensional (think Dan Brown or Lee Child, for example) or very much character-driven and the plot is almost secondary (think of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Eleanor & Park or The Goldfinch). Rarely do the two combine to form a work of art (think of anything from Anna Karenina to Freedom).

Unfortunately, when you’re not invested in the characters and don’t really care what’s happening all around them, it’s a recipe for disaster. And this, sadly, is the case with Monkey Hunting. It’s an interesting premise with some well-researched information, but for that kind of story I generally turn to non-fiction. Or perhaps Time magazine, where – ironically enough – Ms. Garcia used to work.

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Multiple Choice (novel)

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I’ve read books where I had to keep a dictionary close at hand (The Name of the Rose) or a notebook to jot down lyrical prose (The Prophet, The English Patient), but with Alejandro Zambra‘s Multiple Choice, you do actually need a pencil and eraser to get through this:

(A) Novel
(B) Nonfiction
(C) Poetry
(D) All of the above
(E) None of the above


I’m going to go with (F) Gimmicky. Now, I should point out that “gimmicky” does not necessarily mean bad, boring or trite. On the contrary, I think of the Choose Your Own Adventure series and how – gimmicky though they are in their format – each book is actually fresh, vibrant and engaging. (Someone actually referred to Multiple Choice as an “existential Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel,” which I could not find more egregiously misleading.)

Even if you enjoy taking tests, do you really want to be going back and forth constantly between the answer index in the back of the book and the page you’re reading? Doubly so while you’re taking the subway to work in the morning or getting sleepy at night and lying in bed?

Perhaps it’s more pertinent to ask where any semblance of tension is throughout the prose-poetry novella (option (G)?). Or the lack of any empathy evoked by a wholly absent protagonist.

In short, a book should not be judged on its “newness” alone, but also by its literary merits, even if it’s simply because it’s a page-turner. For example, through their respective Jack Reacher and Robert Langdon series, Lee Child and Dan Brown manage to capture our imagination, as puerile (or gimmicky) as the writing may seem at times.

While I’m always happy to have formed an independent opinion after reading a book for myself, I can safely say that if you’ve already got another book on your shelf waiting to be read, you can skip passing Go on this one and not collect the $3 I received for reselling Multiple Choice to a used bookstore last week.

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