Tuesday, September 14, 2021

4 out of 4 stars Review of Hotwalker by OnlineBookClub.org: "I loved the way Rick Neumayer created the mystery and built the suspense in this engaging novel."


Review of Hotwalker

by Raluca_Mihaila » 10 Sep 2021, 18:05

[Following is an official OnlineBookClub.org review of "Hotwalker" by Rick Neumayer.]

4 out of 4 stars

Meet Jim Guthrie, a 40-year-old private investigator living in Louisville, Kentucky. He saves Libby Fontaine from a stupid boat accident; as a result, he gains a new pro bono client. Libby’s friend, Carlos Rojas, is a hotwalker from Guatemala who wants to find out who killed his father one year ago. For your information, a hotwalker helps horses to cool down after a race.

The investigation leads the protagonist to Churchill Downs, the horse racing complex where Felipe Rojas, the victim, worked as a groom. Jim has a wide range of suspects, starting with Felipe’s colleagues, like Juan Diaz, a drinker with a history of domestic violence. Herb Alexander (a rich guy with financial problems) and Freya Hall, the attractive veterinarian, are not excluded. One thing is certain—the crime is related to the thoroughbred horse racing business.

I loved the way Rick Neumayer created the mystery and built the suspense in this engaging novel. The writer let me follow the clues without revealing the killer, so I felt like Jim’s partner. The setting was actual; it mentioned the pandemic and Biden’s new policies. Nevertheless, I found some interesting facts about the horses. They prefer having smaller animals around, like goats or cats, but they dislike dogs. The book was very informative about the Kentucky Derby and the entire racing industry.

The author has a great sense of humor, and he poured it into the main character. For instance, after “absorbing a beating,” Jim “eased out to the porch with the grace of an arthritic octogenarian.” I also enjoyed the numerous artistic and cultural references. You would not expect a former cop such as Jim to paint as a hobby. However, expressing his feelings on a blank canvas help the protagonist deal with his emotions.

This captivating book will appeal to fans of crime mystery, investigations, or fast-pacing thrillers. Read the book if you want to discover what it takes to be a good jockey, a trainer, a groom, or a hotwalker. It might be unexpected, but the art lovers will encounter some pleasant surprises along the way. The author also included some insights regarding the immigration policies and the dire situation of the immigrants.

Hotwalker by Rick Neumayer gets a rating of 4 out of 4 stars because it is a very captivating read. There was nothing I disliked about the novel, and I only found several minor errors. It was my favorite type of book: entertaining and instructive, with a touch of humor inserted in the perfect

Friday, September 10, 2021

Kirkus Review of HOTWALKER: “A delightful whodunit with a remarkable hero and sublime Southern setting”

TITLE INFORMATION HOTWALKER A JIM GUTHRIE MYSTERY Rick Neumayer Literary Wanderlust (274 pp.) $14.99 paperback, $3.99 e-book ISBN: 978-1-942856-87-0 October 1, 2021 


In this mystery, a private eye braves Kentucky’s hectic Derby week to investigate a murder at Churchill Downs. Sleuth Jim Guthrie anticipates his business will take a hit with the Derby festivities starting. But he finds a client in Guatemalan immigrant Carlos Rojas, a Churchill Downs “hotwalker” who cools down horses with quiet strolls following a workout or race. 

At last year’s Derby, someone fatally bludgeoned Carlos’ father, Felipe, who worked as a groom. Since then, the police investigation has turned up nothing, so Jim looks into the homicide on his own. Sadly, he quickly realizes that questioning employees at the Churchill Downs backside is a largely fruitless endeavor. As many are immigrants like Carlos, they stay tight-lipped, understandably wary of recent United States laws. But there is a bevy of suspects that Jim can whittle down. Robbery may have been a motive, as Felipe, who won at poker on the night of his murder, had no money on him. He also got in a fight with a man claiming Felipe cheated at that poker game. 

In the course of his investigation, Jim forms an unexpected alliance with Wyatt Whitlow, who publishes The Late Mail, a tip newsletter. Whitlow’s exposés may help draw out the killer; he’s already incensed people with accusations of cheating via buzzers (devices that electrically shock horses during races) or performance-enhancing drugs. When Jim learns some of those accusations have merit, he connects Felipe’s death with other Churchill Downs crimes, which soon include a second murder. 

Neumayer delivers an often lighthearted mystery. For example, scenes unfold at the backside like a soap opera; there’s the perpetually drunk groom, the horse trainer who scuffles with Whitlow over cheating allegations, and infidelity among married folks. Even Jim has a part in all this, having provoked a wealthy thoroughbred owner whose foolish son the private investigator humiliated (with good reason). The story likewise treats the detective genre playfully. In one of his articles, Whitlow mocks Jim for not donning a fedora or trench coat, and the PI later initiates a pursuit on a bicycle at moderate speed. 

The protagonist is good-natured and sympathetic; he takes Carlos’ case pro bono, despite a pile of bills, and suffers the authorities’ ire as they despise Jim, a former cop–turned–private eye. At the same time, he’s caught up in an effectively understated romance with veterinarian Dr. Freya Hall. She’s one of the cast’s myriad characters, many of whom make viable murder suspects and bolster the ongoing mystery. The author aptly develops each one against a vibrant Churchill Downs backdrop. 

Along with that comes abundant racing lingo, like the titular job, that the author subtly defines for novices without boring readers already familiar with it. Descriptions of Derby races, though disappointingly brief, are animated and memorable: “Right out of the gate, it was a mad scramble with five mounts no more than two lengths apart…. All other sounds were quickly muffled by crowd noise. Manes and tails streamed behind like battle flags as the horses charged into the backstretch.” 

A delightful whodunit with a remarkable hero and sublime Southern setting.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

The Three Laws of Robotics and why they matter

I Recently I blogged about the new Dune movie coming out soon, which the NYT’s Paul Krugman wrote about enthusiastically. Krugman also commented about Apple TV’s upcoming SF film version of Isaac Asimov’s classic Foundation trilogy. He’s a bit concerned that the original “gripping tale” will not be cinematic enough—i.e., lack action—which trailers suggest will be supplied by other writers.

Be that as it may, Foundation has a story line with contemporary relevance we can ill afford to ignore. It’s “about the collapse of a galactic civilization, but nobody knows it except a handful of mathematical social scientists—the psychohistorians.

Led by a guy named Hari Seldon, they devise a plan to limit the damage. Civilization, their math tells them, can’t be saved, but they can limit the duration of the dark age that will follow. The “Foundation” novels trace the progress of their plan across the centuries.”

As the writer of a literary novel (Journeyman, 2020) myself, I am keenly aware that characterization is the foundation of all literary and dramatic art. However, as the author of a murder mystery novel (Hotwalker, out Oct. 1), I am equally aware of the value of plot, which provides the chain of cause-and-effect holding a story together and making sense of it.

I love well-crafted stories that concern themselves with big ideas, especially if they have current meaning. This is where SF has made such a lasting contribution from Frankenstein to Jurassic Park, cautionary tales with huge popularity.

Another example of Asimov’s genius is “I, Robot,” his linked short story collection published in 1950 long before linked story collection were in vogue. The nine stories in the book are generally acknowledged as having forever changed the world's perception of artificial intelligence.

Three of the short stories from I, Robot have been adapted for television. And the film I, Robot, starring Will Smith, was released in 2004. While incorporating some elements of Asimov's creation, the movie’s screenplay radically changes the storyline. (Another writerly pitfall: your original source material may be changed to the point of unrecognizability. But that's a blog for another day.)  

To me, the most important feature of the I, Robot stories is the “Three Laws of Robotics.” First Law: A robot may not harm a human being or through inaction allow a human being to be harmed. Second Law: A robot must obey commands of human beings unless doing so violates the first law. Third Law: A robot must protect its own existence except when doing so would conflict with the first two laws.

This is brilliant not only for the collection, which dramatizes conflicts between the three laws as robots grow more complex, but for real life, as well. Think of drones, for example. If they were programmed with the three laws, we wouldn’t be threatened by them, as we most assuredly are today.


The New Reacher Books and TV Show


Been having fun talking with others about Lee Childs and Jack Reacher online lately. I initiated the discussion by posting “Bad and Good News About Reacher.”

 According to the Manchester Guardian, Lee Child (aka James Grant), the mega-popular bestselling author, has turned his iconic hero over to his younger brother Andrew (Grant) Child. I bought Andrew’s first Reacher novel, The Sentinel, and I must say I was very disappointed. Andrew, alas, is no Lee.

 Better news, though—a new Reacher TV series NOT starring Tom Cruise (too tiny for Reacher) is forth coming on Amazon. And follow-up seasons would feature different ensembles to match a one-book-per-season adaptation plan (Lee Child's debut Reacher novel, 1997’s Killing Floor).

 Cast as Reacher is Alan Ritchson, who is 6’4” and about 235 pounds. His acting creidts include Blue Mountain State and the ongoing DC’s Titans, neither of which I have seen. But I can’t wait to see the new TV series whenever it starts (tba).

 Someone else felt The Sentinel was great and asked what were my problems with it.

 So, I replied:

 Andrew apes Lee's style—short punchy sentences, lots of detailed interiority, some decent description, and of course action. But the plot of this one is clunky and complicated and after a while I just couldn't care about what happened to these characters anymore. Reacher storylines usually are clear and clean. It may take a while to get the whole picture, but I always feel comfortable on the journey with the POV in Lee's books. Voice is really important in mystery and suspense fiction and it just isn't there in The Sentinel. It's not easy to do what Lee Child did over and over.

The discussion branched out in a more general but still satisfying way. Someone mentioned being dissatisfied with a mystery novel written by Jonathan Kellerman in collaboration with his son. Why couldn’t these writers exit with grace and dignity, my correspondent wondered?

M-O-N-E-Y, I suspect, is the answer, though I didn’t say that.

What I did say was that I totally get the disappointment when this happens. I had high hopes for daughter successors to Tony Hillerman and James Lee Burke, too, but so far had been disappointed by their books. I said I was reminded of what happened to Doyle when he tried to kill off Holmes. Fortunately, HE was the one picking up where the stories had previously left off.

Someone else brought the discussion back around to the new Reacher book. They, too, were disappointed with it. They also worried that the upcoming TV series would ruin the franchise. And here is where we disagreed because this respondent felt that the Bosch TV series was not even close to be as good as the books.

To which I replied that while I agreed that the TV Bosch is different than in the novels in some ways, I still think it's great stuff. So does Connelly, who has had quite a hand in writing it. I never would have envisioned Titus Welliver as Bosch but after watching the show I can't think of Harry any other way.

The great thing about writing a blog about writing is that you can always have the last word, which I just did.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

John Le Carre and Len Deighton's Great Spymasters

 I very much enjoyed a recent piece on George Smiley and the character’s influence on another writer’s work. I’m a big Le Carre fan and have read all his espionage novels, beginning with dThe Spy Who Came In From The Cold. I especially loved his trilogy: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; The Honorable Schoolboy, and Smiley's People.

Let me call your attention to another great spy novelist, Len Deighton, whose character Bernard Samson—a tough, cynical and disrespectful MI6 intelligence officer—resembles Smiley in important ways.

Deighton's successful first novel, The Ipcress File, was about the same central character as others which followed: a working class intelligence officer, cynical and tough. My favorite Deighton novels are his three trilogies: Berlin Game (1983), Mexico Set (1984) and London Match (1985); Spy Hook (1988), Spy Line (1989) and Spy Sinker (1990); and Faith (1994), Hope (1995) and Charity (1996). Winter was a companion novel. I recommend all of them without reservation.

Deighton also was a book and magazine illustrator who designed the cover for first UK edition of Kerouac's On the Road.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Upcoming Dune movie offers lessons for writers

I was casting about for a topic for my writer’s blog when I came across a fascinating piece about Frank Herbert’s 1965 SF novel Dune written by the ever-surprising economist/NYTimes columnist Paul Krugman. 

 The item was inspired by a new movie version coming out soon, and Krugman writes that “what we’ve seen in trailers looks true to Herbert’s vision. I’m optimistic about this one.” (He hated the other two film versions, mainly for underestimating the audience.)

Krugman describes Dune as an extremely cinematic novel and “a sweeping epic set on a desert planet, with knife fights, mystical powers and, oh yes, giant worms. It’s an amazing piece of world-building; Herbert was clearly possessed by a vision and worked obsessively to get it right.” 

Actually, he could say that again, since  Herbert wrote five sequelsDune MessiahChildren of DuneGod Emperor of DuneHeretics of Dune, and Chapterhouse: Dune.

Herbert’s inspiration for the series (and his interest in ecology) began in 1957, according to Wikipedia, when he traveled to Florence, Oregon, at the north end of the Oregon Dunes, where the federal government was attempting to use poverty grasses to stabilize the sand dunes

Herbert claimed in a letter to his literary agent that the moving dunes could "swallow whole cities, lakes, rivers, highways.” Dune’s giant sandworms immediately come to mind, of course. Another significant source of inspiration for Dune was Herbert's experiences with psilocybin and his hobby of cultivating mushrooms.

As someone who has written both a literary novel (Journeyman, 2020) and a genre novel (Hotwalker, a murder mystery set at the Kentucky Derby, out Oct. 1), I wish to make three points for fiction writers to consider: 

1) the vital importance of creating a sense of place in a novel

2) never underestimating the audience

3) not being intimidated by “serious culturati sniffing at genre fiction.” I think all of this can be said across the board about creative writing in all forms.

In A Portrait of the Artist as A Young Man, James Joyce writes, “When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight…. I shall try to fly by those nets.” Joyce was talking about Ireland, but the point is universal, and more than nations hold us back from flight.   



Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Those Mysterious Monoliths and Arthur C. Clarke

From Arthur C. Clark’s 1951 short story, “The Sentinel,” part of the inspiration for 2001: A Space Odyssey:

Nearly a hundred thousand million stars are turning in the circle of the Milky Way, and long ago other races on the worlds of other suns must have scaled and passed the heights that we have reached. Think of such civilizations, far back in time against the fading afterglow of Creation, masters of a universe so young that life as yet had come only to a handful of worlds.

Theirs would have been a loneliness we cannot imagine, the loneliness of gods looking out across infinity and finding none to share their thoughts. They must have searched the star-clusters as we have searched the planets. Everywhere there would be worlds, but they would be empty or peopled with crawling, mindless things.

Such was our own Earth, the smoke of the great volcanoes still staining the skies, when that first ship of the peoples of the dawn came sliding in from the abyss beyond Pluto. It passed the frozen outer worlds, knowing that life could play no part in their destinies. It came to rest among the inner planets, warming themselves around the fire of the Sun and waiting for their stories to begin.

Those wanderers must have looked on Earth, circling safely in the narrow zone between fire and ice, and must have guessed that it was the favorite of the Sun’s children. Here, in the distant future, would be intelligence; but there were countless stars before -them still, and they might never come this way again.

SO THEY LEFT A SENTINEL, one of millions they have scattered throughout the Universe, watching over all worlds with the promise of life. It was a beacon that down the ages has been patiently signaling the fact that no one had discovered it.

Perhaps you understand now why that crystal pyramid was set upon the Moon instead of on the Earth. Its builders were not concerned with races still struggling up from savagery. They would be interested in our civilization only if we proved our fitness to survive -by crossing space and so escaping from the Earth, our cradle.

That is the challenge that all intelligent races must meet, sooner or later. It is a double challenge, for it depends in turn upon the conquest of atomic energy and the last choice between life and death. Once we had passed that crisis, it was only a matter of time before we found the pyramid and forced it open.

Now its signals have ceased, and those whose duty it is will be turning their minds upon Earth. Perhaps they wish to help our infant civilization. But they must be very, very old, and the old are often insanely jealous of the young.

I can never look now at the Milky Way without wondering from which of those banked clouds of stars the emissaries are coming. If you will pardon so commonplace a simile, we have set off the fire-alarm and have nothing to do but to wait. I do not think we will have to wait for long.


From Wikipedia:

The story deals with the discovery of an artifact on Earth's Moon left behind eons ago by ancient aliens. The object is made of a polished mineral, is tetrahedral in shape, and is surrounded by a spherical forcefield. The narrator speculates at one point that the mysterious aliens who left this structure on the Moon may have used mechanisms belonging "to a technology that lies beyond our horizons, perhaps to the technology of para-physical forces."

The narrator speculates that for millions of years (evidenced by dust buildup around its forcefield) the artifact has been transmitting signals into deep space, but it ceases to transmit when, sometime later, it is destroyed "with the savage might of atomic power". The narrator hypothesizes that this "sentinel" was left on the Moon as a "warning beacon" for possible intelligent and spacefaring species that might develop on Earth.

The story was adapted and expanded upon in the 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, made by filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick and Clarke modified and fused the story with other ideas. Clarke expressed impatience with its common description as the story on which the novel and movie are based. He explained

I am continually annoyed by careless references to "The Sentinel" as "the story on which 2001 is based"; it bears about as much relation to the movie as an acorn to the resultant full-grown oak. (Considerably less, in fact, because ideas from several other stories were also incorporated.) Even the elements that Stanley Kubrick and I did actually use were considerably modified. Thus the 'glittering, roughly pyramidal structure… set in the rock like a gigantic, many-faceted jewel' became—after several modifications—the famous black monolith. And the locale was moved from the Mare Crisium to the most spectacular of all lunar craters, Tycho—easily visible to the naked eye from Earth at Full Moon.

Now a mysterious Arthur C Clarke-style monolith appears in ROMANIA after unexplained metal vanished from Utah – so who (or what) put it there?

·        Mysterious metal monolith has appeared in northern Romania after another vanished from the desert in Utah

·        The shiny triangular pillar was found on Batcas Doamnei Hill in the city of Piatra Neamt last Thursday

·        One side of the structure, which is 13 feet tall, faces Mount Ceahlau, known locally as the Holy Mountain

A mysterious metal monolith has appeared in Romania this week after another similar structure found in the remote Utah desert was removed by an 'unknown party'. 

The shiny triangular pillar was found on Batca Doamnei Hill in the city of Piatra Neamt in northern Romania last Thursday.

It was spotted a few metres away from the well-known archaeological landmark the Petrodava Dacian Fortress, an fort built by the ancient Dacian people between 82 BC and AD 106. 

The peculiar find comes after a similar monolith was found in the Utah desert with no explanation, sparking wry speculation that it could have been the work of aliens, but is more likely the work of a prankster inspired by science fiction novel 2001: A Space Odyssey. 

In the book by Arthur C Clarke, later made into a film by Stanley Kubrick, a monolith first appears on Earth in Africa three million years ago and appears to confer intelligence upon a starving tribe of great apes to develop tools.   

2001: A Space Odyssey 

2001: A Space Odyssey is a 1968 science fiction novel by Arthur C Clarke, later made into a film with the same name by Stanley Kubrick. 

In the book, a monolith first appears on Earth in Africa three million years ago and appears to confer intelligence upon a starving tribe of giant apes to develop tools.  

The monolith is used as a tool by an alien race to investigate worlds across the galaxy and to encourage the development of intelligent life. 

In the book, the tribe approach the monolith, and unknown to them, their minds were being studied and their actions controlled by an alien race.   

The great apes use their tools to kill animals to eat meat to end their starvation, and to kill a predatory leopard. 

The next day, the main character, Moon-Watcher, uses a club to kill the leader of a rival tribe of apes, leading to an awakening of intelligence and the development of humans. 

The book explores technological innovation and traces the development of humans from great apes. It considers the evolution that has led to intelligent life. 

When 2001: A Space Odyssey was written, humans had not yet set foot on the moon. The book offers a glimpse of Clarke's imagination of what space exploration might look like. 

The monolith is used as a tool by an alien race to investigate worlds across the galaxy and to encourage the development of intelligent life. 

In the book, the great apes use their tools to kill animals to eat meat to end their starvation, and to kill a predatory leopard. The next day, the main character uses a club to kill the leader of a rival tribe of apes, leading to an awakening of intelligence and the development of humans.

In Utah, the pillar, which protruded approximately 12 feet from the red rocks in southern Utah, was spotted last Wednesday by baffled local BLM officials who were counting bighorn sheep from a helicopter.  

However the three-sided structure was removed by an 'unknown party' on Friday evening, the Bureau of Land Management Utah said in a statement. 

News of the discovery in Utah quickly went viral online, with many noting the object's similarity to the strange alien monoliths that trigger huge leaps in human progress in Kubrick's classic sci-fi film '2001: A Space Odyssey.' 

In Romania, the triangular structure has a height of about 13 feet and one side faces Mount Ceahlau, known locally as the Holy Mountain.     

It is one of the most famous mountains in Romania, and is listed as one of the seven natural wonders of the country.  

Romanian officials still do not know who is responsible for erecting the mysterious monolith. 

Neamt Culture and Heritage official Rocsana Josanu said: 'We have started looking into the strange appearance of the monolith. 

'It is on private property, but we still don't know who the monolith's owner is yet. It is in a protected area on an archaeological site.'

She added: 'Before installing something there, they needed permission from our institution, one that must then be approved by the Ministry of Culture.' 

But many tracked down the co-ordinates and published them - leading people to drive many hours through the night to reach the 12ft aluminium structure. 

And it was revealed that a similar version appeared nearly 20 years ago on New Years Day in Seattle.

However access to the site involved a 45-minute off-road drive on a dirt track many miles from any major town at 10mph - and then a 15-minute hike up a dry stream bed. 

Across the globe UFO spotters and conspiracy theorists became obsessed with the shiny, triangular pillar. 

Officials suggest it could be have been constructed by an artist or a huge fan of 2001: Space Odyssey - the structure resembles the machines found in Arthur C. Clarke's story (pictured) 

Though the structure was only discovered by authorities this month, Google Earth images show it had been standing since at least 2015 or 2016.  

Lieutenant Nick Street, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said it's possible the structure had been there for '40, 50 years, maybe more.' 

'It's the type of material that doesn't degrade with the elements. It may only be a few years old, who knows. There's no real way based on the material it's made out of how long it's actually been there,' he said on Tuesday.

Others pointed out the object's resemblance to the avant-garde work of John McCracken, an American artist who lived for a time in nearby New Mexico, and died in 2011.

McCracken was known for his freestanding sculptures in the shape of pyramids, cubes, or sleek slabs.

The monolith most closely resembles McCracken's plank-like sculptures featured at his exhibit at the David Zwirner art gallery in New York. 

On Tuesday a spokeswoman for David Zwirner said it was not one of McCracken's works, but possibly by a fellow artist paying homage.

However later in the day Zwirner gave another statement which suggested the piece was indeed by McCracken, meaning it had lain undiscovered in the desert for nearly a decade.

 'The gallery is divided on this,' Zwirner said. 'I believe this is definitely by John.'

Utah has a history of 'land art,' unusual installations that cropped up far from population centers in the 1960s and '70s.

The most famous, Spiral Jetty, a 1,500-foot-long coil by artist Robert Smithson in 1970 that's composed entirely of mud, salt crystals and basalt. 

Located on the northeastern edge of the Great Salt Lake near Rozel Point, the jetty appears and disappears depending on water levels.

So far, no one has stepped forward to claim responsibility for the monolith, though

Earthlings, It Seems, Not Aliens, Removed the Utah Monolith

A photographer said four men dismantled the mysterious shiny object that has captivated the country.

Ross Bernards took moonlit photographs of his friend Peter Jans atop the monolith in southeastern Utah on Nov. 27. Moments later they witnessed its removal.Credit...Ross Bernards

By Serge F. KovaleskiDeborah Solomon and Zoe Rosenberg

  • Dec. 1, 2020Updated 11:04 a.m. ET

It was, by most standards, a short stay. The pop-up metal monolith that became the focus of international attention after it was spotted in a remote section of the Utah desert on Nov. 18 was dismantled just 10 days later. Government officials continued to insist on Monday that they had no information about either the installation or removal — and possible theft — of the piece, which had been placed on public land.

The office of the San Juan County Sheriff at first announced that it was declining to investigate the case in the absence of complaints about missing property. To underscore that point, it uploaded a “Most Wanted” poster on its website, or rather a jokey version of one in which the faces of suspects were replaced by nine big-eyed aliens. But by the end of Monday, the sheriff’s office had reversed its position and announced that it was planning a joint investigation with the Bureau of Land Management, a federal agency.

It was left to an adventure photographer, Ross Bernards, to disclose evidence on Instagram. Mr. Bernards, 34, of Edwards, Colo., was visiting the monolith on Friday night when, he said, four men arrived as if out of nowhere to dismantle the sculpture. Mr. Bernards had driven six hours for the chance to ogle the sculpture and to take dramatic photographs of it. Using upscale Lume Cube lights attached to a drone, he produced a series of glowy, moonlit pictures in which the monolith glistens against the red cliffs and the deep blue of the night sky.

Suddenly, around 8:40 p.m., he said, the men arrived, their voices echoing in the canyon. Working in twosomes, with an unmistakable sense of purpose, they gave the monolith hard shoves, and it started to tilt toward the ground. Then they pushed it in the opposite direction, trying to uproot it.

“This is why you don’t leave trash in the desert,” one of them said, suggesting that he viewed the monolith as an eyesore, a pollutant to the landscape, according to Mr. Bernards.

The sculpture popped out and landed on the ground with a bang. Then the men broke it apart and ferried it off in a wheelbarrow.

“As they walked off with the pieces, one of them said, ‘Leave no trace,’” Mr. Bernards recalled in a telephone interview.

Michael James Newlands said he took these cellphone photos of four men dismantling the monolith in Utah on Friday night. “They just came in there to execute and they were, like, ‘This is our mission,’” he said.Credit...Michael James Newlands

“It must have been 10 or 15 minutes at most for them to knock over the monolith and pull it out,” Mr. Newlands said.Credit...Michael James Newlands

He did not photograph the men who took down the sculpture, saying he “didn’t want to start a confrontation by bringing out my camera and putting it in their face — especially since I agreed with what they were doing.”

But a friend who accompanied him on the trip, Michael James Newlands, 38, of Denver, took a few quick photographs with his cellphone.

“It must have been 10 or 15 minutes at most for them to knock over the monolith and pull it out,” he told The New York Times. “We didn’t know who they were, and we were not going to do anything to stop them.” He added, “They just came in there to execute and they were like, ‘This is our mission.’”

The photos are blurry, but they fascinate, nonetheless. Here are images of several men working beneath the cover of darkness, wearing gloves but not face masks, standing above the fallen monolith. We can see its exposed insides. It turns out to be a hollow structure with an armature made from plywood.

The photographs are the only known images of the culprits who removed the sculpture; they may not have been the same people who installed it in the first place. Lt. Nick Street, a spokesman for the Utah Department of Public Safety, said last week that the monolith had been embedded into the rock.

In the past few days, artists had been casually speculating that whoever put the sculpture up probably had taken it down once it was discovered, as if aspiring to be anonymous artist-activists, the Banksy of the desert.

But art-world speculation had not yielded too many facts. Initially, the monolith was linked to John McCracken, a California-born artist who died in 2011 and harbored a taste for science fiction. David Zwirner, the New York art dealer who represents the artist’s estate and first identified the monolith as an authentic McCracken, stepped forward on Monday to tell The Times that he had studied photographs of it and no longer had any idea who had made it.

Almine Rech, who represents the artist at her galleries in Paris and Brussels, also contacted a reporter to deny that the desert monolith was a McCracken.

All of this leaves us not an iota closer to solving the mystery of the Utah sculpture.

On the plus side, the monolith that captivated the country over the past week, then disappeared as quickly as it entered public consciousness, continues to provide a pleasant sensation of uncertainty. Would it lose its aura and power if we knew who had created it?




Monday, November 30, 2020

A review of Violets for Sergeant Schiller by Chris Helvey

Chris Helvey’s excellent and moving historical novel, Violets for Sergeant Schiller, is a fast-paced story full of drama and adventure about WWI told from the point of view of a young German soldier, who is also  a poet. 

The book is reminiscent of Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet On The Western Front (1928), sometimes acclaimed as the greatest war novel of all time. That’s a bit like being compared to Shakespeare perhaps, but both books do describe the horror and suffering of German soldiers, their enemies, and civilians during the “war to end all wars,” including how the survivors’ lives are forever changed.

Readers may wonder why an American writer like Helvey, a Spalding U. MFA grad, would choose such a daunting and seemingly unlikely topic—the bloody trench warfare in Europe that ended over a century ago—for his fifth novel. Perhaps it was the challenge of humanizing the enemy soldier, or the need to remind us of the staggering destructiveness of a war that produced some forty million military and civilian casualties.

In any case, Helvey does both quite well. It is an earnestly told tale, occasionally leavened by protagonist Karl Schiller’s ironic humor about war’s absurdity, and also by a few lines of his moving poetry.

The story begins with the introduction of  the popular poet who is in Paris at the war’s outbreak. Schiller soon finds himself in the Kaiser’s army and thrust into battle at the front. Hardly a stereotypical bloodthirsty Hun, he is rather an idealistic soul with a strong sense of duty who becomes deeply scarred by the death and destruction he faces continuously. Gradually, he becomes aware that he is no longer the man he was at war's outset.

The novel gains momentumalong with Schiller’s transformationwith the German army’s headlong rush through Belgium. Cut off from his unit and seeking shelter for the night, Karl discovers a likely looking barn. Concealed inside it is a frightened, angry widow named Sanne, who is hiding from the marauding Germans ransacking her farm and the entire countryside. The tense romantic scene that follows could easily have become farcical, but it does not, a tribute to the writer's skill.

For the rest of the novel, Schiller thinks about Sanne and the unlikely prospect of someday returning to her. She might not even want him, he thinks, but that hope keeps him going through his darkest moments.

As they advance swiftly, the German soldiers are confident—overconfident, as it turns out–that it will all be over soon with the capture of Paris, which will knock France out of the war. Of course, that does not happen. Instead, the advance stalls and the soldiers wind up in horrible trenches for months. Schiller’s companions—including his three brothers—are wounded or killed until he is among the few remaining “originals” still fighting.

Eventually wounded, Schiller is hospitalized. He mends, only to return to combat once more. He dodges artillery blasts and machine gun enfilades, occasionally engaging bravely in fierce hand-to-hand combat—all of it rendered with admirable realistic detail and tautness. The fighting goes on and on until the by now combat-hardened veteran sergeant is captured by the British. Freed by fortune, however, he decides it is time to make a separate peace.

Schiller attempts to return from France to Belgium and Sanne, if she is still alive and will have him. His long flight from battle is both suspenseful and grueling. Along the way, his encounters with the enemy demonstrate their mutual humanity and prove the futility of their undertaking. All this feels completely genuine and ends with a release of emotion that is deeply affecting.

Violets for Sergeant Schiller is a triumph for Helvey, who has also published two short story collections and edits Trajectory Journal. 

Published by Wings ePress, Newton, Kansas, 2020, www.wingsepress.com

Chris Helvey's short stories have been published by numerous reviews and journals, and he is the author of the novels Yard Man and Dancing on the Rim, Snapshot, and Whose Name I Did Not Know, plus the short story collections One More found and Claw Hammer.