Midwinter reads (2020)

Australia is currently in the midst of winter. This week has been pretty chilly, with heavy rain and wind gusts.  The mercury has plummeted south of double figures for most of the state. Meanwhile, since my last inventory four weeks ago, I have finished three more books. I started off with Criminal by Karin Slaughter. The latter was the sixth instalment in her long-running series. I proceeded to chip away at Unseen (Slaughter), the next book in the Will Trent series. Finally, I devoured The Sixth Man, a memoir by Andre Igoudala, the three-time NBA champion. Both Slaughters were above four hundred pages, while the basketball book was shorter. I’ve been looking forward to reading the memoir for a while and it lived up to the hype.

  1. Criminal (Slaughter). It’s been a while since I’ve tackled this series. See also: Broken. This novel is unlike all the instalments that I’ve read previously. All of them may be livewire thrillers that oscillate from one perspective to another. Moreover, they revolve around three major axes: Detectives Trent and Mitchell, and Dr Sara Linton. However, the infusion of race and gender politics make this one unique. Criminal tells the story of a callous murderer, one who quotes scripture but is a coldblooded butcher. The story shifts between two time periods: present-day Atlanta and seventies Atlanta. The three players still hold court for now, while rookie detectives Evelyn Mitchell and Amanda Wagner feature in the flashbacks. Mitchell is a new mother, while the latter tries to distance herself from her powerbroker dad.

The author did a lot of research to get the history right. From the cheaper fast food to the obsolete brands, the dime-a-call payphone to the bulky autos, the book is ‘a journey through time.’ 1970s Georgia was a time unkind to both women and minorities. Female law enforcers were expected to be subservient to their male counterparts. Harassment in the workplace was rampant. Even when the women solved cases, the men got all the credit. The two newbies entered during the state’s first black Commissioner and tensions were high. A matador was on the loose, a misogynist who was picking the force apart. While the bodies piled up, the partners were told not to go near the case. The two chicks would not be discouraged, ramping up their investigations and defying authority. They would head to the projects, mingle with blacks, and go to autopsies.

After all, since this is a Slaughter book, there’s sure to be a twist in the end. There is a final piece that would connect the present-day puzzle with the past. We would learn that the name Will Trent was not his actual birth name, but one christened by Amanda. We would also realise that, though fictional, the efforts of officers like Evelyn and Amanda paved the way for the policewomen of today. We would likewise grasp that good could come out of bad things. Moreover, the final twist conjures the unexpected: the guy everyone thought was blameless was in fact guilty. This was a middle-of-the-pack effort in the series, but one that is very pertinent to the climate of #metoo and #blacklivesmatter.

Rating: 4.25/5

  • Unseen (Slaughter). After summiting Criminal, it was time for another Will Trent sequence. As with other instalments, Unseen opens in style. An attempted murder in Macon, Georgia, is thwarted as the police couple fight back. Just as Lena is about to send her assailant to kingdom come, Will Trent stops her from crossing over to the dark side. Turns out he is working undercover but refuses to let Dr Linton, his girlfriend, know. He hides under the name, Mr Black, and fraternises with the enemy. Meanwhile, Lena loses her baby and scrambles to clear her name in the force. A few weeks before the spanking, Lena and her team stormed the castle, but they did not find any jewels. The raid left them with more questions than answers.

In the aftermath of the smackdown, Jared Long (Lena’s better half) is on life support. Long is the son of Jeffrey, who was Linton’s slain husband. Sara believes that Lena’s obstinate ways ultimately led to Jeffrey’s demise. Together with Nell (Jared’s mother), they claim that Lena’s recklessness contributed to Jared’s hospitalisation. For most of the story, Jared’s survival is up in the air. Perhaps more than her prior material, Unseen makes use of the past. Lena thinks that her carelessness caused the drama. However, we would later learn that this is not the case. The title may refer to two things: firstly, the fact that Trent operates unseen. Secondly, the puppeteer, the guy pulling the strings, is a masked rider.

Will’s refusal to open up to Sara strains their relationship. He has to balance his bond with Linton together with his undercover job, where he deals with shady figures. As with most Slaughter novels, the plot transpires within a short timeframe. Once again, the stage is set for a killer conclusion. As with book six, the face of evil comes from the most unexpected places. All this time, the kingpin is hiding in plain sight. Given the book’s content, the themes tackled in this one look like child’s play compared to Criminal. Slaughter has followed up a racially and politically charged thriller with a standard murder mystery. However, Unseen does just enough to hook you in.

Rating: 4/5

  • The Sixth Man (Andre Igoudala).

This memoir was first released as a hardback in June of last year. I bought the paperback edition after its June 2020 publication. Since last year, I’ve read a few sports books. I’ve finished Open (Agassi), Mamba Mentality (Kobe), Shoe Dog (Knight), Unbreakable (Jelena Dokic), and Relentless (Tim S. Grover). This read, my third sports book of the year, puts me on par with last year’s haul. On the surface, Sixth Man is a hoops read. Some have even asserted that there is too much basketball. However, I would purport that the book is a melange of sports, prevalent issues, and class struggles. In particular, the first few chapters shed light on what’s happening in Middle America. We would learn that Andre grew up with his large extended family. Discipline was instilled in him very early on, and he was always a model student. He comes from a city called Springfield in Illinois where the winters were chilly and the summers, intense.

Basketball was his ticket out of town. Even before his growth spurt in school, he was always a playmaking maestro. He became an Arizona Wildcat, where he was teammates with future Laker coach, Luke Walton. He cites his colleague, Salim Stoudamire as the best shooter he’s ever seen. He was drafted ninth overall by the Philly Sixers, leading them to multiple playoff appearances. However, because of his big contract, he was deemed ‘The Most Hated Athlete in Town.’ He channelled his frustration and disillusionment into his work. Throughout his NBA tenure, he’s worked with like-minded players with the same enthusiasm toward black culture and history. Chris Webber, Allen Iverson, Samuel Dalembert, and Wilson Chandler are just some of the names who share his passion. There are many instances where he goes into detail about the black experience. While admittedly heavier, these impressions give us a glimpse. This is especially true when told in a first-hand account by a celebrated sports figure.

He signed with the upstart Warriors before the 2013-14 season. In two years’, time, they became world champions. They also graduated from being an exciting ballclub to be the most loathed outfit in the land. It seemed that their resounding success soured people’s opinions. Dre makes it a point to show how the media manipulates players’ words to make a story. In most cases, Dre advocates that less is best. In one instance, Iggy was roasted for using the n-word and calling his coach, ‘master’. Apparently, he was just wrathful at the shoddy refereeing. In six seasons with Oakland’s finest, Iggy would make five straight Finals appearances. On three occasions, they would win the Larry O’Brien trophy. However, he believed that chasing the NBA-record 73 wins cost them the title that year. He also maintains that being a b-ball dynasty turns the officiating against you. This is a standout memoir from one of the league’s smartest athletes.

Rating: 4.8/5

So that’s the wrap for this list: three books. I conquered two novels and one non-fiction. That’s two authors for three titles. I close in homage to Stephen King. To the ‘constant reader’, keep at it.

Now reading:

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