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A Listener's Reviews

Discussion in 'Book Reviews' started by A Listener, Jan 6, 2015.

  1. A Listener

    A Listener Member

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    "Looking For Chet Baker", by Bill Moody.

    This is a book which I had to read. Chet Baker was my favorite trumpet player in the Fifties. I enjoyed his playing on numerous occasions, first with Gerry Mulligan’s piano-less quartet at the Haig, a jazz club across from the Ambassador Hotel, at the corner of Wilshire Blvd. and Kenmore (alas, neither exists anymore), and later with his own quartet with Russ Freeman. He burst across the jazz world like a Roman candle going off. In those days, Baker was twenty-something and too good-looking, in that the young honeys I and my friends took to hear the groups were far too attracted to him.

    The plot of this story is built around the fact that, like Benny Moten and Wardell Gray before him, Baker died under questionable circumstances. His body was found in an alley beneath the fourth floor window of his hotel room in Amsterdam . The questions ever since have been, did he fall, was he pushed, or did he jump?

    The author was unknown to me. He is reported to be a music critic and jazz drummer. This is the fifth book in his series featuring a jazz pianist crime-solver, Evan Horne. Horne gets unwillingly dragged into helping a friend who is writing a book about Baker, and needs help in trying to resolve the above questions about Baker’s death. More crimes occur and the track gets dangerous.

    It is an interesting story (at least to me as an old time admirer of Baker’s playing, while deploring his frazzled, drug addicted lifestyle), well-told, with some insight into the world of jazz musicians. Mr. Moody has also created an engaging foil for Horne in the person of an elderly, formerly famous long-time expatriate, black tenor sax man, patterned on Ben Webster and/or Dexter Gordon.

    An introduction to the book was written by Russ Freeman, the pianist in the Chet Baker Quartet. He composed the original numbers for the group, appears to have been the person with sufficient responsibility and executive skills to keep the group going, and was among the handful of pianists I really liked, not being another Art Tatum or Bud Powell clone.

    He stated in part that Baker:
    Contrary to rumor, could read music, but not well enough for studio work, had no knowledge of harmonics and could not tell you what notes were in a chord. What he had was an incredible ear and intuition.
    Was irresponsible and inconsiderate of other people - but he could play.
    Was a drug abuser for all but eighteen of his fifty-eight years - but he could play.
    Loved fast cars and drove too fast - but he could play.

    Freeman stated that he had enjoyed the book and the fact that it gave some insight into the jazz life (which I knew he had left to devote himself to composing).
    That was good enough for me to latch onto the book. An entertaining read. I will try another in the series.
     
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  2. A Listener

    A Listener Member

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    If I were asked to recommend one mystery to a non-mystery reader, it would be 'DRINK TO YESTERDAY', by Manning Coles, because:

    1. It is my all-time favorite spy story, but is a spy story wrapped in a whodunnit/whydunnit.

    2. It is a novel with psychological depth, the characters are well-developed, and the reader comes to care very much about what happens to them. The young British spies are undercover, living among the 'enemy', with whom they become trusted friends and colleagues. The story deals with the corrosive effect this deception and, in a sense, betrayal, has on the main character.

    3. Unlike many spy stories, the story involves actual espionage and sabotage, rather than just two intelligence services trying to catch each other.

    4. The main character has to deal, after the war, with the adjustment from being a successful business man abroad, in charge of his destiny, to being reinserted into the class and caste systems in Britain.

    5. It is a terrific, and ultimately somewhat heartbreaking story. I don't believe that it is a SPOILER to state that the structure of the book is quite unusual, in that the main character is murdered in the opening pages, and the story is told and resolved in a long flashback. Surprisingly, the authors make this work to perfection. Great book!
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    If you are interested in double agents and a fascinating story, I recommend "Spy/Counterspy" by Dusko Popov (entitled "Codename Tricycle" in Europe). A brief description from the website SerbianCouncil.org.uk is:

    "Dusko Popov

    A wealthy playboy, incorrigible womaniser and dedicated gambler, Dusko Popov was one of Germany's most trusted spies, one of Britain's most successful double agents, and, some say, the inspiration for James Bond.

    With full access to FBI and MI5 records, along with private family papers, his incredible adventures can now be told authoritatively for the first time. Recruited by the Abwehr in 1940, 27-year-old Popov immediately offered his services to the British. His codename was Tricycle.
    Throughout the war he fed the Germans with a constant stream of military 'intelligence', all vetted by MI5, and came to be viewed as their most important and reliable agent in Britain. But when he was ordered by the Abwehr to the United States to report on the defences at Pearl Harbour, J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI, failed to heed his warnings, distrusting all spies and detesting Popov in particular, whom he considered to be a 'moral degenerate'. Facing the danger of exposure, arrest and execution on a daily basis, Tricycle went on to build up a network known as the Yugoslav Ring, which not only fed a stream of false information to Berlin but also supplied vital intelligence to the allies on German rocketry, strategy and security.
    After the war Dusko Popov was granted British citizenship and awarded an OBE. The presentation was made, appropriately, in the cocktail bar at the Ritz. Codename Tricycle is a gripping and colourful portrait of a celebrated, glamorous, and daring double-agent who epitomised everything we associate with the life of the spy."
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    Popov was recruited by the Abwehr by a friend , Johnny Jebsen, a wealthy German businessman who was an Abwehr agent, but was sufficiently anti-Nazi to also become a double agent, and helped Popov obtain intelligence for the British. Jebsen disappeared and is presumed to have been executed by the Germans just before the end of the war. Popov's love interest in the U.S. was Simone Simon, the French actress with whom he had previously had a relationship. That is reported to have angered Hoover, who by all accounts appears to have been a strange man.

    Popov's account was corroborated by Ewen Montagu, and John Masterman.

    I also recommend Masterman's ""The Double -Cross System In The War Of 1939-1945" . Masterman was head of BI(a), the British counterespionage arm of MI5 during WWII, and head of the Double Cross operations, under which Popov operated.
    His book has been praised as "...[O]ne of the great works of intelligence literature, an outstanding one in the area of deception, and perhaps the greatest work yet written on double agents."
    Also, "...The codification of counterespionage principles which accompanies Masterman's double agent case makes this the only book of its kind in public print."
    Both highly recommended.
     
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