Jack’s Book Blog: His Royal Highness, B.B. King

Journalist Daniel DeVise wrote a richly-detailed bio of the late B.B. King.

The book is “King of The Blues” by Daniel DeVise (2021) And while it tells one man’s whole life, the book is crowded with anecdotes about countless rock, jazz and blues legends, from Robert Johnson to Elvis to Bono, B.B.’s radio disc jockey days, and the business end of the music business. And this poignant anecdote from a future legend’s elementary school days:

B.B. had a Black teacher named Luther Henson, who spoke about the racism and violence his students were witnessing first-hand at the time.

“Y’all hear about lynchings, where our people are punished for something they did not do.

“Remember that not all Whites are behind this. If the Whites wanted to, they could kill every last one of us. But there are good men among them, just as there are bad.

“Crazy people come in all colors. And one day soon, the good people will win over the crazy people.”

B.B. King remembered his teacher several decades later: “More than anything, Mr. Henson gave me hope.”

What a gift Mr. Henson gave his student—and what a gift B.B. King’s music and life have been to us.

Here’s more of what I’ve been reading in recent weeks:

“Day of the Cheetah” by Dale Brown (1989) One of Brown’s earliest military techno-thrillers, where he’s already showcasing his mastery of this genre. A very-deep Russian sleeper agent steals America’s most-secret, most capable warplane, and stopping him and the plane without causing a global nuclear war is a very close thing.

“End in Tears” by Ruth Rendell (2005) I’ve always been a fan of hers, but in honesty, when we get this deep into her famous “Inspector Wexford” mystery series, the plotting is kind of off. Two women are bludgeoned to death in seemingly unrelated circumstances, until Wexford discovers that victim #2 was present at the first victim’s demise. I love the whole series, and recommend reading it in order, but this isn’t representative of how great Rendell was.

“Area of Suspicion” by John MacDonald (1954) You’ll find him under mystery writers, but to many, John MacDonald was one of America’s best fiction writers–period–in the 20th century. He writes circles around many of the authors we were assigned in school for their supposed “craft”. I’ve always thought the literary world had a definite snobbery about plots and characters involving murder and intrigue, when they can be just as insightful and thought-provoking as any other fields of fiction. Here, a family business involved in sensitive Cold War defense manufacturing is found to be infiltrated by enemies foreign…and domestic.

“Extremis” by Barry Eisler (2006) One of my favorite fictional serial characters is free-lance assassin John Rain. He loves jazz and Asia–what’s not to like? Now, it’s personal for Rain: the love of his life is raising their child, of whom he has just learned, in New York. Rain’s enemies have learned it too, and they are watching her to see if he shows up. Does he stay away and hope they’ll be OK? Of course not. Eisler, like Rain, is efficient and direct. In under 300 pages, he paints vivid characters and settings around the globe. He’s among the best who’ve ever written thrillers, and you should discover him and make friends with Rain.

“Third Girl” by Agatha Christie (1966) See the note above on Ruth Rendell, who was often compared to Dame Agatha as a form of (much-deserved) praise. In his book, we are nearing the end of Christie’s long, rich series centering on detective Hercule Poirot. Our sleuth is as sharp and dapper as ever, but Christie is struggling here with life in Beatles-era 1960s England. It makes for very awkward plotting and dialog, and while there can never be too much of a good thing, “Third Girl” is a few degrees off the bulleye that the Poirot books always hit.

“The Interior” by Lisa See (1999) A fantastic storyteller, See wrote a the “Red Princess” trilogy set in post-Mao China: “Flower Net”, “The Interior” and “Dragon Bones”. David Stark, an American attorney, is in love with (and soon to have a child with) top-rank Chinese detective Liu Hulan. In this second installment, their paths cross and conflict, as she’s undercover at an American toy factory in a rural village, investigating a young woman’s mysterious death. “Red Princesses” are high-powered, high-born women in the male-oriented CCP culture. Stark, unwittingly, goes to work for a high-powered US law firm representing the company that owns the factory. Lisa See tells two great stories in her books: the mystery plot she invents, and the evolution of life and politics in Red China. You’ll be drawn in for both.

Would love to hear about your experiences reading any of these, or your recommendations for me: [email protected]

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