Two Reads …

The Torqued Man by Peter Mann (2022. Harper. ISBN 978-0063072107)

Here we go. I was privileged to be asked to join one of Minnesota’s longest running male only book clubs, the Greater Mesabi Men’s Book Club (GMMBC), for their annual summer retreat. I have been the featured author at two of their meetings in the distant past and have developed a friendship with some of the group’s members (including musician supreme, Colin Isaakson, who has sadly passed on) and so, when asked to join the boys for their summer retreat on Trout Lake, I readily accepted. The assigned book, The Torqued Man, was, at the time I ordered it, only available in hardcover. I dutifully ordered the book from The Bookstore at Fitger’s (one of two Indies in town) and set to reading.

Ugh. Where do I begin? Ostensibly billed as a WW II spy novel, this mishmash tale includes scenes set in the Spanish Civil War, World War II, Ireland, Germany, and other locales surrounded by a plot that was so confusing and unfulfilling, it was a struggle for me to finish the book and be prepared for the book club outing. The twin protagonists featured in the tale: Abwehr Agent and reluctant Nazi, Adrian de Groot, who becomes the second man’s “handler”; and Proinnsias “Frank” Pike, aka Finn McCool, did absolutely nothing for me as characters. So too the plot.

The gist of the tome is that, as Germany crumbles, two manuscripts, one involving each man, are found in the ashes of Nazi failure. The interwoven stories are the grist for the mill of the tale and, quite frankly, made for one very confusing read. Mann’s reliance upon Irish folklore (Finn McCool being the most obvious link) and references to classical literature seem randomly tossed into the book as a means to establish the intellect and erudite wisdom of the novelist and do little to move the story towards anything close to satisfactory comprehension. I was as confused reading this book as I was tackling Ulysses: a feat I will not revisit. Nor shall I, despite promises to give this novel a “second go”, spend time with Mr. Mann again.

When the GMMBC finished polishing off a fine meal prepared by our host and got down to digesting both our meals and the book, I was the outlier. Nearly everyone in the group gave Mann’s effort high marks for wit, plot, character development, and story. I refrained from commenting until asked to weigh in and let it all hang out. Once I dished the book, I figured it was the last time the GMMBC would invite me to participate. But, in an inexplicable act of kindness, the group held a vote that barely, just barely, made me a member. Go figure.

2 and 1/2 stars out of 3. I didn’t toss the book in the trash, as I did with one of John Irving’s terrible tomes (Until I Find You). But it was a close call.


Voices in the Ocean by Susan Casey (2016. Anchor. ISBN 978-0345804846)

Wow. Now that was well done. Ms. Casey explores the world of dolphins, from spinners to orcas, with a kindness, alertness, and keen appreciation for nature and truth. She chronicles, in a series of exploratory scenes, human affection, interaction, and abuse of these mysteriously intelligent creatures, traveling the earth in search of connections, both positive and negative, between us and the Cetaceans we became enamored with watching Flipper as kids on black and white television sets in the 1960s. In her quest, Casey shares reportage that includes tales of extreme (a group in Hawaii that believes dolphins are an alien life form possessing magical and mystical properties) dolphin lovers; alongside those (Japanese fishermen who trap dolphins in a secluded bay and slaughter them as “the enemy”) who despise these undersea miracles of nature.

I picked this book up at the Talk Story, the western-most bookstore in America (on Kaua’i), where I’ve been treated to displays by Humpbacks, spinners, and bottlenose dolphins and I’m glad I did. It was a fine, fine non-fiction read. The final chapter, where Casey explores humankind’s age-old connection to these intelligent mammals by visiting ruins in the Mediterranean (where dolphins were once deified) is simply the best. Excellent work.

5 stars out of 5.



About Mark

I'm a reformed lawyer and author.
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