Monday, August 31, 2015

Avenue Of Spies: A True Story Of Terror, Espionage, And One American Family's Heroic Resistance In Nazi-Occupied Paris

Veteran journalist and author Joseph C. Goulden offers a good review of Alex Kershaw's Avenue of Spies for the Washington Times. 

In 1940, France suffered what was arguably the worst humiliation ever inflicted on a supposed world power: a swift military victory by German invaders, climaxed by the decision to form governments (one in Paris, another in southern Vichy) subservient to the conquerors. The 84-year-old Marshal Philippe Petain, a hero of World War I, head of the Vichy state, blamed France’s collapse on liberal decadence, “an unholy trinity of socialists, agnostics and urban intellectuals.”
Many prominent Parisians flocked to the German cause, including such personages as the perfume/fashion czarina Coco Chanel, who asserted, “it is your [German] mission to make these Jews cede their property to Aryans.”
But one prominent American resident in Paris disagreed. He was Dr. Sumner Jackson, of the American Hospital, who with his wife Toquette and son, Phillip, then aged 12, were permitted to remain in France. The Nazis respected Dr. Jackson’s surgical skills.
What the Germans did not realize was that Jackson soon put his talents to the service of the nascent French Resistance, a relative handful of brave citizens who chose not to submit to tyranny.
You can read the rest of the review via the below link: 

A Little Night Music: Miles Davis' 'Human Nature'

For a little night music you can listen to the late, great Miles Davis perform Human Nature via the below link:

Sunday, August 30, 2015

DEA Agents On Hunting Pablo Escobar, El Chapo, And The Accuracy Of Netflix’s ‘Narcos’

I've been watching and enjoying Netflix's Narcos this weekend.

Vinnie Mancuso at the Observer offers an interesting interview with the two DEA special agents portrayed in the series.

Although they haven’t been official partners since 1994, it’s not hard to gauge the rapport between former DEA Agents Javier Peña and Steve Murphy — Mr. Peña is quiet, more thoughtful, Mr. Murphy an energetic West Virginia native with the accent to match. When I met up with them in their room at the San Carlos Hotel on the Upper East Side, the two men could not have seemed any more unassuming. If you saw them on the street, you couldn’t picture streaming-giant Netflix basing a sprawling ten-episode series on their lives. But then you start to hear their stories. 

Both Mr. Murphy and Mr. Peña were part of the Search Bloc, an informal task force in Colombia created in 1992 solely to hunt drug trafficker Pablo Escobar. At the time the world didn’t even know what to make of Escobar, who in his time would be seen as both a Robin Hood-esque savior and mass-murderer, all while making the Forbes International Billionaire list. Bottom line, Escobar and his Medellin Cartel ushered in the idea of high-production cocaine trafficking, which eventually made its way to our Miami shores. 

In the years leading to Escobar’s “imprisonment” in La Catedral, and the violent 18-months that proceeded his escape, Murphy and Peña played their parts to hunt down and stop the most powerful drug lord in the world. In 2013, executive-producer Eric Newman called Mr. Murphy to discuss an idea he had, a TV show about the hunt for Escobar that would focus specifically on Murphy and Peña. 

Two years later, Netflix is set to release all ten episodes of Narcos next Friday, with Boyd Holbrook playing Steve Murphy and Game of Thrones‘ Pedro Pascal as Javier Peña. What started as a chat with Mr. Murphy and Mr. Pena about the show turned into a first-hand account of one of the most violent times in human history, and what we’re doing wrong to make sure it doesn’t happen again. 

Observer: You guys are “technical consultants” on Narcos. What does that entail?  

Steve: A paycheck [laughs] No, they call us with questions. Once we went through the whole story, the whole manhunt. As they would start writing and start filming as well, they would call and say ‘okay, what type of weapons did you have available back then? What did the good guys carry? What did the bad guys carry? How do you do a surveillance? How do you handle informants?’ 

The first time Pedro [Pascal] is introduced in Narcos as Javier, [Boyd Holbrook’s] narration says ‘this is the asshole.’ 

Javier: [laughs] I mean, we told them the story. We told them the facts of what happened. There are some people, which is true, that I didn’t get along with at the embassy. Especially the CIA people, I never got a long with them. So they’re using some of that. 

... How important to you think Narcos is in terms of awareness? 

Steve: There are a couple of ways to look at this, and I’m going to get on my soap box a little bit. One is: we all should look at history so we don’t repeat the same mistakes.Because now we’re looking for Chapo Guzman again, right? So they’re using what we did 20 years ago as a model. Has cocaine trafficking changed any? No. As long as there is supply and demand, simple laws of economics, someone will supply the product. Do we need to do away with the enforcement arm because it hasn’t worked as effectively as we want it to? Absolutely not. You still have to have that enforcement arm to try and make people comply. Maybe we should do a better job of educating. You have “Just Say No,” you have “DARE,” I think they’re outstanding programs. But, it’s not enough. We need to do something more. Legalization is not the answer. Just go look at history. There are multiple countries in Europe that have tried legalization, and it has not worked in one place yet. Now we’re going with legalizing marijuana here in the United States, for medicinal purposes. Okay, if there is a legitimate medicinal purpose, okay. Let that person smoke pot. But not these thousands and thousands of people. If we’re going to have these marijuana cultivation farms, and distribution centers, let’s impose some standards on the people who run those places. A lot of the time, if you check that person’s rap sheet, they’ve been arrested multiple times. There’s no professionalism other than ‘well, I’ve been smoking dope for 20 years.’ What’s the answer? I don’t know. If I knew, we’d all be rich, and we’d be in a fancy office for this interview and not a hotel room. 

You can read the rest of the interview via the below link:

Thriller Writer Frederick Forsyth Reveals His Cold War Intelligence Work And Tells Of His Early Newspaper Work

Matt Leclerc at offers a piece on one of my favorite writers, Frederick Forsyth, author of The Day of the Jackal and other classic thrillers.

With the publication of Forsyth's The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue, Forsyth is speaking of his early life doing intelligence work for the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), commonly called MI6 by the press and public.

He also speaks about his early days as a journalist.

Ashford-born author and journalist Frederick Forsyth today revealed his past working as an MI6 operative at the height of the Cold War.

Forsyth, famous for his espionage novels including The Day of the Jackal and The Odessa File, speaks about his time working undercover for more than 20 years in an interview with The Sunday Times. 
He started out working for his hometown newspaper, the Kentish Express, as a 17-year-old cub reporter in 1956 before starting his National Service.

In the interview, published today, he tells of his time working in East Germany, running several missions to help out MI6 throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

It comes as he publishes his memoir called The Outsider.

Speaking to Sky News this morning he said: "It doesn't do any harm now to mention various adventures that were had way back. We're talking a long time ago.

"It was the Cold War, it was serious and dangerous.

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:

Act, Kill, Win: Anthony Horowitz, The Author Of The James Bond Continuation Novel, 'Trigger Mortis,' Wants The Old Blunt Instrument Back: Says Recent Bond Movies Portray 007 As Weak

John Binham at the British newspaper the Telegraph offers a piece on Anthony Horowitz, the author of the new James Bond continuation novel, on how the recent Bond films have portrayed 007 as weak.

For more than 50 years, James Bond films have been feted as the ultimate action movies, with ever more spectacular special effects, sinister villains and an endless stream of glamourous love interests.
But, according to the author officially anointed as successor to 007’s creator Ian Fleming, modern James Bond films have lost their way because they make the fictional secret agent appear too soft.
Anthony Horowitz, who was chosen by the Fleming estate to write the latest James Bond novel, Trigger Mortis, said Skyfall – the first Bond film to smash through the $1 billion mark in global box office takings – just makes him “angry” because of the way it portrays 0007 as “weak”. 

And he voiced dismay at signs that the upcoming film Spectre will delve into Bond’s “doubts” and “insecurities” instead of concentrating on defeating villains.

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Simon Schama Reviews Anthony Horowitz's James Bond Continuation Novel, 'Trigger Mortis'

Noted British historian and Financial Times contributor Simon Schama offers an interesting review of Anthony Horowitz's James Bond continuation novel Trigger Mortis in the Financial Times.

Scanning the dim interior of Le Caprice, the writer failed to see anyone answering the description of the man he was looking for. There were the prosperous bald lunching with the dangerously chic. A scented cloud of Guerlain hung over the room. “You would be . . . ?” asked the girl at the desk, looking steadily at the writer from beneath heavy mascara. “The reservation should be under . . . ” He tailed off, wondering if 007 had booked under his real name. Unlikely, he surmised. He was already feeling uncomfortable. It was unseasonably warm for April. Normally he would have lunched tieless but 007 was Old School, so he had suited up and knotted a dark red silk tie at the strangling collar.
A light tap on the shoulder. The writer spun round to find himself faced by a feral smile set in a lightly bronzed face. The writer took mental notes: chin, cleft; eyes, chestnut with little specks of gold in the iris; black hair thickly swept back; sardonic eyebrows. “Mr Horowitz, if I’m not mistaken?” The voice was low, studiously charming, a burr as soft as Scottish heather. Bond separated the syllables as if the writer’s name was a private joke: Mister Horror-Wits. “Shall we?”
Perspiring freely, Horowitz followed the dove-grey silk and wool suit to a corner table. “Now tell me, Mr Horowitz, what makes you think you will succeed where others have stumbled? Not quite your usual line of work is it?” The cat smile again. “And the stakes are so high, aren’t they? Mind you, I like a man with a taste for risk.” The writer felt a bead of sweat form on his brow and prayed it would not run down his nose. All appetite lost, he wondered for the first time if this had really been a good idea.
Oh yes, it was! Anthony Horowitz has written a humdinger of a Bond story, so cunningly crafted and thrillingly paced that 007’s creator would have been happy to have owned it. The screenwriter and novelist, a life-long fan, knows that, when he wanted to, Ian Fleming could turn on the literary juice with the best of them. The French beach scene that opens On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a brilliant piece of atmospheric writing, at once innocent and sinister like Fleming’s whole project, and the ending of You Only Live Twice, with its debt to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s fable “Rappaccini’s Daughter”, is so unexpectedly off-kilter that, in the film, producers Saltzman and Broccoli had to replace it with the psycho-ferret Donald Pleasence version of Blofeld whizzing through his fake volcano on — the latest thing! — a monorail. But from his brilliant first chapter on, Horowitz is a pitch-perfect mimic of the Fleming one-line punch: “Rain swept into London like an angry bride.” “Silence sat in the room, an uninvited guest.” He even gets the clichés spot on. “Just he and the Maserati, plunging into the green hell.”
You can read the rest of the review via the below link:

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Coming Yakuza War In Japan

Jake Adelstein, the author of Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter On the Police Beat in Japan, offers a piece at the Daily Beast on the yakuza crime war coming to Japan.

TOKYO — This year should have been a good one for Japan’s largest organized crime organization, the Yamaguchi-gumi, the one yakuza group that just about ruled them all. But as it marks its 100th year in business, internal squabbles may split the organization apart; it could also result in the kind of large-scale gang warfare that hasn’t been seen in decades.
The Japanese police are on full alert. Thursday (Japan time), the sprawling Yamaguchi-gumi headquarters in Kobe was besieged by a fleet of black Mercedes-Benzes and high-end Toyota Lexuses, transporting the top dogs of the Yamaguchi-gumi, dressed in their finest black suits, for emergency meetings.
The Yamaguchi-gumi is expected to splinter into factions with some gangs supporting current top boss Kenichi Shinoda aka Shinobu Tsukasa, 73, and others supporting a rival group, primarily based in western Japan, that opposes him and his parent faction, the Kodo-kai.
Japan’s organized crime groups, known collectively as the “yakuza,” i.e., “Losers,” or “Gokudo” (the ultimate path), are different from the mafias we know about in the West. They are treated as if they were some sort of controlled substance, dangerous but accepted within certain parameters.

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:

You can also read my Crime Beat column on Tokyo Vice via the below link: