Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Monday, November 03, 2021

In a similar vein with the fabled Pentagon pizza index, where upticks in Domino’s deliveries to the DOD presaged military action in Kuwait and elsewhere, today’s New York Times Metro Diary includes an even more unhealthy indicator of daily events:

…I noticed that the entrance to the Nos. 4 and 5 Wall Street subway station was littered with cigarette butts on some days and had only a few on other days.

I realized, after a week of observation, that it had to do with the day’s Dow Jones performance. A lot of cigarette butts meant a bad day for the market. A few, not so bad a day.

These days, there aren’t so many. But then again, my ride to work isn’t that crowded.

This is, of course, a trailing indicator, rather than a forecasting one. Still works.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 11/03/2021 01:27:54 PM
Category: Business, Creative, New Yorkin'
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Last month, I received a couple of review copies of Hachette Book Group’s latest book releases, courtesy of Hachette online marketing director Kelly Leonard. Below is the first review I’m posting, for Brad Meltzer’s “The Book of Lies”:

Author Brad Meltzer obviously invested a lot of research and creative energy into “Book of Lies”, all of which amounted to a fictional tribute to the Golden Age Superman and his primary creator, Jerry Siegel. Considering my own past affection for the superhero genre, I really wanted to enjoy this book, especially since it piqued my curiosity based on its indirect Batman reference (I’ve always preferred Batman over Superman as far as DC characters go).

Unfortunately, I can’t say that Meltzer successfully pulled this one off.

The basic plot is Superman meets “The Da Vinci Code”. The story centers around Calvin Harper, a psychologically-scarred misanthrope who stumbles upon his long-lost father, Lloyd, one night. Calvin and Lloyd have a strained relationship, which provides the tension as Calvin gets sucked into a fairly convoluted Biblical-origined mystery involving contraband clues, rogue cops, and secret societies. Intertwined with the action is a (largely fictional) piecing-together of Jerry Siegel’s family background, with a history of Siegel’s father meant to parallel Calvin’s relationship with his own father.

(Subtle meta-reference: Calvin, preferring to be called “Cal”, refers to his father by his first name, Lloyd; pair those together and you get “Cal-L”, which translates to Kal-El, Superman/Clark Kent’s Kryptonian name. Just throwing that out there.)

The plot is intricate enough, and while it’s probably par for the course for a historical thriller, it simply doesn’t hold up. Far too many pivotal points where the protagonists are in a jam are resolved through circumstances that really strain credulity; for instance, the apocryphal story about what young Siegel was looking at outside his window in the year 1930-something becomes a key clue in advancing the story. Even the pay-off in the revelation of the story’s arch-villains — both the immediate mastermind menace known as The Prophet, and the too-familiar early 20th Century group of kooks that provide the backstory — ultimately disappoints.

The character development is uneven at best. Calvin is credible enough as the primary narrative voice throughout the story, although the tortured-soul angle grates after a while. But the other figures veer from little more than window dressing to necessary plot devices. In particular, Meltzer lavishes a lot of attention upon the main bad guy, Ellis, only to have him improbably devolve into a nearly inconsequential straw-man menace — a lot of build-up for nothing.

The killing stroke is the dialogue, which is nothing short of clunky. As I alluded, Meltzer had a ton of background material to weave into this story: Everything from the mystery cult speculations of the true story of Cain and Abel (the crux of the narrative drive in “Lies”) to the history of Cleveland (home of Jerry Siegel). Unfortunately, he (and his editors) didn’t find an elegant enough way to express it, resulting in a lot of overwrought speechifying by various characters. As interesting as those pieces of information were, they simply didn’t flow into the story’s pace in a realistic way.

All told, “Lies” is a valiant labor of love. The crafting of an involved narrative around the father of superhero comics is worthy of admiration from Michael Chabon, of “Kavalier & Clay” fame. I imagine that for fans of the thriller genre, it’s got enough key elements to make it work. And it’s certainly a fast-paced read. But the premise is not probable enough, nor sufficiently developed, to make it a satisfactory work of fiction.

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That’s my view of it! Hopefully, I won’t be included in any follow-up to Meltzer’s round-up of critical commentary for this book (not that I’m a big enough fish to merit any such attention):

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 11/03/2021 12:48:49 PM
Category: Book Review, Pop Culture
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