Monthly Archives: November 2017

“THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY?”— A Chilling and Haunting American Classic

“They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”

A Chilling and Haunting American Classic

Amos Lassen

It is hard to believe that this film was made in 1969 since I remember it so clearly as a film that really influenced the way I see movies. In the long and distinguished career of director Sydney Pollack, he has made a few classics; among them “Three Days of the Condor,” “Tootsie,” and “Jeremiah Johnson” and “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”. In the film we are immersed into the world of a marathon dance contest during the Great Depression and the film gives us a vivid depiction of personal need and exhaustion as a simple contest for a cash prize turns into a battle among desperate people. The film is an adaptation of Horace McCoy’s 1935 novel, “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” and it is a harrowing movie that showcases Pollack’s gifts with actors and his ability to visually communicate the physical toil of the contest and the audience feels every single hour of every single day. This is a frightfully precise viewing experience.

“They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”
Jane Fonda, director Sydney Pollack
1969
© 1978 Bob Willoughby

Looking to attract attention and make some money during the pain of the Great Depression, Master of Ceremonies, Rocky (Gig Young), establishes a dance marathon for able couples at the La Monica Ballroom in Los Angeles. A $1500 cash prize goes to the pair able to remain on their shuffling feet for the longest amount of time, and 100 contestants are willing to vie for the prize. We meet World War I vet Harry (Red Buttons), aspiring actress Alice (Susannah York), farm worker James (Bruce Dern) and his pregnant wife Ruby (Bonnie Bedelia), and Gloria (Jane Fonda), a troubled young woman who finds a partner in Robert (Michael Sarrazin), a young man who wanders into the ballroom out of curiosity. Once the contest begins, the dancers must stay awake for days, which become weeks that turn into months.

“They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”
Gig Young, Susannah York
1969
© 1978 Bob Willoughby

Director Pollack works well with period details making the feature have a documentary atmosphere, as w meet a few of the contestants and understand the rules and demands of the contest. Rocky weeds out sickly types and tries to keep the dance floor healthy enough to preserve a lengthy show for paying audiences. It’s quite a collection of personalities, with primary focus placed on Gloria, a bitter, depressed woman who’s been unable to find a career in the movie business and who turns to marathon dancing for a monetary miracle. She’s confrontational but drawn to Robert’s soft demeanor, requiring his presence to participate and then bonding with him.

We get to know the neuroses and personal histories of the supporting cast as well. Gloria can’t keep away from Ruby, challenging her decision to not only participate in the marathon while pregnant, but to have the baby at all during such bleak times. Alice is hoping for a boost in publicity to her acting career but her need to remain glamorous is blocked by the physical pain of dancing and its painful psychological demands. Harry is far too old to be participating in such an endurance tests, but he’s determined to join the race, struggling to keep up with others as time passes.

“They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”
Jane Fonda
1969
© 1978 Bob Willoughby

Pollack carefully weaves spectacle with intimacy. He preserves Rocky’s presence in the story, with his knowing far more about the marathon details than he lets on to the contestants, while at the same time exercising his showman skills and trying to keep audiences in the dance hall entertained with emotional manipulations. It’s fascinating to watch the feature today and pick out its parallels to contemporary entertainment. “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” also works as a look back at a difficult time in history, when poverty ruled the land causing insane ideas to pop up as ways to make money.

If we take away the forced smiles from the desperate faces, and see what the dance marathons of the 1930s came down to, we have a circus for others who paid to see them. At the end, those who didn’t collapse won cash prizes that were good money during the Depression which was the reason for it all. The marathons offered money to the winners and distraction to everyone else.

Some of the marathons got pretty grim. Contestants tried to dance their way through illnesses and pregnancies, through lice and hallucinations, and the sight of them doing so was part of the show. We see there was elementary sadism in the appeal of the marathons. There was always the possibility that somebody would die, freak out or stand helplessly while a partner collapsed and he lost the investment of hundreds of hours of his life.

Pollack has recreated the marathon era for audiences that are mostly unfamiliar with it. The film holds our attention because it tells us something we didn’t know about human nature and American society.

“They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”
Susannah York
1969 Palomar Pictures
© 1978 Bob Willoughby

The characters seem to have no histories or alternate lives; they exist only within the walls of the ballroom and during the ticking of the official clock. Pollack has life that is boiled down to this silly contest and what he tells us has more to do with lives than contests.

There are not a lot of laughs in “Horses,” because Pollack has directed from the point of view of the contestants. They are bitter with hope of release. The movie’s delicately timed pacing and Pollack’s visual style pull us in and we begin to feel the physical weariness and spiritual desperation of the characters.

The movie begins on a note of alienation and we know what is coming. The title gives it away and when it comes, it is effective not because it is a surprise but because it is inevitable. The performances are excellent throughout. Jane Fonda is hard, unbreakable and filled with hate and fear. Sarrazin can do nothing but stand there and pity her.. Red Buttons, as the sailor who’s a veteran of other marathons and cheerfully teaches everybody the ropes, reminds us of what a wonderful character actor he was and that comedians are the best in certain tragic roles.

In effect, the characters are comedians trapped in tragic roles. They signed up for the three square meals a day and a chance at the prize. They can stop whenever they want to but somehow they can’t stop and as time moves forward, the marathon begins to look more and more like life. We come to realize the horrific lengths to which people will go for some quick money and time in the limelight.

“15: A QUINCEANERA STORY”— A Special Celebration

“15: A Quinceañera Story”

A Special Celebration

Amos Lassen

Zoey is a transgender girl who is dedicating  her quinceañera to her trans godmothers because they were never able to experience a celebration like this of their own. This is one episode of the new HBO series, “15: A Quinceañera Story” that follows several young Latina girls in the United States as they prepare for their quinceañras. Quinceañeras are Latin American traditions that celebrate a girl’s 15th birthday.

The series is made up of four short films airing on four consecutive nights beginning 19 December. The first episode is about Zoey who lives in south Los Angeles with the help of the older trans women in her life. We learn from Zoey’s mother that when Zoey first transitioned, the older trans women started to meet her and help her. The series is directed by Emmy winner Matthew O’Neill and Mexican Grammy-winning musician Thalía Sodi.

The series contains stories of deportation or acceptance of gender change, as in the case of Zoey, Sodi who was born male and we see the support and unconditional love of her godmothers.

“FRENCH KISSES”— Six Short Films

 

 

“French Kisses”

Six Short Films

Amos Lassen

It has often been said that no one makes a movie like the French and here you get to see six French short films that exemplify that statement. Unless we have the chance to go to LGBT Film Festivals, we rarely get the chance to see shorts and in many cases these are powerful explorations on how we live.

“Apollo” is about a teenager who is insecure and spends his free time fantasizing about an ever more muscular body and an even bigger penis.

“Herculaneum” is a clever look at three “appointments,” two men and a growling volcano.

“The Body of Angels” introduces us to Remi and Gabriel, two young men looking for and finding love.

In “En Retour” we get a drama about Jean-Marc meets young Simon for dinner followed by extreme drama.

“Ruptures” is the story of Gabriel and Andre, ex-boyfriends who surprisingly meet again for the first time in ten years.

“Juliet Electrique” looks at Thomas and Victor, two 14-year-olds who face their most secret fears and desires on an abandoned bridge.

These short films have been playing at festivals and I always find it interesting that short films can in many cases, do what some longer full-length features try to do but don’t always make it.

“STRAPPED FOR DANGER”— A Comedy

“STRAPPED FOR DANGER”

A Comedy

Amos Lassen

While I take reviewing very seriously, sometimes I need a break from watching movies seriously and try to enjoy a form for what it is— a form of entertainment. That is why I took the recommendation of a Facebook friend to have a look at “Strapped for Danger”. It is all about three male strippers (Anthony Gaudette, Diego Guevara, Dan Mauro) who manage to pull off an almost-perfect heist but then “find themselves being tracked down by a completely unhinged, homophobic cop (Anna Rizzo).”

They hide in a fraternity house during Hell Week and they get into much more trouble than when they were trying to escape.

There is nothing to think about here as this is a simple little comedy that is well made and has plenty of laughs. I laughed all the way through and this is the way to make a low budget film that has no goal but to entertain. You can find it online so take a break from the holidays and watch it.

“Hurting Like Hell, Living with Gusto: My Battle with Chronic Pain” by Victoria Stopp— The Nature of Pain

Stopp, Victoria. “Hurting Like Hell, Living with Gusto: My Battle with Chronic Pain”, (McFarland Health Topics), McFarland, 2017.

The Nature of Pain

Amos Lassen

Sometimes we forget that there are aspects of life over which we have little or no control. These include death and pain. Death will always be a mystery simply because no one who has experienced it can tell us about it and it remains “scary”. Pain, on the other hand, is something everyone deals with and is consciously aware of it. Of course, no one wants to be in pain and we often forget that pain is sending us a message that there is something going wrong in our bodies. Then there is the pain that comes when the dentist gives us a Novocain shot but we also understand that this is done to prevent more serious pain. We all have pain and like Virginia Stopp says it is an “unforgiving equalizer” with no regard for social status, race or gender. Pain can be a pain for those who suffer from it chronically since it involves finding out its source and to do so there are seemingly endless appointments, diagnoses, prescriptions and medical bills.

In the preface to this book, writer Stopp tells us that she had no concept of chronic pain until it took hold of her life and transformed it. She is, by profession, an Emergency Medical Technician so she knows what suffering is and has a sense of how to deal with it but we all know that regardless of how well trained we are, we have difficulties dealing with what happens on a personal level (and I will get to that).

Stopp shares what it is to be a health-care professional and a patient and she does so with candor and grace as he life changes and she has to live with pain that is often debilitating. The expression, “I feel your pain” comes very much alive in the pages of this book.

Because of her profession, she saw a great deal of suffering and hurt but she tells us that she “never saw others’ torment as something” that she would have to deal with herself one day. She certainly never thought that pain would threaten everything she did. So when she had to deal with chronic pain, she had to learn what that meant and how to deal with in. Somehow she felt that this pain would leave her but in this she was wrong. Doctors , although they tied, were unable to help her and this devastated her. She was surprised at how easy it was to get doctors to write prescriptions for narcotics and life took on a new meaning. She learned that her pain was really “hers” and that no one else could imagine how it affected her.

But Stopp learned something else from her pain and that was that she was the only person responsible for her life and that she was in control of it. She also learned that she could never give up for to do so was to lose control. Perhaps, the most difficult thing that she faced was how to ask for help and that there is no shame in doing so.

Now you might ask yourself why anyone would want to read a book about pain and I can answer that succinctly— the prose in this book is gorgeous and we get to meet a real person who chose the words to tell her story. Stopp shares her emotions and thoughts in ways that allow us to identify with her and if we want to include her bouts with her chronic pain, we can do so or not. This is Victoria Stopp’s story and she is a fine storyteller. Besides, how much pain can she write about? While that pain is crucial to her story, this is also the story of a vibrant woman who is determined to succeed despite what life throws at her and succeed she does. We all love stories in which characters beat the antagonist. They give us hope that one day we will be able to do the same. This is so much more than just a beautiful read. It is a memoir to be cherished and referred to when we are feeling down.

“TRUMPING DEMOCRACY’— How Trump Won

“Trumping Democracy”

How Trump Won

Amos Lassen

Donald Trump won the American Presidency by three states and this victory was engineered by ultra conservative billionaire Robert Mercer, who bought Breitbart News and put Steve Bannon into the campaign. Another Mercer company, Cambridge Analytica, was able to acquire data on millions of Americans and micro-targeted by zip code voters who were most likely to swing for Trump. In the last days of the campaign, they bought Facebook “dark posts,” deploying manipulative ads that were seen only We now know that Trump’s, a victory engineered by an ultra-conservative faction that came to power using fake news, lies and psychometrics.

“Trumping Democracy” is documentary that follows multi-billionaire Robert Mercer, who bought Breitbart News and funded the effort to win the Presidency while inserting Steve Bannon into the presidential campaign as its manager. Using data of millions of Americans (gained from Facebook, Google, banks, credit companies, social security and more), Cambridge Analytica, a Mercer-owned company, used tactics that had been perfected during the United Kingdom’s Brexit campaign and identified voters whom they believed could swing for Trump. “Dark posts” is a little-known Facebook feature which they used to deploy highly manipulative and personalized messages that could be seen only by the user and disappeared after being read. What we see here is that data trumped democracy and America gained a new president who was totally out of reach with the reality of the world. It was when Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million votes but won the Electoral College, the debate about the way we elect a president became more urgent.

This documentary gives us insights that calls into question the process and relevancy of the Electoral College as well as points out disturbing factors that have been brought on by the digital age. Director Thomas Huchon, a French journalist and documentary filmmaker shows how unvetted information and disinformation can quickly go viral on the Internet. As he searched to understand how Trump gained the presidency, he examined cutting-age digital tools, dark money, and a network of interrelated players all of whom had common ideological goals.

At the center of it all is hedge-fund billionaire and computer scientist Robert Mercer. Mercer was a staunch supporter of altering campaign election funding rules especially those that that for sixty years had reined in individual and corporate donations.

Huchon breaks down his film into three chapters: “Lies”, “Cover-Up” and “Manipulation”. The first two chapters look at better-known material. The third chapter connects the players and this is alarming. Using a group of experts from journalism, political strategy, law and technology, we get some very unsettling information.

We first see a New York Trump voter who is disgusted with mainstream media and who gets his news from online outlets, including “pseudo-news” sites that push bogus stories. We hear from Paul Horner who speaks about fictitious stories he has posted that are disseminated by right wing outlets. He has something to say about a fictitious post that he wrote and was picked up by Eric Trump who then retweeted it with the hashtag #CrookedHillary.

Next we get the back-story of Breitbart News and see it defined as a platform promoting anti-immigrant sentiment, misogyny, and white supremacist content. We see a graph that shows how the Breitbart readership rose dramatically in 2017 during the months of October and November, from 45 million monthly users to over 100 million.

Political strategist, Tad Devine shows the changed habits of how the public consumes news and we see that it is not like the days when three broadcasting stations delivered the nightly report. He puts emphasis on Trump’s “delegitimization of the mainstream media.” Pollster Ben Tulchin shares that Conservatives don’t believe the reporting of the New York Times, the Washington Post, or CNN.

While a candidate, Trump stated he would express facts “plainly and honestly” but the nonpartisan fact-checking website Politifact found that Trump’s statements had a 4 percent veracity rate and that 33 percent of his assertions were actually false.

From this, we understand that Fox News and Breitbart helped Trump to create and propagate his own truth. Trump saw himself as the only person who could make America a “winner” again. At the same time, behind the scenes, Mercer took the opportunity to put his unlimited funds into the service of his extreme vision of limited government.

It is not a coincidence that the three entities, Breitbart News, Glittering Steel Productions and Renaissance Technologies (a hedge fund of which Mercer was co-CEO but has since stepped down) all share the same building address in Los Angeles. It was at RenTech that Mercer used the trading algorithm he innovated to make a fortune. Mercer has become a top billionaire on the political scene. Besides his own family foundation, he funds many conservative think tanks. Tax documents clearly show the recipients of Mercer’s support. Unsurprisingly, the Heritage Foundation, the Media Research Center, the Government Accountability Institute, and the Heartland Institute are on the list. Mercer paid for an ad against the placement of a mosque near the World Trade Center locality.

In 2011, Mercer invested $10 million in Breitbart News and developed an arm of the media to promote his point of view. Steve Bannon took over Breitbart and publicly announced that it was his goal to “deconstructing the government of the United States.”

During the 2016 election season, Mercer backed Ted Cruz and put $13 million into Cruz’s “Keep the Promise” campaign. As Trump decimated his opponents, Mercer shifted his allegiance to Trump and gave the campaign $15 million.

With major money invested in Trump, Mercer moved to take over the campaign reins in July of 2016. His daughter Rebekah met with Trump and offered more money along with the “talents” of Bannon to spearhead the campaign. Conway who was once on board the Mercer train for Cruz joined the team.

To see how all of this played out, you must see the documentary and if you are like me, you will watch it in a state of shock as all those ideas you have had about the election turn out to be true and then some.

We hear from a host of experts including Psychometric scientist Dr. Michael Kosinski, PhD Psychology (University of Cambridge); David Carroll, associate professor of media design at the School of Art, Media and Technology at Parsons The New School for Design; Rosie Gray, Whitehouse Correspondent, The Atlantic; and Brendan Fischer, Director, Federal & FEC Reform at the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington, D.C. based non-partisan nonprofit, the tracks campaign finance, government ethics and political transparency.

Trump has become beholden to outside interests and his entanglements became clear when money and paper trails show up in the records filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). There were no payments in the Trump campaign for Bannon’s salary. However, through a Mercer PAC, there are recurring payments to Glittering Steel, the company run by Bannon.

Huchon returns to his original question of how Trump won the Presidency in chapter three of the documentary. This begins with the London firm, Strategic Communications Library (SCL) whose mission it is to evaluate data to determine “what impacts people and how they think.” It’s known as  “Psychological operations (PSYOP)” and provides “behavioral influence planning and evaluation” for clients who want to “influence or treat a problem.” Its roster of clients includes NATO, the British Ministry of Defense, the NSA, and the U.S. State Department. They use methods to manipulate people without their awareness and often create a problem in order to solve it. SCL’s “subsidiary” branch to manage data is Cambridge Analytica. They set up shop in the United States and partnered with Mercer and Bannon became Vice President. Cambridge Analytica employed “data-modeling” by taking readily available personal data off the web as well as buying it from banks, credit card companies, and the social media giants and were able to accrue four to five thousand pieces of data for 230 million adults in America. This is all legal!!!

Expert Michal Kosinski explains digital data and psychological profiling and explains how Facebook “Likes” can create an accurate assessment of a subject’s religious views, politics, sexual orientation, personality and intelligence.

Cambridge Analytica offered their services to Trump, who was not interested until he learned they had worked on the successful Brexit initiative. Then the two parties connected in June 2016. By the end of July, Trump had paid over $6 million to Cambridge Analytica. Another $5 million would come in the near future. It was assumed that Trump didn’t have a chance at winning the popular vote but if he went after wavering voters in key swing states, he could win the Electoral College. The goal was to isolate conservative Democrats who might vote for Trump and geo-target them. Looking at Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, Cambridge Analytica concentrated on those undecideds by defining thirty-two personality types and determining which voters were the most vulnerable to Trump’s messages of fear and anger.

Before the election, Trump revisited those geographical areas and anxious voters received personal messages on Facebook that were tailored explicitly to them. These posts disappeared hours after appearing in the specified user’s timeline. They remain untraceable and without any record except on Facebook’s server. It worked and Trump got 77,000 votes from those three swing states.

I understand that during the documentary’s production Cambridge Analytica refused all requests for interviews. However, in October, the company was asked to share their records by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) and we can only hope that this is a sign that there is still hope for democracy and the democratic way of life.

“THE THETA GIRL”— An Existential and Violent Horror Film

“The Theta Girl”

An Existential and Violent Horror Film

Amos Lassen

First-time filmmakers David Axe and Christopher Bickel bring us a gory drug-induced mystery with “The Theta Girl”. In the opening sequence Theta Girl, Gayce (Victoria Elizabeth Donofrio) walks the streets at night and this sets the tone for what is to come. Gayce tries to sell a hallucinogenic drug called Theta that brings about a metaphysical experience that is shared with other users. However, after an intense trip, Gayce’s friends are brutally murdered and it’s up to her and her dealer, Derek (Darrelle D. Dove) to find and stop the killer.

The film explores surreal explorations of consciousness and apocalyptic nihilism through the use of local music (the film was shot in South Carolina), bloody practical effects, and without care for to the viewers’ comfort levels. We see rampant drug use, full-frontal nudity, gay and straight orgies, and gory death and these are all tied to conflict “between a religion-fueled murder spree and a lust for righteous spiritual revenge.”

The acting, especially Donofrio as Grace and Shane Silman as Brother Marcus, is excellent. We see that a low budget film can still be a quality movie. Of course, it has some rough spots but it is completely entertaining in all of its aspects.

“Theta” was considered to be a “fun drug” until Gayce’s best friends get methodically and brutally murdered and she realizes that she must do something about it. The film is filled with “sex, drugs, punk rock, brutality, gore, revenge, and self-actualization.” It is an assault on the senses.

The story is reminiscent of the 60s and 70s with the themes of “turning on, tuning in, and dropping out.” We have bad trips, naked orgies, horrific murders, God, and the nature of reality.

When Gayce decides to find out more about the drug, the movie becomes weird and things get disturbing. The film explores the surreal explorations of consciousness an as it does we see rampant drug use, full-frontal nudity, both gay and straight orgies, and gory death as well as a conflict between a religion-fueled murder spree and a lust for righteous spiritual revenge.

“ROMEU & ROMEU”— Another Look

“Romeu & Romeu”

Another Look

Amos Lassen

Now that I received my own copy of “Romeu & Romeu”, I decided to have another look. The web series is a loose adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” by a group of young Brazilians who have moved the drama into contemporary times. Set in Verona, Brazil, the Campelos and Monteiros families have hated each other for generations.

Openly gay Romulo (Arthur Chermont) falls for Ramon (João Mesquita) from the family that he has been taught to hate.  Ramon finds his grandfather’s diary that reveals the fact that original fight was over his gay lover a case of inherent homophobia that has been forgotten through the years.

As the story moves forward, half of the characters let us know that they are gay too, although most of them have issues about it. On the DVD, we get the first five episodes of the series and even though they are amateurish, they are also charming and fun to watch. The focus here is on Romulo and Ramon who work on acknowledging their feelings as they begin a relationship even though it must be secret and hidden from their families. Additionally, Romulu has been diagnosed Parkinson’s disease and we see how he and his family cope with it. We learn about how it is treated and its effects so, in effect, the series looks at both the lack of understanding that most people have about the disease as well as homophobia (which is not really a major issue here).

The series was co-created and co-written by its two young stars and is directed by Jonathan Mendonça. While the first episode is a bit stiff with some very mediocre, the rewards come in the ensuing episodes.

“ALPHA DELTA ZATAN”— A Supplemental Review

“Alpha Delta Zatan”

A Supplemental Review

Amos Lassen

I do not often review a movie more than once but every once in a while I do so because I want new filmmakers to get a leg up and it is important that we support them. Such is the case with “Alpha Delta Zatan”. From the moment that the film opens in a fraternity house, we know that danger is lurking and that the house is not a safe place to be. When a guy is stalked and then killed, we see that the hunch was correct. Now this fraternity is no ordinary fraternity— it is known for producing leadership so when a new pledge comes aboard, he is proud to do so.

However, something strange is going on and fraternity brothers begin to disappear. One of the pledges begins having strange dreams about someone wearing a harlequin mask.

We eventually see what’s going on and why the killings are taking place, but it takes a while to get there I learned that in order to truly enjoy this film, the viewer must forget about reality. I just wish the horror sequences were more than repetitious and that we knew more about the characters.

Now if you like handsome and well-built young men, this is a movie for you since all of the characters fir that description. There is also a good deal of homoeroticism but there is no sex. I was not expecting any great acting or storyline and that was what I got. I also figured I would not be entertained but I must say that I did enjoy the film on face value. Besides, every once in a while it is just fun to watch a movie as a bit of diversion. What we see on the screen is fun even though there is a lot to be desired about the other aspects of the film. However, what I really see here is some great potential for filmmakers Armand Petri and Art Arutyunyan.

 

At first I thought I would be seeing a homoerotic film that was filled with camp but it did not take long to realize that this is not camp but rather a serious attempt to make a horror flick with gay sensibilities. There is really no storyline aside from the murdering of fraternity brothers based upon the killer’s secret agenda. Even with that, the film is a step above others of this kind. Now I must say that the gore is real and there is plenty of it. There are also a couple of plot twists to hold our interest while not looking at the actors. I suppose I could classify this as soft-core porn without sex and yes I recommend it just not as a serious film.

“An Absent God” by Vincent Wilde— Detective-for-Hire, Cody Harper

Wilde, Vincent. “An Absent God”, Cleis, 2017.

Detective-for-Hire, Cody Harper

Amos Lassen

Some of you detective novel readers met detective-for-hire Cody Harper for the first time in “The Combat Zone”. For those of you who did not, here is another chance to do so. In “An Absent God”, Harper deals with Rodney Jessup, a pious reverend who was also a losing presidential candidate. Even though Jessup was involved with the Combat Zone killer, Cody finds himself unable to refuse the case that entails finding out who been threatening Jessup and his family.

Set in New York City, this is a dangerous case but there is also a touch of romance that comes when Cody meets Tony Vargas, Jessup’s bodyguard, and there is an immediate connection that is not just physical. With the help of Tony and Desdemona, (Cody’s gorgeous cross-dressing persona), Cody plans to close this case quickly and imprison the guilty party. However, a lot goes on before that point and of course to relate that here would ruin the read for many.

You do not have to read “The Combat Zone” to enjoy “An Absent God” since each book stands alone. Do not plan on solving the case yourself because there are many twists and turns and these will have you turning pages as quickly as possible.