Friday, October 11, 2013

The Famous and the Dead, by T. Jefferson Parker

When I saw this book on the shelf of my local library I thought it would be an interesting mystery or police procedural.  The book jacket description led me on:  the main character is LA County deputy Charlie Hood, on loan to the ATF to work on cross border arms trade with Mexico.  Another main character is deputy Bradley Jones who is apparently corrupt; an employee of a Mexican cartel.

What I didn't know was that this is one in a series of Mr. Parker's books featuring these characters.  Although there were enough character development gaps in the book to indicate this fact within the first  quarter of the novel.   That was annoying, but not fatal.

Another thing I didn't know, and I'll put it here even though it may be a spoiler because it adds a fundamentally different texture to what I had thought was a straight forward mystery, is that a significant supporting character is in the employ of - well, the devil1, for lack of a better explanation.  And no, I wasn't expecting that at all.

All in all the book was interesting enough to read, but not enough to compel me to read whatever previous volumes are in the series.

The Famous and the Dead (Charlie Hood)

1 It surprised me to read in the Wikipedia entry on the devil that, "Judaism contains no overt concept of a devil, Christianity and Islam have variously regarded the Devil as a rebellious fallen angel that tempts humans to sin, if not commit evil deeds himself."  After all, it seems as though the devil is quite present in the book of Job in both the Christian and Jewish Old Testament (aka Tanakh or Hebrew Bible) versions.  In Christian interpretations of Job, the word Satan is used.  But in the Hebrew version (Iyov), the translation is Adversary.  So what's up; is the Adversary the devil?  

A couple of things come out of this investigation.  First, the Hebrew word satan (שָׂטָן) translates to adversary. The idea is that satan is a metaphor for mankind's inclination towards evil, or yetzer hara, which tempts us to do the wrong thing.  (The equivalent inclination towards good is yetzer hatov.)  Sounds like the devil?  Well no; it seems that Judaism is to maniacal in its devotion to monotheism that the notion of a figure other than God having substantial power is abhorrent. 

One view is to think of satan as an angel of God whose job is to add challenges to man's choice of good over evil; this makes the choice (of good) all the more meaningful.  Another view is that angels lack free will because they are angels, not people, and so they can't be disobedient or fallen.

It turns out that either of the Christian or Jewish interpretations of satan work identically in Mr. Parker's book.  But I thought that the research was interesting.  And this is an example of how reading just one simple crime novel can distract me for a day!

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