Friday, September 08, 2006

When the Astors Owned New York & Messenger of Truth

I've been reading online this morning about ABC changing elements of the TV movie "The Path to 9/11" because of complaints made by President Bill Clinton and his former staff about inaccuracies. If all it takes is a letter from a president to fix inaccuracies in the reporting by the press, Bush should get his pen out and start writing! Doesn't it seem a bit hypocritical for ABC to change elements in a TV movie which is partially fictionalized because Clinton and his cronies insist that it be completely and utterly factual? Since when does the media cave in to that kind of pressure? It's funny how those who yell loudest about freedom of speech only seem to want it for themselves.

When the Astors Owned New York: Blue Bloods and Grand Hotels in a Gilded Age by Justin Kaplan is a bit of a disappointment. From the title and description, I was looking for a biography of the Astor family along with a taste of history about the times they lived in. While there is some brief biographical information in the book, much of it is focused on the hotels they (and others) built. Pages are allotted to the Palmer House in Chicago (which they didn’t build), but far less to John Jacob Astor’s death on the Titanic. His scandalous divorce and marriage to a much younger woman are also glossed over. His uncle William Waldorf Astor’s life is covered in far greater detail, but even he doesn’t get full coverage. Gossipy bits and pieces of the times are dropped here and there. Kaplan goes overboard in quoting Henry James in his eloquence about the beauty of hotels. There are pages of quotes from James, often repeated. The book meanders and repeats itself as well. I suppose not much should be expected from such a slim volume, but I was hoping for more.

Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear is the fourth book in the Maisie Dobbs mystery series. Maisie is back to investigate the mysterious death of an artist the day before his big showing. The artist’s twin sister hires Maisie to find the truth behind her brother’s death and to find his missing works of art. Winspear has created an unusual and intriguing character in Maisie, but this time out, I didn’t feel like she was completely engaged in the story. Maisie is going through a period of disengagement from the world, perhaps her distance in the book in purposeful, but it felt as though the reader couldn’t truly connect with Maisie this time out. I wish that I could introduce Maisie to Mary Russell from Laurie R. King’s mystery novels. I think those two would get on well, and what a book that would make! Maisie comes to some hard conclusions about herself and the world in this book. I look forward to seeing how they affect her for the next entry.

Enjoy the weekend!