Archives for August 2014

The Year I Shouted Myself Hoarse Every Saturday

1.  Kareem and Magic

I barely knew a Laker from a Cavalier
the winter Mike Nern and Jim Wallace
dragged me to Gund Arena, crisscrossing
eastern Ohio in a December snowstorm.
Cleveland played LA close for three quarters
then the Lakers pulled away like a fast car
if you depress and hold the accelerator.
I’m almost sure that the Cavs never led.

It was Jabbar’s last or next-to-last season.
A bald spot bloomed at the back of his afro.
Magic Johnson fed his skyhook all night.
At the buzzer, applause.  Then it got quiet
and some asshole shouted the word nigger.
Once, loud, like that was the real score.
What did Kareem do?  Grabbed a towel
from a table by a bench and kept walking.

2.  The Year I Shouted Myself Hoarse Every Saturday

I’d bellow Get the ball, Scott! and Take the shot, Scott!
and Play defense! and Hustle! until I pissed him off.
He was 8, his small body fueled on Happy Meals.
He ran the wood-facsimile gym floor at the Y
ecstatically. His grandmother played high school
women’s basketball in Kentucky in the 1950s,
a standout, so he had the bloodlines. But where
does a boy get the heart to devour the world?
I’d be on my feet the whole time, screaming.

It was thrilling in ways I couldn’t bear.
I wanted his team to win. Which they did.
For the rest of us who’d never go undefeated.
For his grandmother who’d have gotten a scholarship,
if they had offered them to women in those days.
And, all right, for a silly father with a bizarre lay-up
and a few poems to carry him. But mostly because
nothing else in this stinking life he was entering
would ever again be so entirely his, and sweet.

Kite Runner Author Accepts 2014 John Steinbeck Award at San Jose State University

Image of Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner

Khaled Hosseini, author of the bestselling 2003 novel The Kite Runner, will receive the John Steinbeck “In the Souls of the People” Award at San Jose State University on September 10, 2014. The 7:30 p.m. event benefits the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies.

An American physician, writer, and humanitarian, Khaled Hosseini was born in Afghanistan. Like The Kite Runner, his 2007 novel A Thousand Splendid Suns is set in part in his native country, which has experienced foreign invasion, civil war, and occupation by violent forces since he was born in its capital, Kabul, in 1965. His father, a moderate Moslem, served as an Afghan diplomat in Iran and later in Paris before seeking political asylum in the United States with his wife, a teacher, and their children.

Khaled Hosseini, the eldest of five, finished high school in San Jose, California, before graduating from Santa Clara University and receiving his M.D. from the University of California, San Diego. He completed his medical residency at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and continued to practice medicine for more than a year after the publication of The Kite Runner. His third novel, And the Mountains Echoed, was published in 2013.

Image of Khaled Hosseini, founder of The Khaled Hosseini Foundation

The Khaled Hosseini Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, provides direct assistance and economic support to elements of the Afghan population most affected by poverty and violence—refugees, women, and children. A multi-ethnic country with ancient roots stretching from China to South Asia, Central Asia, and the Middle East, Afghanistan combines beauty, tragedy, and civility that provide the rich texture and colorful context of Khaled Hosseini’s heartfelt fiction.

Cover image of Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner in DVD

The critically acclaimed film version of The Kite Runner was nominated for Academy and Golden Globe awards in 2008 and received a Christopher Award and a Critics Choice Award from the Broadcast Film Critics Association the same year. The name of the John Steinbeck Award comes from Chapter 25 of The Grapes of Wrath, an earlier novel that combined anger and love and also achieved greatness as a movie: “In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”

Image of Nick Taylor, director of the John Steinbeck Center at San Jose State UniversityNick Taylor—author of Father Junipero’s Confessor, teacher of creative writing at San Jose State University, and director of the Steinbeck Studies Center—makes the connection with John Steinbeck’s masterpiece while noting that Khaled Hosseini is the first writer who is primarily a novelist to receive the annual award since it was established in 1996:

Plenty of novelists know how to tell a good story, and plenty try to raise consciousness through their work, but very few do both. Steinbeck used fiction to call attention to the plight of migrant farmworkers, in particular the “Okies” of the 1930s, a group that many Americans had heard of, but did not know much about. Khaled Hosseini’s work does this for people of Afghanistan, a population most Americans know only from the news.

The last winner of the John Steinbeck Award was the filmmaker Ken Burns. Previous awardees include filmmakers Michael Moore and John Sayles; musicians Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Joan Baez, and John Mellencamp; labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta; actor Sean Penn; broadcast journalist Rachel Maddow; and three writers—Arthur Miller, Studs Terkel, and Garrison Keillor.

Image of Lisa Vollendorf, dean of San Jose State University's College of Humanities and the ArtsLisa Vollendorf, dean of San Jose State University’s College of Humanities and the Arts, is actively involved with the Steinbeck Studies Center, which is named for Martha Heasley Cox, Professor Emerita of English at San Jose State University. Known for her warm style, energetic pace, and attention to detail, Dean Vollendorf—whose field is Romance languages—recently helped organize an international conference in Portugal. In her comments for this post she put the 2014 John Steinbeck Award event into local and global perspective:

This fall we celebrate Khaled Hosseini, a globally important author who immigrated to the Bay Area at the age of fifteen. Hosseini credits his teacher, Jan Sanchez, with giving him a copy of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, an encounter that inspired him to write fiction in English. Hosseini’s artistic achievements are extraordinary; many credit him with single-handedly humanizing modern Afghanistan for American audiences. His humanitarian work has helped create economic opportunities and meet basic shelter needs for refugees, women, and children in Afghanistan. Khaled Hosseini’s artistic sensibilities and humanitarian work make him a perfect recipient of the Steinbeck Award. We are grateful he accepted and we are all looking forward to the ceremony.

Image from the movie version of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath

Khaled Hosseini expressed appreciation for John Steinbeck and enthusiasm about receiving the John Steinbeck Award in a statement to reporters earlier this month:

I am greatly honored to be given an award named after John Steinbeck, not only an icon of American literature but an unrelenting advocate for social justice who so richly gave voice to the poor and disenfranchised. Both as a person and a writer, I count myself among the millions on whose social consciousness Steinbeck has made such an indelible impact.

Tickets to the award ceremony can be purchased in person at the San Jose State University Event Center or online at Eventbrite.

Portrait photo of Khaled Hosseini by Patrick Tehan courtesy of the San Jose Mercury News.

Those Amazing Hills: Poem

Fun partly now
to walk through those
dry golden and green California hills.

Sublime, profound,
to remember the past
to imagine oneself
in part of that past.
In those stories:

George and Lennie
walked through these hills
down roads towards an uncertain future.
The Joads saw those
parched places.
They were battled over.

Nice to not really be
a part of these hard tales.
Glad they are remembered

Easier, safer
to be part
of something else,
some other tales;
alone in this country,
in those wondrous evocative hills
which remind us
that we can make

House of Lords Thinking: Why John Steinbeck Is Out in Winston Churchill’s England

Image of Winston Churchill, member of the House of Lords
Winston Churchill, modern Britain’s greatest leader, had an American mother. Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, is believed by elitist Englishmen to be the real author of the works of William Shakespeare. Along with other American writers, John Steinbeck has been banished from United Kingdom schools. These outcomes have a common origin.

Was the Writer of William Shakespeare’s Works an Earl?

A recent review of the Who-Really-Wrote-the-Plays-of-William-Shakespeare theory prevalent in certain heady quarters of the United Kingdom reveals how members of the House of Lords and other English gentry-folk steadfastly refuse to believe that a country bumpkin from Stratford-upon-Avon could have created the poetry or plays attributed to William Shakespeare. From the House-of-Lords point of view, the genius behind William Shakespeare had to have been one of their own, and the Earl of Oxford is their preferred  suspect.  A busy school of William Shakespeare alternative biography has grown up around this notion, a United Kingdom export that has found favor with literary-minded lawyers who like to write daft books proving the case against Shakespeare’s authorship. To my knowledge, neither Winston Churchill nor John Steinbeck bought the idea. But Churchill was half-American and Steinbeck was half-Irish, both problematic from an English House-of-Lords perspective.

From the House-of-Lords point of view, the genius behind William Shakespeare had to have been one of their own, and the Earl of Oxford is their preferred  suspect.

Fortunately, such House-of Lords thinking is largely confined to England, a green and pleasant land, which—if truth be known—would easily fit into the state of Wisconsin or Washington with room to spare.

The Members-Only Club at the United Kingdom’s Center

England’s small size deserves emphasis because at the crowded center of the once-great United Kingdom rests a nice little Club called London, where the people who own England live and work.  For the most part they comprise a genteel alumni society of graduates from the universities of Cambridge and Oxford, neither of which William Shakespeare attended.  At college they spend a considerable portion of their time learning the importance of denying one’s roots (if humble), one’s speech (if less-than-upper class), and one’s parentage (if lower than House-of-Lords).  They have, to quote from a National Geographic article about Oxford University, “attended two years of higher education, and completed one year of preparing a lengthy paper about what they’ve studied, in order to become absolute snobs.”  Upon graduation, they assume the confident air that England—like the United Kingdom in its heyday—is theirs by virtue of right and tradition.

For the most part they comprise a genteel alumni society of graduates from the universities of Cambridge and Oxford, neither of which William Shakespeare attended.

Like Winston Churchill, a number of these worthy Club members run successfully for political office. They also manage the nation’s finances, determine her rules and regulations, publish her books and periodicals, run her courts and culture, and decide how folks from the hinterlands like William Shakespeare eat, sleep, read, study, and are entertained. A recent report in London’s Independent newspaper detailed how those in the Club rule English affairs. Like William Shakespeare’s coarser comedies, or like John Steinbeck’s social fiction, little that occupies the attention of the humble multitude matters much to them.  What isn’t in their interest just doesn’t count.

How England Sleeps: Crowding by Design

Take sleeping and driving arrangements in England, for example. Civic planners and urban architects—members of the Club—design housing for the lower orders that, by modern standards, is less than adequate. The schemes for jammed-together homes and flats are transmitted to a well-fed breed of bumpkins called Builders and Developers who, in the interest of higher profits, shrink building plans even further. Cost-cutting measures include the elimination of such non-essentials as spacious bedrooms, fitted bathrooms, insulated windows, proper heating,  sufficient outlets and closets, garages with room for an automobile, and enough private space to entertain more than four guests at a time.

Civic planners and urban architects—members of the Club—design housing for the lower orders that, by modern standards, is less than adequate.

In the 1960s the Club decided that working bumpkins were cluttering the highways and that the number of cars purchased by commoners had to be controlled. Their solution? Restrict allowable garage space to one per five-person house. For new apartments, the B&D people further limited the number: only one garage per seven or eight flats. The result? Urban housing estates now look like car parks, with autos crowded onto sidewalks, lawns (those that are still left), and every inch of available road space. Even the treasured rose bushes and ubiquitous privet hedges that once graced the green heart of the United Kingdom are gone, replaced by gravel, asphalt and stones made from a product called Krazy-Pavement to provide public parking.

It’s easy to imagine what William Shakespeare would make of a “box room” scene of sleep-deprived sibling rivalry on the stage.

The average family’s private arrangements are similarly limited by design: one tiny bathroom fitted with a narrow bathtub but no shower, two modest bedrooms, and a 7′ x 8′ “box room” for the ironing board and the Hoover that doubles as a bedroom for the extra .5 child produced by the median married couple. In its report, the Independent fails to quantify the psychological effects of domestic crowding on English children, but it’s easy to imagine what William Shakespeare would make of a “box room” scene of sleep-deprived sibling rivalry on the stage.

Learning to Speak Like a Member of the House of Lords

The Independent article details the time spent at elocution lessons by upwardly mobile university students born outside the Club. Received Pronunciation—known in the United Kingdom as RP—is a style of pronunciation that, when mastered by ambitious bumpkins for public speech, proves that they were born, if not bred, to lead.  We don’t how William Shakespeare or Edward de Vere sounded when they talked, but the broad vowels and clipped consonants of BBC radio commentators are the norm for today’s ruling class. No one in the United Kingdom believes this sound is God-given, but its acquisition is felt to be a sign of superiority once mastered. No one in the Club really wants to reveal his or her origins in Liverpool, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Bristol, Cornwall, Scots, Wales, Suffolk, Midlands, Newcastle, Birmingham, or London’s East End. As a result, only the standardized speech emanating from London (RP) is heard on the airwaves or in most public speech. Regional stations and local politicians may vary, but the rich linguistic diversity upon which William Shakespeare’s pointed puns depend is disappearing from England’s ear.

We don’t how William Shakespeare or Edward de Vere sounded when they talked, but the broad vowels and clipped consonants of BBC radio commentators are the norm for today’s ruling class.

Winston Churchill was a Club member on his father’s side and overcame personal obstacles to become a forceful public speaker. But two later prime ministers who advanced from Churchill’s Conservative Party to the House of Lords—Margaret Thatcher and John Major—were famous for losing their outsider accents at university to hide traces of their non-Club origins. Thatcher’s parents operated a grocery store in Lincolnshire, far to the north of London; Major’s father puttered around the family’s minor South London residence making  concrete garden gnomes. Commoners by birth, neither was ever totally accepted by the Club, and both were unceremoniously jettisoned after serving the Club’s purpose. Denying that a rustic could have written the plays of William Shakespeare is another way of making the same point.

Closing the Door on American Writers in English Schools

Having swapped Shakespeare for an earl, the Club’s education bureaucracy recently decided to put works by American writers—including John Steinbeck—on the Do-Not-Read list. (The education office order effects England, Wales, and Ireland, but not Scotland or other parts of the United Kingdom.)  So in Great Britain, it’s out with Herman Melville, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Henry and Arthur Miller, and both Sinclairs—Upton and Lewis. Also banished from the classroom—despite their Pulitzer or Nobel status—are Carl Sandburg, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson, Ernest Hemingway, and Pearl S. Buck—like John Steinbeck, a double awardee.

Also banished from the classroom—despite their Pulitzer or Nobel status—are Carl Sandburg, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson, Ernest Hemingway, and Pearl S. Buck—like John Steinbeck, a double awardee.

In William Shakespeare’s sceptered isle, where a book selling five thousand copies is considered a best-seller, popular American writers like Edgar Allen Poe, J. D. Salinger, Langston Hughes, Frank L. Baum, and Kurt Vonnegut are now non grata. William Shakespeare’s sonnets are still in because their author (Edward de Vere?) was English, but those by the American poet Emily Dickinson are out.  The literary pub has also closed for such rustic regulars as Jack London—like Steinbeck, a Californian—and Eugene O’Neil—like Steinbeck, half-Irish—as well as my hometown favorite, Thornton Wilder.  It’s even time for T.S. Eliot, the clubbiest of Anglo-American literati since Henry James, to round up his cats and go home to St. Louis.

What Would William Shakespeare Say About the Ban?

We have no way of knowing of course—even if Shakespeare was really the Earl of Oxford—but I have my own ideas about the Club bureaucracy’s decision to drop American writers from the English-school reading list. While living in the rolling green hills of Warwickshire for a long period, I found most Englishmen to be both agreeable and sociable. But a minority viewed anyone not born in England as an intruder—particularly “overpaid, over-sexed, over-here” Americans who had overstayed the temporary welcome extended by Winston Churchill in World War II. Beginning in 1943, the villages of William Shakespeare’s island were stuffed to the scuppers with GIs being readied for the invasion of Normandy. Meanwhile, bombed-out London attracted pro-English American writers, including John Steinbeck, sent by press or government to report on the action and build confidence back home.

Beginning in 1943, the villages of William Shakespeare’s island were stuffed to the scuppers with GIs being readied for the invasion of Normandy.

But that was then. Today human nature—English nature—has returned to the pre-World War II habit of disliking the other guy because he isn’t one of us. Parts of the United Kingdom, such as Scotland, are more populist, but in England this elitist thinking is driven from the top down. Its accumulated force is powerful, supported by heavy taxes paid from the bottom up. At Westminster, the magnificent home of the Houses of Lords and Commons that together make the United Kingdom’s laws, there are 20 members-only bars subsidized by taxpayers—count them: 20—serving healthy pints of ale, generous snifters of brandy and port, and beautiful cut-glass tumblers of Scottish whiskey to insiders. According to the August 10 London Guardian, booze and food for ruling Westminster’s elite cost the British public more that six-million pounds last year, with the House of Lords imbibing the lion’s share of subsidized fare and accounting for an over-sized increase in tax-funded expenditures for lavish clubroom renovations.

The House of Lords: England Reflected in the Bar Mirror

Each of the private bars funded by the people serves one or another social class or political element exclusively. The bars maintained for the House of Lords are closed to members of Commons; those for House of  Commons ministers are off limits to taxpayers.  One bar tolerates visitors, but you have to be invited in by a member of the House of Commons, and it’s called The Strangers. To the House of Lords, all citizens are strangers equally. The House of Lords has 775 members, of whom 774 are white. Two-thirds attended public (in English, private) schools; 660 of them are life peers and 89 are hereditary peers; 635 of them are men, 181 women—a total (816) that doesn’t compute with the official number.

To the House of Lords, all citizens are strangers equally.

All of the private bars funded by taxpayers for the benefit of Westminster politicians allow only one or another class or political element in. Those for the House of Lords are closed to MPs from the House of Commons; those for House of Commons ministers are closed to members of the public who, in fact, pay the bills. There is one bar for visitors, but you have to be invited in by a Member of Parliament, and it’s called The Strangers. To those in the House of Lords, apparently all citizens are strangers, but there you are: that’s England for you—overwhelmingly white, over-educated at exclusive schools, and class-ridden; pampered at the top and neglected at the bottom. As noted, official figures sometimes fail to agree. Poor math or too much free booze? Whatever the cause, the notion that an English earl actually wrote the works of William Shakespeare is wacky enough, but it’s been around for some time. The banishment of American writers—including John Steinbeck—from schools in the United Kingdom is something new, and it’s totally idiotic.  Winston Churchill must be turning in his grave.

The Grapes of Wrath in Organ Music at John Steinbeck’s Episcopal Church: Event Update

Image of St. Paul's, John Steinbeck's Episcopal church, today

John Steinbeck’s childhood Episcopal church in Salinas, California, will celebrate the 75th anniversary of The Grapes of Wrath on August 22, 2014, in a concert of organ music inspired by the music-loving author’s life and work. James Welch, California’s leading concert organist, will perform Franklin D. Ashdown’s recently commissioned Steinbeck Suite, as well as organ music by composers who Steinbeck especially admired or who were living and working in California during the writer’s time.

Image of the original St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Salinas, CaliforniaThe 7:00 p.m. program on August 22—originally planned for Carmel Mission—will take place at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, located since 1954 at 1071 Pajaro Street in the Salinas, California, suburb of Monterey Park. The original St. Paul’s Episcopal Church attended by John Steinbeck (shown at left) was located near the Steinbeck family home on Salinas, California’s historic Central Avenue. (The El Camino Real Diocese of the Episcopal Church, currently headquartered in the Monterey area, plans to move to a large Victorian structure near the Steinbeck House on Central Avenue within the next few weeks.)

Image of John Steinbeck immediately behind the crucifer leaving old St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Salinas, CaliforniaJohn Steinbeck remained active at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church until he left for college in 1919. He was christened by the church’s rector in 1905 and confirmed by a visiting bishop in 1916, and he served as an altar boy, sang in the junior choir, and participated in Boy Scout meetings in the church basement as a teenager. In this photograph he is shown leaving the church, hymnal in hand, behind a young crucifer named “Skunkfoot” Hill on Easter Sunday in 1914. Hill’s name, as well as that of Bishop Nichols of the Episcopal Church in California, appear in The Winter of Our Discontent in an episode based, in part, on John Steinbeck’s childhood. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church plays a less positive role in East of Eden, where Aron’s mother Cathy slips into the back pew to observe her son, a callow convert to the Episcopal Church who is ignorant of the fact that his mother—believed to be dead—runs a Salinas, California, whorehouse.

Image of James Welch, organist for the concert celebrating The Grapes of Wrath The program created by Welch (shown here) will open with organ music by J.S. Bach, the composer John Steinbeck described in Sea of Cortez as “breaking through” to a state of mystical sublimity in sound. It will continue with the Salinas, California, premiere of Ashdown’s Steinbeck Suite, a five-movement work written in honor of the 75th anniversary of The Grapes of Wrath and inspired by scenes from Tortilla Flat and The Grapes of Wrath. Ashdown is one of America’s most widely published composers of church organ music.

Also featured on the August 22 program will be a pair of mid-century California composers who were inspired by the Monterey Peninsula landscape and affiliated with Episcopal churches in San Francisco: Richard Purvis, the organist of Grace Cathedral following World War II, and Dale Wood, the organist at the Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin in the 1970s. It is conceivable that John Steinbeck, who enjoyed hearing organ music and visiting San Francisco, heard Purvis play. Wood’s distinctive organ music style was influenced by musical sources familiar to Steinbeck, including gospel tunes of the type heard in The Grapes of Wrath and incorporated by Ashdown into the lively fourth movement of Steinbeck Suite.

John Steinbeck’s appreciation for Episcopal church ceremony and organ music is evident throughout his writing, nowhere more obviously than in the famous Easter Sunday chapter from Sea of Cortez. Welch’s program will conclude with Wood’s brilliant setting of the chorale “That Easter Day With Joy Was Bright” in recognition of this seminal passage from John Steinbeck’s most philosophical work.

Suggested donation for the August 22 concert is $15 at the door.

Going Back: A Lyric Poem

I walked past your house
but there was no one there.
The blinds on the windows, the curtains in the hall,
those things, and things like that,
they looked the same,
but there was no one there.
The trees have grown,
but the one behind the house,
the hickory tree, it’s gone,
and the limbs of the elms along the curb
reach over to make a ceiling: a crown of green
suppressing sound.

Those things, and things like that,
they look the same,
but there was no one there.

Those years were golden, and I remember
them, those other days, a summer breeze
within the leaves, the sound of cicadas
in the afternoon. I hear them still,
the call of the birds, the barking of a dog,
and the cheers and shouts
from a baseball game in the park nearby.
I hear them, and I remember,
those lemonade afternoons,
the swing on the porch,
the lyrical squeak of the old screen door,
and the smells from the bakery
that filled the humid air.

Those things, and things like that,
they were the same,
but there was no one there.

l walked past your house, and in the receding light
the glow of fireflies played in the grass,
and with those scents and sounds and thoughts of you,
I saw the swallows and I heard an owl.
A bus at the corner stopped and opened its doors,
but no one got off.

The perfumes of honeysuckle and mint
roiled in the air, and I heard the tolling of a far-off bell.
In the fading light, I smelled tarts in the oven
and coffee being made at the stove. I smelled
closets scented with moth balls and cedar,
and I thought there should have been fallen leaves
burning in piles at the curb.
But there was no glow anywhere, and no light within,
for the house was empty
and there was no one there.

Turning away, I walked across town
and found you there. The gates were still open,
and in the failing light I searched for the stone
that had your name. And there,
in the shadows that hid you,
a single rose beckoned:
a rose from your garden,
a yellow rose in a vase of glass.

But oh, how does it contain you, that space in the grass?
It’s surely too narrow, surely too short,
surely too small for someone
who once lived in that house.

Fireflies begin to knit a path in the darkness over your head,
and my heart cries. I walked past your house,
but you weren’t there.
I want to take you home,

but I can’t.

End of Lies: Convincing Organic Chemistry from an Expert on Cannery Row

Image from cover of Michael Kenneth Hemp's novel, End of Lies
Like Ed Ricketts and John Steinbeck, the subject of his history of Cannery Row, Monterey Peninsula resident Michael Kenneth Hemp, who writes fiction like Robert Ludlum, loves science. In his fast-paced political thriller End of Lies, written as a screenplay in 1998 and published as a novel in 2008, Hemp mines a fascinating field of organic chemistry to create a convincing vision of a future in which no one—not even politicians—can lie with impunity.

The field of organic chemistry in question is pheromones (Hemp’s subtitle explains: The Nadjik Pheromone: Biochemical Lie Detection). Like Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne, Hemp’s hero Michael Wolfson—a war correspondent scarred by what he witnessed in Bosnia—pursues and is pursued by bad guys in high places who kill and maim to keep international affairs off-balance for the benefit of their corporate and government masters. Unlike the fiction of Robert Ludlum, however, End of Lies gets technical in the textbook sense, requiring readers to comprehend a fascinating fact of organic chemistry: human breath produces molecules similar to pheromones that attract sexual partners and—by extension—provide a possible way to detect less likable behavior, such as lying.

John Steinbeck, Ed Ricketts, and the Monterey Peninsula—including the house in Carmel-by-the Sea where that curious pair first met—inspired the plot and provide much of the setting for End of Lies, whose author knows enough organic chemistry to convince this grateful reader, who doesn’t. Terrorism in Ukraine, Iraq, and elsewhere today makes Hemp’s prevention-theory for armed aggression by testing the bad guys’ smell terrifyingly current. Catching culprits before they strike? That’s a challenge for another novel. This grateful reader—who inhaled everything by Robert Ludlum and enjoyed End of Lies—hopes Michael Hemp is busy writing it.