Family Drama and Mystery

Two very different families are central to the plot in Nina Simon’s debut mystery Mother-Daughter Murder Night, and given the recent fires in California, it’s not surprising that fire is just as pivotal.

Fire, and fiery women, even if they’re cool on the outside. Lana Rubicon is a super-stylish “diamond-hard” realtor who’s been forced out of work and has retreated from chic, high-energy LA to a small town up the coast. She moves in with her somewhat estranged daughter Beth needing support during cancer treatment. Will this highly critical woman work Beth’s last nerve? And where does her granddaughter fit into the family geometry?

The other family’s toughest member is wealthy Diana Whiteacre whose first husband was a young duke and whose ailing father is a local landowner. His death pits her and Martin, her Maserati-driving brother, against each other since they have very different dreams for the ranch that they’ll inherit. Martin’s a bit too smooth for his own good.

The men in this novel are either pushy-verging-on-aggressive, or less than competent in contrast to the deeply resourceful women of all ages. And that’s just fine, since Lana’s barbed view of men and power permeates the story and she offers a steady supply of wit and hard-earned wisdom.

There are some minor mysteries tied into the main one that involves two murders and those aren’t too hard to unravel (and neither is the murder weapon), but Simon does a good job of shifting suspicion back and forth among various characters as Lana, Beth and Jack become embroiled in solving the crimes. At great risk to themselves, of course.

Simon’s people are real, her prose is taut especially when describing pain and physical peril, and she excels at making you feel transported to places you’ve never seen. Here’s Lana gazing out a window late at night:

The moon was full above the slough, and the whole world looked flattened out in grayscale wispy clouds, grainy fields, fast-moving current.  Glints of moonlight bounced off the water where harbor seals surfaced, hunting crabs along the mud flat that edged the slice of beach behind the house.

Simon cleverly gave Lana a very rare American surname, Rubicon, to recall the famous decision Julius Caesar made when he crossed the river of that name in 49 B.C.E, breaking Roman law to bring troops into Italy for the first time. The characters in Mother-Daughter Murder Night keep crossing one kind of boundary or another and that makes for an entertaining read.

Simon’s afterword adds another layer to everything in the book, since she wrote the novel when her mother developed lung cancer and they both needed distraction and a project. As such, it’s a powerful gift.  ★★★★

Lev Raphael is the former crime fiction reviewer for The Detroit Free Press and author of ten Nick Hoffman mysteries set in the hothouse world of academia.

The Regency Jason Bourne is Back

 

C.S. Harris is a fantastic novelist. Her characters are richly observed, her dialogue is evocative, her plots are exceedingly well wrought, and she excels at atmosphere: you see, feel, and smell every scene in a kind of 3-D. Reading one of her books is immersive, it’s time travel, it’s magic.

Harris’s understanding of the Regency era is remarkable for its depth and range, and she is one of the few authors whose series I’ve stuck with over time because she isn’t disappointing.

Her glamorous, debonair nobleman is Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin. He is gifted with “hearing and night vision” that are “unusually acute” and they help him investigate murders–and sometimes outwit stalkers. He’s also a master of disguise, but he’s no Marvel superhero. In fact, Devlin starts off the 18th book of the series with a profound and troubling disadvantage: a painful leg injury that’s likely to keep this ex-soldier from crossing the Channel to Belgium where “the armies of Europe were massing for what would in all likelihood be one of the most decisive battles in history.” 

He badly wants to join former comrades, but that isn’t on the cards, despite the looming menace abroad. Napoleon has escaped Elba and been welcomed back to power in France with jubilation. The exiled emperor’s shadow has fallen again over Europe–and it has surprising power over Devlin as he becomes entangled in a twisted tale of mutilated corpses, espionage, secrets of seduction and betrayal, witchcraft and werewolves. 

Suspects abound and they could well be French assassins from any number of rival factions.  He himself is attacked and warned off in classic PI style by a huge thug and an oily villain.  As you’d expect, he acquits himself well; even with his injury, St. Cyr is not an easy mark.

One of the best aspects of this series is its social range. Between St. Cyr and his amateur journalist wife Hero, we meet people of all ranks in Regency England: actors, fortune tellers, politicians, aristocrats, thieves, men of the law, servants, governesses, thugs, inn keepers, soldiers, beggars, ferrymen, sailors, merchants, tradesman, vagabonds and many more.  We travel through a London that has disappeared like Atlantis, with Harris as our guide. 

Built with short, punchy chapters, this book has it all: mystery, scenery, adultery, luxury, poverty, cruelty, zealotry,  hypocrisy, bravery.  And the series consistently has some of the most beautiful book covers around.

Lev Raphael is the former crime fiction reviewer for The Detroit Free Press and has reviewed books at Salon, The Washington Post, Huffington Post and other publications.

 

 

Paranoid America Revealed

It’s comforting to think of McCarthyism or the Salem Witch Trials as exceptions, as bursts of madness and vindictive cruelty in an otherwise sane country.  But they’re not exceptions, they’re par for the course in the United States where fear of conspiratorial plots is the “great unseen engine of American history.”  That’s the verdict of cultural historian Colin Dickey.

In a memorable, chilling phrase, the author of Under the Eye of Power throws down the gauntlet with the opening line of his new book: “The United States was born in paranoia.”

Dickey goes on to explain that there’s nothing hyperbolic about this statement.  In briskly narrated and sometimes alarming chapters, what follows is a parade of secret, secretive, or “foreign” groups that have  been seen as targeting America for a hostile takeover of one kind or another.  All these groups have supposedly sought total control, and the unreasoned fear of their machinations has consistently created “moral panic.”

The culprits include real and quasi-imaginary groups: Freemasons, the French, Catholic immigrants, the Molly McGuires, Mystic-Red, Abolitionists, labor unionists, The Illuminati, slave owners, Jews, anarchists and socialists.

All of those groups have been viewed as malign, destructive, nefarious and subversive, deviously operating behind the scenes as puppet masters and saboteurs of American values and independence.  And so there’s been a drumbeat of fear, outrage and violence throughout this country’s history going back to the time of the Revolution.

One of the many surprises in this ugly catalogue of craziness is the fact that even George Washington was prone to see the unseen hand of conspiracy behind contemporary events. Ditto Samuel Adams, as Stacy Schiff shows in her splendid biography of Samuel Adams–he thought that the English were definitely conspiring to “enslave” the colonists and deprive them of their liberties.

The author brings to our attention riots and massacres that deserve more attention, but does the second incarnation of KKK really belong here when it was so ostentatiously public in its racism and violence?

The book definitely needed a firmer editorial hand.  Dickey keeps explaining in different ways that belief in secret groups with inordinate power supplies a simple explanation to complex and frightening realities.  Yes, we got that the first time, and it’s not an especially original observation.

The author has a degree in comparative literature , so it’s curious that he doesn’t mention the influence of Matthew Gregory Lewis’s classic tale of priestly depravity The Monk when he discusses wild, anti-Catholic novels featuring depraved monks and nuns that were best-sellers in the 1840s.

The book is colorful and often shocking, but even at only 328 pages of text seems too long for its thesis.  And given that Dickey ably pinpoints our continued forgetfulness about these episodes, his book will likely fade away too. ★★★

Lev Raphael is the author of twenty-seven books in genres from memoir to mystery and has seen his work appear in fifteen languages. He has reviewed books for The Washington Post, The Detroit Free Press and other publications.

Ukraine Then & Now

If you want to understand the conflict in Ukraine and go behind the headlines, there’s no better place to start than Anna Reid’s Borderland: A Journey Through the History of Ukraine. Deeply researched, elegantly written, totally enthralling, the book explores the history of Ukraine  back to the Vikings and how Ukraine and Russia have followed completely different paths.  

Unlike Russia, which became an autocratic empire, Ukraine has been ruled and misruled by Poland, Lithuania, Austria-Hungary and of course Russia.  A key to the current slaughter of Ukrainians and the seizure of vast swathes of territory–as well as what sounds like crazy rhetoric on Russian talk shows–is a profound Russian delusion about this country that hasn’t been independent very long but has an undeniable historic existence, culture, and language.  Reid notes that historically Russians have regarded

Ukrainians as really just a subspecies of Russian…Any differences that did demonstrably exist between them were the artificial work of perfidious, Popish Poles–replaced in today’s Russian imagination by the meddling West in general.  Rather than attacking Ukrainians and Ukrainian-ness as inferior, therefore, Russians deny their existence.  Ukrainians are a “non-historical nation,” the Ukrainian language a joke dialect, Ukraine itself an “Atlantis–a legend dreamed up by Kiev intellectuals”…The very closeness of Ukrainian and Russian culture, the very subtlety of the differences between them, is an irritation.

That was written in the 90s; now the irritation appears to have turned to seething hatred.  

Blending history, personal exploration, and interviews, the book is unique because it is divided into two parts: the first was published in 1997 90s when a democratizing Russia under Yeltsin seemed highly unlikely to attack its neighbor.  The second, of course, was written after Putin launched his “special military operation” at a time when Russia seems like a fascist state to many international analysts–and certainly to Ukrainians who have experienced fascism under the Nazis.

Reid doesn’t pull any punches exploring Ukrainian antisemitism and pogroms or the country’s lack of readiness to face up to the truth the way Germany has done about the Holocaust.  Nor does she whitewash past governmental and cultural corruption.  Reid is especially adroit at discussing how Ukrainian nationalism has been growing stronger and investigating the role of the Ukrainian language in a country where many people have been bilingual and Ukrainians have Russian relatives and marriages are often “mixed.” 

If you’ve read Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder, Reid’s book is a perfect companion piece, vitally important work that has been superbly edited and updated. ★★★★★

Lev Raphael is the author of 27 books in genres from memoir to mystery and his work has appeared in over a dozen languages.  He has reviewed books for The Detroit Free Press, The Washington Post and a handful of public radio stations.

The Amazing Art Thief

 

The Art Thief is really a romance, but not so much the tale of Stéphane Breitwieser and the girlfriend who helped him steal art worth two billion dollars.

No, it’s a romance about the profound attraction of beauty and how it can be  even stronger than the love for another person–and can make someone take wildly unimaginable risks.

Starting in the 90s, Breitwieser’s eight-year haul in a handful of European countries broke down to two hundred heists that yielded three hundred works.  And he hid all these thefts in his mother’s attic as if it were the treasure-filled vault in David Baldacci’s Absolute Power.

Stéphane grew up in a haut bourgeois, wealthy French home surrounded by beauty and turned into a teen who fell in love time after time with paintings and countless objets d’art: late Renaissance and early Baroque ceramics, silver pieces, ivory statuettes, paintings on copper and paintings in oil, antique weapons and helmets and anything else that spoke to him.  He was especially fond of work from Northern Europe in that period, and unlike the “typical” art thief, he was careful not to damage what he stole.

As the author makes clear, Breitwieser truly was no ordinary thief: he saw himself as “liberating” these pieces from their imprisonment in museums and galleries.  And he wanted something more than money, since he didn’t funnel the works to fences.  He craved an intimate, in-person relationship with everything he stole.  The daring daytime thefts weren’t what turned him on, it was the glorious art and craftsmanship itself.

Remember the thief played by Pierce Brosnan in The Thomas Crowne Affair and Steve McQueen before him?  Both of them seem like mere shoplifters compared to Breitwieser.

Finkel is a masterful story-teller who makes this unbelievable story come vividly alive: it races forward, immediate and electric.  You really feel at times that you’re watching an on-screen thriller that involves a thief and the art detectives who gradually close in on him.  The courtroom drama is topnotch and Finkel’s prose is consistently lean, colorful, gripping.  His use of many sources, including interviews with Breitwieser, is exemplary.  He’s also careful in sifting various theories as to why Stéphane was the mother of all art thieves, because a variety of mental health professions had a variety of explanations.

Take this book on a plane ride, to the beach, take it everywhere and anywhere–it is a work of beauty itself with spectacular and stunning illustrations, an unforgettable story that’s ultimately about one of our deepest and most chaotic feelings: desire. ★★★★★

Lev Raphael was a frequent visitor to many New York museums when he grew up there and recently published a piece about one of his favorite pieces, Canova’s Perseus at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

“The Street” is Too Easy to Figure Out

It’s no surprise that Anna and Peter have been moved in The Street from London to a brand-new, upscale, little development in Scotland because they’re in witness protection.  Anna’s experiencing high anxiety, she and Peter are very much at odds, and their new home is too meticulously furnished and equipped.  The street of eight houses itself is on the creepy side: “perfect white cubes with their perfect gardens.”

Tension mounts when Anna starts meeting the neighbors, all of whom live in identical homes whose doorbells play the same annoying tune.  You start to wonder: Are they cult members?  Aliens?  Spies?  Is this some weird kind of prison?  The enclave is gated and there are security cameras, okay, but why does Anna have a very intrusive phone app?

Something is definitely amiss on this street, because no matter who Anna talks to after her boozy first night (more about that below), she experiences “an odd sensation, a shift in the atmosphere that seemed to happen every time she spoke to one of the residents.”

Their next-door neighbors seem like fun, drink a lot, and enjoy Indian food just like Anna and Peter, and the four of them have a hard-drinking, hilarious night before the couple have settled in (or tried to).  But the day after, those neighbors have disappeared and their house is totally empty. Everyone on the street denies they were even there. . .

It’s an intriguing hook if you’re going to be hooked.

As the book progresses, we learn through flashback chapters more about how the couple came to be ripped out of their London lives and planted in Scotland, and why they might be in profound danger.  She’s a writer and he’s a carpenter but each of them is far more complex than they first appear to be, and they have some ugly stuff to hide from the world and each other.

Holliday writes keenly about fear, paranoia, and how married couples can work each other’s last nerve and not have any idea who they’re really married to. She builds tension skillfully and  keeps you actively guessing as to what’s going to happen next. 

All the same, the  book has a gigantic sinkhole of a problem: the explanation for all the strange behavior on Anna’s street was so obvious early on that you may wonder why Anna couldn’t figure it out herself.  After all, she’s a crime novelist.  The time changes throughout the book complicate the storyline, but they don’t camouflage the excruciatingly simple solution that’s apparent before the book truly takes off.  This is a mystery that’s ultimately not mysterious enough. ★★

Lev Raphael is the former crime fiction reviewer at The Detroit Free Press.

Essex Dogs is Disappointing Historical Fiction

I’ve enjoyed a number of Dan Jones’s popular histories like The Plantagenets and Magna Carta and have read a great deal about The Hundred Years’ War, so I was looking forward to his debut historical novel Essex Dogs.  It features a ragtag small company of soldiers and bowmen headed for Normandy in 1346 and ultimately the Battle of Crécy where the French lost to the English in a humiliating, historic defeat.  That battle changed the balance of power in Europe with France’s heavily-armored mounted knights beaten by the more mobile English troops and their archers.

It’s potentially superb material but the book feels cartoonish, partly because the dialogue is wildly anachronistic, stuffed with every version of the f-bomb you can imagine.  Historians agree that the word was not in popular use in the 14th century, but Jones’s characters sometimes sounding like they’re in Goodfellas. “Fuck you looking at?” is one example, and for emphasis, that knight says it twice. The French are, of course, called “fuckers” and “fucking” is the invariable English adjective of choice, with “Fuck off!” a frequent command.  How did a responsible editor let this dialogue pass muster? 

At one point some variation of “fuck” crops up four times in only six very short paragraphs, and that’s not the only place where that word choice becomes an oppressive drumbeat.  Sometimes, though, the profanity becomes simply ridiculous, as when an earl shouts “The faster you fucking go, the sooner you’re fucking back!”
But profanity overkill isn’t the only problem with the prose.  There’s the leader of the small band, Loveday Talbot, remembering his “mantra,” knowing who “has his back” and there are people discussing how they should “play” a situation as they hit the beach in Normandy.   This discordant dialogue had me on the alert for someone saying “Let’s do this thing.”  It didn’t happen, but there was this priceless piece of defiance going into battle: “Let’s show them who we are.”

It’s a shame that the writing isn’t better because Jones does a decent job of making you feel the heat and filth of the expedition of 15,000 men, along with the chaos  of their landing and the brutality of combat. But sometimes it feels as if he’s reveling in the gore and grime.  That gets tedious, and there’s way more phlegm, spit, shit and snot than the book needed.

One other aspect weighs the novel down: there’s a grotesque, drunken, slovenly, drug-addled, farting priest whose presence in the company is totally unnecessary.  He adds nothing to the story and it’s a relief when he’s dead, though that takes over 250 pages to happen.  It’s hard to care for him or any of the other characters in this book since they’re all one-dimensional and that even applies to Loveday himself.

Though Jews were expelled from England in 1290, Jones has a Jew as a former member of the company some fifty years later–and gives him an improbable name: Wiseman the Jew. Plenty of sources show that Biblical names like Jacob, Moses, Samuel, Isaac, Joseph and Abraham would have been much more authentic for an English Jew if he had somehow managed to be living in England at that time and serving in the army of Edward III.  Even the Latin Benedict (for Baruch) would have made more sense since Jews sometimes used Latin names derived from the Hebrew.  More puzzling than that, Edward III’s son, later the famous Black Prince, is portrayed as a whining, drug-addled, annoying teenage brat and there’s nothing remotely epic about the climactic Battle of Crécy that everything has been leading to.

The book is a very long slog compared to the richly-imagined and beautifully-written historical novels of  Bernard Cornwell set during the Hundred Years’ War.  Read any one of them, like The Archer’s Tale, for a truly immersive experience.  Cornwell doesn’t kick you out of his fiction with glaring anachronisms or gratuitous profanity, and his deep characterization, his sense of texture, and his grasp of human and period psychology are far superior to anything you’ll find in Essex Dogs.  Jones says in his acknowledgments that he was encouraged to write fiction and I wish he’d gotten better advice on how to work in a new genre.  ★★

Lev Raphael has reviewed books for The Detroit Free Press, the Washington Post, Jerusalem Report, Bibliobuffet, The Ft. Worth-Star Telegram and various public radio stations. 

Murder Most Foul

Before you even turn The Girls over to read the blurbs on the back or open to read the publisher’s description on the inside jacket, you know you’re in for a lovely, barbed treat. The cover illustration is by Edward Gorey and that means you can expect sly wit and unusual mayhem.

Susan and Janet have lived a harmonious and very busy life for almost a decade near a picturesque English village doing picturesque things to stock their odd little shop in town. They keep free-range chickens and bees, sew and cobble.  The store is filled with their fresh eggs; jams, preserves, and chutney; honey combs; clogs; home-made aprons and cloth belts; their prize-winning elderflower wine–and even labor-intensive goat cheeses.

The two women have a busy and apparently satisfying life until Susan goes off to Greece to find herself and something unusual finds Janet: a one-night stand that leaves her pregnant.  It’s her first time with a man, so that’s either luck or misfortune, how she and Susan react is worthy of a miniseries.

Bowen is absolutely brilliant when it comes to charting the highs and lows of an intimate relationship, the swift changes of mood minute-by-minute as well as over months and even years.  He finds comedy there, and tragedy too.

The writing throughout is rich with color in descriptions of flowers, shrubs, flowering trees, do-dads and knickknacks, and the narrator is like a deadpan story-teller trying hard not to smirk because she knows you’re going to be surprised and doesn’t want to give anything away.  I had to read passages aloud to my spouse because they were so amusing, as when Bowen writes that “the sound of raindrops on the window was like hundreds of old gentlemen rustling the pages of the Financial Times.”

At times you may feel like you’re in wacky P.G. Wodehouse territory: the adventures of an escaped pig which will surely make you laugh aloud.  At others, you’re entering the realm of Patricia Highsmith where the quotidian is most definitely going to be exploded.  I was also reminded of Stella Gibbons’ satirical Cold Comfort Farm, but Bowen has his own voice here and his own style because his narrator is so wonderfully intrusive and even challenging.

Special kudos have to go to the book designer: The Girls isn’t just a pleasure to read, it’s a distinct pleasure just to hold in your hands.  Readers should be grateful for the publisher’s mission to reprint forgotten novels that deserve new audiences–and do so with elegance and style.  This is must read for anyone who’s a fan of British fiction, crime fiction, and comic stories set in supposedly bucolic towns. ★★★★★ 

Lev Raphael has reviewed books for The Washington Post, The Detroit Free Press, Jerusalem Report and several public radio stations.

A Tense Summer Read: “Her, Too”

Kelly McCann is a superstar lawyer in the legal/psychological thriller Her, Too: She wins every single case, and each one brings her kudos, cash, and controversy. That’s because she defends wealthy men accused of sex crimes and in the courtroom she’s merciless, brutal.  

We first see her basking in triumph at a Philadelphia courthouse after a jury acquits the Big Pharma billionaire scientist she’s defending against several charges of rape. The media is out in full force and she could be a Roman Emperor accepting the adulation of the masses–even the protestors prove how famous she is.

She lived to win.  It was the entire secret of her success.  Her courtroom victories weren’t due to any great brilliance on her part.   She had no more talent than the average lawyer.  What she did have was this abiding lust for victory.

But the Wheel of Fortune turns very quickly in her case and she’s soon the victim of a grotesque sex crime herself, something unimaginable.  Thankfully the author doesn’t feel the need to dwell on the details, but what she does do beautifully is portray the new trap Kelly finds herself in and the emotional damage that she suffers.

How can she be free?  Revenge would be a start and the book takes on the feel of a caper as she tries to assemble just the right team to take on her assailant and destroy his reputation and his business.  But she’s out of her depth and is soon shocked by a series of threatening surprises.  Readers might be surprised themselves by some of the twists the story takes and how Kelly changes–and in the identity of the novel’s murderer.  I sure was.

The novel is strongest when it stays in Kelly’s head or in the head of her  investigator Javier because they are far more interesting and complex than the people around them.  Nonetheless, Her, Too is a deeply moving, gripping tale of power run amok and how its victims can fight back, as told by a former attorney who knows the legal system inside out.  It’s also the age-old tale of what happens to overweening pride.

Kistler is a masterful storyteller and I did not want to put the book down.  That may be a cliché, but it’s true. ★★★★

Lev Raphael is the former crime fiction reviewer for The Detroit Free Press and the author of 27 books including 10 Nick Hoffman Mysteries.

WWI “On A Knife Edge”

How did the Germans lose WWI when at times, according to this new history, they came close to winning early on?  The reasons are varied and fascinating in a beautifully detailed, in-depth exploration of German motives, perceptions, actions, and failures of imagination.

One determining factor was that Germany’s high command was riven by strategic and personal disputes and these also existed across the various “power centers” in Kaiser Wilhelm II’s empire at the time including the Kaiser and his court, the German parliament, the army’s Supreme Command and the army itself.  Some generals wouldn’t even speak to each other for weeks at a time.  And conditions only got worse over time with miscommunications and fiction between generals and politicians, politicians and the high Command, with the Kaiser growing more and more delusional.

Just as significant, Germany’s new intelligence service was severely understaffed and thus prone to making wildly incorrect judgments, as for instance ranking the U.S. a less significant military power than Bulgaria. Or positing that England could be handily quarantined by only a handful of U-boats.  Far more devastating, in The Battle of Verdun, the Germans grossly overestimated French losses and never planned for heavy German losses.

German prejudice about the French was widespread among the powerful decision makers.  The French were under-rated in terms of their military performance, and perhaps just as seriously, as a people.  One high echelon leader thought that “the French national character showed a tendency towards hysterical mood swings.”  That’s funny and tragic at the same time.

Another military leader believed that Germany would always beat France no matter what, since “the character of our dear neighbours has hardly changed since 1870.”  Such dismissive and contemptuous views were widespread in Germany as a whole and certainly among the military’s elite, despite French superiority of numbers in many sectors of the Western Front and Germany’s continued inability to strike a knockout blow on their opponents.   As if such arrogance wasn’t enough to tip the scales against Germany, political and military leaders could not agree on war aims, what would be an acceptable peace agreement, and whether to annex conquered territory or not.  The politicians too often “chose the stupidest possible course of action” and overall throughout the war, “Germany’s  approach was largely incoherent and chaotic.”

Though tragedy abounds, sometimes the events slip into farce.  One example: Germany and Austria-Hungary had divided Russian Poland between them and wanted to mobilize a Polish army to fight against Russia.  They proclaimed a new Kingdom of Poland without there being a king, government, constitution, parliament or anything else you’d expect for a new nation.  The plan was a dud.

While the book is somewhat slow to get going, once the author delves deeper into the often chaotic decision-making process for Germany and its allies, this study becomes truly compelling.  I’ve read many books about WWI, but because this one focuses less on the battles and more on everything happening behind the scenes,  the progress of the war seems much clearer.  It’s a refreshing narrative and the memoirs, diaries, and letters of key figures that he quotes give the book startling immediacy.  ★★★★

Lev Raphael has reviewed for The Washington Post, The Detroit Free Press and other publications as well as three public radio stations in Michigan. He recently reviewed the classic WWI novel All Quiet on the Western Front.