Robert Ludlum and the book ‘Trevayne’

In the spring of 1992, I was a junior in high school offered a unique opportunity in class for two weeks shortly after returning from the week away from classes when the weather warms. The assignment was to pick virtually any book of your choosing and spend two weeks of class time reading. Your grade was predicated on picking a book that passed inspection, and the length of the book. Thus, I was introduced to Robert Ludlum and the book Trevayne.

Trevayne 2 - Robert Ludlum(Robert Ludlum wrote Trevayne, which was originally published under the pseudonym Jonathan Ryder).

Robert Ludlum wrote 27 separate novels over the course of his writing career. Trevayne was published using one of the pseudonym Jonathan Ryder, the reasoning being described in this archived article published in The New York Times in September 1989. Trevayne feels like a thriller in response to the Watergate Scandal that led to the resignation of United States President Richard Nixon. Andrew Trevayne serves as the protagonist for Trevayne, which was first published in 1973.

Trevayne 3 - Jonathan Ryder Pseudonym(Robert Ludlum wrote Trevayne, which was originally published under the pseudonym Jonathan Ryder).

The fictional US President in Trevayne solicited Andrew Trevayne, a self-made millionaire and former undersecretary of state, to root out rampant corruption and gouging by contractors serving the Pentagon. Andrew Trevayne suffers grave personal risk through the story, as is seen quickly within the fast paced telling of events without much in terms of psychological depth for the story’s characters. We do learn early in Trevayne’s investigation that his wife gets violently attacked based on gender and that he has a child using drugs. Rumors of wrongdoing from the 1950’s for this book set in the 1970’s are further brought to bear.

Trevayne 4 - Robert Ludlum(Robert Ludlum wrote Trevayne).

Within short order of accepting his appointment as the administrator of the subcommittee looking into the corruption, a chauffeur of Andrew Trevayne’s is killed. A member of the subcommittee who opposed Trevayne’s appointment, Gillette, also is killed quickly after threatening to overturn the confirmation that formally put Trevayne in place atop the investigation. A mafia leader by the name De Spadante also makes friends with Andrew Trevayne as Trevayne is joining the subcommittee while seeking to remove Trevayne from service.

Trevayne 5 - Pseudonym & Not Pseudonym(Robert Ludlum wrote Trevayne, which was originally published under the pseudonym Jonathan Ryder).

A fictional Genessee industries gets tangled up in the investigation under suspicion of illegal activities. Trevayne garners the support of the leaders of Genessee, who support a bid for becoming a US president. The story, inconceivably, sees a means of either inflating the ego of Andrew Trevayne into acquiring the US presidency through illegal and elicit means of support, or Andrew trusting the instinct of his wife who senses something untoward with the people at Genessee who seemingly are angling for special influence after an Andrew Trevayne election to enhance their illegal mafia enterprise. In the end, Trevayne the man trusts his wife, ends his run for president by disclosing much of the corruption found through the media. Things then work out further for the man, Andrew Trevayne, who reenters private life as head of the respected foundation he left to run the subcommittee he had headed.

Trevayne 6(Robert Ludlum wrote Trevayne. We read the edition of Trevayne bearing this cover).

At seventeen years old without much experience reading thriller novels, I thought Trevayne by Robert Ludlum was great. As part of a two-week reading assignment at 50-minute intervals for 10-days, this novel was exciting, thrilling, and included a lot of intrigue that did not ask for much interpretation of psychological motivation beyond understanding if the main protagonist, Andrew Trevayne, would be motivated by the vanity of ego or the conviction of character and trust. In the end, he seemingly chose a different path than did Richard Nixon in the Watergate Scandal that occurred just before this novel. Overall, my grade for the novel that I read nearly 27-years-ago is 3.00-stars on a scale of one-to-five stars.

Matt – Wednesday, April 10, 2019

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John Simm, Anthony Chau-Sang Wong, and Season One of ‘White Dragon’

The Amazon Original Series crime thriller White Dragon (2018- ) came to Amazon customers in February 2019 with its opening season. The story is the telling of the life-altering reality of the life of Jonah Mulray, David Chen, and Lau Chen when Megan Harris dies in an automobile accident in Hong Kong. The series follows a crime thriller feel with what The New York Times called a part of the “tourist-noir” genre.

White Dragon 3 - Dervla Kirwan(Dervla Kirwan as Megan Harris in White Dragon).

Dervla Kirwan plays Megan Harris in White Dragon, a series originally filmed under the title Strangers. The opening credits shown for Strangers were largely maintained for the 8-episode season, with the change in title to White Dragon. Megan Harris takes the role of the female lead with a past fully unknown to her United Kingdom husband Jonah Mulray, as portrayed by John Simm.

White Dragon 2 - Anthony Chau-Sang Wong, left, and John Simm(Anthony Chau-Sang Wong, left, and John Simm in White Dragon).

The opening of the first episode featured largely on establishing the relationship between Jonah Mulray and Megan Harris, along with initiating the trope of a calamitous accident leading to the discovery of many layers of secrets withheld from the surviving member. White Dragon is unique in flipping the trope in such a way as to have the partner with the secretive past being the female lead while the male lead must learn of the past. An initially large part of the secrecy was that Harris was still married to a husband in Hong Kong dating back to the point where Harris had married Mulray.

White Dragon 4 - Katie Leung(Katie Leung as Lau Chen in White Dragon).

Megan Harris’ first husband was David Chen, as portrayed by Anthony Chau-Sang Wong. Chen played the role of father to Lau Chen, who for much of the season we understand to be the daughter of David and Megan. Katie Leung, who many will recognize from her role as Cho Chang in the Harry Potter movies, played Lau Chen. Lau plays a somewhat determined role to get David Chen to be more expressive, express a will to explore her sexuality and feelings following Megan’s death, test limits as the season unfolds, and largely overcome dysfunction in an unfolding situation that is largely stacked against many of those subjects.

White Dragon 5 - Rosalind Halstead, left, and Kenneth Tsang(Rosalind Halstead, left, and Kenneth Tsang in White Dragon).

A bit deeper into the story, we are introduced to Emma, a friend to Megan Harris, as portrayed by Rosalind Halstead. Emma works for Xiaodong Xo, an immensely powerful Hong Kong real estate magnate who is running for a democratically elected post atop the government of Hong Kong. Kenneth Tsang plays Xiaodon Xo. The theme of family, hidden relationships, and motivation for these ultimately play a role through the larger story of White Dragon.

White Dragon 6 - Anthony Hayes(Anthony Hayes plays Michael Cohen in White Dragon).

Anthony Hayes plays the character Michael Cohen in White Dragon. Cohen is a reporter seeking to conduct legitimate journalism for a newspaper while simultaneously being estranged from Emma. Michael Cohen and Emma have a daughter, whose custody is between the two is subject to a judicial hearing through the course of the series. Within the larger drama, Cohen’s efforts as a reporter are challenged from the folks he aims to cover while simultaneously being challenged by the editorial staff of the newspaper that employs him. Astute readers can guess where this might be leading in the larger narrative, yet I choose to withhold additional comment for the sake of those interested in the show.

White Dragon 8 - Emilia Fox(Emilia Fox as Sally Porter in White Dragon).

Sally Porter, as portrayed by Emilia Fox, is a member of the British Consulate in Hong Kong. Porter is an early and consistent force advocating for Jonah Mulray through White Dragon, though her efforts put her at odds with Anthony Hayes, Lao Chen, Jonah Mulray, and others. We learn of Porter’s background through the series and, as one might expect of a show operating per Film Noir rules, Porter has secrets to be revealed. This in part overlaps with Porter’s boss, Arthur Bach.

White Dragon 7 - John Simm, left, and Tim McInnerny(John Simm as Jonah Mulray, left, and Tim McInnerny as Arthur Bach in White Dragon).

Arthur Bach is played by Tim McInnerny. That Bach has an agenda through much of the White Dragon‘s first season is revealed early on, though the exact character of it are not readily apparent to Jonah Mulray nor the audience from the start. His role leads up to the hidden motivations in play for many in the show, though his role does seem to have a component geared at protecting the baser elements at play through the Hong Kong tale.

White Dragon 9 - LToR Emilia Fox, John Simm, Anthony Chau-Sang Wong, Rosalind Halstead, and Katie Leung(From left to right are Emilia Fox, John Simm, Anthony Chau-Sang Wong, Rosalind Halstead, and Katie Leung of the first season of White Dragon).

Getting to the bottom line, my feeling is that the characters nor larger narrative of the first season of White Dragon are sufficiently likable to warrant the time investment in watching the show. If you have not yet spent the time watching them, I would recommend shows like Justified, Breaking Bad, Manifest, Timeless, or even Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. My rating of the first season of White Dragon is 3.25-stars on a scale of one-to-five stars.

Matt – Wednesday, March 06, 2019

The memory of a life scholastic – Jean Marzollo

The writer of more than 150 books for children has died. Jean Marzollo wrote books for the Scholastic Publishing brand of education and media that has thrived through my childhood and for a long run before and after. Marzollo’s life is captured in this New York Times article from April 13, 2018.

Marzollo 2(Jean Marzollo)

Ms. Marzollo passed at age 75 in New York state after a fulfilling career writing books for children. Her I SPY series of books were written in rhythm and rhyme. The notion of this trait was to “lure and excite the ear,” as Marzollo said in the biography on her website. “Children love rhythm and rhyme, and so do I.”

Marzollo 3(A book in the I SPY series)

While many of the books by Marzollo were accompanied by images or illustrations with collaborators such as Walter Wick, the I SPY series that began in the early 1990s also led to other works.

Marzollo 5(My First Book of Biographies)

Per the piece in The New York Times, Marzollo became editor of Let’s Find Out magazine in 1972. The monthly magazine for kindergartners led to Marzollo’s first book in 1978, Close Your Eyes (illustrated by Susan Jeffers). The book was about a boy having trouble falling asleep. Other I SPY books really cemented Marzollo‘s reputation.

Marzollo 4(A book in the I SPY series)

The book In 1492 is a biographical book for kids that describes the first voyage of Christopher Columbus into the new world. The point here is to show that Marzollo‘s literary themes for kids ranged from the fanciful to factual, words used in The New York Times article.

Marzollo 6(The book In 1492 by Jean Marzollo)

Jean Marzollo lived a life that aimed to educate children. Her recent passing at 75 years of age, while sad, reminds us that she left us with much of a fanciful yet factual world that educated children and adults alike in the concept of raising the literacy of children. There is much to respect and remember in this life’s aim to inspire a love for reading and literacy.

Matt – Friday, April 20, 2018

Book review: ‘Three Cups of Deceit’ pours a tale of betrayal in education and charity

Jon Krakaeur is one of my favorite writers. I came upon his writings after the age of 25-years, wherein his sense of adventure and independent idealism struck me as honest and relatable. It is through this lens that the betrayal of trust exposed in Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way resonated within me a sense of disappointment and anger after reading the detail of possibility lost.

Greg Mortenson is shown in Three Cups of Deceit to be a cheat, a swindler, a and a dishonest profiteer with little management skill or integrity. Mortenson had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize based on his work in building schools and funding the operation of schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan as director and chief fundraiser for the Central Asia Institute.  The idea and potential of this organization is unique in its ability to bring literacy to a population not adequately educated.

Three Cups of Deceit 2(Greg Mortenson)

Quoting from a New Yorker article published at the time Three Cups of Deceit was published:

“[Krakaeur] quotes former C.A.I. employees who are scathing in their criticism of Mortenson, including board members who resigned in disgust. According to Krakaeur, in 2009, C.A.I. spent 1.7 million dollars to promote Mortenson’s books, taking out full-page ads in publications like the New York Times, and chartering private planes for him to attend speaking events.”

Mortenson had published the books Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace – One School at a Time and Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Education in Afghanistan and Pakistan with ghost-writers, pocketing the profits from the book sales. In Three Cups of Deceit, Krakauer argues with testimony that many of the reported facts in Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools are untrue fabrications that never occurred. The program Pennies for Peace is debunked in Three Cups of Deceit after having raised much money through the efforts of educated children in the United States and elsewhere.

Like with many of books written by Jon Krakaeur, Three Cups of Deceit includes Greg Mortenson as a central heroic figure first fighting for an idealistic pursuit and then going astray. The degree of nobility within the character has varied from one Krakaeur book to another, with Mortenson showing us a noble idea while never coming across as honest or particularly leader-like. The details here were distinct enough from other Krakauer books to hold my interest for the length of the work.

Three Cups of Deceit 3(Jon Krakaeur)

I was not overwhelmingly impressed by new journalism in this piece, though I acknowledge wholeheartedly the newsworthiness of the material. I feel the betrayal that underpinned the subject matter in the book. That Mortenson chose not to respond within the framework of the book was disappointing to me. My overall rating lands at a 3.0-stars out of 5 stars.

Matt – Tuesday, February 20, 2018