Saturday, December 26, 2009

Rage - by Jonathan Kellerman

For those familiar with Jonathan Kellerman's Alex Delaware novels, "Rage" is the 19th installment of that series. If you enjoy the team of psychologist Delaware's and his friend LAPD Lieutenant Milo Sturgis's often unorthodox approach to solving criminal mysteries with some surprising and unexpected outcomes, you won't be disappointed with this story.

Eight years earlier, Alex was called upon to evaluate two young boys, barely teenagers, who had kidnapped two-year old Kristal Malley from a mall and murdered her. The two boys were Troy Turner, who seemed an intelligent child psychopath, and Rand Duchay, who appeared to be an easily led and slow-witted accomplice. The boys were sent away to California's troubled youth correctional system without any real understanding of why these children would do such a terrible thing to an innocent two-year-old girl. Troy Turner was, himself, brutally murdered in prison. Rand Duchay, however, survived, and at age 21 was released.

Out of the blue, Alex Delaware gets a phone call from the recently freed Duchay asking to meet and talk, but is murdered before they have they have the chance. Was it simple fate that a child-killer himself met a violent end? Did someone try to get revenge for Rand's horrible crime? Barnett Malley, Kristal's father, is an obvious suspect. A young couple who served as "religious advisors" for the boys, however, also seem to be curiously linked in unexpected ways. Alex and Milo are determined to sort it all out. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride and, hence, highly recommend this book.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Promise Me - by Harlan Coben

"Promise Me" is another installment of Harlan Coben's basketball star turned sports/talent agent with "extra" skills, Myron Bolitar. At a party, Myron overhears part of a conversation with two teenaged girls. In an effort to prevent them ever from riding in a car with friends (or others) who have been drinking, he ends up asking them to call him, if ever in trouble, and he will come and get them with no strings (or questions) attached. When, at a later date, one of the girls, Aimee Biel, takes him up on his offer, Bolitar picks her up as he said he would. After dropping her off, though, supposedly at her friend's house, she disappears. Although Myron's friends have cautioned him against trying to save people, he must jump into this mystery with both feet. He feels a duty to Aimee, her parents, and himself to find out what happened and make sure she's okay.

Harlan Coben does a skillful job of weaving a suspenseful thriller by methodically uncovering a set of intriguing clues that Myron eventually pieces together to uncover the truth. He utilizes and further develops a cast of characters in this novel with real complexity and depth. From his best friend, Windsor Horne Lockwood III (Win), to his business partner and friend Esperanza, to his quirky parents whom he aspires to become, to his former and current love interests (Jessica and Ali respectively), to county investigator Lauren Mews from other Coben tales, to unorthodox friend Big Cyndi, and to all of the Livingston, New Jersey area based personalities Myron encounters in pursuit of this case, they all are quintessentially human with strengths and weaknesses, talents and faults, and non-trivial backgrounds. One some plane, Myron (and hence the reader) empathizes with all of them. Much of the appeal of this book is experiencing Myron's internal conflict with issues that have no easy answers.

On Harlan Coben's web-page for this book (, the author says, "I wanted to have my cake and eat it too. I wanted to write a gut-wrenching suspense thriller that would top all of my stand-alones. And I wanted to write a book that would be uniquely Myron. I think I did that with Promise Me." Well, I agree. This was indeed a very good book.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Predictably Irrational - by Dan Ariely

This book is about behavioral economics. While the subject alone may convince many would be readers to move onto another title, I would highly recommend otherwise.

Dan Ariely describes, in a very entertaining and informative style, why the assumption of rational behavior, which underlies most classic economic theory, is not always valid. Don’t be concerned, however, that the reader will be forced to interpret a traditional scientific dissertation on this topic. Instead, he or she will be treated to explanations of his concepts and findings in terms of everyday, common human behavior which everyone can easily understand and relate to. Further, he backs his concepts with descriptions of real-life experiments with some very enlightening and somewhat surprising results. By reading this book, I think you will gain some personal insight into how we all make real-life decisions. The result is not only the presentation of fascinating information (although I was certainly engaged by it and truly didn’t want to put the book down), but also the demonstration of how these findings might potentially be applied in ingenious manners to improve our lives in personal or societal ways.

For instance, the author explains that humans make decisions in a “relative” context. When carrying out our attempts at rational comparison, however, many factors can affect us irrationally. For example, he demonstrates how we are insensibly biased towards something that is free. He shows that, in our minds, the cost of an item affects its value (e.g., an aspirin costing fifty cents cures headaches more effectively than the same aspirin priced at only 5 cents). He explains that ownership can tremendously skew our valuation of items (e.g., in a pool of loyal Duke basketball fans competing in a lottery for hard to get tickets, those actually awarded tickets valued them at roughly ten times the value of those who were offered a chance at purchasing the tickets after
losing the lottery). He illustrates how nonsensical price associations (e.g. Social Security digits) can even affect human valuation decisions.

The book documents similar results for moral decision-making. For example, Ariely describes an experiment which demonstrates radical shifts between results during “cold” and “passionate” mental states (he used arousal for his experiment, but pointed out that anger, fear, or any other such criteria would likely produce similar results). He provides data to show that people are more honest when cash is directly involved. Likewise, he shows that moral reminders (e.g., honor codes or recalling the ten commandments) actually reduce dishonesty. He points out the differences between business and social norms and some unanticipated results of trying to blend the two.

In summary, I found this to be a great book. I thoroughly enjoyed it, learned much, and highly recommend it. I hope you read it and have a similar experience.