Wednesday, July 16, 2014

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Face the Music: A Life Exposed by Paul Stanley


KISS' flamboyant "Starchild" unplugs his high-wattage amps and introduces fans to an even more intriguing character: Stanley Harvey Eisen.

Few who experienced the power of a KISS concert during the 1970s could have imagined that one of the preening men commanding the exploding stage in makeup and high heels was actually an anxiety-riddled loner from Queens hiding a rare facial deformity called microtia. Growing up, the condition left Stanley half deaf with a "stump of an ear" that prompted sensitive neighborhood kids to jeer him as "the monster." The axe-slinger behind some of KISS' most anthemic songs displays a laudable frankness in discussing those troubled times, made all the more trying thanks to a set of emotionally unavailable parents and a mentally disturbed sibling. The bleakness of the music-obsessed teen's existence eventually drove him to seek out his own psychotherapist. Still, the author possessed an almost uncanny certainty that music would be his life. That unconquerable drive, coupled with a deep and abiding desire to belong to something, brought him into the orbits of three decidedly disparate characters: Gene Simmons, Peter Criss and Ace Frehley. Stanley describes the halcyon days of KISS' formation as the realization of his dreams—but there were problems from the inception. Despite a dynamic conceived as a sort of fun-house reflection of the Beatles, the KISS brotherhood, as Stanley regards it now, was always built on suspect fortifications. Those weaknesses would come to light at the end of the 1970s, after the band had already conquered the world and intra-band friction took hold. Stanley recounts the worst of it—the 1996 reunion tour that, while successful, fell woefully short of the bombastic comeback the Starchild had envisioned. None of Stanley's band mates escape his withering criticism, but Criss is clearly his favorite target. At peace with the state of KISS today, Stanley reveals that the most precious things in his life now are his sense of enlightened awareness and cooking elaborate meals with the wife and kids.

An indispensable part of KISStory.

Field of Prey by John Sandford


Lucas Davenport’s latest case involves at least 15 women who were raped and strangled. Maybe more.

Years after Heather Jorgenson, the fifth intended victim of a murderous rapist, escaped thanks to her Leatherman knife, a pair of high school kids searching for a remote location for a tryst makes a horrifying discovery which indicates that an awful lot of women were less lucky. A cistern near Sally James’ farm is filled with 15 items immediately identifiable as skulls and so much undifferentiated organic matter that it’s anybody’s guess how many victims were dumped there—let alone who they were. Methodical, unspectacular Bob Shaffer, of Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, is put in charge of the case, and his patient collection and sifting of facts indicates that Mary Lynn Carpenter, a candy-store owner who vanished two weeks ago, was the latest in a string of murders that may stretch back 20 years. When an uncharacteristic episode of solo snooping abruptly ends Shaffer’s involvement with the case, Lucas (Silken Prey, 2013, etc.) is on hand to take over. Working with Goodhue County deputy Catrin Mattsson, he reaches the pivotal conclusion that the rapist is actually two men working together, even though one of them, ex-dogcatcher Jack Horn, seems to have died years ago. Unfortunately, this intelligence comes too late to prevent the abduction of Catrin herself, who’s put through the same nightmare as all those other women while Lucas is off in Texas seeing what he can do for his close BCA friend Del Capslock, who was shot in a drug bust gone wrong.

Like so many of Lucas’ cases, his 26th is routine but proficient and intense. If it doesn’t add anything new to the genre, it provides all the thrills fans will expect.

James Madison: A Life Reconsidered by Lynne Cheney


A Founding Father gets a respectful reappraisal.

Author and former second lady Cheney (We the People: The Story of Our Constitution, 2008, etc.) puts another feather in her patriotic hat with this life of James Madison (1751-1836), fourth president, forger of the Constitution and friend of Thomas Jefferson. While he never studied the law or pursued the military, mostly due to his ill health, which was perceived then as epilepsy, Madison was a doer, translating his passionate defense of the Baptists’ right to worship in Virginia into activism in the patriotic cause of the Virginia Convention. Working with Jefferson in fashioning the Virginia constitution, Madison was drafting the blueprint that would become the U.S. Constitution, including the important early tenet for religious liberty. A diligent member of the Continental Congress, he, along with Alexander Hamilton, proposed a states’ revenue to pay the new country’s debts and promoted Jefferson as peace negotiator in Paris. Drawing from his deep readings in Enlightenment philosophers, Madison was taking notes during every moment in the Philadelphia debates concerning the overhaul of the Articles of the Confederation, as the delegates wrangled over every aspect of the legislative, executive and judiciary branches. He suspected that the approved Constitution failed to rein in the “unwise and wicked proceedings” of the states. The threat of New York’s failure to ratify prompted Madison, Hamilton and John Jay to anonymously pen the Federalist Papers. Madison’s most famous was Federalist 10, which warned of “factions” in causing government failure. Beating James Monroe for representative to the First Congress from Virginia, Madison helped George Washington revise his inaugural address, and he shaped the Bill of Rights. As president, he weathered the British storm of 1812 and kept the union intact. Cheney duly covers her subject’s life in a thorough yet somewhat bland narrative.

A proficiently argued account for Madison’s greatness, but it lacks the political thrusts of Garry Wills, Richard Brookhiser and other historians.

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