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Connecticut River Valley, New England, United States

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Cool Jazz Spy for a Cool Jazz Summer's Day

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In November 1965 at around 530 PM I started to walk across the deserted parking lot of the mall in which I worked, the stores all having closed at 5. My car was one of a scattered few left and I had parked it under one of the tall multiple light fixtures, knowing that I would be leaving with few people around. As I walked rapidly toward the car all of the lights suddenly went out. Rushing I got into the car and locked it, looking around and seeing that not a light of any sort could be seen. Driving home through a darkened town, across the bridge and through another darkened village and on into the country it was unnerving to realize my headlights and those of the few other cars I met were the only lights to be seen. I arrived home to my parents sitting with candles and kerosene lanterns lit and supper cooling on the table. None of us were terribly nervous since it was winter in upstate New York and power outages were not unheard of. By 8 the next morning all had returned to normal, except the fact that the whole North Eastern seaboard had been thrown into darkness for over thirteen hours. Thoughts of possible sabotage were bandied about for awhile but, as often happens in situations like this, it was found that human error in setting a relay in a large power grid caused it to fail.

Imagine this happening today but instead of an electrical power grid being damaged the whole of a country's computer system was hacked and all systems failed. No cell phones, no computers, none of the systems that are computer operated--what systems are not? Banking, gas pumps, cash registers, airline computers, hydroelectric dams, water purification systems --just think how the world has changed since 1965 and how much of the world's activities and systems are computer based. Well, this is what happens in Cool Jazz Spy.

Needless to say all of the major governmental security agencies are put on high alert and the scramble begins to answer several questions--what the hell happened, who is responsible, how do we get things back to normal, and how do we prevent this from happening again?

CIA operative, John Angstrom, recovered from a nervous breakdown and just back from the extraction from Russia of a beautiful Soviet agent is put in charge of assembling a team to tackle these problems. Happily the author refrains from calling it Angstrom's Unit but in my mind I could not resist. The writing is so exciting it is like watching a fast paced spy thriller movie. Each of the characters is so well sketched physically and his and her personalities so defined that it is easy to create mental images of them--the sound of the voice, the lift of the brow or lip in a smile or grimace. And the locations--I think were I ever to go to St Petersburg, Russia I would recognize the Sennaya Ploschad instantly--down to the canal, the line of parked cars, the arrangement of the buildings, even the exact sniper's balcony.

There are references throughout to various jazz pieces and the musicians who play them. Except in a few places these references didn't enhance the action for me, but they also did not detract from it. Jazz is not a favorite musical form of mine but skipping blithely past the asides didn't alter the work.

There is a lot of Computerese in several places---mostly in the various meetings of the agency personnel for updates and explanations of what happened and how the malware is being identified and either destroyed or over-written. I love the poor guy who has to address the meetings--known as Q-Directorate--homage to the gadget fella in Bond, I suppose. Several times he worries that he is overloading the minds of his audience and wonders if they are all able to follow. Well, not this reader, by the second sentence my eyes glazed over, but I read on just in case I could glean some meaning from all the gibberish ( to me ) and I did get the gist of what happened. That again, was good enough. If you are a computer nerd you'll love that part, if not, like this dinosaur, you'll skim it and move on. Again, no damage to the action.

All in all, a good story with a hero who engineers a terrific operation with all kinds of excitement and success. Some computer science for those who like and understand it. A bit of romance for the hero and his defector, Anna. And some jazz reference and a beautiful cello reference for the musically inclined. Bartusiak, the author, even gives a discography at the back and a bit of blurb on the works of several of the big names in Cool Jazz.

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