2 Reviews: The Last Days of Night (electricity) & Axeman’s Jazz (mystery)

The Last Days of NightThe Last Days of Night by Graham Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How did America get electrified? Moore’s fictionalized account of the battle between Thomas Edison & George Westinghouse for control of what’s now a cornerstone of our lives is fascinating, & evidently sticks as close to the facts as is feasible for a commercial novel. We start at the point where Edison has made himself the Steve Jobs of his day, not just by inventing new things but by following the old cement-truck motto, “Find a need & fill it.” He’s brilliant, & he’s ruthless. Westinghouse is more old-fashioned, seeking to create the best gadget for a task. Yet it looks like he’ll be steamrolled, despite his own brilliance & his considerable fortune, as Edison applies a form of Henry Ford’s mass production to the inventing game. We watch all this through the eyes of lawyer Paul Cravath, whose future will be made or broken by navigating his client successfully (or not) through this clash of titans. Meanwhile, Paul is continually distracted by an alluring & enigmatic opera star — & by the erratic immigrant genius Nikola Tesla, who’s pivotal to the titans’ campaign to wire & light the nation, but seems not to care.

The author is a screenwriter: his sense of drama is terrific, but his prose is so clunky at times that I wish he’d partnered with a coauthor. If the writing were better, I’d have trusted the story more. It helps that Moore provides documentation at the end, showing the DMZ between what really happened & what needed to happen for this chronicle to make a good novel.

Axeman's Jazz (Skip Langdon, #2)Axeman’s Jazz by Julie Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This police procedural has nothing to do with jazz; instead, the killer is hunted in New Orleans’s self-help programs. No doubt there’s some overlap, but given the title it felt like bait-&-switch. Good narrator, good plotting; I stayed interested all the way through, mainly thanks to the main POV character, detective Skip Langdon, the one really likeable person we meet, & strong descriptions of local scenery, as well as some insightful & funny observations about Southern manners & mores. The climax was a bit too talky for me, but that may be inevitable when everybody’s in a 12-step program.

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