2021 Grateful 34: Philosophy and fictional men

When living in Oxford, I took a short course in philosophy. It wasn’t for me. I’m a A+ student when it comes to continuous education and life-long learning. But I simply don’t have the bandwidth to fully understand the likes of Rousseau, Nietzsche, and Merton.

I’ve always regretted the gaping hole in my education into which The Classics would fit. I would give my eye teeth to be able to quote relevant poetry at will. I’d even settle for the ability to remember famous lines from great movies. Sadly, my mind isn’t wired that way.

As a fan of pithy sayings and snappy one-liners, I was completely taken by James Scott Bell’s Mike Romeo series. I’ve written before about my thing for fictional men and Mike Romeo has made the cut. Romeo is a former cage fighter now working as an investigator for Ira, the Mossad-agent-turned-Rabbi lawyer. All five books have umf. But  Romeo’s thing for philosophy adds a welcome additional layer to the enjoyment factor. it’s like taking a pre-beginner philosophy course.

By way of example from Romeo’s Way:

“Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains,” I said.
What does that mean?
Rousseau. Real freedom is a rare commodity.

That snippet led me to a paper on Jean-Jacques Rousseau that while not as gung-ho as the novel was nonetheless an inspiring read. All five novels draw on the great philosoophers and, indeed, some poets, too.

By way of example from Romeo’s Stand:

I don’t think it’s enough to rage against the dying of the light. You’ve got to leave a mark that will let others find the light after you’re gone.

I had to revisit Dylan Thomas’s famous work after reading that; it was a timely reminder of a recent concern.

But it isn’t all philosophers and poets. I like how Bell writes. I like his dialogue. I like that he gives me pause for thought.

By way of example from Romeo’s Fight:

The sports bar is the new Church of the Hot-Blooded Male. Communion is not by wine and wafer, but by beer and buffalo wing. The priests are the bartenders. They will hear your confession and offer you absolution by way of Absolut. You perform an act of penance by buying a round of drinks. In place of a crucifix is a big-screen TV. You don’t pray, you cheer. Your comfort does not come from knowing the will of God. It comes from knowing the stats of your favorite team.

Once Romeo had run his five-book course, I started on another Bell protagonist, Ty Buchanan, a corporate lawyer who sees the light and hooks up with a Benedictine nun, Sr Mary, and a cast of characters that include a wannabe psychic called Only, a barista called Pick, and, of course, Fr Tom. Buchanan is also into his philosophy but compared to Romeo, he’s a beginner with Fr Tom as his teacher.

By way of example from Try Dying:

“Suffering is wasted if we suffer entirely alone.”
I just looked at him.
Thomas Merton said that.
Merton. A Trappist monk. He wrote that in No Man Is an Island.

Merton is now on my list to read. A preliminary exploration of his work gave me a new word, one that I like – eschatology, the part of theology concerned with death, judgement, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind aka the science of last things. Both books are profanity free and all the better for it. They’re fine examples of how thrillers, if written well with solid characters, can be both engrossing and eduational.

Bell is a prolific author. A former trial lawyer, he knows what he’s writing about. He has a series of books on writing and a few other protagonists that he has serialised. I’m now dithering between Kit Shannon, set in 1903 Los Angeles or Jimmy Gallagher, set in LA of the 1950s. That Shannon is a young woman with a calling to the male-dominated bar pulls me but Gallgher is Irish, a boxer, and written in what is described as ‘vintage Los Angeles, ’50s pulp fiction’. It’s a hard call but I think Gallagher might win.

Once again, I’m grateful for my love of the written word and for authors like James Scott Bell who know how to write and understand what it means to convincingly entertain.





9 Responses

  1. I will be looking these up in my local library!!! B.A. Shapiro’s mysteries got me on the trail of the impressionists and Van Gogh, starting with ‘The Art Forger’. Thanks for the recommendation.

  2. Hmmm… ‘I think the author was trying to create a character that was rugged individualist with a strong moral code like Jack Reacher or John Milton. Instead we got a smug, arrogant, egocentric robot capable of only the most shallow human relationships. This novel could pass for a parody of an action thriller.’ or ‘Jack Reacher with a sense of humor.’ (Amazon reviews)…. Too bad my library doesn’t have them 🙂

  3. The Hangman’s House will be out soon, so I’ll send a copy. Tell me if you think it’s a novel!

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