Netgalley Book Review: Enigma, by Catherine Coulter

It has been quite awhile since I did a book review, and this is not the normal self-help, midlife crisis tome I usually post in this category. However, I did read Enigma from my Netgalley shelf and felt like it was worth sharing the review with you good people. Please let me know if this is something you would, or would not like to see, in the future as I will be penning more reviews for Netgalley in the Mystery & Suspense genre. Thanks!

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Book Review Netgalley

 

Catherine Coulter

Enigma (21st in the Savich & Sherlock series)

3.5/5

 

I have been reading the Mystery & Suspense genre for 30+ years and it is still by far my favorite category. I enjoy the puzzle that is laid out by the author, tempting the reader to figure out what information is important and how the story will unfold. The downside to having read such a large sample size of this sector is that very little surprises me anymore. The plot twists are generally anticipated, the foreshadowing is upfront and fairly blatant and common themes are oft repeated. All the above applies to my experience with Catherine Coulter’s latest installment of her FBI Thriller series, Enigma. I was drawn to this novel for two main reasons. First, I have read Coulter’s previous works and found them to be entertaining and secondly, any cover with a DNA molecule grabs my attention. I am a molecular biologist and am often curious as to how the author will handle some of the more complicated and nuanced details with respect to genetics and disease.

Enigma opens with a hostage situation where an apparent mad man has entered the home of a pregnant woman, Kara Moody, and holds her against her will. While engaged in a stand off with the local police, FBI Special Agent Dillion Savich manages to single handedly save Ms. Moody setting up the first of the common themes I mentioned earlier. The audience learns that Agent Savich is not just merely an agent but a super hero with extraordinary skills, and of course the head of the local police department feels threatened by his innate talents and they do not get along in the face of Savich’s incredible negotiating skills and expert marksmanship. The old feds vs local cops, is the first of our common themes shared by most of the novels in this genre. The abduction appears to be just a peripheral event but the savvy reader knows that this will be woven into a larger storyline as the novel unfolds.

In parallel to this occurrence a high profile inmate has orchestrated an escape during a prison transfer. He is, of course, exceptionally cunning, manipulative, violent and attractive. This sets up the need for a special team of brilliant, and attractive agents to track this monster, forming the basis of the next common theme: everyone is exceptionally smart and beautiful. Of course two agents are selected to work together for the first time to track the madman in the heavily wooded and remote forest. The agents are about the same age, both have a strong and complementary skill set, are single and one is male and the other a female. Convientlty setting up the next common theme: Will they or won’t they?

Quickly we learn that Kara Moody and this young man are pawns of, you guessed it, a grander more sinister game. Which is orchestrated by a brilliant, yet evil genius with apparent unlimited wealth. Common theme number four: the bad guy always has unlimited liquid assets at his evil genius disposal.

Both story lines are compelling and Coulter weaves them together brilliantly. The cliffhangers from one chapter to the next are expertly crafted, and I enjoyed learning the fate of each beautiful, talented, brilliant character. One such transition occurred in chapter 11 which took me by surprise. An unexpected plot twist that I did not see on the horizon! Another area that Coulter excels at is constructing strong female roles in high-ranking positions, which I do appreciate. I was particularly fond of Kim, the teenager as she was a pleasant change of pace in the storyline.

As for the human genetics component, it was hit and miss for me. Yes HLA genes are contained on the human chromosome number 6, but a single inversion event would not explain the toxic tolerance by the systemic response. More importantly, it would most likely not be inherited in the offspring, which is why a parent is often not a suitable organ donor for their own child. There is no amount of evil genius, or disposable income that could make this happen! And, I don’t believe that hardened experienced FBI agents would be sitting around, after what they had just endured, and have a politically correct discussion on the merits of DNA testing like the one that occurred in the novel.

Common, predictable themes and nitpicky genetics aside I do recommend this book! I was entertained and surprised once. That means it was well worth my time and money.

What Would Carl Jung Say?

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Carl Jung was the father of modern analytical psychology. He was heavily influenced by Freud and shared his belief that the unconscious mind holds the key to unlocking repressed memories that define our past and help shape our future aspirations. Jung did split from Freud on other matters, such as the Oedipal complex and the over sexualization with respect to dream analysis. Jung’s cornerstone concept was that of individuation, where the self evolves from its two main components, the conscious and unconscious elements. This life long process is achieved by recognizing and blending these repressed memories with the aspirations and wishes for the future. There must be a balance for self actualization to occur or we will feel a disconnect from our authentic selves.

This all leads to a whole lot of dream analysis as dreams are the only source of unconscious knowledge that can be brought to the conscious surface. And this is where I have a hard time with a number of the premises brought forth in James Hollis’s book, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, How to Finally, Really Grow Up. Hollis is a Jungian psychoanalyst who uses multiple examples of how dream analysis can unlock what the mind is truly longing for in life. As a biologist I believe that dreams are a direct manifestation of neural connections that have been stimulated, perhaps without your conscious knowledge, to trigger memories, fears and anxiety responses (hence more dreams associated with negative emotions are remembered in greater detail than those associated with pleasant stimuli). Dreams are simply a processing mechanism required for the brain to function in the face of constant visual, auditory, taste and touch stimulation in our daily interactions. I do not ascribe spiritual or religious meaning to dreaming any more than I would any other biological function. I do not urinate more during the day because I secretly hate my parents!

The first half of this book spent a great deal of time outlining the problems we face moving into our mid life. Dealing with parents and their dreams for our lives and the difficulty we have in wanting desperately to assert our individualization without disappointing our progenitors. I did not find this part particularly helpful. I don’t know too many adults who, at this point in their lives, have not already dealt with this issue in some way they deem resolved. Either you have decided to disappoint those family members and let the chips fall where they may, or you have come to terms with the life you chose and the path taken. Either way  the bigger issue is “how do I move on from here?” The past is exactly that, done and done.

The second half of the book is where Hollis is helpful. He addresses the specific issues of many of us who ask “what is happening?, why have I lost my sense of purpose?” He points to Jung’s own memoirs:

I have frequently seen people become neurotic when they content themselves with inadequate or wrong answers to the questions of life. They seek position, marriage, reputation, outward success or money, and remain unhappy and neurotic even when they have attained what they were seeking. Such people are usually contained within too narrow a spiritual horizon. Their life has not sufficient content, sufficient meaning. If they are enabled to develop into more spacious personalities, the neurosis generally disappears.   -Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections p. 140

In chapter 7, career vs vocation, Hollis points out that the choices and paths that worked for the first half of our lives will fail us when we have achieved those early set goals. We need to keep our minds active and moving toward something more fulfilling. Of course, finding that something is hard to do! A vocations is a calling, not just a career, it is from a deeper need than just paying the mortgage. It is what you believe you were meant to do, not necessarily how your current talent is defined.

It is better to do your own duty badly, than to perfectly do another’s: you are safe from harm when you do what you should be doing.   -Bhagavad-Gita, III, 35

It is common for us in this midlife transition to become overwhelmed with the enormity of finding your calling, especially at this point in our lives. We have children and aging parents, spouses and community commitments to consider. Wouldn’t it be selfish to put ourselves first and to ignore those relationships to focus on ourselves to find that calling? I struggle with this everyday. I am a mother, wife and child myself and take those responsibilities very seriously. How can I tell my family that I want to go into the peace corps and help others. Leave for months to “find myself”, would that be fair to them? So, instead what do we choose to do with our unhappy realities.  Self medicate, have an affair, ignore those children. Is that a better choice? How is staying nearby but making disrespectful, hurtful, selfish choices that very well may tear the family apart be better than taking those six months to help others who are less fortunate in a third world nation? All the rest is just distraction. Eventually the drink is gone, the fantasy of the affair is broken and the children move on and you are right back to the original question “What’s next”? and the very people you were trying to accommodate are no longer in your life.

The final two chapters are worth the price of the book, if you read nothing else. They are powerful and everyone will find something relatable. Hollis posses thought provoking questions and encourages the reader to take responsibility for his or her own healing. I am a strong believer in that you cannot control other peoples actions, but you can control your reaction. I have been disrespected, deceived and hurt more than I ever thought possible, but I am not a victim. quote-2

 

 

 

 

Exploring Your Second Adulthood

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Suzanne Braun Levine’s “Inventing the rest of our lives” was first printed in 2006 and, while is it over a decade old now, I found the material to be fresh, helpful and well beyond the standard list of what ails the average mid-lifer. Most of the literature I have read to date addresses the common issues faced by both men and women. There is no shortage of men out there that are struggling, mightily, with this transition, to be sure. But men and women are approaching this quagmire from decidedly different viewpoints. Men tend to wonder about what is best for them and turn their focus inward while women worry about how their spouse and children will be affected by their new path. We are wives and mothers first, and individuals second. If we are caring for elderly parents or good friends, we may not even rate that high on our own list of priorities.

This work is organized into three sections. The first, Getting to What Matters; Letting Go and Saying No, is an acknowledgment of the changes that have taken place. Whether those changes involve children growing up, a divorce, failing health, menopause or just the recognition that one is unsettled about the future, the point is to embrace that something needs to change. Levine offers the reader the opportunity to identify the change and then offers permission to the reader to navigate the path toward that end. Why do women need permission to seek what they need or want but a man innately believes he is entitled to happiness? No one tells a man he deserves to be happy-he just decides it is so and sets out to acquire it, be it a new job, new car or a new wife!

Levine defines the “fertile void” as the period of time in a woman’s life when she knows something needs to change. The imputes is different for everyone but the end result is the stirring and inner voice that propels her to begin to ask “is this all there is?” This marks the opportunity to begin her second adulthood. In the second section, Finding Out What Works: Recalibrating Your Life, the reader is urged to look at those areas of her life that are enjoyable and affirming and to consider changing those components that are no longer working for her. That may mean reevaluating a career, toxic friendships or an unhappy marriage. Confronting these larger than life topics in your fifties can be riddled with anxiety and fear. Many women still have the “bag lady” syndrome, as described in this and many other writings in similarly themed literature. It may be 2016 but the fear of being alone and unable to take care of oneself is still engrained in most women today.

The author moves into section three, Moving On to What’s Next: Making Peace and Taking Charge and offers the simple, but powerful discussion, about recognizing what you can and cannot change. She ends the book with hope and the acknowledgment that this is an ongoing process. The women whose stories have been shared are not resolved by the end of the text, because they are not who they were before, only older. They are coming into their new selves as stronger, more self-aware individuals. Levine is open and honest about her own path and struggles in each area of the book and I found her candor relatable. I recommend this work to any woman who is searching for a book that will speak to her specific concerns and not just in generalities.

Two Books and an Article

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This image, which appeared on the cover of the first issue of Ms. Magazine in December 1971, is still quite accurate despite the 46-year age gap. Of course, some of the pictures could be updated. The typewriter might be a MacBook Air 2, and the rotary phone would probably by an iphone7, but the fundamental thesis put forth in Jane O’Reilly’s “The Housewife’s Moment of Truth” is still relevant and continues to build on the revolutionary themes presented almost 50 years prior. Women in the workforce today still do not have equal pay for equal work. Oh, it is better sure, but not equal. Modern husbands are far more involved in taking care of the children and helping with housework then their fathers or grandfathers. But, do you know any women who would not appreciate more help? We females do not ask for help as much as we should, I am the poster woman for this trait!

To read Jane O’Reilly’s full article from 1971, click here

In my quest for answers to the great mid life questions I have done what I always do, read a lot of books. Some have been tremendously helpful and others have missed (my) mark entirely. I am sure that others would find the publications that I have not connected with as invaluable. Which is what is so great about our literary offerings, there is, literally, something for everyone. I would like to share two books that my husband and I have found quite valuable in our search for “what’s next?”

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Author, Dr. Tina B. Tessina, has several publications targeting women’s issues and providing marital advice. In “The ten Smartest Decisions A Woman Can Make After forty,” she chronicles case studies from real women who are at a variety of life stages. There will be several stories that most women will be able to relate to in their present state and can easily empathize with as they move forward. The book is a bit of a checklist, encouraging the reader to take stock of where they are currently strong and identifying areas that one may need to bolster. Tessina encourages journaling, like many other self-help publications, as a means of assessing those areas that may need tending, such as finances and personal friendships. Personally, I found this to be a great guide in asking pertinent questions and exploring avenues to secure a strong foundation moving forward in general. However, I did not find the focus of this book to be as helpful in the overarching question of “what’s next?” I would recommend this publication to women who are approaching mid life, even if they feel secure in their present marital status, or employment, because you never know when that status could change and that change is usually emotional and can be quite traumatic. It would be best to have these points addressed before you need them! Invest in your own security, how can that be a bad thing! You are worth the time!

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This book is a recommendation from my husband. Stephen Cope takes a more spiritual approach in “The Great Work of Your Life.” He explains the concept of Dharma, which is akin to a calling of sorts. One does not choose his or her Dharma but rather it is what you are meant to do. Cope profiles individuals, both famous and the everyday man, to illustrate how one comes to the understanding that when you release the bindings of traditionally measured success, and achieving specific goals, you will find joy in the mastery process. Personal fulfillment is attained through the joy of the process. Essentially if you do what you are truly meant to, not what you define as success through the eyes of others, you will be actualized. The trick here, of course, is to identify your Dharma and embrace it fully. One must make decisions and/or take risks to align your life with your Dharma. Cope believes that it is better to fail at your Dharma then to be successful in a less fulfilling role. Cope draws his lessons from the Bhavagad Gita, if you are familiar with that work you know that indecision can be paralyzing. I think that is a great metaphor when looking at the “What’s next?” question that stops many of us from moving forward in any meaningful way.

I hope these reviews have been helpful and I will be posting more as I am currently reading several other publications on these topics.