Thursday Book Reviews: Saturday’s Child, Superfreakonomics


Ray Banks

Full disclosure: I once did Ray a favor. I think it was leave him alone.

Anyway, I originally read this one when the British edition came out during my former life. It still holds up well. Cal Innes is an ex-con playing at being a PI. He has only to keep his nose clean to finish probation, and he’s done with the specter of prison. Unfortunately, he has a detective sergeant of questionable competence nicknamed Donkey gunning for him. He also owes local mob boss Morris Tiernan a favor, and getting Tiernan’s debt off the books is big with Innes. Seems a dealer at one of the clubs Tiernan has run off with ten thousand pounds. When a man loses that much money, he sort of wants it back. Tiernan wants Innes to go get it. All he has to do is find the guy and call Tiernan’s idiot son Mo.

It’s Mo who’s really the star of this book. A violent gangster wannabe, Mo Tiernan is a classic case of someone too stupid to live but insists on doing it anyway. Mo has no clear cut reason to be upset that his father has sent Innes after the wayward dealer. Even when his motivation is revealed, Mo still demonstrates an unswerving ability to think with his fist and whatever pill bottle is in his pocket at the moment.

This being a Callum Innes story, all the consequences fall on our fearless Manchester PI. Because this is Ray Banks, and no one does bleak better than Banks. I say this having read every one of Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor novels.

I read an ARC of the original British version, so I can’t vouch for the Manchester dialect staying intact in the St. Martin’s edition linked here. Assuming it has, Banks has done a masterful job of using Mo’s coarse, working class Manc speak to differentiate him from Innes not only in speech but in personality as well.


By Steven D. Levitt  and Stephen J. Dubner

When last we left our intrepid Freakonomics experts, they had successfully concluded that the average drug operation has more in common with McDonald’s than McD’s execs might care to admit. Well, most McDonald’s employees aren’t strapping nines or could be arrested for selling the company’s product.

This time around, they take a look at prostitution and break down the economics of the world’s oldest profession. They learn some disturbing things about the hygiene of your physician. Yes, even yours. And suddenly, I’m not so much surprised that President Garfield died so much as President Reagan lived. Then again, Garfield’s doctors didn’t have men in black hovering over their shoulders, intoning them in full on Agent Smith from The Matrix mode going, “It would be a very good idea to wash your hands.” They save the best for last, visiting an intellectual property lab in Seattle where the smartest men in the world are tackling climate change. Yes, they confirm, every conservative climate change denier is pretty much full of it. But, they posit, so is Al Gore. And they have a solution that is like the solutions to all great problems in the past: It’s simple. And cheap. Which is why it’s probably a tough sell.

And it’s this last point that makes up part of the theme of this book. The solution to virtually every problem, Dubner and Levitt have learned, is actually simple and cheap. The other part is equally simple: People respond, for both good and ill, to incentives.