Wings in the Dark – a Jake & Laura Mystery

wingsOver the past year and a half, Phoenix-based mystery writer Michael Murphy and his publisher, Alibi (a division of Random House), have issued three novels in Michael’s Jake & Laura mystery series. I’ve read them all, and I gladly recommend them to you.

The latest, Wings in the Darkincorporates all the elements that make these books such fun – exciting locations, colorful characters (including a few drawn from the pages of history), snappy dialogue, and mysteries worthy of the name.

Each novel is written from the point of view of Jake Donovan, a former private eye turned mystery writer. He’s done well with a series of novels about Blackie Doyle. By the time we get to novel three, he’s also persuaded the love of his life, Broadway actress and movie star Laura Wilson, to marry him. Their trip to Hawaii in 1935 was meant to be their honeymoon, but as always seems to happen to Jake, he gets pulled into a murder investigation. This time, the victim is a local businessman who’s helping to bankroll Amelia Earhart’s historic flight from Hawaii to the U.S. mainland.

Michael Murphy

Michael Murphy

Jake has supposedly given up sleuthing, but his work moves the case along farther and faster than anything done by the Hawaiian police. Laura’s okay with Jake’s involvement for two reasons. She’s a bit of an amateur detective herself. More important, if the case isn’t solved, her friend Amelia could be the killer’s next victim, and Amelia’s history-making flight will never occur.

There are plenty of suspects – Hawaiian royalists, who resent the growing prominence and power of the U.S. in the islands; the Japanese government, who believes America is building a Pacific empire that must be stopped; Amelia’s female mechanic, who has aviation aspirations of her own; the victim’s brother, who got short shrift in the family will; and a few more.

Amelia and her husband, publisher George Putnam, play prominent roles in the book. George Patton also makes a few appearances, and his proximity to a successful close to the case just might have contributed to his promotion from colonel to general!

If you’re a fan of Nick and Nora Charles, you’ll enjoy Michael’s work. The fourth book in the series, The Big Brush-Off, will be published next February. Do yourself a favor. Read the first three between now and then, and you’ll be salivating for the next book.

Click on these links to read my thoughts about the first two novels, The Yankee Club and All That Glitters.

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An unusual school of mines

mccaw1Every other month, I travel to Henderson, Nev., to facilitate a community advisory panel. The managers from four plants meet with community representatives from different walks of life. Each plant reports on its progress in five areas – safety, environmental performance, manufacturing issues, distribution issues, and community involvement. Each meeting, we also have a program with topics ranging from economic development and workforce training to risk communication and city planning.

mccaw3This month, for our program, we toured the McCaw School of Mines. You’re probably not familiar with it, and if you attend, you won’t walk out with a bachelor of science in metallurgy.

Instead, the school aims to teach fourth graders in Clark County about the importance of mining to the Nevada economy. Most of the mines in Nevada lie north of Henderson (which is adjacent to Las Vegas), so grade-school students rarely are exposed to mining. By taking a field trip to the McCaw School of Mines, they gain information about mining techniques, mining careers and the vital role that mining plays in the state and national economy. They even get a chance to pan for gold.

The school is the brainchild of Janet Dobry, who recently retired as principal of Henderson’s Robert Taylor Elementary School, and Janet Bremer, who taught at McCaw Elementary School. Both women are or have been part of the community advisory panel. They started small but found ways to approach Nevada mining companies for support and for discarded equipment.

Students come from all parts of Clark County to visit the mine, and they often proclaim their experience to be the best field trip they’ve ever had.

This is a great example of a private-public partnership making good things happen for a community and its children. If you’re ever in the area, ask for a tour. I’m sure the mine will be happy to oblige.

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Run government like a business? An impossible, foolish notion

Carly Fiorina, the one-time CEO of Hewlett-Packard, threw her hat in the ring last week to become the GOP 2016 nominee for president. Like many business types before her, she pledged that, if elected, she would “run government like a business.” That’s an impossible goal, and one that shouldn’t be pursued.

Most politicians, when they say this, mean they see inefficiency, waste and fraud in government that can be eliminated. I have no quarrel with this line of thinking, and reducing or eliminating these things is a worthy objective.

Quickly, however, it becomes obvious that one person’s waste is another person’s valuable program. Personally, I believe national defense is a primary purpose of government, but I also believe there is a great deal of waste in our defense programs. I have no doubt that there are military bases both domestically and internationally that could be closed without compromising our national security. Target a specific base for closing, however, and there will be an uproar about job losses and the loss of business generated locally by the base. Closure becomes, not impossible, but difficult.

In a business, a board and a CEO would simply say, “Too bad, so sad,” close the base and move on. In government, constituencies have a voice and a right to exercise it. It’s not as easy as snapping your fingers and willing something to be so. Nor should it be.

A business is set up specifically to make a profit by offering goods and services that people can choose to buy or ignore. CEOs and boards are judged by how well they pursue a profit and by how much they maximize shareholder value. Progressive companies also care about the effects they have on other stakeholders, such as communities and employees. They also care about how their operations affect the environment. Their binding obligation on those fronts, however, is only to meet their legal and regulatory requirements.

Our government, by contrast, is set up specifically to provide goods and services that don’t, and shouldn’t, generate a profit, such as building roads, maintaining bridges, running prisons and making sure the poorest among us don’t slip through the cracks. You might disagree with my list (and you might add healthcare), and that’s okay. These are, however, things that someone has to take care of, and we as a society have to figure out how we’re going to do so. Often, the move to privatize these services creates a whole new set of problems.

There’s another essential difference between government and business. In business, everyone from the board to the CEO to employees is working for shareholders. There’s a straight line from the shareholder on down. Board members can be voted out of office, CEOs and employees can be fired, and it can all happen quickly if need be.

By contrast, we’ve set up our government expressly so that each of the three branches acts as a check and balance on the other branches. Not everyone works in lockstep all the time, nor should we want them to. In business, ideally, every part of an organization works together. In government, that can degenerate into tyranny if we’re not careful, and I don’t want a president who can unilaterally dictate what’s going to happen and how things are going to be. Those who say they’re going to run government like a business, I think, believe they will and should have such power.

Also, government isn’t set up to respond only to the needs of voters. Not all citizens are voters, yet they still have rights and interests that need protection. Before you think that “he who does not vote should not be represented,” remember that children can’t vote, and those who are incapacitated often can’t exercise their voting privileges. Still, they have rights and needs that a society must protect, without regard to how much power they wield and how much of a profit can be coaxed out of them.

One last problem with running government “as a business.” Increasingly, people aren’t willing to pay for all they expect from government. We have to have an intelligent conversation about what we want from government, and we have to figure out how we will pay for it and who will pay how much. That might result in higher taxes for many people, yet that whole idea seems to have been taken off the table. In addition to reducing or eliminating waste, we need either to cut back what we want from government or pay more for what we expect.

We’ve set up our government as a system of checks and balances that, ideally, carries out the will of the people. That’s not how business works, and that’s why government cannot be run like a business.

Posted in Business, Society | 1 Comment