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Book Report: Author revels in fine details

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Oh, shucks, thought I. Sara Rath has given up on non-fiction and has taken to penning novels when I received the Spring Green author's "The Waters of Star Lake," by Sara Rath (Terrace Books, $26.95).

I remembered one of her earlier books, "About Cows," followed by "The Complete Cow," two wonderful coffee table books about those cud-chewing bovines.

Later, she wrote a fine book about H.H. Bennett, the photographer who popularized Wisconsin Dells.

I was always impressed with Rath, who obviously knew what she was talking about, but a series of novels set up north?

I needn't have worried.

Rath knows her way around up north, too, having grown up at family cottages and lakes in the Mercer area.

First she wrote about "The Star Lake Saloon and Housekeeping Cottages." Now she's back near Star Lake with heroine Natalie Lindquist, a recent widow who decides to return to the family cottage on Star Lake.

From the beginning you know Rath has been there before when she describes the rustic old cottage, which, when she opens the door, smells of moth balls and mouse urine.

Or when she makes her way to the outdoor privy, when she bangs on its door to scare whatever happens to be residing there for the past two years.

Rath also has names down pat. She meets a man, Bud Foster, who owns a saloon with the unlikely name of "Last Resort," which just happens to be the name of the five cottages where my wife and I stay at in Mikana on Red Cedar Lake each Memorial and Labor Day.

Rath's new book is full of Americana, like the bawdy rhymes involving Lydia Pinkham's syrup for women and the size of John Dillinger's genitals.

She introduces us to characters like Ginger, the old bartender who dies her hair the color of a pumpkin and shows a keen ear for the speaking manner of her fellow Badgers.

But of course trouble is afoot on the very first night of her staying at the cottage.

In the middle of the night, Natalie lets her dog Molly out to do her business and is shocked to see a wolf attack and wound the chocolate Labrador.

She rushes the dog to Last Resort Saloon where Bud Foster helps her find a veterinarian in the little town of Antler.

Before you know it she's mired in controversy about the growing wolf controversy and the life of Dillinger who made his famous escape from Little Bohemia.


Originally published in 2011, "Osama Bin Laden," by Michael Scheuer (Oxford University Press, $13.95, paper) has recently been reworked and reissued by Scheuer after Bin Laden was killed by U.S. troops in Pakistan.

Scheuer, former chief of the CIA's Bin Laden unit and a counterterrorism analyst, is no Bin Laden apologist. But neither is he confident that the West should be so happy about al-Qaeda's "demise" -- which isn't so.

Scheuer has no truck with our surety that with the Arab Spring spells the end of Muslim terrorism.

He faults the insipidity of Western journalists ("No one can ever lose money by betting on the superficial and wishing-makes-it-so reporting of Western journalists; their vapid performance in Egypt and Libya was more or less par for the course.")

These same journalists have convinced the present administration, including Obama and Hillary Clinton, that the U.S. should reinvigorate its efforts to westernize the east.

He portrays Obama's terrorist czar John O. Brennan as a hopelessly uninformed character who commits unbelievable gaffes whenever he deals with the east.

It ain't going to happen, says Scheuer.

His book attempts a corrective of U.S. conclusions by tracing the life of Bin Laden, interviewing his friends, associates, digging into files with a view to understand him and his ilk rather than write him off as a dead Nazi, crazy man, an Islamo-Fascist etc. etc.

Better to understand what al-Qaeda and Bin Laden stand for.

Forewarned, he says, is forearmed.

Brennan is an example of uninformed wishful thinking. When asked why they threw Bin Laden's corpse in the sea, he replied that if the U.S. had buried him on land his followers would have erected a monument to him on the site.

Scheuer informs us that Bin Laden and his followers are of the Sunni-Salafist sect, which does not believe in shrines. They wouldn't have worshipped there -- they'd have torn it down.

That's how much Brennan knows. How depressing.

Dave Wood is a past vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle and a former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Phone him at 715-426-9554.