Novels

The Joe Mayfield/Louise Napolitani series currently includes three novels. Fatal Score and Skins and Bone are complete.  Fail Deadly is in rewrite, to be complete in April, 2020. A fourth novel, Fatal Cure, is in development.

Fatal Score:  Joe Mayfield’s happy, ordinary life comes apart when his wife is denied cancer treatment. It’s a few years from now.  All critical data is stored behind a national firewall called the Yak.  Genetic research has created HealthScore, which determines medical treatment.  When Joe’s wife’s HealthScore is slashed, it becomes a death sentence.  Frantic to save her, Joe hacks into the Yak and becomes the target of Phoenix, one man’s plot to skim billions in medical payments at the cost of thousands of lives.  Joe’s wife dies, and Phoenix sends a pair of toughs to erase Joe.  He goes off the grid, living on cash in out-of-the-way places. But his hack attempts pique the interest of a brilliant Yak tracker called Weezy.  She runs him down, skeptical of his good intentions, but becomes an ally.  Finally, in a single wide trailer in Panacea, Florida, Joe and Weezy work to destroy Phoenix before Phoenix destroys them.  Read Chapter One

In Skins and Bone, Joe Mayfield lands his dream job:  Move from Florida to New York, go to work for the respected investment bank ZCG, fly with the finance eagles—and be a train ride away from Weezy, his lover, who is chief tracker for the national data base called the Yak.  ZCG uses complex financial derivatives called ‘Skins’ to craft protection for firms working in politically unstable regions.  Strangely, disaster seems to follow creation of Skins, and someone is raking in millions.  Joe, curious, begins to dig. Murders follow. Undaunted, Joe and Weezy dig deeper.  A financial conference in Vienna and a sumptuous cruise down the Danube to Budapest provide the opportunity for the man making the millions to eliminate Joe and Weezy.

Skins and Bone is a thriller with an eye to international finance, European elegance, and simple greed.

Fail Deadly:  HelioCorp’s public offering is going to be the tech finance deal of the decade—cheap and easy solar power for all.  Joe Mayfield has engineered the deal and is on his way to a weekend with Weezy, hacker extraordinaire and his too-long-distance lover.  The HelioCorp project crashes.  The lights go out in Maine, then Georgia, and a ransom note demands one billion dollars. As Weezy, Joe, and the government struggle to find out what’s going on, Weezy gets a cryptic note from a hacker friend, HoHumJr.  He has been kidnapped by a Russian mafia group called Sobaki, but has managed to send the address of a file that will destroy them, wrapped up in an internet hand grenade with the pin pulled—a Fail Deadly. Sobaki captures Weezy. Her disappearance makes her the NSA’s prime suspect. Joe is soon a Sobaki prisoner, too, the better to force Weezy to keep the hand grenade from going off. Weezy is tortured but stands firm. Weezy’s hacker friends zero in on her location, and the NSA rescues her. She is freed, but not from the cruel agony of her torture and her fear of losing Joe.

Fail Deadly is a thriller that speaks to a current threat to our country and to the strength of  two lovers’ bond.

Fatal Cure:  Gene therapy is a wonderful thing.  But even wonderful things can be turned to evil purpose. Joe and Weezy, now operating as a cyber consultancy, are asked to find a man who has stolen intellectual property. The simple task becomes a nightmare when they stumble onto a plan that started as an altruistic effort to eliminate just a few climate change deniers for the greater good of humanity. Except the project has been co-opted, and Joe and Weezy become targets to protect a much, much darker purpose.

Background: The Mayfield/Napolitani novels take place a few years from now. Technology has marched forward, rolling computers, pads and phones into a device called an e-pad; replacing earbuds with bluetooth mastoid bone implants; building semi-self-driving cars … nothing too surprising.  Except the Yak and HealthScores.

The Yak:  Election tampering in the United States and Europe has been followed by a tidal wave of misinformation and infrastructure attacks building across cyberspace.  In the wake of fires, dam breaches, power-grid failures and a small nuclear episode, the United States has rushed to develop a national firewall. Called the Interagency Channel, or IAC, it has become the Yak in popular speech. Critical information about infrastructure, the financial system, the military, and medical files for all citizens has been pulled inside its protective shell.  The designers recognized that algorithms can’t always deter hackers; thus, the Yak includes a cadre of anti-hackers called Trackers.  Louise Napolitani – Weezy – is the best of the Trackers.

HealthScores: Advancing genetic research has provided markers for many fatal diseases. The private sector has used these advances to calculate probabilities of successful treatment called HealthScores.  Treatments have become ever more successful but ever more expensive. Congress has seen the opportunity to “rationalize” health care cost using HealthScores.  A high HealthScore for a disease means cutting-edge care; a low score, painkillers and prayers at the end.

Recent Posts

Chaucer’s Resurrection

(Note: The economist Paul Krugman warns readers of a technical piece coming by sub-titling it “Wonking Out.” In the context of the normal content of this blog, this piece is Wonking Out. Or maybe I shouldn’t dignify what is just a personal indulgence.)

Geoffrey Chaucer is, more than any other person, the reason we write in English. That’s reason enough to read his poetry and prose. But what inspires me is his genius as a story-teller. Canterbury Tales describes the times he lived in through the delectably drawn characters on that famous pilgrimage.

There has been, however, a stain on Chaucer’s character: In 1873, a 1380 court record was discovered in which a woman named Cecily Chaumpaigne released Chaucer from liability for raptus. (At the time, court records were written in Latin.) The discoverer sought to cover it up, and it was generally ignored by (white, male, stuffy) critics until the 1960’s. From then on, there has been considerable feminist criticism of Chaucer the man, and it hasn’t been pretty. Lost in translation has been the meaning of ‘raptus’, which in Latin has a much broader meaning than in English … almost any illegal taking is raptus.

Now, a discovery of a related court record seems to flip the meaning of the original record, and the flip turns on the meaning of raptus. The earlier record suggests Chaucer had raped the woman and was being released from claims related to the rape. The newer document seems to show that “(i)nstead of stemming from a rape case …the document had been filed as part of a labor case, in which another man charged Chaumpaigne with leaving his household to work in Chaucer’s before her term of labor was over.” (New York Times, October 15, 2022) ( An interesting but further wonkish side note is that the 1348 bubonic plague caused massive labor upheaval, with workers leaving what amounted to indenture for better jobs. Parliament passed a law restricting laborers from doing that, and it was this law under which the former employer brought the charge of raptus against Chaucer and Chaumpaigne.)

At least three recent articles cover this finding: the scholarly original work in the Chaucer Review, a straightforward rendering of the conclusions in the New York Times “Chaucer the Rapist? Newly Discovered Documents Suggest Not.” (cited above) and an article in Slate, which stamps “Innocent—(probably?)” on its picture of him.

The Slate article begins: “As any reader of The Canterbury Tales is well aware, Geoffrey Chaucer, the famous medieval English poet, wrote prolifically about sexual violence. But the question of whether Chaucer himself was a rapist, and, more specifically, whether he raped a woman named Cecily Chaumpaigne, has clouded the poet’s reputation …” (October 15, 2022)

The Slate lead is the sort of provocative statement that seems more and more common in this day of click bait and strongly held but ill-founded opinions. It is tempting to wonder whether the Slate author has read Chaucer. Yes, there is plenty of sex, candidly described. But he “writes prolifically about sexual violence”? Nah. Any reader who picks up The Canterbury Tales will encounter strong and interesting women: The Wyf of Bath, who has buried five husbands and rails against a rape in the Athurian legend. This is a strong woman, perhaps the first liberated woman in the English canon. Then there’s Alisoun of the Miller’s tale, a willing participant in a cuckolding, who holds the male characters in thrall to her youthful sexuality. Or Madame Eglantine, the Prioresse, who speaks bad French ‘after the school of Stratford atte Bowe,’ has perfect table manners, and is apparently blithely unaware that a person in a religious order should not wear a pendant inscribed “Amor Vincit Omnia” (Love Conquers All).

Both Slate and New York Times make it clear that the authors of the game-changing article are tiptoeing around the seemingly fragile egos of the critics who have made a meal out of Chaucer’s supposedly willing participation in the misogynistic, brutal treatment of women 700 years ago and their excoriation of the more recent critics who did not call this supposed behavior out. That really has not much to do with literary criticism and a great deal to do with the different and important subject of social and political thinking in the modern day. But mixing ideology with criticism leads to bad thinking and poor scholarship. Good to see Chaucer (possibly) exonerated, not because he needed it, but because it will free fine medievalist minds to think about more important things.

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