Short stories and essays by Shaun Costello, as well as excerpts from manuscripts in progress.





                by Shaun Costello

 There are two books that sit on the night table next to my bed, and have sat there for many years. Two books I rely on to enliven my usually lazy intellect, and to remind me of a world outside my own, the sanity and insanity of which, never fails to immeasurably kindle a fire in my day. Both books give me direction, and clarity. They clear things up. The readings can be long or short. Sometimes a chapter. Sometimes a sentence. Occasionally, a subjunctive clause. But I seldom put them down without feeling a bit better than I did before picking them up.

The first is BLUES, by John Hersey. It is a lengthy conversation between two characters, the Stranger and the Fisherman. It takes place on Martha’s Vineyard. The Stranger notices the Fisherman preparing his boat for a day on the water in pursuit of Blue Fish. He speaks up, and asks the Fisherman why he fishes. He admits to never having done so himself, and that he has often wondered why men fish. It is a mystery to him. The Fisherman takes this Stranger in tow. He asks the Stranger if he’d like to come aboard, spend some time on the water, and share the experience. Reluctantly at first, the Stranger boards the boat. What follows is a summer on the waters of the Vinyard, as the Fisherman enlightens the Stranger to the saga of the mighty Blue Fish, and the reflections of poets, from Homer to Elizabeth Bishop, on the emotions and complications of fishing. Each chapter ends with a recipe for cooking the day’s catch, and a poem relevant to the experience. Hersey, in this book, celebrates the seas, their life, and life itself.

The second is Isaac Bashevis Singer – The Collected Stories. Singer wrote in Yiddish. Did you know that? Singer, along with Philip Roth, is my favorite writer of fiction. His stories are invariably filled with tales of the Kabbalah – Magic and Jewish mysticism. From the Shtetls of Nineteenth century Russia, to 1950’s Miami Beach, his tales are both hilarious and terrifying. Elfs, Demons, Dybbuks, Magic, Golems, and the relentless mysteries of the Kabbalah. Singer seems so familiar with Jewish mysticism that I sometimes wonder if he was part Elf, himself.



© 2019 Shaun Costello



by Shaun Costello

The Times Square subway station, my portal to the neighborhood, was an intense assault on the senses. A sudden, almost overwhelming surge of smells and filth hit you as the train doors slid open to the rush of urine, and cotton candy, and damp humanity, and hot dogs on their revolving spits, and vomit, and baked goods like crumb cakes and bran muffins and pretzels, and the garlicky pungent scent of Gyros slowly rotating, and everything suddenly interrupted by someone chasing a pick-pocket through outstretched hands asking for dimes, and a tidal swarm of the disenfranchised huddled in groups, trying to stay warm. And this entire sensory phantasmagoria was musically scored by the over-modulated sound of Kool and the Gang wailing “Jungle Boogie” from the cheap speakers over the door to the subterranean record store. And then the cold again as you climbed the stairs to the street, and there it was, “The Deuce”.

Forty Second Street between Times Square and Eighth Avenue had pretty much the same chaotic intensity as the subway station, except brighter and colder. The sidewalks were covered with evidence of the previous night’s activities, and silent men with brooms were sweeping out the entrances to the many movie houses that provided a dark haven for degenerates on the prowl, and warm place to sleep for those who had no alternative. When I was a bit younger, Jimmy and I spent many a night with friends from High School in these theaters, where you could see three action pictures for a buck, and where the predominantly black audience threw empty soda cans at the screen to warn the hero that a bad guy was sneaking up behind him. Jimmy, Herb and I would haunt these shabby venues, watching bad prints of older action pictures, and endlessly quoting lines of dialogue from the movies to each other, competing for who could sound more like Lee Marvin or Burt Lancaster. We became the Three Musketeers of 42nd street, playfully window shopping Cheap Men’s Clothing, Army/Navy, Discount Electronics, Peep-O-Rama, Nedicks, GIRLS/GIRLS/GIRLS, Souvlaki/Gyros, Tad’s Steaks, Pinball-Palace, Te-Amo Cigars, Orange Julius, Modell Sporting Goods, Movieland, all the daily offerings of “The Deuce”.

Why I found this degenerate atmosphere to be the soothing, nurturing, cradle of comfort that drew me like a moth to a flame, is difficult to describe, particularly to those who never experienced it, or never needed to. Today’s Forty Second Street is a Disney-driven, squeaky-clean, family-friendly, vanilla canyon of imitative tourist attractions that might just as well be found in Kansas or, better yet, Orlando. But back then, before the bulldozers cleared away the grunge of reality to make room for the plasticine, cellophane wrapped Valhalla that would replace it, “The Deuce” was the Mecca for those restless souls who prowled the canyons of Manhattan’s West Forties looking for the shit.







by Shaun Costello

The perfect fantasy.


CONFESSION: A life-long aversion to, and hatred of, Picnics. I know, I know, the conjured image of a meal on a blanket in a meadow has great appeal, but in my experience, the reality of a picnic is disastrous. I have experienced this dreadful reality many times, mostly in New York’s Central Park. I realize that I will draw the wrath of picnic aficionados everywhere, but, in my view, the awful truth must be told.

The Fantasy: A wicker picnic basket filled to the brim with ripe cheeses, fresh fruit, French bread, and white wine; set down upon a plaid picnic blanket, in a sunny meadow, on a lovely Spring afternoon.

The Reality: No one owns a wicker picnic basket. They exist only in movies or books or Williams Sonoma catalogs. So you leave the market with paper bags filled with the necessary ingredients for the task at hand – the aforementioned cheese/fruit/bread/wine. You have not yet discovered that you have forgotten much-needed utensils like a cheese knife, plastic cups for the wine, and napkins – who remembers napkins during an epicurean adventure? And off you go, in search of exactly the right piece of pastoral paradise in which to experience this celebration of grassy gastronomica.

Central Park’s Sheep Meadow. Not exactly American Pastoral.

The walk is a little longer than you anticipated, carrying a bit more than you thought you might need, so a few stops become necessary to rearrange the baggage. You didn’t really have a plaid picnic blanket (does anyone?) and your down comforter didn’t seem appropriate, so you bring a sheet. The loss of a romantic element perhaps, but it would have to do. Now to find exactly the right spot. The park is a bit more crowded than you anticipated. Kids on bikes. Frisbee enthusiasts. Packs of dogs chasing tails. Screaming babies; it wasn’t like this in the movie I saw, and far from being a modern-day version of Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of Le Grande Jatte.

It was not exactly Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of Le Grande Jatte

Wait, there’s a lovely spot under that elm tree. Upon arrival, we find a freshly deposited pile of dog poop exactly where we wanted to spread our blanket. Exhausted, we settle for not quite what we had hoped for, but hey, it’s outdoors, regardless of the noise coming from that not-too-distant boom box.

A freshly deposited pile of dog poop where our blanket should have been.


The sheet is spread upon the grass. We double over one side to hide that stain we forgot was there. We sit down on the sheet and begin to open the paper bag containing the ingredients for our al fresco fantasy. As we empty the bag, we are surprised by the amount of plastic packaging in which our meal is contained.

My Kingdom for a corkscrew.

As the food is arranged on paper plates, a small mountain of plastic rises to a surprising height. It is now time to discover the forgotten cheese knife, plastic cups, and napkins; and Oh Shit, I forgot the corkscrew. We can always drink from the bottle, provided there is some way of opening it. I scan the horizon. There must be a neighboring pickicker who was smart enough to pack the right tools. I see a family on a nearby blanket, and there’s an open bottle of wine – an answered prayer.

The Frisbee enthusiast.

A twenty dollar deposit.

I explain my plight to Mr. and Mrs. Corkscrew. I feign embarrassment, and grovel a bit. Mr. Corkscrew is unsympathetic. “How do I know you’ll bring it back?”, he asks. I point to my girlfriend, just fifty feet away, sitting on our sheet next to an unopened bottle of wine. Mrs. Corkscrew speaks up. “Ask him for a deposit, Morty”. A deposit? Morty Corkscrew agrees. “Yeah, twenty bucks and it’s yours. Temporarily that is, until you  return it. Then you get your twenty back”. I hand him the twenty, and Morty Corkscrew hands me the implement. Commerce.

The transaction and task completed, and now back in possession of my twenty bucks, I thank Morty and Mrs.  Corkscrew, and return to my girlfriend who is sitting on her sheet, to begin our gastronomic adventure.

The dog decided to come over to our little slice of paradise to express his sudden and intense dislike for me and everything I stood for.

The French bread is now a bit stale, but it seems to go well with the Brie cheese, which is spread on the bread with our fingers, having forgotten a cheese knife. Fingers that, after a bit of licking, are wiped on our sheet, since we have also forgotten napkins. Invariably, while making a descriptive hand gesture, one of us knocks over the wine bottle, creating a puddle in the middle of our sheet. While attempting to deal with the spilled wine, I notice that the mound of Brie cheese on the paper plate next to me is now covered with ants. For some reason my mind drifted off to a childhood fable of civilizations where people ate ants, and other insects. The growling sound in my rear brought me back to the present. I turned to come face to face with a large, mangy looking mongrel of a dog, who had been involved in tail chasing, until he decided to come over to our little slice of paradise to express his sudden and intense dislike of me and everything I stood for. He bared his teeth, in a low frequency growl, necessitating my stillness and silence. Then suddenly, he leaped forward snapping up our French bread, and took off across the field, his mouth carrying half a loaf.

Into the trash can

Breadless and wineless, with sticky fingers and the tarnished reality of a fantasy undone, we pack up what’s left, and head home. On the way, we dump our picnic ingredients, and a fair amount of plastic into the nearest trash can. And, in an act of surrender for attempting a foolish fantasy, we dump the wine-soaked sheet as well.

Eating should be done at a table.

I do not hesitate for a moment to proudly admit that my favorite meals have been consumed while sitting at a table, far from the mercy of Morty and Mrs. Corkscrew, and bread-thieving dogs.



©…2018…Shaun Costello






by Shaun Costello

The new version of the blockbuster classic


In a recent trip to my local library, I came across a crisp, new paperback edition of The Godfather. I have seen the movies (I and II) an embarrassing number of times, but read the book just once, in 1969 when it was first published. So I took it home, curious to know if it still packed the original wallop that made it a blockbuster best seller. The opening pages contained two introductory pieces. The first was headlined A NOTE FROM ANTHONY PUZO, SON OF MARIO PUZO, and it was in caps, as I have written it here. It was two pages of unreadable gibberish, intended, I suppose, to give this volume some kind of familial, folksy varnish, an idea probably hatched in the eager mind of an underpaid, over-confident wannabe in a cubicle at Penguin Random House, where ideas like this one flourish until they flounder of their own mistaken value.









Next came an Introduction by Robert J. Thompson, who turns out to be (I’ll insert this verbatim) The Founding Director of the Center for Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University, where he is also the Trustee Professor of Media and Popular Culture at the S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

Eleven pages of hyperbolic hipster speak

Well, that’s a dizzying title indeed. I wonder how it fits on his business card. It seems that this worthy academic has published five volumes, all about television, and is now busy finishing his sixth, a history of the medium. The introduction, entitled Introduction, was eleven pages of hyperbolic hipster speak, the pages numbered, as intros so often are, in Roman Numerals. Eleven glib and wittily urbane pages seemingly designed to place Mr. Thompson somewhere between being the lost Corleone son that Puzo left out of the book, and someone you might bump into para-gliding at Club Med, wearing an ill-fitting speedo. And certainly, someone to avoid, should you find yourself behind him on line at Starbucks.

Publishers mystify me. Can there be a book, other than Mein Kampf or The Bible, that has reaped higher revenues for its imprint, down through the years, than The Godfather? I’m guessing not. Yet, at a new projects meeting, in the conference room at Penguin Random House, as ideas were suggested around the table, some young literary Turk spoke up and said, “Maybe it’s time for another go-round with The Godfather”, which was probably received, in equal measure, with the appropriate grunts and moans. To which our young hero responded, “No wait, it might work. Provided we package it correctly. Let’s get someone who knew the author well, maybe a Puzo family member, to write a short introductory piece. And then a project narrative by a media writer. God knows, there’s no shortage of them. We include them as ‘extras’, like a director’s commentary track on a DVD. Packaging. That’s the ticket”.

Valachi’s startling testimony made J. Edgar Hoover look like a fool



Ideas like this are not necessarily suicidal, provided somebody rides heard over them, supervising quality control over who is chosen to write the ‘extras’, and what is written. But, more often than not, corporate auto pilot takes over, and important details are ignored. Hey, it’s The Godfather. They’re going to buy it no matter what. So, an intern was tasked with going through all those dust covered rolodexes in the storage room to come up with a willing Puzo family member. This process yielded Anthony Puzo, the author’s son, who gladly agreed to write a few pages about the pain his father went through in struggling to create his masterpiece. And a quick Google search revealed an unlimited number of media writers, with Robert J. Thompson’s name up there at the top of the list. An academic with a title a big as the Ritz. Thompson quickly agreed to deliver eleven pages on The Godfather’s impact on Pop culture over the 48 years of its existence. Hey, the guy’s a Trustee Professor. Whatever he writes will be just fine. Even if it’s eleven pages of self-indulgent clap trap, constructed to portray Thompson’s awareness of the impact of the Godfather on pop culture, rather than the impact itself, and as a result, exuding the coolness this academic feels is his due.

A Family Affair


The packaging aside, let’s get to the book itself. It still works. It’s a well-constructed story, with colorful, memorable characters, a brisk pace, and a satisfying conclusion. The only real fault I could find with it is Puzo’s prose. While his descriptive narrative is fine, the dialogue is sometimes awkward and forced. Also, the male-female relationships seem a product of the era (the 1940’s), and the characters (depression era Italian Americans). That said, many of the conversations between the sexes are cringe-worthy. The addition of Francis Ford Coppola, as co-writer for the movie screen plays vastly improved the dialogue, and cleaned up much of the book’s murky areas.

Because of his friendship with then Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Peter was given unlimited access to Joe Valachi in his prison cell.

When I asked him about Puzo, Peter took the high road, which was typical of him.


This brings us to a question I have asked myself many times over the years. Could Mario Puzo have written The Godfather, had not Peter Maas written The Valachi Papers? Although published in 1968, Maas wrote most of his book between 1963 and 1965. Valachi’s startling revelations about organized crime in America, before Senator John McClellan’s Senate Subcommittee in 1963, proved to be an embarrassment to J. Edgar Hoover, who had insisted for over thirty years, that the Mafia did not exist in America. Between 1963 and 1965, because of his friendship with then Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Peter Maas was given unlimited access to interview Joe Valachi in his prison cell. These extensive interviews would eventually yield Maas’s book, The Valachi Papers. But Hoover was dead set against the publication of a book, the contents of which would make him out to be a fool. After Kennedy left office, in 1965, Hoover put pressure on Lyndon Johnson to lean on Kennedy’s replacement at Attorney General, Nicholas Katzenbach, to prevent the publication of Maas’s book.


For over two years, Maas negotiated with Washington to get some version of his manuscript published. He finally succeeded in getting approval to publish a heavily censored version, and The Valachi papers was finally published in June of 1968. Much of Valachi’s elaborate testimony before Congress in 1963, was revealed and expanded in Maas’s book, and America became aware of the details surrounding the enormous criminal enterprise that J. Edgar Hoover had repeatedly insisted was non-existent.

Joe Valachi in his prison cell, photographed by Peter Maas.


The details, and the history of La Cosa Nostra both shocked and fascinated the world. Joe (Joe Cargo – shortened to Joe Cago) Valachi was born in 1904, in East Harlem to an impoverished Italian American family. He ran with a gang of thieves, committing small burglaries until finally being inducted, in a formal ceremony, into The Genovese crime family. The book revealed his involvement in The Castellammarese War in the early 1930’s. This war pitted the two most powerful crime bosses of that era against each other. Joe (The Boss) Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano would battle for supremacy in New York’s criminal underworld. These were two old time gangsters, called by the younger soldiers “Mustache Petes”. They would compete in deadly combat for the title of Capo di tutti capi (Boss of all bosses). After the death of both gangsters, an organization was formed by this criminal society’s rising star, Charles Lucky Luciano, who would consolidate New York’s criminal gangs into the Five New York Families, overseen by an organization known as The Commission, that would resolve disputes between the Families peacefully. This organization would become known, among its members as La Cosa Nostra or This Thing of Ours. Details were revealed in Maas’s book, like the oath of Omerta, or silence, adhered to by members under penalty of death. The sacred ceremony of admission to La Cosa Nostra. The structure of the society, imitating the hierarchical fundamentals of the Roman Legions. Details about the characters, the language, and the structure of this criminal society were now public knowledge, due to Valachi’s testimony, and Maas’s book.

Lucky Luciano would consolidate New York’s criminal gangs into the Five New York Families.


A year later, in March of 1969, The Godfather was published to rave reviews, and quickly became the best selling novel in the history of publishing. And what was contained on the pages of The Godfather? The oath of Omerta, The Five Families. The Commission, the language of this criminal society; all originally revealed a year earlier in The Valachi Papers. Could this be coincidence?


I knew Peter Maas pretty well when I lived in The Hamptons. Many of us played tennis on Peter’s har-tru court, at his house in Bridgehampton. So, one day I asked him. Did Mario Puzo ever call him up to thank him? He took the high road, which was typical of Peter. He told me that he knew Mario, and liked him. The Valachi Papers, while not yielding the fortune Puzo had made with The Godfather, had also been a best seller, making Maas quite a bit of money. He was sanguine.

Be my friend….Godfather.


My conclusion, from all that is written above, is that The Godfather could never have been the iconic literary conflagration it became, without the publication of The Valachi Papers, a year earlier. Peter Maas had supplied Mario Puzo with the historical events, the characterizations, the language, the structure of La Cosa Nostra, and the every-day experience of ‘life in the mob’, without which, The Godfather could never have been written. 




The Godfather could never have been written, had not Peter Maas published The Valachi Papers a year earlier.




©  2018  Shaun Costello














One of the most famous photographs of World War Two

Separation is the common theme – listened to by wives and sweethearts on the home front, and by husband and lovers, overseas in distant lands fighting in the war. A horrific, yet romantic time, and these three songs must have helped and hurt in equal measure. And they’re lovely indeed. I remember these three vividly because my mother used to sing them around the house, and play them on the record player when I was a small child.



British songbird Vera Lynn had her own orchestra, and made the hit recording of You’ll Never Know.

Music by Harry Warren and Lyrics by Mack Gordon
The hit recording was by British songbird Vera Lynn.





                                             I’LL BE SEEING YOU…1944
Music by Sammy Fain and Lyrics by Irving Kahal
Originally written in 1938, but made famous in the 1944 movie I’LL BE SEEING YOU, which made it a big hit, and one of WWII’s great love songs.


Jo Stafford’s recording of I’ll Be Seeing You topped the charts in 1944.








Music by Jule Styne and Lyrics by Sammy Cahn
The hit recording was by Harry James and vocalist Kitty Kallen

Harry James made the hit recording of It’s Been a Long, Long Time, with vocalist Kitty Kallen








The romance of War.



© 2018 Shaun Costello



by Shaun Costello


America used to have allies in this world: England, Canada, France, the NATO Alliance, and the rest. We went through WWII together. We were united as common democracies. Now America has turned its back on our long-time friends, and has reached out to our new pals – the Gangster dictatorships: Putin’s Russia, Dudirty’s Philippines, and North Korea. We no longer have any trade partners. Trump disbanded the TPP, giving all of Asia to China. We are in a Tariff war with our former closest allies, Canada, the EU, the UK, and Mexico. We, a nation of immigrants, have closed our borders to those seeking asylum from violence and political turmoil. America has made a mockery of its constitution. Trump has done exactly what he promised his hateful, racist followers, during his campaign. He has destroyed the structure and integrity of the American government. The occupant of the White House is no longer the leader of the free world. He is, instead, an opportunistic, self-serving, self-promoting greed monger, hell bent on filling his pockets with every penny he can pilfer from America’s coffers. And his poll numbers are going up. America likes him. America’s once-shining star is a tarnished shard of the nation that gave hope to so many.

At long last, breathing free.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Not any more!





By Shaun Costello

Facebook’s Morality Police are on the march.


Facebook, sometimes known as the AMERICAN BOTS AND TROLLS SOCIETY, in an attempt to reverse the world-wide perception that its rabid greed for advertising revenues, and lack of interest in who exactly does that advertising, was directly responsible for putting Donald Trump in the White House, is taking on a new role as America’s moral compass. Yes folks, there’s a new Sheriff in town, and his name is Mark Zuckerberg, and he’s the Imperial Wizard of Facebook’s Morality Police.

Facebook’s membership will now he held to a whole new set of codified regulations that will determine what can be said, and what can not, on the pages of this vaunted internet venue. So, Facebook’s subscribers will be punished, as compensation for the internet cash cow’s greed and irresponsibility.

On May 25th, someone shared an article on Facebook about the dubious behavior of a State Representative in New Hampshire. (Link Below)

While his hero Donald Trump grabs them by their pussies, Representative Josh Moore grabs them by their breasts.

It seems that, in an attempt to prevent the moral hazards of public nudity, the politician stated that, if a woman were to expose her breast in public to nurse an infant, he had the right to grab the breast in question. I was outraged by the brazen insensitivity and sanctimonious presumptions in the politician’s statement. So, beneath it, in the comments section, I wrote, “Men are such assholes”. A few hours later, I was notified that I was to be blocked from posting on Facebook for a period of three days, for breaking Facebook’s new code of regulations. I was stunned. In an attempt to appeal what I considered to be an outrage, I clicked on a few boxes until I found myself offered a venue to explain my outrage. Into that box, I typed the following:


“The comment that I made in response to a New Hampshire State Representative, who stated openly that if any woman in his state bared her breast to feed an infant in public, he had the right to grab it. I responded, “Men are such assholes”. Was the New Hampshire Representative blocked for making this horrific remark? Of course not. It’s bad enough that Facebook helped put Trump in the White House, but now Facebook takes on the sanctimonious role of The Morality Police. And by the way, I stand by my comment”.


When I clicked send, a notice appeared that said, “We could not process your request. Please try again later”. I tried ten additional times and got the same notice each time. This tells me, of course, that the appeal function, falsely offered by Facebook, is intentionally defective; to create the illusion of fairness, while blocking one’s ability to effectively protest.

The money rolls in, and Facebook rolls on.


So, Facebook’s advertising juggernaut, which has conspired to give the world President Donald J. Trump, marches full speed ahead, with multi-billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, a knight in shining armor at its head, sowing the newly embraced seeds of morality, as it reaps its fortunes, unregulated by a cowardly Congress, tacitly approving a State Representative’s threats to grab the breast of any woman who has the temerity to nurse her child in public; while simultaneously punishing its membership for calling him an asshole.

Multi-billionaire Mark Zuckerberg is the Imperial Wizard of Facebook’s newly-installed Morality Police.



© 2018 Shaun Costello







by Shaun Costello


leg top 

There has always been that moment for me, when, enthralled by the prose of a wonderful novel, I suddenly become aware that I have almost reached the end. It’s a sad reckoning. I begin to read more slowly. I take bathroom breaks more often. Anything to put off the inevitable. This happened to me earlier today, when reading the last pages of John Le Carre’s latest novel, A LEGACY OF SPIES. It’s his 24th, and because of his advanced age, possibly his last book. I have read his 23 other spy stories at least twice each – some favorites as many as four or five times. I realize that I am a hopeless case. In this last book Le Carre revisits two

earlier novels, THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, and TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY; linking them both together to tidy up some loose ends. An aging, retired, white haired Peter Guillam is called for by the inquisitors at Whitehall. The British Secret Service is being haunted by ghosts from its past, and the once-young Peter Guillam will be hauled over the coals. The death of Circus agent Alec Leamus, many years before, is now in question. Leamus had a son who is now looking to be compensated for the murder of his father. Was The Circus at fault? Is Guillam responsible? Whitehall has opened the files and found incriminating evidence against Guillam. Whitehall is looking for a fall guy.


For incurable Le Carre addicts like yours truly, the fun now begins. Familiar characters from the past delightfully cascade through the story. George Smiley is still alive but his whereabouts are unknown. The ill-fated Alec Leamus, Connie Sachs, Control, Control’s man Mendel, arch traitor Bill Haydon, Jim Prideaux, Oliver Lacon, Toby Esterhase, Roy Bland, Millie McCraig, Hans-Dieter Mundt, all deliciously brought back to life.

In The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, Circus agents are disappearing, networks are being rolled up, and Alec Leamus is murdered climbing the Berlin Wall. There’s a rotten apple in the Circus, somewhere near the top. We find out, many books later, in Tinker Tailor, that Bill Haydon, very high up indeed, is the soviet mole, buried many years earlier in the Circus, and feeding information to Karla at Moscow Center.  But why was Alec Leamus really in Berlin? What was his mission? Who was running him? Control? Smiley? What was Guillam’s involvement? And at the center was the notorious Hans-Dieter Mundt, the head of the Stasi, East Germany’s Secret police – then being run by George Smiley as a double agent.

Richard Burton as the ill-fated Alec Leamus in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

Le Carre, regardless of his age, has not missed a beat, tying two of his best-loved books into a modern mystery, populated by an ensemble of his best-loved and familiar characters. And his prose remains intact, as sharp and flowing as ever. To his fans, A LEGACY OF SPIES seems a fitting conclusion, if that is what it is, to decades of delicious novels. The book seems, in its structure, to be bidding us adieu. I can only hope that the author has second thoughts, and the idea for one more book up his literary sleeve.



John Le Carre’s prose is as exciting as ever.


© 2018 Shaun Costello




by Shaun Costello

I can’t imagine that there is doubt in anyone’s mind, that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man.

Yesterday, October 30th, in an interview on Fox News, White House Chief of Staff, General John Kelly defended Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and referred to him as an honorable man. He also had some odd comments about the cause of the Civil War. In today’s news he was roundly criticized. In my opinion, he meant well, but misspoke, and the criticism of his statements is grossly exaggerated.

Kelly meant well, but misspoke.

They Grey Army of the past lives on in the sheets and hoods of the Ku Klux Klan.

Anyone who has spent any time reading nineteenth century history, and more specifically, about the American Civil War, would come to the conclusion that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man. But at issue here is erecting and maintaining statues of Confederate soldiers. Most of these were erected, not directly after the Civil War, to honor the brave and the fallen, but instead, in the early twentieth century, symbolic of Jim Crow America, in an effort to remind African Americans that the Grey Army of the past lives on in the sheets and hoods of the Ku Klux Klan.

The glorification of the Confederacy is all about racial hatred

And that the uppity Negro better not get too uppity, lest the Klan is comin’ to getcha. The Confederacy declared war on the United States, creating a conflagration that yielded half a million dead. It was America’s darkest moment. The ongoing glorification of the Confederacy is based more in racial hatred, than in honoring the Army in Grey. Instead, read Douglas Southall Freeman’s extraordinary biography – ROBERT E. LEE. And his equally extraordinary three volume work – LEE’S LIEUTENANTS: A STUDY IN COMMAND……..MANASSAS TO MALVERNE HILL, CEDAR MOUNTAIN TO CHANCELLORSVILLE, and GETTYSBURG TO APPOMATTOX. Just about the entire Civil War from The Army of Northern Virginia’s point of view. This is a magnificent series of volumes, and you’ll be a better human being having read them. You don’t need statues and flag waving to be a good citizen. Grow up, America.

Highly recommended reading.





by Nora Ephron

In the Seventies, Nora Ephron was America’s most entertaining essayist.

About a year ago I found myself developing a surprising appreciation of Nora Ephon. Like many New Yorkers who lived through the Seventies, I read her tasty pieces in Esquire, when she was probably America’s most entertaining essayist. As the decades passed, I read her, saw her movies (both written and directed) and enjoyed most of it. Then, about a year ago, Sleepless in Seattle turned up on HBO Streaming, so I watched.

Sleepless in Seattle was perfectly constructed.

About a half hour in, I clicked on pause. I was not prepared for what I saw. It was perfectly constructed. I started watching again, and the whole movie was as perfect as the first half hour. This level of story structure is rare these days, and you’d have to go back to Hitchcock to match it. Somehow when I saw it in a theater when it was first released, the quality of the construction went right by me.  Maybe it was the popcorn.


I started revisiting her films and books. Some were great. Most were good. Nothing was terrible. I have to admit here that I was developing a serious crush on a dead person. I began to grieve at not having known her, and envying those who did. Her son, Jacob Bernstein (Jacob, out of Nora, by Carl) made a documentary about his late mom called EVERYTHING IS COPY.

Jacob Bernstein -( Jacob, out of Nora, by Carl)

I’ve watched it several times, and the more I discovered about her, the more I grieved at never having known her. She was brilliant, and challenging, and terrifying. Had I been invited to one of her famous dinner parties, and when tested, crapped out as dull, it would have been like the death of a thousand cuts.  But, if I got a laugh out of her it might have been orgasmic.


Much of the text in Jacob Bernstein’s documentary is from the pages of the book titled at the top of this page, read by Ephron’s friends. She was dying of leukemia when she wrote and directed Julie and Julia, her last film.  As I watched her son’s chronicle, and read I Remember Nothing, I began to realize that Julie and Julia was not about those two women at all – It was about Nora Ephron. It was about Nora’s relationship with her sister Delia. It was about a perfect marriage, not necessarily about Paul and Julia Child, but, after two failures, about the perfect marriage Nora found with writer Nick Pillegi. It was about everything Nora Ephron loved, and knew she would soon lose.

Julie & Julia wasn’t about those two women at all – It was all about Nora.

The above titled book ends with two chapters; What I won’t Miss, and What I Will Miss. Although very few knew of her illness, and claimed that they were shocked by her death, I find it surprising that they missed the clearly stated clues. In writing I Remember Nothing, Norah Ephron was saying goodbye. 

N Nora dates



© 2017 Shaun Costello