“In books we never find anything but ourselves. Strangely enough, that always gives us great pleasure, and we say the author is a genius.” –Thomas Mann
I’m with old Tom on that point, but some of these authors really are geniuses. Anyway, here’s what I was into this past month of August…
“Trouble Follows Me” by Ross MacDonald (1946) He wrote it under the pen name Kenneth Millar, but it’s unmistakable MacDonald. A young navy officer meets a cool girl at a party on his last night in Hawaii. Murder, a quest, and suspicion all follow like we knew they would.
“The Face” by Dean Koontz (2003) Overall, I like Koontz. When he’s good, he’s very good. And in this one, he’s created a unique plot and unforgettable characters: an ex-cop with issues, a brilliant but vulnerable little boy and some seriously psychopathic maniacs. If you put “Silence of the Lambs” in Hollywood, you’d begin to get the idea.
“The First Conspiracy: The Plot to Kill George Washington” by Brad Meltzer (2018) It’s always amazed me how close we came to not having Washington as a our first president. The British may have recognized his value sooner than his fellow Americans, and they took what they saw as the dire necessary steps. You’ll love this, but be glad it failed.
“How to Survive A Summer” by Nick White (2018) An incredible debut novel about a young man’s memories of the summer his family put him in a “conversion therapy” camp. Part Tennessee Williams, part Flannery O’Connor, but fresh and original. This story made me question what kind of a friend I’ve been to others, and wishing I’d been a better one. Don’t get me wrong, this is a readable novel, but it will also make you think.
“Pale Grey for Guilt” by John MacDonald (1968) It’s unbelievable how many famous authors (Stephen King, Dean Koontz, among others) say MacDonald is their favorite storyteller. His McGee novels, including this one, give you a great hero, a unique brand of justice and redemption, and as a bonus, might be the definitive depiction of Florida life. Perfect summertime reading.
“Crazy Horse and Custer” by Stephen Ambrose (1975) Reread this one and got even more out of it. Two incredible players on the stage of our history, and Ambrose weaves their strands separately and together. Like the Titanic, even though you know how it ends, he makes getting there incredible entertaining and revealing.
“The English Girl” by Daniel Silva (2013) His protagonist is Israeli super-agent Gabriel Allon, and this series might be the best in modern-day thrillers. Silva just knows his stuff: spycraft, history, cultures, language, geography. A young woman with a promising political career in Britain, but also clutching some incendiary secrets, goes missing. You won’t ever want it to end.
“Clutch of Constables” by Ngaio Marsh (1968) Marsh draws comparisons to Agatha Christie, but her Chief Inspector Alleyn is less unconventional than Poirot or Marple. Here, he must figure out which passenger on a river cruiser is an internationally-wanted serial killer.
“Red Rabbit” by Tom Clancy (2002) Despite the publication date, Clancy’s Jack Ryan is back in 1981 here, and the plot includes the actual 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II.
“The Burning Room” by Michael Connelly (2014) For mystery writing, the Harry Bosch series is tops with me. Harry is now working cold cases, gets a rookie partner who’s got a secret agenda, and in the course of solving a decade-old shooting, manages to secure her career and possible end his. Everything Connelly writes is worth reading, and the Bosch series should really be read in order to get the most out of it.