For someone who talks for a living, I’m not a conversationalist outside of working hours. Sorry, that’s just me.

When I fly, I pass the time reading. Invariably, a seatmate wants to talk, and I feel bad not responding. Now, however, I have an escape hatch.

On a recent flight up north for my aunt’s funeral, whenever someone asked “where are you headed?” or “what takes you up there?”, my honest answer (“Well, I’m going to a funeral” was the ultimate conversation ender. I mean, stopped-on-a-dime. There’s no good follow-up, and soon, the person in the middle seat was snoozing and I was ripping through the pages. Conclusion: on all future flights, I am “going to a funeral”.

Here’s what I’ve been reading, at various altitudes, in recent weeks:

“Flower Net” by Lisa See (1997) I don’t know how I didn’t find this lady or her books sooner, but Lisa See is a fantastic mystery writer. This is the first of a so-called “Red Princess” mystery series, with a Chinese investigator Liu Hulan, who has to solve the dual murders of the US ambassador’s son and a the son of a prominent Beijing family. She herself is the daughter of a VIP and the third mystery turns out to be who is impeding her investigation and why. Brilliantly plotted and vivid in detail. I’ll keep reading this series.

“The Damned” by John MacDonald (1952) You couldn’t write this book today—at all. And only John MacDonald could’ve written it 70 years ago. A border ferry from Mexico into the US breaks down and several *interesting* people are stuck, and stuck together. Passions, tensions, well, you know, MacDonald’s kind of situations.

“On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery” by Robert Poole (2009) A fascinating, concise history of a place every American has gone to, either physically, or in his heart. From it’s improbably beginning, as a grim necessity of the Civil War, through its growth in subsequent wars, and grappling with its own checkered past, on to JFK’s “eternal flame” and the events of 9/11, it’s all here. I say this a lot, but this was a subject I thought I knew “enough” about until I read Poole’s first-rate book.

“Orthodoxy” by G.K. Chesterton (1908) Not only a classic of Christian apologetics, but a unique one in that Chesterton explains why he once did not believe, but came to, or even had to, eventually. Short but dense, it reads best in slow, small doses.

“Light of the World” by James Lee Burke (2014) He’s a strong personal favorite of mine, and his “Robicheaux” series and its characters feel like part of my life and family. So, it’s hard for me to be objective about any book in the long-running series. I will just say this one is very different, especially in setting and structure. But if you read them in order, starting with 1987’s “Neon Rain”, and you’ve made it this far into the books, you’ll love it. (I strongly recommend reading these only in order)

“The Ox-Bow Incident” by Walter Van Tilburg Clark (1940) Here’s the rare case of great book AND great movie, with the latter mostly true to the former. Technically a western set in 1880s Nevada, about a posse formed to track and catch cattle rustlers. But you just know as you read (or watch) that this is really a study of vengeance and how corrosive and dangerous it can be. The book is incredibly packed at under 200 pages.

“December ’41” by William Martin (2022) This talented historical novelist imagines a Nazi plot to assassinate FDR on Christmas Eve 1941, as he lights the first wartime National Christmas tree. From a Pearl Harbor-rattled L.A., his characters move east (and toward their destinies) on the famed “Super Chief” luxury train. You will wonder why the Germans didn’t actually try to pull this off. Or…did they try? [William Martin will be on our show June 17]

“Pity Him Afterward” by Donald Westlake (1964) Like the earlier-mentioned “The Damned”, here’s another classic American novelist, writing a book only he could have crafted, and telling a story you wouldn’t get away with publishing today. The plot: an escaped, brilliant mental patient joins a summer stock theater company, then commits several unscripted murders.

“The Last Mafioso” by Ovid Demaris (1981) This books is a big, rich slice of true-crime lasagna, piping hot with detailed anecdotes, famous people (Sinatra!), rare glimpses into the witness protection program. The subject, and namesake, is Jimmy “the Weasel” Fratianno, who really was one of the last of his kind. If you love either the true-crime category, and especially if you’re into the nitty-gritty of mob history, this author has not missed an ingredient.

“The Omega Factor” by Steve Berry (2022) If anyone is writing the Ludlum-style of espionage thrillers these days, it might be Steve Berry. I mean, even that title sounds like it had to be a Ludlum book sometime in the 70s or ’80s, right? A new character, Nick Lee, is a sort of cultural-crime investigator for UNESCO. He’s chasing after the “Ghent Altarpiece” and what secrets or powers it may possess. I have long been a fan of Berry’s “Cotton Malone” character and series, and I think this could be the start of another beautiful relationship.

As always, please let me know what you are reading, or if you try any of these! [email protected]

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