One hundred eighty-one years ago this month, Edgar Allan Poe launched modern-day detective fiction, with “The Murders in The Rue Morgue”, featuring his made-up detective protagonist, C. Auguste Dupin.
It may seem strange to call something from 1841 “modern”, but Dupin used the deductive reasoning found in every literary detective from Holmes to Bosch, had a narrator, and summed up his evidence and case in a final-revelation flourish. For decades, authors overtly copied Poe; today’s mystery writers are often doing so without even knowing it. There’s even a terrific modern twist on Dupin, Matthew Pearl’s “The Poe Shadow” (See “Jack’s Books September 2021).
So, with all thanks to Poe and Dupin, here are the mystery novels and other books I’ve been into lately:
“The Case for Catholicism” by Trent Horn (2017) “Apologetics” is the systematic presentation of the argument for a faith system, but Horn’s book is more of a comparison of Catholic and non-Catholic Christian takes on key teachings of the Scriptures. Horn, a Catholic convert, takes the position that Catholics are closer to the true meaning of Jesus’ ministry, and politely dismantles Protestant objections to Catholic interpretations.
“The Walls of Jericho” by Jon Land (1997) A veteran thriller writer with great storytelling chops, Land has a nice hook here: a Palestinian cop and an Israeli detective must work together to solve a serial killing case that threatens the peace process. Land books always have sharp, smart plots and vivid portrayals of characters and places, and this is no exception.
“Guilt” by Jonathan Kellerman (2013) Readers of this blog will know I love the Dr. Delaware series—Alex Delaware being a psychologist who consults with the LAPD, and is often drawn into cases involving children. Having established that I recommend all these books, “Guilt” had an overly sudden ending, just collapsing into a disappointing conclusion after a promising beginning that included a mysterious baby skeleton from the ’50s and a classic Duesenberg roadster.
“Moscow Offensive” by Dale Brown (2018) More relevant than ever, Brown’s later McClanahan books involve an ad hoc alliance between US private defense contractors and the Polish government that is Russia’s main nemesis (think Ukraine now), and a clueless American president willing to lose to the Russians rather than prove her predecessor was and is right about anything. If you love military thrillers, you already know Dale Brown is a premium brand.
“Blood on the Moon” by James Ellroy (re-read)(1984) I can watch “L.A. Confidential”, the movie based on Ellroy’s book, over and over, so it figures I can gladly reread his classics. He’s an acquired taste, because his characters and his narration have no P.C. filters at all. Race, sex, violence, 1960s Los Angleles—it’s all here.
“A Spy in Plain Sight: The Inside Story of the FBI and Robert Hanssen” by Lis Wiehl (2022) She’ll be a live guest on the show May 2; the book comes out the next day. Hanssen not only gutted the intel war against the Russians, but how he got away with it will make your blood boil and keep you on the edge of your seat. Way more detail here than we got in the contemporary reporting at the time. For example, at one point, when the FBI realizes it has a high level mole, they put Hanssen, of all people in charge of finding him(self). He takes the assignment and uses it to settle old scores against innocent colleagues. Brilliantly researched and constructed.
“Where The Winds Are: Walking Europe’s Winds from Pennines to Provence” by Nick Hunt (2018) Never read a travel book about wind, but thanks to a best friend’s Christmas gift, I enjoyed Hunt’s style and walks. In certain places, regular wind patterns not only have names but are as much a part of the culture and history as the people, history, dialects and food. The ultimate compliment for a travel book: it makes you want to follow in his footsteps.
“The Galton Case” by Ross MacDonald (1959) No one captured the mid-twentieth century in crime novels better than MacDonald and his P.I., Lew Archer. Join Archer on the cold, then red hot, trail of a missing young man who may inherit a fortune, if he is alive. While the author had been writing for years, and had penned several Archer books before this one (with more to come), “The Galton Case” became especially dear to him as the book where he “found his voice”.
“Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” by Haruki Murakami (2014) This novel blew me away with its themes of loss and loneliness. The title character, about whom you will find yourself very concerned, must make some painful journeys to resolve his life and answer his nightmares. A winner of awards and critical acclaim, this book is worth tracking down and spending time with. You’ll never regret it.
“Queen of the Flattops” by Stanley Johnston (1942) An unusual WW2 history in that it was published early in the war. The main focus is the “queen” of America’s aircraft carriers at the time, the USS Lexington. Johnston was a newspaper reporter stationed aboard during her valiant final battle. The “Lex” at Corpus Christi was under construction as the USS Cabot at the time of her sinking, and was instead christened “Lexington” as successor to the flattop in this story. I loved this book all the more because it was one of my late dad’s favorites. He served on a CVE (smaller, lighter carrier) but could relate to much of the action “Lexington” saw. All through this book, his underscores and notes make me feel like we were reading it together.
As always, I love hearing about your reading, or your impressions of any of these.