Jack’s Books: A Shot And A Beer

“When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading, ” quipped Henny Youngman.

To paraphrase Henny, take my books, please…

“Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization” by Edward Slingerland (2021) A gift from my friend, Mike, here’s a book I am so glad crossed my path. (Not to mention being glad that Mike crossed my path, too). Despite the tipsy title, the author distills a lot of history, science and archaeology into a steady stream of readable, sometimes funny, narrative about humans, animals, plants and how alcohol has functioned in all different kinds of societies and groupings. Like a good party, you won’t want “Drunk” to end.

“Quiller’s KGB” by Adam Hall (1989) The “Quiller” character is part James Bond, part James Rockford, if that makes sense. A British secret operative carrying more cynicism and humanity than gadgetry, who survives and succeeds in his missions mainly through wile and determination, and who is often on the verge of quitting. This assignment, for example, has the Brits cooperating with the Soviets in East Germany, to save the life of Gorbachev. Quiller turns it down, at first, than finds he has to do it.

“The Emperor’s General” by James Webb (1999) Webb was a Democratic US Senator from Virginia and Ronald Reagan’s Navy Secretary, but the best work he’s ever done are his books. Non fiction like “Born Fighting” and this historical novel about General Douglas MacArthur’s postwar regency over Japan, told through the eyes and experience of a fictional MacArthur aide who lived and loved his way through it.

“Three Days in Moscow: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of the Soviet Empire” by Bret Baier (2018) Speaking of Reagan and Gorby, here’s another superb Bret Baier history, looking at the run-up to and events surrounding Reagan’s 1988 summit. Even if you llved through it, or have read other accounts, Bret Baier always adds color and detail to otherwise familiar historical events. Here, he draws heavily on original documents from the Reagan Presidential Library, and includes the unsung and misunderstood importance of the late First Lady, Nancy Reagan, on the proceedings.

“So Long as You Both Shall Live” by Ed McBain (1976) From his brilliant “87th Precinct” series, detective Bert Kling’s new wife is kidnapped from under his nose on his wedding night and it’s a race to find her before an obsessive nutcase finishes his scheme for her.

“The Disciple” by Stephen Coonts (2009) One of my favorite thriller writers, and my favorite mini-series of his, featuring an irregular CIA man named Tommy Carmellini. Tommy could almost be the American “Quiller” (see above). He’s a self-deprecating rogue with a stubborn patriotism and chivalry that he would deny if you accused him. Here, he has to operate under deep cover against the Iranian regime, in Teheran. Due to current events, Coonts’ imagining of the final, nuclear showdown between Iran, Israel and the US made me turn the pages even faster. Maybe this author’s best.

“Still Life” by Louise Penny (2005) My first Penny, and her first novel, and now the lady has a new superfan. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Quebec Surete is an instantly likeable, totally original character, leading the probe into the killing-by-bow and arrow of an old woman in a small town. Elements of Ruth Rendell, Ian Rankin and even Agatha Christie, but always fresh and beautifully written. With Louise Penny, you don’t just see a croissant, you see every flake, you taste the yeasty, buttery goodness and you are in every scene, at every dinner table, you smell the damp woods around the murder scene. She has a gift for this writing, and it was a joy to discover her Gamache series. I’m there for them all.

As always, please share what you’re reading, or if you try-out one of these: [email protected]

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