Jack’s Books Blog, Easter Sunday Edition
Flowers are blooming, baseball’s back and the Moderna vaccine is coursing through my system, doing whatever it’s doing. Seemed like a good time to push back from the Easter candy and update the reading blog. Over the last few weeks it’s been stories of patriots and partnership, and even, fittingly, a “resurrection” tale.
“Eureka” by William Diehl (2002) Diehl’s one of my favorite authors most people have never heard of. He only started getting published in his 50s, is best known for two books that became movies (“Sharkey’s Machine” and “Primal Fear”) and spent most of his life taking pictures rather than writing words. But he tells a great story, and in “Eureka”, he showcases his skills in a part-whodunit, part-historical novel, part-Western. It starts with a a woman no one really knows dying in her bathtub…
“Harry and Arthur: Truman, Vandenberg and the Partnership that Created the Free World” by Lawrence Haas (2016) Not to be confused with the Harry-and-David cheese snack people, this slim volume relates the unlikely but indispensable cooperation between Democratic President Harry Truman and the GOP’s top senator at the time, Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan. Both men left behind letters and journals that reveal a bipartisanship we miss today.
“Toxin” by Robin Cook (1998) Heroic doctors battling scientific conspiracies are Cook’s metier. Here, a surgeon’s daughter contracts E.coli after eating a fast food burger, and he frantically looks for answers.
‘Preserve and Protect” by Allen Drury (1968) A longtime Washington D.C. journalist by trade, Drury’s series of novels spanned the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. They were his way of explaining how the American political system really worked, with a fair dose of idealism to suggest how Drury himself believed they could work. I read the series, beginning with its most famous title, “Advise and Consent”, when I was a teenager and am working my way through them again. As with the Haas title above, you can scarcely recognize that we are the same country.
“Patriots” by Christian Appy (2003) Truly one of the best works of history I’ve ever read—with the caveat that this is an oral history of the Vietnam War, so not comprehensive. But the author sought out, over many years, as many people from all sides: Americans, South and North Vietnamese, soldiers, civilians, politicians, children, journalists, entertainers. The result shows how many different lives are touched by war, and brings home how the aims and outcomes of this war became hopelessly tangled.
“The Black Path of Fear” by Cornell Woolrich (1944) I’ve told you about Woolrich before: eccentric, reclusive, tragic, prolific. He wrote stories of desperate people, probably from the pit of his own desperation. Here, a young man takes the woman he loves on an ill-fated trip to Havana. Her past catches up, and he must prove he didn’t kill her while bringing down justice on those who did.
‘Iron Wolf” by Dale Brown (2015) Brown was a WSO on B-52s and FB-111s in the Air Force and has made a career out of excellent military/political thrillers. In this novel, part of a series, he adds a kind of science-fiction element that is too bizarre to be quickly explained. For me it works, and if you ever enjoyed his older works, like “Flight of the Old Dog” or “Day of the Cheetah”, I recommend you never stop reading Brown. Here’s Amercan pilots and patriots come to the aid of Poland Russia’s megalomaniac president starts WW3.
“Resurrection Men” by Ian Rankin (2002) The title refers to 19th century practices of robbing graveyards to deliver cadavers to medical colleges. But it also describes our protagonist, the brilliant but self-destructive Scottish cop John Rebus, who’s sent for “retraining” with a band of other veteran detectives. They’re tasked to solve a cold-case, but they have their own skeletons, too.
“Major Dudes” by Barney Hoskyns (2017) Steely Dan fans will pick up the hint from the title—but this isn’t a band bio. It’s a skimmable collection of magazine interviews and album reviews, tracing the history of Becker and Fagen from their Bard College days in the 1960s (when their arch nemesis was a district attorney named G. Gordon Liddy) through albums like “Can’t Buy a Thrill” and “Aja” to “Gaucho” and later/solo work. Only fun if you’re a major Dan dude, which I am.
“Let’s Hear it For the Deaf Man” by Ed McBain (1973) McBain created a completely fictional city (except it’s obviously just New York) and wrote decades of novels featuring the detectives of the city’s 87th Precinct. The stories can stand alone or be read in a series. The “deaf man” is a cunning criminal mind who’s challenged them more than once—he enjoys giving them almost enough clues to prevent or catch him in his criminal capers.
Like I always say, if you discover and enjoy one of these, please let me know, and share what you’re reading!