Jack’s Books: Some Abe Lincoln and a Lot of California

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

So said Dr. Seuss, who’s definitely not canceled in this blog, at least.

If you actually are going places this summer, “Jack’s Books” is always ready to suggest titles, for planes and pool decks,  from what we’ve been into lately:

“38 Nooses: Lincoln, Little Crow and The Beginnings of The Frontier’s End” by Scott Berg (2012). The title refers to thirty-eight simultaneous executions carried out by the federal government in the summer of 1862. A band of Dakotas savagely attacked white settlers in the new territory of Minnesota. Berg notes that what sounds like a tragic story for all involved could’ve been worse, as President Lincoln commuted the death sentences of over 260 others. In this highly readable account, we meet not only the familiar 16th President, but also the hugely-influential chief, Little Crow, a Episcopalian prelate and missionary, Henry Whipple, and a remarkable woman, Sarah Wakefield, whose improbably life experience became national news at the time. Important history, carefully and charismatically told here. Berg has done a lot of research, and has a lot to teach us about the way the struggle to resolve the Indian question overlapped, and related to, the struggle over slavery.

“The Pillars of Solomon” by Jon Land (1999) From his clever mystery series matching up an Israeli woman detective with a Palestinian police inspector, to solve crimes involving both peoples. As an added wrinkle, they are in love. Here, they uncover a plot stretching from the founding of the state of Israel to the present-day swearing-in of the latest prime minister. Talk about a “two-state solution”.

“Decider” by Dick Francis (1993) The protagonist here is a hugely-likable architect and single dad, who by inheritance becomes part owner of a racetrack that is both dying, and that may kill him in the process.

“Full Measure” by T. Jefferson Parker (2014) Admittedly, this was not what I was expecting from Parker, who is one of the best of several good mystery writers setting their tales in California. Parker isn’t solving a crime, here, but giving us memorable SoCal characters trying to resolve the issues of returning home from war, being your brother’s keeper, the tangled emotions of family businesses and assorted other dramas. It’s a very, very good novel, just not a typical Parker.

“Pick-Up” by Charles Willeford (1955) Willeford is one of the best mystery writers you’ve never heard of, but he’s a personal favorite of mine, and was revered by legends in the business, like Elmore Leonard. This short novella is one of the starkest portrayals of alcoholism you will ever read, as a man and woman in postwar Los Angeles fall into each other’s arms, and addictions, with tragic and ironic consequences.

“Suicide Hill” by James Ellroy (r) (1986) Ellroy wrote a short series around fictional LAPD detective Lloyd Hopkins, who is basically “Dragnet’s” Joe Friday minus any impulse-control. An obsessive, brilliant, self-destructive cop, Hopkins and the department have a love-hate relationship. He’s called into a case of bank-robbery/kidnappings, and his M.O. is as only Ellroy could conceive.

As always, if you should try any of these, I’d love to hear your opinion. Or share a title of your liking: [email protected]

(r) denotes a book I re-read from earlier.



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