Jack’s Books: Travel Reading

By travel reading, I mean reading while you travel, not reading about travel.

Although, these last two weeks of books took me on a quest for Confederate gold in Arkansas, and for lost youth from the Bicentennial summer, from Israel to Vietnam, and from Sunset Boulevard to 85,000 feet above Earth. Talk about frequent flier miles.

“Nick’s Trip” by George Pelecanos (1993) My jury’s still out on Nick Stefanos, Pelecano’s hard-drinking private-eye based in D.C. I like the author’s plotting and characters, and he uses device of setting each scene to the main character’s music choices, which tend toward new wave rock. Pelecanos won’t just say “there was music in the background”, he’ll tell you what radio station the character tuned in on the dashboard, or which cassette album he cranked in the bar, which is cool. Author Ian Rankin does this to great effect in his “John Rebus” books, too.  Stefanos himself, though, drinks too much to be a credible, functioning person, emotionally-wallows too much to be likeable, and I don’t know if I can take him over a series of stories. You may like him, a lot of readers do.

“The Lost Order” by Steve Berry (2007) Berry’s “Cotton Malone” books are the perfect airplane reading: taut, suspenseful and you can polish off 600 pages between take-off and landing without strain. This one centers around Berry’s beloved Smithsonian Institution, some secret Confederate gold, and and an even more secret plot by the speaker of the House to rewire the Constitution for dictatorial powers. Great, history-flavored intrigue. Malone and his cast of characters, a love-interest colleague, a loyal boss, a colorful ex-president, are always good company.

“Shrink Rap” by Robert Parker (2002) In his later years, Parker reworked his superb knack for peppery, quick-witted dialog and had it come out of the mouths of characters other than his long-running P.I., Spenser. In this series, it’s daughter-of-a-cop Sunny Randall, who’s investigations often tangle with her complicated love life. She’s on the trail of a predatory psychiatrist (even that borrows from the Spenser series). You could knock the late Parker for the unabashed recycling, which it is, but if you loved the whole Spenser universe as much as I did, you don’t mind it being extended.

“The Osterman Weekend” by Robert Ludlum (1972) (reread) One of the all-time classics by the modern master of espionage thrillers—as good a use of paranoia and social claustrophobia as you will ever read. A weekend gathering of wealthy friends, ostensibly to drink and swim, turns into a blood-soaked race to stop a doomsday Cold War plot. It’s amazing to consider that, several decades before all the “Bourne” movies, Ludlum was the top choice of people looking for something to read on their TWA, Pan Am or Braniff flights.

“The Village” by Bing West (1972) One of the most under-appreciated accounts of the Vietnam War, West is writing about the “strategic hamlet” program where a handful of Marines embed, fight, and die amidst the Vietnamese people. You won’t soon forget both the young Americans, their frustrations and triumphs, nor the panoply of fighters and farmers, young boys and elderly women. When you read books about this war by the likes of Bing West, Neil Sheehan, John Laurence or Charles Henderson, you wonder how it could have been real, and how much we squandered.

“Keepers of The Gate” by Jon Land (2001) From the author’s series, teaming up an Israeli detective and a Palestinian cop, together as colleagues and as sometime lovers. What connects a series of murders of elderly Holocaust survivors to the shocking deaths of a smart group of high schoolers?

“Motive” by Jonathan Kellerman (2015) The always enjoyable combo of psychologist Alex Delaware and his best friend, LAPD Det. Milo Sturgis: after dead-ending on the murder of a young woman, they start working on the bizarre broad-daylight shooting of a wealthy woman leaving her divorce attorney’s office. Soon, it looks like her killing, and others, will connect back to the original victim, and serve-up—literally—one of Kellerman’s most twisted and enjoyable killer plots yet.

“Dreamland: Piranha” by Dale Brown and Jim DeFelice (2003) “Dreamland” is an off-the-books secret weapons-testing base, and this time it’s an unmanned sub (“Piranha”) called into play by looming conflict between India and China. All of Brown’s tastiest ingredients are here: heroic but believable pilots and scientists, incredible state-of-the-art tech and cliff-hanging action. And always, in the back of your mind, you’re wondering how much is the authors’ fertile imagination? And how much is hinting at what’s actually around our next corner?

As always, if you try any of these, please let me know how you find the read. [email protected]

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