“What was that book Jack just mentioned?”
If our tech producer, Don Cooper, has heard that question once, he’s heard in 10,000 times. To be honest, that question is why I started this blog. Figured if I journal every book I read, the books I mention will turn up in one easily-accessed place. Today, for example, I was mentioning the eerily-prescient 1978 novel “The Third World War: August 1985”, which made a big impression on me as a teenager. Re-read it this weekend because events in Ukraine brought it to mind.
We still get the calls about books mentioned on the show, so the blog didn’t quite solve the problem. But if Don can’t help you, this blog usually can.
Here’s what I was into during February:
“The Buffalo Soldiers” by William Leckie (1967) America’s first all-black Army units served post-Civil War on the Indian frontier, and got their nickname from Native Americans who said their hair reminded them of buffaloes. Both came to be respected by the tribes, and the service of these “Buffalo Soldier” units was brave and intrepid. Leckie makes you feel like you were there.
“The Doomsters” by Ross MacDonald (1958) MacDonald’s PI, Lew Archer, never disappoints. Here, he tangles with the powerful but ill-fated Hallman family. “Doomsters” would be one of the author’s personal favorites, and besides the great plots and “noir” vibe, I love how cynical and analytical Archer is. In an era where the private dick just wants to bag his man, Archer also wants to understand why people around him do what they do, and sometimes even turns that inquiry on himself.
“The Bourne Dominion” by Eric van Lustbader (2011) EVL has spun Robert Ludlum’s “Jason Bourne” character into a long and fantastic novel series. If you read one, you have to read them all. In a plot that could be relevant any day now, Bourne has to work with a Russian nemesis against forces that would dominate the world’s supply of something more valuable than oil or gold.
“A Plague of Secrets” by John Lescroart (2009) There are enough colorful, likeable characters around protagonist Dismas Hardy for five writers to work with, enough that Lescroart spun out another series of books centered on Hardy’s investigator, Wyatt Hunt. The gang’s all here for a murder case involving pot, coffee and San Francisco political intrigue. Hardy’s a hipper kind of Perry Mason—like Mason, he pushes the line and limit of the law to defend his client.
“Letters from America” by Alexis de Tocqueville It’s funny to think that this classic of early Americana came about because a wealthy, bored young Frenchman persuaded his government to send him to America to study the…prisons. Yes, Europe in the early 19th century was impressed and intrigued by many things our still-new country was doing. To be fair, de Tocqueville and his best pal Beaumont DID do time touring prisons. But in writing letters to family, friends and others, from all over America, they reported on, and reflect to us today, the wonder of the American experiment.
“Red Sun Setting: The Battle of the Philippine Sea” by William T. Y’Blood (1981) This author owns the subcategory of Pacific War carrier action, which is also my favorite chapter of WW2 history. The Battle of the Philippine Sea featured both brilliant and, at times, boneheaded strategy, on both the American and Japanese sides. Meant to be a humiliation of the US island-hopping campaign, it instead brought about the end of Imperial Japan as a naval power. The Emperor’s men fought on for many more months, but their dreams of Pacific domination were ended here.
“The Bride of Fu Manchu” by Sax Rohmer (1933) Rohmer created one of the all-time best series of evil-villain-takes-over-the-world stories. His other-worldly Fu Manchu is like all the Bond baddies rolled into one. Always, though, and just barely, the unflappable Neyland-Smith holds him off. But only until the next installment.
“The Drop” by Dennis Lehane (2014) This is now my favorite Lehane book, and he’s done some great ones; “Shutter Island”, “Mystic River”, “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Given Day”. By comparison, “The Drop” is practically a novelette: a Boston bartender who everyone thinks is shy and quiet (and he is) gets pulled into a tangle of murder, gambling and Russian organized crime. Oh, and he gets a dog. Lehane books are clinics on character development. Read him to learn.
“The Third World War: August 1985” by Gen. Sir John Hackett, et. al (1978) (reread) The Soviets try for a surgical strike against NATO in West Germany, but the surgery goes very wrong. One of the most chilling novels you will ever read at any time—much more so right now. This is without a doubt what WW3 would’ve looked like had it happened in that era. Adding to the story’s edge: some real life public figures (Jimmy Carter gets a second term as president) and granular detail on weapons systems and aircraft. If you were ever going to pick up this nearly-45 year old book, now would be a good time.
“The Naming of the Dead” by Ian Rankin (2006) DI John Rebus is the epitome of the “rebel cop” who gets results his superiors want, in ways they don’t Rankin never has let Rebus become a cliche, despite the many formulaic things about him: drinker, unhappy childhood, divorced, aging ungracefully, loves old rock LPs, etc. etc. Here, Rebus is investigating a serial killer against the backdrop of the G8 summit in Scotland.
As always, if you pick up one of these, let me know how you liked it. And share with me what books you like!