Melting High Temperatures, And Intrigue: Jack’s Books

Some of the hottest days of the year are coinciding with feverish conspiracies both historical and fictional, in the latest book blog installment.

For some reason, I’m late to the Jack Carr party. Writing about Navy SEAL James Reece, he’s got a growing string of bestsellers and a Prime series.

I didn’t care for the first installment of the TV series, but now I’m going to read the book, and just knocked out the premiere volume, “The Terminal List” (2018), which is also the series title. It’s as good or better than anything else I’ve read in the genre, from Eric von Lustbader and Steve Berry to Tom Clancy, Larry Bond and company. Carr is really, really good, and I’ll be drinking them all in.

Also this month:

“Standing in Another Man’s Grave” by Ian Rankin (2012) I like to say Rankin’s detective, John Rebus, is the Scottish Harry Bosch. Rebus, like Bosch, is being put out to pasture on the basis of age, but is the indispensable man in cracking the mystery of a string of young girl disappearances that may have an organized crime nexus. And, like Bosch, Rebus plays the cop game edgily and has as many enemies in the police hierarchy as he does among the hoods. A truly great series, you should read the Rebus books in order.

“Tecumseh and the Prophet: The Heroic Struggle for America’s Heartland” by Peter Cozzens (2020) This is the book I’ve been waiting for, when it comes to getting at the true man behind the legend of Tecumseh, who may have been the most admired, respected Native American of his era. Even among white politicians with low opinions of the tribes, hardly a man met Tecumseh who wasn’t impressed, if not won over. This book is the one that deftly weaves Tecumseh and his mystic brother Tenskwatawa into the battles and migrations of what is now the upper midwest, and it avoids the sloppiness or fictionalization of previous attempts. Cozzens has written an essential work of our history.

“Gone Fishin'” by Walter Mosley (1997) One of our greatest living writers, Mosley takes his enduring characters, Easy Rawlins and Raymond “Mouse” Alexander into a sultry, steamy, bayou where reality and illusion boil and blur—we are getting a back-in-time sort of “prequel” glimpse of these two here, and you have to keep reminding yourself of that as you read this one. Like all their appearances in Mosley books, Easy and Mouse keep chasing the dream and never quite escape the past.

“Ballroom of the Skies” by John MacDonald (1952) This is some unexpectedly freaky sci-fi from one of the premier mid-century mystery writers, creator of the famous “Travis McGee” series. He dabbled briefly, but memorably in imagining a future world where an atomic WWIII has left India the last remaining world superpower, and oh, space aliens are living among us. Read it lying down, or plan on lying down after reading it.

“I Heard You Paint Houses” by Charles Brandt (2004) Brandt is a distinguished attorney, lecturer and the last guy who’d write a pulpy novel about the mob. But this true account of Teamster heavy Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, confidante of Jimmy Hoffa, reads like a thriller. I apologize for the cliche, but I only say this when it’s absolutely necessary: I could not put it down. If you want to know what happened to Hoffa, you will find out by the end. Mystery over. This book was the basis for Scorsese’s “The Irishman” movie.

“The Oswald File” by Michael Eddowes (1977) Like Brandt, Eddowes was a serious lawyer and sch0lar, not given to flights of fancy. So, when he lays out his theory about Lee Harvey Oswald, he is careful, methodical and sources everything. And here it is: the Oswald who defected to the USSR in 1959 is not the same man who returned to the US a few years later. JFK’s killer was “Oswald” but not Oswald. I read this mostly out of curiosity, since it was referenced in another JFK book and I’d never heard of the title. I was not prepared to be as convinced as Eddowes left me. There are flies in the ointment, to be sure, and he even owns up to them. Still, this is chilling stuff.

The Wycherly Woman” by Ross MacDonald (1961) From MacDonald’s “Lew Archer” series, P.I. Archer is hired by a wealthy, screwed-up oil family to find a missing college co-ed daughter. Since Archer’s clients are usually as evil and crazy as any criminal element he encounters, he’s sleuthing along in his kool kat wisecracking way, having to solve the mystery of Phoebe Wycherly while beset with the baggage of everyone in her life. The New York Times once called MacD’s Archer “the finest series of detective novels ever written by an American”. Probably still true.


As always, I love hearing your take on these books, if you pick one up, and getting book recommendations from you, too: [email protected]

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