From time to time, because this blog is about books and reading them, I like to ask where you tend to do your reading. Last time, it emerged that some of our blog readers had unusual answers. A couple of new dads found themselves reading more with their new babies in the house. “TV at any volume seems to wake him up”, he told me, but “a book never woke anyone up!” Others listed lunch breaks, waiting in the car to pick up kids at school, and airplane flights. Now, it’s summer. Please let me know where you do your summer reading, and in the meantime, here’s what I’ve been up to in June:
“The Venetian Affair” by Helen MacInnes (1963) If you like espionage thrillers, you should know MacInnes. She was married to a real life MI6 spy during WW2, but her claim to fame is excellent, well-plotted novels set in the war or Cold War, mostly. You can also tell she was a passionate believer in freedom, as her characters from the totalitarian side of things are pretty despicable. In this one, as in many of her novels, an innocent Westerner is dragged into intrigue.
“The Drowning Pool” by Ross MacDonald (1950) Before it was a great movie starring Paul Newman (the movie inspired the name of the rock band, Drowning Pool), it was MacDonald’s classic about a very unhappy family riddled with dark secrets, and featuring his classic P.I. Lew Archer. One of my favorite books to reread.
“Chappaquiddick: Power, Privilege, and the Ted Kennedy Coverup” by Leo Damore (1988) This July is the 50th anniversary of the manslaughter that ended the Kennedy dynasty, and talk about your “unhappy family riddled with dark secrets…” Damore was a dogged digger, courageous storyteller, and it ruined his life.
‘The Samurai’s Wife” by Laura Joh Rowland (2000) Her series about a feudal-era Japan detective, Sano, is excellent, but this book is a weak link. Skip it.
“The Omicron Legion” by Jon Land (1991) Ninety-six seemingly unrelated Americans are set for assassination, and Land’s hero, Blaine McCracken, is frantically trying to find out why, and to what end. I won’t spoil the ending, but you should be rooting for the guy his friends call “McCrackenballs”.
“The Saboteur” by Paul Kix (2017) World War II drew a young French aristocrat from his pampered country home into the French Resistance, and he lived to tell his tale. Kix’ book is a story within a story, because, along with the vivid accounts of operations against the Germans, including capture and torture, this is also the fascinating story of why Robert de la Rochefoucald had to reveal his commando past.
“The Doomed Oasis” by Hammond Innes (1960) Innes was a renaissance man who studied and wrote books about a variety of subjects. During his WW2 service, he started writing thrillers, some out of experience. Later, his novels were known for the same meticulous research as his non-fiction works. Like Helen MacInnes mentioned above, Innes’ protagonists are usually people who were just minding their own business but are caught up in conspiracies. “Doomed Oasis” is like that, mostly set in the Arabian desert, and as fascinating for the conditions as for the plot.
“The Fourth Deadly Sin” by Lawrence Sanders (1985) Since Frank Sinatra starred in the movie made of the first of Sanders’ “Deadly Sin” series, I like to picture him as the Edward X. Delaney character in the subsequent books. Delaney is the retiring/retired NYC cop who keeps coming back to “consult” when the department is stuck on a case. You’ll have to read these books to get this, but they make you hungry, in addition to be very good whodunits.
“I’ll Do My Own Damned Killing” by Gary Sleeper (2006) Set in Dallas around the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, this is the story of the gamblers and gunsels who ran the illegal and quasi-legal gambling. Although they raked in big bucks and owned the cops, these guys were so busy killing each other and trying not to get killed, that you wonder if they every enjoyed it. One guy survives over a dozen assassination attempts. It’s a true story but reads like a Ross MacDonald plot.
“Second Chair” by John Lescroart (2005) This author is a favorite. His main character, Dismas Hardy, is a latecomer to a legal career and like Lescroart in real life, has done a little bit of everything. The Hardy books, set in San Francisco, are full of great characters you will come to care about and know as you read the series. In this one, Dismas is helping one of his law associates, Amy Wu, defend a rich kid against double murder charges that sensationalize the city.