Whenever I compare notes with just about anyone of any age, I realize that I’m not a well-traveled person, especially for my age.
I haven’t had a valid passport since George W. Bush was still president.
Not gonna lie, actual travel sounds nice, but it’s not a personal or financial priority. And while I know that reading about places in time and space isn’t the same as being there (or having been alive back then, in the case of time), it’s more my thing. In recent weeks, I’ve been through several decades, while touching down in places from Britain to Morocco, Brazil to China, Vienna to Hong Kong. Here’s what I’ve been up to in books lately…
“Trouble in Paradise” by Robert Parker (1998) Nothing beats his Spenser series, but the Jesse Stone series, of which this is book #2, is “Spenser-lite”. You get some snappy patter, colorful characters, and in this case, a really cool robbery caper. Kind of a poorly-dressed “Oceans Eleven” thing that Chief Stone and his fellow citizens of Paradise, MA have to break up.
“Moonraker” by Ian Fleming (1955) You need to know up front that this novel bears zero resemblance to the plot or characters of the 1979 Bond movie. But there’s a good reason why: the ’55 tale involves rocketry in its infancy (and an evil plot to turn a British missile breakthrough into the UK’s darkest day). By 1979, the Bond franchise was looking to cash in on the popularity of “Star Wars”. The prototypical missile idea would’ve made no sense to an audience for whom missiles, space travel and lunar landings were ho-hum. So, you get a cool Bond novel, for its time. And a kooky movie for its era. Only the name is the same.
“The Dinosaur Club” by William Heffernan (1997) This was an iconic ’90s novel, really an American classic or period-piece about the era of corporate downsizing. Sarcastic and suspenseful, with characters and a plot that you’ll be cheering on.
“Overruled: The Long War for Control of the Supreme Court” by Damon Root (2015) Root’s a Reason.com editor and frequent guest on our show. His thin but dense book is like the notes taken by the smartest kid in the class, of the history of the Supreme Court–specifically the age-old and still relevent struggle of conservative vs. libertarian reading of the Constitution. It is a must read, and you must be prepared to have your ideas about “judicial activism” challenged.
“Mrs. Pollifax and The China Station” by Dorothy Gilman (1983) I tell people the Pollifax novels are like “Murder, She Wrote” for international espionage. The fun premise is that our government has a little old lady from New Jersey for sensitive spy missions, because she will appear to be a harmless tourist. Of course, she’s not harmless, and it never fools the enemy for long.
“Hot Money” by Dick Francis (1987) An amateur jockey from a rich and unhappy family must keep his superwealthy father alive long enough to figure out who’s been killing people and trying to kill father-and-son, too. A big, sprawling novel of places and characters, with much less of Francis’ usual dose of horse-racing involved in the plot. You’ll notice that if you’re a regular reader of his, but you won’t mind.
“Winner Take All” by Barry Eisler (2005) Eisler’s John Rain character is a professional assassin with principles and standards. He reminds me of the legendary Nicholar Linnear character created by Eric von Lustbader (some of my all time favorite novels). Rain’s a lot like him, but since I like Linnear, I don’t mind at all. Here, Rain has left Japan for South America, but the CIA forces an assignment on him, to kill a dangerous arms dealer. Rain discovers he’s not the only one trying, in a story with vivid settings from Brazil to Macao to Hong Kong to Japan.
“The Skorpion Directive” by David Stone (2011) Another series I love, in which Micah Dalton is a CIA “cleaner”. In Vienna to meet someone, he realizes he’s being followed, turns the tables on those following him, and gets sucked racing against time to frustrate a terror plot that could inflame the Middle East. If you like these kinds of books, you’ll like Stone and Dalton a lot.
“Murder By The Book” by Rex Stout (1951) Every Nero Wolfe story is a treat, and yet, this one is just a little bit tastier than most. An unpublished novel, a series of mysterious deaths, and the great detective who gets up from this desk only for dinner but still gets his man.