It’s about to be fall–on the calendar. Weatherwise, it’ll be 5-10 degrees less hotttt in the daytime and comfortable at night. So, carry on…

As always, with this blog, hope you’ll let us know about books you recommend. They don’t have to be new, or bestsellers. As you’ll see with mine…

“The Locked Room” by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo (1973) Until Per’s death in the mid-70s, these two writers collaborated on a series of police-procedural novels starring Stockholm, Sweden detective Martin Beck. Once in a while, the authors’ ardent devotion to socialism shows through the narrative, but these are brilliant mysteries brimming with plot and character.

“Tai-Pan” by James Clavell (1966) A fictionalized telling of the colonization of Hong Kong in the 19th century. Clavell sold millions of his “Asian Saga” series, and movies were later made. It’s a LOT of detail, so, while I enjoyed it in parts, I probably won’t read the successor volumes.

“Reagan’s Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started It All” by Craig Shirley (2005) History suggests that Reagan “arrived” with his election to the presidency in 1980, but there’s no way of understanding the man, his rise, and his impact, without following his GOP primary challenge to President Ford in 1976. Shirley tells the story well, and not too fawningly, given that he worked for Reagan.  It’s a terrific read if you’re a political junkie and/or an admirer of Ronald Reagan.

“The Spanish Cape Mystery” by Ellery Queen (1935) “Ellery Queen” may have been the original multi-media “brand”–books, movies, radio, a magazine and even, later, a TV series, all bore his name. The amateur sleuth is Ellery Queen, but the authors wrote the books under that name too. Confused yet? Just roll with it and enjoy these short, witty, clever whodunits anytime you can find them in a used bookstore or library. They’re all very good.

“Dreamland” by Dale Brown (2001) Part of the fun in any Dale Brown novel is figuring out where the fiction stops and Dale’s deep-insider knowledge of the modern US military begins. We don’t really have these “Megafortress” planes and tech, right? Or…do we? Here, a new commander of the Air Force’s top secret Nevada proving ground base dispatches experimental weaponry (and his ace pilot-daughter) to take on terrorists in Somalia. Success there may also mean saving the base from the Pentagon chopping block. “Dreamland” is the name of this series, of which this is the opening book.

“Victims” by Jonathan Kellerman (2012) An ace LAPD detective and his sleuthing psychiatrist pal have to figure out who’s killing and savagely eviscerating a series of victims with no obvious connection to one another. Kellerman’s plots, with LA itself as a supporting character, are always first-rate reading.

“Chinatown: Portrait of A Closed Society” by Gwen Kinkead (1992). First, it needs to be said that we should have read this book 29 years ago, because it’s dated in a lot of ways. What kept me going was the explanation of how an immigrant neighborhood develops and insulates itself. It’s the American success story, and the evolution of organized crime, and it’s every ethnic group’s experience to some degree, and it still happens now. Kinkead did a lot of legwork in NYC and got people to trust her, and even though everything she describes has changed, and many of these people aren’t even alive anymore, I was glad to have found this book.

“Sweet Tooth” by Ian McEwan (2013) On the strength of enjoying his earlier novels like “The Innocent” and “Atonement”, I looked forward to this one. It’s set in the ’70s and is the story of a young British woman’s recruitment by MI5. There are numerous real-life characters and references that make “Sweet Tooth” sometimes read like protagonist Serena Frome’s memoir. McEwan’s a great writer, and I wanted to like, even love, this novel. But I didn’t. Maybe that’s me, maybe that’s him.

“Curtains for Three” by Rex Stout (1951) Even Stout’s “full-length novels” are very short and punchy, and in these three short stories, our author achieves the “always leave ’em wanting more” level. Stout’s private detective Nero Wolfe, and his trusty sidekick and legman Archie Goodwin, solve three cases that first appeared in late ’40s mystery magazines. If you only have time for one, read “The Gun With Wings”, but all three are terrific.

“Athabasca” by Alistair MacLean (1980) I always introduce MacLean by mentioning his famous “Guns of Navarone” from 1957 (and the excellent later movie). He produced a novel almost annually into the 1980s—some are quite good like “Caravan to Vaccares” and others are shaky, like “Goodbye California”. “Athabasca”, which involves a complicated sabotage plot against the trans-Alaskan pipeline and oil sands. Twists and turns, cool technical details, and you’ll never figure it out before the end make this one of MacLean’s good ones.


As always, let me know how you find any of these when you read them. And appreciate your recommendations too!

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