“I have no idea what I’d do with myself if there were no books to read – they’re an essential part of work and play for me, and without them, I’d probably be a very different person,” writes Neymat Raboobee at bookriot.com, and I couldn’t agree more.
Here’s what I’ve been into lately:
“V2” by Robert Harris (2020) This book was a Christmas gift from a friend, to whom I’d introduced Harris’ previous books, such as “Fatherland” and “Enigma”. I’m really grateful he returned the favor, because Harris fans, or fans of historical fiction, should not miss this novel based on the Nazi missile program that might have extended the duration of WW2, and that certainly did launch the postwar missile race.
“Exit Music” by Ian Rankin (2007) In his continuing series of novels about the Scottish version of Harry Bosch, John Rebus, Rebus is apparently working his last case before enforced retirement as a DI. First, a Russian poet in exile is viciously murdered, then other people tangential to the poet start dying too. Every Rebus novel is a great self-contained story, but reading the series in order is how you really get inside this man, his work, and his taste in rock ‘n roll (the title is a Radiohead song).
“The Afghan” by Frederick Forsyth (2006). It’s been 51 years since his landmark espionage thriller, “Day of the Jackal”, but I’m here to tell you Forsyth hasn’t lost a step. This novel undertakes an audacious undercover mission to stop a terrorist plot, is a page ripper, and is loaded with rich technical and geographic detail. Almost the entire first third of the book is Forsyth explaining the origin and development of Islamist terrorism—and it’s one of the best tutorials you’ll ever read.
“Hard Rain” by Janwillen van der Wetering (1986) Another terrific series based on Dutch police detectives, these books are at turns funny, graphic and always full of raw, true emotion. These cops aren’t caricatures, but real, imperfect, likeable people.
“The Adversaries: A Story of Boston and Bunker Hill” by Ned Ryun (2021) This labor of love by my fellow American history buff is a “novel” project in more ways than one: it’s a lightly fictionalized telling of the opening salvos of the Revolution, leading up to and including the battle of Bunker (really Breeds) Hill. He creates dialog and connecting action to link up the events we do know, and while it shouldn’t be the only book you read about these events, it’s a nice treatment.
“Books of Blood Volumes 1-3” by Clive Barker (1984) He’s not for everyone, and by his own admission in the introduction, this is early Barker in short story form, not all of which is his best. Having said that, you will never forget (and you will try) short stories like “Rawhead Rex” and “Dread”. It’s uneven, but felt like a good choice in the run-up to Halloween.
“Drowned Hopes” by Donald Westlake (1990) Every John Dortmunder mystery is a joy to me. I love the characters, like May and Andy, and the way Dortmunder himself, a thief with professional standards and scruples, always sinks into a situation he tries to avoid. Grumpily, and always with a few twists, he extracts himself and his not-so-merry band. If you like mysteries, you should track down some Dortmunder books by Westlake.
“The Railway Man” by Eric Lomax (1995) Later a cool movie with the always excellent Colin Firth, the book is a kind of autobiography from a British POW who survived, but never forgot, being a captive of the Japanese in Burma. A lifelong train enthusiast, railways and trains wind their way through his life and experiences, and eventually, his journey comes full circle. The movie does it justice, but the book is truly excellent and I hope you check it out.
Let me know if you read one or more of these, and what you thought of them. And I hope you’ll share your recommendations for me, too.