I’m generally not a big fan of spy thrillers, but I wanted to read this one because so many fans of the genre consider it a classic. The plot itself was okay, but the writing and characterization left a lot to be desired. I think much of the book’s initial success came from it being the right story at the right time. At bottom, it’s a conspiracy novel exposing some of shadier operations of powerful governments, and the lengths to which those governments will go to cover up their crimes.
The Woman in White opens with a mysterious encounter between artist Walter Hartright and an unnamed woman dressed entirely in white. Hartright runs into her late at night along the dark road from Hampstead Heath to London. The woman is clearly frightened, fleeing some unseen pursuer. She asks Hartright for directions, which he gives. He doesn’t know who she is, but his instinct tells him to help her. In her disconcerted ramblings, she tells him she had spent a brief portion of her youth in the country house he is planning to visit, and she warns him of an evil man he will soon encounter.
Stanislaw Lem’s His Master’s Voice is science fiction of the highest order: a meditation on man’s place in the cosmos, an examination of the limits of our knowledge, and a scathing condemnation of how politics influences the practice of science. Originally published in 1967, this title, along with a number of Lem’s other works, was reissued in 2020 by MIT press. The opening chapters provide a brief backstory. Australian scientists, granted access to the Palomar Observatory, spent two years studying neutrino emissions raining down from space.
The Hiding Girl begins with an ominous scene. Two men, whom our gut tells us are not to be trusted, approach a woman and her daughters as they carry groceries into their isolated country home. Twelve-year-old Emily has the same foreboding instinct as the reader. Something bad is about to go down. But her mother is too trusting and her sister is too young to share her concern. Something bad indeed goes down, and Emily is the only one to escape alive.
Margaret Millar’s 1957 novel has a simple setup: a bunch of men in their late thirties are meeting for a weekend away from the wives and kids at a remote country lodge to fish, play poker, and drink. Only one of them never arrives. The boys call the wives, and together they reconstruct a picture of where Ron Galloway was last seen and where he was headed. Millar’s novels of the mid to late 1950s are brilliant studies of what actually goes on under the surface of middle-class American and Canadian life.
Usually, when I finish reading a book, I write a thousand-word review. I can’t do that with a book as deep, thoughtful, and moving as this one. There’s just too much there. This will be one of those rare books I’m still digesting months or even years after finishing. This is also one of the few that will go onto my re-read list. For the first 90 pages or so, I felt the book was going nowhere, and I would have given up if not for the many glowing reviews.
My designer, the brilliant and stunning Lindsay Heider Diamond, has come up with yet another excellent cover for my next book. We hope to have this one out sometime this summer. My last book, Wake Up, Wanda Wiley, a satire on the romance and thriller genres, was a bit of a departure. The Friday Cage is a return to my usual mystery/thriller story. The plot runs along the lines of Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, in which Cary Grant finds himself pursued by people he doesn’t know for reasons he doesn’t understand.
Charles Brandt, an attorney from Delaware, spent years interviewing Mafia hit man Frank Sheeran. Sheeran was one of the prime suspects in the disappearance of Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa, but because of all of the suspects refusal to talk, neither the local police nor the FBI could ever gather enough evidence for a conviction. After decades of investigation, the FBI closed the case and left it unsolved. Brandt, who had extensive experience in criminal law and who helped win Sheeran’s release from prison on medical grounds, thought he could draw a confession from the elderly Sheeran who had begun to reconsider his life as he approached death.
I finally got around to reading this, three years after it was recommended to me by a pair of retired federal agents who had spent much of their careers pursuing drug runners in South Texas. No Country for Old Men opens with Anton Chigurh, one of the most pitiless and chilling figures in modern fiction, escaping a police station after his arrest. From the ease with which he kills the deputy, it’s clear that local law enforcement in South Texas in 1980 isn’t prepared to handle such ruthlessly efficient criminals.
Bob Hartley’s North and Central opens in a bar in a working neighborhood of Chicago in the late 1970s. Andy, the bartender/narrator serves a clientele of factory workers, drunks, neighborhood characters and cops, many of whom are as brazenly corrupt as the city’s infamous politicians. From the opening chapter, which depicts the bar’s collection of oddball regulars exchanging crude insults, you might get the sense that this book is going to be something like Animal House meets Goodfellas.