Mark Terry

Monday, February 13, 2012

What I've Been Reading

February 13, 2012
Here are the first 10 (sort of) books I've read so far in 2012.

1. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling
I'm re-reading the series in order, slowly. Phoenix is one of my favorites, certainly one of the darker books, as we get to see Harry develop undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder.

2. Threat Warning by John Gilstrap
Gilstrap's action hero that runs a security firm and hostage retrieval service gets totally wrapped up in domestic terrorism. With some quibbles, I enjoyed this book.

3. The Mirage Man: Bruce Ivins, the Anthrax Attacks, and America's Rush to War by David Willman
There are many lessons one can take from this book. One is: If you're going to give a PhD in bacteriology top secret clearance and access to deadly pathogens, it might be a good idea to occasionally run a psychological screen on him. Two, if you are ever caught in a widely televised criminal investigation, hire the best damn lawyer you can get because the system will chew you up and spit you out. Three, do not believe anything the media says. This was a very disconcerting lesson, because Willman tracked many of the news stories by major news sources like Brian Ross at ABC World News only to find that Ross's sources were people who were passing on gossip and who had no real access to the investigation. In fact, if there's anything I got from this book, it's that the media can become a sort of echo chamber in these types of cases, where so-called experts don't have primary access to information, but talk to friends of friends of friends and pretty soon rumor and innuendo gains the weight of fact. Also, the FBI and the Justice Department leaks like a sieve.

4. The Defector by Daniel Silva
I'm almost caught up in reading the Gabriel Allon series. Gabriel is a spy/assassin for Israeli intelligence and the plots are extremely complicated. I'm not as impressed as many critics seem to be with Silva's ability to write action, but I like his sense of place and his tradecraft and the complexity of his plots. This one involves a Russian agent who defected to the UK (with Gabriel's help) who either returns to Russian or is coerced to do so. Then Allon's wife is kidnapped...

5. Killer's Wedge by Ed McBain
I meant to write an entire blog post about this book, but got busy with other things. McBain's backlist has been re-released as ebooks and one of my goals is to read much of it, which ought to take years. Killer's Wedge is an 87th precinct book that was published in 1959. In it, the widow of a crook who died in prison walks into the 87th precinct with a gun and a suspected bottle of nitroglycerin and holds the squad hostage, waiting for Steve Carella to show up so she can kill him in revenge. Meanwhile, Steve's investigating a "locked-room suicide" that he thinks might be a homicide, but he can't figure out how it would have been accomplished, since the victim hanged himself inside a locked room. This is a riveting book and McBain's writing energy is amazing. I also note with some chagrin that he breaks one of the cardinal rules I often lecture new writers about - shifting POV. The narrative shifts among the various cops and the woman in the squad and it's just so deftly done that it works - but I'm fairly sure in less gifted hands it would have been a confusing mess. A terrific book that I highly recommend.

6. An Election by John Scalzi
A short story by SF/F writer Scalzi (available as an ebook for 99 cents). Scalzi is probably best known for his mostly military SF book series starting with OLD MAN'S WAR, but he also writes almost political satire SF that's very damned funny. And that's what this hilarious short story is: it's the future and well over a hundred different alien races live on Earth. The main character, a human, decides to run for city council in a district that hasn't had a human councilman elected in over 30 years, due primarily to the fact that humans are a dramatic minority in that district. For instance, one of his opponent's entire campaign platform is a rewriting of the laws that would allow people's pets to be eaten. Hilarious.

7. The Tale of the Wicked by John Scalzi.
Also a short story for 99 cents. More military SF with space battles and spaceships with artificial intelligence. Somewhat humorous, but thoughtful with some nice twists and perhaps, inside jokes for the SF lover.

8. Breaking Point by Dana Haynes
I'm not entirely sure how to describe this book. I really enjoyed Haynes's first novel, CRASHERS, about a NTSB team of investigators that investigate plane crashes. In his second novel, he takes damn near everything - terrorists, plane crashes, cutting edge weapons, assassins, forest fires, dirigibles, hackers... and it's thrown into one huge pot of gumbo and although fairly entertaining, it's about as plausible as Star Trek (and probably a lot less coherent). There are also about 800 characters to keep track of. So I'm not entirely sure I recommend it. CRASHERS is significantly better, but if you liked CRASHERS, you'd probably like this one reasonably well.

9. Taken by Robert Crais
Well, it's Elvis Cole and Joe Pike and the plot is fairly interesting, if someone chopped to pieces and scattered across the pages. It's rather hard to follow and there are some continuity issues, but I enjoyed it for the most part.

10. To The Hilt by Dick Francis
I've long cited this as one of my favorite novels. I still probably will, but people change, even if the books don't. I haven't read this in 8 or 9 years. One reason for that is it's largely about a man, Alexander Kinloch, who is a painter who lives out in the mountains of Scotland by himself, but gets called back to London when his mother's second husband has a heart attack. He gets drawn into trying to get his stepfather's business back on its feet after one of its officers embezzled millions of dollars. He also gets tangled up in a lot of asset management and family politics. I last read this when my father was going through the last stages of cancer and much of the sickbed issues described in the book came back to me hard. Also, I last read this before I was a full-time writer. I identified strongly with a character who just wanted to go off by himself and paint (i.e., write). Almost a decade later my life has changed, as, apparently, have I, and my identification with the character is different - although I can definitely relate to how Alexander gets pulled into situations he doesn't want to simply because, well, somebody has to and apparently he's the one most willing to. Still a terrific book and I was struck by how strong the writing was in this one. Still highly recommended.

Mark Terry