Books in Review

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The master spy novelist’s memorable last work. Julian abandons the high life in London and opens a small bookshop in a quiet seaside village. When an eccentric visitor stops by one night, everything begins to change. Enthralling.

When this innovative crime novel first appeared in France in 1962, there were comparisons to Simenon. But Japrisot’s text had its own distinctive style — edgy, offbeat, and jarring. Cheers to Gallic Press for making this translation (as well as two other Japrisot novels) available to American readers.

This first novel brings Los Angeles, 1995, to life, where the glitter can’t hide its seedy underside. Indeed, this is the year of the OJ trial. But now, out of the limelight, the LAPD has another African-American suspect accused of murdering his white girlfriend. Two deputy district attorneys search for the truth behind the LAPD’s questionable arrest.

Yes, there are too many books on Trump’s anarchic presidency, but this is the one you simply have to read. It’s as eloquent as the author’s presentation during the Trump Impeachment, and it takes us behind the scenes of one of the darkest periods In American history. If only we had more Adam Schiffs in the House and Senate, we would be in a far safer place.

Jeff Bezos is everywhere — from outer space to behind our everyday online shopping sprees. Love him or hate him, the genius behind Amazon has a hold on our lives that is unmatched. Brad Stone’s biography is rich in detail and fascinating as it dives deep inside the global Amazon empire.




THE MYSTERY OF THE SORROWFUL MAIDEN
A Laetitia Rodd Mystery
Kate Saunders
Bloomsbury Publishing

I’m new to this series and, frankly, I usually avoid the “cozy mystery” genre because it’s often too cozy for comfort. To be fair, The Mystery of the Sorrowful Maiden is not officially labelled a cozy. Still, it’s cozy, but in the best sense of the word, i.e., it’s comforting and not cloying. More importantly, Kate Saunders is an exquisite writer who captures the texture, ambience, and dialogue of the Victorian era. Her heroine, Mrs Rodd, is authentically drawn — a bit repressed, but intrepid, stubborn and smart. Indeed, she’s billed as “a private detective of the utmost discretion” and discreet she is, albeit cleverly discreet as she investigates the unseemly world of the British theatre in this, her third appearance. The novel has humor, surprises, and is just plain fun. I’ll have to get my hands on Rodd’s other two adventures, cozy or not.

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Lawrence Wright is best known for his nonfiction, e.g.,  The Looming Tower — an extraordinary deep dive into the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  His new novel is a searing mind-blower. The author actually imagined his nightmare plot before Covid-19 swept the globe, and his dark, visionary tale will not easily be forgotten. In fact, there are two scenes in particular that are so horrific I had to shut my eyes and take a deep breath. If you think things are bad now, here’s what could happen if we don’t bring the virus & its variants under control.   ORDER ON AMAZON


Antoine Laurain‘s THE READERS’ ROOM begins with a hilarious dissection of the contemporary French publishing scene (which mirrors our own), but soon turns into a deepening and suspenseful text. A series of actual unsolved murders haunt the pages of a manuscript destined to become a bestseller. Unfortunately for the publisher, the author cannot be traced. Cheers to Gallic Press for bringing this deft translation to English readers. Now I’ve got to track down Laurain’s other novels. ORDER ON AMAZON


First things first, PSYCHO BY THE SEA gets my vote for the best book title of 2021. Indeed, it makes me wish Stephen Sondheim would turn it into a song.

This is the fourth book in the series, set in the British resort town of Brighton in 1957. If you didn’t think Brighton was a cesspool of crime and violence, well think again, because in the hands of Ms. Truss it’s nothing but trouble. And the poor — some might say pathetic — local police force is beset and besieged. Fans of the series will be pleased to learn that — in addition to the annoyingly clever Twitten, the cast includes the dimwitted Sergeant Brunswick, the neurotic Inspector Steine, and the almost (but not quite) lovable & larcenous Mrs Groynes, as well as some other familiar faces.

The author’s talent for concocting screwball plots, peppered with slapstick violence and mayhem, is at its peak here. And yes, a psycho does come to town, but that’s not giving anything away. The novel is funny, quirky, and delightfully odd.

I suggest new readers dip into the first three books in the series (The Man That Got Away; A Shot in the Dark; and Murder by Milk Bottle) before embarking on Psycho by the Sea since there are more than a few references to the previous titles. On the other hand, order it now and dive right in to Brighton’s choppy waters — it makes a great winter beach read.

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THE DOG DAYS OF WINTER

With pandemic still lingering,  the best medicine remains laughter, and Bill Boggs’ new novel, The Adventures of Spike the Wonder Dog, offers up enough chuckles and guffaws for an overdose. So there’s some good news in these dismal times. A injection to the funny bone is just what the epidemiologist ordered.

Now Spike is no run-of-the-mill English bull terrier—this “wonder dog”  has a mouth on him, i.e.,  he talks and tells his own tale (no pun intended) in an inimitable, hilarious voice. And in case you missed the warning on the cover, Spike  is not politically correct. No bull—he talks smack and is wickedly wiseass beyond his dog years. In short (move over, Lassie), he’s a four-legged superstar.

Spike is based on an  actual dog  who—like the fictional one—became a TV celebrity.  And since  Bill Boggs is an Emmy award-winning TV talk show host [and—full disclosure—a friend) he knows the territory inside and out, so there’s plenty of biting insider humor.

If you’re looking for satire that hasn’t been paper-trained, ORDER ON AMAZON.


GREAT ESCAPE

The few spy thrillers I’ve read in recent years have been disappointing, but RED WIDOW is a shot in the genre’s arm. The novel is cleverly plotted, authentic,  and reveals a fierce intelligence (no pun intended) behind the scenes. The author has worked for the CIA and NSA which guarantees this is the real deal. 

Alma Katsu knows what goes on at CIA headquarters, and she masterfully paints a portrait of the internal paranoia. Who can you trust when everyone around you has been trained to lie?

RED WIDOW is set pre-pandemic, so the masks are metaphorical (think: John le Carré) and the adversary is Russia, Putin, and the FSB. But the real trouble is within. A mole is loose. A top Russian asset has been poisoned. Two female agents — one of whom may be a traitor — are drawn together during the internal investigation. It’s a wild ride and a great escape.

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THE WRONG KIND OF NORMAL

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The pauses were turning into silences and beginning to feel like the wrong kind of normal. —Don DeLillo, The Silence

DeLillo’s spare, startling new novel — only 116 pages — seems to echo Samuel Beckett’s legendary story “Lessness,” where language has broken down to its bare bones. In The Silence, his characters are confronted with a sudden, mysterious shutoff of digital technology: phones, laptops, iPads, TVs. And what do they say when faced with this unexpected severing of the contemporary lifeline? Not much. As if in a flickerless dream they grope for words. Or mumble, repeat themselves, curse, or slip into silence… staring into darkness, the empty dead screens that form the walls of our world.

One young man begins channeling his idol, Albert Einstein, quoting fragments from a manuscript in a German accent. What words can fill the terrible silence when our crutches are gone, without explanation. Is it a giant digital glitch, a terrorist attack, or Armageddon? No one knows , and people are wandering in the street like zombies.

DeLillo’s The Silence (Doubleday) is laced with subtle absurdist humor, but at heart unleashes a cold wind which seems perfectly timed to our lives during this seemingly unending pandemic.

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SQUEEZE ME is one of Carl Hiaasen’s best satirical novels — a funny, twisty, Palm Beach cocktail spiked with snakes. The outgoing (or so we hope) President and First Lady play prominent roles, but it’s the tough-as-nails heroine, Angie Armstrong, who steals the show in this delicious post-election day tonic. ORDER ON AMAZON

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