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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Recent Airplane Books

Airplane books are not books about airplanes! They are books that make the passage of time on airplanes much more enjoyable. And what could be more enjoyable than a good mystery!

I just returned from Malaysia; that's four plane trip segments each way or a total of 72 hours round trip. In addition there are evening meals accompanied by a good book during my 8 days in Malaysia. So I read quite a bit; here are four books I'll share with you as my recent "outside reading." (Outside reading refers to books not on our monthly book club list.)

Stone Quarry, by S J Rozan. OK I have already mentioned this book in another post, but I am still amazed when I think about what the author accomplished in writing two different books from the same series, but from different points of view. This is a "who dunnit" type of book, recommended, a solid B.

Blind Eye
, by John Morgan Wilson. This is the fifth in a series featuring Benjamin Justice, a LA based journalist who stumbles into a Catholic church cover up of a child predator while researching material for his own autobiography. Obviously a controversial subject, the author draws you into the plot with the murder of another journalist, the potential involvement of a Latin American maniacal terrorist, the wild unpredictable behavior of a young victim of abuse, and the moody, unstable behavior of the HIV-positive central character. Even though it was not hard to guess who the eventual guilty party would be, there were enough red herrings to keep it interesting; in addition, Justice is an interesting lead character, portrayed somewhat realistically. I say "somewhat." Because there is one flaw that detracts heavily from the story; it is Justice's completely inexplicable lack of follow up on the obvious clues. The author tries to attribute this to Justice's mental state (his health challenges and distraction due to melancholy about past failures in the journalistic world- he was a discredited Pulitzer Prizer winner). But I don't buy it. In one chapter, he discovers the likely murder weapon (a vehicle used in a hit and run attack) at a garage, he then does nothing with that information for at least 50 pages. There were several other examples of failure to follow up. Then, later, the hero will go: "Oh yeah, I just thought of something..." This book would earn a solid B recommendation were it not for these lead character failings which make no sense whatsoever. Wilson is a good writer, with an otherwise engaging lead character, but I give the book a C+ rating.

Echo Burning, by Lee Child. This is my second Jack Reacher novel and I will no doubt read a few more. Reacher is in hitchhiking in Texas when he gets caught up in a confusing set of circumstances that surround a beautiful woman who claims that her husband abuses her. But is she telling the truth? Much of the book deals with that question while the antagonists include the husband and his family and friends together with the ever present sweltering, glaring sun. At the same time a conspiracy is afoot with hired killers staking out the small Texas communities around Pecos. Although the story is narrated mostly from Reacher's viewpoint, we are periodically told what the professional kill-team is up to; that puts Child's book into the "thriller" category. Of course it is not until the very end that Reacher figures out who the kill team is working for. Great plot; great setting descriptions. The one thing that annoys just a bit is the way Reacher resolves the crisis at the end. There is altogether too much dependence on brilliant guess work that his beyond credible. For example, with thousands of possible hideouts, he guesses (OK, Watson, deduces) it's several of hundreds of possible motels, and with only one wrong turn, selects the correct motel. That's just one example of this Holmes-like behavior. Come on! No one is that insightful. I would kind of prefer a realistic, more credible balance between the flawed investigator of Blind Eye (above) and Reacher. Because of this, I keep debating between a "B" and a "B+" rating for this book.

Consent to Kill
, by Vince Flynn. This is seventh in a series featuring Mitch Rapp, a CIA field operative who has far-reaching independent powers, a kind of American 007. In previous books, Rapp has single-handedly rescued the President from a terrorist threat invasion of the White House, and subsequently delivered the country from a nuclear detonation in New York and Washington. Now Rapp is the target of an assassin hired by an enraged Saudi who believes that Rapp has killed his son (terrorist from a previous book). I read this 760 page book in one sitting (yeah- remember how long these flights are?) so it certainly held my attention. I have read one or two other books in this series, but this is the last that I'll read. For me to really get into a series, I typically have to admire, like, or enjoy the main character. I find less and less to like about Rapp, a man driven by revenge. I do not find it admirable that his friend, the Director of the CIA, aids and abets Rapps desire for revenge. And I like even less the many macho comments inserted by the author about the stupidity of diplomacy and the wisdom of excessive violence as the only viable type of foreign policy. On the other hand, I was astounded that the author provided no resolution concerning the security breach by a high ranking cabinet official, a piece of information given to a foreign government that led to an attack on the convalescing hero at a CIA safe house. Perhaps because the author would have had to have the hero murder the cabinet official to keep him in character? Rating the book is difficult for me. It ranks high as a thriller style page-turner (B+) but low in credibility (D). So hopefully that explains my C rating.

All in all, many fun books. May I also add that if you are ever in Penang, Malaysia, you will find the Equatorial Hotel to be a relaxing spot to read a good mystery!

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