SPY-GRABBER

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.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER

Excuse me while I….

…toot my own horn.

PATENTS FRONT

My collaboration with the brilliant writer, artist, translator, & musician, Doug Skinner PATENTS PENDING — has just been published in the Absurdist Texts & Documents series from Black Scat Books. This compendium of impossible inventions includes an afterword by France’s greatest humorist, Alphonse Allais, and collage illustrations by Norman Conquest. It’s packed with visionary prototypes such as the Ouija Billboard, Helium Bomb, Impossible Picture Frame, Trompe-l’œil Magic Kit, and many others. 

A fine divertissement during this bleak pandemic. 

You can order it on Amazon at this link.

Enjoy!

THE WRONG KIND OF NORMAL

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.

CLICK HERE to order.

November Must-Reads

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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 be easily 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 under control.   CLICK TO ORDER

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. CLICK TO ORDER

Hat’s off to Ben Schott for this witty sequel to Jeeves and the King of Clubs, which begins with these ominous words: “Is it safe?”…. So you know you’re off to a good start in this worthy Wodehousian comic romp. Just to have Wooster and Jeeves back is cause enough for celebration, while lots of our favorite characters are along for the ride in Jeeves and the Leap of Faith: Gussie Fink-Nottle, Spode, Madeline Bassett, not to mention Bertie’s dreaded aunt (you know the one I mean). You couldn’t ask for anything more — except, of course, a sequel! CLICK TO ORDER

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. CLICK TO ORDER

Murder by Milk Bottle is the latest Constable Twitten Mystery by Lynne Truss (author of the classic grammer guide, Eats, Shoots and Leaves). The odd title is fitting for this quirky series set in Brighton in the 1950s. To be specific, 1957 — not a good year for milkmen as bodies are piling up with one thing in common: death by milk bottle. The intrepid (albeit misunderstood) Constable Twitten is saddled with trying to catch the killer(s). Lucky for him the inimitable Mrs. Groynes — the crooked Brighton Police charwoman — is around to help. A delightful seaside escape during lockdown. CLICK TO ORDER

The Dog Days of August

 

With a vaccine for Covid-19 looking like a chimera, the only medicine I trust right now is 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, grab a copy on Amazon.

 

LOCKDOWN STOCK & STACK

This is an old stack ‘o mine.  I’ve enjoyed the Martin Beck series during multiple reads. But with the pandemic raging outside, it’s time to stock up on new titles. So here are a few of my favorites.  Click on the covers to order on Amazon while all the bookstores and libraries are closed. And if  you can’t wait for slower delivery, snatch an e-book.

Let’s read our way out of this crisis. And remember this:

BOOKS DON’T SNEEZE


HAND-PICKED NEW TITLES—GREAT ESCAPES!


backlist treats THAT take my breath away:

Holiday Quick Picks

There could be no better travel companion than
Paul Theroux. Here he takes us on a deep dive
into Mexico — a fascinating journey with rich
portraits of people and the land, the mysterious
back roads  of Chiapas and Oaxaca. His humanistic
approach is particularly welcome in the age of Trump.
CLICK TO BUY


 

Dane Shitagi’s  Ballerina Project (Chronicle Books) —18 years in the making—presents 50 famed ballerinas — captured in mid-motion — off-stage, in the real world. Like rare birds in flight, they are framed in exquisite form, balanced, poised, poetic, sensual. The inherent beauty of ballet is heightened by the natural settings across the globe — cityscapes, beaches, parks and country lanes. This coffee table book will not simply appeal to aficionados of dance, but to all who appreciate gorgeous photographs exhibiting the grace and power of the female form.
CLICK TO BUY

 


If you take your noir black, with dollops of black humor,
then you’ll find satisfaction with every sip of Pascal Garnier.
His unique novelettes have been translated from the French
and published posthumously in uniform editions by Gallic Books.
C’est La Vie is as surprising as life itself.  CLICK TO BUY


Speaking of black humor… this disturbing little novel
from New Zealand by Annaleese Jochems will add some
chills and dark laughter to the holidays. Two young women
(and a dog named “Snot-head”) are on the lam on a rusty
boat called “Baby.” What could go wrong?   CLICK TO BUY


 

Cutting Edge is a box of dark chocolates —each piece unique —spicy, strange, twisty,
and electric — no two tastes alike. Joyce Carol Oates has hand-picked 17 sharp-edged, feminist-flavored tales of crime and mystery. An  anthology filled with noirish thrills.
CLICK TO BUY


Cara Black‘s series has been flourishing for — (can it really be?) —
twenty years! She has evocatively brought the neighborhoods
of Paris  to life,  and turned countless  thousands of readers into
hardcore Francophiles. If you haven’t met her Parisian private
investigator, Aimée Leduc, well prepare to fall in love. As always,
there’s an intricate plot, sublime dialogue,  suspense, and the charms
of this city. Murder in Bel-Air is Black at her best.
CLICK TO BUY

 

 

Diamond’s Back & Other Gems

Killing with Confetti is Lovesey’s latest Peter Diamond Investigation is on par with the best titles in this series. Diamond, the somewhat grumpy (albeit brilliant)  head of Bath’s CID, finds himself  a peg down from his usual murder investigations – assigned security detail  at the wedding of a notorious mobster’s daughter. And yes, Diamond isn’t looking forward to what would simply be a chore – that is, until the looming threat of the mobster’s assassination by a rival gang looks imminent.  Thus, there’s plenty of suspense amid the festivities and Lovesey’s skillful plotting keeps readers on their toes. Add a fair sprinkling of Lovesey’s wit which makes the  novel  a must-read for fans. 
BUY ON AMAZON

 

A Spy to Die For…

 

Rosalie Knecht‘s exquisite prose rises above genre and climbs the literary ladder in this fresh, original novel. Set in the late 1960s, the story weaves back and forth between Vera’s coming of age as a teen in Maryland, and her deployment to Buenos Aires a few years later as a CIA plant in Buenos Aires. Rumors of a coup  are swirling and nothing is quite what it seems. Vera’s assumed identity becomes the  perfect metaphor for both a personal and political identity crisis, where being undercover blurs the line between friends and foes.   BUY ON AMAZON

 

 

TRUE CRIMES…

If you thought  the Cold War ended when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, read  From Russia With Blood. It’s  a blast of cold air revealing  Putin’s ongoing plot to assassinate his  enemies on foreign soil. Heidi Blake‘s riveting  tale is a true crime masterpiece which reads like a spy novel. The characters are real — Russian emigres, ex-spies and oligarchs who fled  Russia for the imagined safety of Great Britain, only to discover that the Kremlin’s tentacles reach everywhere. Apart from the audacious and bizarre nature of the assassinations, Blake’s rich portraits of larger-than-life figures such as Boris Berezovsky and Alexander Litvinenko, make the book totally compelling.   
BUY ON AMAZON

 

DRUG DEALS…

Here’s another nonfiction eye-opener which can safely be shelved in the true crime section:  Fentanyl, Inc. Thanks, in part, to rogue chemists operating in state-sponsored labs in China, this deadly drug has spread rapidly across America and—despite its lethality—is widely used for recreation today. Author Ben Westhoff  has investigated the dark corners where fentanyl addicts and pushers flourish, and even gained access to an illicit drug lab in China.  He traces the origins of the fentanyl epidemic and vividly recounts the human suffering it has caused.  He also covers some  gallant efforts to find a solutions to the addiction crisis. This book is an alarming wake-up call for the country.  BUY ON AMAZON