Reviewer plowed through 30 or so books in the course of 2013, some new,
some not so old and a couple of classics that I had not gotten around to
reading. Here are the best dozen of the bunch, six fiction and six
non-fiction offerings, all great holiday gifts for a literary inclined
spouse, other family member or friend. Most are available in paperback
Bangkok 8: A Novel (John Burdett, 2004) Mystery books
are like popcorn for me, tasty diversions from so-called more serious
offerings, but I have never come across a book (and the four sequels to
it) with a protagonist quite like Sonchai Jitpleecheep, a Bangkok police
detective who is a devout Buddhist and son of a bar girl and Vietnam
War GI, whose quest for vengeance following the murder of his partner
takes him into a netherworld -- alternately sinister and hilarious -- of
illicit drugs, prostitution and profound corruption.
The Cuckoo's Calling (Robert Galbraith, 2013)
Galbraith is J.F. Rowling of Harry Potter fame. Down-on-his-luck
private investigator Cormoran Strike, who lost a leg to a land mine in
Afghanistan, investigates a supermodel's suicide in a tony London
neighborhood in a terrific tale of the wealthy and famous that owes much
to the classics of the murder mystery genre. Expect sequels, and
knowing Rowling, a goodly number of them.
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief (Lawrence Wright, 2013) Wright is the author of The Looming Tower, the definitive book on the events leading to the 9/11 attacks. In Going Clear,
he applies his Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative chops to the
profoundly secretive, wealthy, powerful and vindictive Church of
Scientology, which is based on the pseudo-scientific flapdoodle of sci
fi writer L. Ron Hubbard, and has successfully courted celebrities like
Good-Bye To All That: An Autobiography (Robert Graves, 1929) It is easy to see why Good-Bye makes lists of the best books of all time. It
traces Graves' monumental loss of innocence as a captain in the Royal Welsh
Fusiliers as he grapples with the horror of the First World War and later bitterly bids farewell
to England and its absurd class culture. Like all great classics, there is a timelessness about Good-Bye that still makes it so powerful nearly a century later as we deal with the horrors of wars of our own making.
The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness and Murder (Charles Graebner, 2013)
Registered nurse Charles Cullen, dubbed "The Angel of Death" after his
2003 arrest, was a monster, not a mercy killer, who may have murdered as
many as 300 hospital patients, making him perhaps the most prolific
serial killer in American history. Graebner also deftly fleshes out the
story behind the story: The criminal malfeasance of a series of
hospital administrators who suspected Cullen was a homicidal maniac but
failed to stop him.
Lawrence in Arabia: War Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East (Scott Anderson, 2013) While nominally a geopolitical history and biography of the heroic if quixotic T.E. Lawrence,
played to such great effect by Peter O'Toole in David Lean's 1962
cinematic masterpiece, this book more importantly is the tale of British
duplicity, with ample help from the French and the quasi-involvement of
feckless Americans, in double-crossing the Arabs in the wake of their
successful revolt against their Turkish oppressors in the closing days
of World War I.
Memoir From Antproof Case (Mark Helprin, 2007) Helprin is a master of satire, high comedy and adventure (witness his A Winter's Tale and A Soldier in the Great War),
all on offer in this tale of an elderly American ex-patriot in Brazil who is writing a memoir about his past lives as a World War II ace,
investment banker and thief of staggering proportions, as well as a
murderer, whose lifelong enemy is coffee, which he considers to be an
insidious enslaver. Yes, really.
The Patriarch (David Nasaw, 2013)
Joseph P. Kennedy was the founder of the twentieth century’s
most famous political dynasty, and our understanding of his son, John F.
Kennedy, becomes clearer in the 50th anniversary year of his
assassination because of this riveting biography by a master historian
of a man who
participated many of the major events of his times, not least of which
birth of the New Frontier.
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