Tag Archives: Olen Steinhauer

The Only Meaningful Summer Reading List

17 Jul
One  Bookshelf with photo of dead Cuban-American novelist [photo: RB]

One Bookshelf with photo of dead Cuban-American novelist [photo: RB]

My long battle with lists as journalism is obviously quixotic—which is not to say I am surrendering. I suppose some lists may be better than other others. Which does not include the ones that fall under the silly rubric of ‘summer’ or ‘beach’ reading (See Norman Mailer’s take on that silliness). My own opinion is that the only list that can be legitimately entitled summer reading is one of stuff actually read. Here’s an edited version of my Summer 2015 read books

The Kind Worth Killing   by Peter Swanson

The Kind Worth Killing
by Peter Swanson

The Kind Worth Killing: A Novel by Peter Swanson

A well told take on Patricia Highsmith’s classic Strangers on a Train—an excellent cat and mouse thriller set in the Boston area

My Sunshine Away  by M.O. Walsh

My Sunshine Away
by M.O. Walsh

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

Set in Baton Rouge in the summer of 1989, when fifteen-year-old Lindy Simpson is victim of a horrible crime, late one evening, near her home. A faqux summer idyll that keeps you guessing.

The Rocks by Peter Nichols

The Rocks by Peter Nichols

The Rocks: A Novel by Peter Nichols

Set in Majorca, one of The Balearic Islands off the Mediterranean coast of Spain, The Rocks is a double love story told in reverse over 60 years (2012 -1948). An engrossing ensemble of characters ranging from teenagers to octogenerians act out their lives and passions against the vivid land and seascapes of the Mediterranean and Morocco.

The Girl on the Train  by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Boring and trite

All the Old Knives   by Olen Steinhauer

All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer

All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer

Stenhauer belongs in the same class as John LeCarre and Charles McCarry. In this novel two CIA case officers stationed in Vienna who had been lovers meet six years after a hostage crisis and each tries to resolve who compromised the mission…

.

Palace of Treason  by Jason Matthews

Palace of Treason by Jason Matthews

Palace of Treason: by Jason Matthews

Matthews’s Red Sparrow introduced the notion of Soviet sexual espionage and the character (now) Captain Dominika Egorova of the Russian Intelligence Service (SVR). This follow up has Egorova trying to balance her complex relationship with her CIA handler (she is working for the CIA revealing the inner workings of SVR and the Kremlin), Nate Nash, with trying to stay alive in the shark pool of Putin’s governance. I suspect Matthews’s will run of steam in what I assume is an ongoing series

The Cartel  by Don Winslow

The Cartel by Don Winslow

The Cartel: A novel by Don Winslow

Read the Power of Dog also—don’t take my word of it. Read the press Winslow has received.And then there is Winslow believes …

fiction is a more powerful tool than journalism for understanding the devastation in Mexico. “As novelists, we have license to imagine people’s emotions and psychology and views of the world. I think that I can bring people closer to a story,” he says. “Journalism can give the facts, but fiction can tell the

Charlie Martz and Other Stories   by Elmore Leonard

Charlie Martz and Other Stories by Elmore Leonard

Charlie Martz and Other Stories: by Elmore Leonard

I never thought I would write this but this is not the stuff you want to read by the masterful Leonard. I suspect you haven’t read all of his body of work —that’s where I’d go…

Secessia by Kent Wasom

Secessia by Kent Wasom

Secessia by Kent Wiscom

This novel, set in the Confederacy’s largest city New Orleans, May 1862 as it is occupied by the Union Army lead by General Benjamin “the Beast” Butler. The story alternates between the perspectives of the five characters twelve-year-old Joseph Woolsack, his mother, Elise, his father, Angel, Cuban exile Marina Fandal,Dr. Emile Sabatier, a fanatical physician and not least, General Butler, who is charged with the task of overseeing an ungovernable city. This quintet’s interlocking relations are played out against the roiling Gothic madness and chaos of war-torn Louisiana. Wiscom’s prose helps the narrative keep its edge.

Dreams to Remember by Mark Ribowsky

Dreams to Remember by Mark Ribowsky

Dreams to Remember by Mark Ribowsky

Ribowsky deifies the great Otis Redding in this bombastic hagiography and is fearless in opining on matters large and small. But early encounters with such opinions as Sam Cooke’s stage show was “bombastic”and that the Monterrey Pop Festival of 1967 was attended by record company “lice are a turnoff.

 Grace by Calvin Baker

Grace by Calvin Baker

Grace by Calvin Baker

I loved Baker’s novel Dominion. Here he risks banality with this story of 37-year-old Harper Roland recently retired war correspondent, searching for “enduring love.” Dale Peck effusively opines…

Calvin Baker…works in a rarefied strain of literature whose practitioners include Faulkner and Morrison, Calvino and Cormac McCarthy: allegorists whose stories are tinged by parable and psalm even as their sensibility remains keenly attuned to the avant garde. Grace is a tale of existential isolation juxtaposed against a sense of interpersonal connection that borders on the Brahmanic…a book so universal and timeless you could almost believe it had been unearthed from a medieval crypt, even as its critical but always compassionate observation of human folly positions it squarely within the increasingly fractious…postmodern world.

The Mulberry Bush by Charles McCarry

The Mulberry Bush by Charles McCarry

The Mulberry Bush by Charles McCarry

Former CIA operative Charles McCarry is a well regarded espionage novelists with an ouevre that includes his compelling Paul Christopher series and his prescient stand alone Shelley’s Heart. His latest opus opens in Buenos Aires when a nameless American “Headquarters” (CIA) black op agent and the daughter of a famous Argentinean revolutionary commence a star-crossed affair.The American is burdened with his commitment to avenge his father who was tragically wronged by Headquarters. The Latina’s father and mother were among the victims of Argentine military, reportedly victims of that countries unique contribution to “counter terrorism”—being thrown out of an airplane flying over the Atlantic Ocean. As one frequently discovers in the world of espionage very little is at it appears and The Mulberry Bush‘s protagonist after a successful stint hunting terrorists in the Middle East now must do battle with his own employers. Needless to say, McCarry knows how the game is played and tells it well.

Interview with Charle McvCarry

Norman Mailer’s Summer Reading List

27 May
Norman Mailer @ Grant Park Bandshell, Chicago, 1968 Democratic Convention (photo: Robert Birnbaum)

Norman Mailer @ Grant Park Bandshell, Chicago, 1968 Democratic Convention (photo: Robert Birnbaum)

I have no doubt come late to the party—the beach/ summer reading lists having been proffered by the usual experts on beach/summer reading. I am not versed in this genre (though I can recall reading Norman Mailer’s Harlot’s Ghost and Foster Wallace’s magnum opus at a beach in Rincon Puerto Rico).Late, but not empty handed. Here’s a list (scroll to the bottom of this article if the name of the list confuses you):

The Light We Can’t See -Anthony Doerr

The Light We Can’t See -Anthony Doerr

The Light We Can’t SeeAnthony Doerr (Scribner)

Excellent narrative, riveting characters and the use of WWII Europe and Nazi depredations are not cliched.

Everything I Never Told You by  Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never told You -Celeste Ng(Penguin Press)

Ng’s debut novel about a teenager’s death and its reverberations in the family and community is nimbly told (no small feat with such a weighty subject.

The Man Who  Loved Dogs by Leonardo Padura

The Man Who Loved Dogs by Leonardo Padura

The Man Who Loved Dogs-Leonardo Padura(FSG)

Trotsky, his assassin, The Spanish Civil War, Stalin and the Moscow show trials, an aging Cuban writer, two wolfhounds— its a far flung story (times and places) written with Carribbean alacrity.Don’t believe me? Here’s Ann Louise Bardach take:

A global epic set mostly in Havana, Barcelona, Moscow and Mexico City, Padura’s novel is grounded in a trifecta of storylines: We have the grim saga of Trotsky’s 11-year flight from Stalin; the recruitment and creation of an assassin in the form of Catalonian communist Ramón Mercader; and the marginalization of Iván Cárdenas Maturell, a Cuban novelist who learns early in his career the hazards of writing in his homeland.

The Exile’s Return by Elizabeth De Waal

The Exile’s Return by Elizabeth De Waal

The Exile’s Return-Elizabeth De Waal (Picador)

Adam Kirsch’s paean to Ms De Waal should move you. Or not:

…appearing now, as a historical document, it gains an additional interest, as Elisabeth de Waal’s imaginative response to her own exile…This is not, perhaps, a new story, but in The Exiles Return it is told with sharpness and authenticity.

Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson

Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson

Fourth of July Creek– Smith Henderson (Ecco)

I am partial to American novels set outside urban cultures and with a minimum of consumer activities. Like this one, set in the Fly over zone.

The Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauer

The Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauer

The Cairo Affair- Olen Steinhauer (St Martin’s

As sure-handed as Le Carre reporting on the activities of spooks and various secret police. A world normally Byzantine in its alliances and
fluidity of loyalties, this plot set in Cairo seems especially volatile

Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives from Women's Prisons-  edited by Robin Levi and Ayalet Waldman

Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives from Women’s Prisons- edited by Robin Levi and Ayalet Waldman

Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives from Women’s Prisons (Voice of Witness)by Ayelet Waldman , Robin Levi (Editor)

In case you were charmed into seeing incarceration as a vacation by the Netflix series Orange is the New Black here’s a corrective. Or Christina Rathbone’s A World Apart Women,Prison and the World Behind Bars

They Don't Kill You Because They're Hungry, They Kill You Because They're Full    by Mark Bibbins

They Don’t Kill You Because They’re Hungry, They Kill You Because They’re Full by Mark Bibbins

They Don’t Kill You Because They’re Hungry, They Kill You Because They’re Full by Mark Bibbins (Copper Canyon)

Fishermen on Sea of Galilee

A citizen said, Every action
born out of pure spontaneity
is correct. It’s possible
he said corrupt but I was
eavesdropping. Correction:
minding my business: he was
performing, saying, also,
to his fellow citizens, I know
you agree with me on this.
Look, it’s autumn in our
hairlines and some smear
on the pavement’s been run
over so many times we can’t
tell whether or not it started
out as an animal.
My heaven is populated
with conures, llamas,
and adolescent bears
but is otherwise
fairly quiet. I’m done
looking for approbation
from people for whom I have
no respect and would respect
less if I met them.
Was this the sea they parted.
Understatement, so rarely
biblical: there is no quill pen
half as sinister as the lone
piece of penne in a dish
of farfalle. Today we rock
anonymity and tomorrow find
further evidence of same
dying in the comment fields.
Wake me when you can
tell me whether every taxi
must engage in a dialogue
with all previous taxis,
when you do something
impossible, when you leave
the party, when you take
my worst advice. This is,
friends, this was the sea.

Midnight  in Europe by Alan Furst

Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst

Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst (Random House)

Since I discovered Furst I have continued to read his regularly published and dependably entertaining and instructive war time “thrillers” I confess that was a brief period when I wasn’t entertained or instructed but the probability is high that was a shift in my attention or something even more subjective. But his latest opus, I can report is up to (my) snuff. Paris,1938 and the Spanish Civil War goings-on make for a great setting. And that infamous place where the Bulgarian waiter is shot is per Furst’s practice, cleverly insinuated into the plot.

Natchez Burning- Greg Iiles

Natchez Burning- Greg Iiles

Natchez Burning– Greg Iiles (William Morrow)

A densely plotted post racial novel set in Natchez—that’s in Mississippi for all you Yankees that is thick on Civil Rights Movement era history as well lots of things you didn’t know about Natchez. Frankly I thought it was about 200 pages too long (800 pages). Reportedly, this is the first volume of a trilogy

Death of The Black Haired Girl by Robert Stone

Death of The Black Haired Girl by Robert Stone

Death of The Black Haired Girl– Robert Stone (houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Robert Stone is the gold standard of American fiction. That’s it.

The Last Date by Laurent Seksik

The Last Date by Laurent Seksik

The Last Date by Laurent Seksik (Pushkin Press)

Writer Stefan Zweig has garnered lots of attention recently not the least because of Wes Anderson’s film Grand Hotel which in turn reportedly owes something to The Impossible Exile by George Prochnick (Other Press). I like this novel about Zweig’s last few months of life very much

A Permanent Member of The  Family by Russell Banks

A Permanent Member of The Family by Russell Banks

A Permanent Member go there Family by Russell Banks (Ecco)

Russell Banks is also the gold standard of American Fiction.

Kill Anything that Moves- Nick Turse

Kill Anything that Moves- Nick Turse

Kill Anything that Moves– Nick Turse (Picador)

Sorry to saddle this book under the rubric of Important book but if you are in doubt about whether the perpetrators of the Indochinese Debacle were/are war criminals a few chapters of Turse’s exhaustively researched
account should shake up your belief in American moral superiority.

The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams  by Ben Bradlee JR

The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams by Ben Bradlee JR

The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams by Ben Bradlee JR (Little Brown)

See my chat with Ben Bradlee

Euphoria   by  Lily King

Euphoria by Lily King

Euphoria by Lily King (Grove Atlantic)

Author Alice Greenway expiates

Euphoria is a love story set against the scramble by anthropologists in 1930s New Guinea to record or map the traditions and beliefs of societies coming apart under the brutal onslaught of miners, traders, missionaries and colonialists. Lily King writes with astonishing insight and authority about a number of New Guinea tribes and particularly about their distinct gender relations. At the same time, she delves into the intellectual flights and passions of three anthropologists – as complex, rivalrous and brutal as any of the cultures they study. Euphoria is a brilliantly written book and entirely fascinating from start to finish. The character of Nell Stone, slight, wracked with fever and insect bites, with a slight limp from a fall in the jungle and large cuscus-like eyes, capable of joy and huge intellect, is extraordinary.

 American Romantic by Ward Just

American Romantic by Ward Just

American Romantic by Ward Just (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Ward Just is a dependable novelist who chronicles both remote and familiar pockets of American Life, in this case the life of an American foreign service officer who’s brief tryst with a German nurse in Vietnam seems to haunt him through his years of world wide diplomatic postings to his pleasant but solitary retirement in France

Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth about Everything  by Barbara Ehrenreich

Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything by Barbara Ehrenreich

Living With A Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything by Barbara Ehrenreich (Twelve)

Who doesn’t love Barbara Ehrenreich‘s smart and compassionate views on the world? This,Living with a Wild God, would be her most personal book and reaches into an area that many people who spend time thinking, think many hours about. To quote one review

The questions in the world may be infinite, but perhaps the answers are few. And however we define that mystery, there’s no escaping our essential obligation to it, for it may, as Ehrenreich writes, “be seeking us out.”

“When I am asked what’s on my summer reading list… I read the all year long” Norman Mailer