by J.D. Rhoades
One of my favorite things about vacation is the amount of uninterrupted time it gives me to read. And oh, boy, do I read. I usually take a Big Bag O’Books with me to the beach, and I start filling it with paperbacks at least a month in advance. See, I don’t speed-read as such, but when I have the time to really sit down and concentrate (and no Interweb to distract me), I plow through books at a clip that makes my wife shake her head in disbelief. My record is seventeen novels in one week (and I’m sure some of our loyal readers out there can top it).
This year, I had a particularly fine selection. Here are some of the highlights:
- SOLOMON V. LORD, Paul Levine: Ironic, isn’t it, that after my post on why I don’t generally get into legal thrillers, one of the books I fell in love with happens to be just that? Well, that’s summer love for you. I did say that I didn’t mind the legal inaccuracies when the book was a comedy, and there’s plenty of comedy in SOLOMON VS. LORD. There’s also the fact that, when the characters pull shenanigans in the courtroom, they end up exactly where you would in a real courtroom, to wit: in the little holding cell "backstage". In fact, that’s how this romantic comedy/legal thriller opens: with its bickering protagonists in opposite cells. Now THERE’S a meet -cute for you! There’s some great snappy dialogue, some quirky characters, some real emotion, all in all, a perfect beach read. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.
- HARD REVOLUTION, George P. Pelecanos: Pelecanos’ Derek Strange is one of my favorite P.I.’s ever, a flawed but, in the end, a righteous man. This book goes back to the time of the Martin Luther King assassination (and the riots that erupted in reaction to it) to partially explain how Derek became the man he is. It’s tragic, it’s moving…hell, it’s Pelecanos. There’s no need to say more.
- PAGAN BABIES, Elmore Leonard: By tradition, I always take at least one Leonard on vacation with me. This one has a contemporary angle, beginning as it does in Rwanda a few years after the genocide. But once the action moves back to the States, the usual Leonard cast of characters manifests itself: the weary middle-aged guy who’s seen too much, the younger (but not too much younger) female love interest who’s got a past of her own, the wise-ass tough guys, etc. I enjoyed it, because I always enjoy Elmore Leonard. When I read him now, though, I start to get the feeling about halfway through that I’ve heard all this before.
- WICKED BREAK, Jeff Shelby: How can you NOT take a book about a surfing P.I. to the beach with you? I thoroughly enjoyed Jeff’s debut novel, KILLER SWELL, and this one is even better. San Diego Private Eye Noah Braddock and his tough-as-nails buddy Carter deal with a missing persons case that turns into a battle with some truly nasty white supremacist types. Shelby deftly weaves the surfing bits and local color into the book without slowing down the plot, and the characters here take on more depth than in the last one. The writing and plotting is tighter, too. This series gets better and better.
- HEART OF THE HUNTER, Deon Meyer: I finally got around to reading this one, which was in the goodie bag at my very first Bouchercon two years ago. It’s an excellent cloak and dagger thriller with a fascinating protagonist: a six-foot-three African named Tiny who used to work as an international assassin and whose preferred weapon was the traditional bayonet-like short spear known as the assegai. (He’s an excellent marksman, but he likes that personal touch). Frankly, the book had me at this point. I mean, come on. You can’t hardly get more bad-ass than a guy who kills people on streets of Paris with a damn spear. When an old friend in trouble calls Tiny out of his peaceful retirement, it starts a white knuckle chase across southern Africa. The stuff about post-apartheid South African politics is a little confusing at first, but worth the trouble it takes to puzzle through.
So what are you guys reading this summer (other than SAFE AND SOUND, the third Jack Keller novel, available July 10th)?