Reading 2003

[Amazon Link] Breakout by Richard Stark. The latest adventures of Parker, everyone's favorite bad guy. As usual, he is unflappable when surrounded by perilous situations and unprincipled fools. The book starts with Parker actually being arrested and going to jail, hence the title.

[Amazon Link] The Last Detective, by Robert Crais. The latest exploits of Elvis Cole. Elvis is in an unusually dark situation, as some very bad guys have kidnapped his girlfriend's son out from under his nose. The book is high on Elvis's psychodrama, and low on his usual wisecracks, which I miss.

[Amazon Link] American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. A fantasy based on the premise that some of those ancient gods migrated to the US, and walk among us, but turn out to be pretty disreputable types. It starts out well, veering into tedium by the end.

[Amazon Link] Risk, by Dick Francis. Standard decent and resourceful Dick Francis hero (an accountant this time). Slightly marred by an unlikely and unsatisfying finish.

[Amazon Link] Right as Rain, by George P. Pelecanos. My first read by Pelacanos. Flawed heros go up against some very bad guys. Elmore Leonard-like with some racial commentary.

[Amazon Link] Flesh Wounds, by Stephen Greenleaf. Over the course of Greenleaf's John Marshall Tanner series, Tanner has turned into a petulant whiner engulfed in self-pity. However: in this entry from a few years back, he was not so annoying, and it's a decent read.

[Amazon Link] Back Story, by Robert B. Parker. Our hero Spenser places himself in peril by investigating a decades-old crime. Parker fans will note the historical milestones: Spenser and Hawk meet Jesse Stone, and Pearl the Wonder Dog has taken the dirt nap.

[Amazon Link] The Laws of our Fathers, by Scott Turow. Well, I bought it, so I guessed I should read it. A legal thriller featuring self-absorbed characters talking and thinking incessantly about themselves in the insufferable context of their radical-left history, complete with lengthy flashbacks to the early 70's. There's a present-day murder, and a trial, and the truth isn't revealed until the end, but the truth is not particularly shocking or even interesting.

[Amazon Link] Turnabout, by Jeremiah Healy. Nasty little noir about a obscenely rich family with a kidnapped child, narrated by the hired investigator. Shocking plot twists!

[Amazon Link] Sacred, by Dennis Lehane. Excellent (albeit unlikely) outing in the Kenzie/Gennaro series. Dialog is witty, characterizations are memorable, style is spare. Good stuff.

[Amazon Link] Fat Ollie's Book, by Ed McBain. An 87th Precinct book, and one need almost say no more. In recent books in the series, Fat Ollie has shone as an excellent detective, and a dreadful human being. Pairing him with Steve Carella (saintly human being, also an excellent detective) is lots of fun to watch.

[Amazon Link] Diversity: The Invention of a Concept, by Peter Wood. I'm tired of "affirmative action". Its proponents increasingly rely on deceit and moralistic bluster, which is a sign that they lost the real debate long ago. But Peter Wood bravely wades into the fray to point out the continuing follies of the policy.

[Amazon Link] Black Money, by Ross Macdonald. One of the best in the excellent Lew Archer series.

[Amazon Link] Tricky Business, by Dave Barry. A lot more violent than Dave's first novel, and more dirty words, I think. It's funny, of course, at least during the no-people-being-killed parts.

[Amazon Link] Freedom Evolves, by Daniel C. Dennett. Maybe I should have read his earlier books first, since this seems to be the latest in a series on evolution and the nature of human conciousness. It's an interesting topic, though. Tightly argued and largely convincing in the early parts of the book, degenerating into garrulous handwaving at the end.

[Amazon Link] Sole Survivor, by Dean Koontz. A tedious thriller with supernatural/psychic themes. I think I've read one other book by Koontz, and I seem to remember it being better than this one. Lots of pointless activity is described in excruciating detail, making me speculate that the author had to increase the word count to meet a contractual obligation.

[Amazon Link] Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore. I kept waiting to be struck by lightning while reading this funny and touching book … The title gives the premise. Biff is raised from the dead in the present to write his gospel, which concentrates on the years missing from the ones we know, between Christ's birth and His ministry. It turns out that Biff and Jesus (here called Joshua) led R-rated adventures in Afghanistan, India, and China during this time. (Don't worry, Jesus stays celibate; Biff doesn't.)

[Amazon Link] The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson. A marvelous book that I didn't want to read too fast, this is a trip through a nanotech world, following multiple characters through reality and fantasy. Neal Stephenson is on my very short list must-read of science fiction authors.

[Amazon Link] Trial Run, by Dick Francis. A myopic, sickly hero involved in pre-Olympic international spy stuff in the bad old USSR. I didn't like this as much as some of Mr. Francis's others, but that just means it's good, rather than excellent.

[Amazon Link] The Poet, by Michael Connelly. An excellent page-turning mystery/thriller from a current master. Thought I saw the ending coming, but, nope, I didn't.

[Amazon Link] Beyond the Color Line: New Perspectives on Race and Ethnicity in America, edited by Abigail and Stephen Thernstrom. This is a collection of essays on race and ethnicity in America by conservative/libertarian authors. Notable examples: Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele, James Q. Wilson, Linda Chavez. Some essays are wide-ranging and provocative, others concentrate on explicating a particular topic with stats, graphs, and abundant footnootes. (What is the current legal status on race-concious governmental policies? See Eugene Volokh's essay. Why are American Indians in the state they're in? See William J. Lawrence.) Quality varies, or maybe it was just my interest in the authors' topics. I can't recommend that you sit down and read all of these essays in a row (as I did). On the other hand, it wouldn't hurt.

[Amazon Link] Gone, Baby, Gone, by Dennis Lehane. Lehane is great, and I think this his best book I've read so far. Chandleresque prose, unforgettable characters, a heartbreaking plot.

[Amazon Link] The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon. Read on the recommendation of Dave Barry (on the Today show; it wasn't as if he dropped me a personal note or anything). The hero and narrator is Christopher Boone, a severely autistic British 15-year-old whiz at math (or as he would say: "maths") who tries to solve the mystery of who killed his neighbor's dog. Dave and I agree, this is a fantastic book, managing to be simultaneously hilarious and sad. The mystery turns unexpectedly into an odyssey, and what happened to the dog becomes less important than what will happen to Christopher.

[Amazon Link] Three Men in a Boat: To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Jerome K. Jerome. Read on the indirect recommendation of Kip Russell's father. (Science fiction fans Of A Certain Age will know what I mean.) Three friends go for a boating vacation on the Thames. This may have been falling-down funny in Victorian England (save for one episode that isn't imaginably funny at all to anyone). But it just wasn't my cup of tea. However, I do suspect that it was the inspiration for Seinfeld: it's a book about nothing.

[Amazon Link] Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware. This is one of them new-fangled graphic novels that I finally got around to &hellip is "reading" the right word? Well, anyway, we get to look at four generations of Corrigan men (with hints of others), one despicable, three various studies in pathetic misery. Ware's graphical imagination in story-telling is stunning, even as the story itself is appalling. This is not the feel-good book of the year, although there's a little wink of optimism at the end.

[Amazon Link] Harvest of Stars, by Poul Anderson. A long hard slog on this one. The late Poul Anderson was never one of my favorite science fiction writers, but this came highly recommended. I just couldn't get into it, kept finding other things to do than read it. It's two novels jammed together, the first about saving the downloaded-into-a-box Anson Guthrie (leader of Fireball, a semi-corporate space firm) from capture by a tyrannical American government, the second about how Anson and his cohorts colonize a doomed planet of Alpha Centauri. Anson seems to be a transplanted Heinlein character, which is fine, except if I want Heinlein characters, I know where to get them first-hand. The remaining characters aren't as interesting. Anderson's oddball style gets in the way more than usual. (If you want to read a great Anderson book: Tau Zero.)

[Amazon Link] The Empty Copper Sea by John D. MacDonald. Working through the Travis McGee series, this typically fine book finds our hero a little more self-questioning than usual, but (while dealing with the mystery of what happened to a missing local businessman) he's saved by meeting the lovely Gretel Howard. Well, you might know how this relationship is gonna turn out if you've read the next book in the series.

[Amazon Link] Whip Hand by Dick Francis. An above-average outing for Dick Francis, which means it's very very good indeed. Francis's second Sid Halley novel finds Sid up against some very nasty folks, nasty enough to have him questioning his own bravery.

[Amazon Link] Reflex by Dick Francis. Can Dick Francis make a hero out of an aimless corrupt jockey who throws races at the behest of his dishonest employers? Sure can. Philip Nore solves numerous mysteries, only gets the tar beaten out of him once, winds up a much better person.

[Amazon Link] Profoundly Disturbing: Shocking Movies That Changed History! by Joe Bob Briggs. Before reading this book I would have said that nobody knows trashy movies better than Joe Bob Briggs. But in one of the chapters in this book Joe Bob himself discusses people who do, indeed, know more about trashy movies than he. This book is (mainly) a fun read about 20 or so movies and their "impact on society" told with irreverence and wit. More than a little repetitive in spots, unfortunately.

[Amazon Link] Sunset Limited by James Lee Burke. An average entry in Burke's Dave Robicheaux series, which makes it a pretty good read. The usual elements are here: everyone haunted by their pasts, except Clete; repulsive freaks and misfits; debauched rich folks; horrible deaths and merciless abuse to the deserving and non-deserving.

[Amazon Link] Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use by Jacob Sullum. A great book that reveals and takes apart the scare tactics used to justify drug prohibition. Disclaimer: I don't do anything stronger than Almaden, myself. But you don't have to be an illicit drug user to recognize that the war on drugs is being fought with propaganda that actually works against reason, moderation, and tolerance.

[Amazon Link] Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling. It's almost pointless to even post a micro-review of some books. Nearly everyone falls into one of the categories: (a) already read it; (b) will read it, no matter what; (c) won't read it, no matter what. Well, I liked this. As if you care.

[Amazon Link] L Is for Lawless by Sue Grafton. I keep reading this series because of past glories. This particular entry is a low point, too long (bloated by long stretches of tedious and purposeless description) and ultimately pointless.

[Amazon Link] The Green Ripper by John D. MacDonald. This is top-of-the-line MacDonald, a chilling yarn of Travis McGee's revenge against the terrorist cult that bumped off his girlfriend. It also--free bonus--offers some insight into the late-70's malaise that gripped the US. We're all doomed, Meyer intones; if not from terrorism, then ecological catastrophe and ecomomic collape is inevitable within a few years. Well, what do you expect, Carter was president.

That's it! I count 35 total books read in 2003, how about you?

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Paul A. Sand,