Category: Books

by Bryan Gruley


A 15-year-old autistic boy goes missing and his parents receive cryptic texts and e-mails, including an apparent ransom demand.

Bleak Harbor was just … average; not terrible, but certainly nothing special. There is a lot of texting and hacking and computer sleuthing, which I suppose modernizes the plot, but this is a story we’ve read many times before. There is, of course, a “big twist” near the end. Alas, the unexpected turn isn’t particularly credible.


© 2010-2020 (text only)


by Charles Krauthammer


I used to watch Charles Krauthammer spar with Bill O’Reilly on Fox News and be reminded of Dr. Strangelove, the wheelchair-bound, hawkish lunatic from Stanley Kubrick’s movie. I thought of Krauthammer as a conservative villain. Problem is, that’s about as much as I thought of the psychiatrist turned political pundit; I certainly didn’t listen to what he had to say. That was my mistake.

I still don’t agree with everything he has to say in Things That Matter, a collection of his essays from the 1980s until 2014. But I respect his opinions, whether about domestic policy, international issues or, well, his love of chess. Krauthammer’s essays are sprinkled with wit and, yes, wisdom. The man did his homework.

As might be expected from a conservative columnist, there is much criticism of Obama in the book. My guess is that, were this book more current (Krauthammer died in June), he would also deploy his rapier wit against our current president.

I wish he was still around to appear on cable news. If nothing else, his calm demeanor would be a welcome respite from all of the shrieking hysterics.


© 2010-2020 (text only)


by Jefferson Farjeon


A gathering of upper-crust Brits and their servants fall under suspicion when foul play interrupts a weekend retreat. This 1936 whodunit is pretty much what you’d expect, if what you expect is an English country-house murder mystery with Agatha Christie DNA in its bones. Farjeon is no Dame Agatha, but a few of his characters – in particular an acerbic journalist named Bultin – are amusing.


© 2010-2020 (text only)


by Arthur Conan Doyle


When I think of Arthur Conan Doyle, like most people I think of his most famous creation, the indomitable Sherlock Holmes. Or perhaps I think of the author’s storied fascination with the paranormal. I did not, until now, think of great adventure tales, in the vein of Jules Verne or H.G. Wells. The Lost World, however, is a genuine classic of the genre, with its short but thrilling depiction of four men discovering a prehistoric land in the depths of Brazil, and their dual struggle to survive that environment and to convince the outside world of its existence.

The story, published in 1912, is old hat in 2018, of course. Large chunks of the narrative are politically incorrect, what with its quartet of European white men dominating and condescending to numerous people of color. But the adventure is the thing in Lost World. And by George, what a delightful twist ending – “Lake Gladys,” my ass!


© 2010-2020 (text only)



by Camille Paglia


I am drawn to feisty intellectual Camille Paglia for two reasons: 1) Being a straight man, I appreciate any feminist, like Paglia, who does not indulge in obligatory male bashing, and 2) I share Paglia’s aversion to “herd mentality.” She’s a contrarian, but often for good, fact-based reasons. It’s refreshing to find a feminist willing to take on “women’s studies” dogma and cultural icons like Gloria Steinem.

Her main theme in this collection of previously published essays is that modern feminism downplays human nature — or the role of biology — in modern life. Every problem cannot be solved by social engineering, she believes. We are who we are.

A minor complaint: If you don’t know what Paglia makes of Katharine Hepburn, Amelia Earhart, or Dorothy Parker, she will let you know on page 35. And on page 176. And on page 222. Etcetera, etcetera. If you weren’t aware that Paglia wrote a feminist-themed letter to the local editor when she was just a teenager, she will relate that story multiple times.

Then again, this is a collection of Paglia musings from a period of 25 years. If you feel you are a lonely voice in the feminist wilderness, you probably feel the need to repeat yourself.


© 2010-2020 (text only)


by Gary Larson


I pretty much lost interest in the “funny pages” decades ago because so few of them were actually funny. An exception was Gary Larson’s single-panel classic, The Far Side. Larson’s loopy, goofy illustrations looked adolescent but displayed out-of-left-field wit. I mean, how can you not smile at this?



That’s the first cartoon you see in The Far Side Gallery, an anthology of Larson’s syndicated strips from 1982-84. Here is another example from the book:



But I have to admit that I found this book a bit disappointing. For every absurdist gem like the two examples above, there are a dozen entries that seem either dated, lame, or (to me, at least) incomprehensible. Maybe Larson improved with age; perhaps by purchasing this collection of his early work, I just picked the wrong years.

But man, when Larson was good, he was very, very good.


© 2010-2020 (text only)


by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith


Near the end of Final Justice: The True Story of the Richest Man Ever Tried for Murder, Charlie Rose interviews multimillionaire Cullen Davis for Rose’s TV show. A Texas jury had just acquitted Davis of killing his wife’s lover and a 12-year-old girl:


“Has your life gotten back to normal,” asked Rose in a husky, intimate whisper. “I mean, can you live a normal life ever again?”

“Normal would be walking down the street without being recognized by anybody,” Cullen replied. “That’ll never happen.”


Davis was right about that. One day in the 1990s, some 15 years after the 1976 murders, my wife and I were crossing a skyway in downtown Ft. Worth.  I caught the eye of a man headed in the opposite direction: a slight, dapper-looking fellow with a “cat that ate the canary” glint in his eye. He looked first at my wife and then at me. There was a trace of a smile on his thin lips.

It was, I knew instantly, Cullen Davis.


Rose gingerly turned the questioning to the murders. “Are you afraid, living in the mansion?” he asked.


At about the same time as our Davis sighting in the skyway, we lived near the infamous “murder mansion” on Mockingbird Lane in Ft. Worth. By then, the Davis trials were fading into history and the mansion itself was a long-abandoned wreck. Ghoulish curiosity seekers (including us and our friends) would spend a Saturday or Sunday squeezing through a vandalized plywood barrier to explore the once-lavish, $35 million palace, now dark, musty, and ravaged by souvenir hunters. (I confess that I took a piece of floor-tile from the kitchen – site of one of the murders.)

I mention all this because it’s not often that I read a true-crime book in which the (alleged) killer is someone I’ve seen up-close-and-personal, and whose former home I’ve helped ransack.

But pilfering floor tiles is nothing compared to the hijacking of the judicial system pulled off by Davis and his colorful, apparently conscienceless lawyer, Richard “Racehorse” Haynes, in three trials conducted in the late 1970s.

You think the O.J. Simpson trial was a miscarriage of justice? Check out the Davis trials, in which multiple witnesses — including victims shot point-blank by “a man in black” — identified Davis as the perpetrator, and yet Texas juries could not bring themselves to convict.

Apparently, jurors were awestruck by the strange little man’s wealth and charisma.

I certainly wasn’t awestruck when I locked eyes with Davis in that skyway, nor when I trespassed in the cavernous halls and living rooms of his haunted house.  I was creeped out.


© 2010-2020 (text only)


by Agatha Christie


If you do an Internet search of “best Agatha Christie books,” you’ll find this novel in many top-five lists, along with Christie classics like And Then There Were None, Murder on the Orient Express, and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I’m a bit surprised by that.

Pigs is a typical Hercule Poirot investigation, with the Belgian detective interviewing a series of murder suspects and then amazing everyone when he unmasks the killer. But unlike the classic mysteries listed above, Pigs doesn’t feature anything particularly clever or groundbreaking in the genre. It’s entertaining, but routine Christie.


© 2010-2020 (text only)


by Steve Rushin


I loved this book – but I’m hesitant to recommend it. I pause because although I’m clearly in the author’s target audience, you might not be. If I say “Mel’s Matinee Movie,” do you smile, or do you scratch your head?

Rushin grew up in a middle-class family in Minnesota in the 1970s. I’m a bit older than him, but I also grew up in a middle-class family in Minnesota in the 1970s. Rushin’s love letter to all kid-related things from that time and place naturally resonates with me. I can’t help but smile at references to Metropolitan Stadium, Southdale shopping mall, Fran Tarkenton and, yes, Mel’s Matinee Movie. But again, do you give a rip?

On the other hand, Rushin’s main theme is family life, and his anecdotes about the suburban Rushin clan will likely appeal to a wider audience. One of the blurbs on the book’s jacket compares Sting-Ray to Jean Shepherd’s depiction of family life in the 1930s. I think that’s probably apt. Even if you did not grow up, as Rushin and I did, in the frozen tundra 50 years ago, much of his warm and humorous book is universal.


© 2010-2020 (text only)


by Anthony Horowitz


Horowitz’s double mystery is a lot of fun for fans of old-fashioned whodunits. It’s a clever book-within-a-book in which a literary editor investigates the suspicious death of her company’s most successful writer: an irascible cuss who wrote the wildly popular “Atticus Pund” mysteries.

For the most part, Horowitz (the original scriptwriter for TV’s Midsomer Murders) avoids common whodunit pitfalls like implausibility and cheating. The ease with which he links two seemingly unrelated crimes — one in “real” life and the other in the pages of a thriller — is also impressive.

I was able to predict the murderer of the cantankerous author. But I won’t boast because I was gobsmacked by the identity of the killer in the Pund portion of the book.


© 2010-2020 (text only)