Let’s keep this Best Of 2019 thing going! So far, I’ve covered my favorite classic horror movie viewings of last year and now I’m on to books. I keep this rad super hero wall-mounted shelf in my office and stack up the physical books I’ve read throughout the year. As you can see in this photo, I also have a list next to it that I can put digital and library conquests on as well. It sure makes it simple to do a list like this!
Like any hopeful reader, I have boxes of books just waiting to be read in my garage and even a fair number waiting in the digital realm. There’s not much rhyme or reason to which ones I choose or why they take me so long to read, but I figured I’d put a few thoughts down about these four books I’ve finished in the relatively recent past including books by Joe Hill, Erik Larson, Tina Fey and Roger Moore. Continue reading Four Books I Liked By Joe Hill, Erik Larson, Tina Fey & Roger Moore
Every time we go on a road trip of any real length, my wife and I run over to the library and get an audiobook or two. Before leaving to visit her folks for Christmas, I picked up Brad Metlzer’s The Inner Circle which wound up serving us for two separate trips. I actually had no idea what the book was about, I just saw Meltzer’s name and grabbed it. It turns out, however, that it’s actually a kind of sequel or follow-up to the last of his books we listened to in audiobook form: The Book of Fate.
This time around, the story revolves around normal guy Beecher who uncovers a potential secret spy ring built around the president while trying to impress a woman from his past. As things tend to go in Meltzer novels, the ensuing 12 discs revolve around healthy doses of mistrust, misinformation and misunderstandings all while conveying action and drama the never fails to keep me interested. I should note that I actually forgot very little of the plot in the nearly three months between starting the audiobook and finishing it, which is a testament to the story.
The character who carries over from Book of Fate, though, is the one who really steals the show: Nica Hadrian, the man who tried to kill the president in that book. I had no idea he would appear in this book and would love to talk to Meltzer about why he decided to bring him back, but I think I have a pretty good idea. This guy’s just a super compelling character. He’s belfry-level crazy thinking his last victim still talks to him and also believing in ages old historical conspiracies that continue through reincarnation. But he’s also incredibly smart and has his own set of physical skills that made him such an effective killing machine. He’s basically Batman, but crazier and convinced that the world has an order to it, something I’m not so sure can be said about the Caped Crusader.
Something else I didn’t realize when I picked this book up from the library is that Beecher’s story actually continues on in Metlzer’s most recent book The Fifth Assassin. But don’t worry about this being an Empire Strikes Back kind of situation where you get to the end of this book and feel like you’ve been given part of a whole rather than a whole story. Inner Circle definitely has a solid ending, but also goes on to set up some real potential I’m excited to see explored when we get around to listening to Assassin.
Once again, I was super pleased with my experience listening to or reading a Brad Meltzer book. That guy really writes the kinds of stories I enjoy, constantly keeping the wheels on his “regular guy put into extraordinary situations” thrillers. That’s actually one of the reasons I’m interested in checking out the sequel. Beecher fit a similar model that I’ve seen in other Meltzer lead characters, but he’s presumably more trained and confident in Assassin, so I’m definitely curious to see how that plays out.
The Bourne Legacy is an interesting creature as far as stories go. First off, it’s one of the Bourne books published after Robert Ludlum’s death and written by an author named Eric Van Lustbader. This is the first Bourne book I’ve ever encountered, so I won’t be able to compare styles until I get to The Bourne Identity in my most recent Ambitious Reading List. It’s also interesting because, even though there was a film out earlier this year with this title, I’m fairly certain the two have nothing in common aside from names.
With all that out of the way, I actually really enjoyed this audiobook, which was read by one of my favorite readers Scott Brick (he does an awesome job on Nelson DeMille’s books and Brad Meltzer’s). From what I gathered and remember (it’s been a while since we finished this one actually, so some of the details might be a little fuzzy, Bourne has been doing his whole history professor thing for a while until someone tries to kill him and then takes out some of his friends. Bourne confronts the assailant, but neither kill the other. Bourne thinks he’s being framed and heads to France and Hungary to try and find out what’s going on. Meanwhile, the story also focuses on the assailant, a group of Chechen terrorists and a Lex Luthor-esque bad guy who, when not screwing with people in his secret, soundproof torture room, runs a global aid organization. In other words, there are a lot of pieces.
I liked the spy/adventure/Bond-ish nature of this story. The bad guy is a true, all evil bad guy, though some of the people he’s working with are more in the “I guess I can see where they’re coming from” vein. Bourne himself is a steadfast hero who wants to both clear his name and do the right thing. And, while I might have had a hard time following the details of the action in the fight scenes at times while driving, it was nice to listen to a book that wasn’t the usual crime, cop or PI drama. I dig those books and they work great for road trips, but it’s nice to read something different (I felt the same way when we listened to Kyle Mills’ The Second Horseman, which I now realize I never reviewed).
I want to get into some SPOILER territory here. I’m curious if other readers/listeners were tipped off to the relationship between the assassin Khan and Bourne? I felt like I knew he was Bourne’s son as early as the scene in the woods towards the beginning of the story. I don’t remember exactly what put the idea in my head, but it just clicked. I’m glad that we didn’t have to wait a super long time for them to bring it up in the story itself, but it still felt like a while.
All in all, I had a good time listening to this book. I didn’t feel like I was lost, even though this is the fourth book in the series. I just realized form looking at the series’ Wiki page that it’s actually the first one Van Lustbader wrote and the first one that came out post-Ludlum. It was a fun, taught ride that made me want to drive around even longer, which is the criteria by which I judge these things.
I’ve talked about how much I dig Brad Meltzer’s books before (The Zero Game, Book of Lies and The Millionaires). He has a great ability to write tight thrillers that never fail to keep my interest. Most of his books that I’ve read involve a regular guy stumbling onto something big that he has to run away from. Said hero tends to go on the run in order to clear their name, usually aided by a friend, family member or confidant. It might seem a little formulaic, but Meltzer also does a boatload of research and puts that into his books that give all kinds of extra information, something fans of his TV series Decoded will not be surprised by.
The Book of Fate is about a presidential aid named Wes who was wounded in an assassination attempt on the president’s life. Because of a misunderstood picture taken during the incident, the prez lost favor with the people and did not get re-elected. The meat of the story finds Wes working for the former president eight years later when it just so happens that a guy who seemed to die during the assassination attempt is actually alive. This gets Wes and his friends digging into what really happened. They stumble onto a powerful organization called The Three and have to deal with the crazy man who shot him, Nico.
As with his other books, this one kept me interested and guessing as to what was really going on the whole time which made it a great audiobook to listen to on our almost 12 hour drive home from Michigan to New York on Monday. I do have one minor complaint though. At the beginning of the book, there’s a note written by Meltzer that reader Scott Brick reads that talks about the Masons. He offers historical information about the group, saying that he doesn’t necessarily believe the conspiracy theories about the group, but does note it’s interesting all the important and powerful people who joined. This is the kind of thing I tend to skip when reading a book, but you don’t really have as much choice when listening to an audiobook. The problem I had with this is that it primed my brain to constantly think of the story in terms of the Masons. But, as it turns out, they’re not even a part of the book, but instead stories The Three tell Nico to get him on their side. Basically, “These evil men built the country as a way to open the gates of hell, so I must kill them.” Maybe it was put in there to do exactly that, but I didn’t like it. I usually just jump in and read a book, I don’t like too much advanced information.
But, that’s a small complaint. Like I said, this one moves along at a pretty breakneck pace making for a great listen. Brick once again did a killer job on the reading just as he did on The Millionaires and the Nelson DeMille books we’ve listened to. On a bit of a funny side note, I let my dad borrow The Millionaires. He really liked it so when I saw The Book of Fate discs on sale for cheap on Amazon, I recommended he check it out. I was actually thinking of The Book of Lies, though, so I told him it had all this stuff about Superman and was partially set in Cleveland. When I saw him on vacation he was like, “I really liked that book, but it didn’t have anything about Cleveland in it.” Whoops! It worked out, though, because I hadn’t read Fate and it wound up being the perfect driving audio for our trip home.
Nelson DeMille’s Night Fall is quite a ride. It deals with not one but two real world national tragedies, one of which I knew very little of and one I was quite familiar with, a cop whose search for the truth trumps everything else in his life and a sex tape. Here’s the deal. Detective John Corey works for the made-up Anti-Terrorist Task Force where he met his wife Kate Mayfield. Kate worked the TWA Flight 800 case back in the mid 90s when the tragic plane crash happened. At the anniversary of the crash, she puts a bug in John’s ear about how suspicious the case always seemed. Hundreds of people claimed to have seen some kind of flare leading up into the sky and hitting the plane, but the official report came out and said it was a mechanical failure. Since there’s no proof of what happened, the government was generally believed. John doesn’t like how things are adding up nor does he like being told by some government types that he needs to stay away from the case, so he dives in. There’s rumor that a couple was making love on the beach and recorded it, but no one seemed to ever track them down or find the tape. The thrust of the story involves John digging up enough witnesses and clues to try and find that tape.The second tragedy that looms over the story and eventually intersects it is 9/11. More on that in a bit.
I really liked the story for several reasons. First off, I knew almost nothing about the TWA 800 disaster because I was 13 at the time, so it all seemed plausible to me. I bought what they were selling and it seemed to make sense. I haven’t checked the details in the book against actual reports, but as far as the story itself goes, I was in. DeMille also has a talent for writing taut thrillers that keep the story moving along at a good clip. The missus and I actually listened to the abridged version, which is significantly shorter than the unabridged one, so I’m not sure if that was just good audiobook editing, or DeMille’s skill, now that I think about it. I also really dug Scott Brick’s reading of the book. He gives Corey this great, 50s style detective voice that I always like listening to. His women sound like most male readers–quiet men talking in a helium factory–but what are you going to do? I also liked the ending, but I will get to that shortly.
There was one specific aspect of the story that I didn’t quite like. The version we listened to starts off telling the story of the couple on the beach. There’s all kinds of flirting and lead-up and then we’re shown what they see: something firey flying through the sky and then a plane crash. I see two problems with starting the book this way. First off, we know there’s more to the case than what the government is telling us. I guess the explanation of the equipment failure could be bought, but it’s never all that convincing. Without this scene, there would have been a lot more questioning of the theories thrown out on both sides. The other problem this scene offers is that we already know the tape exists. That leaves the question of whether the tape still exists or not, but if the tape is gone, what’s the story about? Yet another eye witness account won’t matter in the grand scheme of things. This also takes out a lot of the mystery of the story. Here’s what I would have done as a writer, instead of focusing on the couple and telling the audience exactly what happened (it’s a third person narrator, so there’s no reason to doubt what’s happening for the record), I would have started the book off at the same location but instead of the couple zeroing in on the cop who found the lens cap on the beach. That would have given the proceedings more of a sense of mystery. But what do I know? I haven’t sold a million books, I can barely keep my blog on schedule.
Alright, finally to the ending. SPOILERS AHOY. Unlike the TWA 800 tragedy, I am quite familiar with 9/11. As soon as I realized the book was set in 2001, it was set in NYC and Corey was part of an anti-terrorist organization, I saw the writing on the wall: someone was going to be in one of the towers or one of the planes. It added a much larger ticking clock to the story in addition to all the other smaller ones going on (Will he solve the case before getting fired? Will someone kill him if he finds out too much? Will he get to the tape in a timely manner? etc.). It added an interesting sense of dread and drama to the story. I’m still not sure if it’s just clever writing or taking advantage of one of the worst attacks on US soil, but that’s how I felt. Okay, the SPOILERS KICK IN NOW. After Corey finally found the woman from the tape who still had a tape–she made a copy, which I had guessed, though not exactly in the same way I was thinking–the date was getting pretty damn close. Corey sets up a meeting with some government types he assumes have been covering up what really happened to Flight 800 at none other than Windows On The World, the restaurant at the top of North Tower of the World Trade Center. That huge ticking clock I mentioned before turns into Big-freaking Ben and that sense of dread gets pretty intense. I didn’t know anything about Corey, whether he was a recurring character or not, so I wasn’t sure if he was going to make it. He did, so did his wife, but that’s about it. Everyone else bought it.
We’re still in SPOILER COUNTRY so beware. I’ve got a theory about the ending. I think whatever shadowy government organization that covered up the bombing (missile-ing?) organized the 9/11 attacks to really cover up whatever happened. Basically, Corey was getting to close to the truth, so someone arranged a terrorist attack that would not only draw attention away from the TWA 800, but also kill Corey and all the potential whistle blowers. It also happened to destroy both copies of the tape, which they couldn’t have known for sure, but it’s a hell of a misdirect. Of course, when I say all that, I mean in the fiction of the book’s universe, not real life. That’s probably obvious, but I just had to say it. I’ve read tiny bits of info on the two books that follow Night Fall in the Corey series–Wild Fire and The Lion–and know that one of the shadowy characters comes back. That seems to back up my theory. I have no idea if it’s outright proven or refuted in the pages of those books, though I would be willing to listen to or read them to find out.
Okay, spoiler time is over. Beginning aside, I still really liked this book. The real litmus test for audiobooks as far as I’m concerned is how well they help pass the time on our road trips to and from the Midwest. We wound up in the car for 11 hours a few weeks ago to see my family and Night Fall definitely helped kill all kinds of time on the way there. We were actually kind of sad that it wasn’t about an hour longer to cover the whole trip (we stopped it every time we stopped the car, the baby went on a crying fit or the rain made it impossible to hear, hence the lengthy listening time). As it was, we got stuck trying to find a radio station that wasn’t playing the last 15 seconds of an awesome song and then immediately going into a block of commercials. Maybe Wild Fire will be longer! We listened to two more audiobooks that I’m also hoping to review in the next week or two, so stay tuned!