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Many newspapers, magazines and websites publish summer reading lists, which is curious when you think about it. When you’re on summer vacation, aren’t you supposed to be doing interesting and fun things with your family? Don’t you have more time to read in the winter? (We sure do in my frozen neck of the woods.)
But as autumn approaches, one group of people exists that need a lifeline to excitement — soccer parents. They’re about to be stuck at a field for an hour and half (and that doesn’t even cover time for warm-ups and the post-game coach talk) of a “sport,” which as Hank Hill memorably observed, “was invented by European housewives as a way to keep busy while their husbands did the cooking.”
So, here are a few ways to keep your mind from atrophying during some long, long after-school afternoons.
The Officer’s Club
by Ralph Peters
Tor, $7.99, 384 pp.
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Ralph Peters is best known for his superb commentary on post-9/11 military strategy from Iraq to the Global War on Terror — both as one of the Obama administration’s most vocal critics and as one of the Bush administration’s most honest ones. But here is something that isn’t said enough about Ralph Peters: He is one of America’s literary treasures.
From his first novel, Red Army (which I described at the time as Red Storm Rising from the Soviet point of view) to his fine series of Civil War mysteries written under the pseudonym of Owen Parry, Peters’ books are not just terrific thrillers; they are superb novels in every literary sense of the word.
His latest, The Officers’ Club, is like nothing you’ve ever read; even when you’ve plowed through 100 pages, you’ll have no idea where it’s going. Still, you’ll be utterly absorbed in getting there.
Set in a remote desert military intelligence training base just after the Iran Hostage Crisis, the novel focuses on a U.S. military that is humiliated and demoralized, though the election of Ronald Reagan on a platform of rebuilding it offers a glimmer of hope to the post-Vietnam force.
The shocking murder of Lt. Jessica Lamoreaux in her quarters at Arizona’s Ft. Huachuca, where the war games being drawn up for a possible war with the Soviet Union are nowhere near as complex as those played by Lamoreaux with the hearts of the men stationed there.
From the career officer in the outwardly perfect military marriage to the young and sincere Christian shavetail, the only man seeimgly immune to her considerable charms is 2nd Lt. Roy Banks, the story’s narrator — though that’s because he’s already making bad romantic choices.
Banks, an up-and-coming military thinker, is a Farsi speaker who is trying to revolutionize the Army’s approach to war games focused on the Soviet threat, even as he worries about the growing tendency toward jihadism in the Muslim world. One guesses there is a more than a little of Peters in this character.
Peter’s vividly draws readers into a time and place and inhabits it with complex and vivid characters. Though The Officers’ Club is driven more by its character than its plot, it is still a book where the less said about what happens in it, the better.
The closest comparison to this book I can think of is historian Thomas Fleming’s terrific 1970s bestselling epic, Officer’s Wives, which took Korean War officers and their families through the peacetime Army and into the Vietnam War, though Club is far more specific in its focus and even less predictable. This was probably the book Nelson DeMille wanted to write when he penned The General’s Daughter, and it’s a measure of Peters’ skill that he was able to pull off in spectacular fashion what DeMille could only hint at.
Bing West argues that saddling the U.S. military with nation-building and social work roles is threatening to sap its “martial spirit.” In The Officer’s Club, Peters takes us back to a time when that spirit had been all but sapped. As such, it’s a cautionary tale as well.
The Fifth Witness
by Michael Connelly
Little, Brown, $27.99, 448 pp.
But if you’d like an entertaining look at why it won’t get better any time soon and the government-banking bureaucracy that keeps us mired in the housing recession, I have an offbeat suggestion for you: Michael Connelly’s latest Lincoln Lawyer novel, The Fifth Witness.
Mystery fiction’s favorite defense lawyer, Mickey Haller, has a new client with big media potential: a single mom in foreclosure who is accused of killing the banker in charge of her case.
The evidence is pretty damning and the motive obvious. The fact that opportunity also presented itself has Haller going for a SODDI defense. (Some Other Dude Did It.)
And, indeed, another dude does raise his ugly head — the president of a MERS-like foreclosure mill who may or may not have Mob connections.
The Fifth Witness takes us through the banking and government regulation maze of the current mortgage mess while establishing motive. But since this is a Michael Connelly book, don’t expect any liberal preaching about evil capitalist banks and poor victims who were trapped into buying houses. In fact, Connelly proposes deadbeats and those with other agendas have plenty of opportunity to exploit the crisis for their own ends.
This is one of the best books in the Haller series and easily the most topical. But Connelly, who continuously bolsters his reputation as the best mystery writer of his generation, never lets the information get in the way of good storytelling. Connelly’s signature killer twists and Haller’s sideways methods of justice pack a great punch, even though we have come to expect them.
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