3 Engrossing End-of-Summer Reads
- Ronald Goldfarb
- August 30, 2017
A trio of thrillers to enjoy as August becomes autumn
For many years, summer vacations in Nantucket and the Berkshires has been the time I reserve for the joy of reading what I don’t have to read. No newspapers; a junkie all year, I go cold turkey for this brief time — and find the world is still there when I return home.
The market went up; the market went down. The Nats are prospering; maybe we go all the way this year? The current crop of politicians is outrageous!
There is time to browse old, unread issues of the New York Review of Books. For two weeks, I read no clients’ manuscripts, no research for my own books, no book review assignments. Publishers who know my practice often send me their juiciest reads. It is a book-lover’s paradise.
This August, I couldn’t wait to revisit old favorites, to plunge into Don Winslow’s The Force, Michael Connelly’s newest cop thriller, The Late Show, featuring a female lead; and Daniel Silva’s latest Mossad caper, House of Spies.
What a way to spend time on a sunny island and at a bucolic meadowland, reading about the mean streets of New York and Los Angeles, and terrorism in the Middle East! All three are action stories whose wisdom lies in the moral issues they raise.
Don Winslow’s The Force is the domestic follow-up to The Cartel, a bleak and brutal story about the Mexican drug business. Both are to be movies. The Force deals with an “elite” Manhattan special police group that effectively worked the frontlines of gang warfare in New York City. Winslow deftly describes the blurred line between once-idealistic policemen and those they pursue. No one is clean. His descriptions of the morality of these stalkers and their inevitable temptations are profound:
“The first time you do it…it’s life changing.
“The second time, it’s just life.
“The third time, it’s your life.
“It’s who you are.”
Winslow shines his powerful literary light not only on police, but also on the lawyers and judges they deal with (if not buying judges, then renting them). “The other filthy secret of the so-called justice system…a lot of them can be bought."
And his view of the evil corruption of drugs:
“If it wasn’t me, it would be someone else…why should the bad guys make all the money all the time? The guys who torture and kill. Why shouldn’t me and Russo and Monty make a little something, build a future for our families?
“You spend your whole fucking life trying to keep this shit out of people’s arms and no matter how much you seize, how many dealers you bust, it just keeps coming anyway, right up the line from the opium fields, to the labs, to the trailer trucks, to the needles and the veins.
“One smooth, ever-flowing river.
“If it ain’t me, it’s just someone else.”
No one is better than Winslow in portraying the profound compromises of law enforcement. In the finale, the dirty cop tells off the city powerbrokers:
“You call me a dirty cop. Me and my partners…You call us corrupt. Well, I call you corrupt. You’re the corruption, you’re the rot in the soul of the city, this country. You take millions in bribes on city construction, but you’re going to set me free to cover that up. Slumlords get passes on buildings with no heat and toilets that don’t work, and you look the other way. Judges buy their benches and sell cases to make it back, but you don’t want to hear about that.
“He looks at the commissioner. ‘You guys take gifts, trips, free meals, tickets from rich citizens to protect them from tickets, citations, violations…get them guns…and then you come down on cops for a free cup of coffee, a drink, a fucking sandwich.’
“Malone turns to Anderson. ‘And you, you built this penthouse laundering dope money. This whole fucking thing is built on a pile of white powder and the backs of poor people. I’m ashamed I even worked for you, helped protect you.’
“‘Yeah, I’m a dirty cop. I’m a wrong guy. I gotta answer to God for what I did. But not to you.’”
Michael Connelly’s many successful books portray a continuing cast of characters — the venerable detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch and his relative, trial lawyer Mickey Haller. In The Late Show, Connelly adds a new and interesting character: Renee Ballard, a Hawaii-raised crime-reporter-turned-gumshoe who realized “she didn’t want to just write about crime and investigating…she wanted to be a detective.”
Ballard is a unique character, living out of her surfer’s car and working excessively under her own demanding philosophical ethics of honor; the “sacred bond” that guides her work. Her ruminations on killing someone in the course of her work: “There was something inside her she didn’t know she had. Something dark. Something scary.”
Her wise and worldly police psychologist helped her understand that experience. “You have a job, Detective, that takes you to the darkness of people…If you go into darkness, the darkness goes into you. You have to decide what to do with it. How to keep yourself safe from it. How to keep it from hollowing you out.”
The Late Show is a bit too detailed in its storytelling, but in it, Connelly has auditioned a new character we look forward to seeing again.
Daniel Silva’s 20th novel deals with global terrorism and returns readers to his cast of Mossad sleuths. His successful formula exploits news and political issues. In House of Spies, he mines “the brave new world that the internet, social media, and encrypted messaging had brought about,” and current Middle East geopolitics under which “the recent political turmoil in our region has erased many of the old borders drawn by diplomats in Paris and London.”
Silva informs readers about modern terrorism, where “martyrs in waiting will be radicalized in hidden dark corners of the Dark Web and then guided toward their targets by masterminds they never meet.”
Silva always offers interesting reflections on the lore of spycraft:
“There are many reasons why an individual might agree to work on behalf of an intelligence service, few of them are admirable. Some do it out of avarice, some for love or political conviction. And some do it because they are bored or disgruntled or vengeful at having been passed over for promotion…With a bit of flattery and a pot of money, these contemptible souls can be convinced to betray the secrets that pass between their fingertips or through the computer networks they are hired to maintain. Professional intelligence officers are more than happy to take advantage of such men, but secretly they despise them. Almost as much as the man who betrays his country for reasons of conscience. These are the useful idiots of the trade. For the professional, there is no lower form of life.”
Silva’s stories, while standalone, also allow readers to follow the exploits of his intriguing Israeli characters and their intelligence agency counterparts in the U.S., U.K., and France. Readers know what to expect when they start a new Silva book, and this latest doesn’t disappoint. No surprise, MGM is about to film a 12-part series of his stories.
Reading these three authors in sequence left me in awe of the entertainment power of good writers, but deeply depressed about the deplorable, violent state of the world they depict. On sunny days on a beautiful island and at a mountain farmland in the thrall of good writers, a reader is left to ponder: What are the lessons their words offers about conflicts in the real world?
Ronald Goldfarb’s column, CapitaLetters, appears regularly in the Independent.