Brucew Reads

One of the things I love about my building is our informal book club. Books are passed through the laundry room, and recommendations are passed through the hallways.

Of the books that I’ve read in the past couple of months, these have passed the hallway test. The first was recommended to me, and the rest I’ve recommended. They’ve worked out in both cases.

As usual, links to Amazon are affiliate referrals, and MCLS links are to the Monroe County Library System’s online catalog.

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

MCLS   Amazon

I Am Pilgrim is the best spy thriller I’ve read in at least a decade.

I grew up during the Cold War. The Cold War was fodder for dozens of novelists who honed their skills during those decades. The Cold War supplied plotlines by the gross—not unlike current events.

The best spy novels, IMHO, were always the ones with a believable protagonist. One who isn’t too professional, nor too flawed. One who has good judgment and bad, good luck and bad, and all in believable amounts.

Pilgrim—he goes by many names in the book—straddles those lines well. He’d been sort of the Internal Affairs investigator of the US Intelligence services. The “ratcatcher” he calls himself.

As the Trade Center towers fell, he saw the failure of his generation of intelligence officers, saw the changes that would need to made for the new times, and retired. Wrote his memoirs under an assumed name, as sort of a crime fighter’s review of the world’s toughest cases.

When the NYPD asks him to consult on a murder case, he discovers that someone is using his book as a how-to guide. That alone supplies an excellent plotline, but the author goes for more.

Known as the Saracen, a new-generation terrorist—sort of Terrorist 2.0—is bent on pulling down the House of Saud, of all things. To do so, he sets his sights on the distant enemy who keeps the House of Saud in business—the US. As a veteran of the mujahideen in the Soviet war in Afghanistan, and holding an MD, the Saracen… Well, more would be a spoiler.

While involved in the NYC murder investigation, Pilgrim is recruited from retirement to catch the Saracen and stop his plan. Soon, he realizes that someone working with the Saracen could also be using his book as a guide. Could the two be connected?

The Lotus Wars trilogy by Jay Kristoff

I’m not ordinarily into the swords and dragons genre. The Lotus Wars trilogy is no ordinary swords and dragons series.

Take steampunk, and transport it from Victorian England to feudal Japan. Add samurai with chainsaw katana protecting a brutal Shogun and the corrupt technocrat class—the Guildsmen—that supports him. Throw in a decades-long genocidal war, fought from dirigible warships.

Fuel all this with the extract of a plant that creates ecological catastrophe from both its exhaust when burned, and that it permanently poisons the ground where it’s grown. Oh, and did I mention that another extract of that plant is an addictive recreational drug?

Against this backdrop, teenage Yukiko joins her father on a mission from the Shogun to capture an arashitora (a gryphon) for the Shogun to ride into battle. Things go amiss, Yukiko survives the crash of their dirigible, bonds with Buruu the arashitora, and they join the rebellion against the Shogun.

Not the least of the reasons I liked the story is because if you transliterate my name to Japanese, it’s ブルース or Buruusu, just one extra syllable on the end of ブルー or Buruu, the arashitora’s name. If you ask me, it’s a fine name for a beast that’s half eagle, half-tiger, can generate thunderclaps and lightning from its wings, and is intelligent, compassionate and witty to boot. 🙂

The situations are, of course, based in fantasy, but they have a very real parallel if you look around at our world. Well, maybe not the chainsaw katana, but you get my drift. Further, Kristoff-san populates the books with real, believable characters. I don’t often cry when an author kills off a character, but I did in the second book of the series.

The Lotus Wars books are sold to librarians as a teen series for boys. Other than the protagonist being a teen girl—who very quickly becomes a teen woman—I don’t see that. Teen series typically have watered-down language, plot, dialog, and cardboard cutout characterization. None of these were present in the books.

I enjoyed them thoroughly, and they remain vivid in my mind. I have no compunctions about recommending them to adults—even other adults who aren’t into swords and dragons fare.

The Last Policeman trilogy by Ben H. Winters

One of the difficulties of my job is keeping track of trilogies and series among the dozens of books I read, and the thousands of them that pass through my hands.

I lost track of The Last Policeman and rediscovered it after the third book is in print. I immediately put the second book on hold and asked our librarian to order the third.

Hank Palace is a detective in Concord, New Hampshire. He enjoys his job and he’s good at it. One of those perfect fit things.

Astronomers have identified an asteroid headed for collision with Earth. Watching it come, they’ve refined their calculations and have announced the specific date, time, and general location of the impact. They’ve also estimated it will be equivalent to the one that killed the dinosaurs.

The Last Policeman trilogy follows Hank as civilization falls apart around him. Some people just plain give up, others “go bucket list” for that last adventure. Everyone goes at least a bit feral as modern society, the infrastructure, the economy, and the government collapse in the run-up to impact.

Meanwhile, Hank remains true to his calling, even after being ejected from the police department, which ultimately disbands entirely. He can’t quite see why he should give up both his morality and the service he loves so much which society needs more and more every day.

Unlike other dystopias, this one is pre-apocalyptic. We don’t see things afterwards, we see the descent—the unraveling. It’s a completely different viewpoint, and all the more harrowing for it. All throughout the books I had to stop and think, What would I do? And Would it really happen that way?

It’s not all big things either. Hank rations out his dog food so it will last until impact. Others simply release the hounds.

Of course on top of that, they’re really tightly plotted detective novels.

If you like either detective novels, or dystopia, you’ll enjoy The Last Policeman trilogy. If like me, you enjoy both genres, they are must-reads.

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