I’ve been doing some summer reading recently. Here are a few books I’ve read:
Beat the Reaper, by Josh Bazell. Bazell introduces us to Peter Brown, an overworked doctor at a Manhattan hospital. A patient at the hospital sees Peter and believes him to be a hit man who disappeared into the witness protection program. This is a taut thriller soaked in adrenaline, especially during the second half of the book. You’ll learn more about medicine than the mob, but you won’t mind soaking up the knowledge. Plenty of action (even some gore). Beat the Reaper isn’t as shallow as some summer thrillers, but it isn’t remarkably deep either.
Gone Tomorrow, by Lee Child. If you like Jack Reacher books, this is one of the better examples. Jack Reacher is a loner, a former military policeman with a knack for stumbling across trouble. Reacher watches a woman kill herself on the subway and digs at the truth until he uncovers much more than he expected. Lee Child’s Reacher series pretty much defines the summer suspense book. In Gone Tomorrow, Child’s pacing is excellent–you may stay up until 4 a.m. to finish the book. If you’re looking for a fun way to spend time by the pool or in the airport, this book delivers.
Dog On It, by Spencer Quinn. This is a detective story told from the perspective of the detective’s dog, Chet. I think most people would like this book. I’ve enjoyed the recent spate of detective stories from unusual perspectives (The Little Sleep describes a narcoleptic detective, while The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has an autistic narrator). And books told from the perspective of an animal can be fun (I enjoyed Cats in Cyberspace, by Beth Hilgartner).
Dog On It follows Chet and his owner Bernie as they try to solve a kidnapping. Overall the book is entertaining and even pulls strongly at your heart in a couple places. The relationship between the detective and his dog is a touchstone that carries the book well. A couple minor points did mar the story for me. First, the book had coincidences that strained my suspension of disbelief three or four times. The other sticking point is that in conveying Chet’s emotional state, the author tells us any time that Chet is happy–which happens a lot. The fifth or sixth time that Chet is overjoyed by sticking his head out the window or getting a treat, it gets a little stale. Then again, dogs are happy most of the time. These issues are minor though; if you like a little bit of hardboiled detective work told with a twist, you should enjoy Dog On it.
The Unincorporated Man, by Dani and Eytan Kollin. This book started extremely strongly. The premise is that Justin Cord, a multibillionaire in his own time, is woken up from cryonic suspension after 300 years. In the future, when a person is born they are incorporated. Parents own 20% of the corporation and the government gets 5%. Many people end up owning only a minority stake in themselves and spend decades pursuing majority control of their personal corporations so that they can decide what to do with their own lives.
The Unincorporated Man is really a bit of philosophy and economics pretending to be science fiction. I love books that postulate a slightly changed world and then examine the consequences of that change in detail. For example, the book The Truth Machine asks how society would be affected by an infallible lie detector. The Truth Machine is one of my favorite books, and for a while I thought that The Unincorporated Man would be even better. But the book goes on a bit long and veers away from its beginning into standard science fiction by the end. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the ending felt like the authors were setting up a sequel instead of wrapping up all the loose ends. Would I still recommend this book? Yes. The “idea density” of this book is high, and most of the book is entertaining. But The Unincorporated Man may drag for a few people.
Emergency, by Neil Strauss. If you’ve read Strauss’ most famous book The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists then you might be under the mistaken impression that Strauss is, well, a jerk. The Game was very entertaining, but it helped spawn a whole generation of wannabe pickup artists who believe that “negging” (insulting someone in the guise of a compliment to exert emotional power over them) is a good idea. Strauss’ new book makes it clear that his previous book was documenting a scene, not his identity.
Strauss’ new book is titled Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life, but that’s really not an accurate title. After Y2K, 9/11, and Katrina, Strauss describes the feeling that the United States was in a downward spiral and confesses “if the system ever did break down, the only useful skill I really had was the ability to write about it.” The book doesn’t teach *you* survival skills; instead it follows Strauss as *he* learns survival skills. At times the book is scattershot: the first place Strauss talks about is a cryonic suspension facility, and some of the adventures sound like “Crazy Things I Did So I Could Write About Them.”
But the book has two especially interesting threads. One explores Strauss’ attempts to obtain dual-citizenship in case the United States goes belly-up (Strauss decides to pursue citizenship from Saint Kitts). Along the way, Strauss bumps into the Sovereign Society, which offers “experts in the world of offshore finance.” He also discovers the idea of the PT, short for permanent traveler or perpetual tourist:
The idea of PT is that, just as we shop at different stores in a mall to find various items we want, we can also shop in different countries to find the lifestyles, governments, careers, people, tax rates, and cultures that best suit us.
Strauss’ exploration into this shadowy world is fascinating. If you enjoy that sort of thing, you might also enjoy How to Be Invisible, which is another book dedicated to similar ideas.
The other thread in the book starts with Strauss deciding to game the system by joining it:
Not only would I get the experience I was looking for, not only would I get a uniform and badge that would get me past roadblocks when escaping the city, not only would I get keys to the back fire roads, not only would I be exposed to life-and-death situations, but I’d have the best, strongest network available: the system itself.
But as Strauss burrows deeper into the system for his personal gain, he finds that it burrows deeper into him as well. When before he thought of fleeing danger, he ends the book more likely to run toward it to help people. Along the way I think you’ll have a good time.
The Little Sleep, by Paul Tremblay. Tremblay writes about a Mark, a Boston private investigator. Mark suffers from narcolepsy and hallucinations, which make cracking a case much harder. I liked the book aight, but the main character isn’t especially sympathetic. If you like hard-boiled detective fiction with a twist, you’ll like this book. Otherwise, it’s probably not your best bet.
Bad Cop, by Paul Bacon. I’m a sucker for books that teach you something along the way. This non-fiction book provides solid glimpse of what it might be like to be a Manhattan cop. After reading the book, I might not want to want to hang out with Paul Bacon, but I do appreciate him describing what life is like as a police officer. Bacon discovers that moving violations provide easy “collars,” so he quickly becomes an expert on vehicle traffic law. Eventually Bacon lands in precinct 28 in South Harlem, where he suffers through several misadventures before he realizes he’s not a great cop and resigns. If you’re interested in the police, I think you will enjoy this book.
Breathers, by S.G. Browne. It’s a zombie romance. Really, what more do you need to hear after that? The book isn’t scary or a thriller, but just a quick “slice of life” tale from a zombie perspective. Andy Warner falls asleep at the wheel and wakes up dead. His wife has for-real died and zombies have no legal rights, so Andy ends up moving in with his parents and eventually meets and falls in love with Rita, a fellow zombie. I read this book all in one sitting. It has a good plot and a biting sense of humor. If you’re a Chuck Palahniuk fan, you’ll love this book. Breathers has a very Palahniuk style, right down to repeating a few key phrases (“you probably wouldn’t understand”).
Monster, by A. Lee Martinez. The idea of Monster is that strange creatures roam our world. Monster is a man who does (for lack of a better word) pest control. Then things go sideways. This book had a nice dash of whimsy (the first creature we encounter is a Yeti eating ice cream at a convenience mart) and a fair amount of humor. If you squint your eyes just right, this could almost be a Terry Pratchett book. But where Pratchett dangled the end of the world in front of readers with a smile, as if to say “don’t worry, every thing will be fine,” Martinez’s book loses its footing toward the end when it tackles such weighty matters. Despite not liking the ending quite as much as the beginning, I still enjoyed the book overall.