The thrills of summer

by Arthur Salm | Jun 28, 2000
The thrills of summer Readers tooling up for summertime have a number of critical questions to address: Fluff or substance? Hardcover or paperback? Thriller or romance? Biography or memoir? And how do you get sand out of the plastic covers on library books?

For some reason, people associate summer reading with light, escapist, mindless fare. You`d think that light, escapist, mindless fare would be what people want after they come home from a hard day`s dot-comming; that`s why TV was invented. But languid summer days and endless summer nights, not to mention endless summer days and languid summer nights, are ideal for sustained reading and serious reflection. And if you fall asleep, well, you fall asleep.

Still, publishers continue to give the impression of knowing what they`re doing, and already bookstore shelves groan from the weight of thrillers, techno and otherwise. So we`ll start this roundup with a look at a few of the more promising prospects.

Tami Hoag can always be counted on for nerve-shredding terror (and happy vacationing to you!). "Dust to Dust" (Bantam, $25.95) features homicide cops from her earlier "Ashes to Ashes" and threatens to become her 10th best seller.

Underground/indie film star Mary Woronov ("Chelsea Girls," for heaven`s sake) surfaces with her first novel, "Snake" (Serpent`s Tail, $23), which deserves to be noted if for no other reason than the cover blurb by John Waters: "A brutal and sexy romance for the criminally insane."

Robert Bingham, who showed great promise a couple of years ago with his short-story collection "Pure Slaughter Value," offers "Lightning on the Sun" (Doubleday, $23.95), a sophisticated thriller set in Phnom Penh.

Spies, conspiracies, captures and escapes ("They got away? You fool!") animate Andy McNab`s "Crisis Four" (Ballantine, $24.95), featuring British intelligence agent Nick Stone of McNab`s earlier "Remote Control."

Techno devotees can get hit hard by F-14s from "Flash Point" (Morrow, $26), San Diego author James W. Huston`s latest carrier-based sortie.

Mysteries being thrillers` blood relations, we`ll move next to a very bad mystery writer, Kinky Friedman. That is to say, his plots are never well-constructed, his solutions are uninspired, and his gift for action approaches nonexistent. His books are, however, hilarious and indispensable. His latest - the 13th - in the continuing series about an amateur detective and cigar-chomping, wise-guy Jewish country singer-songwriter named, coincidentally enough, Kinky Friedman, is "The Mile High Club" (Simon & Schuster, $23).

Janet Evanovich`s books are almost as funny as the Kinkster`s - and, it must be said, infinitely sexier. She`s back with "Hot Six" (St. Martin`s Press, $24.95); if hot, bothered or both are your ideas of summertime fun, she`s there.

The more down-to-psyche Faye Kellerman returns with "Stalker" (Morrow, $25); T. Jefferson Parker continues his dissection of the Orange County (Calif.) soul in "Red Light" (Hyperion, $23.95); and Robert Crais takes a breather from Elvis and Joe (if you have to ask ... ) in "Demolition Angel" (Hyperion, $24.95).

Mainstream fiction keeps getting jolts of energy from brilliant young Indian novelists. To our great fortune, there seems to be no end to them. The newest kid on the block is Akhil Sharma; "An Obedient Father" (Farrar Straus Giroux, $23) is a devastating novel of corruption in a politically and morally bankrupt Delhi.

Glance at the brief paragraph on the back flap, the one that tells about the author, and that alone can be enough to make you take a closer look. Liza Dalby, we learn from the jacket of "The Tale of Murasaki" (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $24.95), "is an anthropologist specializing in Japanese culture." That`s nice. "As the only Westerner to have become a geisha ..." Stop! Enough! Sold!

Thomas Power`s "The Confirmation" (Knopf, $25.95) could probably be classified as a thriller, but the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist`s first novel - of the CIA, which Powers covered for The New York Times - blends real-life characters with his fictional creations so masterfully that this book seems a cut and a half above. Trevanian is best known for thrillers, but he`s actually a deft, talented genre-shifter; "Hot Night in the City and Other Stories" (Thomas Dunne, $24.95) showcases his short-story writing skills.

"Dream Stuff" (Pantheon, $22) is Australian David Malouf`s first collection of stories since 1985 and should not be missed by short-story and/or Down Under buffs.

More than 65,000 books have been written about the Civil War, and recently, a lot of them have been novels. The latest, which may prove to be among the best, is "The Other Side" (Simon & Schuster, $24), by Kevin McColley, a grisly, horrific tale of bushwhacking and slaughter in Kentucky.

James Brady wades into the Korean War with "The Marines of Autumn" (St. Martin`s/Dunne, $24.95): It`s the battle of the Chosin Reservoir; 20,000 frozen Americans have been surrounded by 100,000 Communist Chinese and must fight their way out.

Edmund White`s "A Boy`s Own Story" is considered a classic of coming-of-age gay fiction. He returns with "The Married Man" (Knopf, $25), about a doomed affair between an American and a matrimonially entangled Frenchman in - where else? - Paris.

My highest recommendation must go to a re-issue of a tragically neglected novel from the 1950s: Richard Yates` "Revolutionary Road" (Vintage, $14). Kurt Vonnegut called this novel "`The Great Gatsby` of my time," and he wasn`t even exaggerating. It`s a horrific limning of early post-war suburbia, and it shimmers and rumbles with an awful kind of truth. (It also contains as realistic a depiction of a nasty domestic set-to as you`re ever likely to read.)

Some big biographies are headed this way. (Yes, you have the time.) David Nasaw`s "The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst" (Houghton Mifflin, $35) is the first full-scale treatment of Charles Foster K - that is, Citizen Hearst - in 40 years. Don`t be shy - turn right to the Orson Welles stories; everybody else will.

"Chrysler: The Life and Times of an Automotive Genius" (Oxford University Press, $35) begs of author Vincent Curcio the question: Just what was an Airflow, anyway? (Whatever it was, it couldn`t have been as bad as tail fins. Or X-cars.)

Mike Royko`s "Boss" has long been considered the definitive bio on Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, but that`s not to imply that nothing more need be said. Through Daley, Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor trace the history of 20th-century Chicago in "American Pharaoh: Richard J. Daley - His Battle for Chicago and the Nation" (Little, Brown, $26.95).

By all means, check out the Viking Penguin Lives series of short biographies. Begun a couple of years ago, it features bios - extended essays, really - by top writers, of major historical figures: Larry McMurtry on Crazy Horse, Carol Shields on Jane Austen, Roy Blount Jr. on Robert E. Lee, etc. A half-dozen or so are published each year. The latest is "Herman Melville" (Viking, $19.95) by novelist Elizabeth Hardwick.

For the last few years, mountaineering adventures, led by Jon Krakauer`s "Into Thin Air," have assaulted the peaks of best-sellerdom. A thoughtful, more contemplative take is offered by Jack Turner in "Teewinot: A Year in the Teton Range" (St. Martin`s Press, $24.95).

Kim Barnes continues the acclaimed memoir she began in "In the Wilderness" with "Hungry for the World" (Random House, $23).

It might not be the ultimate beach book - but then again, maybe it is: "Beach: Stories by the Sand and Sea" (Marlowe & Company, $15.95) offers tales by the likes of J.G. Ballard, T. Coraghessan Boyle, John Cheever, Diane Johnson, Jamaica Kincaid, Doris Lessing, Vladimir Nabokov, John Steinbeck, John Updike and others.

If you haven`t gotten "Naked" - but especially if you have - you`ll want to pick up "Me Talk Pretty One Day" (Little, Brown, $22.95), David Sedaris` new collection of essays. If that doesn`t make you laugh - and especially if it does - grab "In a Sunburned Country" (Broadway, $25), an examination of Australia by Bill Bryson ("A Walk in the Woods").

In August, there`ll be a new Tom Clancy novel, the first in a couple of years. I can`t remember the title, but then, what difference does it make?

(c) Visit Copley News Service

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