Five of the Best Writers at American Consequences (and P.J.) tell you their favorite writers
Tired of being dry and in fine temperatures, last summer we took our family vacation in Ireland where there are more Nobel Laureates in Literature per capita than any other country. (But I didn’t read any of them.)
Instead, I went straight for the grimy crime genre where, it turns out, the writing is pretty darn good too. I have only one recommendation because it comes with about a dozen books: Adrian McKinty. There are two of his series in particular that kept me rapt during and well after our trip to the “Old Sod.”
The Sean Duffy series follows a supremely flawed detective in Northern Ireland during “the Troubles.” True to history, though often fictionalized, the stories are a blend of mystery, political thriller, Irish humor, and solid writing. Musical and literary references bridge the action as if Nick Hornby teamed up with Tom Clancy. More than a guilty pleasure, it’s as if an ice cream sundae had nourishment.
The Michael Forsythe books, three in all, are a variation of the theme with the hero this time appearing as a young Irish criminal exported to New York City to work with the mob. It’s a “Hitman with a Heart of Gold” story with the same nourishment we got from Sean Duffy.
Disaster awaits America if a socialist wins in 2020. More here…
If you haven’t read anything by P.G. Wodehouse, I envy you the fresh pleasures you’ve got coming. And you can start with just about any book. Wodehouse published his first novel in 1902, when he was 21, and completed his last in 1974, when he was 93. In between he averaged one novel a year – more than 70 of them – maintaining such a high level of hilarious excellence that millions of fans revere him as a kind of miracle worker.
The miracle I finished most recently is one of his last books – Much Obliged, Jeeves, from 1971. Like most of Wodehouse’s plots it takes place in an imaginary Britain between the wars… a world of roadsters and gentlemen’s clubs, country houses and evening dress. It features Wodehouse’s recurring heroes: the foppish and feckless Bertie Wooster and his “gentleman’s gentleman,” the valet Jeeves. Much Obliged proved to me that Wodehouse never peaked. As an artist he reached a pinnacle early on and turned it into a plateau. Get the handsome Overlook Press edition and bask in the miracle.
Daniel Silva writes spy novels about terrorism and cynical Israeli heroes. These books bounce around Europe (even to places like Corsica) as their protagonist, art-restorer Gabriel Allon, cracks wonderfully sardonic jokes under the tutelage of the ancient wiseman, Ari Shomron. There are 18 books in the series (the newest comes out this month), but you can really pick any one and start there. I love them all so much I can’t even remember their individual titles. So I looked it up – the first one is called The Kill Artist.
I recently dusted off an old classic that is truly timeless: Endurance by Alfred Lansing. If you haven’t read this tale of polar explorer Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 ill-fated attempt to traverse Antarctica on foot, you need to add this book to your stack. It’s a poignant real-life reminder of Murphy’s Law in action. Based on the detailed journal entries of survivors, this is an entirely true story that’s hard to believe. First, the ship carrying Shackleton and his men becomes stuck, then crushed, in the ice pack. With rapidly dwindling supplies, Shackleton and his men must journey across hundreds of miles of ice flows in open rowboats through the most inhospitable, frozen corner of the globe. You get to read all about the bone-chilling, heart-pounding escapades from the comfort of your favorite rocking chair, on the beach, or in the airport lounge. There is something deeply exhilarating about tales of other men escaping predatory sea lions and subsisting off whale blubber in subzero temperatures while you stir a margarita* in the sunshine and ponder your stock portfolio. Enjoy.
*Or, you could drink Shackleton Blended Malt. Available in better liquor stores, it supposedly recreates the whisky that Shackleton brought on his expedition. (He brought a lot.) P.J. tried some (okay, a lot) over the 4th of July weekend. He says it’s, “Urp… Pretty good!”
Social Creature is a diabolical debut from Tara Isabella Burton, a theology PhD and religion journalist. Ambitious, penny-pinching Louise’s whirlwind friendship with glamorous party girl Lavinia spirals toward violent obsession, cast against a biting parody of Manhattan’s self-absorbed literary set. Often compared to a digital-age Patricia Highsmith thriller – we learn early on that Lavinia’s days are numbered – Burton’s book is devilishly diverting like Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, and no less morally agnostic. But, in a new twist on the classic form, it has High Church theology expertly sprinkled throughout.
Honestly, We Meant Well, a new comic novel by Grant Ginder, takes an unhappy family — a philandering writer, his classicist wife, and their untalented son — and jets them off to the sun-washed Greek island of Aegina for four weeks of redemptive togetherness. Or that’s the idea, anyway… Surrounded by the same crumbling columns and porticos the classicist studied for her dissertation decades before, when the love of a strapping young innkeeper diverted her from Delos, their three interwoven lives only fall — tragically, hilariously — further into ruin.
Kate Atkinson writes… What does she write? She may be the best literary novelist alive. And I mean literary as in Middlemarch. (Though she’s more fun to have around the house than George Eliot.) However, Atkinson also writes the best thrillers since Elmore Leonard’s characters fired their last .357 Magnum. And, in her Jackson Brodie series, Atkinson both at the same time. I suggest the Brodie books be read in chronological order, to keep abreast with Jackson’s rich and varied emotional life: Case Histories, One Good Turn, When Will There Be Good News?, Started Early, Took My Dog, and the newly published Big Sky.
Among the manifold virtues of Kate Atkinson are Gordian Knot plots that she, like Alexander the Great, slices through with the stroke of a (proverbially mightier than the sword) pen. And wit. E.g., from One Good Turn: “‘Calm Down?’ never say that to a woman, it was on the first page of the handbook that didn’t come with them.”
P. J. O’Rourke