Books of the Week:

  • Don’t Ever Get Old, Daniel Friedman
  • The Shake, Mel Nicolai
  • The Magistrates of Hell, Barbara Hambly
  • Criminal Enterprise, Owen Laukkanen

I had the pleasure of meeting Daniel Friedman at the Edgar awards ceremony; Daniel was up for Best First Mystery. He didn’t win, but he was certainly in excellent company in that category. Daniel and I are from the same part of the south, though he is much, much younger; it was a real pleasure to talk to him and his family. But best of all is the book he gave me, Don’t Ever Get Old, about a retired ex-policeman, Buck Schatz, who happens to be Jewish. He is married to the long-suffering Rose, and he has a very smart grandson, nicknamed Tequila. Buck is almost ninety. He bruises easily, his arm doesn’t pack a punch any more, and he sometimes forgets his destination when he’s driving. But Buck is still mean and clever and determined, and that counts for a lot. Friedman’s story opens when Buck is called to the bedside of a man he never liked, a man who has a deathbed confession to share with Buck, and Buck alone. This story of Nazi gold and duplicity has everything going for it.


The Shake is a slim novel by Mel Nicolai, and as far as I can tell it was self-published. That having been said, Kirkus Reviews, which doesn’t like anything, gave it a “Best of 2011” star, and Paul Goat Allen recommended it in his list of best vampire novels. This is a thoughtful, unloving vampire novel about Shake, a vamp who sees very little point in his existence, so he has to create one by investigating a death which no one seems to care about. In the process, he meets with surprising people on both sides of the “death” coin. Karla, whom he recruits as his driver, is a strong woman in a brutal occupation; and the other vampires are just as individual and surprising. Well worth the reading.


I think now I’m caught up on Barbara Hambly’s Asher/Ysidro series. The Magistrates of Hell (like the book I reviewed a couple of columns ago) is a hardback published by Severn House in the UK. I have a hard time believing these wonderful books don’t have a US publisher; maybe I’m really missing something, which is certainly possible. Magistrates is set in China after the Boxer Rebellion, in the foreign compound where all the legislations have their compounds. Asher and his wife, the wonderful Lydia, accompany Asher’s old companion Dr. Solomon Karlebach to China in their pursuit of the tale of an unusual kind of vampire sighted in China. Don Simon Ysidro, centuries-old vampire, is there, too, which makes for a lot of conflict; Ysidro is their ally, insomuch as a vampire can be, and Karlebach is a hate-ridden vampire killer. They are all after the same thing, but frequently they get in each other’s way in their attempt to discover the lair of the vampires who are attacking people more and more boldly. Since this is a Hambly book, I enjoyed it very much.


Owen Laukkanen’s Criminal Enterprise is a crime novel buff’s dream. It’s got two law enforcement professionals who have an uneasy relationship, a criminal who is determined to stop at nothing, the man in the middle who is utterly broken by the end of the book, and a relentless pace from beginning to end. FBI Special Agent Carla Windermere and Minnesota Investigator Kirk Stevens have worked together before, and they have an undeniable tie; at the same time, they are really nothing alike on the surface. Stevens is married, white, set in his course with the Minnesota criminal justice system, and older than Carla. She’s an African American star in the FBI, and she’s single. But they have the same relentless pursuit of the truth, and that makes them incredibly potent together. This is a thriller/crime novel/buddy book, and it’s the second with these characters.


Theoretically, I can read the same number of books year-round. There’s nothing seasonal about it. But since I was a kid in school, summer has been my reading time. Sure, I had swimming lessons and the occasional modest family vacation, but to me getting out of school meant more time to read. Yeah, I was one of those kids! I might be reading outside, I might be reading in the car . . . but I always had a book with me. As anyone who has read this column knows, I’m the biggest fan of the written word.


I wasn’t the world’s happiest child, or the world’s best-adjusted child, but I always had something to feed my mind, and my parents always accepted my reading as a very good thing. They were readers, too, and so was my brother. There were always books around our house, in every stage of being consumed. If I misplaced my book, I might find four or five before I tracked mine down. We couldn’t afford to buy many books, but we went to the library and my parents swapped books with other readers.


I have long suspected that one big source of my parents’ mutual attraction was the fact that they both loved the written word.


In the summer, I didn’t have to put my book away when the teacher began our math lesson, or English lesson, or health. It was a happy time for me. When the fall would draw close, I would look forward to seeing my friends (we lived WAY out in the country, at least in those times), I would look forward to ordering new clothes from the Sears and Roebuck catalog, and I would regret that I would have to forego pleasure reading to concentrate on school work.


Enough for my walk down memory lane, but you see that summer doesn’t mean surfing and beach volleyball to me . . . it means reading.


Hey, somebody’s got to do it.


Charlaine Harris