Book Review

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Summer reading is upon us!

Pull up an Adirondack chair and settle in with a good book.

My name is Susan, and I am addicted to books about spies. There, I admitted it! This month brings two new non-fiction books about espionage, so fans of Alan Furst and John Le Carre have reasons to rejoice. Ben MacIntyre, author of Double Cross, Agent Zig Zag, and Operation Mincemeat, shifts his focus from World War II to the Cold War with his new title, A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal. From 1933 until he was unmasked in 1963, Philby spied for the Soviet Union. He achieved his goal of working for the British secret service in 1940, and he faithfully passed on all the information he gathered to his Communist masters. MacIntyre does a great job of showing how Philby was able to hoodwink MI6 for so long, basically because his friends and fellow spies couldn’t believe that he would betray his class by being dishonorable. Fascinating!

Double Agent by Peter Duffy is the story of William G. Sebold, a German-American citizen who agreed to work as a double agent for the FBI to root out Nazi spies and sympathizers in the years before Pearl Harbor. It was due to his efforts that 33 Nazi spies were arrested right after Pearl Harbor, thus depriving Germany of spies and saboteurs from the beginning of their war with the United States. Duffy does a good job telling the story of this little-known episode of American history.

Herbie’s Game by Tim Hallinan is the fourth book in the Junior Bender series. Usually I try to read a series in order, but this title intrigued me, so I gave it a shot, and immediately upon finishing, I went out and bought the first three books so I could catch up on the back story. Junior Bender is a classic character, the bad guy with a heart of gold and an unshakeable code of honor. He is a career thief whose marriage ended in divorce because of his inability to get a straight, 9-5 kind of job. He understands why his wife divorced him, and tries to see his 13-year old daughter, Rina, as often as possible. Junior’s turf is Hollywood and Los Angeles; Tim Hallinan does a wonderful job of updating Raymond Chandler’s southern California. Junior is not just a professional burglar—somehow he has drifted into a side gig as a private detective for people on the wrong side of the law. The problem with such a job is that both his employer and the individuals he is investigating have no qualms about using illegal methods to encourage or discourage his progress. If you enjoy smart, hard-boiled, noir mysteries, try this series. Start with Crashed, Little Elvises, and The Fame Thief (all available in paperback), then you can move on to Herbie’s Game. Guaranteed perfect summer reading!

Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, turned 88-years-old this year. She now lives in an assisted-living facility and is wheelchair-bound. Before her health worsened, she split her time between her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, and an apartment in New York City. Author and reporter Marja Mills was assigned to write an article about Harper Lee for her Chicago newspaper, but then decided to write a book. She rented a house in Monroeville, moved in next door to the Lee sisters, Alice and Harper, and slowly became friendly with the sisters and their circle of friends. The result is Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee, a charming book about Harper Lee’s later years. Fans of To Kill a Mockingbird will enjoy Harper’s salty personality and her just-plain-folks attitude, but anyone looking for a warts-and-all portrayal of the author will not find it here! Mills obviously enjoyed her time with Harper and her sister, but she had to avoid hard-hitting and intrusive questions or she would have lost access to the Lees and their family and friends. Despite the slanted perspective, I enjoyed reading about Harper Lee’s daily routines, opinions and hometown. Marja Mills has done a good job of fleshing out a true American icon.

Susan Taylor has been in the book business since 1982.
 

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