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Reading Diary for 2001

  and earlier
"Pope John Paul II"
by Tad Szulc
Pope John Paul IIWell-written biography by a former New York Times reporter. Unintentionally makes a mockery of anti-papist books like "Hitler's Pope," as Szulc details Vatican efforts to counter Hitler at a time when the current pope was a seminarian just coming into adulthood.

"Precinct 19"
by Thomas Adcock
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Precinct 19This was Adcock's first book, and rather than a novel it was a re-creation of the life in one of New York City's rougher precincts, as seen through the eyes of the cops. If you're a fan of Adcock's Neil Hockaday mysteries, then you'll enjoy Precinct 19 – the inspiration for many of the characters from the novels can be found here, as well the first hints of his narrative voice.

"Grief Street"
by Thomas Adcock
Grief Street

Thrown-Away Child

Devil's Heaven

Drown All the Dogs

Dark Maze

Sea of Green
Thomas Adcock's Neil Hockaday stories are as much literature as they are mysteries; it is the purest blending of the two forms since Raymond Chandler left us – probably why I decided to read the entire series straight through from the beginning, even though I'd already rest most of them once (see Short Takes 1998, Short Takes 1995 and Short Takes 1994). Hockaday is an Irish-American cop in New York's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood. As the series progresses, he explores the dark side of Irish history, solves a series of grusome murders that Hannibal Lector could only dream of, and falls ever more deeply in love with one Ruby Flagg, surely the most delectable female sidekick ever to grace a book's pages. "Drown All the Dogs" is the best of the series, so far; in it, Hockaday goes home to Eire to visit his dying uncle – only to find family secrets darker than the Kennedys'. At his best, Adcock is in the elite of mystery writers – should Hockaday ever leave the force, he could surely hang a shingle next to Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe.
"Thrown-Away Child"
by Thomas Adcock
"Devil's Heaven"
by Thomas Adcock
"Drown All the Dogs"
by Thomas Adcock
"Dark Maze"
by Thomas Adcock
"Sea of Green"
by Thomas Adcock

"The Barbarians Speak"
by Peter S. Wells
The Barbarians SpeakThe book's premise was exciting: Using original texts from ancient Rome and Greece, combined with archaeological finds, historian Peter Wells promised to tell us how the Celts and Germans of biblical times lived. The reality is less illuminating, and Wells has an embarrassing tendency to try to re-cast ancient civilizations in modern, politically correct terms. Worst of all, he's one of those academics who seems to believe that writing clearly and succinctly is some kind of sell-out.

"Enemies List"
by P.J. O'Rourke
Enemies ListO'Rourke takes the silly accusation from many on the Left that there exists a vast right-wing conspiracy, complete with an "enemies list," and runs with it. The results are much less funny than usual from O'Rourke, though – how many times can you make fun of Ted Kennedy before it becomes old?

"M is for Malice"
by Sue Grafton
M is for MaliceGrafton puts heroine/beach-town private eye Kinsey Milhone back into the mystery business – a one-time spoiled rich boy ends up dead, and all of his family are suspects.

"L is for Lawless"
by Sue Grafton
L is for LawlessI have to admit to carrying a flame for Kinsey Milhone. Yes, I do realize that she's not a real person (my hold on reality isn't that tenuous ...), that she's simply a character created by Sue Grafton. But she's smart, funny and sexy, in a kind of rumpled, Walter Matthau's granddaughter kind of way. The 12th entry in Grafton's series finds Milhone not so much solving a mystery as surviving a cast of lunatics brought into her life by her landlord.

"Parliament of Whores"
by P.J. O'Rourke
Parliament of WhoresThe sole Republican writer for Rolling Stone takes on the federal bureaucracy – and if he doesn't win, he does at least manage to bloody Washington's nose.

"Eat the Rich"
by P.J. O'Rourke
Eat the RichThe conservative humorist travels around the world offering anecdotal evidence on why some capitalist economies work and some don't; not the most insightful book around, but a pretty funny read.

"Aloha Magnum"
by Larry Manetti
Aloha MagnumI'm not even sure why I read this book by the former "Magnum P.I." co-star – bored something serious that week. The ultimate sidekick and name-dropper, Manetti just can't get enough of himself.

"From Satchmo to Miles"
by Leonard Feather
From Satchmo to MilesFeather was one of the great chroniclers of jazz, and I had the great pleasure of getting to meet him several times and pick his brain a bit about this gig of trying to describe music with words. Still, this book was kind of a disappointment – Feather didn't have Hentoff's sense of written rhythm, nor Stanley Dance's descriptive powers.

"Sweet Soul Music"
by Peter Guaralnick
Sweet Soul MusicForget the Elvis bios that paid his mortgage – Guaralnick's greatest contribution is his trilogy of books about American folk musics. Along with "Feel Like Going Home" and "Lost Highway," Guaralnick shows how blues and country, bluegrass and gospel all flow from a common wellspring of American experience.

"The Book of Guys"
by Garrison Keillor
The Book of GuysFans of Keillor's National Public Radio show will like this book; the stories are much like his "Lake Wobegone Days" – full of simple yet perplexing characters who somehow manage to barely get through life.

"Listen Up: The Lives of Quincy Jones"
by Courtney Ross and Nelson George
Listen Up: The Lives of Quincy JonesA little too gushy to be a serious biography, it nevertheless provides fans of the man with the basics of his life.

"Greece and Rome, Builders of Our World"
by the editors of National Geographic
Greece and Rome, Builders of Our WorldA romanticized but interesting history of ancient Greece and Rome from the late '60s. Covers Athens, Hannibal, Caesar and more, with lots of maps and commissioned paintings.