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Reading Diary for 2006

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"Grief Street"
by Thomas Adcock
Grief StreetThe last (so far, but it's been 10 years) book in Adcock's Neil Hockaday series ends up with Hock and Ruby back home in Hell's Kitchen – with another serial killer running loose. As usual, Hock is chasing his own personal ghosts as much as a murderer. Adcock's writing is splendid and tight, the characters real, the tension thick as cold butter. Which leaves us with a final mystery: Why did Adcock walk away from Hockaday?

"Thrown-Away child"
by Thomas Adcock
Thrown-Away ChildThis book finds Hock in New Orleans, meeting his new bride Ruby's family – and, of course, solving a series of murders. As with "Devil's Heaven," Adcock seems a bit too eager to show how progressive and moral his character is compared to all the right-wing bigots out there, and so it gets a bit preachy at times.

"Devil's Heaven"
by Thomas Adcock
Devil's HeavenThe weakest of Adcock's Neil Hockaday mysteries. Coming down from the near perfection of "Drown All the Dogs," Adcock seems to have a hard time having his hero find his feet. Now a recovering alcoholic on involuntary leave from NYPD, Hockaday dives into a murder investigation as a private investigator. That part is all good, with some nice character development, but the sanctimonious tone Adcock uses to advance Hock's pro-gay tolerance is a bit too self-congratulatory, too self-aware. Still a great read, but doesn't hold up quite as well as the rest of the series.

"Drown All the Dogs"
by Thomas Adcock
Drown All the DogsIn many ways, this third installment of the Neil Hockaday series is the climax – this is the novel where he returns to Ireland to learn the truth about his father, who "went off to the war and never came back." Only which war did he go off to? And why didn't he come back? So much more than just a mystery, it is a classic of Irish-American literature.

"Dark Maze"
by Thomas Adcock
Dark MazeReading through Thomas Adcock's Neil Hockaday novels one last time, and savoring every atmosphere-dripping word. Nobody writes better about the mean streets of New York City than Adcock.

"Sea of Green"
by Thomas Adcock
Sea of GreenEvery couple of years, I feel the need to re-read Thomas Adcock's series of crime novels about detective Neil Hockaday. Like Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett, Adcock writes mysteries that are more than that; Hockaday's personal journey is the stuff of literature. This is where it starts – Hock's exploration of his own troubled, Irish past as he works to solve a series of murders in New York City's Hell's Kitchen.

"If On a Winter's Night a Traveler"
by Italo Calvino
If On a Winter's Night a TravelerA book that is wondrous both in its construction and its tale; a story of reading and writing, of the relationship between reader and author, and of both to the book; a tale of the imagination, the heart, and the space the two co-inhabit. A book to treasure and savor and take to heart.

"The Case for Peace"
by Alan Dershowitz
The Case for PeaceThe follow-up to his own "The Case for Israel," this book picks up with Yasser Arafat's death and how the ascension of a new generation of Palestinian Arab leadership may affect prospects for a long-term settlement in the Middle East. While anti-Semites expend considerable energy attacking Dershowitz and this book, it's hard to escape the conclusion that until the leadership in the West Bank and Gaza really wants hope for their people more than they want dead Jews, it's hard to see Dershowitz's vision here as anything other than pollyannish.

"The Third Policeman"
by Flann O'Brien
The Third PolicemanAbsurdist and dreamlike, as you work through the novel you begin to suspect that the author is using the surreality to make a larger point. By the end (and I won't ruin it), it is made patently clear that this is the case.

"Finding the Lost Cities"
by Rebecca Stefoff
Finding the Lost CitiesI didn't realize this was written for younger readers until I was done and looking it up on! Fun, breezy look at a dozen or so cities lost to history before archaelogists rediscovered them. From Troy to Machu Picchu to Ur and beyond – good stuff!

"The Victors – Eisenhower and His Boys: The Men of World War II"
by Stephen E. Ambrose
The VictorsA shortened-up "best of" of some of Ambrose's previous World War II books: "Citizen Soldiers," "Eisenhower," "Pegasus Bridge," "Band of Brothers" and "D-Day." That gives it a bit of a choppy feel at times, but Ambrose was a grand story-teller to the end, and this is a nice, succinct overview of the American military efforts in the European Theater of Operations.

"Flyboys: A True Story of Courage"
by James Bradley

FlyboysHarrowing, and often nauseating, story of what happened to American pilots lost over Chichi Jima near the end of WWII. Using recently declassified war crimes transcripts and interviews with survivors both American and Japanese, Bradley documents the widespread practice by the Japanese Imperial Army of cannibalism of POWs – a practice Gen. Douglas McArthur apparently wanted covered up (most likely because otherwise the American people would never have accepted a rebuilding program in Japan after the war).

"Hunting Badger"
by Tony Hillerman

Hunting BadgerAnother classic Jim Chee / Joe Leaphorn mystery, again crossing over into Hopi territory from the Navajo Nation. No need to give away the plot – just know that Chee, Leaphorn and Hillerman all remain in top form.

"Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception"
by Eoin Colfer
Artemis Fowl: The Opal DeceptionWhen main characters start dying off, you wonder how much longer a series can continue. Artemis Fowl probably has a ways to go yet, and Colfer's tale here, in the series' fourth entry, is as strong as the earlier ones. Still, major characters dying off in a light-hearted kids' series?

"The Planets"
by Dava Sobel

The PlanetsNot a science book, not a history, either – more of a fun exploration of how each planet has been viewed through history. Well-written and hard to put down.

by Alan Axelrod

PattonBreezy take on the general's life; not as good as Ladislas Farago's (which was the basis for the movie with George C. Scott), but brings out details Farago didn't. In fact, Farago's book and this make a neat pair for those truly interested in understanding Patton's genius.

"Blues All Around Me"
by B.B. King with David Ritz

Blues All Around MeInsightful story about the blues great's upbringing and early exposure to the music he would make his life. (Interesting tidbid: Although considered a rural, "Delta" blues musician, one of King's first influences was swing band Count Basie!) A little too heavy on King's sexual exploits – not really germane to his music.