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#FridayReads, May 10–“The Drop,” Michael Connelly; “A Man W/out Breath,” Philip Kerr; “Black Count,” Tom Reiss


Friday Reads May 10

I’m so lucky to have so many terrific books to read this weekend and over the coming days. And, after these three, I’ve got a Henning Mankell novel I’ve never read, Before the Frost, a thriller that features not only his longtime series character, Kurt Wallander, but also his grown daughter Linda, who over several earlier books had voiced her ambition to become a police detective, like her father. In fact, the novel is officially dubbed “A Kurt and Linda Wallander Novel,” just as all the earlier ones were “Kurt Wallander” books. Interestingly, in Michael Connelly’s The Drop, featuring his series character Harry Bosch, the detective’s teenage daughter, Maddy, has told her father that she wants to become a police officer.

As I have written in earlier posts about Mankell’s books, I love his books, and all these detective authors for the loyalty over many books that they show to their characters. The cases become more engrossing and their characters more believable and more sympathetic the deeper you read in to each series. This is certainly also true for Philip Kerr’s whose A Man Without Breath I started this afternoon. This is the ninth book portraying Bernie Gunther, the German police inspector trying to somehow stay alive during WWII, while retaining his dignity and moral center, while the Nazis all around him engage in mayhem and corrupt self-dealing. I’ve also posted often about the Gunther books.

As for Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, I met Tom Reiss and heard him read from his book at the National Book Critics Circle annual awards ceremony in March, and was enchanted by what I heard of his biography of Alexandre Dumas’ father. More recently, his book won the Pulitzer Prize. I read Chapter One last night, in which Reiss explains how he came to discover the elder Dumas, a remarkable figure who had been all but lost to history. I’m really eager to get back to his book, and so glad I have this nonfiction to balance all my novel reading.

Please note, if you want to read any of the books I’ve written about in this post, I’ve embedded links in each title. If you click on them, it will lead you to pages at Powell’s Books where you can order them. As I explain in a note near the upper right corner of this site, they then return a portion of your purchase price to me to help maintain this site.

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#FridayReads, Sept 12–George C. Chesbro’s “City of Whispering Stone,” w/Mongo the Magnificent

City of Whispering Stone frontContinuing my theme from last week, today’s #FridayReads is another mystery featuring Mongo the Magnificent, former circus dwarf turned criminology professor and private eye, in City of Whispering Stone, published in 1978, which I read that year, then ordered and sold in my bookstore, Undercover Books in Cleveland, Ohio. The plot of this novel—Book II in a series that would ultimately have fifteen titles—would have been very topical and timely at the time, as it concerns Iranian students in NYC, an Iranian circus strongman who is a member of the troupe that Mongo once performed in as a headliner, and the political fate of the Shah. In real life, this would have been during the Carter administration and amid the tumultuous revolution that ended with Ayatollah Khomeni and the mullahs in control of the country,when American hostages were held captive for 444 days in Tehran. The mullahs have hold power ever since. Chesbro must’ve had a keen line in to the Iranian expat community in the US, because of the depiction of the dissident students reads like a contemporary dispatch from the New York Times. In the novel, the performer/strongman has mysteriously vanished and Phil Statler, impresario of the Statler Brothers Circus, Mongo’s former boss, hires the detective to locate him. The writing is great—noirish and tough, and very good at revealing the mindset of Mongo, an ultimate outsider who’s never fit in anywhere in his whole life. Back in my bookstore days, I never read beyond the earliest books in the series, so in the weeks to come, I’ll go back in the sequence and re-read Shadow of a Broken Man (1977, Book I), then move on to An Affair of Sorcerers (1979, Book III); and The Beasts of Valhallah (1985, Book IV), and perhaps others.

I do relish reading detective fiction and many different mystery series. As readers here may recall, I’ve written before about the novels of Michael Connelly (who created series character LAPD Detective Harry—short for Hieronymous—Bosch); Henning Mankell (Swedish police lieutenant Kurt Wallander); the late Tony Hillerman (Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee), whose series was revived in 2013 by his daughter, novelist Anne Hillerman, introducing new series character, Bernadette Manuelito; Philip Kerr (Munich police inspector Bernie Gunther); John D. MacDonald (salvage expert Travis McGee); and J. Michael Orenduff (author of the POT THIEF mystery series, with protagonist Hubert Schuze, dealer in Native American ceramics). Last year, I wrote an appreciation of one of Mankell’s Wallander books that can just as well apply to all of these series, edited for inclusion in this post:

Henning Mankell’s thriller 2004 thriller Before the Frost, features Detective Kurt Wallander and his grown daughter Linda, who like he had earlier in life, elects to become a police officer. With surprising synchronicity, in Michael Connelly’s Detective Harry Bosch novel The Drop, (my May 10th, 2013 #FridayReads), his young adult daughter informs him that she is going to choose police work for her career. I don’t believe these two writers, one in Sweden, the other in Los Angeles, read each other’s work or have directly influenced each other. Instead, I believe that these authors—who have each written ten or more books featuring their detective protagonist—become extremely invested in their characters and loyal to them, so that in their protean creativity, they endow the two characters—both late middle-aged single fathers—with full lives and late-in-life-joy from growing closer to their children. This highlights one of the things I love most about these books, Mankell’s and Connelly’s, as well as mysteries by other authors I enjoy, featuring characters Travis McGee, Bernie Gunther, and Joe Gunther (no relation to the former), by John D. MacDonaldPhilip Kerr, and Archer Mayor, respectively: The author is so devoted to their creation that they give them full lives, and I as a faithful reader, become devoted to them, too.

City of Whispering Stone back

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#FridayReads, Sept 5–George C. Chesbro’s “In the House of Enemies,” w/Mongo the Magnificent

Mongo cover#FridayReads—In the House of Secret Enemies by George C. Chesbro, ten short stories featuring one of the all-time greatest detective series characters, Mongo the Magnificent, aka Robert Frederickson, Ph.D.—former headlining acrobat performer for the Statler Bros Circus; black belt in karate; criminology professor at a New York City university; and dwarf. I found this mass-market paperback, a 1990 Mysterious Press edition, when I browsed and shopped at Myopic Books on Milwaukee Ave in Chicago last month, a great second-hand store with a really extensive inventory. The collection also includes a revealing intro by Chesbro, “The Birth of a Series Character,” explaining how he came to dream up the character of Mongo, and how he persevered despite little encouragement from editors, at least at the beginning. After the intro, Chesbro offers notes before each tale explaining the role that the story played in his ongoing development of the character. These stories were all written before he dared put Mongo in a full-length novel—hell, before he even knew if he could write a Mongo novel, and whether the emerging character could bear the weight of a full-length book, leave alone find it accepted by a publisher—so each of these stories was a key experiment in character creation and development. The collection is full of great writing and shop-talk. I read the first few Mongo novels when I operated my bookstore, Undercover Books, but haven’t read one in many years. I love mystery series publishing, with so many great and memorable characters, such as Michael Connelly’s LAPD detective Harry Bosch, Archer Mayor’s Vermont police detective Joe Gunther, Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache, and Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander. Now, I gotta find more of Chesbro’s Mongo titles, which combine two of my favorite enthusiasms—the circus and detective fiction! For more info on Mongo and Chesbro—who died, sadly, in 2008, but was around long enough to republish many of the fifteen Mongo titles in POD editions under his own Apache Beach imprint—I suggest you visit the author’s Wikipedia page and this site, Dangerous Dwarf.

Mongo back cover

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A Basket Full of Holiday #FridayReads

PT #FridayReads photoDelighted to have so much free time this week for this terrific collection of great recreational and work-related reading. Here’s a quick rundown on each book with the tweets I put out about them tonight.
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My fave books by suspense writer Michael Connelly are his Harry Bosch novels, but the ones involving defense attorney Mickey Haller are enjoyable too.


Dave Bidini, longtime member of The Rheostatics, is a triple threat–stellar musician, compelling writer, and all-around good guy. I love oral histories like this one: the memorable voices of many musicians are soldered together in to an alternately hilarious and heartbreaking narrative of stalwarts traveling and playing music across one of the largest countries on the planet.


I admire CUNY Graduate Center Professor William Helmreich’s civic enterprise–he walked on nearly street in the five boroughs, meeting and speaking with hundreds of New Yorkers to weave together a fascinating portrait of the 21st century city enriched by new immigrant groups.


I’m hopeful that Chicago writer Haas’s suspense novels will merit rediscovery and publication. I was delighted to be asked to look at them by Shirley Haas and old Chicago friend Kevin Riordan.

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#FridayReads, May 24–“Before the Frost,” a Kurt & Linda Wallander novel

Henning Mankell photo#FridayReads Henning Mankell’s thriller 2004 thriller Before the Frost, featuring Detective Kurt Wallander and his grown daughter Linda, who like he did earlier in life, chooses to become a police officer. With surprising synchronicity, in Michael Connelly’s 2011 Detective Harry Bosch novel The Drop, (my May 10th #FridayReads), his teenage daughter informs him that she is going to choose police work for her career. I don’t believe these two writers, one in Sweden, the other in Los Angeles, read each other’s work or have directly influenced each other. Instead, I believe that with these authors–who have each written ten or more books featuring their detective protagonist–become extremely invested in their characters and loyal to them, so that in their protean creativity, they endow the two characters–late middle-aged single fathers in each series–with full lives and late-in-life-joy from growing closer to their own child. This highlights one of the things I love most about these books, Mankell’s and Connelly’s, as well as those by other authors I enjoy–featuring characters Travis McGee, Bernie Gunther, and Joe Gunther (no relation to the former), by John D. MacDonald, Philip Kerr, and Archer Mayor, respectively: The author is so devoted to their creation that they give them full lives, and I as a faithful reader, feel obliged to be solicitous of and devoted to them myself.Mankell photo