For each of the past few years, I have compiled a list of books I have read over the previous 12 months, and posted thumbnails here. With any luck, you may find an idea or two to help you get through your Christmas shopping. . . . Part 1 appeared here yesterday, and here is Part 2 of 3 . . .
Kill Me, Darling — Every once in a while it doesn’t hurt to check out some really legitimate pulp fiction. That’s what we have here in this book by Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane. The former has been completing unfinished works left by Spillane, who died in 2006. This one is based mostly in Miami, circa 1954, and it’s good Mike Hammer stuff with all the dialogue, the grit, the colour and the bodies.
The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson — It is entirely up to the reader to decide what kind of a hero Bo Jackson was, because there certainly are some scarecrows in his closet. And, yes, author Jeff Pearlman touches on a whole lot of them here. This is a truly in-depth look at Jackson’s rise from ill-tempered high schooler to two-sport star, Nike poster boy and beyond. And every turn of a page seems to provide the reader with even more interesting information. Bo, by the way, was not especially popular in his own locker rooms, and Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis really didn’t have much use for him. Seriously!
The Late Show: Letterman, Leno, & the Network Battle for the Night — This book, written by Bill Carter, then a media reporter for The New York Times, was published in 1995. I have no idea why it took me so long to get to it. What a book! It tells in detail the story of perhaps the biggest gaffe in TV talk-show history — how NBC-TV lost David Letterman to CBS. I never will get the image out of my head of Jay Leno in what was basically a closet at NBC headquarters listening via phone to a meeting of the braintrust at which his future was being decided. Just a great, great read, even all these years later.
Like a Rolling Stone: A Memoir — Jann Wenner, co-founder of the magazine Rolling Stone, lets it all hang out in a memoir that has to have set a record for name-dropping. After all, Wenner, often with family members, hung out with Mick and the Stones, Bono, John and Yoko, Paul McCartney, Michael Douglas, Bob Dylan and on and on, and he isn’t shy about it. While all of the hanging out and, yes, the drugs were happening, Rolling Stone grew from a rock-and-roll magazine into one that wasn’t afraid to tackle all kinds of issues, from AIDS to climate change to politics. Wenner writes in a rat-a-tat style, jumping from topic to topic in a matter of 300 or 400 words. That makes this an easy read, but there are times when that topic cries out for more words. Still, the man has led an interesting life, especially when you consider that he left Jane, his wife of almost 30 years, because he is gay.
The Marching Season — The assassin known as October almost got Michael Osbourne the first time around and now he’s back for more. But who hired October and turned him loose? Daniel Silva, the author of the more than 20 books featuring Gabriel Allon, has another readable spy novel right here.
1972: The Series That Changed Hockey Forever — Call it what you want, but the hockey series between Canada and Russia that occurred in September 1972 won’t ever be replicated. Veteran hockey writer Scott Morrison take us through the whole thing, from training camp to the homecoming following Game 8 in Moscow and an exhibition game in Prague. With full co-operation from many of the participants, there is lots here to digest. The one thing that stands out, though, is how much everyone involved with the Canadian team thought this series was going to be a walk in the park.
Not Dark Yet — Another in author Peter Robinson’s books that follow the career of Inspector Alan Banks, this one involves murders and a woman — suspect or not? — who was kidnapped by sex-trafficers as she, then 17, was leaving an orphanage to start her new life. Lots of twists and turns in this one. Not Dark Yet was published in 2021 and was the latest entry in the 28-book series.
Off The Record — Peter Mansbridge was in your living room for years as the anchor on CBC-TV’s The National. This is his story and it’s produced like a newscast in that it’s one story after another, some of them 10 or 12 paragraphs in length, others three or four pages. It all is quite entertaining, at least in part because Mansbridge was witness to so much recent history and the people who made it.
The Order — The Pope is dead. Was it a heart attack? Was it murder? Daniel Silva does it again with another enthralling novel featuring Israeli super agent Gabriel Allon. This is No. 20 in the series that follows Allon’s adventures. I don’t think you can go wrong with any of them.
Over My Dead Body — This is the fourth book by author Jeffrey Archer that follows the life and career of Detective Chief Inspector William Warwick, who continues to try and bring down Miles Faulkner, a millionaire art collector who may or may not still be alive. Archer spun off these books from his seven-book series The Clifton Chronicles. They’re all quick reads and good fun.
Pack Saddles to Tete Jaune Cache — Published in 1962, James G. MacGregor’s book is a real gem. It was written after numerous conversations with James Shand-Harvey, who arrived in Edmonton from Scotland in August 1905 and went on to explore all parts of Alberta from there to Grande Prairie and Jasper. He was there when the surveyors were doing the ground work for the railroads. An absolutely amazing man who was known throughout the area as Shand, he was hunting and trapping and leading tourists onto Mount Robson and a whole lot more. If you have driven or been in the area from Edmonton to Jasper and can find a copy of this book, don’t miss it.
Pleasant Good Evening — A Memoir: My 30 Wild and Turbulent Years of Sportstalk — For the better part of 30 years, Dan Russell ruled the late night airwaves in B.C. While doing so, he kept a diary, program logs and audio tapes. He puts all of that and more to great use in this book, which chronicles his life and career on and off the airwaves. Yes, there is plenty in here on Brian Burke and the Vancouver Canucks, too. No, Russell doesn’t pull any punches. (Disclaimer: I was involved in the editing process with this book.)
Portrait of an Unknown Woman — This is No. 22 in author Daniel Silva’s series documenting the life and times of Gabriel Allon. Once a master Israeli spy, Allon now is retired and trying to focus on his other love — restoring classic paintings. All of that leads him into the world of art forgeries and the result is another masterful work by Silva. This is just an awesome read. Loved it.
The Queen’s Gambit — This book by Walter Tevis was published in 1983. It got new life in 2020 when Netflix used it as the basis for a seven-part miniseries of the same name that was most watchable. The book follows the life of Beth Harmon, who grew up in an orphanage. It is there in the basement that she discovered a janitor playing chess and a prodigy was born. Her road to the top wasn’t at all smooth, though, thanks to tranquilizers, booze and Russian chess players.
Part 2 of 3