Monday, July 05, 2010

I've completed three highly entertaining books as June turns to July.

Book 51: Do They Know I'm Running? by David Corbett
This is Corbett's fourth book and his second paperback original. Allow me to linger on that concept for a sentence or two. Apparently Corbett's publishers have decided -- because of low sales, I suppose -- that he is worthy of publishing, but not in hardbound editions. Some day, this book will be in hardbound as will its predecessor and those that follow. Corbett is superb. Don't believe me? The cover blurb to this book, from George Pelecanos, compares him to Robert Stone and Graham Greene. Blurbs on the back are from John Lescroat, Daniel Woodrell and Ken Bruen. Lescroat compares Corbett to Greene and Hemingway.

Yeah, he's that good. And, if it's possible, Corbett raises his game in Do They Know I'm Running? It can be read as a simple thriller, but, like Pelecanos and Lehane, Corbett is attempting to write a serious book about a serious societal problem . . . illegal immigrants who make their way (or attempt to do so) from Mexico and Central America to this country.

I shouldn't say "is attempting" but Corbett succeeds at exactly what he sets out to do. He has given us a thoroughly entertaining work that lingers long after the final page has been read. Do They Know I'm Running? is a provocative exploration of the innocent men and women, young and old, who come to this country because they are trying to build a life, and a future, for their families.

Unfortunately, they are subject to predators on both sides of the boarder. In this country, they live in constant fear of deportation. They work the meanest jobs -- the jobs we won't work -- for low pay and ill-treatment. South of the border they are subject to the not-so-tender mercies of gangs, drug cartels and corrupt military and police.

Do They Know I'm Running? is a powerful and sobering work. It is Corbett's finest book to date and that's saying a lot.

Book 52: Burley Cross Postbox Theft by Nicola Barker

This is an epistolary novel, meaning it unfolds through a series of letters. The letters are ours to read because someone has broken into the postbox in the picturesque village of Burley Cross. The letters are recovered by the police and entered into evidence.

Through the letters, written by a variety of townspeople, we gain insight into Burley Cross as well as the letter writers. There's a lot going on in this English village, mostly behind the scenes.

Burley Cross Postbox Theft is an inventive, comic novel of rare insight.

Book 53: Spies of the Balkans by Alan Furst

Tone, setting, vivid characters and splendid research -- from the nuances of European history to the proper brand of cigarettes -- are the hallmarks of Furst, who delivers another entertaining novel of intrigue, heroism and political reality.

This one is set in Greece in the early 1940s. France is under occupation and Nazi Germany is beginning to turn its attention to Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Albanian and Greece. Furst's hero is Costas Zannis, a senior police official in the Greek city of Salonika, who is soon drawn into the war when he meets a Jewish woman from Berlin who is trying to help two young children flee the Nazis.

Spies of the Balkans has so many reasons to recommend it: a gripping narrative, tone and setting that are absolutely spot on and characters who emerge fully formed and whom the reader quickly comes to care about. This is a top-notch work by Furst.

Finally the July 5 New Yorker contains a short story, The Erkling, by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum. She's one of the 20 under 40 authors spotlighted by the magazine. It's a good story, creepy and open-ended, and among the best put forward in the magazine's 20 under 40 campaign.

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