Matthews, Jason. Red Sparrow.

NY: Simon & Schuster, 2013.

I’m a big fan of John Le Carré’s espionage novels, and have been for a long time, so it follows that I’m picky about spy stories by other authors. I’ve never been a spy, so I can’t know if a particular yarn is realistic or not, but this one certainly feels like the real thing.


Published in: on 28 March 2020 at 6:57 am  Leave a Comment  
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Holland, Cecelia. Jerusalem.

NY: Forge Books, 1996.

Holland is one of the very best historical novelists writing in English, and has been for fifty years now. She and I are of an age and I’ve been a fan of hers since the beginning. She wrote Firedrake as an undergrad and got it published her first year out of school, and I bought it within a few months of its appearance. (I now own all of her books, mostly in First Editions, a few of them signed.) Her style is so tight it’s nearly telegraphic; it has been said that if Hemingway had written historical novels, this is what they would look like.


McDermid, Val. The Skelton Road.

NY: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2014.

For whatever reason, the author let five years slip by since publishing the previous adventure of DI Karen Pirie of Fife, head of the local cold-case squad, and a similar amount of internal time has passed in this third volume in the series. Pirie is now a Chief Inspector and Scotland has amalgamated its various forces into a centralized Police Scotland, with Karen given responsibility for historic cases for the whole country. Her crew now consists of just her and a single detective constable — who’s not terribly bright, but he knows it, and he’s loyal and works hard at the things he’s good at.


George, Elizabeth. In the Presence of the Enemy.

NY: Bantam, 1996.

Many writers of police-procedural-type crime novels — most of them, actually — are concerned only with the action of the plot, the motives of the criminals, and the superficial process of catching the Bad Guys. Which is fine, as far as it goes. But other authors, notably those of a more literary bent, like P. D. James, want to tell the whole story.


Fetter-Vorm, Jonathan. Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb.

NY: Hill & Wang, 2012.

It’s possible this nicely done book hits a stronger chord with me than it might with younger readers, inasmuch as I was born before the beginning of the Atomic Age and grew up in the ’50s in a world in the grip of the Cold War. The author doesn’t oversimplify the issues surrounding the development and use of atomic weapons, either.


Turney, S. J. A. Praetorian: The Great Game.

London: Mulcahey Books, 2015.

My undergraduate degree (many years ago) was in Greek and Roman, and I’ve also done a good bit of study over the succeeding decades in military history, so a historical novel about Rome’s Praetorian Guard during the early reign of Commodus in the 2nd Century is something I have to approach with a certain amount of trepidation. An insufficient amount of research by the author can really make a mess of something like this. But I’m pleased to say that Turney obviously knows his subject.


Parker, K. J. The Two of Swords: Vols. 1, 2 & 3.

NY: Orbit 2015-17.

I so enjoyed Parker’s most recent book, Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City, that I immediately went looking for his earlier work. And I found this three-volume epic, and it’s a doozy. The whole thing runs to some 1,500 pages, by the way, so carve yourself out some uninterrupted time for it.


Bostrom, Peter. The Last War.

Seattle: Hyperspace Media, 2017.

This is the first volume of six in a new hardcore military SF series and it’s pretty good, especially for a straight-to-Kindle project. It’s been showing up on the lock screen of my own Kindle lately, and since I’m always open to a new science fiction author — and it’s on the Kindle Unlimited free list — I thought I’d give it a shot. (“Bostrom,” by the way, appears to be a pen name for Nick Webb and whatever other author he’s sharing the work with — presumably a different one for each volume.)


Parker, K. J. Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City.

NY: Orbit, 2019.

Under his own name, British author Tom Holt writes some pretty good historical fiction, mostly set in the ancient world, as well as some rather mediocre attempts at humor with a fantasy theme. As “K. J. Parker,” though, he has produced some first-rate epic fantasy, all of it populated only by humans (no wizards, orcs, or dragons, and absolutely no magic or supernatural goings on) and most of it with a historical feel to it.


Kingsley, Sean A. God’s Gold: A Quest for the Lost Temple Treasures of Jerusalem.

NY HarperCollins, 2007.

Historical mysteries — unanswered questions and unsolved puzzles about dramatic events in the past — are always of interest, and the fate of the religious treasures looted by the Tenth Legion from the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. is one of the best-known. The Jews, led by the Zealots, had made the mistake of rebelling against Roman rule and the Emperor Vespasian came down on them very hard. He instructed his son, Titus, to destroy the city, and he did, with most of the population being either killed outright or taken off into slavery.


Published in: on 13 August 2019 at 5:59 am  Comments (1)  
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