“The Inquisitor,” by Mark Allen Smith, “The Innocent” by Taylor Stevens, and “Phantom” by Ted Bell

Lately, I’m wondering what happened to heroes.

It seems a group of yahoos and goof balls, although they prefer to call themselves “Script Doctor” or “Writing Coach”, started teaching aspiring novelists that great characters had to be complex. And in these wizards’ minds complex equated to broken, twisted, sadistic or worse.

Looking back on the best grit-lit you can see where the idea came from. Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer was a violent drinker. Robert Parker’s Spenser had qualms about violence and an unusual relationship with the woman in his life. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher is a loner who travels with cash, the clothes on his back and a toothbrush.

Sure these guys are quirky, but you’d be darned glad to have them on speed dial when the some skinhead tweeker attacks your daughter.

Lately, lead characters have gone way beyond quirky. Often being so tortured and broken that endless pages are required to communicate their internal angst. Others are so deviant it is difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys.

The Inquisitor

An example is “The Inquisitor,” by Mark Allen Smith. (Henry Holt & Company $27, 336 pages, hard back. www.henryholt.com. Audio book, MacMillian Audio. $39.99, www.macmillianaudio.com)

The lead character – I guess you could call him a hero – has a gift: he knows a lie when he hears it. Unfortunately, Giger puts his special skill to use torturing people for money.

Giger has no memory of his life before the age of nineteen or twenty. He has flashbacks of being tortured, and maybe loved (in a strange, sick fashion). And he has scruples—there are people he refuses to torture.

The writing is excellent and the story captures your imagination. But I could never separate myself from the idea that the main character, someone I greatly want to bond with hurts people for money.

The Innocent

Another example—don’t worry, we’ll get to a book with a conventional hero next—“The Innocent” by Taylor Stevens. (Crown Publishers $27, 331 pages, hard cover.) www.taylorstevensbooks.com

Stevens wrote “The Informationist” an outstanding first novel featuring Vanessa Michael Munroe a resourceful loner with combat training, sex appeal and a great sense of humor. I loved the first book which was fresh, compelling and while it covered Munroe’s internal issues there was a lot of grit-lit style action.

In “Innocent” five year old Hannah is kidnapped by a cult. Munroe and her dysfunctional team agree to rescue the girl. Unfortunately a large part of the story revolves around Munroe’s inability to sleep without drugs, her inability to trust and her and her team’s extensive personal issues.

“Innocent” has great insights into the inner working of cults. Stevens brings real world knowledge having been raised in communes, ultimately breaking free of the “Children Of God” and transforming herself into a darn fine writer. I just wish her lead character, Munroe, was more of a tough-woman action hero.

Phantom

“Phantom” by Ted Bell. (William Morrow, $27.99, 496 pages, hard back.) www.harpercollins.com

This quote, about Bell’s lead character, Alex Hawke, says it all.

“Quite a simple man, actually,” his friend Ambrose Congreve, the famous Scotland Yard criminalist, had once explained about Hawke. “Men want to be him, woman want to bed him. And when he puts his mind to it, he’s an immovable object.”

Things in the world are not going well. A USAF F-15 jet, seemingly controlled by outside forces, inexplicably attacks the VIP jet it is supposed to be guarding. A Russian sub, seized by an invisible power, torpedoes a cruise ship. Even Disney World rides run amok and kill customers.

Hawke and Congreve are sent to find out what’s behind these disasters.  They discover the world’s first ultra-intelligent machine—a superweapon that can bend any weapon to its mechanical will.

Hawke goes to stop it. Guns and internal angst be danged.

And that’s what a hero is supposed to do.

“Cliff Walk” by Bruce DeSilva, “Force of Nature,” by C J Box, and “Vulture Peak” by John Burdett

ThrillerFest 2012 is accepting registrations for their annual get together, July 11-14, in New York City. This event is a wonderful experience for readers, would be writers and established professionals. It’s a great chance to meet your favorite authors, learn writing tips and meet stars like Lee Child, Jack Higgins, R. L. Stine, John Sandford, Catherine Coulter, Ann Rule, Karin Slaughter and Richard North Patterson.

The convention is broken into three segments. CraftFest, where bestselling authors share their secrets.  AgentFest, where top agents and editors hear pitches from new authors, and the main event, ThrillerFest where writers network with readers and fans in a wide range of panels and social events. www.thrillerfest.com

A few years ago at ThrillerFest I met Bruce DeSilva, then an aspiring thriller author and now the award winning writer of an excellent series of gritty mysteries. DeSilva won the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award, for his first book, “Rogue Island.” And grit-lit is sure he will receive more awards for his newest book, “Cliff Walk,” (Forge, $24.99, 352 pages, hard cover.) www.brucedesilva.com.

Cliff Walk

“Cliff Walk” is a hard-boiled mystery that explores sex and religion in the age of pornography. Set in the 1990’s (before Rhode Island changed its laws and made indoor prostitution illegal) investigative reporter Liam Mulligan believes the governor is taking payoffs to keep prostitution legal.  Promised a beating if he doesn’t mind his own business – and free sex with comely working girls if he does — Liam winds up wondering who his true friends are.

DeSilva spent 41 as a journalist and he knows crooks, snobs and working joes. His intimate knowledge of Rhode Island power, crime and money makes for an excellent read. Grit-Lit highly recommends both books in the series.

Force of Nature

“Force of Nature,” by C J Box. (G. P. Putnam’s Sons $25.95, 385 pages, hard back.) http://www.cjbox.net. “Force” is what grit-lit should be. Tough guys taking on horrible bad guys no one else seems to be able to destroy. The latest installment in Box’s popular Joe Pickett series, “Force” is violent, bloody and I loved it.

Like DeSilva, Box is an Edgar Award winner and a New York Times bestselling author.

In “Force” Nate Romanowski, troubled ex-Special Forces veteran, is off the grid, living a lonely cash only existence, with just his falcon for company. Nate maintains his low profile hoping to avoid the violent intentions of a former colleague with an incentive to kill him. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work out.

The way Box develops even minor characters with crisp, concise prose amazes me.

The opening paragraph. “His name was Dave Farkus, and he’d recently taken up fly-fishing as a way to meet girls. So far, it hadn’t worked out very well.” Just 25 words gives you a pretty solid idea what Dave Farkus is all about.

And his initial description of Nate. “Nate Romanowski approached the stand of willows from the north with a grim set to his face and a falcon on his fist. Something was going to die

Vulture Peak

“Vulture Peak” by John Burdett. (Knopf $25.95, 285 pages, hard cover.) www.john-burdett.com.

Sometimes you have to leave the country to tell a story right.

The sale, harvesting and installation of human organs is an international issue that can’t be told without viewing it from poor donor countries and the rich areas where organ recipients live: Hong Kong, Dubai, Monte Carlo…

Royal Thai Police Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, a police officer with a more or less intact Buddhist soul, is ordered to put an end to Thailand’s burgeoning organ trafficking industry.  His massive sting operation requires contact with the organ recipients and explores the often tragic choices faced by organ donors.

If you’ve read and like the first four books in the Sonchai Jitpleecheep series, you’ll find “Vulture” a captivating story that raises questions about the ethics of poverty and provides insights into organized crimes participation in the donor organ industry.

“Pandora’s Temple” by Jon Land, “Tier One Wild” by Dalton Fury, and “Hunt The Wolf,” by Don Mann with Ralph Pezzullo

Pandora's Temple

Jon Land, bestselling author of “Strong Vengeance,” (Forge, $24.99, 351 pages, hard cover) the latest blockbuster in the Caitlin Strong series has brought an old friend back to life in “Pandora’s Temple.” (Open Road Media, $16.99, 390 pages.) www.JonLandbooks.com

It’s been fourteen years since Blaine McCracken, Sal Belamo and Johnny Wareagle came to the rescue. That’s fourteen years without some of the greatest tough guy writing since Robert Parker’s Spenser For Hire.

In just the first 20 pages there were more than a dozen quotable sections. Scenes you will be delighted to read. Scenes I would be proud to have written. Here are two.

Scene one: McCracken’s being interviewed for a mission by, Hank Folsom, a semi-slimy-bureaucratic CIA type.

“Because killing came so easy. You still worthy of the nickname ‘McCrackenballs’?”

“You want my services or my autograph, Hank?”

Folsom leaned forward. “How many times did they ask you to go after Bin Laden?”

“Not a one.”

“That’s not what I heard.”

“You heard wrong.”

Folsom came up just short of a smile. “I heard there was a reason why the SEALS encountered so little resistance. I heard the bodies of eight pretty bad hombres were hauled out after the fact, all dead before the SEALS dropped in. Word is it was you and that big Indian friend of yours.”

Scene two, edited slightly for space. McCracken and his team confront a Mexican drug lord.

…“You are really threatening me? Here in my home, in front of my men?” His voice gained volume with each syllable. He seemed to be enjoying himself; the challenge, the threat.

“I’m going to let you keep your drugs, against my better judgment, but the four Americans, the college students, they leave with me.” …

“Just like that?” Morales said, the veranda’s other occupants stopping their laughter as soon as he stopped his.

“Yup, just like that.”

“And what do I get in return for accepting your gracious offer?”

“You get to stay in business.” McCracken tapped his watch for Morales to see. “But the clock is ticking.”

“Is it?”

“You have one minute.” …

“I have one minute!  He roared, laughing so hard now his face turned scarlet and he wheezed trying to find his breath.

“Forty-five seconds now.”

Morales jabbed a finger at the air McCracken’s way. “I like you amigo. You’re a real funny guy.” He stopped laughing and finally caught his breath. “After you’re dead, I think I’ll have you stuffed and mounted on the wall so I always have something to make me smile.”

“You won’t be smiling in thirty seconds time, Morales, unless you agree to give me the Americans. Tick, tick, tick.”

Thirty seconds later the Hellfires hit.

Tier One Wild

For readers who prefer their grit lit with a military bent, November is a great month. First A Delta Force Novel by Dalton Fury, “Tier One Wild.” (St. Martin’s Press, $25.99, 338 pages, hard cover.) www.stmartins.com.

As a Delta troop commander, Dalton Fury helped design the operation to kill Osama Bin Laden. His bestseller, “Kill Bin Laden,” covered that mission. His first novel, “Black Site,” and his latest novel “Tier One Wild” build on that excellent foundation.

The most wanted man in the world, al Quada commander Daoud al-Amriki and his team infiltrate the USA. Their mission: use Russian-built, shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles on American aircraft.

When a SEAL Team 6 mission to stop Amriki goes wrong, Major Kolt Raynor and his Delta team end up front and center.

Hunt the Wolf

A Seal Team Six Novel, “Hunt The Wolf,” by Don Mann with Ralph Pezzullo. (Mulholland Books, $25.99, 338 pages, hard cover.) www.usfrogmann.com.

Another excellent anti-terrorist thriller from an author who has lived under fire. “Hunt The Wolf” reads like it was written by a guy who’s been shot at too many times to count.

Mann spent 30 years with the SEALs as a platoon member, assault team member and advanced training officer. Since his retirement from the SEALs, he has deployed to the Middle East on numerous anti-terrorism missions.

Jeez, he’s retired and people are still shooting at him. That must make writing a series of international best sellers look easy.

“The Panther,” by Nelson DeMille, “Seconds Away” a Mickey Bolitar novel by Harlan Coben, and “Rogue,” by Mark Sullivan

Its tough guys this month at Grit-Lit. Well, technically two tough guys, one tough gal and one scary tough, big teen aged boy.

The Panther

“The Panther,” by Nelson DeMille. (Grand Central Publishing, $27.99, 629 pages, hard back.) www.NelsonDeMille.net.

Anti-Terrorist Task Force agent John Corey and his wife, FBI agent Kate Mayfield are Grit-Lit’s favorite husband and wife team. And DeMille is our favorite author of international tough guy/gal intrigue. Partly because of the things you can painlessly learn reading his books. “Panther” takes place in Yemen and New York City. DeMille gives you a great sense of the people, cultures and emotions.

Plus the writing is entertaining, insightful and often funny.

The setting—Corey and Kate are being briefed by Buckminster Harris prior to a Yemen mission where they will be part of a five person team. Corey is reluctant because he’s been there and considers it the anus of the world.

Buck said, “Sex.”

I sat up.

“Sex,” he repeated. “We all know or think we know about the Muslim’s attitude toward sex, so I won’t repeat all that you’ve heard, but I’ll recap. Sex outside of marriage is forbidden, and adultery is punishable by death.”

“Right. Screw the divorce lawyers. Get that jambiyah (a local knife) sharpened.”

Buck smiled and said, “That shouldn’t be a concern for a happily married couple.”

Correct, but I had to ask, “Do guys get the death penalty for screwing around?”

“Not usually, but—“

Kate interrupted, “They do with me.”

And later, after the briefing.

… Kate said, “I can’t believe we’re getting on a plane tonight to go to Yemen for a year.”

“Did you unplug the toaster?”

“Well … maybe it won’t be a full year.”

“Probably not.”

She asked me, “Are you excited?”
“I keep pinching myself to make sure I’m not dreaming.”

She stayed silent as we walked to the elevators, then said to me, “I feel better that we’re together and we can look out for each other.”

“Right.” I remembered an old Arab saying. “When walking through a minefield, make one of your wives walk fifty paces in front of you and your camel.” I didn’t say that, of course. I said, “If I had three more wives, we’d have a whole five-person team looking out for each other.” Actually I didn’t say that either. I said, “We always look out for each other.”

Seconds Away

“Seconds Away” a Mickey Bolitar novel by Harlan Coben (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, $18.99, 338 pages, hard cover.) www.harlancoben.com.

If you want your kids to get hooked on reading and grit-lit, Coben’s Mickey Bolitar series is an excellent place to start. Even the renowned literary critic Dave Berry, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of such timeless classics as, “I’ll Mature When I’m Dead” and “Boogers Are My Beat” says “Harlan Coben is a terrific storyteller.”

Mickey, a 6 foot 4 inch high school sophomore, has been forced by circumstances to relocate and live with his uncle Myron Bolitar. Tragedy strikes and Mickey, with his new friends “sharp-witted Ema and the adorkably charming Spoon” get involved in a murder mystery.

Perfect for the young adult crowd and likely to please adult grit-lit fans. Clean language, no racy sex and limited gore. Yet still an engaging, entertaining story.

Rogue

“Rogue,” by Mark Sullivan. (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 384 pages, Hard back.) www.marksullivanbooks.com.

Robin Monarch is not your ordinary spy. He’s an orphaned thief from the worst slums of Buenos Aires. A near fatal injury put him on a circuitous route that ends up with him working for the CIA.

In “Rogue,” Monarch abandons a CIA mission to return to his old ways. But he can’t escape and is more or less forced to finish the mission.

Author Sullivan is a proven performer—he co-wrote with James Patterson—and is the author of seven international best sellers on his own. The Robin Monarch series is an excellent new addition to the grit-lit genre.

“Dead Asleep” by Jamie Freveletti, “Blood Riders” by Michael P. Spradlin, “The Janus Reprisal,” by Jamie Freveletti, “A Wanted Man” by Lee Child, and “Hell is Empty” by Craig Johnson

Can I tell you how much I hate vampires, vampire movies and vampire books? Holy Pizza and Beer – and really what could be more holy–how did these nonexistent creatures become so freakishly popular? My abhorrence is only slightly less than my detestation for “artisan vegetarian wild goat cheese pizza” cooked over “fresh organic buffalo chips” at restaurants that don’t serve beer.

Dead Asleep

Then a world famous novelist, Jamie Freveletti (selected to help keep Robert Ludlum’s Bourne series alive – more below—and the outstanding author of The Covert One Series) jumps on the band wagon and writes “Dead Asleep.” (Coming from Harper Collins in October for $9.99, 403 pages, paperback.) www.jamiefreveletti.com.Which is a darn vampire book!

Apparently this “walking undead” thing is serious.

But at Grit-Lit we don’t care because we hate these ghoulish, blood drinking, stumbling things. Then I read “Blood Riders” by Michael P. Spradlin. (Harper Collins $7.99, 388 pages, paperback.) www.michaelpspradlin.com.

About fifty pages in I realize it’s a gol’ darn cowboy and VAMPIRE book. I wanted to cry.  I felt like Superman in love with Raquel Welch wearing a Super Glue installed Kryptonite bikini.

Spradlin hooked me and he’ll hook you. Worse than a Jenny Craig survivor dependent on a conniving Godiva Chocolate dealer.

Blood Riders

“Blood Riders,” is an outstanding Western with detective Allan Pinkerton (yes, that Pinkerton, the bloomin’ most famous detective since Holmes). Spradlin’s hero, discredited U. S. Cavalry Captain Jonas Hollister, has been rotting in a Leavenworth prison cell. His crime: lying about the loss of eleven soldiers under his command…who he claims were slaughtered by a band of nonhuman, blood-drinking demons. Pinkerton and the President spring him to fight the evil undead with garlic, wooden bullets, holy water filled ammunition and fire, fire, fire.

If you’re a speed reader and you’ve got a night to lose “Blood Riders” will be the best ten bucks you spend this month. Unless they start serving slices of New York Cheesecake with a juicy pastrami on rye and a beer for $10 at your favorite eatery.

But wait, there’s more.

The Janus Reprisal

“The Janus Reprisal,” by Jamie Freveletti. (Harper Collins $26.99, 356 pages, hard back.) www.jamiefreveletti.com

More Bourne. Better than ever. Great author. No vampires. What more do you need to know?

“A Wanted Man” a Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child (Delacore Press, $28, 405 pages, hard cover.) www.facebook.com/LeeChild.

Never thought a Jack Reacher novel would be third in a column. And even in my paranoia fueled nightmares I never thought it would follow two vampire books.

But here’s the important part. In “Wanted” Reacher’s as good or better than ever. Which is good—very good. All seventeen Reacher thrillers have been optioned for major motion pictures. In fact, the Reacher series is so good Tom Cruise is starring in the first movie.

Arggh!

Do you think Reacher is so strong, so heroic, he can rescue Tom Cruise’s career? Is Cruise such a great actor that at a rumored 5 foot 5 he can play the six foot five, 250 pound plus Reacher? Childs says he can. Grit-Lit says gotta see it to believe it.

Odds might not be with the movie, but the book is box-office-gonzo. Spend twenty-eight bucks on Reacher and you can’t go wrong.

Hell is Empty

In keeping with our theme of cowboys and lone tough guys, meet Walt Longmire. “Hell Is Empty,” by Craig Johnson. (Penguin, $14, 309 pages, paperback.) www.craigallenjohnson.com.

Grit-Lit first met Longmire on TV’s A&E. Where Robert Taylor is better cast as an Absaroka County Sheriff than Tom Cruise is as Reacher. Course under those guidelines, Herve “The plane, the plane” Villechaize could have played Superman.

“Hell” is the seventh in the Longmire series. For more than thirty years he’s been keepin’ things orderly. But now he’s stretched to his limits. A sociopath has confessed to murdering a ten-year old and burying him in the Bighorn Mountains. Walt trails him through a blizzard guided by Indian mysticism and a battered paperback of Dante’s Inferno (sounds unlikely, but it works).

“Bolero” A Nick Slayer Novel by Joanie McDonell, “Ex-Heroes” by Peter Clines, “The Leviathan Effect” James Lilliefors, “The Lawyer’s Lawyer” James Sheehan, and “Dead Last” James W. Hall

Five great books this month. It is a great time to be a reader!

Bolero

“Bolero” A Nick Slayer Novel by Joanie McDonell (Thomas & Mercer, $14.95, 406 pages, trade paperback.)

McDonell’s debut novel is a “lightning fast read, a thriller that races to a surprising conclusion. Great characters, great story.” And that’s a quote from bestselling author Stuart Woods who ought to know.

Fans of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer series will likely find Bolero comfortable territory. “Bolero” fits soundly in the hard drinking private eye category. Nick Sayler lives on a Hudson River barge along with his team: a brilliant savant, a wealthy, retired psychiatrist and a beautiful Creole girl. Sayler dips into his notorious past to rescue a ballerina with no name who turned up in emergency with nothing but his card.

Darn good fun for the money.

Ex-Heroes

“Ex-Heroes” by Peter Clines (Broadway Paperbacks, $14.00, 330 pages, trade paperback.) www.facebook.com/PeterClines

Misjudged this book by its cover. Thought I’d hate it. It looked like a graphic novel. Which to me is nothing more than a fifteen dollar comic book. Worse, it looks Sci-Fi’ish and I’m not a fan of that stuff at all. Even worse, there are zombies. And I hate zombies.

But then I read the first page.

“Katie had been on the walls of the Mount for two hours, leaning against the Earth, when St. George dropped out of the sky wearing a leather flight jacket.

She held out a fist without looking up and rapped his knuckles against hers. They didn’t speak for six minutes, and she used the time to finish cleaning her rifle. Half the reason she volunteered for the walls was so she didn’t’ have to talk to people, and he knew it…”

Unusual super heroes – Stealth, Gorgon, Regenerator, Cerberus, Zzzap, The Might Dragon – take on a post dystopian world (yeah I had to look it up, too – it means, kinda sorta a fictional post-apocalyptic society. Wikipedia says “the opposite of utopia”—out thinking and out super heroeing the zombies and bad guys running around outside their little piece of non-heaven.

The Leviathan Effect

“The Leviathan Effect” James Lilliefors (Soho Press, $25.95, 352 pages, hard cover.) www.JamesLilliefors.com

An infamous, talented hacker, Janus, sends Homeland Security Secretary Catherine Blaine, the President and his advisors, a series of emails correctly predicting natural disasters around the world and claiming that the tsunami, hurricane and dozens of earthquakes were manmade. Janus says he isn’t the one responsible, just the messenger for the organization causing massive deaths around the world. People who want big bucks from the US Government. And if we don’t pay up, natural disasters will destroy most of the east coast.

Scary has heck. And entirely too plausible.

The Lawyer’s Lawyer

“The Lawyer’s Lawyer” James Sheehan (Center Street, $24.99, 416 pages, hard cover.) www.jamessheehanauthor.com

Generally, Grit-Lit hates legal thrillers. To our way of thinking there isn’t anything thrilling about the legal system. But Sheehan’s Jack Tobin is an exception. Once “the lawyer’s lawyer” the guy the best lawyers would want to represent them if they got caught, Tobin’s retired to a small Florida town and now only represents people he believes are innocent.

Tobin takes on a very unpopular case. A serial killer he believes was railroaded. Pitted against the elite of Apache County, local citizens and the woman he loves, the fight takes him down a long road. A road filled with self-searching and despair (there has to be self-searching and despair – it is a legal thriller after all).

Dead Last

“Dead Last” James W. Hall (Minotaur Books, $14.99, 326 pages, trade paper.) www.JamesHall.com

A new Thorn novel only comes around every couple of years. And it has been too long since his last visit. For those who haven’t met him, Thorn, is a reclusive guy who makes his living, when he feels it necessary, tying fly fishing ties and righting wrongs because he’s driven to do it.

Thorn’s generally unlucky in love. Meaning he seems to have a serious relationship most of the time, but it always ends in either an emotionally devastating break-up or the poor woman’s death.

In “Dead,” a serial killer crosses Thorn’s path and he has no choice but to leave his Key Largo digs and join forces with a young policewoman who is investigating a string of murders.

Vintage Thorn, well worth pulling that well worn, well protected twenty out of your wallet.

“Killing The Blues” by Robert Parker, “Act Of Deceit” by Steven Gore, “Ticket To Shadowland” by Timothy Craig, and “Bye Bye, Baby” by Max Allan Collins

Killing the Blues

Fans of Robert Parker’s Jesse Stone series will be delighted with the latest novel, “Killing The Blues.” Parker’s estate selected Michael Brandman to keep the series alive. A long time Parker collaborator, Brandman has maintained the dialog driven style that made Parker’s books best sellers.

In this example, Jesse visits an underworld figure.

“I’m here to see Gino Fish,” Jesse said.

“Do you have an appointment?”

“No.”

“Mr. Fish isn’t in.”

“And if I had an appointment?”

“Who knows?”

“What’s your name?”
“Steven. What’s yours?”

“Jesse.”

“Do you have a last name, Jesse?”

“Stone.”

“Does Mr. Fish know you?”

“Why don’t you ask him?”

“Because he’s not in.”

“Look, Steven, this is an old game. You say Mr. Fish isn’t in. I ask you to tell him I’m here. Again, you say he isn’t in.”

“I’m following you so far.”

“But here’s where it gets complicated, so pay close attention. My next line is: If you don’t go inside and tell Mr. Fish that I’m waiting to see him, I’m going to call the state homicide commander, who will in turn send ten squad cars packed with dozens of police personnel right to this very door.”

“Why didn’t you say so?”

“Can we move this along now, Steven?”

Definitely classic Parker.

“Killing The Blues” (G. P. Putnam’s Sons. $25.95, 288 pages, hard cover.) http://www.facebook.com/RobertBParkerAuthor

Former international detective, Steven Gore, author of the popular Graham Gage series, brings us a compelling new character former detective, Harlan Donnelly.

Because of his background, Gore’s stories, feel real. It’s easy to imagine what a real detective feels, walking down dark hallways and knocking on doors, never knowing what’s on the other side.

Donnally’s dying friend’s request leads him into a battle against a broken justice system where the falsely pious and the wealthy abuse the young and the poor.

The third excellent thriller from the author of “Absolute Risk” and “Final Target”, “Act Of Deceit” is an aces up winner. (Harper, $9.99, 341 pages, trade paper. www.stevengore.com

Sanctus

If Jesse Stone and Donnally aren’t enough for you, check out “Sanctus.”  A huge, bold thriller, Sanctus is a bloody, twistedly perverse story about a battle against a secretive group of heretical, conspiring monks.  Set in modern day Turkey, “Sanctus” is 484 pages of the most engaging writing I’ve read in months. “Sanctus” by Simon Toyne (William Morrow, $25.99, 484 pages, hard cover). www.harpercollins.com.

“Ticket To Shadowland” by Timothy Craig (Cogito $24.95, 240 pages, hard cover). www.cogitomedias.com

Debut author, Tim Craig, brings as a classic 1940’s detective novel with a twist.

A beautiful woman appears at Detective Tom Hale’s office with a story he doesn’t much believe. Her murder, just hours later, draws Hale into a maelstrom of murder, espionage, and international warfare that’s way above his pay grade.

The prologue, shortened for space, sets everything up. The scene is the White House, October 1940.

“How did he die?” The president was still digesting the new just given him.

“We don’t know with certainty, Mr. President.”

Franklin Roosevelt looked at the two naval officers seated in front of him. The look, as usual, was hard to read.  …

“Why did he die?” the President finally asked.

The two advisors were suddenly uncomfortable. They understood the meaning of the question.

“We don’t know that either, Mr. President,” the senior man said softly.

A darn good way to spend twenty-five bucks.

Bye Bye, Baby

“Bye Bye, Baby” by Max Allan Collins. (Forge $24.99, 334 pages, hard cover.). www.maxallancollins.com

Written with the style and feeling of a Mike Hammer novel – which should be no surprise as Collins was selected to carry on Mickey Spillane’s iconic series – “Bye Bye” has everything you could want in a hard-boiled mystery. Marilyn Monroe, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Joe DiMaggio all make appearances. Plus there’s R rated sex at the Playboy Club! What’s not to like?

“No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach” by Anthony Bourdain

Why are travel books so immensely boring? How can a writer in good consciousness take one of the most exciting things that a human being can do and turn it into an expensive substitute for Ambien?

My suspicion is that all travel authors start out writing text books and then get promoted. Who else could turn in 3000 words on the “big historical buildings that form the town’s central plaza?” Look I did it in 9 words and all ready you’re thinking about turning the page. HOLY GRAVY BATMAN THERE HAS TO BE SOMETHING BETTER!

And there is. I found it in South Africa. But don’t worry; you can get it here, too.

First here’s the all important legal disclaimer:

If you are one of those people who wants to read all the gory details about old churches and old buildings. Or who must know how the locals lived before the Ice Age. Or who can’t exist without a guided bus tour (complete with all you can eat “local” buffet lunch and two daily shopping stops) more power to you. There are thousands of travel books you’ll love.

For the rest of us, there’s Anthony Bourdain.

Sure he’s a famous chef with a popular TV show. But he also an adventurer who writes great travel books.

No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach

His newest book, “No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach” is available locally in hard back for $34.95 MSRP.

Glorious full color pictures of locals cooking, eating, drinking and having fun. The obligatory shots of Tony and his crew having fun, enjoying life and contemplating the immense variety of experiences our world has to offer.

No MBA University writing here. Just short, emotive prose that tells you about a place without making you grab for a Red Bull.

And he tells it like he feels it is.

“Sweden: a nice place where nothing bad happens. And nothing especially good, either.”

“Being a cook is like being in the mafia: once in, never out. Which as it turns out, is a beautiful thing.”

“In Uzbekistan, you can get anything you want to eat – as long as what you want is kebab or plov.”

His Las Vegas chapter includes bikers, showgirls, dwarfs and a visit to the Neon Sign Graveyard. He calls it his tribute to Hunter S. Thompson. In Africa you’ll visit a native Ashanti Village. Then eat warthog (delicious) with Kalahari Bushman in Namibia.

One of my favorite chapters was “Bathrooms Around The World. Including entries and photos of both the best and worst.

Plus advice that would never be found in any other travel book.

  1. To learn about real local food, always visit the local market. Food will be fast, fresh, cheap and surprisingly good.
  2.  If you’re going to a country with really primitive, filthy bathrooms, start taking your anti-diarrhea medication before you go. Maybe you can do the whole trip without needing to use the facilities.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the kind of practical advice that we adventurous world travelers need.

Bourdain is definitely not your father’s travel guide. And it isn’t your kid’s guide either. There’s a lot of alcohol, some drugs and other “adult activities.” However, it isn’t the X-Rated Guide To Amsterdam’s Red Light District, either.

My South African paperback has 288 pages and cost $214 Rand which works out to about 25 USA bucks.

Bourdain’s written several books. In addition to “No Reservations” I can also recommend “A Cook’s Tour,” “The Nasty Bits,” and of course the book that made him famous, “Kitchen Confidential.” All provide outstanding insights into food, travel and living a full, adventure filled life.

“Special Forces Unarmed Combat Guide” by Martin J. Dougherty, “Satori” by Don Winslow, and “The Informationist” by Taylor Stevens

The only way you can learn to win a fight is to lose a lot of fights. Sure, in the movies those ninja-black-bell-hells-angels-MMA tough guys whip out a blinding flurry of punches followed by a Chuck Norris round house kick and –WHAM- the bad guy goes down after barely landing a punch.

Sadly, that isn’t real.

Nor is the reverse. That’s the scene where Stallone, Shwarzenegger or Duane “The Rock” Johnson throws a single blow that lands with the force of an atomic blast. Teeth, hair, blood and other bodily fluids spray into the atmosphere and the bad guy is down for the count.

In the real world it doesn’t happen that way.

Long ago in a dojo far, far away, my experienced, black belt sensei had his clock cleaned by a young Marine who had just completed basic unarmed combat training. There were no fancy moves. No fancy throws. Afterwards, the Marine said. “Those martial arts sports are great. They teach you skills. They help you get fit. But they take too longer to learn..”

Special Forces Unarmed Combat Guide

So, if you want to feel safe walking down the gritty dark streets of a major metropolitan area without an Uzi or maybe you just want to teach your kid how to keep the local bully from stealing his lunch money, check out “Special Forces Unarmed Combat Guide” by Martin J. Dougherty (Metro Books, $11.50, 320 pages, soft cover).

The first section is about being aware. Avoiding dangerous places. Watching for suspicious people. Often the best option is to get the heck out of Dodge before things reach the level of violent physical aggression.

But sometimes it is impossible to avoid confrontation. If you find yourself in that unfortunate situation, the practical techniques from “Unarmed” can be worth its weight in blood. Your blood.

Learn where to hit, punch, pull and tear to cause maximum damage and prevent painful, personal injury. Eye jabs, the knee defense (otherwise known as knee ‘em where it hurts). “Unarmed” is valuable advice in an easy to read style.

Satori

“Satori” by Don Winslow (Hachette Book Group, $25.99, 504 pages, www.donwinslow.com).

Once an author named Rodney Whitaker wrote under the pseudonym, Trevanian. His first novel, “The Eiger Sanction,” was an international bestseller. Sadly he passed away in 2005 and his lead character, Nicholai Hel appeared to be no more.

Enter Don Winslow, a thriller writer with a diverse pedigree. Not content to write a continuing character series like Spenser or Hammer, Winslow’s characters are more diverse. His novels “The Dawn Patrol” and “The Winter of Frankie Machine,” rank high on the Grit Lit’s good reads list.

In “Satori” Winslow brings Nicholai Hel back to life. If you haven’t met Nicholai, here’s a glimpse into one of the thriller genres most fascinating characters. Hel is best and inaccurately described as Bond on steroids. He is a genius, a mystic, the perfect assassin, a master of hoda korosu (naked kill), fluent in seven languages and has a highly honed proximity sense that gives him an extraordinary awareness of the presence of danger.

Any Nicholai Hell novel, by Trevanian or Winslow, is guaranteed outstanding.

The Informationist

“The Informationist” by Taylor Stevens (Crown Publishers, $23, 307 pages, www.taylorstevensbooks.com).

Vanessa “Michael” Munroe sells information, expensive information gathered, often at great personal risk, to corporations, heads of state and private clients. The folks who hire Munroe aren’t looking for information that can be found with Google. They want information that can be leveraged to make millions. Data that can destroy economies or topple governments.

In “Informationist” a Texas oil billionaire asks Munroe to find his daughter who disappeared in Africa. While this isn’t her usual line of work, she can’t resist the very will paying challenge.

A debut novel by an exciting new talent, “Informationist” is captivating with glittering writing and power on every page. It hits like an unarmed combat professional.

“Gladiator – A True Story Of ‘Roids, Rage and Redemption” by Dan Clark AKA Nitro, “Night Of Thunder” by Stephen Hunter, “Dead Silence” by Randy Wayne White, and “Long Lost” by Harlan Coben

This month, 4 very tough guys. 3 fictional and one real – sorta.

One of the greatest things about fiction is that you can learn more about what goes on inside a fictional character’s mind than you can ever learn about what goes on in the mind of a real person.

Autobiographies are shaded by the author’s rose-colored glasses. Biographies are colored by the dust of history. But fictional heroes can have a purity that flows directly from a writer’s spirit. Their thoughts transferred from the ethos to the printed page unadorned.

This crystalline clarity is the reason fictional heroes can be more educational than real life ones. That and because no real life tough guy could ever survive what the fictional ones do – the danger, the battles, the babes  …  At least that’s what I thought. Then I found “Gladiator” the autobiography of Dan Clark, a man you might know as Nitro, star of the original American Gladiators.

Gladiator – A True Story Of ‘Roids, Rage and Redemption

“Gladiator – A True Story Of ‘Roids, Rage and Redemption” by Dan Clark AKA Nitro. (Simon & Schuster $25, 241 pages. Hard cover.) www.simonandschuster.com

Prior to reading “Gladiator” I’d assumed that the show was a relatively minor TV show, entertaining but certainly not a success on the level of MASH, CSI or even The A Team.

Turns out it was a pretty big deal. Gladiator stardom was Clark/Nitro’s entry to Hollywood society — partying with Arnold (Schwarzenegger, not Tom) and 3 American Presidents!  But the single minded focus on success was built on a steroid foundation — twenty-years of abuse that led to smuggling, pissing blood, plastic surgery to reduce steroid induced breast growth and frequent bouts of the uncontrollable anger known as ‘Roid Rage.

Clark survived an extremely tragic childhood to live a life that many men fantasize. Appearing in Madison Square Garden, bedding Playboy Bunnies and porn stars, Clark explores the price of fame, the pressure of stardom, and how the whole steroid-fueled fantasy finally imploded.

A riveting, candid account of Clark’s life, “Gladiator” is a primer on what happens when fame and accomplishment are not worth the side effects. If you’ve ever thought about exploring steroids to improve your athletic performance or worried that your kids might, Gladiator is what your life could become.

Night Of Thunder

“Night Of Thunder” by Stephen Hunter. (Simon & Schuster $26, 304 pages. Hard cover.) www.simonandschuster.com

Bob Lee Swagger is a Grit-Lit favorite. The sort of a good-ol’ boy-tough-guy- Marine-John-Wayne-type all men at some level would like to be. And while the bad guys in “Thunder” can seem almost caricatures, the book was very entertaining and is highly recommended.

First, the bad guys make the mistake of attacking Swagger’s family and as every Swagger fan knows, that means they immediately became dead men walking. The only question is how many bullets it will take before they die.

Hunter gives us lots of reasons to keep reading. Archetypical bad guys, NASCAR celebrities, fast cars and an unrelenting fight to protect his family and stop the bad guys. Of course, Swagger remains the last man standing.

Dead Silence

“Dead Silence” by Randy Wayne White. (G. P. Putnam’s Sons $25.95, 304 pages. Hard cover.) www.rwwhite.com

Another Grit-Lit favorite, Doc Ford grows with each book. In New York City, waiting to meet a female senator, Ford watches kidnappers try to snatch her off the street right in front of him. Ford saves the senator but the bad guys get the other person in the car.

Ford swings into action. And the rest is pure Randy Wayne White – action, engaging characters and plot twists you could never guess.

“Long Lost” by Harlan Coben. (Dutton $27.95, 372 pages. Hard cover.) www.harlancoben.com

Former almost-a-pro-basketball-player turned sports agent, Myron Bolitar hasn’t heard from former girlfriend Terese Collins for ten years and her call from Paris catches him completely off guard.
Now suspected in the murder of her former husband, Terese turns to Myron for help. Staying a step ahead of Homeland Security, Interpol, and Mossad. Myron and his refined but violent best-friend Win uncover a sinister plot with shocking global implications.

Coben, Bolitar and Win at their best.