“Night Vision” by Randy Wayne White, “Agent X” by Noah Boyd, and “Ghost Country” by Patrick Lee

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January is the hardest column of the year to write. All of the new releases are things like “Making Resolutions That Stick,” “How To Keep Your Resolutions,” “This Is The Year You Finally Lose Weight” … Plus seven million books about how to save on your taxes.

This means — unless Grit-Lit suddenly begins reviewing the newest self-help guru, or decides to treat your insomnia with in-depth discussions of the federal tax code — the pickings are awfully slim.

The first two books reviewed this month are previews of coming attractions. Stories that hit the local bookshelves in February. The final yarn you can buy right now.

“Night Vision” by Randy Wayne White (G P Putnam’s Sons Press, $25.95, 352 pages, www.randywaynewhite.com).

Last column bemoaned the demise of the true tough guy. The simple, honest good guy who beats the bad guys. To my way of thinking there are too many complex, good guys out there. Too many men whose good ying is balanced out by entirely too much bad yang.

We need more heroes like Jack Reacher, Dirk Pitt and Spenser. Thankfully, the Doc Ford series, 18 books and counting, is a strong contender in my favorite category “characters Clint Eastwood would have been glad to play.”

For us old timers, White’s Doc Ford series is sort of like having John D MacDonald update the legendary Travis McGee for the 21st century.

What? What’s that you whippersnapper?

You don’t know who Travis McGee is? Why he’s …. (Exasperated sigh) only the best tough guy series character of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Get thee to a book store — IMMEDIATELY.

Both the Travis McGee and Doc Ford series are set in Florida and both feature a strong, loner hero with sidekicks. Doc Ford’s cast of sidekicks includes a brilliantly strange aging hippy and a revolving selection of attractive estrogen based life forms.

In “Night” Doc is on a collision course with death. He gets wrangled into helping a Guatemalan girl who may be blessed with mystical powers. There is drug abuse – anabolic steroids mostly – alligators that like humans and a crazy, kinky, bad guy girlfriend.

“Agent X” by Noah Boyd (William Morrow, $24.99, 400 pages, www.harpercollins.com).

Boyd’s lead character, Steve Vail, was a covert operative. But he didn’t take well to the rules. Tired of the bureaucracy, Vail becomes a bricklayer. Which was fine until circumstances and the FBI coerced him back into the game. Now he’s their reluctant go-to guy for the toughest jobs. A former FBI agent, Boyd’s thriller reads like real life. In “Agent X” Vail navigates a maze of hidden codes to track down a band of Russian spies.

If you are a fan of Lee Child, Stephen Hunter or Randy Wayne White you’ll enjoy “Agent X” the second in Boyd’s Bricklayer series.

 

“Ghost Country” by Patrick Lee (Harper, $7.99, 368 pages, www.patrickleefiction.com).

Love his lead character, Travis Chase. And wonder what drugs or ancient mind expanding super human techniques Lee uses to create such mind-bending plots.

In the software world, “Ghost” would be sort of a mini-mashup. Mashups are when two or more ideas are smashed together to create something new and better. Sort of like a Peanut Butter cup. Peanut butter –UMMMM GOOD! Chocolate – UMMMM GOOD! Peanut Butter and chocolate mixed together with extra sugar and other addictive substances. UMMMM – BETTER!

In “Ghost,” Lee mashes up a thriller foundation with a dose of science fiction. Not 25th century space Sci-Fi stuff with spaceships and worm holes. “Ghost” is a modern day story complicated by the addition of a thing or two that doesn’t exist in today’s world.

This is a fascinating story and a breakthrough second novel. My bet is that it will soon be in a theater near you. But the book will be better than the movie. Books always are and always will be.

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