“The Cobra” by Frederick Forsyth, “Inside Out” by Barry Eisler, “Silencer” by James W. Hall, “Known To Evil” by Walter Mosley

Do you ever wonder what separates a multiple international bestselling author from everyone else?

The legendary John D. MacDonald, author of the Travis McGee series and one of the best tough guy authors of all time, said it best — and I’m paraphrasing now — a good book is when something interesting happens to people you care about.

So simple. Yet so hard to do.

Let’s pretend our hero, Mr. B, is a delightful, balding, tiny senior citizen who prefers his oolong slightly cooled. His inherited pet, Daisy, is a gigantic, aggressive bull mastiff that disdains dry dog food.  And that during evening walks Daisy routinely and uncontrollably drags our hero blocks out of his way to sit in front of the local Ruth Chris’ where she begs endearingly for left over prime beef, refusing any offers of fish.

The author might have captured your interest.

But if the biggest obstacle Mr. B has to overcome is smuggling his cuticle scissors past airport security so he can treat his chronic hangnail condition in-flight … well, who could blame you if your returned that book to your local book seller and demanded a complete refund?

Here are three authors who get it.

The Cobra

“The Cobra” by Frederick Forsyth (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, $26.95, 364 pages, www.penguin.com).

Every since “Day of the Jackal” I’ve refused to start a Forsyth novel if I had to go to work the next day. His books are definitely crack open the covers, then read straight through events. Full of cool stuff happening to interesting characters.

Here’s the basics. A US President, disturbed by the seemingly unwinnable war on drugs decides to go rogue. He gives a retired military officer, Paul Devereaux, carte blanche to do whatever has to be done to destroy the cocaine cartels. The twist is that Devereaux was let go by both the CIA and Special Forces because he was too ruthless. Imagine what happens when a ruthless military man has unlimited resources and no reason to play within the rules.

Inside Out

“Inside Out” by Barry Eisler (Pinnacle Books, $6.99, 421 pages, www.barryeisler.com).

It helps when authors know something about their subject. Eisler does. Hspent three years with the CIA in a covert operations position. Then worked as a Silicon Valley lawyer and a start-up executive in Japan. Along the way he earned a black belt in Judo. And he writes a darn good book.

If life is fair at least he’ll be ugly –slight pause while I show the book jacket photo to my spouse — Nope. Handsome, too.

92 torture tapes have been stolen from the CIA and black ops soldier Ben Treven is coerced into getting them back. But a whole bunch of other mean folks are looking for the tapes too. There’s a sexy FBI agent, Blackwater mercenaries and CIA hit teams. All written in a way that rings true. So true it’s scarier than the front page of today’s newspaper.


“Silencer” by James W. Hall (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 276 pages, www.jameswhall.com).

Why are so many of the great tough guys from Florida’s coast? John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee, Randy Wayne White’s Doc Ford and Hall’s Thorn are all great Florida characters.

I hate giving away anything, but you could get all of the following just by scanning the book flap.

Thorn is trying to save a huge portion of Florida from shall we say “environmentally insensitive developers.” Seems pretty straightforward, goody two shoes and wonderful until deviant brothers, both contract killers, kidnap Thorn, drag him off to a game preserve, stocked with neglected, hungry, exotic animals and dump him in a sinkhole. If he can escape the inescapable hole, then he’s got to struggle over miles of desolate ground and not get eaten by the hungry, feral carnivores.

Definitely not oolong and hangnails.

Known to Evil

“Known To Evil” by Walter Mosley (Riverhead Books, $25.95, 326 pages, www.waltermosley.com).

“Boone A Biography” by Robert Morgan, “Fuzzy Navel” by J. A. Konrath, and “Leather Maiden” by Joe R Lansdale

It’s summer. I want motorcycles, girls in bikinis, a big ol’ drink and heroes.

Boone: A Biography

“Boone A Biography” by Robert Morgan (Algonquin Books Of Chapel Hill, $29.95 95, 538 pages, www.algonquin.com)

My admiration for Daniel Boone knows no bounds. And apparently my infatuation with Boone has little-to-no basis in reality.

He didn’t wear a coonskin cap – too heavy when wet – he preferred beaver felt. He didn’t just run around in the forest, hunting buffalo and discovering Kentucky. One of our great warriors, Boone fought in the French and Indian American War, the American Revolution and numerous Indian skirmishes. An excellent leader, he served in the Virginia Legislature. In addition he was a settler, landowner, businessman, surveyor and the first great American naturalist.

Yet, he wasn’t always a straightforward, I will never tell a lie kind of guy. He’d occasionally throw a shootin’ match so the other contestants could save face.

If you are interested in Boone’s life in detail – maybe too much detail — Boone is for you. Morgan’s research is impressive (75 pages of footnotes and index) but in a less than entertaining, textbook like way.

Fuzzy Navel

“Fuzzy Navel” by J. A. Konrath (Hyperion, $23.95, 271 pages, www.jakonrath.com)

Jack Daniels, the heroic, lead character in “Fuzzy Navel” is everything anyone could ever want in a tough guy character. Honest, loyal, caring, dependable, sexy and violent when necessary. Absolutely perfect. But Jack’s only a nickname. The real name is Jacqueline.

That’s right. A Mickey Spillane, Lee Child’s style tough-guy novel where the dame isn’t a DD (damsel in distress) but a modern police detective.

Well written and funny.

Pinned down by a sniper Jack’s former partner, Herb is using a CD as a mirror.

“The crack of the shot makes me flinch, and the CD disintegrates in Herb’s hand…”

“Looks like our sniper isn’t a music fan,” I say. …

“I can’t blame him,” Herb says. “I don’t like John Denver either.”

Konrath’s crazy sense of humor makes “Fuzzy” laugh out loud funny.

Leather Maiden

“Leather Maiden” by Joe R Lansdale (Alfred A Knopf. $23.95, 287 pages, www.aaknopf.com).

The PR blurb with the book says, “Lansdale country is no place for the squeamish.”

Lansdale writes about the poor, emotionally traumatized, violent and stoically heroic better than almost anyone. His characters can be off the charts weird, yet lovable in a strange S&M way.

The hero of “Maiden” Cason Statler is pretty typical for today’s heroes: drinking problem, woman problem, Iraq war PTSS problems … But his off-again, on-again sidekick “Booger” steals a lot of scenes.

An example:

“HE (Booger) might even be doing a cage match. He does that XIU##$, you know?”
“No, I didn’t know.”

“Did do it, I mean. He got disqualified last time. Booger thought they really meant no rules. He poked a guy in the eyes and twisted the guys (privates) and bit off part of the fellow’s check. I think he got banned for life…”

In really good fiction you can learn more about life than you can from even the most detailed historical biography. Boone is exhaustively researched, but the author cannot delve into what really made Boone tick. His thoughts, his dreams, his observations on life.

Lansdale has no such issue. Here’s a “Boogerism” that you can chew on for awhile. It might change the way you think.

“That’s the difference in me and you,” Booger said, and he got up and went to the refrigerator and pulled a beer out, still talking. “I listen to what I’m really thinking, not what I should be thinking. Want a beer?”

What should you really be thinking?

“Spycatcher” by Matthew Dunn and “The Lion” by Nelson DeMille

When did you discover the activity that makes you feel most alive? When did you stop doing it?

As I read books by great story tellers about exciting, fictional heroes, I’m struck that the characters we enjoy most are often the people we set out to be but stopped being.

Some of us were deterred by well meant advice, “You’ll never make a living as a cowboy, fireman, writer … You need to have a real plan for a real job.” Or the always helpful, “There isn’t anyone who’s life is really like James Bond’s or Spenser’s or Jack Reacher’s.”

But real people do become successful, happy cowboys, fireman and writers. And at least one person, Matthew Dunn has lived James Bond’s life.


“Spycatcher” by Matthew Dunn (William Morrow, $25.99, 432 pages, hard cover). www.harpercollins.com.

A British MI6 field operative (bureaucratic speak for “spy”) Dunn recruited and ran agents. Worked deep undercover, all over the world, in hostile environments, risking execution … or worse. During his career he successfully completed about 70 missions.

British government policy precludes awarding medals to men like Dunn, but he did get a rare personal commendation for an “operation deemed to have directly influenced the successful conclusion of a major international incident.” (Bureaucraticeze for “he saved the flippin’ world.”)

Dunn’s years of toil give him unique professional knowledge that is sure to make “Spycatcher” an international best seller.

Dunn’s hero, Will Cochrane is an experienced, scarred spy who doesn’t enjoy playing by the rules. He gets jobs that must be done, done. A known wild card, his bosses believe he’s the perfect weapon to bring down an international terrorist mastermind.

The action races across Europe and the USA with Will working to prevent an attack the likes of which the world has never seen.

The Lion

“The Lion” by Nelson DeMille (Grand Central, $14.99, 436 pages, soft cover). www.nelsondemille.net

Before “The Lion” way back in 2000, there was, “The Lion’s Game” an instant international bestseller. In “Lion” FBI Special Agent John Corey returns as part of our governments Anti-Terrorist Task Force.

The book grabs you from page one.

“So I’m sitting in a Chevy SUV on Third Avenue, waiting for my target, a guy named Komeni Weenie or something, An Iranian gent who is Third Deputy something or other with the Iranian Mission to the United States. Actually, I have all this written down for my report, but this is off the top of my head.”

“Also off the top of my head, I’m John Corey and I’m an agent with the Federal Anti-Terrorist Task Force. I used to be a homicide detective with the NYPD, but I’m retired on disability—gunshot wounds, though my wife say I’m morally disabled—and I’ve taken this job as a contract agent with the Feds, who have more anti-terrorist money than they know how to spend intelligently.”

“The ATTF is mostly an FBI outfit, and I work out of 26 Federal Plaza, downtown, with my FBI colleagues, which includes my wife. It’s not a bad gig, and the work can be interesting, though working for the Federal government—the FBI in particular—is a challenge.”

“Speaking of FBI and challenges, my driver today is FBI Special Agent Lisa Sims, right out of Quantico by the way of East Wheatfield, Iowa, or someplace, and the tallest building she’s previously seen is a grain silo. Also she does not drive well in Manhattan, but she wants to learn. Which is why she’s sitting where I should be sitting.”

The characters, both hero and villain, plot and writing create that rare zone where your mind says, “Read, read, read!” And you keep turning pages ignoring, sleep, food, critical bodily functions and even basic requirements like brushing your teeth and bathing.

Books as brilliant as “Lion” don’t come along very often.

Given their effect on personal hygiene, that’s probably a good thing.

“The Sentry” by Robert Crais and “In Dangerous Waters” by Jack Russ

What happened to all the tough guys?

There used to be dozens: Travis McGee, Spenser, that Maltese Falcon guy, four count ‘em four Cartwright’s – Ben, Adam, Hoss and Little Joe. Plus James Bond.

Dozens were played by “The Duke”.

Plus all of Clint’s best characters.

Today it seems like most of the tough guys are in the movies. In modern thriller/detective tough guy books, we’ve been reduced to two real tough guys: Lee Child’s Jack Reacher and Robert Crais’ Joe Pike. The other top tough guy is a gal, Jon Land’s Caitlin Strong.

At the big writer’s conferences, experts say that lead characters –BOTH VILLIANS AND HEROES – need to have flaws. Flaws that make them interesting. Flaws that make them vulnerable. Flaws that make it easier for the common person to relate to them. These same experts say that the heroes and the villains need to be complex with a yin and yang balance of bad and good. That the great compelling bad guys should be like Hannibal Lecter in “Silence of the Lambs.”

I guess Lecter’s complexity and compassion helps the victim feel better when Hannibal’s savoring a teaspoonful of their pre-frontal cortex.

What is the world coming to? Are these experts nuts? Crazy? Or have they just spent too much time admiring their reviews?

Somewhere high in the sky above us, Ben Cartwright and the Duke are rolling their eyes, spitting up their lunch, reaching for their Kindles and thinking “Thank God for Joe Pike and Jack Reacher” as they settle in by a roaring fire, sipping shots of 18 year old bourbon and enjoying the latest Robert Crais novel.

The Sentry

“The Sentry” by Robert Crais (G P Putnam’s Sons Press, $26.95, 306 pages, www.robertcrais.com).

To set the scene for the following quote–Pike’s just discovered two guys kicking and punching the peanut butter out of a man who is curled up on the floor in a fetal ball. The kicker says to Pike.

“You want this &^%$? Get outta here.”

Pike didn’t get out. He stepped inside and closed the door.

Pike saw a flick of surprise in the kicker’s eyes, and the puncher hesitated again. They had expected him to run, one man against two, but Pike did not run.

The victim – the man on the floor – still curled into a ball, mumbled—“I’m okay. Jesus—“

-even as the kicker puffed himself up larger. He raised his fists and stomped toward Pike, a street brawler high on his own violence, trying to frighten Pike away …

… Pike dropped low and accelerated, as smoothly as water flows over rocks. He trapped the man’s arm, rolled it backward, and brought the man down hard, snapping the radius bone and dislocating the ulna. He hit the man one time in the Adam’s apple with the edge of his hand, the water now swirling off rocks as he rose to face the puncher, only the puncher had seen enough…

I liked this book so much I’m going to read it twice.

In Dangerous Waters

“In Dangerous Waters” by Jack Russ (Alamo Hills Press, $15.95, 283 pages, www.www.jackruss.com).

This debut novel from California author Jack Russ is the perfect gift for anyone who ever wondered what it was like to serve in the Navy during the Korean War. “Dangerous” is tightly written, captivating description of a newly minted naval officer’s life at sea.

Having never experienced nearly freezing to deck on the bridge of a naval vessel, I’ll let some folks who have enjoyed the pleasure describe “Dangerous”.

Captain John F. O’Connell, USN (Ret.) “… a classic story of a new naval officer at sea with all its complications and machinery, operational events and personalities.” And Captain L. I. Moore, USN (Ret.) “…As a former destroyer captain and young officer on a destroyer escort at the time, the story brings back vivid memories that tells it like it was.”

Author, Captain Jack Russ, U.S. Navy (Ret.) knows what he writes about. During his thirty-year Navy career he served aboard a destroyer escort, flew off aircraft careers and was a truly tough guy.

Author Recommendations for the Holiday Season

It’s the holiday season. The economy is, well let’s just say that times for many, many people have been better. As we all struggle to bring more joy with less money to this year’s festivities, Grit-Lit would like to humbly suggest some inexpensive gifts that will put the Merry into Happy Holidays.

Excellent books can be had for as little as one measly buck (a quality used paperback classic) to around $25 for the latest, undiscounted hard cover best seller. Trust me, any thoughtfully selected ebook, paperback or hard cover will be received with great pleasure. Your reader doesn’t care about the condition, as long as all the pages are there.

A carefully selected novel guarantees hours of book induced bliss. After which it moves, as it should, around the world, hand to hand, friend to friend, creating joyful sleepless nights wherever it lands.

If you are new to grit-lit or need help finding a good thriller for your favorite reader, start by check out the following books and authors.

If your favorite reader likes modern tough guy novels that aren’t over the top violent (mostly) and are GP to R but not X-rated these authors are for you.

Lee Child. Warning, if you start reading Child’s Reacher series you might not be able to stop. There are more than 14 outstanding international bestsellers in the series.

Robert Parker. At Grit-Lit we prefer the Spenser series. His Jesse Stone series is also good. And if you are in a cowboy mood, the Virgil Cole/Everett Hitch western series is one of my personal favorites.

Clive Cussler. Like Child and Parker, Cussler is an institution. The entire Dirk Pitt is outstanding.

Michael Crichton. Ton’s of best sellers that have been made into great movies. If you haven’t read Crichton, get thee to a book store and look for the section that begins with “C.”

Interested in something a little bloodier?

The Bob “The Nailer” books by Stephen Hunter are outstanding.

Or try David Morrell.  In addition to his Rambo series, Morrell’s trilogy, “Brotherhood of the Rose”, “The Fraternity of the Stone” and “The League of Night and Fog” is captivating.

Looking for something a little twisted or different?

Andrew Vachss Burke character is a criminally bad, bad guy who is also a good guy. The story lines cover a lot of territory related to sexual predators and child abusers. Not for the faint of heart or the prudish, but incredibly engaging. The early Burke series books are his best.

Joe R Lansdale writes a great series featuring a gay sidekick. There’s lots of graphic violence and almost x-rated hetero sex. Not for the squeamish.

Two authors who wrote so many best sellers over so long a period of time I think of them as the founding fathers of grit-lit are Mickey Spillane and John D Macdonald.

Spillane’s immortal Mike Hammer is a tough guy’s tough guy. Racy when they came out, today the books would to be rated PG-13.

My personal favorite of the “old guys” is John D Macdonald’s Travis McGee. You can pick up a Travis McGee paperback for less than ten bucks and guarantee someone hours of happiness.

For the reader who likes a strong female lead character Grit-Lit recommends the Caitlin Strong series by Jon Land and Robert Parker’s Sunny Randall books.

If you want beautiful writing like no one else in the genre there is nothing like the Dave Robicheaux series by James Lee Burke.

Want a gritty cooking and travel book? Anthony Bourdain’s written several. Really. I’m not kidding. Honest.

Need more? Check out any of these excellent authors.

Robert Crais, Michael Connelly, Randy Wayne White, Harlan Coben, James Swain, Timothy Hallinan, David Liss, Joseph Finder, Steven Gore and Shane Gericke.

And if you want a book for your young adult or teenager, Veronica Rossi’s upcoming sci-fi post apocalyptic thriller, “Under The Never Sky” is going to be the next “Twilight” or Harry Potter.

Spend a few dollars on a novel by any author on this list and guarantee someone a very happy holiday!

“Angel’s Tip” by Alafair Burke, “Born To Run” by James Grippando, “The Fourth Watcher” by Timothy Hallinan, “Bones” by Jonathan Kellerman, and “The Night Stalker” by James Swain

It seems almost every day I get an email or a phone call asking if I can recommend someone who writes “just like James Lee Burke”. That’s like asking if there is someone out who delivers presents “just like Santa Claus”.

Folks, another writer like James Lee Burke isn’t going to happen.

But, Burke’s daughter, Alafair, is a wonderful author, too.


“Angel’s Tip” by Alafair Burke (Harper Collins, $23.95, 339 pages, www.alafairburke.com.)


Ms. Burke is the author of four previous books. Three Samantha Kincaid novels plus two Ellie Hatcher novels: “Dead Connection” and “Angel’s Tip.”


All are excellent thrillers with strong female protagonists.


“Angel’s Tip” could have been taken from the front page of any major city in the country. The scenarios are all too common — a young woman makes the headlines because a tiny mistake leads to her murder. A college student leaves a bar with boys she just met. A young woman stays for behind one more drink. An illegally parked car is towed and a woman finds herself walking alone in a bad neighborhood. Small mistakes, costly tragedies. “Angel’s Tip” is their story.



“Born To Run” by James Grippando (Harper Collins, $25.99, 325 pages,)



Grippando’s 8th Jack Swyteck thriller delivers the hard edged goods.


“The Greek delivered his patented stare, a penetrating laser that could have burned through men of steel, much less a skinny bartender who looked barely old enough to drink. To most folks, the Greek was another one of those sixty-something-year-old marvels who could have lifted weights with Chuck Norris and out-boxed Sly Stallone. An unlucky few, however, learned why he stayed fit — though it had been a very long time since he’d killed a man over 20 bucks

“The Fourth Watcher” by Timothy Hallinan (Harper Collins, $24.95, 310 pages, www.timothyhallinan.com)

The second in Hallinan’s Bangkok series, “The Fourth Watcherhighlights Poke Rafferty and his cobbled-together family.

Hard action with an Asian twist.

“The man nearest Rafferty also has a gun in his hand, a tiny popgun just big enough to die from. The third holds a knife, nicked and rusty in spots, but with a honed, shiny edge, an edge that has had a lot of care lavished on it.”

But there is more than just violence.

… “When you don’t hear me talking, it’s probably my father I’m not talking about. Anyway, he spent a long time in Asia before I was born. Ran away when he was 15.” He thinks about it for a second. “He was sort of a specialist at running away.”

“Fifteen? How do you run away to Asia when you’re 15?”

“Do you want to hear about the money or not?”

“First things first.”

In general, Rafferty would rather eat glass than discuss his father, but now that he’s opened the box, there doesn’t seem to be any graceful way to close it. “He had a fake driver’s license and he used it to get a passport. Things weren’t so tight in those days. He had a bunch of money from mowing lawns and… I don’t know, whatever kids did in those days.”

“He told you this?”

“I asked him. He wasn’t much on volunteering information.”

She puts out the cigarette and doesn’t light another, which Rafferty interprets his progress. “Why did he run away?”

“Carrots,” Rafferty says.

And now two books rated EFSS (Excellent For Stocking Stuffers).


“Bones” by Jonathan Kellerman (Ballantine Books, $27, 353 pages, www.jonathankellerman.com).


Alex Delaware and Milo Sturgis — a perfect for any Grit-Lit reader. Another excellent psychological thriller by the master.



“The Night Stalker” by James Swain (Ballantine Books, $25, 348 pages, www.jimswain.com).


“Stalker” is Swain’s second book in the Jack Carpenter series. Best selling writer, Lee Child (author of the extremely popular Jack Reacher series) says, “A non-stop nail biter. Hero Jack Carpenter is one for the ages.” And if anyone would know, Child’s would know.

“Wildcase” by Neil Russell and “American Assassin” by Vince Flynn

The days where “men were men” have taken a perverted turn. Too many men are happy to be manicured-chest-shaving-teeth-whitening-go-for-helpers.

What’s a go-for-helper? He’s the guy you send to find a real man when the terrorist level hits RED.

Seems to me we need more men and fewer manicured pretty boys.

And apparently I’m not the only one.

“Wildcase” by Neil Russell (Harper $7.99, 496 pages, www.neil-russell.com).

Russell’s lead character, Rail Black is an ex-Delta Force billionaire living in Beverly Hills. If you’ve ever wondered about the difference between Navy Seals and Delta Force, here it is–officially, Delta doesn’t exist. But they do exist somewhere out there where the bullets fly, risking their lives on missions the rest of us never hear about. Because Russell deals in books and movies, not super secret international affairs, he’s been invited to Delta off-limits HQ to met the people who do the impossible but will never, ever see their names in print.

It’s a tough group. Ninety-nine out of 100 special operators don’t make Delta. Rambo flunked out before lunch. Superman barely made a week.

Rail lives the good life, with all the toys and more money than he could ever spend. He’s a classic grit-lit tough guy. The guy a go-for-helper calls when some Uzi’d up punk pulls a drive by on their Lexus SC430.

Men want to be his friend. And … how can we say this delicately … where women are concerned… well, let’s just say he’s never been trapped in the “friend zone.”

Russell’s written two brilliantly exciting Rail Black thrillers. “City of War” was his first. A third novel– and movies – are on the way.

Here’s the essence of the quiet side of Rail’s life.

“Mallory, my very British houseman and best friend, was on the fly bridge, keeping the Benetti from bumping around too much in the chop. At 102 feet, it’s more boat than I need; more even than I wanted. It was custom-built for one of the NBA’s premier big men who liked the same colors I do – red and black – but suddenly found himself playing in Europe for a tenth of his former salary. When you’re my size and find a doorway that doesn’t leave knots on your forehead, you buy it.”

Russell’s publisher, Harper Collins, shipped cartons of his first book to active special operations locations around the world. Here’s what real Delta Force guys think of Rail Black.

“Black is a brilliant juxtaposition of strategic thinking and forceful explosion. A leader, without fear, and without surrender – and his intense drive will lead him to settle the score and bring about justice for those wronged.”

Former Delta Commander

“Suspense, tension, mayhem, and action are propelled throughout “City of War.” This is definitely among the finest adventure fiction being written in America today.”

Former Delta Operator

“Rail Black, as a character, displays refreshing ruthlessness focused on righting wrongs. Mr. Russell’s uniquely practical lessons in the application of violence are both informative and entertaining.”

Current Delta Operator In Iraq

“Russell will be the next master of the international thriller. Clancy at his very best in “The Hunt For Red October” was terrific: but Russell is better and the Rail Black character will soon join the legends of Jack Ryan and Mitch Rapp.”

Current Delta Operator in Afghanistan

And speaking of Mitch Rapp, “American Assassin” by Vince Flynn (Atra, $27.99, 435 pages, www.vinceflynn.com) the latest in the hugely popular Mitch Rapp series just hit the shelves.

You might know Mitch Rapp as a CIA super agent. Or a terrorist’s worst nightmare. “Assassin” covers Rapp’s early years — how the man who eventually became America’s best clandestine killer made the transition from gifted college athlete to a man willing to kill without wearing his country’s uniform.

Send your favorite go-for-helper out to get all three. If you can get him out of the cosmetologist’s chair.

“Body Copy” by Michael Craven, “Another Life” a Burke Novel, by Andrew Vachss, “Fidel’s Last Days” by Roland Merullo, and “White Cargo” and “Santa Fe Rules” by Stuart Woods

The Contra Costa Times is a fine family newspaper and as such, Grit-Lit concentrates on new books. If this was an oldpaper, which it is not, then we would concentrate on old stuff. And we would likely be called the Contra Costa Daily Encyclopedia.


Sometimes this emphasis on new stuff creates issues. Do we cover the re-release of an old, but good book or do we cover a brand new, but less good book instead?


This month we are doing both. And more.


First a brand new book from a brand new author.


“Body Copy” by Michael Craven. (Harper Collins, $13.95, 304 pages) www.harpercollins.com.


Nothing makes Grit-Lit happier than pizza, beer and the chance to introduce a cool new detective book. “Body Copy” gets extra points because it is set in sunny SoCal which might involve the three Holy B’s –babes, bikinis and beer.


Our new hero, Donald Tremaine was once the world’s best surfer. That’s gotta mean surfing and surfer chicks doesn’t it? But he dropped out, moved into a Malibu trailer and became a detective. Hey, how smart is this guy anyway? What kinda fool trades a world class surfing career for Rockford’s house?


Fortunately, Tremaine is not as stupid as he sounds. Sure, when he dropped out women stopped asking for his autograph. Now they pay for his help. Not a bad trade. Along with his bulldog, Lyle and kooky neighbor Marvin, Tremaine does everything you’d expect a surfing detective to do.


The press blurb says, “A kindred spirit to both Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and MacDonald’s Travis McGee… Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen should be proud, there’s finally a writer to carry on their tradition.” To which Grit-Lit says, “Hold on there Mr. PR Flack – Barry Bond’s without steroids ain’t no Hank Aaron and Craven’s not yet John D. Macdonald.” Not quite up to the world class standard set by that other SoCal trailer dweller Jim Rockford, but a darn fine read.



“Another Life” a Burke Novel, by Andrew Vachss (Pantheon Books, $24.95, 272 pages) www.vachss.com.


For years Burke has been a Grit-Lit favorite. Unique, twisted, a thief and a conman, Burke uses his skills to steal and to protect children from the sickest people on the planet. His battles against child molesters are some of the most memorable stories in detective fiction. And in real life, Vachss uses the money he makes writing Burke to battle pedophilia and child slavery.

Vachss works hard to realistically age Burke as the years pass. This is a fascinating process. When a pro athlete slows down he loses a career or fades away. When a professional crook slows down he moves on to a new career or he gets shot and dies.

To say Vachss’ dialog is unique would be one of the world’s all time understatements. Unfortunately, Vachss real world street talk can be extremely confusing. While reading, “Another” I often wished for a dictionary or a translator. Unfortunately, there is no Funk & Wagnalls for Vachss.

Perfect for the most extreme Vachss fans, but not a great starting point for anyone who’s not read Burke before.

“Fidel’s Last Days” by Roland Merullo (Shaye Areheart, $23.00, 268 pages.) www.rolandmerullo.com

Boy I wanted to like this book. Cuba. Castro. Sand, sun, maybe the 3 Holy B’s. How could it go wrong? “Fidel” accurately captures the anxiety, paranoia and fear that anyone in Castro’s sphere must have felt. Torture, mindless violence and paranoia rule the day and the night. Imagine going to work every day and believing that there was an excellent chance you’d be tortured, murdered or just disappear!

Professional written and giving all appearances of realism, the characters and the plot were simply unable to capture my imagination.

“White Cargo” and “Santa Fe Rules” by Stuart Woods (Harper Collins) www.stuartwoods.com

Recently Harper Collins has elected to re-release several of Woods older books. “Cargo” and “Rules” are just two of several books available in the new bigger-than-a-paperback, smaller-than-a-hardback size with big, easier to read type. At $9.99 anything by Woods represents good value and a reliable, entertaining read.

As we say in the newspaper biz, everything old is new again.

“Last Call” by James Grippando, “Midnight Rambler” by James Swain, “Shrink Yourself: break free from emotional eating forever!” by Roger Gould, M. D., and “The 47th Samurai” by Stephen Hunter

Four books today. Three of the world’s great tough guys and one that will be tough for even the toughest tough guys to handle.


“Last Call” by James Grippando (Harper Collins, $24.95, 326 pages, www.jamesgrippando.com).


Six of Grippando’s more than 14 books feature semi-tough guy Miami attorney Jack Swyteck and his jazz loving really tough friend Theo Knight.


Dude, this is a Grit-Lit FAV (oops sorry – slipped into my old writer guy trying to be cool dude vocabulary) and Grit-Lit is not alone; Grippando’s books have been translated into more than 20 languages. Only one of which I can read. DARN. If I could read another language, I could read ’em twice.


The series is set in Miami and deals with gangs, poverty and race. Not very much sex. Too Bad!


Also of course, no pictures.


Now here’s an important and unanswerable question; why is “X-rated adult” material full of pictures, but books for adults don’t have pictures. Kids get all the cool pictures. Personally I think adults are getting ripped off. We deserve pictures every bit as much as some second grader.


“Last Call” has no pictures, except for the cover which is all red, black and boring. So, here’s the patented Grit-Lit condensed plot description, which of course will not reveal any key details lest we give away the fun stuff.


Dangerous convict escapes and shows up at Theo’s. Leaving Theo implicated in a prison escape and other mayhem.  Swytek and Theo handle it. That’s it. The end. If we tell you anything else, we’ll be giving away the good parts.


“Midnight Rambler” by James Swain (Ballantine Books, $24.95, 350 pages, www.jimswaim.com)


Yet another excellent Florida tough guy. Why are so many of the tough guy books based in Florida?  My writer friends tell me the answer is simple: great weather, lots of bikinis, good golf, relatively affordable cost of living, lots of bikinis, hot enough most of the year to justify a bourbon or two at almost any hour of the day or night. Apparently Hemingway was ahead of his time.


Just off the top of my head, here’s a partial list of Florida tough guys: Travis McGee, Doc Ford, Thorn, Swytek, and now, Jack Carpenter.


“Midnight Rambler” is an excellent departure from Swain’s popular Tony Valentine series. Swain’s new hero, Jack Carpenter is an infamous cop. He busted a notorious serial killer and along the way managed to wind up without his badge or family.  Now marginally employed as an “abduction specialist” Carpenter finds lots kids and returns them to their families. Good read.


So here’s my question. All these tough guys hang around Florida. Eating and drinking. Everyone of ‘em seems to have a cold beer in his hand just about every other minute. And if they are living in Florida, you know every other meal has got to feature DEEP FAT FRIEND SOMETHING.


Isn’t Florida home of the DEEP FRIED TWINKY? OR WAS THAT THE DEEP FRIED SNICKERS?” Except for Spenser and Hawk in Boston, none of these guys ever hits the gym. And only Grit-Lit knows why they don’t have to.


Here it is, the Grit-Lit world exclusive: TOUGH GUYS HAVE NO FEELINGS.  NO FEELINGS Equals SKINNY. Cause what makes you fat is only indirectly calories. It’s FEELINGS that MAKE YOU FAT. Don’t think Grit-Lit is a credible source for nutritional advice? Well, that hurts Mr. Smarty Pants. Just that nasty comment caused us to gain two full pounds!


Don’t believe us? Well, we got the skinny from a Doctor. Yes a REAL MD. A famous doctor from the land down south. The Capitol skinny. A land where have so few feelings of their own some of them get paid millions to fake their feelings. Yes, that’s right, the Doc’s from Los Angeles.


This Doc says FEELINGS MAKE YOU FAT. So if you want to get SKINNY stop caring! Stop letting all those namby pamby emotions expand your waistline. And women, if you are looking for a man, a soul mate, who really cares, may we suggest the Big and Tall store or the Dessert aisle?


Don’t believe that fat equals caring? Read this.


“Shrink Yourself: break free from emotional eating forever!” by Roger Gould, M. D. (Wiley, $24.95, 273 pages, www.shrinkyourself.com)


Dr. Gould says that aside from a few genetic or chemically imbalanced freaks (my words not his) most folks overeat because they use food to manage their emotions. For men the comfort foods are the “B’s, P’s or D’s”, beer, burgers, beef, booze, pizza, donuts… For women the “let’s get back to an even emotional keel foods” are the “C’s”: chocolate, chocolate, more chocolate and then some carbs.


Don’t believe it? Here’s the test:


  1. Does your hunger come on really fast?
  2. Do you often feel an almost desperate need to eat right now?
  3. Did you taste what you ate or just shovel it in?
  4. Would any food do? Or did you crave a certain kind of food?
  5. Did you feel guilty after you ate? (DARN FEELINGS!)
  6. Did you eat when upset or feeling empty?
  7. Did you stuff in the food quickly?


If you answered yes to any of the above, some of your eating is emotionally driven. The more you answered yes to, the more of an issue you have. If you answered yes to all 7 and cried into your bag of Oreo’s while you were completing the quiz well, you know what you gotta do. Buy the book. Read it learn how to manage your feelings without drugs, food, alcohol or divorce. Might sound impossible but it seems a lot more likely than counting on “will power” or frozen TV dinners that come in the mail and cost twice what they should.


“The 47th Samurai” by Stephen Hunter (Simon & Schuster, $26, 368 pages, www.simonsays.com)


Bob Lee Swagger will never need Nutri Systems. This is one cold-blooded, action oriented tough guy. Even his all metal hip doesn’t keep him from taking on the bad guys.


One of the great things about Hunter’s “Swagger Series” is that he seldom does the expected. Usually the hero stays in his normal neighborhood – Boston, South Florida, Philly – gets a new case, vanquishes evil and gets the girl or girls. Hunter almost never does that. After a best seller featuring Bob Lee, one of his next books is all about Bob Lee’s father. And instead of being in the good ol’ US of A it’s in Cuba.


“47th Samurai” takes place mostly, in –SURPRIZE – Japan. The way Hunter weaves WW II, samurai’s and modern day America into a tough guy novel is pure art. So beautiful that it makes me feel all weepy inside. I think maybe I’m gonna cry.


Now, where did I put that pint of Double Rainbow Chocolate Peanut Butter ice cream?

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

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.