This is an exciting book. Koerner alternates between recapping the history of hijacking in the 1960s and ’70s (which, despite including a lot of legislation, is far from dull) and following the story of one particular pair of hijackers, Cathy Kerkow and Roger Holder. It now seems incredible that in the early 1960s, hijacking a plane was a common crime, and for the passengers, meant nothing worse than a brief detour to Havana. But each instance introduced new elements, and Holder and Kerkow’s adventure in 1972 was at once typical and highly unusual.
Two side notes: The West Coast figures prominently in this history, and the book may be of particular interest to residents of Coos Bay, Oregon. And finally, I came away with a better understanding of airline security, and a wholly unexpected sympathy for the airlines (at least in this particular context). Recommended reading for anyone who flies commercially.
Read if you enjoyed: Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde by Jeff Guinn and Catch Me If You Can by Frank W. Abagnale.
Find The Skies Belong to Us at Multnomah County Library.
I wanted to love this book. American literature is lacking when it comes to great female spy characters, and I hoped this new series would fill that gap. And what a cool back story–Valerie Plame, the former CIA agent betrayed by her government, turns to fiction as a new career.
But wanting is not enough. The fact that Plame needed a writing partner (the “and Sarah Lovett” in smaller type on the cover) was not a good sign. It’s not a terrible book. The descriptions of agency bureaucracy sound highly realistic. And the scenario that sets the plot in motion–a local asset killed before he can deliver vital information–seems like the makings of a great story. But Plame is no John LeCarré, and Lovett can’t quite make up the difference. The main character, Vanessa Pierson, never fully comes to life. The complicated plot, rather than keeping the reader interested, seems artificially convoluted. And does the bureaucracy have to be quite so realistic?
This is only the first book in a planned series, so there is time to salvage things. And Blowback would make a great movie, where a spy’s inner life is beside the point. But this book, by itself, is not really worth your time.
Read if you enjoyed: The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum, A Gentleman’s Game by Greg Rucka.
Find Blowback at Multnomah County Library.
Although I enjoy the classics, sometimes I just need a fun, pulpy read. And with Inferno, this year’s entry in the Robert Langdon series, Dan Brown has delivered a bit of both. This time, the adventure follows a Dante-themed treasure hunt through Florence. It’s not quite as polished as his blockbuster hit The Da Vinci Code, but still brimming with the nuggets of art history, symbolism, and linguistic puzzles that readers have come to expect.
Inferno leaves several questions unanswered. (Why exactly does the villain leave clues pointing to his masterpiece?) The end is not very satisfying for a thriller, but it will make you want to discuss it with everyone you know. Brown seems to be branching out from strict thrillers to social commentary, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Despite the clunky plotting, the novel is definitely thought-provoking. Let’s hope his next book goes down a little more smooth.
Read if you enjoyed: The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl, The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton
Look for Inferno at Multnomah County Library.
Marisha Pessl’s follow-up to her 2006 debut novel Special Topics in Calamity Physics is more fun. Whereas Topics deals with the social pressures of an elite high school, only kicking into high gear in the final section, Night Film dives into full thriller mode from the beginning. The story revolves around a mysterious filmmaker with a malignant legacy; the filmmaker’s gifted daughter (recently deceased); and a middle-aged journalist desperate to regain his professional reputation. It’s not great literature, but it is an addictive read. And Pessl has added an innovative dimension to her book—if you download the Night Film Decoder app on your smartphone or tablet, you can access additional material. Night Film is like a spooky B-movie: good enough to scare yourself silly.
Read if you enjoyed: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, Carrie by Stephen King
Look for Night Film at Multnomah County Library.