Debt of Honor

Mountainous island silhouetted by red sun inside final O of honor
Red sun symbolizes Japan.

Jack Ryan is introduced as National Security Advisor to the President in Tom Clancy’s 1994 bestseller Debt of Honor.

Even by Clancy’s standards, this tale of a third world war is complicated. One thread involves a computer program designed to cripple America economically by destroying records of transactions on the US-based stock exchanges.

A second thread concerns a wealthy Japanese man’s desire to revenge the deaths of his family when Americans invaded the Mariana Islands in World War II.

A third thread is about an attempt by India to invade Sri Lanka.

Clancy lays all three of these fictional threads out against the very real political-military situation in the 1990s: the mutual Soviet-US nuclear missile disarmament, the reduction of America’s naval capacity, the reliance on technology as a replacement for human observation and analysis.

About page 675, when American began fighting in the Pacific Ocean, I lost track of who was where—blame the fog of war—and picked up the story as diplomats arranged peace terms.

Readers who know military lingo will enjoy the story more than the rest of us, but no one can read Clancy’s novel without learning a great deal that’s worth knowing—and acknowledging.

Debt of Honor by Tom Clancy
G. P. Putnam’s Sons. ©1994. 766 p.
1994 bestseller #2; my grade: A-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Chamber by John Grisham

author, title, set in marble
Like marble, the law is inflexible.

John Grisham’s The Chamber is real as death and almost as irresistible.

In 1967, Sam Cayhall helped bomb the law office of a Mississippi civil rights activist. The lawyer’s two sons were killed in the blast.

Sam was tried for murder twice; both trials resulted in a hung jury. In 1979, he was tried a third time, convicted, and sentenced to death.

In 1990, Sam’s execution is weeks away when a young lawyer, Adam Hall, asks to work on the case.

When he was 16, Adam learned that he was Sam’s grandson. Adam’s father, Eddie Cayhill, had fled to California, changed the family’s name, and committed suicide.

Now Adam tries to keep his grandfather from the gas chamber, while he pieces together his family history.

Sam is not the easiest client to work with; Adam is inexperienced and cocky. As they count the days to the execution date, each gives up some of his pride.

However repellent they find Sam’s criminal past, readers will find it hard not to want to see him reprieved.

Grisham ends the story in the only way it could end, leaving readers to ponder the messes that people make of their lives and the impossibility of solving human problems by legal means.

The Chamber by John Grisham
Doubleday. ©1994. 486 p.
1994 bestseller #10; my grade: A+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Scorpio Illusion by Robert Ludlum

Title on all-text dust jacket appears to be burningThe worst thing that can be said about a Robert Ludlum novel is that readers must pay close attention.

In The Scorpio Illusion western government leaders aren’t paying attention.

A secret group calling themselves Scorpios are plotting to throw the US, Britain and France into turmoil concurrently, precipitating a public outcry for stability that will catapult them to virtual dictatorship.

The Scorpios are positioned to make it happen. They have money, power, and the protection of the most sophisticated technology and most ruthless assassins that their money can buy.

Meanwhile, a beautiful terrorist intent on revenge for the deaths of her parents and her lover is planning to kill the US President. She and the Scorpios make common cause.

To stop her, the intelligence community calls on a former naval intelligence officer, Tyrell Hawthorne, whose wife was shot as a spy because of a mistake made by inept higher-ups.  As he begins his work, Hawthorne runs into a beautiful woman who comforted him as he grieved; he vows not to lose her again.

Ludlum complies with the requirements of thrillers—sex, romance, blood, explosions—but his real interest is on how decent people can be hoodwinked because of the very traits that make them decent people.

Scorpio Illusion by Robert Ludlum
Bantam. ©1993. 534 p.
1993 bestseller #10; my grade: A-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Like Water for Chocolate

Two Mexican women prepare food Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate defies categorization, as you might guess from the subtitle: A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances and Home Remedies.

Each of the 12 installments is about some specific event and features a related recipe.

Part romance, part social criticism, and part historical novel, the story feels like a fairy tale. As in fairy tales, the focus is on the story, not on why the story is important.

The story is about Tita De la Garza, who is literally born in a kitchen on a ranch in Mexico around the turn of the 20th century. As she grows older, Tita becomes a culinary artist in a time when cooking was backbreaking labor.

As a teenager, Tita wants to marry Pedro, a neighbor boy. Mama Elena (Tita’s real mother, though she acts like a wicked stepmother) insists Tita, as the youngest daughter, remain unmarried and care for her in her old age. So, Pedro is wedded to Tita’s older sister.

At the wedding (for which Tita has to make the wedding cake), Pedro tells Tita he only married Rosura so he could stay close to her.

If Esquivel’s unusual novel doesn’t tickle your fancy, it will certainly make you appreciate your microwave.

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Carol Christensen and Thomas Christensen, trans.
Doubleday. ©1992. 245 p.
1993 bestseller #9; my grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Pleading Guilty by Scott Turow

a $1000 bill in breast pocket of pin-striped suit
Love those pin-striped suits.

Scott Turow delivers Pleading Guilty as an unedited report dictated by Mack Malloy, an ex-cop turned lawyer, to his firm’s top management about their partner who disappeared along with $5.6 million.

That presentation lets readers find out about the crime and the characters in a manner that’s both shocking and, in retrospect, predictable.

Outside the courtroom, Bert Kamin, Mack’s partner at G&G, is caught up in sports betting with other macho guys who claim to have insider knowledge. Others of Mack’s associates in G&G have peculiarities that might mask unorthodox, possibly even criminal, behavior.

Mack and Emilia “Brushy” Bruccia, his associate and sex-partner, joke that their gossip is protected lawyer-client communication.

The first place Mack looks for Bert—the Russian Bath—he learns cops have already been there looking for a Kam Roberts, although the Bath pays the local watch commander to prevent such unpleasantness.

Who is Kam Roberts? And why are cops asking about him in Bert Kamin’s haunts?

Divorced, overweight, with an injured knee and booze-soaked psyche, Mack is about as attractive as Horace Rumpole and equally shrewd about crime. But unlike Rumpole, Mack is unlikely to appear in a second novel.

You’ll have to read Pleading Guilty to learn why.

Pleading Guilty by Scott Turow
Ferrar, Straus and Giroux. ©1993. 386 p.
1993 bestseller #8; my grade: A

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Lasher by Anne Rice

female figure floats in sheer netting
Is it witch or woman?

Fans of Anne Rice will be delighted with Lasher, a convoluted tale about the spirit who wants to be flesh. The novel features characters from Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and her Mayfair Witches series.

In Lasher, a couple who each have an extra set of chromosomes mate, producing a non-human creature. The spirit Lasher enters the embryo which develops physically at super-human speed, leaving its mother hovering on the brink of death. Lasher’s goal is to breed a race of giants who will by their sheer numbers drive mortals from the earth.

From the time of Henry VIII, an organization called the Talamasca has investigated supernatural phenomena. It knows almost as much about Lasher and he knows of himself.

The Mayfair family, whose queen Rowan Mayfair is mother to the Lasher creature, want it destroyed for their own survival. The Talamasca want it preserved for their own study.

Those who haven’t read earlier novels in those sets may be baffled by the first 300 or so pages of Lasher. Rice tells the tale from multiple viewpoints coming from multiple locations over centuries. Some of the names are quite similar, adding to the confusion.

Rice’s story is all story. When you close the book, there’s nothing left.

Lasher by Anne Rice
Part of the Mayfair Witches series
Alfred A. Knopf. ©1993. 578 p.
1993 bestseller #10; my grade: C

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Vanished by Danielle Steel

cameo of child at center of gray and black dust jacket
The child is gagged.

Vanished is a totally atypical, can’t-put-down mystery from the queen of romance novelists, Danielle Steel.

The story is set in 1938 just after Kristallnacht in Germany and while the Lindbergh baby kidnapping was still fresh in American minds.

Marielle Patterson is the devoted mother of four-year-old Teddy, and dutiful wife of multi-millionaire Malcolm Patterson, for whom she had worked briefly as secretary. Both parents adore Teddy and are polite to each other.

Just hours after Marielle had accidentally run into her ex-husband at a church on the anniversary of the accident in which they lost their just-walking son and unborn daughter, Teddy is kidnapped from his bedroom.

Marielle’s ex-husband, Charles Delauney, is charged with kidnapping. Marielle doesn’t believe Charles could be the kidnapper, but all the evidence points to him.

When the case comes to trial, Marielle’s past marriage, divorce, and the mental problems after losing her children are made public. Malcolm blames Marielle for the kidnapping.

Without family or close friends, Marielle comes to rely on an FBI special agent for emotional support through an ugly trial in which the prosecutor tries to make it look as if Marielle is to blame for the kidnapping.

Steel wraps up the story in manner both hopeful and realistic.

Vanished by Danielle Steel
Delacourt Press. ©1993. 304 p.
1993 bestseller #6; my grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni