The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is Trisha McFarland, 9, the daughter of divorced parents and sister to a 13-year-old brother who epitomizes everything that’s obnoxious about teenagers.
One Saturday, Trisha’s mother takes both children on hike along the Appalachian Trail. Near a fork in the trail, Trisha stops to pee while her mother and brother go ahead, arguing.
Afterward, instead of returning to the trail, Trisha cuts across the woods to join them. She has no watch, so she can’t tell how long she has walked before she realizes she’s lost.
Trisha’s parents never taught her that when you’re lost, you should behave like a good dog: Stay. Trisha keeps moving, making choices that lessen her chances of being found. She is followed by what might be a monster, or her vivid imagination.
Days, she carries on imaginary conversations with Tom Gordon to keep up her morale. Nights, she listens to the Boston Red Sox games on her Walkman until sleep comes.
Aside from the fact that Stephen King makes Trisha sound 19 instead of 9, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is a satisfying 20th century version of a fairy tale: A dark, harrowing experience that, despite its happy outcome, will induce nightmares.
Mary Higgins Clark’s Silent Night is the sort of novel that used to be called a diversion.
A doctor with leukemia comes to New York for surgery, accompanied by his wife and two sons. While he’s in the recovery room, Mrs. Dornan takes the boys to Rockefeller Center to distract them and drops her wallet.
Although the wallet contains several hundred dollars in cash, it also contains a St. Christopher medal that the boys’ grandmother told them will keep their father safe. The younger boy, Brian, 7, sees a young woman snatch the wallet and follows her.
The woman, Cally Siddons, arrives home to find her brother, Jimmie, there. He has escaped from prison, shooting a guard in the process. Hot on her heels, Brian arrives demanding his mom’s wallet.
Jimmie appropriates the money and decides to take Brian hostage. He has a stolen car waiting near Cally’s apartment and a girlfriend waiting at the Canadian border. Jimmie bundles Brian into the car and they head north into a nasty winter storm.
If, in the spirit of Christmas, you can overlook the absurdities of the plot, the story will occupy you while you wait for Santa Claus, but Silent Night will never replace A Christmas Carol.
Nightmares & Dreamscapes includes short stories that range from merely quirky to seriously spooky, a nonfiction piece about baseball, a teleplay, and notes about pieces’ origins, all by that master of the macabre, Stephen King.
My favorites of King’s works are his stories in which the horror comes out of people rather than out of the drains or the ether. Leading the lineup of those is “Dolan’s Cadillac,” a story about an elementary teacher who gets revenge on a gangster for killing his wife through an elaborate ruse that lures the villain to drive his Cadillac into hole sized just large enough for the car to fit in without allowing the passengers to escape.
Readers with a taste for the occult should read “The Night Flier,” in which a writer for a sleazy rag investigates a series of deaths in small East Coast towns with small airports. The journalistic elements in the tale were enough to keep my attention.
“The Doctor’s Case.” a Sherlockian spoof in which Watson solves the mystery, and “Umney’s Last Case,” a take-off on Raymond Chandler novels, are simply fun.
Nightmares & Dreamscapes has something readers of every taste to like as well as some things to dislike.
Night Over Water centers around a largely forgotten piece of 20th century aviation history: the luxury aircraft the Flying Clipper, which could land and take off from the ocean.
In Ken Follett’s novel, a few days after Britain declares war on German in 1939, the Clipper takes off on a 30-hour flight to New York. Some of the passengers are trying to avoid the war, others are trying to escape their pasts.
Weather conditions had to be just right for the Clipper. It couldn’t take off or land unless the waves were less than three feet high. Unless stars were visible, the aircraft had no way to navigate and could run out of fuel. Conserving fuel often meant going through storms rather than around them.
The spark for the drama is the presence on the plane of a mobster being returned to America for trial. His gang have kidnapped the pregnant wife of the Clipper’s engineer in order to force her husband to have the plane land in the ocean off Newfoundland where they can rescue him.
Follett’s characters are types familiar to novel readers. It’s the setting that produces the drama. Few writers can milk the drama from an historical setting to entertain and inform as Follett can.
The Sum of All Fears is a hold-your-breath novel from Tom Clancy featuring Jack Ryan, Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Accustomed to Cold War hostilities, neither America and its allies nor Russia and hers are quite sure how to behave in the new, lukewarm conditions.
Ryan gets an idea for a Middle East peace plan brokered by the Vatican. The plan works, but all Ryan gets is the animosity of the President and his Secretary of Defense, who also happens to be the President’s bed mate.
Terrorists, to whom peace is unnatural and unsettling, have plans of their own.
As both the West and the Soviets have dismantled missiles with nuclear warheads, some of the nuclear material has simply disappeared. The owners haven’t publicized their losses. Nevertheless, a few men of ill-will know where the material is and how to use it for their ends.
Clancy provides plenty of excitement with a minimum of gore. He focuses on how people rise to or fall before a challenge for which they could not rehearse.
Clancy’s text is packed with jargon and technical details about intelligence procedures, aircraft, ships, submarines, weapons, and bomb building, which feels incredibly dull but is essential to the plot: Evil is not passive in this novel.
Like many of his other novels, Sidney Sheldon’s Memories of Midnight reads like the story line for a film. The characters are broadly described, the action is fast-paced, and the plot is connected by linkages readers have to take on faith.
Catherine Douglas awakens one night in a convent remembering her name and nothing else. However, Constantin “Costa” Demiris, a nasty piece of work who is determined to get his revenge on anyone who ever hurt him in any way, remembers Catherine.
Demiris killed her husband and her husband’s lover. Now he hires an assassin to kill Catherine. Meanwhile, Demiris gives her a job in one of his offices and showers her with attention so he can keep an eye on her.
Demiris and his brother-in-law, Spyros Lambrou, hate each other. Lambrou hates Demiris for his treatment of Melina, who is his sister and Demiris’s wife.
There several other dastardly plots, related only because they’re in the same novel. Melina eventually realizes what a crud Demiris is, which precipitates the story’s ending. At the end of Memories of Midnight, there’s a dramatic rescue, a suspense-filled climax, and the villains get their just deserts.
It’s all action-packed, implausible, and bloody.
In short, it’s perfect for Hollywood, but a lousy novel.
The Name of the Rose, one of the world’s all-time best-selling novels, is a fascinating Italian novel that most American readers will set aside before they finish chapter one.
The 14th century setting in which author Umberto Eco sets his tale is half the novel’s story.
In 1327, Italy was part of the Holy Roman Empire beset by religious and political turmoil. Two competing emperors had recently been elected; the real winner will be the one the Pope chooses.
The Pope has his own problems: People are increasingly vocal about the church’s immense wealth and power.
The Pope’s picked men are scheduled to arrive soon for a theological disputation—a debate to establish truth— at a Benedictine monastery in Northern Italy where a monk has died under suspicious circumstances.
The abbot has summoned Brother William of Baskerville, a Franciscan friar to investigate. Brother William brings young Adso of Melk, a Benedictine novice, to assist him.
For a week, there’s a bizarre death a day for the pair to solve.
Eco adheres to the familiar hero and sidekick pattern, but the setting, culture, and passages in Latin will turn off American readers who lack the background and the curiosity to read demanding European fiction.
In The Little Drummer Girl, John Le Carré abandons George Smiley’s British gloom for a world of international terrorism.
Le Carré fashions a tale about a Palestinian responsible for deaths of Jews throughout Europe. The Israelis know him by the coil of surplus wire left with his crude bombs and by the professionalism with which he eludes detection.
They have no idea who he is, but they have a plan to find out.
The Israelis offer a young English actress called Charlie the role of her life.
The Israelis invent a character for her: the role of a dead terrorist’s lover. They drill her in the facts they know of him and the story they have concocted.
Her job is to get inside the terrorist organization and bring its leader to the Israelis.
Charlie has not only to play her character, but once she’s involved, she has to play other roles, the psychological equivalent of portraying a Russian nesting doll.
The “nestedness” of Charlie’s character requires close attention from readers. Sometimes Charlie isn’t sure which character she’s playing.
Le Carré lightens the load with apt, sometimes even hilarious, character descriptions, but never lets readers forget that terrorists and anti-terrorists each kill people.
The Little Drummer Girl by John Le Carré
Knopf. 1983. [Book Club ed.] 429 p.
1983 bestseller #4. My grade: A-