The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

back of figure with baseball cap and backpack in dark, wooded area
There’s a red B on Trisha’s cap.

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.

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
By Stephen King
Scribner. ©1999. 224 p.
1999 bestseller #8; my grade: A-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Rainbow Six (novel)

national flags of four of four Rainbow member nationsIn Rainbow Six, Tom Clancy features the character John Clark (a.k.a. John Kelly) who appears in several of his Jack Ryan novels and is the central character in Without Remorse.

Rainbow is a secret, six-nation task force created to combat terrorism led by Clark, who is “Six” to the military he commands.

Rainbow’s members have barely met each other when their services are required. First, former members of the Bader-Meinhoff gang take hostages in a Swiss bank in what appears to be a robbery.

Hard on the heels of that incident, Rainbow is called to Vienna when a financier’s home is seized by intruders who demand insider codes to international trading.

Next there’s an attack on a Spanish version of Disney World that was prepared to repel thieves, but not to deal with armed men demanding the release of political prisoners.

Meanwhile, some very influential Americans are developing a terrorist scheme designed to work without a public announcement of demands.

Normally, Clancy invents situations that are plausible. Here the ultimate terrorist scheme is so preposterous it wouldn’t attract adherents among residents in a mental institution. And the ending of Rainbow Six, is, as one character says, “like something from a bad movie.”

Rainbow Six by Tom Clancy
G. P. Putnam ©1998. 740 p.
1998 bestseller #2; my grade: C-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Pretend You Don’t See Her

Woman’s face is faintly visible through leaves of a tree
The woman isn’t quite hidden.

Pretend You Don’t See Her is scary thriller in which a hired killer stalks women who know too much about the mob connections of a reputable businessman.

Lacey Farrell, a made-for-Hollywood heroine, is young, sexy, New York City real estate agent on her way up when she makes a promise to a dying woman to turn over her later daughter’s journal to the police and encounters the woman’s fleeing murderer.

Lacey keeps her promise, but keeps a copy of the journal. The original disappears from police custody.

The murderer is wanted by the FBI.

The NYPD and the federal investigators quarrel over jurisdiction.

Someone tries to shoot Lacey and hits her 4-year-old niece instead.

Lacey is placed in the witness protection program, given a new identity, moved to Minneapolis, and cautioned not to let even her closest relatives have any clues to where she is. Lacey isn’t good at following orders, nor is she bright enough to realize that telling her mother anything is like taking out a front page ad in The New York Times.

A quarter of the way into Pretend You Don’t See Her, anyone who ever read a Mary Higgins Clark novel will know who the culprit is.

Pretend You Don’t See Her
by Mary Higgins Clark
Simon and Schuster. ©1997. 318 p.
1997 bestseller #8; my grade: C+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Unnatural Exposure

body part is missing from gaping blooding woundUnnatural Exposure is a medical mystery by Patricia Cornwell featuring Dr. Kay Scarpetta, Virginia’s medical examiner.

In this novel, Scarpetta has learned that five 10-year-old dismembered bodies found in Ireland, have the same MO as four found in Virginia. She fears that the same killer is responsible for both.

Her fear goes into overdrive when she receives a photo in her email that could only have come from the killer of a fifth recently found body in Sussex County.

The murders are not all totally consistent, however. The most recent victim was exposed to a smallpox-like virus. A woman on Tangier Island off Norfolk has apparently died from the virus and others on the island appear to be sick from it.  Scarpetta herself has been exposed to it.

To solve the mystery, Scarpetta calls on her niece Lucy, an FBI computer expert for help. Lucy enables her aunt to take a virtual tour of the room shown in the photograph from the killer.

Besides fighting to bring the killer to justice, Scarpetta has to fight for her budget, fight to keep the misinformation from the public, fight egocentric politicians, and fight her own nature when it threatens the relationships she holds most dear.

Unnatural Exposure by Patricia Cornwell
G. P. Putnam. ©1997. 338 p.
1997 bestseller #6; my grade: A-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Airframe by Michael Crichton

title AIRFRAME is blurred on globe crisscrossed with flight lines Michael Crichton’s Airframe opens with a couple and their infant daughter flying back to America from on a charter flight. Nearing Los Angeles, the plane goes into convulsions.

When the shaking stops, the pilot radios for 40 ambulances to stand by. Two people are already dead.

Norton Aircraft, which built the plane, is in negotiations to sell $8 billion worth of aircraft to China. Bad publicity could kill the deal.

Casey Singleton, Quality Assurance representative on Norton’s Incident Review Team, is promoted to a VP position and assigned to manage the investigation, which normally would take a year or more. Casey is given one week to do the it. By the time she gets the assignment, the charter’s crew have already flown out.

Internal politics make Casey’s situation even more complicated. Union workers are fighting mad over  secret plans to move the company’s most profitable work off-shore. In addition, Casey has been saddled with an assistant who is related to Norton’s owners, has no relevant experience, and thinks he knows everything.

Like Crichton’s earlier bestsellers Disclosure and The Lost World, Airframe is can’t-put-down reading packed with information that you’ll remember long after you’ve forgotten the plot.

Airframe by Michael Crichton
Alfred A. Knopf. ©1996. 351 p.
1996 bestseller #4; my grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Executive Orders (novel)

American flag is background for author’s name, book title
Clancy’s focus is America.

Within minutes after Jack Ryan is sworn in to serve as a one-year caretaker vice president, Jack Ryan finds himself President. A kamikaze attack on the Capitol has killed President Durling, the entire Supreme Court and the Joint Chiefs, all but two of the Cabinet members, and most of the members of the House and Senate.

Suddenly Ryan’s “caretaking” means putting the federal government back together again. America’s enemies see the greenhorn president as an opportunity too good not to exploit.

Threats arise on all sides.

The president of Iraq is assassinated and Iran’s chief cleric assumes control of what he declares to be a United Islamic state.

China and India both create distractions.

At home, Ryan is harassed by the former vice-president, the media, and staff members who expect him to be political and presidential.

Terrorists devise a way to sneak the Ebola virus into US convention centers. They activate sleeper agents to kill the President and kidnap his children.

To follow Executive Orders, you’ll need to keep your atlas handy, but Tom Clancy is a marvelous storyteller. He packs with information worth knowing without letting it overwhelm the story.

I suspect few people under 60 will be able to follow Clancy’s story today.

That’s their loss, and America’s.

Executive Orders by Tom Clancy
G. P. Putnam. ©1996. 874 p.
1996 bestseller #2; 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

Nightmares & Dreamscapes

scarecrow in middle of road at nightNightmares & 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.

Enjoy what pleases you.

Nightmares & Dreamscapes
by Stephen King
Viking. ©1993. 816 p.
1993 bestseller #5; my grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Without Remorse by Tom Clancy

Missile shots light up night sky
Sky above the POW camp

In Without Remorse, Tom Clancy trots out the hero of several earlier novels, John Kelly, in a story that mixes military action with mafia action.

Kelly’s wife was accidentally killed in a previous novel and he is still numb when he gives young hitchhiker a lift. Pam restarts his sex drive, and Kelly helps her shake her drug habit. After Pam is brutally killed by drug dealers, Kelly goes ape, hunting the men responsible. He’s efficient and brutal.

Meanwhile the Pentagon is preparing to rescue prisoners in a POW camp in terrain Kelly knows well. They recruit him to lead the rescue.

An idealistic peacenik in a federal government position leaks the plans. As troops prepare to attack, Kelly has to abort the rescue. Although his mission failed, Kelly has caught the eye of powerful people the federal government who want to use his expertise.

Before he can decide whether to take them up on their offer, he has some more drug dealers he kills without remorse.

Clancy fills pages with caricatures and pushes them through the novel on an express train powered by hostility. The story is a page-turner without a hero. Clancy may be useful to the military, but he hasn’t the moral sense to be a role model.

Without Remorse by Tom Clancy
G. P. Putman. ©1993. 639 p.
1993 bestseller #4; my grade: B

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Client by John Gresham

gold medallion bears words “The Client” and image of blind justice holding scales
Justice is blind. Lawyers are dumb.

The central character of John Grisham’s 1993 bestselling legal thriller The Client is 11 years old and about three decades more streetwise than all the adults in the novel.

Here’s the story: Mark Sway and his younger brother witness the bizarre suicide of an attorney whose client had murdered a U.S. Senator. Before killing himself, the attorney tells Mark where the mob buried the body.

While his mother stays with his brother, who’s being treated for traumatic shock, Mark retains a lawyer who specializes in helping kids caught in the legal system.

Police, FBI, and the federal prosecutor put pressure on Mark to tell what they’re sure he knows, while the mob try to make sure Mark can never tell anything to anybody again.

Grisham’s rip-snorting legal thriller provides the all the required threats, wiretaps, chases, murders, and explosions to keep readers on the edge of their seats until they read the last page.

Only then will they realize Grisham played them for suckers.

Dear reader, not all bad guys are stupid jerks. Nor are all police, FBI, and juvenile protection workers stupid jerks. And there just might be a doctor or lawyer Mark’s intellectual equal, although his attorney, Reggie Love, is probably not that person.

The Client by John Grisham
Doubleday. ©1993. 422 p.
1993 bestseller #2; my grade: B-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni