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Time for a Good Book

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When I was nine my mother lured me to a long-postponed dental appointment with the promise that if I were "good" she would buy me a new book. I was already a voracious reader and she knew that promise insured less squirming in the chair. Sure enough, post-filling I went to my favorite little bookstore and discovered The Tower Treasure, the first volume of the Hardy Boys series by Franklin W. Dixon. I devoured it in an evening and the special world of secrets shared by teenage detectives, Frank and Joe Hardy, opened the door to a lifelong passion for mysteries.

I deeply admire the thinking and writing of Jon Meacham, historian and editor (most recently of Newsweek), who reminds us that mysteries focus us on the devices and desires of our own hearts, dark as they may sometimes be. He notes that "mysteries and thrillers are not the same thing, though they are literary siblings... the distinction is that mysteries emphasize motive and psychology whereas thrillers rely more heavily on action and plot."

I confess to liking, collecting, sharing and savoring both.

Friends prod me to make recommendations but it becomes more difficult after one savors the depth of Agatha Christie's Poirot (brought to life on PBS by the brilliant David Suchet), or lately, Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth Salander trilogy, disturbing as they are. I have always been attracted to detectives who struggle with what William Faulkner called "the old verities and truths of the heart... love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice."

My favorite sleuths are, like me, flawed and curious in an often dark, confusing and fallen world, where, as Meacham noted, "murder and betrayal and treason are constant threats and frequent foes."

I find P.D. James' poet-detective Adam Dalgliesh to be the very model of a repressed, and later in the series, grieving man driven to find whatever truth is buried under the bloody sheets of life. Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse is a curmudgeon driven to solve a deadly puzzle, while drinking too much, offending too many, all the while finding comfort listening to opera in his leafy corner of contemporary Oxford.

I have moved in my reading from Britain to Iceland with Hanny Mankell's brilliant, if lost, Inspector Wallander. I recently discovered Inspector Harry Hollow (that gives you a sense of the man), in Jo Nesbo's series set in Oslo. I have favorites from Africa and Italy, too.

For thrillers I still am a sucker for Daniel Silva's complex portrait of Gabriel Allon, an Israeli assassin with a passion for art restoration and a trail of personal loss. Who doesn't like Jack Reacher, the creation of Lee Child, as he brings order with a Clint Eastwood-like fist and search for simply justice? I just finished David Ignatius' Bloodmoney, which brought me into the world of espionage and duplicity in contemporary Pakistan, a place he knows well as a Washington Post foreign affairs columnist. And Robert Ludlum's latest novel sits on my bedside table waiting to be tested.

And yes, I could go on...

July is a month of long, hot days, rich with the invitation to slip off to a quiet corner and step into a world that is new, often startling and compelling... enjoy reading!