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Back in the 1950s adolescents looking for exciting reading about the facts of life, etc., turned to a series of books by muckraking journalists Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer. Books like "Manhattan Confidential," "Chicago Confidential" and even "Midwest Confidential," which exposed all sorts of sin in the nearby Twin Cities and notorious streets like Washington Avenue. These books couldn't hold a candle to a new scholarly book called "Island of Vice," by Richard Zacks (Doubleday, $27.95).
The Dale family -- Mom, Dad, son Zak, daughter Chloe and Lars the dog -- come together for a typical American supper: Zak stepped through the front door of his home at 6:03. Virtually on time. "Wash up, we're at the table," his mother called out. Zak went into the bathroom and decided to use soap instead of just water, since his hands were dirty from dribbling a basketball. His hand washing attempt turned the soap a dull gray, left streaks of mud in the white porcelain basin and imprinted several dirty handprints on the beige towels.
Tom Nash seemingly has it made. He's a retired British spy. He lives on the Cote D'Azur, the French Riviera, hobnobs with artists and writers and expatriates like Gerald and Sara Murphy. His reckless days as a secret agent seem well behind him, and he's so confident that he's out of the woods he leaves his Beretta revolver locked up in a desk drawer. Then one night someone tries to kill him. Who might that be? It's 1935 and the world is working its way to another war, with Nazis and Communists and everything in between plying their spycraft in the most unlikely places.
"The superb landscape...is a rich regalia. We found all the farmers busily employed in gathering, grinding, and expressing the juice of their apples; the crop of which they say is rather above mediocrity. "The average wheat crop they add, is about 15 bushels to the acre from their fallow land -- often 20 & from that to 25. The principal export from Norwalk & Fairfield is horses and cattle -- salted beef & pork, lumber & Indian corn, to the West Indies -- and in small degree wheat and flour." Doesn't the above sort of sound like the report from a rural county agent? Not so.
I hail from Whitehall where there's a large settlement of Amish who moved in forty-odd years ago. My father first worried about their presence because he was a businessman on Main Street and he said, "All they'll buy is salt and black thread." He was wrong, of course, but I always think of him when I see young Amish brides at the IGA buying TV dinners and their husbands letting go their agricultural traces to become painters, carpenters and roofers (good ones, too). Years ago my widowed father lost a leg and we hired Rachel, "a fallen away" Amish girl to be his housekeeper.
As the TV announcer used to say, "How would you like to be queen for a day? Or even longer, or maybe even king?" That's the spot Peggielene Bartels found herself in 2008. Now she and co-author Eleanore Herman have recorded the experience in "King Peggy" (Doubleday, $25.95). Bartels was born in Ghana, went to catering school in London, and ended up as a secretary in the Ghanian Embassy in Washington D.C. Her life was further complicated when she and her husband divorced in 2002 and he returned to Africa.
If you're wondering how we ever got so disastrously involved in Iraq, you might begin by reading "Arrows of the Night," by Richard Bonin (Doubleday, $27.95). It's subtitled, "Ahmad Chalabi's Long Journey to Triumph in Iraq." I had heard of Chalabi and seen him on TV, but because international diplomacy isn't high on my list of interests, I forgot about him. Not so for Richard Bonin, a "60 Minutes" producer, who did specials on Chalabi and convinced him now that the dust has settled to be give many, many interviews. This book reads like a gripping adventure story and should be made into a
Several years ago I reviewed a book written by an acquaintance called "Round-Heeled Woman." It told her story about being divorced, deep into middle age when she got the bright idea of advertising herself in the classified section of the New York Review of Books. She announced that "Before I turn 67 -- next March -- I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first (novelist Anthony) Trollope works for me." She got lots of responses and wrote about her experiences with many of them whom she hooked up with. The novel made news in outfits like Time magazine.
You can't turn on the TV without a commercial for an upcoming zombie movie. Publishers are crazy for zombies, as in the novel I recently reviewed about the end of civilization, which is centered in Lower Manhattan and involves the paramilitary groups who are out to kill the zombies before the zombies eat their brains. Where, indeed. A young writer from rural Wisconsin has a somewhat different take on zombie land. Scary but different. "Huldredrom: Dream of the Hid-Folk," by Christopher R.
"Death on Cache Lake," by Dan Woll and John W. Lyon (Romeii LLC, $14.99), is available in bookstores, at Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and on a website at www.danwoll.com . It's a humdinger of a thriller, told with great style and, unlike many thrillers, with a sense of purpose. It all begins when John, an elementary school teacher in a small Wisconsin town, gets a note from his buddy Caleb that he's in trouble and needs John's help.