Back in the days when I was an EW regular, I started a column titled ”25 Things That Piss Me Off.” I never finished, because I’m a fairly easygoing guy and I could only think of about a dozen. But on that abbreviated list, right between No. 7 (”When the Junior Mints fall off my toothpick”) and No. 9 (”People who think movies with subtitles are always works of genius”) was this, at No. 8: ”Snobby summer reading lists.” I’m talking about the guy who says he’s going to spend July rereading War and Peace or the woman who insists she’s finally going to dig into the complete works of George Eliot.
Really? Eliot or James Joyce while swinging in the backyard hammock? Maybe somebody thinks that’s the way to spend those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, but not me. So when EW gave me a chance to make a list of books for real people to read on real summer vacations, I jumped at the chance. None of these novels will insult your intelligence, but all will take you away to new and interesting places full of excitement, danger, and maybe a few laughs. For me, that — and not A Complete History of Canada in Very Tiny Print — is what summer reading is all about. Here are 12 good reads, four for each summer month. Uncle Stevie guarantees you won’t be disappointed.
If you haven’t read Sandford, you have been missing one of the great summer-read novelists of all time. Lucas Davenport, the policeman hero of the Prey novels, is a hard dude…but not without a sense of humor, and that makes him special. Sandford writes real-guy novels, but — judging by my wife and her sisters — real girls like him too.
Daniel H. Wilson
All the gadgets that inhabit our lives — from the biggest supercomputers to the humble Roomba vacuum cleaner — rise up and go to war against the humans who made them. It’s going to be a Spielberg movie, and actually reads a little like a script, but so what? It’s terrific page-turning fun.
One of the finest horror-suspense writers of the late ’70s and ’80s returns with a riveting novel of a rock band (the Five) pursued by a mentally unstable Army vet who’s offended by one of their videos. It’s scary; it’s also a soaring anthem to the redemptive power of rock & roll. You probably won’t find it in your bookstore, so go to your (hopefully nonmalevolent) computer and click on subterraneanpress.com.
The Fifth Witness
If you haven’t read Connelly yet — or if you’ve only read the Harry Bosch books and missed the ones about quirky defense lawyer Mickey Haller, who uses the backseat of his Lincoln Town Car as his office — this is the place to start. He takes on the case of Lisa Trammel, accused of killing the banker who was foreclosing on her home. What follows is one of the most bone-crunching courtroom dramas you’ll ever read.
Joe Pike (you’ll find his picture next to ”strong silent type” in the dictionary) intervenes when two bad boys beat up the proprietor of a sandwich shop. Sounds simple, but what results is a complex, propulsive tale. Crais is as good as anyone working the L.A. crime beat these days.
The Silent Land
Jake and Zoe Bennett are on a skiing holiday when they’re caught in an avalanche. They escape the snow only to discover that everyone in the world seems to have disappeared. Scary Twilight Zone stuff, but also a sensitive exploration of love’s redemptive power.
The Cypress House
Gangsters, a silent but heroic drifter with second sight, and a whopper of a Florida hurricane. How can you go wrong?
Dog on It
A detective novel narrated by a dog? Yeah, it’s cute, but not too. There’s a real mystery here, and great suspense as well. This dog’s-eye view of the gumshoe bit is entertaining, and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny.
I haven’t read it, but after ripping through two previous Barclay novels, I can’t wait. (It hits stores Aug. 9.) Listen, anyone who can make a car salesman the hero of a suspense novel (Fear the Worst) gets my vote.
There’s a new Atkinson out now (Started Early, Took My Dog), but I think you should begin with the first of her four novels about reluctant (and charming) private eye Jackson Brodie. Histories is about two murders and the disappearance of a little girl. These events can’t possibly be related…only they are. Kate Atkinson is a faultless plotter and a brilliant stylist. A gift from God to your summer vacation, in other words.
A Test of Wills
If you like English mysteries with sentences like ”He found the vicar pottering about in his garden,” you’re going to love Todd. This is the Scotland Yard inspector Ian Rutledge’s debut appearance, but be warned: He’s far from the usual dauntless hero. Beset by memories of the World War I trenches and tottering on the edge of mental collapse, Rutledge stars in a decidedly uncozy series of British mysteries.
The Terror of Living
Phil Hunt is a decent guy who supplements his living by muling hard drugs in the Pacific Northwest. Bobby Drake is the deputy sheriff who’s trying to hunt him down. The resulting chase is pure dynamite. This is one of those books you start at one in the afternoon and put down, winded, after midnight.
That’s my list. Now all you have to do is make sure your hammock’s in good working order.