Friday, March 22, 2013

Deep Winter Reading: World War II, Alistair MacLean, Perry Mason... and More

I've been deep in World War II the last couple of weeks with the help of some outstanding historians …and one novelist. I pass along the best of these as hearty recommendations.

* Dan Kurzman's excellent history of the Allies' effort to destroy the Nazi's supply of heavy-water (especially involving a handful of daring heroes from the Norwegian underground) is titled Blood and Water: Sabotaging Hitler's Bomb. It was published in 1997.

* Ben Macintyre's Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies (2012) is an excellent history of Britain's brilliant and stunningly successful counter-espionage program. Imagine -- capturing every single spy Germany sent into England and then turning most of them into remarkably effective double agents whose misinformation was critical to the Allies' victory.

* Stephen Ambrose's Pegasus Bridge: June 6, 1944 is a detailed (and stirring) description of the early hours of D-Day starring the British glider commandos and paratroopers who took (intact) the river and canal bridges at Benouville and defended them until relieved. The efforts of this small band of heroes, quite literally, may have saved the invasion. If you doubt it, please read the book, first published in 1985.

* The novel I referred to above was Alistair MacLean's thrilling adventure about the Merchant Marine in WW II, San Andreas (1984). It's superb.

Other reading going on? Well, besides the Bible study material and the necessities of Vital Signs Blog, the late evenings of the deep winter months usually find me curled up with a few favorite mystery authors. Among that group would be Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers, Dick Francis, John D. MacDonald, Jonathan Gash, Donald Hamilton, John Dickson Carr, Helen MacDonald, Leslie Charteris, Eric Ambler, and the like.

This year, however, it was 30 some Erle Stanley Gardner novels, most of them featuring Perry Mason, Della Street, Paul Drake and company. For a bit of spice, I did toss in a few of Gardner's books written under the pen name of A.A. Fair. Those star the diminutive but street smart private eye, Donald Lam.

Slipped in there were Drums Along the Mohawk by Walter D. Edmonds (which I posted about previously in The American Revolution's Frontier War) and The President’s Lady by Irving Stone, a fine historical novel about Andrew and Rachel Jackson that we read for our book club in February.

Oh yes, there was also the much more substantial book written by one of my favorite historians, Samuel Eliot Morison. That was The Two-Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War (Atlantic-Little, Brown, 1963, 610 pages.) That book also prompted a Book Den post which you can find here.

But back to the more recent reading. In addition to the World War II books I mentioned at the outset of this post, March titles have included three more Alistair MacLean novels (Fear Is the Key, The Guns of Navarone, and Caravan to Vaccares). I enjoyed them all. For well-written, thrilling adventure novels, MacLean never disappoints. And then there was the The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healey that was the subject of a Book Den post from earlier in the week. 

Next up -- I'm about halfway through Studies in Words by C.S. Lewis; two thirds through A Solo in Tom-Toms by Gene Fowler; and I've just begun Unjust Enrichment: How Japan's Companies Built Postwar Fortunes Using American POWs by Linda Goetz Holmes. In order to best serve "When Swing Was King" ministry, I'm also reading through a few books dealing with Big Band history. Among them are Star Dust by Richard Grudens and The Big Band Almanac by Leo Walker.