Munich by Robert Harris
A gripping spy thriller about the Munich conference in September 1938 that averted war for a while. After taking over Austria, Germany wanted Sudetenland, an ethnically German section of Czechoslovakia. British Prime Minister Chamberlain flew to Munich with some of his staff and advisers to meet with Hitler, Mussolini, and French Prime Minister Daladier. Apparently, the British and French military weren’t yet ready for war, and Chamberlain was trying to prevent or at least delay England’s entry into war. Over the course of four very tense days, two junior staffers who met at Oxford try to exchange secret documents that could affect the conference’s outcome. Hugh Legat, one of Chamberlain’s secretaries, is the only German speaker of the British delegation, but is mostly stuck at the delegation’s hotel. Hugh is at the beginning of his career, and money is tight. By disobeying orders, he risks his career. In Berlin, his former classmate Paul van Hartmann is caught up in a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler, but his main role is to get to Munich with Hitler’s entourage, and transfer the documents to Chamberlain via Legat. Hartmann is under suspicion from the very beginning, and his life is in jeopardy. It’s fascinating to get glimpses of Hitler and Chamberlain, with their very different motivations and personalities, through the eyes of Legat and Hartmann. Hard to put down, although not as outstanding as his earlier novels Pompeii and Conclave.
The Cuban Affair by Nelson DeMille
Adventure, treasure, and romance are in store for Daniel MacCormick when he meets Miami lawyer Carlos in a Key West bar. Mac and fellow veteran Jack run a charter fishing boat in the Florida Keys, and Carlos wants to charter the boat for a 10-day fishing tournament. After the destination is revealed as Cuba, Mac is not interested. But when a reward of millions of dollars is mentioned, he’s willing to hear more. Beautiful Cuban American Sara Ortega wants to retrieve her grandfather’s treasure. A banker, he stashed a fortune and property deeds in a remote cave, to which she has the map. The plan is for Sara and Mac to join a tour group of Yale alums in Havana, while Jack captains Mac’s boat in the fishing tournament, later picking them up along with the treasure. Mac and Sara’s tour guide seems suspicious of them, and is jealous when they begin a romance to cover their unexplained absences. The tour group sees all the sights in and around Havana, and hears a version of Cuban history. This part isn’t very exciting, nor is the romance, but the pace really picks up when the pair head out of Havana in an old Buick station wagon, trying to avoid the police as they head for the treasure. The risk of betrayal and arrest keeps increasing and Mac wonders if they’ll make it out of Cuba alive, with or without the treasure. A fun trip through Cuba, and a good readalike for Clive Cussler.
The End of the World Running Club by Adrian Walker
Edgar’s not much of a father or husband. When news of the end-of-the-world crisis comes, he’s drunk. But he’s mentally prepared, and helps Beth and their two little kids survive. Later, the family gets separated and Ed is left behind in Edinburgh with a small group. He needs to get to Cornwall in a hurry to find his family again, but the roads are mostly impassable. Surprisingly, Ed won’t ever give up, and the group starts running southwest through the bleak landscape, where they have encounters alternately charming and malevolent. I found the completely ordinary Ed appealing and memorable, and the story very compelling reading.
The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones
A dystopian thriller set in the near future that’s sure to be popular. A group of residents of the southeast zone have paid a large fee to spend a few weeks enjoying nature beyond the salt line. The salt line is a ring of scorched earth and garbage dumps intended to protect the privileged zone residents from ticks carrying deadly diseases. The group’s guide, Andy, makes them practice using a cauterizing stamp that works to prevent disease if used right after a tick bite, and cautions them to stay close to their assigned stamp partner. Somehow the group, which includes tech entrepreneur Wes, middle-aged mom Marta, pop star Jesse and his girlfriend Edie, end up in Ruby City, where June and the other residents, including scarred Violet, no longer live in fear of ticks, though at a price. Adventure and danger follow the group, and they have to decide what kind of life they’ll choose in the future, if they survive. This is another September pick by Library Reads.
Camino Island by John Grisham
Perfect for vacation reading, this entertaining thriller has a devilishly clever plot that keeps the pages turning. A well-planned heist of five rare manuscripts by F. Scott Fitzgerald from Princeton University opens the story. Months later, with the FBI still investigating, a private company contacts Mercer Mann, a young English instructor, with an intriguing offer. If she spends a few months on Camino Island mingling with the literary community, her college loans will be paid off and she’ll have the time to work on her long overdue second novel. Mercer spent several summers on the Florida island, but hasn’t returned since her grandmother’s sudden death. Mercer is asked to get close to island bookseller Bruce Cable, and to try to get a look at his rare book vault in the basement. The local and visiting writers get together often for drinks and to talk about writing and publishing. Mercer spends much of her time walking and sunning on the beach, and is still struggling to find a book plot. Soon enough, the thieves and book dealers connect. The FBI wants to arrest the thieves, while Princeton’s insurance company is focused on getting the manuscripts returned, and Mercer struggles to do the right thing.
Hotel by Arthur Hailey
Published in 1965, this is a thriller about five eventful days at the St. Gregory Hotel in New Orleans. Peter McDermott, the assistant general manager, typically spends much of his time dealing with one crisis after another, as he’s responsible for keeping the hotel running smoothly, but can’t make major changes. Christine Francis, assistant to hotel owner Warren Trent, is a bright spot in his day, as is a distressed guest, Martha Preyscott. During the week, Peter deals with problems in the kitchen, an ill guest housed in the hotel’s worst room, a convention of dentists threatening to leave, a thief, and the looming threat of the hotel being sold. Tycoon Curtis O’Keefe is visiting with his sweet girlfriend Dodo, and is deciding if the St. Gregory will become part of his bland, efficient, and impersonal chain of hotels. The city is briefly but vividly described, with most of the focus on a back stage view of the hotel, from the kitchens to the elevators to the incinerator room, offices, and parking garage. A hotel staff member is blackmailing guests who may be connected to a hit and run, and Peter can only how he’d like to run the hotel. An elevator accident, hinted at early in the book, brings the novel to a dramatic close. While somewhat dated, this is still a plot-driven page turner with just enough background on the minor characters to give them appeal without slowing the intensifying pace.
The Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John Le Carré
For a book in which only the first and last chapters are action scenes, this award-winning spy novel has a big impact. Alec Leamas, 50, has just lost his last operative from East Berlin, and is called home by MI6 to London. He is given the option of retirement or one last revenge mission, to take down Mundt, who had his operatives killed. Deep under cover, Leamas takes to drink, works in a psychic library, has an affair with coworker Liz, punches a grocer, and ends up in jail. Afterward, he pretends to defect and spill his secrets for $15,000. Handed on from contact to contact, he tells all in Holland, then is sent with Fiedler to East Berlin. He is arrested, beaten up, then asked to testify against Mundt, who’d ordered his arrest. But MI6 has slipped up, contacting Liz, who just happens to be a communist, and paying Leamas’ outstanding bills. Twist after plot twist, with lots of suspense and deceit, neither the reader nor Leamas are sure in the end which is the right side. First published in the U.S. in 1964, awarded the Edgar and the Gold Dagger, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold was made into a 1965 movie with Richard Burton as Leamas that also won an Edgar. This year, a TV mini-series based on the book will be released. Le Carré, writing under a pseudonym, taught at Eton before spending five years with the British Foreign Service, and has just published a memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel. This very bleak look at the Cold War is still a terrific read.