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It’s been three years since I last posted my favorite current books and TV series. I’m blaming Covid, though that’s a weak excuse since I was able to write the entire Dark Plague trilogy during the same period. I suppose it’s a matter of priorities. Well, it’s July 4th and I’m waiting on my editor to turn around more chapters from The Haven: A World Remade. With luck, I’ll sneak this article out before the inbox lights up and the red pencil comes out to play again.


Tomorrow, the wife and I head to North America for a lengthy spell including a book launch and fishy business north of the Canada border.


As always, I’m on the lookout for a good thriller, so don’t be shy about dropping me an email and sharing your favorites, too.


Bradley West

Singapore, July 4, 2022


Fictional Best Bets


I confess to abandoning three-quarters of the books I start, wasting untold money on Kindle purchases. I guess you have to shuck a lot of oysters to find a few pearls.


Station Eleven (5-stars) by Emily St. John Mandel depicts a post-pandemic world through the story of a traveling band of musicians and thespians, interwoven with flashbacks to a dead actor’s life and loves.


Deadly, fast-acting influenza spreads across the world and kills 99% of humanity. So far, nothing special . . . I know of at least one other author (ahem!) who relies on the same premise. Station Eleven moves around in time like a Vonnegut novel, with story jumps of twenty years at a stretch common and characters both living and dead featured in flashbacks and flash-forwards. Somewhere in this mix is a hand-drawn science fiction comic book Station Eleven that ties the story together. Inside this confusion, we follow members of the troupe’s stories as they wander around the Great Lakes’ southern shoreline from small town to town. In the year or two between visits, many of their old familiar haunts have changed in unfavorable ways, adding menace to the overall dystopian trek.




I’m not doing a good job of enticing you to read this book, am I? Let’s try it ag

ain. Station Eleven is exceptionally well-written. The characters and plot are interesting and inventive. If you enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction and want something more challenging than a zombie shoot ’em up, then this book is for you.


Station Eleven was also released as an HBO mini-series in 2021, with a 72% audience approval rating. (I’ve not seen the series.)


Certain Prey (4-stars) by John Sandford sees rugged detective Lucas Davenport square off against a hit woman and a high-powered attorney he detests.

Hotshot attorney Carmel Loan hires an assassin, the execution goes wrong and more murders follow to tie up loose ends. Certain Prey has the advantage of pairing detestable Loan with likable hired killer Clara Rinker.




Along with Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch), Sandford is my favorite crime writer today. His plots and prose are top-tier, and while I’m less a Lucas Davenport fan than my wife, Sandford keeps the pace crisp and avoids the temptation to have Lucas bed every eligible woman he meets.


The Spies of Warsaw (4-stars) by Alan Furst traces the pre-WWII subterfuge of Colonel Mercier, France’s military attaché in Poland, as he seeks information on the Wehrmacht’s new armor and possible invasion routes.


I’ve recommended Furst’s historical spy novels before, with his first book in the Night Soldiers series (also of the same name) being perhaps his best, split between the Spanish Civil War and pre-war Paris. The Spies of Warsaw shifts the locale to the northeast while retaining Furst’s trademark atmosphere and foreshadowing.




Mercier’s social circle includes Soviet agents, German spies and a high society love interest. Bureaucratic infighting and detailed cityscapes add to the reader’s experience.

Given what’s happening in Ukraine, the issues under discussion felt more relevant than Furst likely intended when he wrote Spies back in 2004.


The Nineteen by Jake Needham sees Jack Shepherd return to the fold in a twenty-year-old flashback to the weeks after 9/11.


Jake and John Dolan are Thailand-based and my two favorite Asia thriller writers. I had the good fortune of meeting Jake last month in Bangkok where he gave me lots of useful advice. The reason Jake’s books are so good on Bangkok is that the man has soaked the atmosphere through his pores the last thirty years and then excreted it through his fingertips, onto the keyboard and from there to the page.



In a 2022 release that’s selling briskly on Amazon, Needham extrapolates from an August 2001 meeting of al Qaeda heavyweights in next-door Kuala Lumpur and the post-powwow disappearance of three Saudis at the Bangkok Airport. There’s plenty of suspense as young D.C.-based DEA lawyer Lucas Ryan chases one of the hijacking financiers while Shepherd strives to supply adult supervision.

Needham deploys an unusual authorial device, switching between Jack Shepherd’s first-hand retelling and a third-person omniscient voice when Shepherd’s not around. I thought it worked well (though it also feels like cheating, but maybe that’s just jealousy on my part).


Non-Fiction Fizzers


Lords of the Fly (5-stars) by Monte Burke describes the outsized and obsessed personalities dedicated to catching world-record tarpon.

Fast-paced enough to attract non-fishing readers, but detailed enough to entertain fishing junkies, this tale is a modern masterpiece. Monte Burke is a gifted writer who chronicles a thirty-year span in master fisherman and bigger-than-life Tom Evan’s fishing life. Along the way, we meet the guides and other anglers who vied with Evans to catch 200lb overgrown minnows on lines that break at 12-to-20 pounds.







Warning: if you’re an ordinary angler, reading this book will make you want to fish for tarpon (as it did for me, leading to substantial expenditure and zero adult tarpon landed to date). And once you hook one of these sea monsters, you’ll discover that hook’s been set in the other direction and you’re now the one on the line.


Mile Marker Zero (4-stars) by William McKeen presents the history of Key West, Florida through the lives of artists and entertainers.


Key West is the southernmost island in the Keys and an outlier in every regard. Hemingway wrote most of his masterpieces there and the magic dust he left behind attracted Truman Capote, Tom McGuane, Hunter S. Thompson and several others gifted scribes. Along the way, an unknown singer-songwriter named Jimmy Buffett followed a girlfriend down from Miami and the rest is history . . . margaritas, bales of smuggled marijuana (“square groupers”) and piles of blow.





I’m just getting into chasing tarpon, so that was my justification for buying the book. I didn’t learn much about fishy business, but found the book very interesting and well worth reading.


The Fourth Man (4-stars) by Robert Baer, a former CIA operative, traces the case for a Soviet deep penetration agent inside the CIA who was never charged.


U.S. intelligence services rooted out three spies—Howard, Aimes and Hanssen—from the 1980s to the early 2000s. However, the spy catchers found several betrayals that couldn’t be ascribed to any of the three traitors. A search for the fourth man commenced, a strong suspect identified, but nothing ever came of it.





Bob Baer’s classic story of his time as a CIA clandestine officer in the Middle East, See No Evil, is a must-read for spy aficionados. (I’ve devoured it twice and will read it again. It’s so good that a single chapter at the end became the basis for Syriana, a cult espionage movie.) Unfortunately, the material isn’t as compelling in The Fourth Man, but it still makes for an interesting read for fans of mole-hunting.


Sound Man (4-stars) was written by Glyn Johns, the engineer or producer of many of the 1960s top rock bands including the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and The Who. Add to that the engineering credit on Let it Be and producing the first two Eagles’ albums, and you can see the man left a mark.




I’m a huge 1960s and 1970s rock fan, and no one worked with more big names than Glyn Johns. If you like behind-the-scenes stories of how musicians behave and how your favorite “Dad Rock” songs were recorded, this book is for you.


Screamingly Entertaining Series



If you’re like me, you spend more time watching TV than you do reading. (This is a heretical confession from an author, but a reflection of where the money and talent are pointed these days.) The very best series (and movies) are as good or better than the books they’re based on. That didn’t use to be the case.


With there for the picking, I won’t spend a lot of time writing up summaries. Instead, I’ll just list my wife’s and my five-star faves and leave you to follow up with whatever grabs your fancy.



Succession (2018, HBOMax, 3-seasons) stars Brian Cox as an aging Murdoch-like media mogul atop the most dysfunctional, darkly humorous family you’re likely ever to encounter. The best-written series on television.


Ozark (2017, Netflix, 4 seasons) stars Jason Bateman as a crooked money manager from Chicago who ends up laundering narco money in southern Missouri. Very dark, very well acted all around and compelling viewing.


Better Call Saul (2015, AMC+, Netflix, 6 seasons) stars Bob Odenkirk supported by an ensemble cast of tremendous actors. Bob’s Jimmy McGillàSaul Goodman transformation takes place in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He’s a shady lawyer struggling to make his way in the world when he falls for Kim, a better person than he is in every way . . . maybe.


Yellowstone (2018, Peacock, 4 seasons) stars Kevin Costner and presents a violent update on the old Dynasty tropes. A bit like Succession in modern-day southern Montana with spectacular landscapes, lots of eye candy and a contemporary tale of locals protecting traditional values and lifestyles against outsiders.


The Lincoln Lawyer (2022, Netflix, 1 season) brings Michael Connelly’s Micky Haller (Harry Bosch’s half-brother) to life in a strong first season that introduces new faces and fine acting. The central story is about a gaming millionaire who is accused of murdering his wife and her lover. When the tech entrepreneur’s first lawyer is murdered, recovered oxy addict Mickey Haller gets handed the case with inadequate time to prepare for trial.


Bosch: Legacy (2022, Amazon Prime, 1 season) reboots the excellent Bosch with a slightly altered cast still anchored by Titus Welliver. Titus plays Michael Connelly’s old-school homicide detective (technically, a private investigator this time around) to a tee, protecting damsels in distress and sticking up for ordinary people.


Reacher (2021, Amazon Prime, 1 season) is just plain fun with Alan Ritchson nailing the lead role. The action is non-stop down in Georgia where South American counterfeiters have taken over a small town and Reacher is too nosy for his own good.