Books

Let one of these masters plot your escape

Summer's lease hath all too short a date, as the Bard aptly reminds those who cherish these sultry months for guiltless hours of surfside or hammock reading.

And now, as the lazy season slouches relentlessly toward Labor Day, with all its ensuing quotidian responsibility and care, I offer a solemn last call for any still seeking summer-appropriate whodunits and page-turners for these final weeks of lassitude. The list is long. Time is short. Get busy.

Swan Peak

James Lee Burke

Simon and Schuster, 416 pages

Keeping with the escapist possibilities that summer uniquely offers, we turn first to "Swan Peak," Burke's 17th story featuring Louisiana lawman Dave Robicheaux, who himself attempts escape here.

Dave and sidekick Clete Purcel, both in their own way still traumatized by what Katrina did to their state, leave it all behind for a few weeks fishing on the storied streams of western Montana. They've barely opened their tackle boxes before trouble begins, first with a nasty run-in Clete has with security guards for a neighboring wealthy oilman, then when both are drawn inexorably to the murder of a coed and her boyfriend near the place they are staying.

But don't cry for him, gentle reader, especially if you've been through Chicago's O'Hare recently and can probably top Robicheaux's vacation from hell. It's his job -- as it is the job of all fictional detectives, spies, private eyes and accidental heroes -- to give up their vacations, federal holidays and lazy afternoons so we can enjoy ours. What's more, he and Clete, eventually, do get to fish streams "probably as good as earth gets ... where current flows as clear as green Jell-O across the tops of your tennis shoes."

Moscow Rules

Daniel Silva

Putnam, 448 pages

For another example of this selflessness, let me reintroduce Gabriel Allon, the resolute Israeli intelligence operative who interrupts his honeymoon(!) to once again (this is the 11th in the series) save the world -- this time from a wily and quite mad Russian arms dealer.

Allon, whose cover is that of master art restorer (which he is), leaves his new bride (also an Israeli agent) in Umbria for a supposedly quick meeting with a dissident Russian journalist in Rome to hear about the dealer's plans to sell lethal rockets to terrorists. Nothing goes as planned: The journalist dies, poisoned, in Allon's arms before he can divulge all he knows. Gabriel reluctantly heads to Moscow to find out more and lands briefly, for brutal interrogation, in Lubyanka for his trouble. After his escape, he heads to St. Tropez where the arms dealer has a lavish villa -- and a beautiful wife who just may want to share her husband's dastardly plans with Allon.

Plot summary can't adequately serve Silva, whose stories are uniformly well-plotted and relentlessly suspenseful, with appealing characters and beautifully rendered settings. Frequent comparisons to Le Carre go too far, to Robert Ludlum not far enough.

The Bourne Sanction

Eric Van Lustbader

Grand Central, 484 pages

Speaking of: Though Robert Ludlum has been dead for years, "publishers" continue to grind out hulking novels under the Ludlum name, as in this month's (and this is exactly how the cover reads): "ROBERT LUDLUM'S The Bourne Sanction: A New Jason Bourne Novel by Eric Van Lustbader" That's a little like saying "F. SCOTT FITZGERALD'S The Even Better Gatsby: A New Jay Gatsby Novel by Heinrich Van Hack." A little.

But somebody is buying this stuff (yeah, I'm looking at you), since the Bourne stories keep selling boatloads and ending up on screen. In "Sanction," Bourne again chafes at his day job, this time as a Georgetown linguistics professor, and is soon teamed with new CIA Director Veronica Hart (not kidding) to thwart a new Muslim extremist sect, The Black Legion, intent on doing what Muslim extremist sects routinely do. Umpteenth verse, same as the first.

Foreign Body

Robin Cook

Putnam, 436 pages

Robin Cook, who does for hypochondriacs what Ludlum does for paranoiacs, has assembled yet another medical thriller--his 26th -- certain to pull the plug on anyone's plans to head overseas for cheaper surgical procedures. In "Foreign Body," doughty UCLA medical student Jennifer Hernandez is sitting in the surgical lounge one day when she hears a story on CNN about medical tourism, which includes a reference to an elderly American who died one day after hip surgery in a New Delhi hospital. Turns out it was Jennifer's grandmother, and before you can say, "Holy Plot Contrivance!," our heroine books passage to India, eventually joined by her husband and her mentor. Cook is a master of pacing and "it-could-happen-ness," so you get beyond the clunky narrative tricks and find yourself turning pages to find out what happens next.

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