I had a conversation with a friend online yesterday, and a small chunk of it was devoted to books. That inspired me to fill a blank page with some suggestions for last-minute shopping for the book lover on your list. Most of the following was blatantly stolen from a web page I wrote way back when, so don’t bother pursuing that plagiarism charge - concentrate on trying to bust me for being too beautiful for the web.
That being said, aside from a preference for mystery writers you'll also notice there's only a few females on my list. I don't intentionally seek out male writers and I've read great books written by women. Either I have an unconscious sexist agenda, or it's all a big coincidence. You decide :).
My Picks -
ROBERT B PARKER - From the first time I read Parker, I was hooked. While I read everything he writes (and we‘re naming my first son Parker; seriously), the Spenser novels remain his calling card. EARLY AUTUMN is arguably my favorite book of all time, and aside from the ever-annoying Susan, you really can't go wrong with a Spenser novel. Two cautions: I‘ve heard that both of Parker‘s sons are gay, so as of late he‘s shown a tendency to make every other tough guy a homosexual. It doesn‘t bother me, except it‘s timing paints it as an effort to validate his kids, which shouldn‘t be necessary. Secondly, if Parker has a weakness, its that all his protagonists are Spenser clones. Sunny Randall, Jesse Stone, Wyatt Earp - put them in Boston with an annoying girlfriend and you've got Spenser.
LAWRENCE BLOCK - One of my favorite authors, which is ironic, since I can't stand the Burglar series that made him a fortune, or the Evan Tanner books that taught him his trade. Even so, the Scudder novels, with one or two exceptions, are works of art. EIGHT MILLION WAYS TO DIE is one of the best. His non-fiction 'how to write' books are also a joy to read.
BERNARD CORNWELL - a late addition to my favorite list. The Sharpe series expertly blend the Napoleonic era with adventure fiction and the Superman myth. Plus they're just darn good fun to read. The scene in 'Eagle' where Sharpe, fearing court-martial, is instead promoted put a grin on my face for days. The Archer series was in much the same vein. Drawbacks to his writing? Aside from Sharpe's amazing ability to score with a beautiful lady during every battle, nada.
LOUIS LAMOUR - Perhaps the least respected author on this list, Lamour is none-the-less a legend in the western genre, and with good reason. If there' a God in Heaven, the Sackett novels should stay in print forever. Likewise, his autobiographical EDUCATION OF A WANDERING MAN was great; forget the critics that said otherwise. Lamour did write over 100 books in a career that began in his '40's, so expect some repetitious descriptions here and there.
HERMAN WOUK - A literary giant (IMHO) best known for his least literary works, THE WINDS OF WAR. And WAR AND REMEMBRANCE. I love both of the Wind books, but THE CAINE MUTINY COURT MARTIAL, a superb novel in all respects, is my favorite.
MARIO PUZO - Read the first line of Wouk's bio, but substitute 'THE GODFATHER' for 'Winds'. I love his career making novel of the mob - in fact, its the only book I've ever re-read, and with pleasure - but his talent was best seen in lesser known works. THE FORTUNATE PILGRIM is literary to its core (and sometimes to its fault). THE DARK ARENA, a dark gothic tale of post-war Germany, is excellent - although I think he snuck in an unhappy ending just to be 'highbrow'.
DICK FRANCIS - After her death, the former jockey admitted his wife played a large role in writing his mysteries. If that's true, then I've got more than one female among my favorite authors. Each book is set within the world of horse racing, and very few feature the same hero. Francis has his good and bad books, but most are worth their weight in gold. FIELD OF THIRTEEN, LONGSHOT, and DRIVING FORCE are my favorites.
LAWRENCE SANDERS - Forget the awful (and popular) Archie McNally series. I love the late Sanders for his "Deadly Sin" books. The original was the best - the well crafted page-turner, THE FIRST DEADLY SIN.
BEVERLY CLEARLY - Yes, she's a children's author. HENRY AND RIBSY was the first book of length I ever read, way back in first grade, and I gobbled up her Henry Huggins and Ramona series. I'll be sure to pass on her books to my own children.
MICHAEL CONNELLY - Prone to forced plots and absurd twists, he's still a great mystery read - in fact, you don't realize how crazy it was until after you've finished and recommended it. BLOOD WORK is among his best, although the movie was boring.
ROBERT CRAIS - His Elvis Cole mysteries are Spenser rip-offs for a younger audience, but they are well written and almost - almost - as good as a RB Parker book. LA REQUIEM is the best so far.
TERRY GOODKIND - Hey, normally I hate the fantasy genre. Hate it, hate it, hate it -but I love Goodkind. His SWORD OF TRUTH series is great, although he could stand to lay off some of the intense sado-machistic (sp?) scenes. If that last part didn't scare ya (and it shouldn't) then try picking up one of the series. They're all pretty good.
ROBERT JORDAN - Yeah, yeah. I still dislike the fantasy genre, but a friend hooked me on Jordan's Wheel of Time series. Each one is as thick as a phone book, and they really need to be read in order to be appreciated. But the man can write.
JOHN SANDFORD - The PREY novels are excellent and feature the self-assured, violent but moral characters that I'm drawn to. Check out EYES OF PREY, in my opinion the best of the bunch.
ED MCBAIN - The pseudonym of Evan Hunter, McBain's 87th Precinct novels are universally recognized as the original - and best - police procedurals out there. He was the print inspiration for shows like NYPD Blue and Hill Street Blues. Almost all of the 50+ books are great, but I favor WIDOWS and ICE. (under Hunter's byline, my favorite is The Moment she was Gone. Excellent!)
RUDYARD KIPLING - CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS is a sentimental favorite, as is his oft-quoted poem IF. SOLDIERS THREE ain't half bad either :)
STEVEN PRESSFIELD - An author that, in my opinion, either swings and misses or hits a home run. GATES OF FIRE is a novel about the battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartan warriors held off the Persian army until they died to the last man. It was a battle that arguably saved Western civilization, and the novel does it great justice. His latest novel about Alexander the Great THE VIRTUES OF WAR, is also quite good.
MINETTE WALTERS - Finally, a female author that ranks as one of my faves! As an Englishwoman Walters not only embraces, but accepts as par for the course a highly socialized welfare state. This is rather hard for an American to swallow, so be prepared. A strong sense of social responsibility pervades her work. So far, my favorite is THE SHAPE OF SNAKES.
ROBERT HEINLEIN - The master of science fiction. His posthumous GRUMBLES FROM THE GRAVE is a great look into the life of a writer, and STARSHIP TROOPERS is a compact novel that didn't deserve the bad movie it inspired.
DEAN KOONTZ - You know, I’ve read a dozen of his books and he still leaves me . .conflicted. I think he tries too hard to prove himself, almost like he’s a self-educated man trying to validate himself to the folks with a degree on their wall (which is odd, as I know he’s well educated). Anyways, maybe I’m crazy. If you like his work, almost any book will do.
STEPHEN KING - I’m not part of his fan club, and I think he’s one of the most over-rated popular writers and a stinking Sox fan to boot, BUT …THE STAND and THE SHINING are brutal, wonderful works of art. Just try reading THE SHINING while sitting in a hotel lobby in the middle of the night, I dare ya. If you like involved, multi-character novels, THE STAND is for you.
MARK BILLINGHAM - Detective procedurals set in London. Grim, violent work with a strong lead character. Try SCAREDYCAT on for size.
LEE CHILD - Extremely well written tales involving Reacher a strong, violent man of unflinching morals with a tendency to land in hot water. Do you see a pattern here? Skip the newest, as it’s a poor stab at a Republican conspiracy plot, but every other title under his name is worth more than a look.
* I’ve only read one book by this author so I can’t list him as a favorite, but if you want a disturbing book to go along with that holiday cheer, pick up THE BONE PARADE by Mark Nykanen. NOT NOT for the faint of heart. The main character makes Hannibal Lector look innocent.
BRUCE CATTON - The man knew the Civil War inside and out, and his writing made you want to read everything he had to say about it. As the subject of his books sometimes overlapped a loyal reader will see some repetition, but overall, a master of his art. Pick up MR. LINCOLN'S ARMY or GRANT MOVES SOUTH to start.
PETER STRAUB - A Milwaukee boy done good. Excellent novels, most set in the horror genre. Pick up KOKO or my favorite GHOST STORY.
DONALD HARSTAD - Hope I spelled that right. A retired Iowa sheriff’s deputy, Harstad now writes wonderful police procedurals set in an Iowa county. I can’t come up with a title off the top of my head, but everything I’ve read is worth a purchase.
Have fun, and happy reading!