Uh oh, Father's Day! What to get a guy to read?
It used to be easy: You bought Dad "Fatherhood" by Bill Cosby and called it a job well done.
But with the void in best-selling father's books, the task can get confusing and somewhat annoying. If you got up this morning and realized you need to give Dad something but you can't afford what he really wants — a 1080p HD big screen with a surround sound system and Blu-Ray disc player, Porterhouses on the grill, a Jaguar XKR-R convertible V-8 sitting in the driveway and no responsibilities for 24 hours — here are some book-related alternatives.
I'm a father, I know a lot of fathers, and there is one area of fiction that all Dads agree is of interest: spy thrillers. If you don't believe me, ask one.
This week's well-timed release of "Carte Blanche" by Jeffery Deaver (Simon & Schuster, $26.99) should fulfill the thriller-loving Dad in you family (as should the movie "Unknown" starring Liam Neeson, which comes out Tuesday on DVD, but that's a story for another section of the newspaper).
The novel is Deaver's updating of the James Bond series, something he undertook at the behest of the family of Ian Fleming. A British World War II veteran, Fleming invented Bond with the 1953 book "Casino Royale." He continued to write Bond books until his death in 1964 (he died young, just 56).
Almost 50 years later, it's estimated one in every five people on the planet have either seen a Bond film or read a Bond book.
Deaver, a thriller veteran with a well-known series of his own featuring Kathryn Dance and Lincoln Rhyme, faced the challenge of bringing Bond into the 21st century. He has pulled it off and provided a ripping story as well. First, the updating.
In this novel, readers see Bond in situations unlike any before. Bored on a date with a beautiful woman, for example. Dealing with office politics, for another — just imagine, James Bond in the office . It works, though, because Deaver portrays Bond as a rebel having to suffer at the hands of bureaucratic prigs, particularly MI5 agent Percy Osboune-Smith, something with which anyone who has spent any time in the corporate world can relate.
He also retains Bond's refinement and taste. There are long passages involving the secret agent's love of good food, fine wine and fast automobiles (Deaver waxes near poetic about the racing green E-Type Jaguar in Bond's garage). We see his flat in Chelsea (hardwood floors, sparsely decorated with items from his deceased parents' estate), his razor (double-bladed safety razor) and his knack for dressing just right (grey suit with no tie in Cape Town, South Africa; navy-blue Canali suit, white sea island shirt and burgundy grenadine tie for the office). He misses no tricks.
And what about that "shaken not stirred" martini business?
"American whiskey was Bond's favorite spirit but he believed vodka was medicinal, if not curative, when served bitingly cold. He now orders a double Stolichnaya martini, medium dry, and asked that it be shaken very well, which not only chilled the vodka better than stirring but bruised — aerated — it as well, improving the flavor considerably." Ah, we see.
And, of course, there are the toys of spy craft, which in this case includes an iQPhone that can do all manner of neat tricks, including setting up surveillance from a satellite and scanning an iris for identification purposes.
There's also the usual passages about highly trained observation skills saving the day at the last moment, including, in one instance, Bond noticing a slight change in the decibel levels of background noise that saves his life. Oh, come on, it's fun!
In other nods to the year 2011, there are references to the BBC show "Top Gear," Lehman Brothers' failure and even to modern male sensitivity: Bond passes on a romantic encounter with a workmate because she is recovering from a broken engagement. Hard to see Roger Moore playing that one, isn't it?
As for the thrills, they come early and often, starting with a train derailment in Serbia involving deadly chemicals. The story takes Bond to Dubai and South Africa. The villains, Severan Hydt and Niall Dunne, are memorable in horrible ways. Dunne's a cold-blooded killer, but Hydt, who runs an international waste-disposal company, is a particularly nasty piece of work. By the time the story reaches Dubai, the reader (and Bond) realize the extent of his obsession with death and decay, and his capacity for evil.
"Carte Blanche," by the way, refers to Bond's immunity from local laws (and his license to kill) when outside England, something he loses for part of the novel as the chase leads back to London. It's a fast read, I finished it in just a handful of sittings, and Deaver leaves enough loose ends for another book. He certainly has earned the right to be given a second installment.
Other releases involving spies:
Penguin is releasing new paperback versions of the John Le Carre classics "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," "The Honourable Schoolboy" and "Smiley's People," which together comprise Le Carre's "Karla Trilogy." Le Carre is rightly considered the master of the spy thriller and is a must-read for spy fans.
If your taste runs more to nonfiction, David Wise, who has written several books on the intelligence community, offers "Tiger Trap" (HMH, $28), which looks at the long spy war between China and America. Among the revelations: stories on how China was able to steal secrets on U.S. nuclear warheads and the neutron bomb, and this juicy bit: an FBI document that indicates President Richard Nixon was a "regular bedmate" of a Chinese operative posing as a Hong Kong bar hostess.
In a somewhat related work, there's also Mark Urban's "Task Force Black" (St. Martin's Press, $25.99) a nonfiction work about secret special forces missions in Iraq, which argues that the war was partially won because of the efforts of American and British intelligence and special operations units working together to target terrorist cells.
Happy reading. And Happy Father's Day.