Liz Smith: Ah, Sweet Mysteries at My Nightstand–the Hot Books of Jeffrey Deaver and Lee Child

And more from our Gossip Girl: Eva Friedlander’s “Curious Journey”…Dennis Hopper’s “Wild Ride” and Fried Butter, Baby!

WEAPONS reflect efficient evolution more than anything else in society, don’t you think? Survival of the fittest, in a way but not quite what Darwin was thinking.”

So says one character to another in the paperback of Jeffrey Deaver‘s thriller titled Edge.

This semi-intellectual philosophical kind of remark is in a dashing bomb-ticking story of suspense. It’s about people in government protection and their secret agent minders. And, it’s about the “lifters” who try to kill the “principals” before they can testify. Or who torture and blackmail the government’s witnesses.

Author Deaver is already famous for The Bone Collector and his detective hero Lincoln Rhyme’s other tales of daring do. The Times of London called him “the best psychological thriller writer around.” Being away from New York for a few weeks has given me the chance to re-evaluate the many practitioners of this art. And I’m just like everyone else, looking at the racks of such books, wondering if I read them before. But I am re-appreciating the mystery/detective/suspense novelists. Most of them are as smart as all get-out. Some, like Deaver, Kathy Reichs, and Lee Child have just blown me away with their plotting, their secrets, their smarts and their imaginations.

Speaking of Mr. Child, for instance. I have fallen in love with his ongoing epic character Jack Reacher, about to be turned into a movie titled “61 Hours” where he’ll be played by Tom Cruise. (Reacher should be played by a young Clint Eastwood and already fans are screaming that the under six foot Tom can’t cut Jack Reacher’s mustard. There is even an online petition being circulated. The internet has gone wild with this bit of casting.)

I have read a number of Reacher books but not the first two. Now I am back at the beginning, savoring Killing Floor and Die Trying and I just wish there were 100 more like them.

For instance, in Killing Floor writer Child gives us an illuminating lesson in U.S. paper money. Well, I won’t interfere with your suspense. I just highly recommend the thriller writers who sometimes beat the classicists.

* * *

“EAT RIGHT, exercise regularly, die anyway,” said Anonymous.

THE ONLY real news to come out of last week’s Republican debate among presidential aspirants was that Mitt Romney looks like a picture postcard ideal of what we have been led to believe most presidents should look like. Oh, there was the cat-fighting between Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann, and Bachmann’s redefining the word “submission.” (As in her stating a woman should be “submissive” to her husband.) It really means respect, says Congresswoman Bachmann. Let’s put the people at Webster’s Dictionary on alert, shall we?

But something major did happen in Iowa, at the state fair. Something monumental. Fried butter. Yes, indeed. For $4 those who dared were handed a half-stick of butter dipped in batter, then fried. The batter is a “secret honey-cinnamon combination.” This artery-clogger on a stick comes from the same people who brought us deep-fried Snickers, Oreos and Twinkies.

Now, don’t blame Iowa. Would it surprise you to know that fried butter comes from the great state of Texas? This delicacy debuted at the Texas State Fair two years ago. But Texas has evolved. Now it’s all about fried beer (that will have to be explained to me) and fried Frito pie.

Perhaps if Rick Perry is rolled in butter, battered, wedged into a Frito pie that is drenched in beer, he will become a more palatable candidate to me? One can only pray.

* * *

COMING THE end of this month is a book titled Nine Lives of a Marriage—A Curious Journey. It has been written by 90-year-old Eva Friedlander.

Eva survived the Holocaust in Hungary, and after the war studied art in Rome. She married a scientist who had escaped the Nazis countless times. Eventually they moved to America; she became a successful art consultant and antique dealer. Happy ending? The American Dream? Not quite. You see, Eva also had to deal with her husband’s 45-year affair with another woman.

This book combines the historical horrors of Nazi domination, its effects upon Eva for decades to come, along with a parallel tale of an infinitely more intimate—perhaps even more painful—persecution. That of a lifetime spent in a marriage with three people, right from the beginning, to paraphrase the late Princess Di.

Written with the assistance of Mickey Goodman, Nine Lives of a Marriage hits shelves on the 29th. I smell a movie option by October. This one has it all.

* * *

LET’S CONTINUE with more book news, although admit it, you are all still thinking about the fried butter!

The late Dennis Hopper’s life will be chronicled in Peter Winkler’s Dennis Hopper: The Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel. Turner Classic Movies chose it as their top pick in the TCM Monthly Book Corner. Hopper was married five times, was friends with everybody from Elvis to Natalie Wood to John Wayne. He began his career with the epic big-studio project “Giant” in 1956. By 1969 he and Peter Fonda had changed movies—and the culture—forever with the low-budget “Easy Rider.”

After a lot of high times, Hopper settled down to become one the industry’s most dependable and respected character actors. Where once his name spelled rebellion and trouble, it came to define old-fashioned reliability.

Winkler’s book arrives any minute from Barricade. And Hopper’s final, funny performance still remains to be seen in Linda Yellen’s “The Last Film Festival.”

6 Responses so far.

  1. avatar TheTexasMom says:

    Sorry to say every year the great state of Texas holds a contest for the next great fair food.  Fried beer was revealed last year which consists of beer injected into a pretzel like dough then fried.

    Liz I don’t think I could stomach a Rick Perry “rolled in butter, battered, wedged into a Frito pie that is drenched in beer”.  The way he is naturally is more than enough.

  2. avatar D C says:

    I can verify what Texas Mom says as true — on all counts.  Also, Texans seem to have quite the adventurous spirit when it comes to cooking.  Just last week my 18 year old son was camping on the Beach near Galveston and the kids were having a cook-out.  Somebody said that they heard if you put a water balloon in the fire it won’t burn.  So, of course, they had to try that.  However, having no water balloons, they decided to try it with a condom.  My son said he was the biggest encourager of that.  I told him that if because they used a condom to hold water and cook on a BBQ pit, some girl got pregnant because the boy who supplied the condom was without at a crucial moment, that he would have to take the blame and help with child support.  (joke, of course).  And if you are wondering, the condom melted to the grate a little, then they tried to get it off of the grate and it fell through to the fire and did, in fact, after a little while, burn.  I wonder if the Mythbusters guys and ever done that one with a balloon OR a condom. 

    Oh… and the real reason for my posting:  Don’t bother with Rick Perry.  He has dragged Texas down about as far as it can go.  Just please, find a better candidate.  There HAS to be SOMEONE!

  3. avatar D C says:

    And for those still  wondering more about Rick Perry… here’s what he’s done for education in Texas.  Just THINK of what he can do for our country!
    At this time of year, it’s customary for many school districts to send parents a Back-to-School letter.  These letters typically express excitement about the upcoming school year; tout campus renovations and technology upgrades; and provide a list of classroom supplies.  This year, that letter probably will read a little differently.
     Andy Welch offers the following as the appropriate message for parents to hear this year.  Welch recently retired as  communication director for the Austin Independent School District.  He previously worked as a reporter at the State Capitol, and as a communication officer for both the Texas Department of Agriculture and the State Comptroller of Public Accounts
    Dear Texas Parent:
     We would like to tell you that we are excited about the start of the upcoming school year.  But that would not be entirely true.
    This past summer, the Texas Legislature cut $4 billion in overall funding for public education, and the impact will be felt in classrooms across the state.  Regardless, we pledge to provide your child with the best education possible, in a clean, safe school.
    This will be a challenge in a state that previously ranked 44th in funding for public education, and is now likely to fall even lower among the 50 states.
    You should know how budget cuts are likely to affect your child’s education:

    Statewide there will be fewer teachers.  Some teachers were laid-off; others retired, and we eliminated their positions; other teaching vacancies were simply left empty, to save money.  This will mean larger class sizes and fewer academic options, especially at the high school grades.

    The focus on the new high-stakes STAAR accountability test will likely mean that we’ll try to find savings in subjects that will not be tested, so expect to have fewer art and music teachers, especially at the elementary grades.

    While state leaders like to tout Texas’ potential in a global economy, our ability to provide students who can speak German, French, Japanese, Chinese, and other foreign languages, will be diminished.  We simply can’t afford to hire the teachers.

    To continue with an effectively full-day pre-kindergarten program, some districts will now be charging tuition, based upon a family’s ability to pay.

    Because of rising transportation costs, many field trips for culturally-enriched art and music programs will be cancelled.

    School maintenance is not protected from budget cuts.  So, if your scout troop or service club is looking for a project, please contact your child’s principal.  They, undoubtedly, will have a ‘to do’ list of projects that we don’t have the money to tackle.

    Higher food prices and utility costs are causing many of us to increase cafeteria meals by 5-10 cents.  Still, it’s nutritious food, and is the only balanced meal that many students receive daily.

    For those of us without artificial turf in stadiums, we’ve done our best to keep athletic fields watered this summer, despite the drought.  That’s not because we want them to be lush, but because if they are nothing but rock-hard patches of dirt, our young athletes are at greater risk of injury.

    Speaking of athletics, some of us are moving into the era of “pay to play,” in which athletes and band members may be required to pay a fee to participate.  We recognize that these fees will present a hardship for many of our students, especially those from low-income families.

     We would like to think these financial challenges are temporary.  We would like to think that, when it convenes in 2013, the Texas Legislature will restore the funding it cut.  However, we are placing greater faith in the courts.  For four decades, our lawmakers have balked at adequately funding public education, until forced to do so by threat of lawsuit.
    Only a handful of us, so far, have chosen to go to voters — who are cash-strapped as well — asking for more revenue through a Tax Ratification Election.  The rest of us will cut corners, and dip further into reserve funds, hoping it doesn’t adversely affect our bond ratings.
    We know that these are difficult economic times for most Texas families. These are also tough times for Texas schools.  Nonetheless, you have our pledge that we will do our best to provide the academic support that your child needs to succeed.  In return, we hope that you will continue to support us.
     Your Local Texas School District

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      The jury is still out as they say with regard to the education cuts which were more about forcing the issue of wasteful spending by the school districts than anything else.  The bottom line is if the taxpayers want to continue to to pay for the wasteful spending they are free to do so through their property taxes and bond issues. So far the districts don’t seem to be getting the message.  Neither do the taxpayers. With property values down, taxes will go up. But not accordingly. They will increase not to make up lost revenue but simply to continue to provide sufficient funding for the administrators to waste on “pet projects” that so far haven’t seemed to have affected test scores in our schools.

      Like him or not, Rick Perry had been the best governor this state has ever had.  Until he decided to become Pastor Perry.

  4. avatar Grace OMalley says:

    The best book I’ve read this year was “Iron House” by John Hart.  Not only did John Hart win back-to-back Edgar Awards, his novels have the same sweeping, richly detailed narratives like Pat Conroy.  All four of his books are page-turners, but “Iron House” had me wide awake at 4am trying to finish it. 

    As for Tom Cruise as Reacher, that has to be the worst casting ever!  I always thought David Morse (the big guard from “The Green Mile”) would make an excellent Reacher.  He’s got the build and that smoldering good-against-evil vibe going. 

    • avatar Deeliteful says:


      Thanks for your comment on John Hart. I am constantly looking for “new” (to me) authors. I read 2 – 4 books a week (depending on the length) and always appreciate referrals like yours.

      I love Lee Child and “Reacher”. Like you, I cannot imagine Tom Cruise as Reacher. David Morse is an interesting suggestion; I admire his work and he would be a believable Reacher. With books, I like to imagine the character(s) as described by the author. Unfortunately when books are made into movies, the plot and characters are “tweaked” for movie goers and not book readers. I can appreciate that and choose not to see the movie. <shrug>