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Six Fiction Writers
Books & Such

Six Fiction Writers 

The best fiction holds a mirror up to society. Unfortunately, and despite the liberty and prosperity almost all of us enjoy, ours is a culture pathologically suffused with guns and drugs. The numbers are staggering. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “In 2021, the most recent year for which complete data is available, 48,830 died from gun-related injuries in the U.S.” That’s 133 people every day shot and killed in the land of the free.

And, since 2021, the CDC also reports that over 100,000 drug overdose deaths have occurred each year. That’s over 270 drug overdoses every day in the home of the brave.

Unless one has been personally touched by these twin tragedies, the numbers have a way of washing over us right along with the latest social media post and the weather forecast. This is why Alexander Sammartino’s debut novel, Last Acts (2024), strikes the perfect chord; replacing what should be insurmountable grief at what we’ve become… with hilarious laughter at how ridiculous this all is.

A strip mall gun store owner in Arizona is going bust until his drug- addicted son, who he hasn’t seen in over a year, shows up after a stint in rehab. The gun store is saved when the son gets the great idea to donate a percentage of gun and ammo sales to drug addiction treatment. This biting satire lays American culture bare.

Another debut novel, She Rides Shotgun (2017) by Jordan Harper, asks: how does Polly McClusky, a withdrawn 11-year-old girl clinging to a Teddy bear, find herself in the cross-hairs of white supremacist hit men? It may have something to do with her father, recently released from prison and hoping to go straight. Unfortunately, Nate McClusky has made some rather unpleasant enemies while locked up; and following the law becomes very difficult when those chasing him are heavily armed and without scruples.

Harper’s sharp modern social commentary reads as a morality tale that raises serious questions about right and wrong within a culture riddled with the ever-present threat of violence. And Polly’s transformation is nothing less than remarkable.

I also really enjoyed Harper’s Everybody Knows (2023), a great piece of crime fiction that exposes the degree to which LA’s rich and famous will go to protect their secrets. At the center of the story is The Beast, a collection of organizations whose public relations work buries news that might harm cherished reputations. We’ve heard pretty convincing evidence lately that this kind of thing goes on all the time which has this particular work of fiction doing what fiction does best; saying a great deal about the society we live in.

I’ve recently discovered a couple authors who have been publishing a number of very popular books for quite some time. Mark Greaney’s Gray Man series is at thirteen volumes with a fourteenth due out in February 2025. The first is The Gray Man (2009) where we are introduced to former CIA guy Court Gentry, a covert operator with a reputation as the best; he does lethal work that no one else can manage and then disappears. His most recent target is the corrupt brother of a Nigerian prince who uses his oil wealth to seek revenge. A 20 million dollar bounty motivates several of the world’s deadliest hit squads to take out the elusive Gray Man.

It is no spoiler to say, with thirteen volumes to go, that the bodies pile up in this one. Good gory stuff filled with suspense, intrigue, and Gentry’s uncanny ability to size up people and situations. I’ll let you be the judge as to whether this and those that follow reflect the modern world or not.

There have been a few attempts to adapt the Gray Man series for film, the most recent a 2022 Netflix movie starring Ryan Gosling. I started viewing the trailer when I realized it reveals plots from books I have not yet read. So, as every reader knows in situations like this, read the earlier books first.

Another well-known author that has only recently reached my shelf is Don Winslow. His City trilogy, City on Fire (2022), City of Dreams (2023), and City of Ruins (2024) begins with Irish gangster Danny Ryan engaging in a mob war with the Italians in Providence, Rhode Island. The first book is an inside look into lower level mob work where the players are beholden to forces in Chicago, New York, and Miami, making this a gritty, down to earth version of, say, The Godfather.

Winslow has been at it for over three decades so he has quite a library of work. I look forward to checking out how his modern voice compares to his younger self. Also, he has announced that his novel writing career is over so he can put his efforts into making political videos. He strenuously argues that Donald Trump poses an existential threat to American democracy. See link to Don Winslow interview below.*

Three years ago, I wrote about “Some Friends of Mine”—one of whom is Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett, created by CJ Box. Pickett’s most recent adventure is Three-Inch Teeth (2024), the twenty-fourth in the series with a twenty-fifth due out in 2025.**

The titular teeth belong to a grizzly bear that has wandered out of its known habitat into Twelve Sleep County and attacked a few citizens. A recently released convict with a grudge to settle uses the attacks as cover to collect his revenge, but Joe, of course, along with the help of his intrepid wife Marybeth, eventually gets in his way.

Finally, my recent obsession with Stephen King led me to The Stand. When originally submitted for eventual publication in 1978, King was asked to trim 400 pages which he did grudgingly. In 1990, King published The Stand: Complete and Uncut Edition. As you plan your beach reads for the summer, at 1,152 pages, you might want to use your e-Reader for this one.

As to reflecting our society, this grand piece of fiction suggests that there are forces out there beyond our control; with good and evil battling things out. While I don’t tend to lean in that mystical direction, recent events in our own world may have me reconsidering my position. Either way, Stephen King just gets it done.

Enjoy!

*Interview with Don Winslow

**Books & Such, Some Friends of Mine, TNT, June 4, 2021

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