I was laboring over how to pick just one favorite book of the year when I came across an old article my dad wrote for the local newspaper detailing a vacation he and my mother had taken to New Mexico. At the beginning he mentioned he’d borrowed a tent from his “favorite brother-in-law” before leaving Chicago. I was surprised that my dad used this designation, especially since one of my mother’s other brothers was the one who lived in New Mexico. As I read on, I saw how my father had artfully avoided favoring one brother-in-law over the other. He merely mentioned that when they got to New Mexico he saw his “other favorite brother-in-law.” That clever dodge always stuck with me, and I decided to do something similar here. So, what follows is not only my favorite book of the year, but also my “other favorites” as well.
I’ll start off with an anthology in which I had the pleasure to be invited. 10 Code, edited by Scott L. Silveri, was a collection of ten short stories written by current or former law enforcement writers. Scott approached me about this project, stating that each story had to involve a rather sensitive subject, the on-duty death of a police officer. All of the proceeds were to be dedicated to the National Law Enforcement Memorial. The authors could also dedicate their stories to someone whose name was on the wall. Since I had two friends who fit that criteria, I told him I was in. My story, “Obligations,” was difficult to write. It deals with the convicted murderer of a police officer being granted a new trial, and the effect on the officer’s family and friends. All of the stories in this anthology are superior. It sold quite well, and the proceeds were donated to the Memorial Fund. I was honored to be a part of it.
Next up was a non-fiction book that I really enjoyed. Legends and Lies: The Real West, by Bill O’Reilly and David Fisher, turned out to be an unexpected pleasure. I normally try to read at least one non-fiction book a year, and I immediately became intrigued when I saw this one advertised. The book gives the real perspective on the heroes and villains of the old west. From Wild Bill Hickok, who purported killed 36 men in gunfights, to Billy the Kid, who may or may not have been gunned down by his ex-friend, Pat Garrett, the book was delightfully written and enhanced with numerous photographs. My favorite chapter dealt with cowboy lawman, Bass Reeves, who was thought to be the inspiration for the Lone Ranger. I’d highly recommend it.
In the novel category, I actually have two books that I really enjoyed reading this year. One, The New Centurions, was revisited from long ago. This was the first novel by Joseph Wambaugh, the LA cop who became a famous, bestselling author. I read the novel when it first came out, many years ago, and it influenced me to go into law enforcement. I was asked to teach a couple of classes at Lee Lofland’s Writers’ Police Academy last summer, and I dug out my copy of The New Centurions looking for a particular quote I wanted to use. I ended up rereading the entire novel, and I was amazed at how many events depicted in the book echoed my own police career. It reaffirmed for me the commonality of experiences that all coppers have, no matter where you work in this great and vast country. There are things that you experience that only someone who’s worn the badge can understand. The New Centurions is my favorite novel about police work.
First runner up in the novel category has to go to Michael Connelly’s The Gods of Guilt. I had this one sitting on my “to read” stack, and finally got around to it in the early spring. It’s another in Connelly’s Lincoln Lawyer series, featuring defense attorney, Mickey Haller. Any author who can keep me reading a book that features a defense attorney as the hero has to be acknowledged as a fine craftsman. While I disagree with Haller’s assertion that the legal system is stacked in favor of the prosecution, taken from a defense attorney’s POV, that opinion is understandable. This time out, Haller actually has an innocent client to defend. The trade paperback version of the novel also features an alternate ending that Connelly discarded in favor of the one he used. He’s an excellent writer.
Rounding things out, I’ll go with the hardcover edition of Wallace Wood’s Cannon. Wood was one of my favorite comic book artists, and during the early 1970’s he did two adult comic strips for a newspaper called Overseas Weekly. The strips were Sally Forth, a parody featuring a rather naïve heroine who was always in a state of undress, and Cannon, a fearless secret agent who fought the forces of evil all over the globe. I should add that Overseas Weekly was principally designed to appeal to young men in the military, and the strips had very mature themes. The original newspapers featured a lot of female pin-ups, too. By today’s standards, they would no doubt be considered politically incorrect, but I remember them from the perspective of a young GI who was far from home. They were scarce, and when I was overseas, we used to literally fight over each issue. While the writing of Cannon often left something to be desired, Wood’s artwork was always first rate. He had an incredible ability to pack a tremendous amount of detail into every panel. Revisiting these old adventure strips in this hardcover edition was a nostalgic, “guilty pleasure” for me.
Well, there you have it. My favorites of 2015. I have my “to read” pile getting stacked up already in anticipation of the New Year.