The Cold Dish – Craig Johnson
This is the time of year when I abandon my To Read list and seek out Best Summer Reads type lists online. One such list suggested this book, which was a nice spin on the detective procedural.
Walt Longmire is a sheriff in a small town in Wyoming. He is in his 50s, widowed, and spends too many nights pounding too many beers. He went to USC to play football, lost his deferment and got drafted into the Marines, who provided him with an all-expenses trip to Vietnam in the height of the war there. He is also very well read, and drops lots of lovely literary references into his conversations.
Just as he is about to start his first romance since his wife’s death, a couple of dead bodies show up in town. Both dead men were involved in a case several years earlier where a group of white teenage boys sexually assaulted a mentally challenged Native American girl from the neighboring reservation. Although the boys were convicted, there was outrage in the Indian community about the lightness of their sentences.
Longmire thus begins an uncomfortable search to find this assassin. Uncomfortable because he believes that justice was not served in the original case. Uncomfortable because his best friend may be a prime subject. Uncomfortable because of how it brings that old trial back to the attention of the community, which he hopes will elect his preferred successor when he retires before the next election.
There are some nice zigs and zags before the killer is identified. A solid read, although I don’t think I’ll read any more books in the series.
Last Days of Summer – Steve Kluger
This, on the other hand, was an utterly magical and delightful read. It was funny and deeply affecting.
It begins in 1940, with 12-year-old Joey Margolis having a very difficult time. His father has recently left Joey and his mother alone in Brooklyn for Manhattan and his new, younger wife. The neighborhood bullies use Margolis’ Jewish faith as an excuse to kick his ass on the regular. Looking for help, Margolis begins writing letters to the New York Giants rookie phenom third baseman Charlie Banks, claiming he has cancer and other illnesses in an effort to get Banks to both hit a home run for him and announce on the radio that Margolis is his friend. After a couple form-letter replies, Margolis tracks down Banks’ home address and writes him there, which elicits a somewhat put out response from Banks.
This kicks off a back-and-forth between the two that carries the book. The bulk of the story is told through letters between the two, through transcripts of Margolis’ meetings with a psychologist, his letters to the Roosevelt White House, and correspondence between his teachers and mother.
The correspondence between Margolis and Banks blossoms from contentious into a great friendship. Banks learns of the pain in Margolis’ life and speaks up for him to the bullies, stands in for Margolis’ father at his bar mitzvah, and eventually takes Margolis on a road trip as the Giants’ bat boy during the 1941 season. Through his mentoring of Margolis, Banks softens some of his harder views, comes to terms with the death of his brother, and learns how to appreciate his relationship with an actress/singer.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor Banks enlists and the story takes a pretty predictable turn, which still hits hard despite knowing what is coming.
The relationship Margolis and Banks forge is extraordinary. They give each other shit and support in equal measures and help each other grow into more mature humans. Kluger perfectly captures that feeling of being a pre-teen, baseball obsessed American boy, while also getting just the right cultural touchtones to correctly place the story in that pre-war period.
I enjoyed the hell out of this book.