Have You Seen My Country Lately? by Jerry Doyle (2009, Threshold)
This is about as standard a right-wing diatribe book as can be imagined. It hits on every note that most first books by radio talk show hosts have. It begins with a snarky analysis of a key point that they wish to hammer home, then extends that point to related subjects. From there, the author segues to an autobiographical section that explains their credentials and what shaped their personal philosophy. After that, they return to a series of lesser positions that they wish to address. They finally sum everything up with a cautionary look forward.
There’s a lot of value here. First, in reminding us of just how bad a previous administration – in this case, the first year of the Obama administration – was. When the failures and betrayals of the current President and his associated band of politicians are front of mind, it’s all too easy to forget some of the lesser, constant offenses of the past. Second, in demonstrating, with hindsight available, how over-the-top some of the concerns were… and how blinded we were to other offenses which were only to be revealed later.
There’s a third bit of value, too, and it’s sad. Jerry Doyle passed away in 2016 at the age of 60. The first part of the book, his primary argument, was that he knew he was engaging in risky behavior with his smoking and fast food (and, as it turned out, alcohol) but that he knew the dangers of what he was doing and he should be allowed to make his own choices.
By dying when he did, however, he was one of the few modern talkers who held firmly onto his principles. In the weeks before his passing, he was tweeting out encouragement for Cruz to stand firm, warning that Trump and Hillary were two sides of the same coin.
Doyle wasn’t always the deepest thinker, but he was a genial man who had accomplished quite a bit and had a core set of beliefs. There aren’t many classical conservative polemic-style books out there by people who didn’t eventually bend the knee and subvert most of what they’d always claimed to support. With this one, I can at least imagine that someone would have refused to do so.
The Hot Rock by Donald E. Westlake (1970, Simon & Schuster)
Donald E. Westlake had already become a recognized expert in the humorous crime novel before The Hot Rock and its smart, if unlucky, criminal protagonist. With this, the introduction of John Dortmunder, Westlake became a master.
Dortmunder is a bright, occasionally brilliant, planner of criminal activities who spends most of his time with cheap grifting to make enough cash to get by. He’s been to jail and disliked it enough to avoid going back. He’s got friends who possess unusual skills but deep flaws. And he gets into trouble.
Dortmunder has made it to movies. In Bank Shot (1974) George C. Scott plays him as he attempts to steal a bank. Paul Le Mat plays him in the 1982 film Jimmy the Kid, which was primarily a Gary Coleman vehicle. Herbert Knaup played him in the 1999 Jimmy the Kid remake. And Martin Lawrence dropped the “Dortmunder” name to become Kevin Caffery in What’s the Worst That Could Happen? (2001)
The key to all of these is that Dortmunder is a perennial loser, and the format was introduced in the Hot Rock. In it, he finds himself on the hook to steal a national treasure in the form of a large jewel. He does so, successfully… but in the process of extricating both his crew and the jewel from a tight situation, the jewel is moved to an even more secure place.
The action is continuous, the humor is organic and unexpected, the plot points flow logically from one scene to the next, and everything is wrapped satisfactorily in the end without loose ends to the story but with a reasonable expectation of seeing the characters return.
Return they do… in 13 further novels, all of which are worth purchasing and all of which stand alone, although occasional references to past capers will provide amusing reminders to those who have read the early books.