Before traveling recently, I stopped by the library to return books. Figuring to take along a couple of my own, I wasn’t going to check out any; then there’d be no worry about forgetting them on the plane, or having the TSA arbitrarily seize them under the new rules about blue or black novels larger than seven inches in any dimension. Then I noticed the rack of free paperbacks. These racks have become more common. At first they were for sale – fifty cents each, a dollar for hard cover. Then they were “paper back exchanges” – take one, leave one. Now it’s “take one; in fact, take two or three.” So I did – Dale Brown’s Rogue Forces, Maeve Binchy’s Quentins, and The Last Templar, by Michael Jecks. The Last Templar is a mystery set in the middle ages, and I haven’t read it yet.
Rogue Forces, by Dale Brown, is a techno-thriller in the present day about conflict Iraqis, Kurds, Turks, the US military, and US contractors. The technology is existing stuff and extrapolations of existing stuff, sometimes approaching science fiction. Technology is central to the plot, and the tactical engagements are presented in detail. If you find that tedious, you’ll probably find the book tedious. Still, it’s a good read. The characters are realistic and human, and the story is thoughtful. Dale Brown writes clearly, and presents everyone in the armed conflict from their own viewpoint. There are good and bad people on each side. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say the real conflict is between the soldiers and the politicians. I hadn’t read anything by Brown since The Flight of the Old Dog years ago. Rogue Forces continues the story of characters from Brown’s earlier novels, but it stands up on its own.
Looking at the cover blurbs, Quentins, by Maeve Binchy, does not seem like something I’d care for. Fortunately I started reading, or I’d have missed a good book. It’s about love, money, family, and place, or simply about people. In the large Quentins reminds me of Our Mutual Friend, though Maeve Binchy’s writing is not at all like Dickens’. They share a focus on people, surprising connections, and engaging stories. Maeve Binchy ties these together in a Dublin restaurant named Quentins. Her writing is open and direct. Characters are candid photos instead of pen-and-ink caricatures. After the first chapter, which is a bit slow, the story becomes and remains engrossing. As above, Quentins has people from the author’s earlier novels, but stands on its own.