The Right Coast

June 22, 2005
Summer reading
By Tom Smith

Ah summer. Time for big, chunky books with little redeeming social value. I discovered the Merrily Watkins mysteries on Amazon, and they're pretty delicious. Hard to describe, however. P.D. James meets Stephen King? Some reviewers call it a new genre, but in fact the "supernatural detective" is as old as the detective genre itself. LeFanu and Blackwood both practiced it. In these mysteries, the Rev. Watkins is asked by her bishop (who turns out very badly, but I won't spoil it) to be the "deliverance consultant" for the C of E diocese in Hereford, a very old English town in the Midlands. Lots and lots of English atmosphere, and evil in new and some very old forms. Supernatural stuff seems to happen, but on the margins; so the King analogy in inapt.

I had to send William down the driveway to get the UPS packages. The driver will no longer come up our driveway, being afraid of our dogs. I suppose I am now officially a Jamulian. The dogs are scary, but harmless. I especially like Denali's big, bellowing, slobbering bark. It is not true that I was ordering packages just so they'd have something to do.

English mysteries with clerical detectives? Am I going soft or something? What happened to miniguns turning VC into red mist? Calm down, savage readers. Here's the book you want. Kent Anderson's Sympathy for the Devil, recommended by a loyal reader, gets five hand grenades for searing action and psychological realism. Hanson is a raw recruit drafted into Vietnam who volunteers for the Green Berets to escape the mediocrity and oppression of ordinary infantry life. He adapts only too well, and evolves into a lover of war, with everyone except his Yard fighters and other Special Forces becoming the enemy. As Hanson says at one point, he's not trying to win the war; he just likes the work. This book goes way beyond the cliches of Apocalypse Now and Platoon.