Perhaps the most shocking book of the fall is Shadow Warrior (Simon & Schuster), subtitled "The CIA Hero of a Hundred Unknown Battles," by Felix Rodriguez and John Weisman. Rodriguez was a 19-year-old anti-Castro refugee from Cuba when he was recruited by the CIA. From then on, he showed up everywhere there was trouble in the world. As he describes in this unapologetic memoir, he returned to Cuba undercover and worked with the resistance forces until the Bay of Pigs disaster. In Nicaragua, he ran a communications network.
In Bolivia, as a CIA advisor, he was the last man to interrogate Ché Guevara, gave the order to execute him and delivered his body to the Bolivian authorities. In Ecuador and Peru, he trained troops in counterinsurgency and basic intelligence work. In Vietnam, he flew more than 250 missions during his 25 months as an advisor. In Washington, D.C., he presented Oliver North with a plan for attacking guerrilla forces in El Salvador. In the year that followed, he flew more than 100 helicopter raids on Salvadoran guerrillas. He ended up in the middle of North's illegal Iran/Contra resupply pipeline and, eventually, in front of aCongressional committee, where he gave damaging testimony about the profit scams of Richard Secord and Albert Hakim.
Rodriguez has been portrayed in some news reports as a Latin G. Gordon Liddy with close ties to President Bush. In this book, he denies any relationship to Bush other than some polite social visits. But his courageous, single-minded lifetime war on Castro and communism does suggest a hand-in-the-fire dedication typical of Cold War veterans. You don't have to agree with Rodriguez to admire, however grudgingly, his soldier's patriotic resolve.
On one level, Shadow Warrior is an exciting nonfiction Ludlum-style thriller, the ultimate real-life spy story. But Rodriguez' detailed examination of CIA operations and his history-making revelations about American activities in Latin America are profoundly more important than mere entertainment.
When he died in 1959, Raymond Chandler, author of classic detective novels such as The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely, left four chapters of a new book called Poodle Springs (Putnam). Now, 30 years later, it has been completed by Robert B. Parker, author of the Spenser detective novels, with a Chandler plot and style so perfect it could make you believe in reincarnation. For example, consider a little gem of hard-boiled poetry such as this: "Hollywood was empty, the houses blank and aimless, all the colors altered by the moonglow. Only the neon lights along Sunset were still awake. They were always awake. Bright, hearty and fake, full of Hollywood promises. The days come and go. The neon endures." Is it Chandler, Parker or Memorex?
More than just an impressive homage, this is a first-rate detective novel with all the suspense, action and human drama that we have come to expect from the best of this genre. Ironically, Chandler starts this story very atypically by having Philip Marlowe, a romantic loner in the seven previous novels, married and heading off to Poodle (really Palm) Springs with a wealthy new bride. Parker meets the challenge by pitting the lure of an intriguing case against the demands of marriage. Several murders, a collection of nude photographs, some blackmail, a few tough thugs and a busy bigamist are swirled roughly into this intoxicating brew. Savor this one; it's probably the only Chandler/Parker collaboration we'll ever get.
When the United States Senate rejected the nomination of Judge Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court by a vote of 58 to 42, it was a stunning defeat for this century's most popular President and a victory for the impassioned protectors of individual and civil rights. The ramifications of that historic moment are explored with fairness and insight by Ethan Bronner in Battle for Justice: How the Bork Nomination Shook America (W. W. Norton). In this compelling book, Bronner studies how the conflicting forces of the New Right, angry black intellectuals, the Presidential candidates, public opinion whipped by media images and the personal pride of the President all affected the decision.
In the final analysis, however, as Bronner states so eloquently, the Bork nomination became a national referendum on civil rights: "Bork would hardly have been the first Justice lacking passion for the plight of black Americans. But the harsh nature of his writings, the well-established aims of his sponsors and the political circumstances of the moment conspired to elevate his nomination into a Rorschach test of American values.... Like the Lincoln-Douglas debates of a century before, the Bork debates forced the nation to stare into its soul."
For the 50th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz, John Fricke, Jay Scarfone and William Stillman have compiled an exhaustive collection of photographs and memorabilia that will boggle the minds of even the most devoted fans in The Wizard of Oz (Warner), subtitled "The Official Fiftieth Anniversary Pictorial History." With more than 200 color and 300 black-and-white photographs, this history takes us from L. Frank Baum's prophetic glance at his lower file-cabinet drawer, labeled o-z, to the Sotheby auction last December, where the Witch's hat went for $33,000. This is a definitive trip down the Yellow Brick Road, filled with five decades of movie history and nostalgia.
Finally, two new books delve into similar aspects of the Vietnam war. Rick Atkinson's The Long Gray Line (Houghton Mifflin) is a massive nonfiction saga of the dark journey traveled by the West Point class of 1966, the generation of officers who fought the Vietnam war. President John F. Kennedy had exhorted these young men to "ask what you can do for your country" and many of them gave their lives in answer. Atkinson employs novelistic techniques to give us a picture of the larger social history, to examine the complex institution of the academy and to share the emotional experiences of individuals. Focusing on three classmates, he tells the intimate stories of the 579 men in the graduating class, from boyhood dreams of heroism to cadet training to the sobering realities of a terrible war and its aftermath. Through these brilliant and moving portraits, The Long Gray Line gives us a fresh perspective on 25 years of American life.
Lucian K. Truscott IV's Army Blue (Crown) is a powerful fictional evocation of the experiences explored in Atkinson's study. (Just to keep the colors straight, Truscott's first book, adapted as a TV miniseries, was Dress Gray.) His hero, Lieutenant Matthew Nelson Blue IV, is the third generation of a Southern military family.
When the novel opens, Blue is 23 years old, lying on the floor of his M-113 armored personnel carrier, listening to Jimi Hendrix and wondering if he can endure 131 more days of trying to keep himself and his platoon alive. Blue is a West Point graduate whose idealism about the Army is fueled by a family tradition, and by the end of Army Blue, we learn a lot about the comparative war experiences of his family from World War Two to Vietnam. Without giving away too much of the story, the pivotal event is Blue's court-martial for desertion, at which disturbing revelations about Army activities in Vietnam emerge as he fights for his honor. This is a vivid and dramatic novel that will take an important place in the literature of war.
If you want a panorama of the new books being published each fall, the best place to go is the annual American Booksellers Association meeting, which was held this year in Washington, D.C. There--vying for the attention of 24,000 publishers, editors, authors, booksellers and critics--the hottest titles of 1989 were partied, ballyhooed and hyped.
Three books headed for blockbuster status this fall appear to be James Michener's historical opus of the islands, Caribbean (Random House), Stephen King's horror tale The Dark Half (Viking) and Ken Follett's adventure story set in medieval England, Pillars of the Earth (Morrow). Other best-seller-list contenders include Larry McMurtry's Some Can Whistle (Simon & Schuster); Martha Grimes's latest mystery, The Old Silent (Little, Brown); Len Deighton's second part of the "Hook, Line and Sinker" trilogy, Spy Line (Knopf); a witty novel about an alcohol-rehab center by Peter Benchley, Rummies (Random House); a psychological thriller by Jonathan Kellerman, Silent Partner (Bantam); and Wasted (Simon & Schuster), subtitled "The Preppie Murder," by Linda Wolfe.
Very promising fall fiction includes Allan Gurganus' Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All (Knopf); The Ancient Child (Doubleday), by N. Scott Momaday; Dirty Work (Algonquin), by Larry Brown; Robert Crais's second Elvis Cole novel, Stalking the Angel (Bantam); and Thomas McGuane's Keep the Change (Houghton Mifflin/Seymour Lawrence). I'm eager to read Barry Miles's biography of Allen Ginsberg and Miles Davis' autobiography, written with Quincy Troupe, both from Simon & Schuster.
Let's Blow Thru Europe (Mustang), by Thomas Neenan and Greg Hancock: Finally, a funny, lighthearted nonguidebook look at where to go and what to do while traveling abroad. A book by two guys who just want you to have fun in Europe.
Hot Blood (Pocket), edited by Jeff Gelb and Lonn Friend: Two dozen tales of horror by some of the medium's best yarn spinners. Read this one late at night...when the wind is blowing hard and the moon is full.
The ultimate real-life spy story; blockbuster fall books.