Up Front With Martin B. Deutsch
Summer Page Turners for the Road Warrior
July 21, 2016 -- If you're fed up with the heat, bored with political sophistry and convinced the airlines are after your last fare dime, perhaps it's time to turn the page. Literally.

Here are a couple of page turners of varying quality that offer mid-summer diversion. No politics here and hardly an airline executive in sight.

Phrases like "once over lightly" or "skimming the surface," come easily to mind as you read Unnatural Acts, the 23rd entry in the Stone Barrington detective series. Author Stuart Woods seems to have written this one for readers who have no wish to grapple with a complicated plot, in-depth characters or any real suspense.

Published in 2012, this Barrington novel and those that come before and after probably serve a purpose for the vacation-bound road warrior. It's a quick and mindless read that falls under the heading of entertainment rather than anything more challenging. I suspect that Mr. Woods turns them out as quickly as it takes to read them and, if you keep this in mind, you won't be disappointed since you know what to expect.

In this entry, Barrington, a sophisticated New York City attorney, is asked to help straighten out the playboy son of one of his law firm's wealthiest clients. At the same time, Barrington's buddy, a police lieutenant, meets up with a former girlfriend. She is accused of killing somewhere in the neighborhood of five people. After once again succumbing to her charms, the cop decides to bring her in, utilizing the services of two female detectives on his squad. Barrington is at least somewhat involved in the overall plot, although the author pays more attention to Herbie Fisher, a young, ambitious lawyer mentored by Barrington. Among other mishaps, Fisher is pushed off the balcony of a Manhattan high-rise. Does he survive? Stay tuned, if you can take it.

I guess it was inevitable. There's always a Stieg Larsson bestseller on the market. The latest: 2015's The Girl in the Spider's Web, continuing Larsson's wildly successful Millennium Series. It brings the fiery and often inscrutable Lisbeth Salander back into circulation along with Mikael Blomkvist, both of whom held the starring roles in Larsson's Millennium Trilogy. You can't keep an iconic super-hacker and a dour and intrepid journalist down--even if the author who created them is no longer writing.

Although Larsson, who died in 2004, reportedly left an unfinished manuscript, the author of The Girl in the Spider's Web is David Lagercrantz. A heretofore relatively unknown Swedish author and journalist, Lagercrantz catapulted to worldwide notoriety by creating what is, in essence, a Larsson-family authorized reboot of the franchise. But The Girl in the Spider's Web has become a controversial addition to the Larsson canon. Readers seem to either love it or vociferously hate on it.

Salander, the trilogy's fierce hero, is back in action, although, surprisingly, she does not make her debut in this tale until page 216. As the story picks up, she has been out of contact with Blomkvist for some time. Blomkvist is now Sweden's foremost investigative journalist, but he's in desperate need of a scoop to save Millennium, the monthly magazine he co-owns.

The intricate plot is essentially an espionage thriller that brings into play the intelligence services of Sweden, the United States and Russia. It's sometimes difficult to keep up with the various twists and turns of a story that is heavily imbued with the latest developments in computer technology and artificial intelligence. Some readers and critics found Lagercrantz's take on tech talk to be less confusing than in prior works, but I personally had trouble navigating the lengthy, almost scholarly passages.

As the story goes, Blomkvist enlists the aid of Salander, who is off on her own investigative mission--but who finds time to attempt hacking into the American NSA. Computer scientist Frans Balder, who may be targeted by the Spider Society, a criminal organization, is murdered as he's about to meet with Blomkvist. The killer, a professional hit man, mysteriously utters "Thy Will be Done" as part of his assassination ritual.

Balder's autistic son, a witness to the killing, is spared. But the boy, a savant who excels in both math and drawing, holds the key to the killer's identity and is soon on a hit list. I won't reveal further plot points, but, for the record, I would like to mention that Lisbeth's twin sister, Camilla, who is as beautiful as Lisbeth is brilliant, also makes an appearance.

Ultimately, Salander and Blumkvist bring the villains to heel and Mikael's dour outlook begins to ease as sex rears its recuperative head and a reunion seems inevitable.

Millions of copies of The Girl in the Spider's Web are in print in multiple languages and the Swedes say they will definitely do a film. A U.S. version may also follow. Although I often found this story to be rather heavy-handed, I do think it makes an ideal companion for a leisurely weekend in a resort hotel or on a remote beach or a long airport delay.

Before I sign off, I'd like to share a private thought. I fear that volume five in the series is already in the early stages of being written and that successive novels may be on their way to the pipeline. It's your call whether these post-Larsson entries live up to the other three books.

This column is Copyright 2016 by Martin B. Deutsch. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2016 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Martin B. Deutsch. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.