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Book Report: A triple treat this week

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The novel I'm about to discuss reminds me of the work of my boss at the Star Tribune, Charles W. Bailey II, co-authored; a novel that sticks in my head.

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It was called "Seven Days in May," a thriller about an attempted military takeover of the presidency, starring Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas.

I once asked Bailey if he and co-author Fletcher Knebel made a lot of money on the movie.

"We sold the movie rights before the book became so popular. I got enough money to purchase this nine-year-old Volvo you're riding in."

I certainly hope William Bernhardt does better in his new thriller, "Capitol Betrayal," (Ballantine Books, $26). Like Bailey's and Knebel's earlier thriller, time is of the essence. The military wants to take over and everything has to go perfectly.

And so we proceed hour by hour, day by day, wondering if there'll be time to stop the crazy general (played in the movie by Burt Lancaster) from taking over the country and blowing us all to hell.

Bernhardt's book begins with a scene in which the U.S. president and his staff, including his physician and his legal adviser are rushed to a bunker in the bowels of the White House, after a bomb threat by some crazy Arab tin pot dictator.

He turns out to be not so crazy with his well-planned blackmail of the leader of the free world. He tells the "prez" that if he doesn't pull American troops out of the area bordering his little country, he'll blow up Washington, monument by monument.

To complicate matters -- and they're always complicated in these thrillers -- the president appears to be nuts, which gives his vice-president the opportunity to unseat his boss.

It's a real nail-biter.

*****

Speaking of bunkers, there's a real one in "Churchill's Bunker," by Richard Holmes (Yale, University Press, $27.50). It's a gem.

Several years ago we were in London and my wife, of course, wanted to visit the Tate and every other art gallery in town.

Been there, done that, said I, the Philistine. I chose instead to split and tour a museum that had no art, no armor, no manuscripts. It was the underground bunker from which Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his aides and staff fought World War II.

It's in the bowels of Whitehall. It's starkly pedestrian. Churchill's bed is a tiny cot.

Next to it is a nightstand upon which sits a half drunk bottle of cognac.

Holmes's new book is about the years Churchill and his staff spent in the bunker. The meals they ate at mess (tinned sausages and sardines), the romantic interludes that sprung up there.

It's just wonderful.

Holmes doesn't whitewash Winnie. He was a sometimes unbearable guy. One of his aides, after working for 48 straight hours, asked if he could visit his family for a few hours.

Winnie's reply: "Most certainly....if you want us to lose the war."

Of course, Churchill had some of his finest hours in that six year period. He flew around the world, hundreds of thousands of miles and his health suffered for it.

His wife Clementine was not an easy wife, according to Holmes. She once ordered General Bernard Law Montgomery out of Churchill's Chartwell estate because he opined that most politicians were crooks. (Good for Clemmie Churchill, although Montgomery was probably right -- for once in his life.)

Anyway, it's a great read and evidence to the fact that the little island nation could pull together when the chips were down. (Secrecy was so beautifully preserved that men and women who were courting, had no idea they were both working in the same bunker.)

*****

Former University of St. Thomas professor Joy Lee Davis has lots of irons in the fire. She lectures on literary topics around the Twin Cities, most notably at Augsburg's College of the Third Age and is the author of an insightful book about the economics behind the life and work of Jane Austen: "Jane Austen and the Almighty Pound."

During her Joy Davis seminars, she makes available a chapbook entitled "Where Have All the Heroes Gone?" a 25-page essay explaining why Western Civilization's older heroes like Achilles have been replaced by wimps like J. Alfred Prufrock.

It's a scholarly romp which Davis describes as "Playing the 'Minute Waltz' in 30 seconds."

You can have a copy by sending $4 to Dr. Joy Lee Davis/4312 Pond View Drive/White Bear Lake, MN 55110.

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 426-9554.

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