BEST JET BETS
(Fight Need-a-Book Phobia)
by Mike Irwin, co-manager of Powell's at PDX
Fear of flying
may be lessening, but fear of flying without a book seems to have reached
near epidemic proportions.
We see it everyday at Powell's Books
at Portland International Airport. Darting eyes, dry mouth, and sweaty
palms are all symptoms of the phobic traveler searching, yearning for comfort
in a trashy paperback novel. We sympathize with these afflicted flyers. We
understand their chronic need to escape the numbing madness of modern air
travel. And, like devoted booksellers everywhere, we want to help.
Treatment begins at Powell's airport store with the Best Jet Bets,
a condensed section of sure-fire picks for the plane. Each of the section's
10 titles has undergone rigorous testing to ensure total escapism from airplanes'
back-wrenching seats, gut-wrenching food and mind-wrenching seatmates. And
each title promises to transport the reader beyond, say, Newark International,
to imaginary worlds of intrigue, romance, and derring-do.
Our Best Jet Bets provide some of the finest escapist reading currently
available. Admittedly, many of the titles feature graphic violence, titillating
sex, and creepy psychological twists that may not readily mesh with Powell's
usual high-brow recommendations. But we offer no apologies. Our customers the
ones fearful of flying bookless have come to depend on us to supplement
Sense and Sensibility
and Foucault's Pendulum
with proven, fast-paced page-turners.
Best Jet Bets
Came A Spider by James
The author kicked off his
Alex Cross series with one of the best psycho-killer
thrillers ever written. Back and forth, we bounce from our detective's somewhat
quiet life (kids and grandma) to our killer's twisted crimes (kids buried
alive). It's not so much a who-dunnit, but a how-catch 'em. How can Cross foil
a killer bent on committing the century's most heinous act? Incredibly, there's
even a Lindbergh baby tie-in. This is the mystery title that frequent flyers
recommend most often to fellow passengers, a book that'll keep you awake on the
next red-eye, and maybe a few nights more.
Kiss the Girls by
Patterson didn't write all our Best Jet Bets, but no thriller list from the
nineties would be complete without this slickly written punch to the gut.
Detective Alex Cross returns to spar with a self-styled Casanova, a co-ed
killer who sometimes stalks victims from inside the walls of their
homes. (Don't you ever hear those late-night noises?) Furiously paced in short
cliff-hanger chapters, this book is nearly un-put-downable, and perfect for
plane rides long and short.
Blue Justice by
Good girl cop goes bad...really bad. Sexy Maria Alvarez works her police beat
with the best of NYPD's officers. She's sassy, tough, and dedicated to righting
nasty wrongs even if she has to step outside the law. But evidence in a string
of cop suicides indicates that the victims knew intimately a mysterious
visitor. Just at the edge of kinky, this powerful suspense novel forces readers
to question whom they trust, whom they desire, and who might do them harm.
Numbered Account by
Forget sex; nothing titillates like money. And this slam-bam-gimme-the-cash-ma'am
roller-coaster ride through international banking delivers on every dollar.
Our smart and handsome hero, Nick Neumann, churns the fast-track at stodgy
United Swiss Bank. He's quick to solve thorny problems and quick to garner
deadly jealousies. We cheer him on, but soon come to realize his intentions,
ever darker, move far beyond the handling of a few mutual funds. He didn't
learn mayhem, manipulation, and murder at Harvard. A rich and rewarding read.
Bet your next billion on this one.
The Genesis Code by
In a tiny Italian town, in a tiny Italian confessional, an aging scientist
reveals the sin of all sins. Then the babies begin to die. Then Vatican
officials begin to quake. This rapid-fire biotech thriller, our top paperback
mystery of 1998, links the latest in modern genetics to the oldest tenets of
the Catholic Church. But investigator Joe Lassiter is dragged to hell and back
to make sense of the case's many little pieces (DNA) and many lofty
philosophical questions (is God merciful?). No doubt, this tale will scare the
pants off the Pope.
Eleven Days by
Explicit descriptions of horrendous murders may not be your cup of goo. But if
you can wade through the grisly-but-gripping early chapters in this incredible
debut thriller, then you're in for some top-flight suspense. The book's
smalltown setting (rural Iowa) and everyday characters (sheriff, waitress,
mechanic) add an almost surreal quality to what appears to be an unsolvable
whodunnit. Written by a former deputy sheriff and based on an actual case, this
is one plane read that'll make you glad you're safely up there and not
Hall of the Dead by Tony
The oldest title (1973) on our current Best Jet Bet list is, we believe, one of
the best introductions to this veteran author's mystery magic. In fact, all of
Hillerman's classic storytelling elements ancient mysticism, modern
archeology, befuddled romance, and Navajo reservation life combine expertly
in this fascinating tale of Zuni spirits, death rituals, and angry fire gods.
Tribal policeman Joe Leaphorn tracks the culprits and the kachinas
across the stark Southwestern landscape. Terrific.
Blood Work by
Many mystery lovers will argue that Connelly's best writing is found outside of
his well-known, long-running Harry Bosch series. And this non-Bosch title would
prove their point. Picture this: An ex-FBI agent recovering from a heart
transplant is convinced to investigate the murder of the person whose heart
beats in his own chest. An oddball premise, yes, but it's a compelling hook
that'll set your own heart pounding. Plus, the sexual sparks between our hero
and a reluctant, but beautiful, sidekick provide one of the more realistic love
stories in a recent thriller.
The Charm School by
Our pick as one of the best spy novels of the last 20 years, this thriller
thrusts us back to the dark days of the Communist empire. The Berlin Wall still
stands. The KGB still lurks. And a too-real Cold War triggers all sorts of
paranoia. Traveling across the USSR, our tourist good-guy stumbles across a
terrifying Kremlin secret cagey Russians are trained to be fool-proof
Americans, right down to their love of McDonald's hamburgers. This
action-oriented adventure packs real techno-punch (surveillance! espionage!)
and may be Demille's best book.
Partner by John
An airplane book list without a Grisham? No way. We consider this to be the
Blockbuster Man's best-plotted book since The Firm, but with writing
light-years ahead of any earlier work. In fact, Grisham probably hasn't ever
produced a more cohesive mystery with such realistic, sympathetic characters.
And the ending? It packs a mind-reeling wallop. We still hear travelers
debating what they'd do in similar circumstances, with those bad people,
with that much money. If you're going to read a Grisham, this is the one for
Five Best Jet Bets of the 20th Century
(The books that have whisked us away and made us forget the bad seats, bad
food and bad service.)
of the Lambs by Thomas
No thriller so far has so expertly transported us to the creepy, flesh-crawling
world of the insane serial killer. It's the book all subsequent thrillers try
The Godfather by
This is where many of us got our first exposure to Mob dynamics:
sausage-making, sex standing up, crooked cops, beheaded horses, spousal abuse,
family loyalty. Thugs all, but you gotta love 'em.
The Exorcist by
William Peter Blatty
Long before the movie grossed-out America, readers had found in this classic
the more subtle, soul-wrenching horrors of demonic possession. Cursing and
vomiting supply pyrotechnics, but this book reaches deep inside to make our
Rosemary's Baby by
What pregnant Mom didn't feel a few sharp pains upon learning the truth of
Rosemary's little bundle of Hell? For that matter, what men didn't also feel a
twitch or two? A book that strikes at our origins the womb and convinces us
no place is safe.
Dove by Larry
Plod through the opening pig-eats-snake scene (the book's only miscalculation),
and you're then off on one of literature's grand adventures. Few troupes of
characters have mattered so much, taken us so far, and shown us so pleasurably
how to really live.
The Hunt for Red October by
The Bourne Identity by
Gone with the Wind by
Carrie by Stephen King
The Firm by