Looking for just one more little thing to fill out your Christmas roster for your dad or for someone else on your list who likes “guy things”?
Check out these five books about manly men doing manly men things — men of action, not just words or macho chest-thumping (insert Donald Trump joke here).
5. The Night of the Cobra by Jack Coughlin and Donald A. Davis
Before Chris Kyle, Jack Coughlin was the American sniper. His book, Shooter, was considered the War on Terror’s version of the classic, Marine Sniper, the story of the legendary Carlos Hathcock, the prototype for nearly every military sniper — fact or fiction — including (and especially) Stephen Hunter’s great Bob Lee Swagger series.
Coughlin’s Shooter, in fact, has a lot more for the gun and tactics enthusiast than Kyle’s book—though not enough to bog down the average reader.
Since then, Coughlin and co-author Donald Davis have written 8 thrillers about Kyle Swanson, a Marine sniper who finds and eliminates America’s modern enemies across the world. Before now, my favorite probably was Time to Kill, in which Swanson is stuck behind the lines of an Iranian incursion into Egypt in support of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover, and proceeds to wreak havoc Die Hard-style until help can arrive.
But while the Swanson books have become one of our more reliable series of action thrillers, I was still mildly surprised by the depth of the storytelling in The Night of the Cobra. Perhaps that’s because though Swanson was the Marines’ highest ranking sniper of the Iraq War, he didn’t actually gallivant around the world on super-secret Mitch Rapp-style missions (that I know of).
The Night of the Cobra has its roots in the Somali mission of 1992, where Coughlin actually served. The mission opens this superb book about an expert jihadist sniper with a sense of time, place and authenticity that carries over into the modern-day duel between the Cobra and Swanson, which makes this Coughlin’s best novel to date. The Minnesota setting among Somali refugees is also particularly relevant today.
If Dad is a Vince Flynn fan, forget the lame attempt to keep the Mitch Rapp series going with the inferior skills of Kyle Mills and instead give Dad the gift of The Night of the Cobra.
Stocking Stuffer—The paperback of Coughlin’s memoir, Shooter.
4. The Crossing by Michael Connelly
Former L.A. Times crime reporter Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch books are easily the best cop books of his generation—at least since Joseph Wambaugh semi-retired.
And now, the series has been faithfully adapted with the participation of the author as a superb Amazon Prime television series with Titus Welliver perfectly cast in the lead.
The Crossing finds Harry Bosch, the iconoclastic LAPD detective, seeker of justice for victims and thorn in the side of highly political bosses, put out to pasture.
When his half-brother Mickey “Lincoln Lawyer” Haller asks Bosch to look over the Murder Book in one of his cases, Bosch is reluctant. He despises cops who retire and go from putting bad guys away to helping lawyers get bad guys acquitted. Worse, the victim in this case was the wife of a deputy sheriff.
But even though this crossing of the line is likely to have him despised for the first time by workaday cops instead of just the bosses, Harry’s sense of justice, of course, prevails.
The Crossing is just an average Bosch book—in other words, it’s highly readable, smart and ingenious, with terrific insights into police work and the justice system.
Stocking Stuffer—Your Amazon password so Dad can watch Bosch on Amazon Prime.
3. Legend by Eric Blehm
When Obama officials said we couldn’t just bomb willy nilly because Americans were about to be overrun in Benghazi, I thought “Since when?” Up to that point, I’d assumed that when libs worried about another Mogadishu situation, they were worried about Americans being trapped, not the loss of life on the other side.
Also, some theorize that the reluctance to rescue our men in Benghazi was because of the secret nature of their mission and the desire to keep things low key.
The time is 1968. North Vietnam is sending supplies down the Ho Chi Minh Trail through supposedly neutral Cambodia. President Johnson publicly says the U.S. is not fighting in Cambodia, but orders have come down to capture a Russian truck inside Cambodia to prove the obvious to a hostile media.
Unfortunately, the 12-man Special Forces team sent on this mission was dropped on top of a full battalion of NVA. Even though it was a top secret mission and the general distress call of “Daniel Boone Tactical Emergency” was not to be used in this situation, it went out — and the full weight of the U.S. military was brought to bear on saving 12 men, secrecy be damned.
Yes, there was a day when no American unit was allowed to be overrun because of political concerns.
One man answering the call was Green Beret Sergeant Roy Benavidez. He jumped on an outbound helicopter to help deliver supplies. Over the scene, he jumped out of the chopper on an impulse to directly render aid, even though he was unarmed.
Thirty wounds later, and thought to be dead, it was the heroism of Benavidez that many of the survivors credited with saving their lives. But because of the “secrecy” of the mission, it would be decades before he would be properly honored for it.
Once again, Eric Blehm has written a gripping account of war that makes us echo the question, “Where do we get such men?”
Stocking Stuffer—The Forest of Assassins, my book about how American involvement in Vietnam escalated from the Secret War.
2. The Promise by Robert Crais
From National Velvet to The Horse Whisperer to The Mare, it is chicks who love horses (Roy Rogers and Gene Autry excepted). Guys actually dig dogs.
And after a stellar 20 year career as a novelist, including 16 books in the best private detective series of his generation, a German shepherd is taking over Robert Crais’ career.
Crais is best known for his Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series, which follows in the Wyatt Earp/Doc Holliday tradition (perfected by Robert B. Parker with Spenser and Hawk) about the engaging, tough protagonist who partners with a loyal, but darker and even more deadly counterpart.
In his last book, Suspect, Crais took one of his infrequent breaks from the series to introduce his most engaging set of partners yet: LAPD officer Scott James and his K-9 partner, Maggie. Scott is the survivor of an ambush in which his female partner was killed, while Maggie was a Marine dog who was wounded trying to protect her handler in Afghanistan. How the two helped each other heal made for an uncommonly effective and engaging thriller.
Now, Scott and Maggie are supporting characters in Crais’ latest Elvis Cole thriller, The Promise. (The only downside here is the fact that even revealing this is a spoiler for those who haven’t yet read Suspect.) When Elvis is hired to find the missing mother of a charity worker who’d been killed by an al-Qaeda IED while working in Africa, he stumbles onto a house that has been turned into a bomb factory and a dead body—and meets Scott and Maggie, who had been trailing the dead man.
Sure, there is a twisty plot filled with suspense, wisecracks and action. But two things that give this book heart are what make it really special.
First is the absolute compassion and heart that even the most seasoned and cynical of warriors has for the victims of terrorism—and their absolute sacrificial commitment to making sure they are not hurt any more.
Second, of course, is Maggie, whose whole life is based around gaining her master’s approval—and her ferocious determination to protect him from any threat.
The result is a thriller that is a pure pleasure to read.
Stocking stuffer: The paperback of Suspect, the great book that’s all about Scott and Maggie.
1. In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick
The. Finest. Sea-going. True-life. Adventure. Ever.
Whether Ron Howard’s movie version of Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea rises to the heights of his last bio-pic, the criminally underrated Rush, or the mushy muddle of stock macho in Backdraft, I cannot imagine any film living up to this great book.
The story of the whaleship Essex is one of the great legends of the sea, and, as the movie campaign hypes, it was likely somewhat of an inspiration for Moby Dick.
In 1821, an 80-ton sperm whale decides to turn the tables, and a crew of Nantucket whale hunters become the hunted in a tale of survival that makes the story of Captain Bligh seem like a boat rental in Central Park.
Nathan Philbrick is a master of narrative history and a gripping storyteller. All of his books are terrific, but he is most at home in the sea. Philbrick gives just enough of the history of Nantucket and the whaling industry to give the story context, but doesn’t bog us down in the details or detract from the incredible momentum of this incredible tale.
Stocking Stuffer: What could be more appropriate for the Season than Philbrick’s other masterpiece, Mayflower? This book about the Pilgrims of Plymouth may demolish some myths, but it’s no politically correct piece of revisionism, and is exciting and informative throughout.