Downtown View:Read Locally

July 28, 2015
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Whether you go away in August or not, it is a good time to read. Everyone assumes everyone else is away. Few neighborhood meetings take place. Work is easier because some clients, customers and colleagues actually are on vacation. The “livin’ is easy,” as long as you have a beach, an air conditioner or fan and a nice iced tea (unsweetened, as New Englanders prefer.)

Naturally, I have a few suggestions for your reading pleasure. I’ve focused on three Boston authors, two of whom offer the reader many choices. Here they are, in alphabetical order:

Joseph Finder, a Back Bay resident, writes thrillers—scary stories with really bad actors who get their comeuppance from Nick Heller, private investigator. Heller trained in the Special Forces, aka Green Berets, and has a good-looking girlfriend who works for the FBI. He also has a nephew he is close to and a female aide whose computer skills are legendary. “Vanished” takes place in Washington, DC. Nick tries to find his brother who has disappeared, but he also finds his brother’s secrets.

“Buried Secrets” takes place in Boston, the North Shore and New Hampshire. One of the pleasures of reading a book set in your locale is identifying the places the characters go. You will recognize the Liberty Hotel, the South End, Louisburg Square, a senator, a familiar name and finally southern NH. I figured Pine Ridge, NH was really Rindge, and sure enough, the credits recognize the police chief in Rindge. The only thing Finder got wrong in the whole book is the way to get to Rindge. From Boston, you’d take Route 3 rather than I-93. But that’s why it is fun to read locally.

Finder employs other main characters too. His books are better than most thrillers for one reason. Unlike some mysteries and spy stories, in which the reader must accept a confusing plot on faith, Finder’s plots are logical and tie together.

His pacing is good. The books follow a formula, but that is why we like them. I’m hooked. A new book, “The Fixer,” has just appeared.

Alexandra Marshall, a former Beacon Hill resident who now lives in the Fort Point Channel area, writes novels about family dynamics. Her characters follow no formula. They surprise the reader at every turn. A humdrum conversation suddenly turns witty and meaningful. Each character is tightly drawn, distinct from others in the story, and he or she grows and changes with the story. Every book has a finely wrought sense of place. Gus in “Bronze” takes place in Manhattan. “The Brass Bed” and “Something Borrowed” take place in Boston. I wanted to go to Cleveland, of all places, after reading “The Court of Common Pleas,” because she made that city sound vibrant and fascinating. Readers will appreciate her metaphors and similes as in talks between a mother and daughter, “which were always found in unplanned pockets of time like coins discovered in jackets.” I would never think of a comparison like that, and such creativity is part of the pleasure of Ms. Marshall’s writing. I know Ms. Marshall through an organization we both belong to, but I don’t see her frequently. When I do I am always surprised that inside this quiet, poised woman’s brain is a tangle of human understanding, perception and sympathy waiting to be freed by her words.

Marc Rotenberg now lives in Washington, D.C. but he grew up in Boston and his family members still live here. Rotenberg, a lawyer, heads the Electronic Privacy Information Center and teaches at Georgetown University Law Center.

“Privacy in the Modern Age” is a book of essays exploring matters a university must consider, problems occurring when the public has no opportunity to give consent, protecting data collected for legitimate uses, robots that crawl under doorways, consumer privacy and other facets of anonymity and privacy. With all the ways others can grab our likeness, follow our buying habits, tap our phones and learn about our location in 2015, it was comforting to read that our 19th-century forebears worried about such things after cameras were invented.

Unlike the creations of the first two authors, Rotenberg’s book is not a story that will whisk you away. Instead it’s for nerds like me and many of you who enjoy reading about all sides of a topic. You’ll encounter agencies you’ve never heard of with acronyms that confuse you. Because each essay is written by different people with distinct points of view, you’ll find odd statements: “America . . . has maybe one more generation left to make a real difference.” Really?

In the same article you’ll learn that the “Roman standard cart axel of 4 feet 8 ½ inches is still our railway gauge today.” Remarkable.

Later, when a writer discusses “storing sensitive information in insecure systems connected to the Internet,” you’ll be happy you’ve read “Finder’s Buried Secrets.” In that book, both the good and the bad guys get into their opponents’ electronic systems.

 The privacy book is unsettling. Lines are hard to draw. But “Buried Secrets” shows how such matters can play out.

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