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George Ernsberger
Posted 8/13/21

The Quiet Zone by Stephen Kurczy (Dey Street).

In a town adjacent to a supersized electronic telescope monitoring the universe, cell phones and certain other common electronic screens to focus on …

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The Quiet Zone by Stephen Kurczy (Dey Street).

In a town adjacent to a supersized electronic telescope monitoring the universe, cell phones and certain other common electronic screens to focus on are not allowed (well, supposedly; there’s some cheating, of course)—so, no constant scrolling, more attention on what’s actually before one, in real life…Heavenly, right? Well…not exactly; and more interesting than that. Deeply reported, this account of life in that town—in West Virginia—is cleareyed and compassionate. Turns out, there’s a reason for neo-Nazis (for one category of oddballs) to retire there; basically, they just like having no contact with any sort of ethnic diversity, which seems a side effect of the general isolation. There is also a kind of quiet craziness that a considerable group who sense themselves as victims of it call “electrosensitivity”—they feel disoriented and fearful in the presence of a variety of electrical things, including certain light bulbs. And more. Not all nuts, by any means, but a lot of it surprising, and deeply enlightening, about why people in small, remote towns, stay there. And, maybe, why some don’t.

Steel Fear by Brandon Webb and John David Mann (Bantam).

Big, strong action/espionage novel, on an aircraft carrier. And—of all things—your faithful columnist once lived for a year on an aircraft carrier. Didn’t fly, but I got to watch flight operations sometimes, so…what was I saying? Not a military combat novel, but full of close-up violence and threats of dire destruction—this is an enormous vessel, and airport, and even naval station, afloat in the ocean with a few thousands in ship’s crew and flight squadrons, that is under threat from within. It’s a fast-moving, tightly plotted novel, but the atmospherics—the feel of that sort of vast, floating… machine? City? it’s both contained and open to the sea and air—and ever in motion, which feels at once gentle and utterly relentless—and this book gets the feel of that right; these guys have been there.

Island of Thieves by Glen Eric Hamilton (Custom House/Morrow).

A Van Shaw novel—the sixth of what is unmistakably by now a must-follow thriller series, big, fully realized individual novels centering on a guy with great skills, but no superhero—human, and complicated (and not a loner). Really—get in, here, if you haven’t; you’ll find yourself looking up earlier ones.

Red Traitor by Owen Matthews (Doubleday).

Terrific historical political thriller. Set in Soviet Russia at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, which has an effect on the very tense plot, but this isn’t military/naval fiction, but pure politics and espionage, deeply realized and almost shockingly engrossing. Smart, decent people under totalitarianism make great reading. At a distance.

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