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January 22, 2021

George Ernsberger - Columnist
Posted 1/22/21

NINE DAYS: THE RACE TO SAVE MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.'S LIFE AND WIN THE 1960 ELECTION by Stephen Kendrick and Paul Kendrick (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). This book has a thriller title because it's as …

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January 22, 2021

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NINE DAYS: THE RACE TO SAVE MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.'S LIFE AND WIN THE 1960 ELECTION by Stephen Kendrick and Paul Kendrick (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). This book has a thriller title because it's as thrilling as it is serious. Deeply researched (40 full pages of fine-print notes), but we forget all that work as we get to know and follow dozens of people, especially but by no means only the central figures, MLK, JFK, RFK, racing through these electric days leading up to that era-defining election. Just a little taste: Rev. King was already well known, but this was his first time in jail, as a result of a lunch counter sit-in—and for driving in Georgia with an Alabama license (yes). And no gentleman's jail; his life was probably at risk, there. When Bobby Kennedy first heard that Jack had called Coretta King and offered not so much help as just consolation, he was angry, thinking such a “liberal” gesture might jeopardize their hopes of winning some of the South. But since it was done, he, RFK, followed up with a more direct intervention with the Georgia judge who could—and did—grant King his freedom on bail. And then, the campaign quickly got out a flyer about this, and distributed it in Black precincts in swing states, which appeared to be the reason for a dramatically elevated voter turnout that delivered at least Illinois, Michigan, and New Jersey. And that's just one episode. It was a busy nine days.

AMERICAN TRAITOR by Brad Taylor (Morrow). Another column favorite sustaining a dazzling level of creativity. The action's as thrilling as ever, but the crisis is especially ingeniously established, and so, irresistibly credible and even more than usually scary. As usual, but especially a pleasure these fraught days, the enemy for Pike Logan and his top-secret military force (and his sidekick, now wife, Jennifer), is foreign, not domestic, and easy for all of us together to believe in as bad guys: China, about to launch a fiendishly clever cyber-plot to justify a war on our ally, Taiwan.

ROBERT B. PARKER'S SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME: A Spenser Novel by Ace Atkins (Putnam). So (here, too) author(s) and title may be all you need to hear. And: This series has lost nothing since its great creator's death—no news, there, either. And then: the subject/theme of this one will remind you of seamy newspaper headlines—a rich guy and a woman companion lure young women and girls to be sexually victimized—but I especially urge you not to be put off by that. Atkins is no more an exploiter than Parker was; he doesn't leer. Spenser and his vivacious young sidekick remain good company, action is fast, Hawk is back, and all ends as it should.

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