SO, what books to buy to take to the beach? Two suggestions, both thrillers, and both with great additional merit beyond their page turning plots.
First, if you love to hate the French, Patrick Robinson's Hunter Killer is the summer read for you. The plot has a scheming Chirac-replacement behind a French take-down of the Saudi Royals in order to back a fundamentalist who will give them all the rebuilding contracts as well as a guarantee on the black stuff. Much high-tech weaponry and good-guy American NSA staffers and crusty old sea-dogs recalled to duty to battle the French navy.
Much less far-fetched in its background storytelling and an order of magnitude grittier is Cheryl Howard Crew's In the Face of Jinn.
Crew is an unlikely guide to the wild border regions of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Kashmir, but in her first novel she sets an American woman, Christine Shepard, on a search for her sister who went missing in the violence of an ethnic attack between Muslims and Hindus. Crew is the wife of director Ron Howard, and hardly the first person you would think of as an expert on the instant violence, grinding poverty, and crushing burden of the peoples of these regions, but she draws on nearly a decade of travel in the areas to deliver not only a competent thriller but much more importantly, a primer on why the global war on terror is likely to get much worse before it gets much better.
This is not a book for the faint-hearted because it accurately conveys the horrific nature of the ethnic violence that tears at these regions, as well as the brutality of everyday life--especially for disgraced or destitute women. And its depictions of slaughter and rape will upset many readers not used to such accounts.
But Crew's celebrity and sales potential may help to focus the attention of Americans of all political stripes to the ongoing carnage in the region. Both Pakistan and India are nuclear powers, a high stakes reality to keep in mind as both their home-grown and imported extremists slash at each other with a ferociousness that isn't conveyed well in American media. After a hopeful lull in violence in the Kashmir state--divided between Indian and Pakistani authority by the "Line of Control"--two car bombs in early May killed three and wounded more than 80. Many of the radicals uprooted from Afghanistan in the aftermath of the overthrow of the Taliban are believed to have migrated to the border area, bringing with them the violence that marks al Qaeda.
When you put down Robinson's book, it is with a smile, because the collision it describes cannot happen (though the portrait of Saudi excess and the instability it may provoke rings very true.) At the conclusion of Crews's novel, though, you have to shake your head at the idea of this region armed to the teeth with nukes.
Hugh Hewitt is the host of a nationally syndicated radio show, and author most recently of Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That is Changing Your World. His daily blog can be found at HughHewitt.com.