I brought a dozen pounds of books with me on this trip, and most of them are genre fiction. There's something about flying in an airplane that saps a chunk of your attention; you can never give dense literary or academic writing the attention it deserves, maybe because you can't shake the tiny-but-vocal part of your monkey brain that keeps reminding you that you're in a giant metal tube in the sky. So I thought I'd check in on the big genre blockbuster of the season, Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl.

Gone Girl isn't a Da Vinci Code-style runaway blockbuster, but it's popular enough that if you follow books, you've heard of it. It's about a young wife who goes missing on her anniversary. Naturally, everyone suspects the husband of doing it. And he doesn't make a very good case for himself in the half of the book that he narrates. And the other half of the story, which is made up of the woman's diary entries, is pretty damning, too. Without spoiling anything, Gone Girl is a mean, twisty little knot of a book that tries to swerve a couple times too many. For one of the last stretches of the book, I thought Flynn had gone too far, but she recovers well for the end, which sticks with you despite the improbability of the plot. I don't think Gone Girl is necessarily deserving of the rapt adoration other critics are giving it, but i do think it's a fun ride for a long plane trip, and there are points where you can't turn the pages fast enough. That's always a pleasure.

Not too long ago, University of Chicago Press reprinted three of Richard Stark's four Alan Grofield novels. If you know Stark's Parker series of books—read my praise here, if you haven't—you're probably excited to read these books. Grofield is a supporting character in some of the Parker books, an actor with more of a sense of humor than Parker, and a bolder personality, too. He's practically Falstaffian, with his appetites (mostly sexual) and the creeping sense that he enjoys himself more when his plans start to go awry.

The Damsel is the first of the Grofield solo excursions, and it spins directly out of the Parker novel The Score, even though you don't have to read the first novel to understand the second. It begins when a woman climbs into Grofield's window and, even though he's in bed recovering from a gunshot wound, they immediately begin bantering back and forth. She asks him, cryptically, "Are you one of them?" And he responds, even more cryptically, and with smirking self-awareness, "That depends. Sometimes I'm one of them and other times it doesn't seem worth the effort. I haven't been one of them lately because I haven't been well." Soon enough, they're beating up goons with guns and trying to get through Mexico without being murdered. The Damsel sadly isn't as energetic as a Parker novel—it's not even as energetic as Gone Girl--but it's got some snappy dialogue, a daring plot, and an anti-hero who genuinely loves what he does. It should at least whet your appetite for the other Grofield books, which each improve as Stark begins to appreciate the joy of a fun protagonist.