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Which Books Should You Give This Season


Every year about this time, I think of my good friend Will Grozier. He drives a London taxi, and when we met years ago, we fell into a conversation that really hasn't stopped. Will is a man of literature. He's a passionate reader who reads like many of us do - something new, something old, something from the remainders stack, something that somebody left in his backseat. So we'd like to ask Will - what has he been reading? Will Grozier joins us now from London. Will, thanks very much for being back with us.

WILL GROZIER: Hey, Scott, good to talk to you again.

SIMON: The last time we spoke we talked about a - we talked about a literary cabdriver, a character named Murph

GROZIER: Oh, we did, yeah, right.

SIMON: This a series of books published posthumously by Gary Reilly.

GROZIER: It - well, it's published by his good friend Mark Stevens. Gary was a frustrated unpublished writer who drove a cab as a means of keeping body and soul together and little else from what we read in his books. And we have here "Pick Up At Union Station," which is number seven in the series in which our hero makes what he thinks is a fairly innocuous pickup at Union Station in Denver because this whole series is set in Denver. Anyway, he picks this guy up, takes him out to an out-of-town trading estate, and before they can get there, the guy dies on the backseat.

SIMON: Without leaving a tip, Will.

GROZIER: (Laughter) Without paying the fare even - how outrageous.

SIMON: Oh, mercy, yes.

GROZIER: Yeah, yeah. So this sets the scene for a story about foreign agents and skulduggery. And it all revolves around an unopened left luggage locker back in the station to which Murph latterly finds the key. It's just a rattling good yarn.

SIMON: Well, and as we all know, taxi drivers are handsome, accomplished and shrewd, right?

GROZIER: Well, of course (laughter).

SIMON: Wonderful characters for a mystery series. Another book I notice on your list - "Fast Shuffle" by David Black, who's an interesting guy. He's one of the principle writers of "Law & Order," "Hill Street Blues" before that, but he's also been an Edgar Allan Poe nominee for his novels.

GROZIER: There's a whole list of literary achievements here on this, but this latest book "Fast Shuffle" is exactly that. It is a fast shuffle, and it is a cross between a knowing literary essay and Raymond Chandler. The principle character is called Harry Dickinson. Now, Harry's - Harry is essentially a Walter Mitty-esque character. He lives in this world where he believes he's a private detective and he drives his family mad, who are trying to have him committed to a mental institution. But then unfortunately for everybody, Harry included, he stumbles across a real-life crime. It's a hugely entertaining read, something to take your mind off the terrible events in the real world. Let's dive into this.

SIMON: I want to ask, for nonfiction lovers, "The Dig Tree" by Sarah Murgatroyd.

GROZIER: This was published back in 2002, and it's the story of the ill-fated expedition to find a crossed Australia passage from Melbourne in the south to Darwin in the north. This only took place in 1860 when America was on the verge of having Civil War and Britain was on the verge of celebrating the wonderful industrial achievements in the Great Exhibition. Australia, on the other hand, didn't know what the hell was going on in the middle. And it became a matter of national angst that they had not crossed the continent. And so there was much competition amongst various worthy states and cities to try to launch the first successful - there had been numerous unsuccessful attempts. The whole story is a farce. And, I mean, actually there's a trope, isn't there, in fiction that says that, you know, fact is stranger than fiction. You could not make this up. But the interesting thing about this is in preparation for this horrendous cross-continent journey, somebody came came up with the idea of camels. Now, there were no camels as such in Australia, so they imported camels from one of the Arab states. And the serendipity of all this is that many, many years later there's a DNA strain of camel which is highly praised in Arabia and this is now exported by the Australians back there for stud purposes. Who know?

SIMON: Well, there you have it, the true meaning of Christmas, isn't it (laughter)?


SIMON: Will Grozier - between books he drives a cab in London. Always great to talk to you, my friend, and happy holidays.

GROZIER: And happy holidays to you, everybody there in NPR and all your listeners. Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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