At Last a Landing: The Mile High Book Club

on Friday, April 30, 2010
Twelve and a half hours, four books and a restless attempt at sleep later, the plane touches down and we taxi to what I assume must be the furthest gate from the main drag of Singapore's Changi airport. It is 8pm and 39 degrees outside. The air-bridge is like a sauna as Debbie, me and six hundred of our newest friends are squeezed through the metal snake like tepid toothpaste. We spew into the airport's outer suburbs and begin the walk. Travelator after travelator passes beneath our feet. In any other circumstance I would grumpily be cursing under my breath but, to be frank, my legs quite enjoy the stretch. Those folks at Airbus might have gone all out with First and Business classes on the fancy new A380 but economy is still a sardine can within a sardine can.

Terminal 2 will be our home home for the next couple of hours. Debbie is keen on getting a massage. I want to eat and hit the book store. The April challenge ends here, at the eighth airport, and I am eager to see what book will round out The Mile High Book Club. As we reach shoppalisation, I unsubtly make a beeline for the bright lights of Hot Off The Press. There, next to the calculators and travel pillows is the Top 10, where book number eight is... God help me, it's Michael Crichton's swashbuckling crappaganza Pirate Latitudes. Oh, this is just unfair. I feel the urge to cheat again but Debbie makes me stick to the rules. I check out the non-fiction bestsellers but number eight is some rules of business manifesto that strikes me as even worse an option. So Michael "Even-Haunts-Me-From-the-Grave" Crichton it is.

Deflated, I buy the book and head to the food hall where we gorge ourselves on a thali plate at the only vegetarian restaurant around. Surprisingly very yum. We still have over an hour so Debbie heads to the massage place and, despite the kindly offers by a gaggle of Singaporean masseuses to ply me with free tea, I go for a wander. Only a few minutes in I see what could only be a mirage... An oasis in my hour of need... A second bookstore. Unaffiliated with the first. It is Times Newslink. The sign is less garish. The shelves seem better ordered. I can't help but think it appears to be a respectable bookstore. And it has a chart. A Top 10 that bears no relation to Hot Off The Press's. A warm feeling washes over me, and I am quite sure it is neither the blood unclogging after a long flight or the curry attacking my autoimmune system. It is pure, unadulterated relief. For there, at number eight is Harlen Coben's new crime thriller, Caught. Coben may not be great literature, but he is never dull and, for the first time in the entire challenge, the perfect airplane read.

One last mini-review to bring me home...

Even at his worst, Harlen Coben is great fun to read. The stories fly by, there's always enough suspense to keep you interested and you can rest assured that your grey matter will not be taxed. Caught, Coben's latest tale of murder, revenge and a mysterious conspiracy to bring down a bunch of high-flying college roommates twenty years on will not go down as one of his better books, but it sure beats anything by Michael Crichton. Opening with an excellent "To Catch a Predator"-style sting, it quickly ties in a slew of middle-America's criminal obsessions - pedophilia, evil big business, political scandal and, of course, internet crime - as tabloid TV reporter Wendy Tynes seeks redemption for what appears to be a terrible mistake. Caught ultimately coagulates into a mushy suspense stew, well beneath Coben's usual mastery, but it is still reasonably enjoyable to wade through on a long haul flight home.

And so I bid farewell to a great holiday; six countries, eight airports, seventeen books and, of course, The Mile High Book Club.


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