One of my favorite novels last year was "The Handler," by M.P. Woodward, a first-time novelist who has a background in intelligence as well as experience as an Amazon executive. It was, I thought, a well-crafted page-turned about a divorced couple who find themselves hip-deep in a CIA plan to bring in a mole who can help derail Iran’s uranium enrichment program.
Now, John Dale and his ex-wife, Meredith Morris-Dale are back in Woodward's "Dead Drop," which picks up where the original novel left off - the mole is in the wind, Morris-Dale is working with both US and Israeli intelligence services to find him, and Dale - who remains an unfairly disgraced and unemployed ex-spy - is in the middle of it all.
Woodward is a terrific storyteller, and "Dead Drop" is as propulsive as his first effort - I still think that the exploits of the two Dales are the stuff of a streaming TV series.
Speaking of which, the final season of "Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan," starring John Krasinski as the eponymous CIA analyst, will premier on Amazon Prime Video next month. As usual, it looks great:
The last week or so has been a time of endings.
Last week, "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" ended its five season run on Amazon Prime Video.
Then, over the weekend, "Succession" and "Barry" both came to an end, each after four seasons on HBO.
And finally, this week, "Ted Lasso" ended (we think - star/creator Jason Sudeikis has been vague on the subject) after three seasons.
As I thought about these four series, it seemed to me that they all had something in common - a willingness to evolve in how they told their stories.
"Maisel" ended its run with a series of episodes that flashed backward and forward in time, giving us greater insight into how Midge Maisel - a 1950s housewife turned standup comedian - challenged the patriarchy as she relentlessly pursued her career.
The final episodes of "Succession" undertook a different challenge - each of them played out over a single day, with the entire season taking place in less than two weeks.
"Barry" continued its descent into darkness - what started out as what seemed like a satire about a hitman who decided to go to a Hollywood acting school has steadily shifted gears, becoming a dark fable about self-delusion, narcissism, and murder.
And "Ted Lasso," while it didn't really change the way it told its story, branched off to a greater extent in exploring different characters' backgrounds and motivations. (Its sunny optimism about human nature remained. Thank goodness. "Ted Lasso" was a fable, and to expect it to be something else is to miss the point.)
I loved all these series, for different reasons, and especially respected the fact that they all took risks, and all decided on their own to get off the stage. It is easy for properties such as these to stick around and to milk the audience's goodwill, becoming over the long run a ghost of themselves, shedding audience members slowly but surely, as people forget about what made them innovative and interesting to begin with.
I'll miss them. Sunday nights on HBO have suddenly gotten considerably less interesting, since "Succession" and "Barry" are gone, and John Oliver has been sidelined by the writer's strike. But I'll find something to watch.
There are more than a few series that I need to catch up with. "The Americans." "Breaking Bad." "The Handmaid's Tale." And probably a bunch more that I cannot remember off the top of my head.
In the end, though, the willingness to move on, to try something new, to not keep doing the same thing over and over, is the lesson that I'll take from their conclusions.
I have a wonderful red wine to recommend to you tis week: the 2020
Collina Serragrilli Langhe Nebbiolo, from northern Italy, which is muscular enough to stand up to the pasta and grilled sausage meal I made the other evening. At about $20, it is a bargain. And delicious.
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.