As a lifelong bookworm I always like it when I get the opportunity to read books in order to review them in my weekly newspaper column. Over the Christmas-New Year’s holiday season I had the opportunity to peruse several such recent releases that I felt were worth passing along to our readers. 

It will come as no surprise to longtime readers of this column (or anyone who knows me well at all) that my favorite among this crop of recent material is the long-awaited biography of my all-time favorite musical group. William J. Bush’s Greenback Dollar: The Incredible Rise of the Kingston Trio (Scarecrow Press) tells the story of the act that not only launched America’s folk music boom of the 1950s and ’60s, but in its way helped paved the way for the even more phenomenal success in this country of The Beatles.

The Beatles of course were fans of a number of American musical acts – including, as Bush says in his introductory chapter, the Kingston Trio. The two groups were similar in that their members enjoyed and appreciated a number of musical genres – folk, country, pop, rock, even showtunes and songs from foreign lands – and used them to forge their own unique sounds that captured the attention of young record buyers of their respective eras.

For a time prior to the advent of the Beatles, the Kingston Trio was THE most popular act in music. Over a 10-year period beginning in 1957, the group released 19 albums that reached Billboard's Top 100; 14 of those made the Top 10, and five hit the Number One spot. Four of their Top 10 albums charted at the same time for five weeks in November and December 1959 – a record unmatched for more than 50 years – and after half a century the group still ranks among the all-time leaders on several of Billboard's cumulative charts, including those for most weeks with a Number One album, most total weeks charting an album, most Number One albums, most consecutive Number One albums, and most Top 10 albums.

Bush’s account of those years is affectionate but honest, detailing both the group’s enormous success and the internal rifts that led founding member David Guard to leave the group in 1961. Guard and fellow founder Bob Shane had been boyhood friends in Hawaii before heading to California to college and forming the Trio with San Diego native Nick Reynolds; Bush reveals previously unknown details regarding the split, and details how John Stewart - who would later pen such classic tunes as “I’m A Believer” for the Monkees and “Runaway Train” for Rosanne Cash – went from being a member of the Trio’s legion of fans to Guard’s replacement in the act.

Greenback Dollar is a book that will appeal not only to fans of this group in particular but to students of American pop music in general. This is one I simply cannot recommend highly enough.

Also recommended is James O’Brien’s The Scientific Sherlock Holmes: Cracking The Case With Science And Forensics (Oxford Press). Anyone who has ever been a fan of the various CSI television series or have had an interest in the use of forensics to combat crime will be intrigued by this examination of how much modern real-world police scientists owe to the original tales of the Great Detective written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

O’Brien explains Holmes’ pioneering use of so many of the techniques that are taken for granted today. Holmes, for example, was making use of fingerprinting and handwriting analysis long before those practices were actually being used by Scotland Yard and other law enforcement agencies. The author includes details how techniques first appearing in the Holmes stories were put to use in such real-life investigations as the Lindbergh Baby kidnapping and the hunt for the infamous Zodiac Killer.

Whether you’re a fan of Holmes or today’s popular TV police dramas, or simply interested in science or real-life police techniques, this is a book you will not only enjoy but also learn a great deal from. I’d even go so far to suggest that it should probably be required reading for those training for careers in the law enforcement community.

The one fiction volume I’ve read recently is a prose story involving a well-known comic book character, but one that should appeal even to those who aren’t ordinarily fans of that type of tale. Wayne of Gotham by Tracy Hickman (It Books/HarperCollins) is the latest retelling of the popular Batman legend, but puts a new spin on the familiar tale by focusing its attention primarily on Dr. Thomas Wayne – whose murder will eventually inspire his young son Bruce to become Batman. 

The ending was a bit disappointing for me (and in some respects a tad too reminiscent of the resolution of last year’s film The Dark Knight Rises), but that’s ultimately a minor quibble. Overall Wayne of Gotham is a well-crafted psychological thriller that fans of the aforementioned Holmes stories should particularly enjoy.