Feit Book Reviews X 3

Queen of the Night
J.A. Jance
William Morrow & Company, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-06-123924-3
Hardcover

With a bow [by dedicating the book] to the late Tony Hillerman, who was a master at the genre of this novel (and the predecessors in the saga of the Walker family), J.A. Jance has written a murder mystery surrounded by the further development in the family’s history peppered with lots of Indian lore.

The eponymous Queen is a once-a-year blossoming cactus whose legendary beginnings, like many of the tales in the novel, are based on the culture and history of the Tohono O’odhap people of southern Arizona.  It plays a minor, but important, role in the story as the site of the contemporary murder of four people.  Meanwhile, former homicide
detective Brandon Walker inherits a 50-year-old open case from his Last Chance cold case mentor, one in which a popular coed was stabbed to death in San Diego while on a school break.

The broad sweep of the Walker saga provides interesting and deep personal observations about the characters and what motivates them.  The plot lines in the novel are fairly complex, but move forward in a logical pattern.  As usual, the writing is uncomplicated with beautiful descriptions of the Arizona terrain, and especially of the night-blooming cereus (the Queen of the Night) particularly appealing.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2010.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Last Lie
Stephen White
Dutton, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-525-95177-3
Hardcover

In a follow-up to the excellent The Siege, author Stephen White not only brings back detective Sam Purdy [introduced in that standalone], but also Alan Gregory, psychiatrist and clinical psychologist and long-standing series protagonist, and his wife, DDA Lauren.

From a rather curious opening dealing with his ‘supervisory’ duties involving sessions with younger clinicians, the scene is juxtaposed with that of a party [or, as Alan will later frequently refer to it, a “damn housewarming”] at the home of Alan and Lauren’s new neighbors in the Spanish Hills section, their “quiet corner of Colorado paradise.”  The fact that new people have moved into the neighboring property is fraught with emotional landmines for the Gregory family, as the former owners were close friends, husband and wife having each been killed in separate, horrific incidents [each the subject of prior novels].

One might think of Alan Gregory as, among other things, a kind of male Jessica Fletcher, whose friends and neighbors frequently die a tragic death.  This time, however, it is not a death, but a possible rape, that occurs at his new neighbors’ house.  I say ‘possible’ because the victim isn’t sure what happened to her, only that she’d been the victim of . . . something.  The book starts off more slowly than I recall Mr. White’s novels usually do; unsurprisingly, the payoff is
worth the relatively slow build-up.

I particularly liked the descriptions of area natives:  “Colorado is home, almost exclusively, to weather optimists . . . some people wear their Boulder-ness so visibly that it is as obvious as a brightly colored outer garment.”  Alan’s personal life is again a major story line, i.e., marital issues that are being “worked through;” Lauren’s ever-worsening MS; their daughter Gracie, approaching adolescence; and Jonas, the son of their murdered neighbors, who Lauren and Alan are now raising.  Conflict-of-interest questions abound.  The usual quotient of suspense that Mr. White’s readers expect is present in ample measure.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2010.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Moscow Sting
Alex Dryden
Harper Ecco, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-06-196684-2
Hardcover

There is a lot to like about this book, and much to dislike.  To begin with, it is an interesting and diverting plot, reminiscent of all the Cold War novels of the past, albeit set in present-day circumstances.  However, the characters seem wooden, caricatures filling in the blanks.  Moscow Sting is the sequel to Red to Black, with Anna Resnikov, the KGB Colonel who defected to the West to marry the assassinated former MI6 agent Finn, again playing a major role.

It seems everyone wants to find Anna who was hidden in the south of France with her two-year-old son by the French security arm, and is discovered accidentally by an ex-CIA agent who tries to sell her whereabouts for half a million dollars to the Russians, English and Americans.  She and her son are “rescued” by a private United States intelligence company headed by a larger-than-life personage, who takes them to the U.S. to “debrief” her.  The reason she is so important is the relationship Finn had with Mikhail, an informant extremely close to Vladimir Putin, and who she presumably knows.

George Washington warned against “foreign entanglements” and Dwight Eisenhower against the military-industrial establishment.  However, this novel provides strong reason to distrust the intelligence community, whether public like the CIA or MI6, or private.  Each has its shortcomings, with the latter only driven by self-interest which can be as disastrous as, perhaps, the demonstrated ineptness of employees of the official agencies.  Written at a fast pace, the tale
more often than not is exciting and enlightening, despite its shortcomings.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2010.

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