Book Reviews Ted Feit-Style

Iron River
T. Jefferson Parker
NAL, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-451-23242-7
Trade Paperback,

A temporary assignment to an ATFE task force for Deputy sheriff Charlie Parker to stem the tide of illegal arms and money flowing across the U.S.-Mexican border gives rise to eerie insights into law enforcement from San Diego to Corpus Christie and, in addition, how cutthroat the drug lords can be, as well as how unscrupulous legal and illegal gun dealers are.

To begin with, a stakeout on a gun deal goes wrong, and in the shooting of a perpetrator which ensues, the son of the ruthless head of a cartel is killed, resulting in a vengeance kidnapping and torture of an AFTE operative, leading in turn to a rescue mission by Charlie and his new associates.  Then that operative is kidnapped a second time from the hospital by a rival organization, and Charlie again has to go to Mexico to ransom him and bring him back across the border, dodging the first drug lord’s minions.

The title is derived from the corridor running along the southern border, from California to Texas.  Up to 90 per cent of the guns in Mexico, where about 15,000 persons have been murdered, are said to come from the United States.  This is hardly the ideal for a Good Neighbor Policy. Mr. Parker has thoroughly researched the subject, which brings back Charlie Hood for a third and welcome appearance in a well-written and exciting novel.  Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2011.

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The Confession
John Grisham
Doubleday, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-385-52804-7
Hardcover

The author is on the Board of Directors of the Innocence Project in New York and is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Mississippi Innocence Project at the U. of Miss.  A well-known attorney and best-selling novelist, the conviction and scheduled execution of an innocent man fall within his purview in these various activities.  It is too bad, however, that the resulting novel is not up to his usual standard.

The arrest, jailing and eventual execution of a young innocent Texan sets the stage for a long, dry story, filled with stereotypes: the less-than-ethical police detective, the corrupt DA and his lover, the judge, and the real murderer, among others, including the defense attorney. Unfortunately they do not add up to an accomplished novel. Nor do the long harangues and long-winded diatribes, which obviously belong more in a legal brief than a novel.

All this is not to take away from Mr. Grisham’s ability to tell a tale and write it well.  But, unfortunately, over-all, at least to this reader, he should have relied more on his ability as a novelist, than as an advocate for a cause.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2011.

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Red Herring
Archer Mayor
Minotaur Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-38193-6
Hardcover

This long-running series featuring Joe Gunther and his team at the Vermont Bureau of Investigation has been consistently excellent.  And this, the 21st entry, is of similar high quality with an inventive plot:  Three murders are committed, seemingly with no connection, except for a single drop of blood.  The victims are apparently unrelated and the evidence at each scene appears to be, at best, confusing, as if the crime scenes were deliberately arranged so that forensics would not be particularly useful in the investigation.

The Vermont forensics department, with limited resources and funds, is unable to process the few items of interest, but the suggestion that the Brookhaven National Laboratory on New York’s Long Island might have the ability to find clues is followed, resulting in a series of possibilities that, with  old-fashioned police work, lead to common threads.

Once again, the author’s love of the Green State, its environment and people, provides a human touch to an otherwise macabre tale. Descriptions of the countryside are adept.  And insights into antagonism between politicians, the public, the media and cops are vivid and insightful.  Written with a deft touch, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2011.

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Collusion
Stuart Neville
Soho Crime, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-56947-855-4
Hardcover

This follow-up to the highly praised The Ghosts of Belfast deserves the same reception.  It picks up where the earlier noir ended, carrying forth the characters and events, and, presumably, planting the seeds for a third novel which hopefully will develop into a full-blown series.

Jack Lennon, a Catholic detective in an otherwise Protestant police force in Northern Ireland, is warned off investigating the deaths of three persons associated with the massacre of numerous criminals and politicians at Bull O’Kane’s farm in Belfast.  But having knowledge of the event, at which his girlfriend, Marie McKenna, and their young daughter, Ellen were present, pressures him to continue pursuing knowledge of the murders and their relationship to the past.  Marie was whisked away from the massacre by the notorious killer, Fegan, and into hiding, promising to return whenever she needed protection.  He leaves for New York City for adventures of his own.

O’Kane has a grudge against Fegan and employs The Traveler, a killer of equal stature to Fegan, to kill the three victims as well as his nemesis, who was responsible for a gut wound which incapacitated the gangster.  When Marie comes out of hiding to visit her dying father, she and the child are abducted, serving as lures to draw Fegan out of hiding and resulting in an unlikely collaboration between Lennon and Fegan to rescue Marie and Ellen.

The novel develops the characters in more depth than was exhibited in “Belfast,” and the pace is steadier.  But the writing is the same tense hard-driven prose which made the first so highly readable.  It is a graphic tale of the corruption between the politicians, criminals, British authorities and others in the fraught Northern Ireland of the era.  It is powerful and tragic, with intense violence and deep insights into a country still affected by long-continued terror.  It is highly recommended, and we look forward to the hoped-for sequel.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2011.

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Skin
Mo Hayder
Grove Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-4517-8
Trade Paperback

There are all kinds of protagonists, but the two featured in this novel (after first appearing in Ritual) are very different.   Jack Caffery and Phoebe (“Flea”) Marley carry pretty heavy baggage from their past, but they get the job done somehow in this thrilling police procedural, despite their individual quirks and iconoclastic attitudes.

DI Caffery is engaged in two separate investigations which somehow become intertwined with an escapade in which Flea is involved.  As a result, he has to weigh whether or not to expose Flea’s efforts or to keep silent.  One case involves a series of strange deaths, initially thought to be suicides, although Caffery believes them to be murders. Another has to do with a missing person, a woman who may or may not also be such a victim, but no body has been found.

Marley is a police diver and the descriptions of her efforts, especially in the opening scene, are especially gripping, as Flea is seeking the body of the MisPer in a flooded quarry, diving deeper and deeper beyond recommended depths and apparently seeing a supernatural sight.  Both she and Caffery think there is a “Tokoloshe” in the area, a creature out of African witchcraft.

This sequel is so tightly written and absorbing one can hope that the author can follow up with more such unusual efforts in the future. Recommended.  [It should perhaps be noted that the author’s newest book, Gone, was published simultaneously by Atlantic Monthly Press in hardcover.]

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2011.

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