Book Reviews: Dick Francis’s Bloodline by Felix Francis, Phantom by Jo Nesbo, Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith, and Crow’s Landing by Brad Smith

Dick Francis's BloodlineDick Francis’s Bloodline
Felix Francis
Putnam, October 2012
ISBN 978-0-399-16080-6
Hardcover

The second standalone written by Dick Francis’ son follows the same formula that served the father so well:  A mystery set in the English racing world, populated by the trainers, jockeys and track officials. In this case, the plot involves the Shillingford family, especially race-caller Mark and his twin sister, jockey Clare.  When Clare rode a horse that came in second when it should have won, he believed Clare lost on purpose and over dinner they had a heated argument.

Later that night, Clare fell 15 stories from a London hotel to her death, an apparent suicide.  Bereft, Mark starts asking questions, seeking a reason for her death.  What was the meaning of a short written message which the police believed to be a suicide note, but really is ambiguous?  What, if anything, does the discovery of several blackmail victims in the racing world have to do with her death?

The author shows the same talent as Dick Francis for creating suspense, pitting danger and personal jeopardy for his protagonist on the way of solving the mystery.  And the reader will be hard put to tell the difference in the writing between father and son.  It is virtually indistinguishable.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2012.

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PhantomPhantom
Jo Nesbo
Translated by Don Bartlett
Knopf, October 2012
ISBN: 978-0-307-96047-4
Hardcover

In the three years since the conclusion of The Leopard, Harry Hole has been serving contentedly as a non-violent enforcer based in Hong Kong, collecting money owed to his employer.  Then one day, he ups and returns to Oslo when he learns that Oleg, the drug-using son of the love of his life, has been arrested for the murder of a fellow junkie. The police consider the case closed, so Harry acts independently to investigate.

And along the way he finds himself immersed in the midst of Norway’s large drug problem.  Hole uncovers a trail of violence and disappearances, police and political corruption, and Harry himself becomes a target of the mysterious drug lord Dubai.  The novel is a bleak story of damaged individuals hooked on drugs, and the sleaziness inherent in the activity.

The prior novels were forceful, clearly showing Harry’s tortured soul, and his unswerving ability to dig, dig, dig to the heart of a case, honestly and insightfully.  Phantom accomplishes these ends, but to some extent is confusing at the end; whether the author did this purposely or not yet remains to be seen.  As usual, the novel is translated faithfully and excellently, and the book is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2012.

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Agent 6Agent 6
Tom Rob Smith
Grand Central Publishing, January 2013
ISBN: 978-0-446-58308-4
Trade Paperback

The conclusion of the trilogy featuring Leo Demidov is sweeping, from his early days as a KGB agent to his exile in Afghanistan and beyond. Especially interesting is the Russian occupation of that beleaguered nation and the beginnings of the United States involvement there as Russia lost face in its defeat.

More important to the plot is the intrigue, obfuscation, double-dealing and plotting of the Soviet Union and United States during the Cold War.  The story begins with Leo meeting a Paul Robeson-like character in Moscow when he was an agent, and the consequences in the years following.

Tightly plotted, despite its length, the novel reminds us of the challenges of the years during which the two superpowers confronted each other. The characters are real, from an over-zealous FBI agent to the unfortunate victims of those countries’ invasions of Afghanistan.  An absorbing thriller to bring The Secret Speech and Child 44 to a satisfying finish.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2013.

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Crow's LandingCrow’s Landing
Brad Smith
Scribner, August 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4516-7853-6
Trade Paperback

Sometimes a protagonist has to go looking for trouble; other times trouble has a way of finding the protagonist.  In the case of Virgil Cain, trouble usually finds him – – in spades.  In a previous entry in the series, he was arrested for murder and had to break out of jail to exonerate himself.  In the current novel, he just goes fishing, and lands in a heap of difficulties.

When he anchored in the Hudson River, the last thing Virgil expected to reel in was a stainless steel cylinder containing 100 pounds of pure cocaine.  But that’s what happened when he lifted his anchor and the cylinder was attached.  As a result, he becomes involved with a crooked policeman who seizes the cylinder and Cain’s boat, the original owner of the contraband who threw it overboard seven years previous, and others, all seeking to make a score by taking possession of the dope.

It is a well-drawn tale, with little real mystery but plenty of plot and action.  A well-written story, tightly developed, Crow’s Landing is the second in the series, and definitely warrants a third. Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2013.