Book Reviews: The Devil on Chardonnay by Ed Baldwin, Lethal Lineage by Charlotte Hinger, and The Prince of Risk by Christopher Reich

The Devil on ChardonnayThe Devil on Chardonnay
Ed Baldwin
Brasfield Books, September 2013
ISBN:978098929719
Trade Paperback

Ed Baldwin is a retired U.S. Air Force surgeon with many years in grade and a wide range of service duties and it shows. It shows in the authenticity of the research and the actions of the many characters that people this thriller. There is a list of characters that is helpful, but it fills two pages on my reader.

This excellent novel would have been improved by judiciously editing out about 3,000 words. That said, I found the novel to be a good read, mostly well-paced but at times the inclusion of in-depth background and history in large chunks tended to stall the narrative, just like a small plane attempting to climb at too sharp an angle.

The plot in its fundamental essence concerns an attempt by obscenely wealthy forces to produce a vaccine for one of the most deadly tropical diseases known in a way that will give a large pharmaceutical firm absolute and highly lucrative control of the disease cultures and the vaccine. International in scope, when news of a new outbreak of Ebola reaches Washington, the government moves rapidly to send troubleshooter and fighter jock Boyd Chailand into action. His task is to identify those on the ground and the lab developing the cultures, the sources of their funding and the ultimate recipient of their work.

The story takes us from Washington D.C. to East Africa, to the Azores and South Carolina. Some of the characters are fascinating, Raybon Clive, Davann Goodman and Neville St. James, among the most interesting. Some of the confrontations—and there are many—are exciting and truly action-packed. Some of the murders—and there are several—seemed gratuitous and almost casual. In addition to all the action there are lovely moments of introspection and appreciation of the natural beauty of the Azores and tropical Africa. I find the novel to be a mixed bag and I recommend it with reservations. The title of the book is just unfortunate.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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Lethal LineageLethal Lineage
Charlotte Hinger
Poisoned Pen Press, March 2011
ISBN:978-1-59058-837-6
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

This is an amazing novel. Almost from the first line, one is interested, entertained, and enthralled. Lottie Albright is a first-class protagonist, a bright, wealthy, well-educated woman with a healthy measure of community sense and human empathy. The fact that she’s now living on the isolated windy plains of northwestern Kansas, second wife of a widowed farmer, only enhances her claim on the reader’s attention.

The author writes with such clarity, precision and verve, one is swept into the lives of these people with intimacy, with love, and with a clear eye on the realities of life in this place in the Twenty-first Century. As isolated as they are, and feel themselves to be, the citizens of four sparsely-populated counties will be touched in tender and horrific ways by larger events happening continents away beginning with a confirmation in a new Episcopal congregation meeting in a new church.

The novel’s sojourn into the world of historical research, especially Albright’s struggle to deal with the surprises of family history projects is a fascinating and relevant subplot. The characters are all well-laid on and consistent in their roles. All in all an outstanding effort.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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The Prince of RiskThe Prince of Risk
Christopher Reich
Doubleday, December 2013
ISBN: 978-0-385-53506-9
Hardcover

Mr. Reich illustrates here some of the difficulties of genre labeling in Crime Fiction. You might classify this as a flawed character study with too much bad dialogue and too little depth. You might, on the other hand, classify this as a strong legal thriller that takes a few minor liberties with the law while positing a terrifying possibility. Then again, because the story is essentially about a high-roller hedge fund manager, you might consider this an intriguing inside look at the world of the big-time gambling community we call Wall Street.

Regardless of classification, the novel has some serious problems as well as many excellent moments. In order to understand the enormity of the threat posed by the author, readers will have to wade through several background explanations of the way the world’s financial operations connect and work. For some readers that will be eye-opening. For others, tedious.

Bobby Astor is the high-flying multi-billionaire protagonist who begins as the unknowing stand-in for the puppet master who’s purpose becomes abundantly clear, to not only create financial chaos, but to destroy the American financial community. Part of the plan involves a physical attack somewhere at some near time. That threat opens the novel and underlies the rising tension that fuels the pace of this novel. There are echoes here of earlier tidier crime novels from Emma Lathen.

Enter Bobby Astor’s ex-wife, a top FBI agent in charge of counter terrorism in the New York Area. Finding and stopping threats before the fact instead of after the act is her mission. Alex is a gorgeous, driven, stone killer. Her intense desire to excel and bring down terrorists wherever they may be moves her to violate a number of federal and state laws and too frequently defy her superior.

The author does attempt to soften the hard-edged images of these two intensely driven individuals. They have a teen-aged daughter, but she is never on stage and her influence on her parents in this story is minimal. Some of the narrative which explains in great detail financial maneuvering at these billion-dollar-levels could have been profitably shortened to maintain the rising pace of the novel. The concluding chapters, while logical and satisfactory, have a mild feeling of a pro forma wrap-up. Not a bad story, but given the alarming core premise, somewhat disappointing in execution.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.